Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Politically Incorrect Business Names

We've posted once before about Creative Business Names - this time we decided to post some politically incorrect business names. Blame our bored engineer for finding these listings on our MerchantCircle network. I encourage you to not read on if you are easily offended.

Happy Thanksgiving:
Community Relations

Monday, November 24, 2008

Yellow Pages Association Response Shows Lack of Leadership, Vision

If you haven't already heard, The Wall Street Journal published an article last week titled: "Yellow Pages Faces Extinction." The headline should pretty much give away the subject, and sure enough, the Yellow Pages Association is back in defense mode. We've argued before that the YPA needs to take a more aggressive approach as an industry leader, as opposed to constant "no I'm not" mode, and reorganize the priorities of their sales force.

In this email sent out to YPA members and past attendees of their conferences, the tone is essentially: 'We tried to talk them out of running the article, they didn't call us back. You must remember these reporters are all young and they don't use the Yellow Pages.' Below is an excerpt:

Key Take-Aways: We must never lose sight of the fact that most reporters in this space are young, fresh grads from Gen Y or the Millennial generation. In order to resonate, we must speak their language and challenge their assumptions.

- Steel’s perspective on the business is not very dissimilar with other young, urban-dwelling reporters and analysts who don’t use the print Yellow Pages. She is very much up to speed on new media and its new entrants. From her perspective, the fragmented nature of the IYP space in light of this emerging competition is problematic for the Yellow Pages -- hence the direction of the article.

Here, at MerchantCircle, we've never argued that no one uses the Yellow Pages and we've also never argued that it doesn't have value for many local business owners. Where there should also be no argument, is that the Yellow Pages faces a decreasing consumer and audience base. We can quote different studies all day long on decreased usage and ad spending in print directories, but all it takes is some common sense to realize that more and more searches are taking place through personal devices. Even though the Yellow Pages has taken a multi-tiered approach to their advertisements, with digital offerings, their strategy is inherently flawed.

In the article, Emily Steel writes:
Analysts say yellow-pages sales teams face an inherent conflict. While they are pressured to sell both print and online ads, Internet ads are often a third of the price of the print product. The top priority for the sales teams often is to sell the print book first, then sell the digital products.

Even if online revenues were growing at a faster clip, analysts are cautious about the prospects of online-only directories. Yellow-pages ads are the only form of advertising many small businesses buy, and the online ads are typically sold in conjunction with print listings, Mr. Simonton says. That means that if businesses aren't buying the print ad, then the online ad disappears too.

It's hard to get a YP salesman to 'flip the script' when they know the majority of their profits will be made by selling the print ad. These are salesman that have been very successful in the past. Asking them to refocus their efforts and make less, is not an easy proposition. We have hundreds of thousands of merchants who have dealt first-hand with these salesman.

"I got one response from that $400 ad - I was really disappointed. I tried the Yellow Pages, and I think they still have value, but they charge too much," said Gary LaChapelle, owner of Maury's Kung Fu in Worcester, MA.

"The reason I don't do Yellow Page ads anymore is because I personally don't look at Yellow Pages at all. The ads were expensive and I wasn't seeing a difference in customers. Most people search on the internet, so it's important that they can find me," said Barbara Joseph, owner of Arrow Gift Shoppe in Morgantown, WV.

Rather than try and fight it, the YPA should take a proactive effort and introduce a campaign that would generate a headline of: 'The Yellow Pages Attempts to Reinvent Itself.' This will allow them to continue to plug the value of print yellow pages, as well as show the leadership they are taking in a space of emerging mediums that they are most qualified to lead. Anytime a new product or medium is introduced, put out a new press release about how YP salesman are incorporating it into their interactions with merchants (even if it hasn't happened yet). Control the discussion, especially with what journalists love. NEW.

Here's a lesson in Public Relations 101. If every journalists is saying something about you on terms that are not to your liking, you create your own terms so that you can control the conversation again. By simply repeating, 'no we're not' - it's not going to get the job done.

Kevin L.
Community Relations

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Web 2.0 Equation for Local Businesses

We released our press release today on a study of our MerchantCircle members and their activity online. I'm live-blogging right now from the Kelsey Conference, where Darren Waddell, Vice President of Marketing, MerchantCircle, just gave a speech on the panel for 'The Web 2.0 Equation: Community and Viral Effects.' Below are some of the slides Darren used for his talking points. Essentially, business owners teaching business owners about the benefits of their MerchantCircle listing.

