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Lessons in franchising from a Middle-Eastern perspective

Family sitting at dinner table smilingAspiring franchisees: Did you know the Middle Eastern region is turning into a hot bed of menu innovation?

There are plenty of take-home lessons in this article, but what grabbed our attention is the well-placed focus on branding, location and astute business operations. Mastering all three operational areas are crucial to achieving a successful franchise.

According to Sami Daoud, a Dubai-based restaurateur, selecting a well-matched franchising partner is not “a science neither it is objective.”  This entrepreneur founded a successful franchise in Dubai in 2005. He says an aspiring franchisee should focus their search on what is missing in the local market place.

Daoud also notes local competition among restaurateurs is a good thing, as it spurs menu innovation and the creation of signature cuisine that leaves a lasting impression in a patron’s mind.

Even so, menu innovation that lacks a hard look at the bottom line eventually spells disaster. The costs of food and other commodities are once again climbing upward, particularly in the U.S. That’s one reason why Daoud says franchisees should consider their restaurant both a shop and a factory. He warns other franchisors not to cut corners, particularly in regards to those aspects of the business that require consistency.

In the final accounting, brand reputation, strategic location for stores, and a detailed business are all key to launching and operating successful franchises.

Online marketing: Watch out for these pitfalls

chance to change button on computer keyboard keyNo one is more beloved than an air conditioning repairman on the Fourth of July. So why do merchants who sell heating and cooling equipment wait until the beginning of summer to increase their SEO marketing efforts?

Chalk it up to human nature. People procrastinate, which is why the first snowfall sends drivers herding into tire service waiting rooms.

SEO is a powerful marketing tool. But when business owners cut the legs out from under their marketing by letting those seasonal opportunities slip by, a last-minute SEO dash won’t cut it. You’ve got to think six months ahead. When runway models are showing off the latest swimming suit fashions, if you’re selling beachwear, you’ve already missed the boat.

The key is to put together an SEO marketing calendar, because many small to medium-sized merchants have such busy days they are often caught by surprise when the prime selling season is over.

The other major pitfall is not having all of your social media buttons operational, or even worse — not having those channels connected to your website.

And here’s another note of caution: Constructing intuitive site navigation is no simple thing. It requires an SEO professional that understands the nuances of how customers will interpret and navigate through your website. And seasonal opportunities to sell merchandise are often missed when merchants do not freshen web pages with new content.

These oversights are the psychological equivalent of allowing spider webs to collect on your wares. Stale webpages don’t perform very well when Google and other search engines are indexing new websites at an incredible rate. Freshness is an important element in website rankings – so watch your timing!

Company retreats can power more productivity than a paid vacation

The Word Vacation Written in the Sand on a BeachBusiness executives have found staff retreats pay dividends. How much is subjective. But some suggest getaways can power employee productivity more than paid vacations.

The question is how. Sluggish employees and inefficiencies can be a vicious cycle few businesses know how to break. Yet growing evidence suggests corporate retreats — even small-scale affairs over a weekend — can lift morale and the bottom line, too.

Once considered lavish junkets, and sometimes mocked for contrived team-building ploys like trust falls, the staff retreat is making a comeback. And the reason is easier to see than your spreadsheet trend line: Companies are figuring out how to have fun.

To start, get rid of the PowerPoints. Encourage your employees to get out of the weeds and discuss big-picture ideas. Throw out some new goals and find a way to foster brainstorming. Don’t worry about splurging on a big-name guest speaker. After all, you’ve invested in your employees — harness the innovative thinking from them.

Make sure to stage your retreat in a relaxing setting. Those office walls can get pretty confining, no matter how many modern colors you paint them. If you want your workers to clear their heads and think differently, place them in an atmosphere that puts them at ease. Think seaside, relaxation and foamy surf!

Ultimately, the goal is to give your staff a fresh perspective by putting them in a new environment where they can try new things. Kinda like a vacation.

