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Posts Tagged ‘Small Biz tools’

Why you need to Build the Right Team for small business success

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

On Sundays, my husband and I usually try to plan out our week… which in turn yields discussions of when I have KikScore conference calls to when he can go have some beers with his buds, while juggling our 2-year old daughter’s bedtime schedule.   The KikScore conference calls change in frequency week to week, depending on the next big item we are working to push through or brainstorm on.  And I realized that having a key team and truly enjoying the people you do business with is crucial to not only its success, but your own sanity.  I was reading in Business Week about Hunch, and Caterina Fake brings up a very critical component of small business success — Building the Right Team.

Anyone can come up with a business idea, but taking that idea and making it a viable venture that can grow and prosper requires more brain power than one can share.  Creating a team of that nature isn’t easy by any means.  When I explain the KikScore story (at least since my involvement) to family and friends… it’s best summarized as: KikScore is the side-business I’ve been working on with a group of talented friends – ranging from development, project management, business development and lawyers… a few from previous jobs/lives and combination thereof.  The thing is, I wasn’t the one with the big idea, but when the core founders Mike, Raj and Joel approached me to jump in and help streamline the KikScore scoring algorithm,  I was honored and ecstatic to be part of an entrepreneurial journey.

The team continued to build from there as we quickly found that off-shoring all of our development was not only costly and time-consuming, but left us with little control over the integrity of the code.  So we searched (again from previous jobs/lives) to find an in-house development resource that could oversee the coding efforts and allow us to piecemeal items off-shore as needed, but not as a 100% solution.

Since we are still a night/weekend business, we have many conference calls and e-mails flying about daily.  Another key component to a strong team is keeping the communication open and being able to speak your mind — we argue, which in turn generates new ideas and challenges each of us to listen with respect.  This re-iterates the need for a strong team focus.  Each member has their primary role (albeit marketing, development, design, etc) but we all wear multiple hats when it comes to driving the KikScore business forward and setting priorities. In a start-up environment, flexibility is vital – what was a hot priority last week, can take a complete 180 turn the following week based upon customer feedback or some unforeseen influence.  The team needs to be able to react, respond and regroup –  effectively.

If you are working on a new business idea, who will you pull into your inner circle to make it happen?  Be selective… you’ll be spending way more time (on late night conference calls, etc.) with them, than with your family.

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Posts Tagged ‘Small Biz tools’

See how YouRenew has revolutionized the recycling world

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

YouRenew was recently showcased on All Things Considered segment NPR.   After frantically going to the website to determine the value of my drawer full of out-dated gadgets, I contacted YouRenew to tell us their adventure story.   David Walker shares the exciting chronicles of the YouRenew journey with KikScore…

1. Tell us about YouRenew and who you focus on serving?

YouRenew is an electronics re-marketing and recycling company that allows individuals to sell back their used mobile electronics and keep them out of landfills.   Customers across the country visit to find their devices, receive an instant price quote and download a free shipping label to send in their devices – once the devices arrive at the YouRenew facility, customers are sent a check within days.

We recently launched CorporateRenew, a service that allows businesses and other organizations to sell back their used cell phones and smart phones to enhance their environmental credibility while adding to their bottom lines.  We have been gaining significant traction across the country with business in a wide variety of fields via our website.

2. How did the YouRenew website and recycle service come about?

YouRenew was founded in March of 2009 by Rich Littlehale and Bob Casey who believed that given a convenient opportunity and proper incentive, individuals and organizations want to do the right thing with their used mobile electronics.  As only 10% of the discarded cell phones in the US were recycled in 2008, Rich and Bob saw tremendous opportunity to grow a business and make significant social change.

3. Where will YouRenew focus most of its energy in 2010?

In 2010 YouRenew and CorporateRenew will focus most of their energy on reaching out to individuals and organizations to let them know that there is a better alternative than the trash can. Both businesses and individuals are able to receive significant value for their used electronics and can take pride in knowing that they won’t end up in a landfill.

4. If you had 2 lessons learned from your business that you could pass on to others about offering an online service, what are those?

