Marketing, Search Engine Optimization And Web Based Solutions.


Use Marketing to Stay Strong in a Weak Economy             ...added 4-13-10

Shrewd business owners see opportunity in a down market.

by  Tami Hernandez courtesy of Entrepreneur Magazine.

Today's companies face the challenge of marketing in an economic state of turbulence and uncertainty. The key to maintaining forward momentum in today's market is to resolve to be competitive and shift to an opportunistic mind-set. Rather than focusing on the turbulence, your company should leverage the dynamics of a down market and become an even stronger competitor. A weak economy can actually serve as an opportunity to evaluate your marketing and public relations initiatives so you can make them more effective and efficient.

In good times, it's easy to get into the proverbial marketing rut; some companies have been marketing themselves the same way for years, using the same old marketing plan year after year. But when you're forced to scrutinize every expenditure, suddenly a new zest for change can emerge.

Let this weak economy empower your company to find fresh, creative ways to remain visible, stand out as a distinctive brand and be the leader in your category--even on a smaller marketing budget.

The key to competing strong in a weak economy is to remain visible and project an image of strength and stability. Customers have a heightened sensitivity to any sign of weakness, so resist the urge to dramatically reduce your marketing activities.

To flourish in challenging times, you'll need to distill your marketing and public relations efforts into a powerful, concentrated mix that delivers a high level of visibility and impact on a limited budget.

If your company is looking for ways to do more with less, taking the following 10 steps can help you compete strong:

  1. Rethink your marketing strategy.
    Rather than making random budget cuts to reduce your marketing costs, determine how much spending is feasible based on your current financial situation. Then create a new marketing strategy that optimizes every dollar and integrates your activities to gain the highest return for every effort. This approach will ensure you forge a cohesive, strategic plan that will enable you to remain visible and strongly compete on a reduced budget.
  2. Evaluate your brand.
    Now is the time to carefully evaluate your brand, the market and your competitors. You need to get a 360-degree view of your current situation and how your existing marketing activities align with the current market conditions. Review your marketing assets (such as your company's brochures and website) to determine if they are relevant to today's customers. Also look closely at your competitors to determine if your company stands out.
  3. Target your marketing efforts.
    When marketing on a limited budget, laser-focused targeting of your ideal customers is vital. Invest your time in creating a targeted customer database to use for direct marketing You may not be able to afford broad advertising efforts, but that's OK because direct marketing (snail mail and e-mail) allows you to directly reach your customers in a more efficient and cost-effective way.
  4. Message strategically.
    In a highly competitive market, you need to stand out with messages that are relevant to the times. Evaluate your messaging to ensure it connects with customers. Keep in mind that their wants, needs and interests may have shifted with the economy.
  5. Update your core marketing materials.
    If your brochures, website and other materials are not relevant to today's customers, or if they blend in with those of competitors, make the investment to update your core materials. Many times, customers will visit your website or request information before calling your business.  Be sure to make a good first impression to optimize every opportunity.
  6. Integrate traditional methods with online tools.
    Today's communication model is a two-way dialogue. Integrating traditional marketing tactics with web-based tools and social media can boost your response rates by engaging customers at a deeper level. In many cases, boosting exposure through online social networking adds very little cost. Direct marketing can be used to drive customers to microsites (small, three-to-five-page websites) that focus on generating leads. Empowering customer interaction with your company can add significant impact to your campaigns and boost exposure for those on limited budgets.
  7. Generate media buzz.
    Increase your media exposure by launching a public relations campaign. Distribute regular press releases to your industry or local media outlets. Submit applications to speak at events or conferences as a thought leader. If your advertising budget is limited, supplementing your media and industry exposure with public relations is a good idea.
  8. Increase your network.
    Network with other business owners and customers at industry or local events to increase awareness of your company and generate interest. Do not underestimate the power of word of mouth; it is a powerful, cost-effective marketing tool.
  9. Forge partnerships.
    Remember, people don't have to work for your company to work with you, and your peers are in the same boat as you are. Many companies cannot afford to hire extensive staff or experts when times are tough. Strategically partnering with complementary companies can provide you with new leads and expand your network without adding costs. Look for win-win partnerships that can help your business move forward and help you achieve your goals.
  10. Optimize your existing customers.
    Many companies spend all their energy trying to win over new customers when existing customers may be the quickest way to increase business. It is critical to maintain strong customer relationships to retain customers. Look for opportunities to upgrade and cross-sell to your existing customers since you already have a relationship with them.
Resolve to become a fierce competitor to win more of the business that's out there. It is possible to leapfrog the larger competitors in your line of business--not by spending more, but instead by shrewd opportunism. Take a look around--if your competitors have cut back on their marketing or gone dormant, you might have an unprecedented chance to overtake them. Make every marketing move strategic and calculated. Strong marketers will prevail.

