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One Easy Way to See if Your SEO is Getting Better or Worse

by NMC Internet Marketing Manager Matthew Rideout

Google’s search engine algorithm changes a lot, trying to provide searchers with the best search results possible. Their goal is to put the best, most helpful content at the top of the search results page.

How SEO Has Changed

Google Analytics Acquisition metricIn the old days all you needed to do for SEO was make sure your page title, headings, and content all used the same keywords, and that you got links from other pages using the same keywords.

Not anymore. Google is getting better at looking at a website the way a real human would, and deciding if your content is better or worse than other websites about the same subject. Everything from your syntax and the vocabulary used, to the friendliness of the site layout, and several other factors that humans pick up on, are now used as part of Google’s algorithm.

Read the rest of the article…

Creating an SEO Content Strategy in 2014 for More Website Traffic

by Ebb Walton, NMC Account Assistant

Google Penguin and HummingbirdGoogle made some big changes to its SEO algorithms in 2013. What does this mean for businesses that want to maximize the number of visitors to their websites in 2014? Before we go over the tactics, first we must understand the changes.

Google Penguin and Hummingbird On average, Google makes around 500 tweaks to their existing SEO codes every year. In 2013, Google introduced 2 new SEO algorithms, Penguin 2.0 and Hummingbird.

Penguin 2.0 is an overhaul of the original Penguin algorithm, introduced in 2012, designed to filter out and mercilessly punish low-quality websites and exclude them from search results.

Read the complete article at Nancy Marshall Communications…

Surprise, Surprise! Google is Now Basing its Rankings on What Humans Want

Three Key Takeaways from a new book
on SEO in 2014 & Beyond

For many years now, search engine optimization has seemed like a mysterious science, where only the tech geeks worked their magic to make websites rise to the top in search rankings. Well, I have good news for all of us mere mortals. Google is now basing its rankings on what real humans want, not the spiders or bots or other mysterious creatures that live on the web.

SEO 2014 & BeyondMatthew Rideout, our interactive marketing manager at NMC, recently recommended that we all read this new book, SEO 2014 & Beyond by Dr. Andy Williams. Thanks for the great recommendation, Matt! I especially like that this book was a quick read, not a voluminous textbook on SEO. Matt has told me that these common SEO practices are brand new; as a matter of fact, even the techniques that were used as recently as 2013 are now obsolete and can actually harm your rankings. Most people are aware that SEO has changed, but you will probably be surprised at how drastically and how recently the changes have taken place.

These are my three key takeaways:

1.  No longer can you get away with “keyword stuffing,” which is inserting the words that you think people will be searching for in order to find your site. Here is an example of keyword stuffing, if I were trying to promote Nancy Marshall Communications:

At Nancy Marshall Communications, we are a public relations agency and we do public relations and build and promote websites, because we are experts in public relations, website development and internet marketing, and we know all about doing PR, website development, online advertising, and using public relations to help promote your website and your company so the public and the media can find you.

Is that a sentence that a human would like to read? Probably not!

The key is to create content that sounds like it was written by an expert, not a marketing person. Here’s the same sentence written in a more human way:

At Nancy Marshall Communications, we use our expertise in public relations and website development, as well as internet marketing, to help our clients raise their profile and promote their services.

This last sentence is more readable, and easier to understand. The sentence is created for someone visiting your site (a human), as opposed to the search engines.

2. Quality content needs to be useful, informative, and balanced, with no marketing hype.

3. From a personal branding perspective, you need to get your site name and photos of yourself on as many high-quality sites as possible, with links back to the appropriate pages on your own site. The high quality sites are sites that are owned by accepted sources of expert information or advice.

Dr. Williams’ book is full of expert advice on SEO that is new and based on Google’s latest updates which are called Hummingbird. These updates are based on an algorithm, or a series of mathematical equations which mimic the way the human brain searches for information. With more and more people now talking into their smart phones to find information, the way that searches are conducted has changed dramatically. (Siri, can you find me the best sushi place close to where I am right now?)

If you are interested in SEO, I recommend you read this book. I especially recommend it if a company is trying to sell you SEO services and you suspect that they are basing their methodology on outdated techniques. The techniques that produce fast results, which are called “Black Hat,” will definitely backfire on you because Google will punish you for trying to outsmart them. I compare Black Hat SEO to crash dieting. You might lose 10 pounds in a week but you risk gaining 20 pounds as soon as you go back to your old way of eating.