The best lesson we can pass on about having an online business is to be fully transparent to the customer. Individuals and business clients want to know exactly what we do with their used electronics, and we show them! Any business that believes in their service as we do at YouRenew and CorporateRenew should be transparent with their customers.

5. As 2010 begins, what do you see as 2 new trends in your business this year?

As 2010 begins we see a lot more individuals and businesses putting significant emphasis on environmental responsibility.  This is a great trend for us as we offer a service that proves that being green is not just an environmentally beneficial decision, but is a financially beneficial decision as well.

6. If your business/store could be any movie or movie character, what movie/movie character would it be and why?

We would have to be Tom Kelly Jr. from Tommy Boy as we are young, creating jobs in Connecticut, and Tommy Boy is simply a great movie!

7. If YouRenew could have a token spokesperson for your company who would it be and why?

In the midst of the Winter Olympics, we would have to go with Apolo Anton Ohno as he revolutionized a niche sport and brought it to national fame.  With e-waste just becoming a significant issue, we are revolutionizing the way individuals and organizations dispose of their used mobile devices.

8. Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers and the small business community?

This year alone 1 billion cell phones will be created world-wide. Help us keep them out of landfills and bring you significant value for your used devices through YouRenew.com and CorporateRenew.com.

Thanks YouRenew… now back to searching through my drawers.  Please share any other recycling tips you’ve discovered.

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Posts Tagged ‘Small Biz tools’

Small Biz Interview with Tufted Topper owner Madalyn Duerr

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

sunset_sailingIt’s a busy week for Tufted Topperand owner Madalyn Duerr as she excitedly prepares for the Strictly Sail show at Navy Pier in Chicago this coming weekend. Tufted Topper isn’t just for avid boaters, it is a unique custom mattress pad that can be created for any mattress. Tufted Topper was one of our first KikScorebeta customers and has been a great partner in providing feedback and suggestions not only on the KikScore products but also on small business ventures and various other tidbits. Thanks Madalyn and Tufted Topper – best of luck in the show this weekend!

1. Tell us about Tufted Topper and who you focus on serving?
Tufted Topper’ is a custom-made pillow top pad to make any sleeping area more comfortable, giving you mattress comfort without the mattress price. We focus on the marine industry but a topper can be used in campers, on hide-a-beds, or on your own uncomfortable mattress at home.

2. What prompted the launch of Tufted Topper?
The idea for ‘Tufted Topper’ came out of our own need. We were avid sailors spending long weekends on our boat. Sleeping quarters on boats are notoriously uncomfortable and custom mattresses are a very expensive luxury. We had a friend in the mattress business who agreed to make us a topper for our v-berth. It made a world of difference. Once others on our dock heard about the comfortable pad, they wanted one too. A new business was born. However, our friend did not have the equipment needed to make all the intricate cuts and corners found on most boats. After an intense six-month search, we found the perfect vendor and began exhibiting our product at several boat shows but it soon became apparent that we needed more visibility and an easier way for customers to purchase our toppers.

3. How did you get started selling online?
We quickly realized that a website was in order and that a ‘safe’ ordering process was not only important but necessary. Today, more than 85% of our business comes through online sales. Our customers want easy access to product information and simple ordering procedures . . . simple but succinct . . . a challenge when you want to attract customers and provide all the information you can without being overwhelming.

4. Where will Tufted Topper focus most of its energy in 2010?
In 2010, much of our energy will be focused on improving the website and making sure our customers have confidence in shopping with us. KikScore is a great tool that helps us demonstrate that trust online.

5. As 2010 begins, what trends do you see in your business this year?
Slowly coming out of a recession, we look to this year as a ‘retrofit’ year . . . . people remodeling their homes instead of purchasing new ones, getting new tires and brake jobs instead of buying new cars, adding a few small luxuries to their current boats instead of trading up. If that rings true, it should be a good year for ‘Tufted Topper’ . . . . a terrific and affordable upgrade for a boat, camper or home.

If you are out in Chicago this weekend, head to Navy Pier for the show and stop by booth 453 to say Hi to Madalyn and explore having a Tufted Topper custom fit for you!