Picture 002
Educating Each Other
News Feed
Talk To Me

Community Relations

Introducing Social Networking to Business Owners

As part of our ongoing studies into our merchant base that represents local business owners in all 50 states and almost every county in the U.S., we recently conducted a study, in conjuction with Rapleaf, about our merchant demographics and their activity, or lack thereof, on the web. Our study on small business concerns during the Presidential Election was cited in a recent edition of The New York Times. We've also surveyed our 650,000 merchant base on their advertising spending habits and preferences. It's because of many of these MerchantCircle studies, we've been able to form a comprehensive view on merchants everywhere, and sometimes, become an advocate for local business owners as well.

We're humbled and grateful to be a voice to the largest social network of local business owners in the nation and we'll continue to innovate with your business suggestions. Below is the study conducted by Rapleaf, that shows we've introduced 'social networking' to over 400,000 business owner across the nation. The majority of the business owners we've brought onto the web are over 26 years old at a clip of 86%. 54% are older than 36.

Consumer Dataset Profile Analysis
Social Networking Site Usage Analysis
Age Analysis
Location Analysis

Community Relations

Monday, November 17, 2008

Finding Small Business Loans When Banks Won't Lend

Since a $700 billion bailout was approved and almost half of it has been dispersed among the banking industry, small business owners have yet to see any of this money in the form of loans. Despite warnings from congressional leaders, and even President Bush, to not horde cash and begin loaning again, the banks seem to be reluctant to do so.

In this story, titled 'Message to Obama: Send Loans Fast,' the author suggests President-elect Obama should do exactly what he promised to do during the campaign, which is: 'start cutting loan checks directly from the government.'

In October, Obama proposed temporarily suspending the fees the Small Business Administration charges for participation in its flagship loan-guarantee programs, which insure banks against losses on a portion of the money they lend to qualifying small businesses. But he also suggested making direct loans available through the SBA's Disaster Loan Program, which traditionally assists natural-disaster victims.

Well, until President-elect Obama takes office, it seems unlikely a President with less than 10 weeks left in office will be able to accomplish anything in a Democratic Congress. We've written before about Small Business Help, Resources, and Loans, but if you aren't having any luck and have been maxing out your credit cards, check out this article titled '5 Alternatives to Borrowing from Banks.'

MerchantCircle Community Relations

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Refocusing on Main Street: MerchantCircle in The New York Times

For politicians and the media, talking up Main Street is a much tougher pitch than talking up Wall Street. On Wall Street, you can see the valuations of companies rise and fall by millions in a day. On Main Street, it's much harder to gauge a new business opening or a store closing in, say, Pocatello, Idaho. As the economy dramatically began to shift downwards during the Presidential Election, the politicians finally began throwing around "Main Street" in their campaign speeches. It's a good thing too, since Main Street creates two-thirds of all new American jobs.

Well, the media started to come around as well, once Joe the Plumber became Mr. Main Street. Today, one of MerchantCircle's small business surveys on the financial crisis was featured in The New York Times:

"In a survey in September of 4,200 small-business owners by MerchantCircle, a social networking Web site for small companies, four of five respondents said either that the federal bailout of financial institutions would not help them or that they were unsure whether it would.

At the same time, the election intensified scrutiny of Mr. Obama's tax plans. He has pledged to raise taxes on households earning more than $250,000. He has also pledged to create a $5 billion Small Business Rescue Plan, similar to the Treasury bailout, to be run through the Small Business Administration, as well as to scrap capital gains taxes on investments in small businesses and provide them with a small tax credit on their health care costs."
Click here to read the full article. Click here to see the survey results mentioned in the article.

Community Relations

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Small Business Survival Tips During a Recession

No matter whom you ask, one of the most important things you should do for your business during a recession is to market, market, market. I highly recommend reading this article from SFGate called Tips for Small Businesses to Survive Recession. On marketing:

"Don't stop marketing. Scrutinize your marketing budget to make sure you're not wasting money, but don't stop marketing or advertising completely. If you can afford it, you may even want to increase your sales and marketing team."

From BNET, (even though this article is dated 1992, the information is similar to tips from today):

"5. Marketing is everything in a recession.
Smart firms continue with a strong marketing effort even in difficult times. But don't expect instant gratification. Marketing in tough times paves the way for future profits. It's the best way to keep your name in front of both clients and prospects.