The World of Digital Marketing in 2010                           ...added 3-22-10

by Christopher Petix, President of Clash-Media US courtesy of WebSite Magazine

The past couple of years have been all about squeezing as much Return on Investment as possible from every marketing effort. As a result, advertisers and marketers have a new set of parameters and broad goals for establishing a campaign. The good news for these groups is that there are a number of tools and techniques available to help them achieve these goals.

Using Social Media
Burger King’s “Sacrifice Whopper” was one of the most infamous campaigns of 2009 to have created a social media buzz. One of the biggest on-going hotspots for 2010 will be how can more companies tap into the vast resource of social media. 

Social media accurately gages consumer brand perception and sentiment, though the avenue for more direct marketing and advertising opportunities is harder to navigate. The key to using social media for marketing and customer acquisition is targeting, which helps ensure that the highly coveted user experience is not affected. 

Individual organizations can use several approaches to identify customers through social media, they include: post-registration offers, banner advertising, Facebook CPC or social media apps. All of these ensure consumer exposure, but which ones deliver measurable and effective results is individual to every organization. Those advertisers that have learned what they need to look for in a campaign should be a step ahead as they explore new avenues of customer engagement – so by the end of 2010, most will have a coherent social media strategy producing bottom line dollars. 

New Techniques for Advertisers – Measurement is key

In this effort to boost the ROI from marketing campaigns, advertisers must evolve the metrics they use to monitor campaigns. You need the correct measures in place from the start of a campaign – because they enable valuable insight into how the campaign is actually performing. 

Traditionally, conversion rates are the flagship measurement for marketing campaigns, however, simply relying on conversion doesn’t help to boost ROI. It is more important to see how valuable that customer becomes for your business. Long Term Value (LTV) can be assessed through most CRM systems and enables a more in-depth and ultimately valuable evaluation of marketing activity. Identifying the consumers that deliver long term value and then analyzing where the lead came from, or what was involved in converting them, informs optimization efforts. 

For years, low value but sequential products – for example dieting aids – have placed their campaign’s success on LTV. However, now there is a need for all organizations – from Kraft to T-Mobile – to look at the lifetime value of customers. Differentiating the campaigns that generate one-and-done customers from those that bring in loyal customers is the most effective way to boost ROI.

New Techniques for Advertisers – Partnership structure
Most activity that advertisers can engage in to boost LTV is significantly enhanced by working in partnership with the digital marketers that execute their campaigns. 

Apple collaborated with Adobe to marry its concept genius and the software developer’s technical expertise to deliver it when it came to iPhone Flash. Similarly, the collaboration between Microsoft and Hewlett Packard enabled Steve Ballmer to deliver a keynote presentation announcing the new Tablet PC. Successful customer acquisition campaigns require similar collaboration – of campaign design, lead generation and sales conversion. 

Conversion rates will fluctuate over the campaign, but a quick reaction can improve the campaign’s performance. Learning from peaks and re-creating the conditions that caused them – or recognizing a drop and turning it around immediately – maximize the highlights and minimize the lowlights of the campaign. 

