From a former reporter, how to be pitch perfect

Written for SPAN Enterprises

When you are working company PR, getting a publication to write about your business, product, or event may seem like an impossible feat. The media seems so alluring and mysterious, veiled behind a screen or the glossy pages of a magazine. It may be hard to imagine how to draw in their attention without dire or glamorous circumstances, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

You see, I have crossed the divide, and I’m forging a new path.

Having worked as a reporter and I am now settling into my new role as a communications manager at SPAN, I carry both perspectives in mind. I remember receiving press releases and emails that either urged me to “sale” something for them OR bored me to sleep. Neither considering my audience or the message I needed to convey.

In order to get your brand published, you have to step outside your own perspective. You have to consider your message and how it relates to the reporter’s readers, and then, pitch it accordingly.

First, narrow down your goal for getting published. What are you trying to achieve with the publication? What is your message? A new product? Or new team leadership? Have a clear vision of the company’s message, because a generic company feature isn’t feasible without some sort of unique angle.

Next, research publications that have already written about similar subjects. Whether it’s a trade magazine, local or national newspaper or e-magazine, become familiar with what’s out there and how it relates to your business and message.

Once you’ve narrowed down a few potential pubs, try to hone in on a specific reporter or editor who may be interested in your pitch. Look for similar stories to find the right person, and then, review other stories they’ve written. This will help you argue how your pitch relates to but stands out compared to other articles they’ve published.

Then, work on writing a personalized email pitch that conveys your message through the lens of the paper while also focusing on the benefit of the end reader. Think about the publication’s goal.

Is it to inform the general local public about stories that affect their lives and businesses?

Is it going to be read by CEOs who care about leadership goals, macro and micro economics, and business trends?

Is it tech-focused, only publishing the latest IT developments?

Use this frame of reference when explaining why they should want to publish a story about your company. Also, it’s very important to answer all the main points surrounding the initial company message. Again, think like a reporter and follow the who, what, when, how, and why. Your goal is to make it easy for them to write the story by giving them everything they need upfront.

Last, review your email (bad grammar reads as unprofessional!) and attach a generic press release (with quotes). Send it off and with a little patience and persistence, your story might get picked up.

Remember, the best pitches reflect a combination of your company’s message, the reporter’s intentions, and the reader’s needs. Pull this together while adhering to professional etiquette and your company will gain the right attention.

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Back-to-School Business Basics

Remembering the fundamentals of success

Written for SPAN Enterprises

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the times. No matter what’s trending, there are always fundamental mainstays guaranteed to keep your business stay afloat. We’ve narrowed down 12 essential practices to help you build or continue to grow your business.

  1. Name and own your values and vision.

Every entrepreneur has a unique view of the world and a firm hold on how they want to create success —whether it’s based on personal ideology or past business experiences of what not to do. It’s important to make sure those values ring loud in your mission or vision statement. Millennials are the most influential group of consumers and authenticity is a top priority when trusting and remaining loyal to a brand, so take the time to name your values and vision, and share it with customers and employees.

  1. Invest time and talent in research and development.

To remain on top, you have to stay fresh. Your best employees should allot a substantial amount of time to reviewing product features and user interface as well as the latest technological advances — related or not. Creativity inspires creativity.

  1. Economics 101: Supply and Demand.

Success in business is equivalent to the needs of consumers. No one will buy a product that doesn’t meet their needs — at least, not for long. The product must match the customer’s desired impact and ingratiate them to you.

  1. Know your niche.

Whatever your product represents — whether it’s sports or business software — it’s imperative to know the industry. Stay informed on the latest related news, products, customer habits and needs that demonstrate and affect demand. Especially know the competition. You should always know your competitor’s products as well as your own.

  1. Nailing a sale, keeping the customer.

Following through on No. 4 means you and your team already understand what customers are up against (industry challenges) and how your product presents a solution (meets demand). Use this niche knowledge to do two things: 1) create a commonality with customers and 2) combat the customer’s reluctance with honest evidence of how the product’s benefits outweigh the cost. Putting industry intelligence into action by understanding and meeting customer needs will keep them loyal and create brand envy among competitors.

  1. Make marketing a priority.

Most businesses include marketing as an afterthought to continue building on sales; however, great businesses and entrepreneurs include it early on in the development phase. Marketing professionals are phenomenal researchers and bring a deeper understanding of customers and human-product connection right into the drawing room. Get ahead of the game by molding your brand during development.

  1. Production should be productive — creating quality products efficiently and effectively.

A cheaply-made, easily-broken product will be quickly dismissed by consumers and it’s hard to come back from that. In the business world, you are what you create and if you don’t consistently create high-quality products, your brand will be regarded as an unacceptable option.

8. Distribution

Like production, pay attention to consistency and quality in distribution efforts. Every product should reach the customer in the same way, in a relatively convenient amount of time.