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Posts Tagged ‘Small Biz tools’

Use More Cowbells to Keep Your Business Focused

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

SNL_Fever_Cowbell_Black_Shirt

If you run a small business, we all have the challenge of staying focused.  We are pulled in a hundred different directions.  You have customers calling you, that new product or service you want to launch, your accountant keeps calling you about this year’s taxes and oh yeah that employee you hired that is just driving you nuts because they are jamming to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face all day at work and not helping you at all.

This Saturday Night Live skit has a good lesson for all of us.  Christopher Walken plays THE Bruce Dickinson during the taping of one of the 1970′s classic songs by Blue Oyster Cult, “Dont Fear The Reaper.”  Walken playing Dickinson implores the band to focus on one critical element to make the song successful.  You will have to watch the video to really see.

What can small businesses learn from the video?

1. Every day make sure you are focusing on the central pillars of your business.  If its marketing to a niche, make sure you are doing everything possible to support your efforts doing that. If it is creating a consistent and coherent brand and then building it. Make sure you have laser focus on this pillar.

2. Eliminate or reduce the distractions of other tasks throughout the day so you can focus on the tasks that grow your business. Here is a great post on how to eliminate distractions in your business.

3. Try, and try again.  Even if you do get distracted.  Stop just like Dickinson does when he interrupts the band’s jam sessions and he makes the band focus on what he sees as the critical element!  If you get distracted, acknowledge it and get back to your core tasks. Yes, that means stay off TMZ and WaitingforNextYear (side note: great Cleveland blog – everyone growing up in CLE knows the refrain with our sports teams…”There is always next year.”)

4.  In the video, learn from Will Ferrell, that even if focusing on a critical element makes you look odd in your business or you have to anger some people by telling them to take a back seat while you focus on More Cowbell go ahead and do it. That focus will only help you and your business to grow, even if it has lots of cowbells.

5. At the end of every rehearsal (i.e. after you end a business day) look back and do a post-mortum: did you focus on the areas of your business that were most important? If not, figure out what you will do to refocus tomorrow.  If so, go celebrate and have a margarita – just dont spill it on your pants!

Did you learn anything from The Bruce Dickinson’s demand for “More Cowbell!” Please tell us in our comments section.

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Posts Tagged ‘Small Biz tools’

What Sparks a Small Business Venture?

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

ks Pic2When starting a small business, what drives and motivates you? Is it passion for a cause or the imminent proof that there is a vacancy for a certain need? In talking with a variety of small business owners for our KikScore blog, the desires and drive to start their own venture vary as much as the different products and services they offer such as KKBB and SimplyAstro

If I were to have followed true passion in where I could be doing the daily equivalent of a comforting and true cause past time, I would have opened a No-Kill Cat shelter… however, this was a very difficult venture to get past my husband Lou, who has more of a passion for golfthan rescuing cats. Add the fact that neither of us has the building space or other means to house so many furry friends. Plus the overhead of running a shelter can be very costly and you need to ensure you have ample vet care on site and plenty of other key resources.

The general thought is you will find happiness doing what you love, it takes the ‘work’ out of ‘work’.   So what you need to find is a viable product, service, or solution that people need — or something that you can convince the general populous they can’t live without.

So how did my KikScore business partners and I end up here?

Another key element in launching a successful start up is to tap into the inner expertise of yourself to uncover a passion that had been slighted due to mundane day job activities, or inability (not to mention lack of desire) to climb the corporate ladder.   All of us at KikScore have vastly different backgrounds, yet a strong desire to not only be our own bosses eventually, but also to provide a product that is cutting edge.

Technology became a strong passion of mine, having launched my career shortly after college working for one of the most accredited entrepreneurs out there, Bob Parsons at Parsons Technology.  As technology and the Internet have migrated over time, running in stride and identifying the gaps are what caused KikScore to come to fruition.

How do I feed that need to own a cat shelter someday? Well… we do have multipe cats running about our home which reminds me I’ve saved some great lives. I frequently volunteer at the local shelter to share the warmth and experience some excess purring.DaxCosmoHeineken

Back to the original question, when starting a small business, what drives and motivates you? Share your stories and ideas with us. We’d love to showcase your small business story for the next KikScore blog!