This approach relies on the advertiser to feed back the conversion information and the marketer to establish where that success or failure has come from. With this information, campaigns can be dynamically optimized. On-going review is far more conducive to ROI optimization – and this is empowered by information sharing. 

New Techniques for Advertisers – Use niche websites
There are thousands of small and niche websites, many of which have a hidden and unrealized value for ad placement and post-registration/post-action advertising. Mainstream, traffic-heavy sites are very important for a large number of organizations, because exposure – in quantity – is high. However, smaller sites can give a far more intense exposure to target markets – and the results reflect this personalization. 

As consumers become more web-savvy, they seek out blogs and websites that carry specialist information relevant to them. This means that the value of niche blogs and web pages will only increase. The unprecedented access to very specific demographics will enable campaigns in 2010 to be very focused with its resources and achieve greater ROI. 

Monetization opportunities for Website Publishers – Revenue vs User Experience
Just as advertisers need to drive ROI, the online community of website publishers must continually establish, maintain and optimize revenue streams through their sites. To make this challenge more difficult for these publishers, they must balance this requirement with the need to deliver a great user experience. Every site will have different weighting of revenue vs user experience, which means strategies will vary slightly. 

One way that websites look to generate revenue is to implement a pay-for-content structure. This will significantly alter the user experience, although it remains to be seen whether it will turn visitors away. 

Publishers that don’t want to bill for their content do have other opportunities to monetize their site. 

Monetization opportunities for Website Publishers – Post-Registration

Post-Registration and Post-Action marketing put an unobtrusive offer path behind a sign-up process or customer-centric action on a site. The combination of data capture and qualification through offers that identify key interests provides a constant revenue opportunity without harming the ongoing user experience. Every marketing opportunity is built into an action that the consumer wants to engage with. As long as the offers are relevant and there is a “no thanks” option next to the “submit” button, consumers will still click through to the page they originally wanted in close to 100 percent of instances. 

The most important factor to this approach is pushing contextual offers and adverts. Once a user signs up, deliver offers that best match their profiles. For example, if you are a Women’s Interest website, you can broadly assume a range of interests that the consumer will have: dieting products or spa treatments are more likely to be successful than baseball gloves and aftershave. If you have even more information on these consumers, you can be more specific about the offers that are presented. Relevance will not only make campaigns more successful, but it will enhance the user experience.

Websites without a registration path need not worry – this approach can still be used. Special offers and sweepstakes, specifically designed for their visitors, give publishers an opportunity to capture data and deliver offers. 

Monetization opportunities for Website Publishers – let the right offers come to you

Website publishers have learned the value of relevant content and offers on their site. However, this knowledge has led to a lot more time being spent hunting down offers that are a good fit. As important as revenue generation is, a publisher’s time still needs to be spent predominantly on content creation. As we move into 2010, publishers will require, more than ever, simple tools for acquisition and customization of offers and campaigns.

The right bolt-on tool, such as Clash-Media’s Revenue Path, enables publishers to host multiple campaigns, while still maintaining complete control and customization of every advertisement that hits their pages – every detail can come under the control of the host, from fonts and colors through to sweepstake prizes. 

All of this happening through the same tool enables publishers to optimize campaigns, rather than spend their time just finding them. During 2010, publishers should find it easier to monetize their sites, because they won’t have to chase down offers and adverts, they simply need to put in place the right tools to manage this kind of approach effectively. 

The Year of Optimization and Monetization

The year ahead will be one where advertising and marketing begin to pick up some serious steam. However, free-spending days are over. This means that advertisers need to find new ways to show how well they are performing, and publishers need to prove to advertisers that they can identify new customers, engage with them and deliver ROI. This partnership of advertiser and publisher will create significant revenue streams for both parties.

