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Why a Facebook presence is worth the effort

It's true that marketing has changed drastically over the last few years, especially for small businesses. Nowhere is this more true than with social media. Originally just a way to communicate with friends, social media has taken its place in the small business owner's marketing toolbox. Used well, Facebook marketing is a powerful tool, and best of all, it's free.

But some small small business owners think that all you have to do is create a business Facebook profile. They think that their mere presence on Facebook will be enough to entice new customers to their businesses. Unfortunately, this laissez faire approach to Facebook marketing is not only ineffective but it may hurt your marketing efforts. A neglected or abandoned profile gives people the impression that you don't care much about your "appearance," and they don't want that slovenliness to rub off.

It doesn't take much effort, though, to get great results from your Facebook endeavors. If you consistently put just 20 minutes per day into your business Facebook account, you can reach out to new potential customers, build relationships, and garner some serious attention. Here's how.

1. Work on your profile. Your profile establishes your Facebook identity, so pay attention to how it looks. Choose a profile picture that represents your business well. If you own a pet store, it would be confusing to use a picture of a cupcake. You don't have to use a photo of yourself for your business profile, but you should use something that will be recognizable when you post and when people look at your page.

2. Add friends regularly. If you're shy, it can be intimidating to send friend requests on a regular basis, but put yourself out there and send a few requests every day. Soon you'll be getting friend requests yourself, and the power of social media will be in your favor. Each friend has a network of friends, so your influence can grow exponentially.

3. Post events. Facebook has an option to post events, and this is a great strategy for small businesses. Post sales, special offers, classes, and anything else that has a specific date and time associated with it. Encourage your friends to "Like" your events, and use the RSVP function to find out who's coming to your events.

4. Update regularly. The "regularly" part is the hard part. Set a time every day that you will post something about your small business. Need ideas? Write about your new employee, your upcoming events, your favorite products. Tell how busy you are and how much you enjoy your customers. Keep your updates positive, unique, and professional. Skip graphic descriptions of your head cold and complaints about your employee who's always late. Remember that this is marketing, and image is important.

5. Upload photos. Let's say that you have a dance studio and your students perform at a local festival. Upload your photos and ask the students to tag themselves in all of your photos. This is a strategy that Lenny Kravitz has used to bolster his Facebook popularity. He has a photographer take pictures of his fans at his concerts, and then he invites the fans to tag themselves in the photos. How does this help? It helps because his concert pictures show up on all of his fans' individual Facebook pages. It's genius, really.

6. Use your Facebook page for polls. People like to express their opinions, so give them a chance to do it on your Facebook page. This is actually a smart marketing strategy because you can treat polls as free focus groups. If you run a pizza place, ask your Facebook friends and fans which new pizza topping sounds best to them. They'll enjoy being asked, and you'll be more confident with your upcoming menu selections. 

7. Hold Facebook contests. Create a contest based on your product. This kind of Facebook marketing really gets people involved, especially if you offer a great prize. For example, if you own a landscaping business, hold a flower garden contest. People send in pictures of their flower gardens, and you award a free service to the winner.

8. Create a community. One of the greatest benefits of Facebook marketing is that you're not just spreading word about your brand; you're creating a community. Friends who return to your business page again and again will begin to recognize each other and feel comfortable. Your page can become a landing spot for people with similar interests. Just as a coffee shop can become a comfortable hangout, so can your Facebook page for people who want to know more about what you do.

Once your Facebook page is really rolling along, participate on others' pages. Comment on posts, and become part of the larger community. Facebook marketing is worth the effort.

Utilizing Google + for your Business


Utilizing Google + for your Business

Will The Internet Sales Tax Put You Out Of Business?

HR 3179, also known as the Marketplace Equity Act, has been getting substantial press lately, and it's easy to see why. The bill would give states authority to force online retailers to collect sales tax. Brick-and-mortar businesses feel that the bill would end an unfair advantage that online retailers have over them. Online retailers are threatened by the effect the bill would have on their already razor-thin margins. What does HR 3179 mean for your business? 

History of HR 3179
Originally sponsored by Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), the HR 3179 was introduced on October 13, 2011, and was co-sponsored by 53 representatives from both Republican and Democratic districts. On July 24, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary held a full committee hearing to explore the bill. During the day's testimony, most of the committee members agreed that brick-and-mortar retailers are currently operating under unfair conditions as far as tax laws are concerned, but the committee never came to any consensus about how to solve the issue.

