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The Best Business Advice of 2011

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December 27, 2011

By: Jennifer Vishnevsky
Business News Daily Contributor

Looking for some inspiration for starting a business in 2012? BusinessNewsDaily interviewed hundreds of small business consultants and experts in 2011. They all had great pieces of advice for various aspects of your business. Here's some of the best pieces of advice from experts who can help you improve your business.

The best time to enter a new market "is usually right after the first movers have failed and when you have the experience of others to learn from. Think about computers like the Commodore and the Tandy or Internet browsers like Netscape. Where are they now? In most industries we never hear of the first movers because they are short-lived, obscure firms. A successful strategy is about fit, not functional excellence. Entrepreneurs need to resist the temptation to be first to market based solely on a terrific product, an ingenious marketing strategy, or exclusivity in distribution channels. To be a successful 'second mover' means having all those things in place and making sure that potential customers, investors and regulatory agencies share some common understanding of what their business is all about." – Stanislav Dobrev, business professor, University of Utah

To engage the networked customer, businesses need to become a source of valued content. "You've got to flip and take the customer perspective. You have to get past the interruption model; it's very different." – David Rogers, executive director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership, Columbia Business School

"When looking for other Twitter users to 'follow,' make sure that you select relevant ones. If the connection you're trying to create with the user isn't clear, consider '@ mentioning' them to introduce yourself and start a conversation." – Ben Grossman, communications strategist, Oxford Communications

"Using Facebook for business doesn't necessarily always translate into a direct response sale or lead, and it's definitely not a silver bullet. However, in many cases it can be a key component of your company's marketing and communications initiatives, as well as customer-relationship management and customer service." – Chris Diede, director of digital, DGWB Advertising and Communications

"If you're aiming to make your product, your store or even your marketing materials more appealing to customers, the key is in the coloring. Consumers prefer similar colors in product design, rather than contrasting color combinations. Most people like to match colors very closely. The further the distance between two colors, the less likely people are to choose them together." – Xiaoyan Deng, professor of marketing at Ohio State University

"Use the Power of Yet. 'I'm not a millionaire' is different than 'I'm not a millionaire yet.' Each resonates within the body in a different way. Think of your body as an electromagnetic field and you'll find that even something as small as simply adding 'yet' to a statement changes the way your body feels. Try it with different statements. Ask friends and family to try it." – Tom Connellan, business consultant

"The advantage [of a Small Business Administration loan] to the borrower is they have more access to capital. When borrowing with a loan, collateral or purpose often dictates the terms. If you look at real estate, you are looking at a 20- to 25-year term. If you are financing equipment, you look at the useful life and may finance it for five years. If you look at permanent working capital, you may only want to loan them for three years. With a guarantee from the SBA, banks can go up to 10 years for working capital, 10 years for equipment and 25 years for real estate. It gives the borrower longer terms and improved cash flow." – Chuck Evans, managing director, South Eastern Economic Development Company of Pennsylvania

"Integrate your [social media] efforts with other marketing initiatives. Include your Twitter address everywhere: your business card, your e-mail signature, your invoices, and so on. Make sure your Twitter is branded to match your overall business brand (logos, images and language should be consistent with other marketing materials). "–Susan Gunelius, social media expert and author

"It would be very normal for a restaurateur to do a blog on food highlighting the part of their business that makes them unique. Providing useful information, like recipes or how to serve wine. [Blogs are] something people will see as valuable, and it will pique the interest of potential customers for the business." – Kathy Macomber, business development specialist, University of Missouri Extension

"Advertising only once…in nearly any media…is useless. One-time promotions stand as a too-common error for small businesses. You need to reach a certain volume and with a certain frequency" and that's when an enterprise sees results." – Dan Weinbach, executive vice president, the Weinbach Group

"Consumers tend to perceive high numbers as a larger quantity, and were often more willing to pay for the greater difference. For a superior brand, it makes sense to engage in advertising that compares the owned brand to [a] follower brand while magnifying the existing differences by using scales that are 'bigger.' In contrast, follower brands could minimize the difference by presenting info using scales with few units." – Mario Pandelaere, professor, Ghent University in Belgium

"Whatever your business, and no matter how large, work to achieve the computer-assisted effectiveness of a beloved bartender, doorman, or hairstylist – the kind who would know Bob's preferences, the name of Bob's pet, when Bob was there last. Superb client tracking systems can create that same 'at home' feeling in your customers. – Micah Solomon, co-author, "Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit"

"Tops for any small business is Google Apps. Their free level for a max of 50 users is a great place to start for small time companies. The only cost to get it going is your domain registration and an IT person to do the geeky stuff. It offers easy setup, rock solid servers and backed by the Google infrastructure. Provisioning and managing user deployments for a company is a breeze. Aside from great email they also have collaborative Google Docs and Calendar sharing suite built in. Shared calendars on your own domain is a time saver. The Google Docs is an easy money saver for startups who don't want to buy a version of Microsoft Office. Google Docs also offers doc sharing and real time collaboration." – Dennis W. Cuppy, CEO, Cuppy Tech

"You want to use Twitter to get a real conversation going. Use it to build a relationship. A pickup line will turn someone off if it seems insincere. Though Twitter certainly can be used for providing coupons to customers, it's not really about traditional advertising. I believe the value is in establishing a connection that people seem to crave and want." – Sharon Cannon, director, Olin Management Communication Lab at Washington University's Olin Business School in St. Louis

"With the right tools, even an unhappy customer can be transformed into a brand promoter. The trick to turning customers into your own personal digital sales team is to identify loyal customers, create a successful loyalty program and provide a platform where promoters can spread the word and convert friends, family and associates into customers, too. By building great word of mouth, you develop a strong sales force that generates leads, boosts sales and leverages marketing dollars." – Steve Baxter, founder and CEO, Systino

"Think trade-on rather than trade-off. Successful entrepreneurs are trade-on minded: they go about life with the mental eyes of being, acting and gaining much more with a lot less. A trade-on mindset quite naturally unleashes your imagination into conceiving great and positive visions of the future for your business." – Piero Morosini, author, "Seven Keys to Imagination: Creating the future by imagining the unthinkable and delivering it"

"Having a ton of cash won't mean much come tax season if you haven't been making the necessary tax deductions. Along with watching your day-to-day expenses, cash flow and product cycle, it is important to plan for your taxes so when it comes time to pay the IRS you are prepared. Examples of taxes that you should be considering are sales tax, income tax and payroll tax, to name a few." – Alex Matjanec, My Bank Tracker

"Aside from putting a QR code on the back of your business card, one of the easiest ways to start off is to offer a promotion on your website or homepage. The QR code can lead to some kind of coupon or special offer. The QR code can go directly to an online catalog. You can change the back end of the QR code any time you want, so you're in control of changing promotions." – Tami J. Miller, marketing consultant

"Create a calendar for 2012. In each month, list something about your business. If you're a tax accountant, you might forget that tax day is six months out. That's when you should start your PR campaign. A calendar will help an individual think in terms of opportunities each month." – Patti Spaniak, public relations, marketing and business development consultant at Patti Spaniak Consulting Services

"Sit down and look at the three primary areas where growth will occur. There are a lot of things you can do on a one-time basis, but before they can work, you need to ask yourself what you want this business to be. Have a vision that's real." – Steve Smith, business coach, GrowthSource Consulting.