Mapping Your Network

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you,
whose presence calls forth your best.”

Epictetus

I believe that your network of contacts is the foundation of your brand. The people who are closest to you, who will vouch for you, who will refer you for jobs or business, and who trust you enough to do business with you are the ones who will help you define who you are and what makes you unique.

Network map

Have you ever considered mapping your network? It might be a useful exercise. It would be something you could post on your wall and look at every day. It would be a visual reminder that you need to ‘tend to your flock,’ and stay in touch with these people to show them gratitude for being part of your life.

You could start with your most inner circle of contacts. This would be your family and closest friends.

The next layer might be the people you work with on a day-to-day basis and the friends you see frequently but who aren’t necessarily your most intimate friends. If you send Christmas cards every year, it might be the people on your Christmas card list. Or it might be your Facebook friends.

The next layer might be all the associations you are part of: your professional memberships, your church congregation, your school and community groups, and perhaps even the residents in your neighborhood.

Then there might be another layer with people whose names you recognize, but who you might not know very well. You might make it a goal to get to know these people better.

I recommend you create a network map, and you hang it on the wall near your desk. You might want to include an affirmation such as: “These are the most important people in my life and I am grateful for my relationship with them.” Or it could even be as simple as “These are my peeps!”

New Hope for Old Resolutions

Happy 2014! NMC President Charlene Williams wrote this humorous article about New Year’s resolutions. Enjoy!

As we near the end of January, many of us have already determined that the New Year’s resolution we made with the best intentions less than a month ago is nothing more than a nagging reminder of something we know we should be doing for ourselves.

According to statisticbrain.com, the top three New Year’s resolutions for 2014 (source: University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology) are:

1.  Lose weight
2.  Get organized
3.  Spend less, save more

The research goes on to report that 45 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, but sadly, only 8 percent are successful in achieving their resolution.

While 8 percent is pretty meager, I have to wonder if that percentage is actually an increase over past years due to newer technology and social media platforms that offer up the latest in self-help techniques right at our finger tips. It seems that keeping resolutions should be much easier. Let’s take each of the top three resolutions for 2014 separately:

Pinterest board#1 – Lose weight – No surprise here. This is a big one. Just Google “weight loss” and you could read for the next six months about the tips, tricks, and lifestyle changes that will result in a new you. Just be sure to do your reading on your hand-held device while on your stationary bike. Take my personal advice and do not watch the Food Network while on your stationary bike. The conflict is too great.

You can even join and participate in Weight Watchers without ever attending a meeting. Just download their app, enter your credit card number and you’re ready to roll…hopefully, not literally.

And, don’t forget Pinterest. You can find just about any low fat, low carb, low cholesterol, low calorie recipe you could ever imagine. And, how about those pins of the cute little outfits appropriate for super models? They do wonders to guilt you into not eating.

Lastly, you can download the free My Fitness Pal app to your mobile device. You will be able to enter your food intake and log your activity. This only works if you’re completely honest. Food you eat while you are preparing the food you track does count. Sorry.

#2 – Getting organized – I must admit, I had no idea there was a magazine called Getting Organized available online. One of the featured articles in the current issue is 12 Things to Simplify Your Workday. I stopped reading when I got to number 2 – check it out.

If the online magazine isn’t enough, wikiHow has a five-part series on how to be organized. After Part 5, you’ll even find a list of warnings – don’t worry, nothing like horrible side effects from taking prescription medication. Just benign warnings like, “Don’t expect to get organized overnight unless you’re really fast at it, or it’s a small area.” Thank goodness! In addition to the warnings, there is a Things You’ll Need section with the second bullet being “Patience” – which leads right into other resolutions that are even harder to achieve.

It would not be fair to Pinterest if I didn’t give them props for this one, too. You can find a plethora of ideas on organizing your home, office and life in general. Have you ever seen so many neatly arranged closets in your life? The best part is, you can have those same organized spaces by using either old bureaus, left over wrapping paper rolls, or used pallets. Oh, yeah…we’ll have to be sure to organize all the left over and old stuff we’ll need to renovate our storage spaces to look as good as those on Pinterest.

