Money & Business
Small Business Watch: Use a Digital Camera to Prepare for Disaster
Sales are off 50 percent at the Island Style resort wear store in Pensacola Beach, Fla., but owner Jeff Elbert has never been busier. Four hurricanes and two tropical storms in just over a year will do that to you. Hurricane Ivan last year demolished his Pensacola store--since rehabbed--and severely damaged a second location. Then the other storms scared away tourists. Elbert had to lay off half his dozen or so full-time employees. So now he often works the cash register and sweeps the floors. "It's bleak, but I am doing what I can to survive," Elbert says.
A small-business owner can do more than put out sandbags to financially survive disaster. Take insurance. Elbert's policies, including flood insurance, helped him cover losses, "but it took months to get paid." To speed the process, Donna Childs, coauthor of Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery: A Small Business Guide, recommends using a digital camera to photograph your business location and its critical assets, then storing those photos online and offsite. Nonretailers like lawyers and accountants might start a "buddy system" with similar firms in the region to use each other's office space.
Getting business interruption insurance can help replace lost income. But Elbert, who had such insurance for one store, warns that insurers won't keep cutting checks until your store is back in primo shape. "As they see it," he says, "if you have electricity, then you're able to open."
Small Business Watch: Chewing Over How Best to Blog
A well-crafted business blog opens an informal dialogue with customers and clients. The key is authenticity; readers should get real insight into your company. Then there's the Wrigley Co.'s JuicyFruit blog, a faux online diary chronicling the misadventures of two JuicyFruit fans grappling over a pack of gum. It's just cutesy advertising copy. "I'm sure it was devised by some advertising executive who wanted to capture the buzz around blogs," writes David Hornik of VentureBlog. "But it does just the opposite." Sniffs Wrigley spokesman Chris Perille: "It's clearly a tongue-in-cheek parody." Note to small-business bloggers: Keep it real.
Small Business Watch: Searching for the Perfect Word Can Pay
The beauty of search-engine marketing is that it can be done on the cheap. Say your comic book shop specializes in graphic novels from Europe. A Google search on "comic book store" and "French graphic novels" just might turn up your website and give you a potential sale. Doesn't cost you a dime. The catch, of course, is getting your store to appear on that first page of search results. This is where search engine optimization, or SEO, comes in. All sorts of firms will tweak your site so it ranks higher in search engine results--for a fee. But, says Jill Whalen of SEO consultant High Rankings, you can do a lot of the tweaking yourself. First, research what keywords and phrases surfers are using to search for your product or service. Sites like Wordtracker or KeywordDiscovery.com (about $50 each for a monthly subscription) will help.
Next, include those words and phrases in your website's title--and on every single page. (Oh, each different product or service should have its own descriptive pages, says Lee Odden of TopRank Online Marketing.) That will tell search engine Web crawlers what you're all about. In the world of search, pictures aren't worth a thousand words--you need those thousand words describing what you do or sell. And cool graphics leave search engines cold. Of course, you want other sites to link back to yours. That means you need an entertaining site--filled with relevant keywords and phrases, natch.
This story appears in the October 24, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.