Small Businesses Exempt
HR 3179 states that small online businesses are exempt from the new tax restrictions, but how is a small online business defined? Under HR 3179, small online businesses are defined as businesses with a total gross annual income of less than $1,000,000 or with annual sales to particular states that are less than $100,000. 

Some small businesses will easily fall under the total gross annual income limits defined in HR 3179, but many others won't. Critics of the bill also point out that as internet retail expands over the years and inflation raises prices, the dollar limits in the bill will exempt fewer and fewer small businesses. But that's not the only criticism of the bill.

Complicated Tax Laws

The United States is not divided into just 50 state tax jurisdictions; there are about 9,600 tax jurisdictions in all when you include cities, counties, and other jurisdictions, and these thousands of tax jurisdictions all have different rates and rules. Los Angeles County, for example, charges 8.75 percent sales tax, but Orange County charges 7.75 percent. What does this have to do with HR 3179? If the bill passes, the states will have an added layer of tax complexity to deal with, but they would not be forced to simplify tax rates. And since the bill doesn't establish federal court jurisdiction for simplification standards, there could potentially be 50 contradictory state court rulings.

This doesn't bode well for small businesses that sell to customers in multiple states. Tax collection would be complicated, and the complexity would require time and resources to sort out. 

Effects of HR 3179 on Online Businesses
Could HR 3179 put you out of business? It's conceivable that if you're already barely making ends meet and HR 3179 drives your customers away (meaning they won't shop from you if you charge sales tax), you could potentially go out of business. But if your current business plan provides for so little protection against adverse conditions, perhaps it's time to rethink your business strategy.

Rethinking Business Plans
Much of the appeal of online shopping has been the lack of sales tax and the increasingly prevalent online shipping, which Amazon has offered for years. Between no sales tax and free shipping, consumers rarely need to leave the house; they don't even have to spend gas money to go to a shopping center. This advantage has spurred the growth of online small businesses, but if HR 3179 passes, some small businesses may have to reconsider their business plans.

If you have to start charging tax on the items you sell, what other benefits can you offer your customers to make up the difference? Are your products not readily available in brick-and-mortar stores in their towns and cities? Can you customize your products in a way that makes them exclusive or one-of-a-kind? Is there a way to provide stellar customer service online that beats out the customer service they receive from other businesses? What do you have to offer that they can't get anywhere else? Successfully answering these questions can prevent HR 3179 or any other top-down ruling to determine your fate. Let's take a look at some of these questions more closely to get you thinking about how you can adapt your business to changing circumstances. It's not in any way certain that HR 3179 will pass. In fact, GovTrack gives HR 3179 only a 10% chance at being enacted. Regardless, it's always a good idea to position your small business so that it's protected from outside forces such as fluctuating tax laws. Think about your business and concretely answer the following questions:

What benefits can I offer to my customers? Let's say you have a seed catalog, and you compete with local nurseries. What will make them want to buy from you? Do you offer a wider variety of products than a nursery can manage? Do you have a website with a helpful blog or YouTube demonstrations?

Are my products not readily available in brick-and-mortar stores in my customers' towns and cities? A brick-and-mortar store can offer only as many products as they have room for. Perhaps by specializing in a certain product, you can become the go-to supplier for exclusive items. Sell automotive accessories? Specialize in hub caps, and when somebody needs a particular hubcap that can't be found in their local brick-and-mortar store, they'll come to you.

Can I customize my products in a way that makes them exclusive or one-of-a-kind? Instead of selling generic iPad cases, embroider monograms on them or silkscreen favorite photos onto them. These customized products not only give you an edge in originality, but they allow you to raise your prices.

Can I provide customer service that's superior to my competitors' customer service? Brick-and-mortar stores are open for a certain number of hours every day, but you can be open all the time. Can you offer support unique to your online or catalog platform? Perhaps your website could offer question and answer sessions, craft instructions, or online discussions about problematic business problems that would be helpful to all of your customers.

What do I have that they can't get anywhere else? Taxes or not, you want to be able to offer your customers something they can't get anywhere else. HR 3179 may take a bite initially, but if you focus your efforts on giving your customers a pleasant, unique experience with your products, taxes will only effect you minimally.

HR 3179 may or may not affect your business at all. The wheels of Congress move slowly, and you may never have to worry about sales tax taking a bite of your profits. Even if HR 3179 doesn't pass, though, worrying about it may just be the motivation you need to improve your business plan. Prepare for the future now by considering how you can make your business indispensable to your customers. If you do this, a change in tax law will be a minor inconvenience instead of a breaking point. What are you doing now to prepare for the possibility of the enactment of HR 3179?