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Posts Tagged ‘Small Biz tools’

Solicit and Listen – Customer Feedback is critical to business success

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Clip noteSocial media was the craze of 2009 and will only continue to gain ground in 2010. Blogging about your product and/or service is an incredible way to promote your business or product. While customers and passersby can comment on blog entries or Tweet their favorites, how do you convert the blog commenter into a devoted and loyal customer for future success?

As a business owner, you need to provide easy to use feedback tools to ensure that you are in touch with your customers (and would-be customers) and frequently and consistently responding to their needs. This entails listening to comments and being able to categorize them and REACT. There are a variety of tools available (some such asCrowdsound, RatePoint, Yelp) but do these sites bring traffic back to your site? Some do, but some are a link off with minimal options to react to comments. In a previouspost by DojoMike:  customers are sometimes reluctant to provide feedback (positive or negative).

To maintain an open dialog with customers and encourage feedback, the comment avenue needs to be easy to use and promote responses from the merchant/business owner. As a business owner, you also need to be able to solicit feedback and react to it, professionally. If a negative comment comes through, don’t ignore it, you need to respond and make changes that address the issue. At a minimum, sending an email to a customer who recently bought an item from your online store is an easy avenue to inquire if the ordering process was seamless and also to ask for website suggested changes or product improvements. The more you ask a customer for their input, the more likely they will become a repeat customer AND tell their friends about your site and excellent customer service.

At KikScore, we have created a feedback tool within the KikScore seal itself. Comments that are posted here are sent directly to merchants to review and respond. These comments are also available for all to see that are reviewing that site’s KikScore Seal.

How do you solicit feedback from customers? What do you do with the feedback you get? Do you have any feedback/suggestions for KikScore? Please share with us!

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Posts Tagged ‘Small Biz tools’

2010 Is Here: 10 Rules for Killer Business Card By Steven Fisher

Friday, January 1st, 2010

We all use business cards.  Can you tell me the last one that made an impact on you?  Some people would say that cards are just supposed to convey basic contact information.  But think about it.  A business card is the first item that a business contact sees that conveys your personality and creativity after a conversation.  So why not actually use your business card to make that impression?

As 2010 gets rolling, we at KikScore thought this would be a good 10 minute, highly enjoyable video of  a presentation from the GrownSmartBiz Conference that Steve Fisher gave on business cards (the presentation starts a little after the 5 minute mark).  Check it out and let us know if you are going to make a change to your business cards in 2010 so you can start making an impression.

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Posts Tagged ‘Small Biz tools’

7 Steps to Increase Trust for More Online Sales

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Do shoppers think my store is a safe place to make an online purchase?

Nearly all small businesses face a common challenge.  This challenge is demonstrating to potential customers that your small business is credible, trustworthy and has a track record of success and delivering products and services.  This challenge is typically derived from the fact that when someone gets to a small business website, they often do not have any indication whether they can trust that small business if the shopper wants to buy from that business.

Further complicating matters for small businesses online, is the constant threat of fraud and misuse of personal and financial information that weighs heavily on online users minds.  This fear of shoppers online is real and tangible.  In fact, a  Javelin Strategy & Research study found that the fear of identify theft and online shopping in general cost retailers over $21 billion in lost sales in 2008.

A June 2009 McAfee’s study showed that 92 percent of consumers are concerned about their security when shopping on new or unknown websites. Further, that study found that 63% of shoppers will not purchase from a web site that does not display a  security policy or other indications of trustworthiness.  A 2009 Verisign Security Report also found that nearly 50% of internet users avoid buying online due to concerns that their financial information will be stolen. The report also found that 83% of internet users want assurances that their information will be secure.

These concerns are getting the attention of all types of businesses, including industry giants like Microsoft.  Scott Charney, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Trustworthy Computing, said at the 2009 RSA Security Conference that  “When [shoppers] visit Web sites, they don’t know if that Web site is to be trusted or not. For all of these reasons we need End-to-End Trust.”

Steps for Small Business to Demonstrate Trust

Shoppers concerns with buying online are well documented and the data supports those concerns. The good news is that there are some simple steps that all small businesses can take to demonstrate trust on their website to shoppers:

1. Management/Owner Information:  Be transparent to your shoppers. Prominently display under a Management tab the names of the owners of your business.   Make sure you add some background information on that manager/owner.  You can even include  it in story form.   This information gives shoppers comfort that there is a real person behind your business and makes it more personal.