Adobe Revs Up Scene7 Cross-media Platform      ...added 3-15-10

Adobe Systems Inc. has expanded its leading hosted cross-media publishing platform to further automate the production, management and delivery of dynamic creative media for e-commerce and multi-channel marketing companies. The updates to Adobe Scene7 will provide these businesses with unique new editing and template-based production capabilities, including new user-facing, real-time authoring and Web preview, as well as overall tighter desktop integration.

“Businesses are constantly being challenged to deliver richer, more personalized experiences with the same or fewer creative and technical resources, making automation and cost-savings critical components of their strategies,” said Doug Mack, vice president and general manager of Digital Imaging and Rich Media Solutions for Adobe. “This latest update to the Adobe Scene7 platform helps users stay connected to desktop tools and extends the data-driven template approach to provide high-performing, easy-to-use services for delivering personalized and targeted dynamic content.”

The update also includes a new AIR desktop application that mirrors the Web-based publishing platform to further streamline asset management with easy drag-and-drop upload of files and folders from the desktop and connected network resources. The enhanced Scene7 platform also has support for Adobe XMP metadata standards, which allows users to efficiently administer, browse, filter and search for assets. In addition, new rules-based batch automation of multimedia sets eliminates the need for custom scripts or technical support for non-technical users.

The new template upgrades allow users to dynamically compile templated video clips, enabling cost-effective personalized promotional videos, targeted video ads, and standardized corporate videos. The improved platform also supports the design, delivery and Web preview of print templates that dynamically flow text within and across pages including inline variables. This template enhancement enables a broader range of multi-page, text-intensive, personalized publications.

“These automation enhancements will enable us to further streamline our back-office workflows, which gives our team more time to focus on other strategic initiatives,” said Brian McManus, director of technical infrastructure for Under Armour, which uses the Scene7 platform to publish all dynamic media to its e-commerce Web site.

SEO for Google Social Search                         ...added 3-10-10

by Dante Monteverde, SEO Corner Columnist at Website Magazine

Search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns have moved far beyond simply optimizing <title> tags, page content, and generating incoming links.

Now that Google “universal” or “blended” search has become widespread on almost every search query, a standard organic listing is competing with images, video, news, local, paid and real-time search. Now we can add social search results to the mix. These new sets of results not only deliver content that might have otherwise gone unnoticed, but also have the potential to push other, organic listings off the visible page. That means social media optimization (SMO) is now in direct competition with SEO. However, don’t be discouraged. The good news is that it’s often much easier to get top rankings for a blended or social search category than a highly competitive organic listing. That is, of course, if you understand how to optimize for Google Social Search.

Understanding Google Social Search
It’s important to differentiate Social Search from Google’s realtime search results. Real-time results are labeled “Latest results for ...” and include a scrolling results box for some queries. Alternatively, Google Social Search is labeled “Results from people in your social circle for ...” and results appear with an accompanying image (or avatar) from your social circle.

Think of Social Search as Google “Trust” Search. By personally choosing to “follow” certain friends and websites online, Google assumes that information from these sources is important, relevant and trusted by you and uses these contacts to form your social graph. Then, particular queries will return results from those in your circle — their blog posts, Twitter updates, etc. Google feels this can add yet another layer to search results and improve your overall search experience.

How does Google Determine Relevancy for Social Search?

Google claims to use a normal ranking algorithm when determining what websites to display first in Social Search results. So, page content, number of incoming links, and incoming link quality and authority are the primary ranking factors. However, expect this to change as Google continues to test and tweak Social Search results and puts more emphasis on the Direct and Secondary connections within your social circle. 

Optimizing for Google Social Search
First and foremost, you must have a Google Profile that includes information about you, and links to websites you want to promote. This should include links to your primary website and its weblog, and social profile URL’s including Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Picasa, FriendFeed, Yelp, etc. In short, any active social network profile should be included. While some networks and their content will not be indexed by Google (such as Facebook), linking those profiles to your Google profile (and vice-versa) will offer a better chance of connecting with people through Google and, ultimately, be found in Social Search results.