#3 – Spend less, save more – First, let’s cover “spend less” by starting with comparison shopping. You can shop online for just about anything by doing a quick Google search for your item of choice. The popular shopping sites are abundant, including Amazon, Overstock, Etsy, eBay, and the endless number of stores, shops and manufacturers that have online shopping carts. Of course, this can work against you, if you let it. The temptation is great when Amazon seems to know what you want even before you do. Seriously, their newest plan for “anticipatory shipping” is a system that predicts your future purchases.

To help us spend less and save more, coupons have made an online splash in a big way. Not only can you download savings in the form of various coupons from coupon, store and manufacturer sites, (check out SmartSource when you have a chance, maybe while on the stationary bike mentioned in #1) you can also get tips on extreme couponing from the Krazy Coupon Lady or Coupon Mom. I think I should add my own warning on this section, just like wikiHow did for getting organized…if you happen to find yourself in line at the grocery store behind someone who has taken this coupon advice, please see “The Things You’ll Need” section in #2 above.

With all the online help today, there are no excuses. This is your chance to help boost that 8 percent success rate. Get in front of the screen, boot up and get started.

How Facebook is Like a Photo Christmas Card Every Day of the Year

If you’re like me, at this time of year you are taking down the Christmas tree and putting away the decorations. You’re also looking at all the beautiful holiday cards you received from family and friends, and wondering what to do with them. I hate to throw them away! Some of them are so beautiful that I keep them for the following year and recycle them as gift tags. Isn’t that just so Martha Stewart-esque of me?

This was my family photo for our annual Christmas card photo, which always includes our yellow lab, Carrie. From left to right: my son Craig, me, my husband Jay, and my son Jamie.

This was my family photo for our annual Christmas card photo, which always includes our yellow lab, Carrie. From left to right: my son Craig, me, my husband Jay, and my son Jamie.

Looking at the photo cards is fun, but it’s a different experience for friends who are on Facebook and those who are not. For my friends who are on Facebook, I‘ve been seeing their family photos all year long. I’m staying up to date on their news and achievements, their wins and losses, their new babies and their retirement parties. Even if I’m not seeing them in person, I feel connected to them.

For the friends who are not on Facebook, seeing their annual holiday photo card is my once-a-year chance to catch up on their news, their kids and their pets. It’s a good thing and it makes me feel connected…but not quite as connected as I feel with my Facebook friends.

Facebook is just such a great way to stay connected all year long. It allows us to quickly and easily send a quick little message saying “Congratulations,” “Happy birthday,” “Way to go, “or just “Nice to hear from you!” Personally, it makes me feel good to know what my friends are up to, even if I’m not seeing them as often as I’d like to. Professionally, I am reminded of who’s out there doing interesting work, and who I might partner with on a project.

There are so many advantages to staying connected with personal and professional friends on Facebook. Of course, Facebook is no replacement for face-to-face networking and get-togethers. I always tell people that the ultimate goal of your social networking should be to get together with people, because that’s where the real magic happens in any relationship.

All Business is By and Between People

“If you believe relationships build business,
then make building them your business.”
Scott Stratten, author, UnMarketing

Senator Angus King and Nancy Marshall

In 1982, I met Angus King while working at Maine Public Television. He later became Governor, then U.S. Senator from Maine, and we have been friends ever since. Relationships like this are a wonderful part of my personal and business life. We met this fall at the Colby /Bowdoin football game and, even though his team (Bowdoin) won, we still had a lot of fun.

When a baby is born, the first thing he or she wants to see is the adoring face of its loving mother. Then, throughout our lifetime, we are conditioned as human beings to connect with happy, smiling and familiar faces whether we are a newborn baby, an elderly person in a nursing home or a business executive giving a presentation in a crowded convention hall. There is nothing more compelling in business or in life than a bright smiling face with an open attitude of warmth and acceptance.

If we have the opportunity to do business with a happy, smiling professional we know, like and trust, or another professional we don’t know anything about, we are most likely going to go with what we know. It’s the human connection that makes the difference.

Whether we’re in the business-to-business world or the business-to-consumer world, human interaction is ingrained in the fabric of everything we do. In our day-to-day dealings with clients, potential clients, vendors, and our professional peers, we should strive to make authentic connections so the people in our professional network know us, like working with us and trust us.

Zig Ziglar, the late great sales guru, said, “People will listen to other people they know, but they will do business with those whom they trust.”

