From social media to hiring and cloud computing, some pointers for business owners.
[Photo: Aaron Daye]
"You want to use social media to build relationships, build loyalty, communicate to your customers that you care about them."
— Julie Garrett
The value of social media, says Garrett, is the ability to engage in a two-way conversation with your customers or potential customers. "It's not the place solely to push out information about your new products or discounts," she says. "You want to use social media to build relationships, build loyalty, communicate to your customers that you care about them. In return, you can find out what your customers want. You do your own market research."
Garrett recommends that small businesses consider HootSuite.com as a social media dashboard to avoid spending too much time managing a Facebook page or Twitter account. HootSuite allows users to manage all social media profiles at once, making it easy to track conversations and brand mentions, as the car dealer did. A scheduling feature lets you write messages when it's convenient and schedule them to pop up at
specific times. An analytics feature generates reports so you can evaluate the effectiveness of your campaigns.
Garrett suggests reading "The Thank You Economy" by social-media guru Gary Vaynerchuk to learn what social media can do for your small business. Finally, she recommends checking out your local community college's continuing education department for inexpensive classes and seminars on social media.
New legislation is "the most fundamental change to the United States patent system in many years."
— Bob White
One of the most significant changes, says White, revises the U.S. patent system from a "first to invent" standard to a "first to file" standard, effective March 2013. Some fear this will put small businesses and individual inventors at a disadvantage in the patent process, which is time-consuming and expensive, especially for highly technical inventions in fields such as biotech and pharmaceuticals.
White says while those concerns are valid, he believes small companies and individual inventors may be able to gain an advantage under the new law because they are more flexible and have less bureaucracy. Small firms and inventors "may be able to move more quickly with patent filings and thus get patents filed before larger companies can act," White says, "but speed and focus will be essential."