Establish Connections within Gmail and Google Chat
While time consuming, it is worth gathering as many Gmail and/or Google Chat contacts as possible, as it will increase your exposure in Social Search. Unfortunately, contacts from other networks are not as easily imported. You can’t add Twitter followers easily — they must be added one-byone. But you can import contacts from a CSV file, for example. Remember, not only will your contacts see you in their Social Search results, but you have the potential to be seen by the connections-of-your-connections or friends-offriends. In short, your reach will grow exponentially as you add connections.

Keep Content Relevant and High-Quality
Aggressively pursuing new contacts is important to Social Search success. However, you want to stay relevant and post quality content. Posting low-quality, keyword-stuffed content will result in the same fate as usual — low conversion rates. Or, in this case, you might find yourself banned from your contacts’ Social Search results. Remember, these results are targeted to friends and trusted contacts. So, you want to appear as genuine and trustworthy as possible.

Social Search is Here to Stay
With the explosion of Facebook and Twitter you can no longer ignore the enormous potential in being social. Google wants its share of the social pie, so don’t expect them to remain idle while Facebook and Twitter try to eat into their search market share. However, it is important to keep in mind that Google will continue to test and tweak results. Not every query will result in Social Search results, and you can expect many changes on the results pages and to the social ranking algorithm in the future. In the interim, get ahead of the game by optimizing your Google Profile for Social Search while competition is fairly low. It will benefit your overall social media and SEO efforts

Google Offers Above-the-Fold-Only Ads on Content Network   ...added 3-8-10

Google has announced that advertisers now have the option to buy advertising above the fold on Web pages throughout the Google Content Network, by enacting the "below the fold" exclusion option.

"With brand-aware advertisers paying on a CPM basis, they're concerned with making sure their ads are seen by as many users as possible within [the segment] they're targeting," said Brad Bender, director of product management for display ads on the Google Content Network.

Above the fold-only ads can also be placed by direct response and CPC advertisers, but is mostly targeted at brand-conscious advertisers. Ads will be placed according to Google's data about where advertising slots appear on any given Web page, ensuring that advertisers who select the option get those positions that do not require users to scroll. Of course, Google hopes this will lead to increased competition from advertisers and, therefore, higher prices.

Above the fold ads are significant when it comes to advertising on content networks. Unlike search results, where users frequently scroll a page, many websites will not capture a user's attention long enough for a scroll -- but the ad will be front and center. So, while the ads might cost more, the elimination of wasted budgets on non-visible ads should balance it out for most advertisers.

Three jQuery Plugins for Google Maps Lovers                          ....added 3-1-10

by Peter A. Prestipino courtesy of Web Site Magazine

The Web is increasingly becoming more "local" focused and savvy designers and developers are working night and day to find creative and innovative ways to present information to users in this context. Here are three simple to deploy but excellent jQuery Plugins for those interested in integrating Google Maps into their Web pages.



Brian Laundau's jMapping: A plugin designed to implement a Google map from a list of locations specified within HTML. Several examples are available which show basic usage, custom ID and class names, and using an object or function for category options. This would be an excellent plugin for those that need to show a list of locations in close proximity for the convenience of a webpage.



gMap by Cedric Kastner
: A lightweight (2kb) and immensely elegant jQuery plugin for embedding Google maps. Opt to display a simple map with controls and one marker , change the map type to a physical view or tap into the extended usage features and map without controls, include custom market images, include multiple marketers and create custom viewport position and zoom.



Chris Mckee's jQuery.fuGMAP
: Another very lightweight (3.5kb) plugin for displaying Google maps on a site or in applications. Geo-coding is built it, but you can load in a market XML file by just adding the URL. One of the best features is the ability to add an information window with text or with an iframe to any longitude/latitude marker.