Why it's time to certify your online pet pharmacy through NABP

Back in 1999, a coalition of professional groups, government regulatory associations, and consumer advocacy organizations got together and developed criteria for accredited Internet pharmacies. This criteria was adopted by the National Association Boards of Pharmacy, and the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (Vet-VIPPS) program is an extension of that original criteria.

Today, the Vet-VIPPS seal helps consumers to know if an online veterinary pharmacy complies with standard criteria and gives them peace of mind as they make online purchases for their pets. This standard criteria includes:
  • The customer's right to privacy. Customers who purchase products from Vet-VIPPS certified pharmacies know their information will not be sold to outside vendors or made known to anyone else.
  • Authentication and security of prescription orders. Some customers worry that online pharmacies may be prone to mistakes or mishaps when filling prescription orders, but Vet-VIPPS-certified pharmacies must pass an accreditation process that ensures authentication and security.
  • Adherence to a sanctioned quality service policy. Quality of products is assured by Vet-VIPPS-certified pharmacies because of the standards they must meet in certification.
  • Availability of consultation between pharmacists and customers. A brick-and-mortar veterinary pharmacy always has a pharmacist on call during business hours for answering questions and resolving concerns. Vet-VIPPS online pharmacies also offer consultations, giving customers the best of both worlds.
When you become certified, you can add the Vet-VIPPS hyperlink seal to your website. This seal demonstrates to everyone who visits your site that your company operates with the high standards associated with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Why is now a good time to become certified? Here are 4 reasons:

1. You could be one of the first. The certification program was developed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy in 2009 to curb the practice of illegitimate pharmacies selling pharmaceuticals online. Although the numbers of Vet-VIPPS-certified pharmacies is growing, you could still be one of the first, establishing your company as one of the few legitimate, safe online pet pharmacies in the country.

2. Certification will garner publicity for your website. Becoming Vet-VIPPS certified is news fit for press releases, which could be picked up by news agencies, especially in your local area. Not only will certification benefit your company over its entire life, but it will give you an immediate marketing boost.

3. Your company's reputation will be established. The Vet-VIPPS seal of approval sets your online pharmacy apart. It tells your customers that you are serious about their animals' welfare and have already gone to lengths to look after their best interests. Your website will be listed on the NABP site as a recommended pharmacy because you will adhere to their business practice and safety standards.

4. You'll avoid looking like a rogue pharmacy. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has reviewed over 9,600 online pharmacy websites. According to their review, only 3% of those thousands of sites appear to comply with standard pharmaceutical practices and laws. Patients put their health at risk when they patronize these rogue sites, but they'll know you're legitimate if you have the Vet-VIPPS seal on your site.

If you'd like to enhance your company's trustworthy reputation and gain the confidence of every customer who visits your website, begin the process of becoming Vet-VIPPS certified. The support and backing of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy will both increase traffic to your site and help your customers to feel more comfortable putting their pets' health in your hands. 

Direct Marketing, Order Management Solutions and the Web

direct marketing 799573 92616 200x200 resized 600Catalogers have seen significant changes in their industry since the days of Sears & Roebuck. As early as 1960, store credit & credit cards opened up the telephone as an ordering channel. Now, the Internet and social networking technologies are making traditional direct marketing efforts less and less effective. This latest channel in the multichannel industry is enabling catalogers to leverage the opportunities direct marketing always has promised but never fully delivered.

My guest is Larry Kavanagh. Larry is the founder and CEO of DMinSite, a direct marketing software company that delivers greater effectiveness for its clients for their direct marketing efforts. He shares his views of direct marketing, it's past, it's present and it's future and imparts some very insightful wisdom for traditional catalogers moving to the Web as well as Internet pure-play retailers.

Right-click here to download... NP Sessions - Episode 1

Ecommerce Order Management & PCI Straight Talk

1205263639 7393 34749 200x200 resized 600The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) has been challenging IT and security professionals for the past several years. We may be familiar with the bad publicity a PCI incident or breach can cause; however case studies of success stories are hard to find. The industry has been evolving to make the enterprise and customer information more secure. During this broadcast, we will look at the future of PCI compliance , how it is going to continue to evolve, and how the evolution will impact day-to-day activities.