Spam-slayers are changing the digital world

As 2013 draws to a close, an historic milestone has been reached in the science of search engine optimization. Some observers are going so far as to claim 2013 a watershed year for Google’s search engine algorithms. The game changer in SEO is Google’s new algorithmic changes involving improvement in ‘conversational queries.’

Sculpture of man slaying dragon decorating House of the Blackheads in Riga, Latvia

What most web surfers don’t realize is this: The science of linguistics is at the heart of Google’s continuing success as a search engine company. Google has spoofed an amazingly bizarre search query technology in a humorous post about Google Smell. Yet in reality, those engineers have figured out how to sift out the spam – and that beats sniffing roses any day!

Have you considered what a spam-free world might look like, and how your marketing strategy would fare in such a sphere? Cogent wording has never been more crucial to search engine optimization than it is as 2014 arrives.

The old strategy of churning out low-quality content is dead. We all knew Google would eventually hunt down and eradicate spammy content, although most of us may not realize Google has already whittled the task down to a mopping-up operation. Spam-slayers are changing the digital world. And what that means for merchants is you must have quality content written by human beings who care about stringing together wording intended for human eyes.

The bottom line: Talk to your SEO provider about instituting a content-generation strategy that fits your budget and matches your marketing goals.

Three tips to successful franchising

Franchise word cloudLike many aspiring entrepreneurs, you have a concrete vision in mind: A string of successful franchised locations that will spread your innovative concept across the U.S.

It’s a big dream, but you can get there as long as you avoid these three potential land mines.

Conduct an exhaustive trademark search. Many an aspiring entrepreneur has been harpooned by a trademark-infringement lawsuit. It’s a crowded world and it’s becoming more challenging to choose a brand or trade name that’s unique in the U.S. Tapping the expertise of an attorney or law firm knowledgeable in the finer points of trademarking a brand is crucial. Avoid becoming ensnared in a drawn-out legal fray.

Line up sufficient capital. Expect to outlay a minimum of six figures. If you’ve got a track record of successful startups, funding another concept will be less of a steep climb. Nothing is more important at this stage of the game than proving your worth on paper. Granted even mega enterprises can fail. Even so, bankers and financiers need verifiable data that supports your business proposition.

Recruit top-notch franchisees. Go into franchising with enough capital so you can select quality franchisees. These folks are the most important aspect of your business. Building a team spirit among your franchisees allows your franchise to tap business acumen throughout the franchise, as individual franchisees share operational knowledge with each other.

Don’t let negative Yelp reviews hurt your company

Blog image Word-of-mouth reviews from customers used to be the dominant currency of public relations. With the emergence of the Internet and social media, the landscape has changed. Consumers now turn to sites like Yelp. All too often vocal patrons aren’t a bit shy about telling everyone in cyberspace — save for Aunt Mabel, who’s still confounded by Facebook — just what they think of your business.
Yelp has proven to be a double-edged sword for companies, particularly the ones putting forth a genuine effort to please their customers. Yelp video reviews are a great way to promote your business listing, and when a flattering review is posted on Yelp, all is well. Yet, what happens when someone posts a bad review about your company? Here’s some sage advice: Don’t get revenge and don’t despair either. Here are four tips to help you maintain and even restore your company’s reputation.