..... Maintaining the status quo is for those destined to be the dinosaurs of the 80s, not the dominant firms of the 90s."

Besides marketing, it's also important to operate your business in a lean manner. If you think you're already lean - think again - you can probably get leaner. Through the Merchant Marketplace, you can compare prices on products you're already using to operate your business.

During a recession, you can find some great deals, from hiring excellent employees, to cheaper products, including advertising. It's important to clear your books of expenses that don't work, namely the Yellow Pages. Of course, this isn't for everyone. Some businesses still find the print Yellow Pages to be effective. The majority of MerchantCircle's 650,000 members do not. Here's a list of quotes from merchants from almost every state who have turned their attention away from the Yellow Pages and their high prices and long contracts.

If you haven't already claimed your MerchantCircle listing, you should know that it's free. You can write blogs, newsletters, upload your business pics, connect with other business owners, and communicate with your customers online. Even if you already have a website, MerchantCircle strengthens your overall online presence in a Web 2.0 way. If you're looking for advertising options, MerchantCircle has the most extensive, affordable, and effective advertising options on the web.

Remember: Be aggressive, stay lean, and stay strong.

Community Relations

Monday, November 10, 2008

What President-Elect Obama's Email Campaign Can Teach Business Owners

Whether you're Republic, Democrat, Independent, or other, it's hard to argue against the effectiveness of President-Elect Barack Obama's game-changing online outreach. Armed with more than 10 million e-mail addresses, his legion of supporters were constantly kept up-to-date with the campaign, and were directly responsible for organizing, registering, and rallying millions more.

Nearly 1/3 of the 10 million donated money to the campaign and shortly after winning the election, a message was sent to his supporters, that this was only the beginning. His campaign was able to keep him instantly connected with his supporters through the web, a lesson that business owners should also use to their advantage.

Add Customers

With MerchantCircle's e-mail options, you can upload your customer and contact information and business contacts to send out coupons, blogs, or newsletters. If you don't have any of your customer contact information, you should consider asking your customers whether they want to receive coupons and specials from you. As your contact list grows, you will be able to maximize the effectiveness of any specials or sales, without have to spend money advertising it in the newspaper, radio, or television. Just like President-Elect Obama's e-mail list, it won't cost you a thing to reach your most valuable customers.

Network of Merchants

Click here to get started on your Merchant Dashboard.

Community Relations

Friday, November 7, 2008

Best Local Business Sites

I got an emailed newsletter today from one of the merchants that's in my network for my production company: Treasure Islands of Santa Cruz. It's one of the best, most informative newsletters I've come across. I've spoken to Rick Cook, the owner, before and he says that he often fields calls from merchants asking him how he did certain things on his MerchantCircle page. Well, I guess he finally decided to put it all down in a newsletter! Check it out by clicking here.


In the newsletter, Rick wrote several articles, including:
  • How to Create a Free Website Banner and a MerchantCircle Ad with Bling
  • Make Your Own Free Banner for Your MerchantCircle Ads or For Your Website
  • Creating an Ad on Your MerchantCircle Page With Your New Banner
  • In Layman's Terms How MerchantCircle Can Work For You
  • Helping Out a Fellow MerchantCircle Member in Need

Thanks Rick, for making my job a lot easier! Follow some of his tips, which increased his website traffic by 500%. Check out his MerchantCircle listing here.

Treasure Islands

Community Relations

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How Do I Make My MerchantCircle Listing Look Better?

It's nice for MerchantCircle to have been featured on many sites that recommend the best places to list your business on the web, including here on Entrepreneur and Search Engine Land, amongst others. We now have merchants in every state and nearly every county in the Unites States. For the 640,000 business owners who have already joined MerchantCircle and future members, it's important that you utilize your listing to the fullest of it's abilities. Besides writing a blog, which you should definitely do consistently, you can dress up your listing as well and make it stand out more. Here's a look below at just some of the color options, which you can find by clicking here on your Merchant Dashboard:

Color Options

You also have the option of placing icons on your listing that are relevant to your business. This will help make your listing more visually appealing and personalized. Below are just a few of the options you can choose from. Clicking here will take you to your there.

Icon Options

Take a moment to dress up your page. It's all free, fun, and can quite possibly catch the attention of a customer's eye.