My guest is Rick Dakin. Rick is the president and co-founder of Coalfire, an IT audit and compliance firm that provides IT audit, security, and PCI compliance solutions throughout North America for merchants and third-party service providers in the retail industry. He shares his views on the state of the PCI DSS, how companies can attain compliant status quickly and easily, and how to build a roadmap to PCI compliance for the future.

Right-click here to download - NP Sessions - Episode 3

Advanced Reporting & Data Analysis with Order Management Systems

data 79043 190x190 resized 600Well designed and well implemented operational systems help businesses run more efficiently and give end users easier access to order information. This enables them to provide a higher quality of service to their customers but it also means that the corporate system is gathering a lot of raw data. This podcast is an excerpt from a recent webinar about gaining insight into business operations by mining the data corporate systems are so good at collecting. Our guest is Fred Owen, President of MITS, a business intelligence and data mining software company based in Seattle.

Right-click to here to download - NP Sessions - Episode 2

FRED: I really appreciate the chance to come on and talk a little bit about my experience. I think it’s relevant for what we’re going through today and can help provide a little bit of context for this situation and how companies can respond and improve the situation that they find themselves in. So I’d like to do that by really just telling a story about an experience that I had. So if you’ll go with me, back in time, to 1987 - 22 years ago.

I was working for a company and I was, at that time what they called in the old days, the data processing manager. And the company that I worked for was about 100 employees and was a privately held manufacturing firm. As the IT person, I’d been on the job for about a year and found my way around the organization pretty well. We’d made some improvements, for example, I had replaced the main computer system with one that was more flexible and it had more capacity. I had spent time streamlining their order processing workflow so that orders could get to the system in a more expedient manner. I’d automated several of the more, what we considered in the day, oppressive manual tasks and I helped the management team with their annual budgeting process. I was pleased to be able to do that from a technical perspective. So the computer system was reliable; I felt like I was in control. We were even going so far as to do daily backups of the system in case some unforeseen disaster should befall us. So basically, inside the organization; inside the four walls of the company, things were running pretty well and I was feeling pretty good about that. But little did I realize that the challenge would come from outside.

The situation was that the owner of the company was nontechnical and he was also pretty quick tempered and I would even characterize him as being blustery. He relied on his understanding of the industry to steer the organization. Sort of a gut feel thing, seat of the pants to some degree. But it really depended on his knowledge of the industry, having been in it for a number of years. So that served him well. During his tenure, the company had grown; he was very pleased with the success that we had had. We opened a new production facility in the Midwest (this was a West Coast based company) and the company had really achieved record sales results. They were doing well.

Then one Monday morning, in October 1987, the stock market dropped about twenty two percent in one day. Many of you will remember that. Ushering in a sharp economic recession and our company at that time was a supplier to the consumer marine industry. Our products made their way to the manufacturers and they became part of the personal discretionary expense that one would call a personal pleasure boat. So that industry began to go through some serious convulsions as you can imagine. We found ourselves in a scenario where there were risks everywhere. We really felt like careful, informed navigation of these really uncharted business waters that we found ourselves in was just more important than ever.

I remember a day, a particular day, when the boss blustered over to my workstation, which was in an open area, and in a loud voice, announced to me and everyone else that could hear, he said, “Our business is off and I know it’s because of this recessionary climate we find ourselves in, but I don’t know exactly where or what to do about it. I’m pretty sure the answer is somewhere in that computer system of yours. Look into it and tell me what’s going on.” He didn’t even think the computer system was his.

So I launched an intense effort over the next several weeks where I began to use, really, all the resources I had at my disposal. In those days, there were not very many resources, as you can imagine. I used those resources to sift through the detailed transactions in that production system and I was looking for clues about how the economic downturn was affecting our business. As I set out, I didn’t know exactly where to go and what to look at. I just began looking at data. I used a myriad of database queries and reports to do that. I derived a number of spreadsheets and, in those days, spreadsheets were things that you bought down at the office supply store. They came in a book; they had a number of columns; they were made of paper; you filled them out with pencil because you had to be able to erase them. Using that spreadsheet technology I was able to learn a few things that were very important.

One of them was which customers had slowed their purchasing activities first. That provided an early indicator of their economic wellbeing; how they were navigating through this economy. I was able to learn what customers had delayed payment; providing another important indicator, well before they hit ninety days past due. All told, I was able to learn from our operational computer system, information that provided a number of important insights. The management of the company then was able to, with a degree of wisdom, apply that knowledge and steer clear of some of the biggest risks. Really, mitigate the damage that that economic downturn had had on this particular company.

