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Halloween party invites

Your Halloween party shouldn’t be without good looking invitations to announce it. I’ve found people are much more likely to show up to a soiree if they receive physical invitations (sorry, Facebook). Make your own invites with a trip to the craft store, or personalize professionally designed invites online. They’re not as expensive as you’d think (about $1.50 each and they come with envelopes).

My favorite resource for Halloween invitations is TinyPrints. Their quality is great, and turnover is quick. I ordered my invites over the weekend and had them within days. They have a team of designers who check over your order to ensure the layout is correct before your invitations go to print. There are 77 designs this year, which makes the “My Picks” feature essential to help you narrow your favorites.

Here are some of my favorites this year:…

Gourmet Halloween favours

Don’t feel like spending the entire day before your party in the kitchen? I don’t blame you. I’ve done it, only to see all of the cupcakes go uneaten, while the roasted pumpkin seeds (which take, what, ten minues?) are devoured within minutes. Figures.

Though it can be more expensive, buying delicious pre-made desserts and favors pays off by allowing you time to get ready and enjoy your own party. And you don’t have to spend a day in the kitchen creating them.

My favorite party giveaway is a caramel apple. Usually, I make my own, but look at these fabulous Halloween caramel apples from Mrs. Prindable’s. This is a brand I’ve grown up with, since it’s based in Illinois, and I was right across the border in Michigan. The apples are enormous, coated in caramel, and they’re dipped or drizzled in delicious chocolate. Slice them into wedges and serve on a platter, or give one to your best-costume winner. Mrs. Prindable’s ships all over the country, and the apples arrive in chic purple boxes with holiday-appropriate ribbons. Love it!

Look at these gorgeous offerings for this Halloween:

Don’t like apples? Check out these caramel patties dressed up in spiderwebs:02851A44D5FC48D383AC0C0E9957865C

Psst. Mrs. Prindable’s apples are also fabulous Christmas morning with hot chocolate. Easiest around-the-tree meal you’ll ever make.…

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A practical approach to social networking / blogging

I work in hospitality and small business website design, and one of the hottest topics right now is social networking. Right on its tail are mailing lists and blogs. My customers aren’t interested in how they can improve the appearance of their websites; they want to hear about how a blog can increase the traffic to their website, or how they can use Facebook to their advantage. I believe this is the job of a marketing consultant. Unfortunately, it is slowly becoming a responsibility of the website designer and developer, simply because clients don’t know who else to ask.

As reluctant as I am to step into the marketing pool, I want to offer practical advice to help my clients market themselves online without turning to SEO firms who want to charge them $1,000 for Facebook page setup (this is not a joke). So, I present my practical approach to online marketing for small and hospitality businesses, built on observation, trial and error, and common sense.

More isn’t always better, especially if you never interact with them.more ducks

The key to any marketing tool, whether it’s a mailing list, Facebook, Twitter, or a blog, is how you use it. It’s great to build a huge mailing list, but what are you going to do with it? You have 100 followers on Twitter and Facebook–so what? These statistics are useless unless you have something to say to these people. Here are my tips for making the most out of your social networking and blogging experience.

Use it or lose it. If you aren’t going to use or monitor that Facebook page for whatever reason (time constraints, computer skills, lack of interest), don’t set one up (or at least don’t link to it). It’s better to have no presence on Facebook than one which is not maintained and could result in damage to your brand. What if someone published something inappropriate on your page? This could reflect negatively on you. Similarly, don’t start a blog if you don’t intend to keep writing it.
Plan and schedule. Figure out how often you want to post, and stick to that schedule. This might be once a day; it might be once a week. Figure out what works for you. Also, determine whether your business needs unique content on each platform (specials on Twitter, pictures on Facebook, recommendations on the blog), or if they should be linked together, so content from one pushes to the others.

The key is good content and conversation. Offer good content in newsletters and in blogs, and people will be glad to hear from you. Offer nothing but calls to action, and you’ll see a drop in readership. If you’re using Facebook or Twitter, interact with your followers. Ask them questions. (“What’s your favorite thing to order after a day at the beach?”) Answer questions. (“Yes, we are open Sundays!”) On these sites, it’s not all about you. It’s about your followers and their relationship to your company. Connect with them; don’t just sell sell sell.

Remember your brand. It’s not all about you, the individual, even if you’re the business owner. It’s about your company and your company’s brand. If multiple people will be editing your page/blog/account, make sure everyone is on board with expectations and policies. Spelling counts!

Don’t forget your existing fans and followers. In my experience, business owners can become so obsessed with getting new traffic, more fans, more followers, better keywords, etc. that they forget about the people who have been loyal to them all along. Your efforts must be balanced, so they attract new fans but don’t bore or annoy existing ones.
Be patient and realistic. Even with your best efforts, you may never make that goal of 5,000 fans by February 1st. These things are inevitable: you will lose fans; you will, at least once, be flagged as spam; people will unsubscribe from your mailing list. People’s interests change.

One good customer is better than 100 fans who never use your services.

how do i write good facebook posts? what should i say in my blog?

You’re going to hate my answer, but the truth is, it’s completely up to you what you publish on Facebook, your blog, or Twitter. You know your business, and you know your customers. But maybe you’re stuck in the writing process. I have a trick for you.

My senior year at U of M, I took a seminar with Professor Delbanco (to this day one of my favorites) who taught the concept of The Sincerest Form. We studied literary greats (and some less known), and mimicked their writing in order to develop our own styles. The idea was not to plagiarize, but to recognize what is effective in someone’s writing, and to adapt it to your own.

I recommend applying this same technique when writing your blog posts, your tweets, and your Facebook posts. Think about the mailing lists and websites you follow. What type of content interests you? What emails do you delete right away, and which ones do you open? Why? Study your own behavior when you are in “customer” mode, and use that information when you are creating your own content.

My favorite Facebook page to study is Walt Disney World. They blend news, blog posts, and interactive questions to create a fun online experience for Disney fans. They’ll sometimes post five times a day, but they space them well. Disney also has a blog worth skimming for ideas. Even if your business isn’t anything like Disney, you can still learn from the way they use social networking and their own blog to interact with their customers.

My favorite mailing list to check out is Rising Stars by MyFonts.com, which I look forward to like Halloween. (I love Milky Ways.)

In conclusion

To put it simply, focus on what you say rather than how many will hear it. Remember what your mother said (well, mine said it, at least): you can’t please everyone all of the time. Make a good effort, and you’ll always satisfy a few. Those are the customers worth having, anyway.…

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Vinyl & wallpaper cutouts

If you’ve seen vinyl or wallpaper cutouts at the craft store, chances are you (like me) walked right past them, since the majority seem to focus on flowers or seashells or kids’ themes. The Wallies company has a few which are more modern and traditional, and can fit into even sophisticated decor. They’re a cheap (we’re talking under $10 for a pack of small cutouts) way to update tile back splashes, cabinet doors, kitchen canisters, create cheap artwork, and even update an indoor flower pot. Here are my favorites from their current online selections.

Mod Leaves (wallpaper cutouts), Slate Gray Chalkboard & White Dry Erase (vinyl peel and stick squares) for a modern look

Wine Tasting (wallpaper cutouts) and Painted Roosters (wallpaper cutouts) for a French country look.

My updated tile backsplash, using a Wallies pattern featuring various types of olives written in French (now sadly discontinued). It took less than 10 minutes to apply them, and they’ve stayed in place for over three years. Visitors to my house think they’re custom tiles. Mission accomplished!…