What does it take for people to know, like and trust you? They need to know you care about them as individuals, not just as talking heads you are only interested in because they can further your business goals in some way. You establish the “know, like and trust” factor by asking them about things other than work and finding common ground. For example, I find that asking about a person’s family, where they grew up, upcoming vacation plans, or hobbies they are passionate about are all good conversation starters. By asking these basic questions, you are guaranteed to find something you have in common with virtually anyone.

People love to talk about themselves, and everyone loves a good listener. Being a good listener and giving the person you are talking to your full attention are important parts of the equation, too. Make eye contact with the person you are speaking to and treat them as if they are the only person in the room. Say their first name frequently. During the course of your conversation, also refer back to things they mentioned earlier to show you are really hearing what they are saying.

Like the business contacts we are working to connect with, we ourselves want to do business with people who we know have “got our back.” It takes a great deal of time to identify, build and maintain business relationships fortified by a strong foundation of trust. However, it is very much worth the investment. It’s kind of like building the “circle of trust” Robert De Niro’s character Jack Byrnes refers to frequently in the classic comedy “Meet the Parents.” Though future son-in-law Greg, played by Ben Stiller, eventually makes it into Jack’s circle of trust, you will find that, just like Jack, you cannot like and trust everyone. Aligning yourself with individuals that share your values, respect you as a business person, are competent in what they do, and are trustworthy themselves is critical to building a strong circle of trust that will bring you personal happiness as well as success in business.

In a world driven by technology, social media now plays an important role in building human connections. While it can never take the place of face-to-face contact, social media can be critical to maintaining and strengthening the connections you have within your professional and personal networks.

Recently, when I was leading a PR Boot Camp, an ad agency owner questioned whether social media is really worth the time or not. I responded, “How could it not be worthwhile to have an ongoing dialogue with your current and prospective customers?” If people want to read what you post, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or another social network, or to admire the photos you post on Instagram or Pinterest, how could that not be to your advantage?

Also think of it this way: thanks to social media, you can maintain a connection with many more business contacts than you ever could before. I travel a great deal to conferences, workshops, and networking functions throughout the country as part of my position as CEO. I always meet lots of great people with interesting stories to tell and professional experience to share. It’s one of the most gratifying parts of my job. Before social media, I could never make the time to maintain connections with all of those people. The occasional email, phone call, or holiday card was just not enough. With social media tools like Facebook and LinkedIn, I have established a community in which I can communicate with my “tribe” on a near-daily basis. When we do have the good fortune of meeting again in person, we can pick up right where we left off without missing a beat.

The takeaway from this article is that the ability to build relationships and make connections with people is one of the most valuable skills you can possess as a professional. Likewise, a strong circle of trust is the most powerful tool you can have when it comes to growing and sustaining your business. I encourage you to get out from behind that desk and get to know those you do business with on a personal level. Cultivate your network with the help of social media but don’t rely on it to do all the work. If you work at it consistently, your own happy, smiling face will begin opening doors where there were only walls before.

4 Marketing Lessons from the Red Sox 2013 Season

The Culting of BrandsEffective brand building requires creating a network of raving fans who will support you and your organization in good times and bad times. This article by NMC Account Executive Greg Glynn talks about Red Sox Nation, which is a great example of a cult-like following for a brand. The book The Culting of Brands, by Douglas Atkin, analyzes how strong brands are built on the foundation of a strong cult of brand followers.

As a sports fan, I enjoy watching the success of a championship sports team at any level. What the Boston Red Sox accomplished in 2013 was completely different from any other championship sports team in history.

From a marketing perspective, there is a lot we can learn from their season. Based on the Red Sox success, here are 4 lessons related to their season that can help improve your marketing efforts.

1. There is always room for improvement

The Red Sox were the worst team in baseball in 2012 finishing with a record of 69-93. Their team batting average was .260 and their defense allowed more than 800 runs during the season. As a result, attendance plummeted and the team’s consecutive sell-out streak of 820 games came to an end.

In evaluating those numbers and the negative energy that the fans showed toward the team, ownership acknowledged that the current situation wasn’t working—they fired manager Bobby Valentine, cleared out the players and personalities that had high-price contracts and low production (not to mention eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse). In evaluating the statistics and sentiment from fans at the end of the 2012 season, the organization made significant changes and off-season moves to improve the quality of the players on the team, both on the field and in the community.

In marketing, we always need to be constantly evaluating what is working and what isn’t. The use of measurable tools such as Google Analytics, traceable phone numbers and data from Facebook Insights are just some examples of ways marketers can better understand the numbers that are important to us to decide what might need to change.

