By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
As we assess the first decade of the new century, it's worth noting how much the Internet has changed our world by creating a more level playing field for business owners. Today, anyone can build brand awareness on a global stage with no money down. What's especially interesting for those of us in merchant services is that we can no longer dismiss the small startup company because, hey, you never know. Today's startup could be tomorrow's viral enterprise.
Where there was once a world of difference between small to mid-sized and large business accounts, some merchant level salespeople (MLSs) have noticed a bit of cross-pollination between the two. Small companies increasingly have global footprints and 24/7 help desks, and publicly traded corporations are emphasizing personalized service and local community support.
In fact, many corporate sales managers have borrowed a page from the MLS playbook by encouraging those reporting directly to them to become more entrepreneurial in their approach to territory management.
That's an encouraging sign for those of us who are independent contractors and business owners. We know what it takes to design and manage a business because we've built our portfolios that way, one merchant at a time. We have learned how to work hard; we've learned how to work smart; and now the rest of the business community is beginning to follow our lead.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov), over 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first year, and 95 percent fail within the first five years. Despite these daunting statistics and an unstable economy, it is still possible for an entrepreneur with a dream and a business plan to launch and grow a company.
MLSs who partner with new business owners have an opportunity to share knowledge and expertise - not only of the payments industry but on a broad array of business practices, based on our own experiences as business owners. Let's take pride in our accomplishments and recognize how valuable we can be as strategic resources for other entrepreneurs.
In fact, we are often so busy educating our customers on industry best practices that we overlook how we could use the same strategies to promote our services to a wider audience.
How many times do you think about setting up your own Web site or updating your profile on a social network but procrastinate because it's a low priority? They may seem like minor housekeeping details, but they are working for your merchants, and they could be building brand awareness exponentially for your business as well. Maybe it's time to do for ourselves as we have done for others. Here are five small but highly effective ways to promote our merchant service businesses on the Internet in 2010.
Building and publishing a Web site has never been easier or more affordable. Even a brochure site will boost your credibility and optimize your business on Internet search engines. Most Internet service providers offer Web site design starter kits with customizable templates. Start with a simple brochure site and periodically update it with links and new information.
Blogging is a great way to position yourself and your company as a payments industry resource and specialist. Share success stories, amusing anecdotes, observations on industry trends, or important information about the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. Merchants frequently search the Internet for information about credit card processing, so become a trusted voice of the industry.
Even traditional merchants are incorporating e-commerce into their businesses, as traditional MO/TO consumers increasingly migrate to online ordering. Your company's e-commerce solution is the best way to promote the ease and security of using a shopping cart or payment form. It will also streamline efficiencies by driving customers to order supplies and accessories on your Web site instead of calling you or your help desk.
Your profile on a social networking site is just as important these days as a business card and a resume. Prospective employers and customers visit these sites to learn about you, your interests, background and professional affiliations. These virtual communities increase visibility and facilitate connections with other professionals in your industry, as well as prospective clients.
As video technology becomes more affordable and accessible, many busy professionals rely on video presentations that can be downloaded and viewed at potential clients' convenience from an Internet or FTP site. Consider adding merchant testimonials or training modules to your Web site. These vivid product and software demonstrations are warmer and friendlier than written quick reference guides and will create more lasting impressions on your viewing audience.
Today, MLSs are leading the way. We wrote the book on business startups and will continue to inspire business owners, both large and small, with our leadership and know-how. Starting a business is not for everyone. The SBA tries to discourage would-be entrepreneurs with failure statistics and other sobering facts. Take a look at the seven attributes that the SBA considers essential for success in managing a business (found at www.sba.gov/smallbusinessplanner/plan/getready/serv_sbplanner_isentforu.html):
Sound familiar? Sometimes we're so busy contributing to the success of our merchant customers that we forget about ourselves. Let's resolve to make better use of our great ideas, expertise and payments industry solutions. We can start by pretending that our own companies are the prospects. Let the games begin.
Dale S. Laszig is a writer and payments industry executive with a diversified background in sales and marketing. Her company, DSL Direct LLC, helps industry professionals and business owners leverage electronic transaction technology. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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