Top E-Commerce Apps for Facebook

By Peter Prestipino courtesy of Website Magazine

So how does one effectively combine the two for profit and brand awareness? Facebook. Let's review a few applications that could help your e-commerce venture succeed in the social media space - particularly on Facebook. 

According to a recent study from ForeSee Results Inc., 25% of the top 100 retailers have no formal Facebook presence and another 25% have fewer than 10,000 fans. Just imagine how that percentage changes as you move away from the biggest retailers and into the far deeper pool of merchants struggling to sell online. According to that same report, of 69% of online shoppers who say they use social media sites, 56% follow at least one retailer on at least one social network. It should be clear that most retailers are missing opportunities to engage consumers. Shoppers who interact with a company on a social media site report being more satisfied, more committed to the brand and more likely to make future purchases from that company.


So how do you get your e-commerce store more involved with Facebook? 

Storefront with Payvment: Payvment is an e-commerce application that allows for the development of a retail store on Facebook. Using the PayPal X global open payments platform, customers can shop from multiple vendors in a single shopper cart, turning FB into what could be considered the ultimate shopping mall. The application uses PayPal’s new Adaptive Payments APIs and is built on the company’s existing shopping cart Web service that turns any online page into an e-commerce page with a single line of code. Another e-commerce app that lets users post products on FB is My Merch Store from Zazzle. Create and post products for sale on Zazzle and share them with people visiting your pages on FB. 

E-Newsletters with NutshellMail: NutshellMail provides a web-based service that lets lets any Facebook page administrator create an automated email newsletter campaign. Users add an “Email Newsletter” tab to their page, letting fans opt-in to receiving emails that highlight recent content from your page. The app collects recent activity from your page, organizes it into an email and delivers it to Facebook subscribers per their delivery preferences. Subscribers can also comment, like, share or post comments back to your page directly through email. And administrators can determine how often an email update is sent out to fans. 

Promotions on Facebook: Here's an application that we at Website Magazine have some intimate exposure with. The Promotions Facebook app lets companies create and promote interactive promotions and marketing campaigns (including contests, sweepstakes, coupons and giveaways) on Facebook Fan Pages. There is a free version available, but the pricing is actually quite modest. White label solutions are available.

Take Cool Content Hot on Facebook: SlideShare is a Web community for sharing presentations. The Slideshare app for Facebook allows users to upload presentations, documents, PDFs, and mp3s into their groups, pages or profiles. This app could be used to show product demos (if available on YouTube), provide product demonstrations or even deliver coupons. 

Offline Goes Online with Eventbrite: For those promoting offline events, nothing could be finer than Eventbrite. When users publish events on Eventbrite, all they need to do is select the Publish to Facebook option and a new event page will be published directly on FB with event details and a link to buy tickets. The event is also promoted through your newsfeed on FB. 

Video with Facebook Video: Perhaps one of the most powerful apps available to e-commerce merchants is Facebook Video, which enables users to share videos of informational presentations, product demonstrations, even company commercials. While chances are good that fewer merchants have video capabilities than social media capabilities, pairing the two could make for a good stream of content to members of your community. 

Take the Pulse of Your Fan Pages: An excellent application to let Facebook Page administrators survey their fans is Polls. The app makes it very easy to create surveys and pretty simple to analyze results with some detailed graphs of user responses across demographics. (untested-unlinked) 

Testimonials on Facebook
Client testimonials are a powerful means to increase conversion on your Facebook page. Applications such as iEndorse enable you to collect endorsements from clients for the purpose of building business relationships and reputation for those providing products and services. Users of the app can also find your company within the app's business database. (untested-unlinked)

These are just a few of the apps we discovered on the application market at Facebook.

Five Ways to Protect Personal Assets                                                ...added 2-11-10

Even if business owners aren't worried about their ability to repay creditors, they should still put protections in place, says Tom Taulli

By Tom Taulli courtesy of Business Week Magazine

A few years ago, you took out a $300,000 loan for your business because you anticipated continued growth. But the economy soon fell apart, and so did your business. You can no longer pay back the loan, and the lender has filed a lawsuit against your company and you personally, threatening to seize your home, car, and cash in the bank.