2. Adversity can be an opportunity

The tragic events that occurred at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April marked a very sad day in Boston, but in typical Boston and New England fashion, the city rallied and the Boston Red Sox helped in the healing process and gave the city strength.

Boston strong logo
Photo credit: boston.com

It was just a few days after the marathon that the Red Sox returned home to Fenway Park from a road trip and superstar slugger David Ortiz addressed the crowd. He said “This is our (expletive) city,” as part of his speech to the fans. It was at that very moment that the team publicly addressed and acknowledged the adversity the city was facing. It was clear from that moment forward the team took on the mission to show the world the strength of the city, the state and all of Red Sox nation. It also led to the slogan “Boston Strong” which turned into the mantra for the team the entire season.

When marketers face adversity, whether it is an underperforming product or negative customer feedback, public relations crisis or sad emotional time for the company, it is important to find your inner strength and find the best way to handle the adversity. While it is never easy, in some cases it might be a defining moment for your business and a chance to demonstrate the passion behind your brand. In other cases, such as a company error or mistake, it means an opportunity to learn from what went wrong and take ownership of correcting it.

Just look at what happened in Boston and how the city rallied. Days after the bombing, The One Fund was created for victims of the Boston Marathon attacks and today more than $71 million has been raised through donations from across the country.

Days after the marathon, the Boston Red Sox organization stepped up and made a $100,000 donation to One Fund Boston and made several more contributions throughout the season through charity events and promotions that raised additional awareness and funds for The One Fund. They didn’t have to raise the money or organize the events they did, but they chose to and that showed their fan base and the world exactly how much the team supports its fans and the city of Boston.

3. Be unique

If you thought playoff beards were only for hockey players, you’re wrong. The 2013 Boston Red Sox proved they could pull off the bearded look and it became a part of their identity all season long. By the unique look, it gave this team an identity that will be remembered forever.

It was originally players Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Dustin Pedroia that came up with the crazy idea in spring training to grow beards for the entire season. By mid-season, several other players had adopted the Paul Bunyan look and it brought the players fun-loving attitude to the park each night. The players had created a unique sense of chemistry around the beards and the fans of the team adopted it, as well.

The team ownership recognized the marketing opportunity to embrace the look and get fans involved. In fact, on September 18, the Red Sox as an organization hosted “Dollar Beard Night” at Fenway Park and all fans that came to the game with a beard could get a ticket for just $1.

During the World Series, there were even women wearing pink beards, kids wearing colored-on beards and, during the championship parade, even “Wally the Green Monster” was wearing a beard. Needless to say, it caught on with everyone and became a distinctive quality of this team that fans will never forget.

4. Build an emotional attachment to your brand

While this lesson sits at number 4 on the list, it is one of the most important. Branding is a lot about emotion, and the feeling people have about your product and the values of the company.

After the events that took place at the Boston Marathon, the Red Sox players and ownership stepped up and helped the city handle the sadness and adversity by showing their passionate commitment to the community, and in the process, created a strong affinity for their brand because they became immense emotional leaders for the city, region and country. During the course of the year, the team honored several of the unsung heroes, as well as the victims and their families, which showcased the passion of the players and ownership during what was a very, very difficult time.

Visually, the Red Sox brand also became a part of the city’s strength. After the marathon, the team wore patches with the team logo and the word “STRONG” under it the rest of the season. The team put the same logo on the 37-foot-high Green Monster and mowed the logo in the outfield grass for the World Series. All of these were constant visual reminders of what was motivating this team and that this season was bigger than baseball.

World Series Boston Strong ESPN
ESPN.go photo. Credit: ESPN

The emotional climax and perhaps most moving moment that many fans (and non- baseball fans) will remember is when Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes stopped the championship parade in the streets of Boston at the finish line of the Boston Marathon (where the bombing took place just seven months before) and placed a team jersey with the phrase “Boston Strong” and the number 617 (area code in Boston) on it over the World Series trophy as “God Bless America” played over the loud speaker.

This was a powerful moment for the Red Sox brand. At that very moment, it wasn’t what the Red Sox had done on the field that fans were cheering for, they were cheering because of how that moment made them feel.

You might not be able to put a championship ring on your finger like the Red Sox, but you do have the opportunity to find new ways to engage your customers and make them feel a stronger emotional connection to your brand.