Now, the affects of the economic downturn were still significant but by applying what I had learned, the owner was able to preserve the value of the business and negotiate it’s eventual sale to another organization and that provided him with a handsome return. That might not have been possible without this effort. So when you distill this story down to its essence, it really provides the basic motivation for MITS products and that is gaining insight from corporate databases and using that insight to make wise decisions.

To me it was very exciting to help that company succeed back in 1987; in a measureable way. Today the company I work for helps many organizations achieve more results but hopefully without the need for the old paper style spreadsheet technology. So with that background and with that view of sort of the situation we find ourselves in, we come before you today to give you an idea, some ideas, about how you can make the most of the situation in which we find ourselves in today.

GEORGE: Fred, I have a question for you, if you don’t mind. You had to spend time culling through data. Eventually to start identifying something you could put your hands on so that you could take back to somebody else that has to make decisions based on that. Not knowing whether there was anything useful in it or not, I presume, but assuming that there was (everybody assumes that there’s some valuable information in the data that is being collected by their operational system) so? I guess if I have to ask a question from an end user’s standpoint, how do you even start to approach it. How do you start if you don’t - you have no clue? There may be some assumptions that we all make or that the industry makes, but that doesn’t necessarily correlate to results. So we end up generating a lot of activity in the organization that bears no fruit, or useful fruit. So how do we start? Where do we go from here?

FRED: Well I think the key question that really revolves this disconnect, and the disconnect goes something like this… We all see our business through our particular experience but if I’m managing a business and I walk through the order processing department and the phones are ringing and people are busy, I think we’re doing well because I’ve taken that input and I’ve digested it and I’ve reached this conclusion so we all have a sense of how things are going. But without really, objectively, measuring that activity, our view is distorted and so I have a lot of respect for hard data. If we can actually look at the numbers, we’ll get a better picture; a more accurate picture of what’s happening and we can make better decisions from that. And I think that if we can sort of put aside that lens that we use, this distorted lens, and look at it more objectively, that that’s a good first step. Beyond that, business is relatively simple. You know the formula for business success is just income minus expenses equals profit. At the end of the day just make sure that number is positive right? And make sure that number is as big as possible. Just at a fundamental level, if we begin looking at some of those big pieces, what’s happening in the income stream. You probably all know what’s happening at sort of a macro level. That’s easy; our sales are up forty percent or down twenty or whatever the number is. You know that. But hidden in there are a myriad of details that give you insight into specific things you can do to improve them. So being able to readily dig into and understand and digest that information, I think is the key. So I think we all have a sense for what big pieces we need to look at and I think it really does involve just wading into it. As you do that, you’ll see things that stand out over performers, under performers, anomalies that don’t fit the pattern; that need to be investigated more fully. That’s essentially? I think where the key is.

Marketing and Operational Excellence in Order Management Solutions

susanrider 69690 190x190 resized 600My guest today is Susan Rider. She's the owner and president of Rider & Associates; a marketing and operational consulting agency founded in 1985 to serve distribution companies and multichannel retailers and to concult ith the implementation of order management solutions.

She is currently the president of WERC, past chairman of LESA, and a frequent speaker at DC Expo, Georgia Tech, Frontline, NACDS, ProMat and many other industry associations.

In this episode, Susan shares her expertise in technology, processes, people and methodologies in the multichannel retail industry. You can get more information about Susan and her agency at

Right-click to download - NP Sessions - Episode 5

Order Management & Social Networks are Sweet at Sweetwater

swetwater200 resized 600My guest today is Christopher Guerin, Director of Program Development at Sweetwater Sound Inc. Sweetwater has a very interestng past but their present and future are even more interesting. They are one of a very small group of multichannel retailers that are utilizing social networking technologies to build relationships with customers and prospects; delivering a level of personal service most retailers would kill for. Christopher discusses Sweetwater's background, their growth and their unique positioning of customer service in their business utilizing a state of the art order management solution.

Right-click here to downoad - NP Sessions - Episode 6

Ecommerce Order Management Marketing and Branding with Social Media

This Webinar is an overview of ecommerce order management marketing and branding with social media tools. It covers what social media is, why it's important to you, your company and your customers, shows examples of companies doing it right and some practical steps to getting started. If you want step by step details of creating a Facebook or Twitter account for your business and procedures for marketing and branding with these technologies, stay tuned... we'll be providing that in upcoming webinars.

Marketing and Branding with Social Media
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