  1. Keep calm, and carry on. When you’re mulling over how to handle a negative review, consider what your customer-service policies are for face-to-face interactions. Then, apply that same approach to your virtual response. Since facial expressions convey rich information that may be missing when dialoguing online, reviewers often overlook the nuances of a relationship between a company and its patrons. Blowhards, and the disgruntled may be quick to jump in with their opinion in a “bad guy, good guy” back-and-forth exchange. Tread with care, before you wade into this minefield. Hang back a bit, and give it some time, as your fans may come to your defense.
  2. Be professional: Always be civil and courteous, and propose a solution to address a particular grievance, when it’s appropriate to do so. Using Yelp’s free review response tools, businesses may choose to respond publicly or privately. If it’s a legitimate complaint, and your company really did drop the ball, a public response actually builds credibility. That’s because most people are good sports and are willing to overlook a perceived offense, following a genuine apology.
  3. Be open to criticism: Regularly read user comments about your business. You will gain insights into how your product or service is resonating with customers, as well as suggestions on what you can do to improve your service.
  4. Be timely: You should respond to a negative review within 24 to 48 hours. This shows you are on the ball, and want to rectify the situation as soon as possible. Consider this: According to Michael Luca, a Harvard Business School researcher, even a one-star increase on Yelp significantly pumps up business, and results in a five to nine percent increase in revenue. So, there’s a lot of motivation to join in the conversation.

Remember to stay calm. Remind yourself of that occasion when you went on a rant about another company, and then take it all in stride. Life’s too short to get worked into a lather over a few disgruntled customers.

Five tips for using LinkedIn to grow your startup

Blog image When compared to a billion Facebook users, LinkedIn would appear a much less influential contender in the social-media lineup. Yet, executives and middle-management professionals often find this networking portal a valuable tool for growing a business. That’s still true, despite the company’s wide-scale security breech in June, which impacted millions of the social network’s users.
A recent study that analyzed how professionals use LinkedIn revealed approximately one in five users are top-level executives seeking networking and promotional opportunities. CEOs are finding it fruitful to mine those LinkedIn connections, and maybe you should, too.

  1. Flesh out your profile. LinkedIn has made it really easy for you. When you start a new profile, or add more information to an already existing one, a handy little tool lets you know your progress. Don’t stop until your profile is 100 percent complete.
  2. Put in a good word for others. Those who programmed the recommendation feature for LinkedIn understood the power of applying human psychology to arouse others to action. When you’ve been notified that a social contact on LinkedIn has endorsed you, it’s hard not to feel an obligation to return the favor. Take the time to research the person’s profile, and their specific areas of expertise, before posting a recommendation.
  3. Be consistent across social media portals. Ensure your professional title, name and other information is consistent across your online profiles, including LinkedIn. This step is easy to forget, when you’re knee-deep in launching a startup. Yet, remember that a new business is often profiled in the local press, and reporters may check that profile, when writing a news story about your venture.
  4. Create or join an industry-specific group. Follow your competitors on LinkedIn. It’s hard to grow a business, when no one knows you’re there. These days many business professionals know they gain more by offering friendship to competitors, than by avoiding them.
  5. Chime in on the conversation. Visit LinkedIn’s Questions and Answers section frequently. Doing so allows you opportunities to demonstrate your willingness to help others, as well as show off your business acumen. Both qualities are likely to attract investors to your startup.

Marketing tips for bloggers

Blog image If you’ve got a winsome way with words, blog marketing can help you rise above the fray. It also gives you an audience that will appreciate your marketing savvy.
There’s no better way to build a credible reputation as an authority in your field than by posting interesting blogs.
Blogging is not as flashy of a marketing method as an eye-catching publicity stunt. Even so, you should not underestimate the credibility you can acquire in your sphere of influence through consistently posting well written, informative blogs.
Here’s four tips on how build a blog following:

  1. Keep your blogs under 300 words. We know you are bubbling over with enthusiasm about your service or product, but with so much information flooding the average person’s inbox, don’t expect your reader to spend more than a couple of minutes looking at your blog.
  2. Focus on industry niche information. When you pack your short blog with industry-specific news, you increase the chances your post will be shared through social media.
  3. Share a specific resource. Before you compose your blog, take the time to do a little research on the latest industry developments. Then sprinkle in a few juicy tidbits of interest to those in your field of expertise.
  4. Don’t forget this last step. After you’ve written your blog, take some time to visit your favorite list of bloggers on the web and add a comment or two on their posts. The goodwill you will build will help your blog garner more views.