This is a common scenario for owners of small businesses, even those
structured as corporations or limited liability companies, because they are not always as protected as they might think against determined creditors. In fact, a 2007 report from the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, a nonprofit sponsored by the lobbying group, estimated 2005 tort liability costs were $98 billion for small businesses (defined as those with annual revenue of less than $10 million). Keep in mind the report found owners paid $20 billion out of pocket, as opposed to through insurance.

While this probably isn't too surprising, you may be personally exposed to plenty of other circumstances beyond nonpayment of loans—including nonpayment to suppliers, tax liabilities, malpractice, default on equipment financing, default on mortgages, negligent acts, fraud, legal action from employees (such as from sexual harassment or wrongful discharge), and liabilities for environmental damage.

Scary, huh? Well, you can take steps now to deal with the risks by engaging in
asset protection. While the perception is this is just for wealthy individuals, small business owners can also benefit. Here are my suggestions of what you should consider doing now. Note, this is a broad overview. You should hire a specialist in asset protection for more advice.

1. Inventory everything. Make a complete list of your assets and debts. It's a good idea to do this on a regular basis (say, every six months or so). Remember to think broadly. For example, do you own a vacation home or have retirement assets? Do you hold stock in another company? These can have lots of value and may wind up being taken away in litigation.

2. Research exemptions and protective entities. A few of your assets may be exempt from creditor actions because of federal or state laws. These typically include your personal residence, your pension or retirement fund, and your life insurance policy. These should be the only ones in your name, according to Hillel Presser, a partner at the asset protection law firm
Presser & Goldstein in Deerfield Beach, Fla. As for all other assets, consider setting up so-called protective entities, such as domestic trusts and offshore trusts. "You can layer the protection by using multiple entities. You can go even further and equity-strip the assets. This means taking loans against the assets or refinancing them. This makes the asset less attractive to creditors," says Presser.

3. Avoid personal guarantees. A personal guarantee is when you pledge to be personally responsible for a debt. The result is that you essentially lose the protection of your company's corporation status. True, a bank will likely require a personal guarantee (this is the case of loans guaranteed by the
Small Business Administration). If so, try to minimize the impact. One approach is to put a time limit on it (say, for one year) or to specify a particular asset as collateral. Some suppliers will try to get a personal guarantee. Don't do it. Find another supplier.

4. Be wary of the contracts you sign. While your company's corporate structure may provide some protection, it may not be enough if there's a tort action or claim for fraud. In such cases, you may have personal liability. This is why it's important to provide liability protection in your contracts. This includes capping damages and even disallowing certain types of damages. Also, make sure you sign contracts on behalf of your company—not in your name, to avoid the chance the contract could later be considered a personal guarantee.

5. Buy insurance. While asset protection can be extremely helpful in avoiding personal liability, a creditor may still be determined to go after your assets. That's why it is important to have insurance protection. Liability insurance covers damages for personal injuries and property damages that other people cause (such as your employees). Property insurance covers your company's assets. You may even consider an umbrella policy to cover exposure that goes beyond property insurance. As should be no surprise, carriers try to avoid paying claims. To get the best coverage, it's a good idea to have an attorney look at the policy.

Which leads me to repeat: For any kind of asset protection, it's smart to get the advice of a qualified attorney or tax expert. You'll likely be dealing with complicated questions.

And the costs? Putting together a basic asset protection plan generally ranges from $2,000 to $10,000, at least for small businesses with revenues below $1 million and an owner with a net worth of less than $500,000. And the earlier you start, the better. The costs will be much lower, and the overall protection should be greater.

As you know, running a business is quite risky regardless of the economic environment. Even top companies fail. Spend the time now to look at your potential liability exposures and see how asset protection will help lower your risks.