Five Steps to Develop Your Social Media Marketing Campaign Strategy

Morning Sentinel masthead

I wrote this article for the Central Maine Morning Sentinel’s Business Journal, which came out earlier this week. Jen Libby, our graphic artist, created the infographic to illustrate the five steps. 

5 Steps to Develop Social Media MarketingMany people in business think of social media as a distraction or as something that’s just for kids; others think it is a waste of time. Some even wonder how anyone in business even has time to spend on it. If you are in one of these camps, my question to you is this: how can we, as small business owners, afford not to spend time on strengthening relationships with our current and prospective customers?

Data shows that people who follow brands on social media are likely to buy more products and services more often than those who are not connected. Furthermore, they are more likely to share their enthusiasm about a brand with their own family and friends. That kind of endorsement has the same power as word- of-mouth marketing, which is the most powerful kind of marketing.

Younger people are less likely than ever to believe anything they see, hear or read in advertising, which makes even more of a case for using social media to market your business. Ask a 25 year old if they are more likely to buy a car based on an ad they saw on TV or a recommendation from a friend on Facebook, and guess what the answer will be?

You may not want to spend time on social media, but if you are trying to sustain the growth of your business, you need to find an employee or a professional who will help you engage in this kind of marketing. It’s just a fact of life today: a social media marketing strategy is essential for any business, whether you are selling cars, financial services, farm-fresh vegetables, or fishing equipment.

The dramatic sea change that has occurred in the marketing industry over the past ten years means that we now build brands by engaging people who are interested in having an ongoing relationship with us, as opposed to creating campaigns that promote or sell your business in short campaigns. People don’t want to feel like they are being “sold to” online. You are better served by having a large number of people who are interested in an ongoing dialogue with you than spending a lot of money on an ad campaign that is short-lived.

Furthermore, social media helps your search engine optimization. Google Plus is an often overlooked platform, but it’s worth paying attention to the social media platform created by the number one search engine.

Don’t Just Stay In the Game, Win It: Strategies for Small Business Success

by Paige Calahan, Content Advocate, SocialMonsters

Work smarter for your small businessThink fast: Why do most new small businesses fail? According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the top reasons are lack of capital, poor management of credit and lack of experience. This last point may be the most daunting. After all, how do you get experience other than trying and sometimes, failing? Sure, everyone knows the basics—solidify a business model, order business cards and execute a marketing strategy—but it’s impossible for a novice business owner to know how to fix every problem that arises. If you’re a savvy small business owner who just doesn’t have much experience, learn from the experience of others. Here’s help to secure capital, stay competitive and win customers.

Show Yourself the Money

It’s often challenging for failed business owners to accurately pinpoint where they went wrong—which makes sense, since if they knew what wasn’t working, presumably they’d have fixed it. That said, lack of capital is consistently cited as a problem that can lead to the downfall of even the most hardworking new small business owner.

This is a knot of a problem with a few different threads, but one of the easiest solutions is making sure you have access to the best business credit cards to give yourself cash reserves for long-term funding. When choosing a card, consider the most popular options that business owners prefer, and compare the various benefits offered. Do you plan to travel a lot? Choose a card that maximizes your mileage rewards and gets you free trips, faster. Do you conduct a lot of business lunches? Seek a card that gives you extra bonuses for dining or any other business-related expenses. By staying on top of your credit and choosing the card with perks that best fits your needs, you can access resources while building your business in ways that a simple loan simply can’t provide.

Management is Key

Once you’ve got your assets squared away, you need to appropriately manage the income and expense streams that flow in and out of your business. Use technology such as accounting and time-tracking software and email management tools. Automate most of your financial planning and decision-making to free you up to focus on developing your product and listening closely to your customers about what’s working and what they’d like to see improve.

Your goal here is to stay on top of your expenses without spending too much time wading through spreadsheets. After all, every minute you’re tied up at the desk is a minute your competitor might be out there snagging a customer that could be yours. Invest in systems you trust and credit plans that give you freedom and peace of mind. Then focus on acquiring new customers and meeting their needs with excellent, memorable service.

Stay Focused, Not Fearful

Finally, while it’s good to keep a clear head about what your competition is up to, remember that at the end of the day, your goal is to do right by the people who are handing you their hard-earned cash: your customers. Listen closely to what your customers need—it’s one of the hallmarks of any successful business, no matter the size or the budget.