  1. Meeting legal regulations means you stay in business.

Take the government and professional governing bodies very seriously or you won’t be in business for long. Make an effort to excel at safety, employee and quality assurance standards. Set the precedence and increase customer loyalty simultaneously.

  1. Show appeal to gain a better workforce.

Building your business often equates to hiring others. Obviously, you want the best employees out there, but how do you find them? First, stay true to your mission, invest in company culture, quality production and worthy employee benefits. Second, use your research skills (developed from R & D and knowing your niche) to target employees that meet your needs. Last, go out a find them where they are versus waiting for them to come to you. You can do this by directly proposing to individuals or listing with certain universities and job boards.

  1. Management style can make or break innovation and productivity.

Once you have star-quality employees, you have to manage them in a way that shows respect and motivates creative problem solving and critical thinking. They need to be able to see you as a thought leader and seasoned businessperson while also a humble human being — just like everyone else. Maintaining this balance isn’t easy but valuable to create a welcoming and enterprising environment.

  1. Being a stickler for financial conservatism in business matters.

Leave the micromanagement out of managing employees and include it in managing your finances. All budget items need to have a short-term or valuable long-term return on investment.

This list highlights the most important strategies for success. Whether you’re just starting out or need a refresher to get back on track, these points make good business sense. Remember to stay true to these fundamentals and you will pave your way to the bank.

 

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Sometimes giving it away for free is the most profitable solution

Written for SPAN Enterprises

Last week, Publix at Wedgewood Square Shopping Center brought us a cake and cupcakes. We didn’t order it. There wasn’t a birthday or celebration at the office that day. The bakery delivered the sweet treats just because we are regular customers and they wanted to show gratitude.

Eyes lit up as chocolate and vanilla cupcakes were passed around during the afternoon crunch. The delectable goodies made Publix’s quality of service and gratuitousness palatable as we devoured buttercream-frosted fluffy cakes.

This was a smart move by Publix. Really smart. We have several company events coming up and not to mention we are on the cusp of the holiday season. It was a great customer service strategy to remind us that they are available and appreciative of our business. Not to mention perking up our taste buds with a sample of their sugary goodness.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Give your customer something they want or something they need. It reminds them that you care about their needs, provide quality products and shows thanks. It’s an extra mile in customer service that keeps them coming back.

At SPAN, we often treat our customers. Since we are in the software industry, we aren’t baking desserts, but we develop free companion apps that complement our web-based technologies. We’ve also created general apps that support the industries we work within.

For example, we launched an app called RigMinders. It’s a free personal and professional reminder app for truck drivers that’s already loaded with standard industry reminders such as quarterly tax filings, license and permit renewals, and annual excise tax deadlines.

RigMinders has been lauded by our customers and even truckers who are not our customers as a helpful app. The decision to create and give away this app does the same thing for our customers as Publix did for us: it gives thanks, creates credibility, and shows quality of production.

Our app continues to show trucking professionals that we care about supporting their needs while also gaining credibility for our company in the process. It gives them a glimpse at the quality of our products by exhibiting our usability, industry knowledge, and design experience.

Next time your business wants to remind customers that you are available and appreciative of their needs, give them something they need at no cost. It will benefit your business in the long run.

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What is Obamacare and how does it affect my business?

Written for ACAwise, product of SPAN Enterprises

10/2016

Obamacare, officially known as The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), is a health reform law that was signed by President Barack Obama in March 2010. The law was created to give people and their families quality, affordable healthcare coverage. It requires health insurance companies and employers to provide better health insurance options.

Under the ACA, employers with at least 50 full-time employees or the equivalent of an average of 50 full-time employees in the prior calendar year are considered large employers and must provide 95 percent of full-time employees with minimum value and affordable healthcare coverage.

Businesses that don’t comply with this requirement will be fined if employees seek insurance and gain tax credits via the federal and state health insurance marketplace.

Employers may determine if they’re required to provide health insurance to employees by adding together the total number of full-time employees per month and then dividing that number by 12.

For Example: January through October, you have 60 full-time employees on the payroll every month and November through December, you have 45 each month.

January: 60

February: 60

March: 60

April: 60

May: 60

June: 60

July: 60

August: 60

September: 60

October: 60

November: 45

December: 45

__________________

690

Adding these totals to 690 and then dividing that number by 12 gets you the average employee count per month.

690/12 = 57.5 employees per month

According to this calculation, the employer would meet the requirement of 50 full-time employees and therefore, be required to provide health insurance for the next calendar year.

Determining who is full time and eligible can get tricky if you have a lot of employees and their hours vary over the year.

In order to be compliant, the health insurance must meet the minimum value of 60 percent of out-of-pocket costs for the insurer. Other requirements include: free annual wellness checkups, free preventive care, and a maximum cost for emergency care. The insurance plan must also include coverage for dependents (not spouses) up to 26 years old. The insurance plans should not cost the insurer more than 9.56 percent of the employee’s household income.