2. Use Online Video to Virtually Introduce Yourself: A hot new trend is using online videos, through a YouTube clip, that introduces the management of your small business to shoppers and potential customers.  Here are some good tips in this prior post on using videos to build trust and credibility for your small business on your website.

3. Contact Information: Another way to build trust is to clearly and prominently display contact information including phone number and email addresses for customer service and management contacts.  By showing shoppers that they can contact you in case there are any product or service issues, you give them comfort that your business is accessible.

4. Return, Shipping, Customer Service & Data Policies: It is important that you clearly provide a list of your return, shipping, customer service and data protection policies.  It is important enough that small businesses should consider devoting a whole tab or area of their website where shoppers can visit and see what are the policies for your business.  Again the goal here should be the more information about these policies the better.

5. Trust and Validation Marks/Seals:  The 2009 Verisign Security Report found that 86% of online shoppers feel more confident about entering personal and financial information with sites that have some type of security indicators, such as trustmarks.   A few seals provides much of the information that is covered in this post through just one seal that resides on an online store’s website. Look for those seals.

6. Customer Feedback: Show that you can be trusted and also let people know your track record with customers by publishing comments about your product, service and business.

7. Actively Engage Customers: Use social media sites and tools like Twitter, Facebook and a blog to profile your business, create a tangible brand and personality and also engage customers.  These conversations with your customer and the community give shoppers a more complete, in-depth and intimate look into your business.  These conversations and having them like we have covered in previously posts via Twitter and your blog only make your business more credible.

Also one of our favorites, Inc Magazine has a good article on this same topic of online trust and you should check that out too.

If you start using these tips, your business and your website will go a long way to clearly demonstrating trust to shoppers and thereby helping you increase sales.

Please tell us in the comments section below what you look for before you buy online.

*Image from Bill Mullins Blog.

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Posts Tagged ‘Small Biz tools’

Choosing the Right Smartphone to Manage your Business While you Aren't in the Office

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
smartphones_frontI recently made the decision to move out of the pre-iPhone ages (believe it or not that was only a little over 2 years ago) and get a smartphone that allowed me to better manage my work and personal life while I wasn’t in the office. After I made this decision I started researching the various smartphones on the market and determined that there were some features that I really needed and others that were nice to have but not vital to managing my business while on the go.  I thought that I would share a few of these features to consider the next time you are looking for a new smartphone:
 
E-mail/Calendar Syncing – I want a smartphone that clearly separates my personal and business e-mail while also allowing me to easily synchronize my Outlook calendar and contacts with my work computer.  I also want to be able to easily open Adobe and Microsoft Office e-mail attachments. From past experience, I know that some of the Blackberry devices combine work and personal email into one email box which I do not like at all.
 
Web Browsing – I know that the smaller screen on a smartphone isn’t the best places to browse the internet but I still want a browser that will display web pages on my phone like they would display on my home computer.  I also want to be able to quickly switch between portrait and landscape browsing and also be able to easily scroll through pages and zoom in and out when necessary.  The Apple iPhone seems to be the leader in this area as their pinch to zoom and scrolling technologies have really revolutionized smartphone web browsing.  Also, the HTC Hero just recently came out with a browser that supports Flash technology so that should also improve web browsing on these devices.
 
Social Networking & Instant Messaging Support – Ideally I would prefer to have 1 contact list on my phone and have all e-mail, phone, and Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook/instant messaging information for all of my contacts in it.  It would also be nice if my smartphone provided me with a streamlined way to interact with these services and contacts without having to go to the providers webpage to update my status or send an instant message. Through my research, I found that the new Palm OS on the Palm Pre does a fantastic job of combining all of your social network contacts into one phonebook contact. 
 
Application Store – I would like an application store with a large assortment of applications for business productivity as well as handy everyday tools for travel and entertainment.  The current leader in this department is clearly Apple’s “App Store” with over 100,000 applications but the open source Android Market (for the HTC Hero, Motorola Droid, HTC Droid Eris and other Android OS phones) is slowly catching up with over 16,000 applications and growing.
 