Community Relations

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

4 Essential Tips for Writing a Great Blog

Out of the many free tools we offer for your MerchantCircle listing, one of the most important is the blog feature. If you don't already know, a blog is essentially a web log, or public journal, that can be found and read over the internet. While writing this blog and a personal one over the last two years, I've found out a lot about what works and what doesn't. Here are four essential and important tips on having a successful blog that will bring you new customers.

1. Write Often - It's important to write and post as often as you can, which search engines love. Many people make the mistake of writing one or two blog posts, lose interest, and never write another. Put it this way: the more you write, the more material you have floating around the web, thus more chances that someone will find that material and click through to your MerchantCircle listing.

2. Write Early - Be ahead of the curve. If you can think of a topic, or are the first person to write about a subject before everyone else starts writing about it, then your blog post will come up at or near the top of search engine results. This traffic will bring your blog and listing more credibility with the search engines and more visitors.

3. Write Pertinent Titles - It's not always the best to write a witty, intriguing title. Go with a title that spells out exactly what you're writing about. Think about what a customer might enter into a search engine box, and write a post with a title of those exact words. Make it easy for customers to find you. While a spelled out title may seem bland, that doesn't mean your writing has to be. Once the customer finds your blog post, you still have to make sure they stay there by having an informative, interesting, or humorous blog.

4. Write to Link - While writing your posts, make sure you link relevant articles. This essentially means that someone reading your blog post can click on certain words that you've left a link for and it will take you to a new article or blog posts that's relevant to what you're writing about. For instance, if you click on the word link in the first sentence, it will take you to a Wikipedia page that explains what a link is. Also, comment on other people's blogs, if it's relevant, and leave a link to the relevant blog post you wrote. This can bring you added traffic and loyal readers.

By following these four rules, you can drive traffic to your site quickly and effectively. Getting the same people to visit your blog regularly can be hard, but if the stated goal is attracting NEW customers, then you're only as good as your next, well-titled blog post.

Happy Blogging,
Community Relations

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Vote from Wasilla, Alaska: Thank Goodness It's Over!

Over the last few months, we've chronicled the election day viewpoints of business owners all over the nation. When Governor Sarah Palin was announced as the GOP Vice-Presidential candidate, we went into her backyard and interviewed business owner in Wasilla, AK. When Senator Joe Biden was chosen for the Democratic ticket, we did the same thing in Wilmington, DE. Today, we went back and interviewed some of those same business owners to see how their views and votes may or may not have changed.

For Denise Rexford of Stampin Moose in Wasilla:
"I voted this morning for McCain. Whether Governor Palin was on the ticket or not, I still would've voted for McCain. I think he has the experience, whereas Obama has no experience. On a business level, his tax policy just keeps getting lower and lower. First it started at $250,000 and below you won't get taxed and now I hear it's $150,000."

Business owners on both sides of the fence said that the Vice-Presidential candidate made almost no difference in their selection for President.

Francine Byrd of The Diagnostic Center in Wilmington:
"I voted for Obama today. I think our economy is really struggling right now and I hope Senator Obama keeps his promise. He said he would do a complete audit of the government and it's spending, which I think is sorely needed."

One business owner in Wasilla that I spoke to was still undecided just 4 hours before her polls were to close.

Becky Raterree of Northern Mist Gifts in Wasilla:
"I am really torn with my decision. I'm a small business owner, the wife of a veteran, the mother of a son who may get sent to war, and I have healthcare concerns. While I know Sarah very well and like her, my choice is based off of McCain and Obama. I like that McCain's a vet, but I don't like some of his policies that will extend President's Bush's. On the Obama side, I don't like that he has no experience dealing with the military. I really think the decision I make will come in the voting booth!"

All of the business owners I spoke to are just happy that the election is over for a myriad of reasons, including being able to watch regular programming on television, and in Wasilla, for the reporter circus to make it's way out of town.

We're just glad you voted here at MerchantCircle and wish you future business success.

Community Relations

Monday, November 3, 2008

Where Do I Go and Vote?

logoOne of the most exciting election days in years is almost upon us. Tomorrow, millions of people will make their voice heard by heading out to their nearest polling location. If you've watched any of the Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate's speeches over the past few weeks, I'm sure you've heard "small businesses" at some point or another. It's time to vote for you candidate, and no matter who wins, make sure that they stay true to their promises.

Click here to find your nearest voting station.

Community Relations