If applicable employers do not meet insurance coverage requirements, the government will fine the company $2000 per full-time employee minus the first 30 employees.

For Example: You have 80 full-time employees and don’t offer coverage. You can expect to get fined for 50 out of the 80 employees. The total fine cost will be $100,000.

80 – 30 = 50

50 x $2000 = $100,000

There’s another fine for employers that provide health insurance that doesn’t meet minimum value (affordability) and the other ACA insurance standards mentioned above. This fine is the lesser of $3000 per full-time employee receiving government subsidies OR $2000 per full-time employee minus the first 30 employees (same as the aforementioned example).

Small businesses are not required to offer health insurance; however, these businesses may be eligible for tax credits if coverage is provided. Employers who have less than 25 full-time workers who earn less than $50,000 in average annual wages are eligible for tax credits.

Also, businesses with 100 or less full-time employees may receive up to a 50 percent tax break on employee health insurance premium costs when using the Small Business Health Options Program.

If you’re still concerned about ACA requirements and managing all the information you need to determine eligibility and file information returns with the IRS, check out ACAwise. This cloud-based program helps you meet IRS compliance and manage evolving employee status and requirements throughout the year.

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It takes more than a storefront to run a business

Breath life into your brand with social media

Written for SPAN Enterprises

Social media has become the number one way to network personally and professionally. Having a steady online presence opens the door for more business opportunities and prospective partnerships. If you’re not social online on some platform, you are doing a disservice to your business, but the good news is you can get started at anytime.

The most important thing to remember when interacting online is to create a social profile that is authentic and aligns with your vision and goals. You don’t want to look like a robot that just throws up sales ads and pressures people into buying products. That’s not how social media works. You need to humanize your brand by sharing interesting and thoughtful content that reflects your values and interests while creating real relationships with your followers by interacting with them on a regular basis..

Think back to your company’s mission. What does your company stand for? What are you trying to achieve and why should it matter to everyone else? Answer these questions and you have a good start. You want to use the mission statement as a starting block that thrusts you into the development of a humanized version of your business online — sharing important niche and business news, creative ideas, showing appreciation to others in the industry and other industries who are doing things that align with your values, commenting on social commentary that remains inclusive to all potential customers and partnerships, and gently nudging people toward your blog and website.

When you first start networking, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and want to be everywhere at once and read and share all the things; however, that can eat up all your time and take away from other more pressing parts of your business. Remember, social media ROI is a long term commitment.

Start out slow with one social platform —Facebook and Twitter are the top social media sites for business. Create an account and take time deciding how to describe your business. A shortened version of your business statement that shows personality is ideal for your social media profile description. This shows your company’s personality and continues to align with your core values — the foundation of authenticity.

Share a few times a day and really sit back and pay attention to what others are doing.

Notice when others are sharing, when people engage more and what works the best. Make an effort to log in regularly and set limits to social media perusing (10-15 mins at a time), so you don’t get lost in information land. Check out your competitors or the top dogs in your industry and see how they do it. What makes them stand out online.

Next, find a social media management tool that provides feedback on what you are sharing. Some great options are Hootsuite and Agorapulse. These tools allow you to curate your communications across several social media platforms as well as generate reports on what you post to rate your social success.

Once you’ve built a robust group of followers and curated content that builds up your business mission, then you can start developing social media campaigns to push products and topics of interest for your business. When developing a campaign, you want to have a clear plan of action.

Ask yourself the following questions:

What am I trying to accomplish?

How can I measure campaign success?

Who is my target audience?

How can I best interact with them?

After uncovering all of these answers, you should be able to start developing an assortment of posts that align with the campaign. The assortment of posts should include active and passive ads, curated content from other sites, company blogs, and organic social interactions.

When running social campaigns, your goal is to drive traffic to your website.

Be sure your website is updated, error-free and user friendly. It’s also crucial that it aligns with your mission statement and the brand image portrayed on social media. Someone should be able to interact with your brand on your website, social media and in your store and get the same feeling. You want people to be comfortable with who you are and what you identify as. If you confuse them with different styles and approaches, they will stray. Keep it simple.

A great tool for checking how traffic performs on your website is Google Analytics. This is the age of Google and everything that works well online goes through Google. Google Analytics is a tool that will help you stalk viewers on your site. (Not in a creepy way but a business smart way!) It reports on what brought them to you (social media posts), what pages they clicked on, and how long they were on each page. Knowing your viewers moves or lack thereof gives you a clue as to what posts effectively nudge them to take that extra leap over to your online storefront on the big ole’ busy world wide web.

If you stay true to your brand by owning your message and use the right tools to track what works and what doesn’t, you will be well on your way to lassoing new business leads and sales. The world wide web doesn’t have to be a wild, uncharted western frontier if you take a measured approach and organically grow your business with the same principals that got you started in the first place.

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