Click the link below to go to the weekly business rail, with marketing tips, a BBB warning about shopping online, and more. Or check out these other links.

Tip of the Week


Small-business owners are busy, and figuring out the best way to effectively market to your customers can be overwhelming. Here are 10 marketing ideas for helping small businesses promote products and services:


1. Know where you are going. Create a marketing plan. It can be specific, or just a list of goals and objectives, but take time to determine what you want to get out of your marketing efforts, and how you will know when it is working. The Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov) has great resources on developing a plan. Also, determine goals for using social media. Whether it is getting more people in your store, visitors on your website, or customers signed up for your email updates — whatever your goals are, make sure the content you add to your social media pages helps you achieve your goals.


2. Be prepared. Practice a 30-second elevator pitch and be ready to give a quick introduction to someone you meet about your business. You never know when you will run into a prospective customer, so have a clear and complete message ready!


3. Use the great power of networking. Join your local chamber or BNI group. Referrals and word of mouth can make a big impact on your business. Both are great ways to get the word out about your business, and many people in the area want to buy local and will want to work with someone they know and trust.


4. Claim it. If you are just getting started, make sure to claim your domain name, Facebook page, etc., with your business name. Especially if you own a restaurant, you should make sure to claim your Yelp page (www.yelp.com). This website allows people to review businesses and post information (hours, pictures and contact information), so businesses should make sure the content that has been added by customers is accurate.


5. Have a professional business Facebook page (not personal profile). Creating a Facebook page allows people to “like” your business. Businesses that create personal profiles look less professional and miss out on customers who do not want the page administrator viewing their profile and information. Creating a business page allows you to post updates, pictures and other content to your customers and gives you demographic information about those who have “liked” the page. Engage with your customers: post a poll question, add links to articles and reply to any questions or comments on the page.


6. Want to make sure your business comes up on top of the Google search page? Create a Google Plus page. This social media website was launched last summer, and it allows you to create personal and business pages. It stands out from the other social media websites with the ability to host video chats called Hangouts.


7. Speaking of Google. … An easy way to monitor the conversation about your business is to set up a Google Alert with your business name at www.google.com/alerts. Once set up, you’ll receive emails with links to online posts that mention your business name.


8. Use collaborative marketing. Find ways to combine your efforts with other small businesses and share ad space. Consider businesses that are located together (downtown area or shopping center) or businesses that have the same customers, but are not competitors.


9. Tweet. Twitter is a great way to reach out to prospective customers, listen to what people are saying about your business (or your competitors) and share your news. Follow similar companies, people and organizations in the community, authors, speakers or leaders in your industry. Make sure to post articles relevant to your business, and promote other organizations and community events, too. Your posts should be professional and interesting — keep in mind that they reflect on your business.


10. Have a professional website. Websites are often the first impression someone has about your business. Make sure it is easy to navigate and find contact information and that the content is current. Check out tools such as Weebly, Yola and Squarespace — to name a few — which offer low cost and easy-to-manage templates, if you need a website for your business.


- Catrina Ossmann, The Daily Telegram


BBB Watch


The Better Business Bureau offers advice on avoiding Web-based rip-offs.


"In a tight economy, consumers are always looking to save money," said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau in northern Illinois. "Too often, what looks to be a 'great deal' is really a knock-off in disguise."


The BBB recommends the following advice for safe shopping online, as well as tips on how to spot fake merchandise:


- Always deal with reputable businesses. The number one way to avoid getting ripped off when buying luxury goods is to deal with reputable businesses. When in doubt, shoppers can contact the manufacturer and verify which vendors are authorized sellers. Consumers should also check out the business with the BBB at www.bbb.org before making a purchase decision.


- If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. One of the biggest red flags for knock-off merchandise is an unrealistic price. Extremely low prices are tempting but not to be believed.


- Read between the lines. Some websites or online classified ads will go overboard in their description of the item in order to coax the buyer's trust.  Overuse of "genuine," "real" or "authentic" is a bad sign. Buyers also need to keep an eye out for phrases like "inspired by."


- Check the merchandise. Considering the name is a large part of the motivation for buying a luxury brand, many manufacturers spend considerable time and energy on crafting the physical label. Counterfeiters aren't usually as meticulous. Shoppers should look for misspelled words and brand names, poorly sewn logos and labels, etc. Some luxury goods carry an "authenticity label" with a hologram or other security measure.


- Know the brand. Different luxury brands, such as purses, have specific hardware consumers can rely on to identify a genuine piece. Zippers, screws, clasps and stitching are usually very specific for the brand and the manufacturer often has details on their website explaining what to look for and how to spot a knock-off. Craftsmanship is king for most luxury brands.


For more tips, visit www.bbb.org.


The List


According to JPMorgan, here are 10 stocks that are more attractive than Apple:


10. Amazon.com


9. KeyCorp


8. CareFusion


7. DirecTV


6. Rockwell Collins


5. Allegheny Technologies


4. Quanta Services


3. Newmont Mining


2. Halliburton


1. Baker Hughes


Number to Know


8.9: Percent that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. recently raised its annual dividend.


Tech Talk


The most common business password used is Password1, and hackers know it. Experts recommend that if this is your password, you change it now.


GateHouse News Service