Wi-Fi Support – I didn’t realize how important seamless cellular to wi-fi support would be when I started shopping for a smartphone but learned quickly.  Not only is the data transfer rate higher for web browsing and running applications but you can also use Skype to place VoIP calls that do not count against your monthly “anytime” minutes allowed by your carrier.
 
Multi-Tasking – I want to be able to quickly switch from writing an e-mail to browsing a webpage to making a phone call to checking stock quotes and back to finishing my e-mail all within seconds or minutes without any application latency. Again, the Palm OS for the Palm Pre really shines in this area as well with a revolutionary new “activity cards” technology that allows users to click a button on the handset and then scroll between and re-activate any of the multitude of applications running on their phone instantly.
 
I do recognize that other features like music/mp3 support and digital camera/video quality may also come into play when making your decision but I thought that most smartphones do an OK job in these areas and I still don’t look to my smartphone to be my primary source for these features. Other areas that I didn’t get into here are phone/data plan pricing and network coverage because I think those are really carrier-specific issues but are definitely important when making this decision.  In case you are interested, I am leaning towards purchasing the HTC Hero from Sprint but I am waiting for the release of the Android 2.0 operating system for this device which should happen in the next month or two.
 
Let me know if there are any other features you consider vital to the use of a smartphone while managing your business away from home.

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Posts Tagged ‘Small Biz tools’

Why Online Stores Should Blog

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

We get the question a lot these days about whether small businesses and in particular online stores should have blogs?  Often, the question is asked why should a store owner spend their precious time blogging.  Here are some reasons that an online store should blog:

1. SEO Value: It is no secret that Google and other search engines really like and prefer fresh website content.  A blog is a quick, easy way to continually provide new and fresh content related to your store and your website.  The more posts that you create and publish and then syndicate to various blog search engines like Technorati, MyVenturePad and SocialMedian the better.  Also when you incorporate relevant keywords into posts, that content is spidered by Google and other search engines, and that then helps your overall search results for those keywords.  That is because you are creating more relevant content and website pages related to those keywords for your store.

2.Humanizing Your Store: Shoppers and people in general like to shop and interact with businesses that they can relate to and like.  Use your blog to educate your customers, prospects, the community and the industry on who your business is, your business culture and ideals and the personality of your business.  There are many ways to do that including using videos on your blog to introduce employees as we described previously.  Giving shoppers and your customers a more in depth look at your brand and your business allows customers to create a bond with your business.  This can help drive word of mouth marketing of your store by these customers and shoppers.

3. Another Channel to Feature Products:  Online stores can use a blog to describe and introduce new products or product lines to your customers and the market.  You can also have blog posts that describe a special discount on a product.  Some stores even use their blog to outline special features of their products that may not be obvious.  You can even use a blog to create  your own Frequently Asked Questions for your products which can help reduce your customer service calls and call drivers.

4. Way to Engage Your Customers: Having a blog is a great way to interact with your customers.  Your customers and the greater community can visit your blog, read the posts and then comment on those posts.  When they do, it gives you and your store and opportunity to have a conversation with your customers.  This also has the benefit of giving your customers a forum to discuss your products.  That is a great alternative to your customers not having a forum and then posting negative feedback on a third party website that you do not control.

5.  Linking And Traffic Benefits: If you have a blog, it gives you a great opportunity to link to third party websites. BUT, it also allows other websites to link to your posts and your store.  If you can combine this, with an affirmative strategy on your own where you go out and post comments to other blogs, those bloggers will eventually return the favor and post comments on your store’s blog. For some more context, here is a good post from blogging experts on getting more blog comments. If you are active with other blogs,  those bloggers will often also add links to your site and in some cases they will feature your products and store on their blog.  All of this taken together can really help increase the visibility of your store and drive new traffic. It all begins with your blog!

Now let us note that, having a blog is just one step in your overall marketing, social media and branding strategy.  Combine your blog use with a strategy that uses Twitter and Facebook like we outlined previously here and here and you can really begin to extend the reach of your store to new communities, customers and industry experts that your business never would have reached before.

Let us know if you have any tips for using a blog for your online store.

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