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How To Effectively Communicate During the COVID-19 Crisis – Tips For Small Businesses

With the new reality of social distancing and isolation comes the challenge for small business owners wondering how to use your digital platforms to effectively communicate with your customers and clients. The last few weeks have been a challenging time for all small businesses – this is certainly the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced at Out-Smarts and judging by the calls we have been fielding from clients and our community asking about what they should communicate, how they should communicate and how to pivot to doing more business online, we are not alone.
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Images and How to Use Them Without Getting in Trouble

Images are an excellent addition to your website, blog post or social media and can help you get more shares and interactions. However, not all images on the internet are okay to use since there are laws that allow people to have rights to those images. Using just any image you find on the internet can get you in big trouble and leave you with a hefty fine!

Image Copyright Laws in Canada

We live in a world where images are so easy to find with just a click of a button but we can’t use any image we find since there is a cost for ownership of most images. It’s important to be aware of copyright laws in Canada to ensure you don’t get fined for using content you find online. Under the law, any image taken by any device (camera, smartphone, etc.) is subject to copyright. This means that if someone takes a photo, it is their photo and anyone else that would like to use it has to seek permission from the photographer. The photographer is not required to register their work to have it copyrighted since when the photo is saved (onto a smartphone or camera roll) it automatically is subject to copyright and is protected under copyright laws. Therefore, it is essential that we learn to keep these laws in mind because if you get caught using an image that belongs to someone else- you could be fined!

How To Find Great Free Images

There are many ways to find images that are free and can enhance your content.

1. Create your own images: Grab your camera or even your smartphone to capture some images! This allows you to be in full control of what the image will love like and leaves tons of room for customization. Also, having your own images ensures that the content is original and authentic.

2. Find royalty-free images on Google: When you search on Google, make sure you’ve clicked the “labeled for reuse” button! This allows you to reuse the image. See below:
How To Find Great Free Images on Google

3. Use Creative Commons to search multiple platforms to find free images: This site allows you to search for images easily and helps you find free images from various platforms. Check out our blog post on Creative Commons for more information.

4. Find free images online: Using sites such as allows you to search for various free images, videos, music and icons that are royalty-free.

5. Tools such as Canva: Canva allows you to edit your images and it basically works as an easy-to-use graphic design platform. It also has a massive repository of free images along with fairly inexpensive images (approximately $1 for a high-quality image).

6. Buy images: There are sites that allow you to purchase high-quality images. Sites such as iStock allows you to buy images for as little as $12 per image. You can also get a subscription for $40 per month that gets you 10 images per month.

If you’re ever in doubt, you can always check where that image appears online through TinEye. You simply upload your image or paste a URL of the image and this tool does a reverse search to find out where that image appears online.

Keep these tips in mind next time you add images to your content!

When Is It Okay to Make Contact Electronically – CASL (Canadian Anti Spam Legislation)

Canadian Anti Spam Legislation comes into force on July 1st. After this date you will no longer be able to send electronic communication via Email, SMS, Social Media or IMS (basically any electronic communication means) and could face hefty fines if you do so unless they fall under the following:

CASL Recipient ExemptionsSend - Slider

  • you are sending  to people you have personal relationships with such as a close friend, family member (not everyone who likes you on Facebook though!)
  • you are sending to employees or contractors
  • recipients are business partners or service providers
  • they are current clients who have ongoing business with you
  • if a customer has contacted you in the last 6 months – then it is okay to reply
  • they are someone  you have a legal issue with
  • if the recipient is out with Canada – there are 116 exempted countries
  • charities and not surprisingly, political parties are exempt (some of the worst offenders in my mind!)
  • if your communication is about a safety issue, warranty or recall pertaining to your products and services
  • if your communication is providing information about an account, product use, subscription or ongoing business relationship
  • if you are a digital firm providing updates or patches to users then you are good to contact them
  • if you have been referred – but remember to make it clear who you are, why you are contacting them and who referred you

Related Posts:

Conversations are Key to Small Business Success on Social Media

Social media is so mainstream, you would think by now that we would have grasped how to use it properly. Instead businesses fall back on bad habits and focus on the old push model – pushing out content (the more the better) and hoping that some of it sticks (or that somebody (anybody?) notices). If you log into your Twitter dashboard right now, the chances are that the majority of the Tweets you see are links to articles written by someone else and in many cases the original article titles are still intact with no value add and there’s no mention of the originator.  Little wonder then that 75% of our time spent on social media is wasted, all we are doing is rehashing other people’s content and poorly at that.

In 2014 if your small business isn’t having conversations in these networks then why bother?

Non BroadcastLet me ask you this. Would you go to a networking event and stand in the corner of the room and shout ‘I’ve a great deal for you’ or ‘Have you read this bla bla bla?’  at the other attendees? Of course you wouldn’t so why is it that you think it is okay to do this on social media?

Successful social media participation is a lot like attending a networking event, you have to start conversations and interact in order to make the most of your time there.

Don’t be shy. Here are five quick tips to help you kickstart social media conversations.

1. Who is it you waMulti-ethnic group portraitnt to have conversations with? – Most likely your partners, clients, business contacts, people of influence in your community, other businesses you would like to have as clients, media types and service providers who can bring you business. Make sure you are following them on Twitter and have liked their business pages on Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest (this will depend on which networks you use).  Make a list on Twitter if you like (to help you track them more easily).

2. Listen well – You’ve followed the right people, now what? Get into the habit of listening (watching) out for their updates and replying, responding and sharing when you have something positive of valuable to add. Do this daily and remember that this is about them not you. Be authentic.

3. Get social in real time – Rather than simply scheduling posts, get into the habit of using these tools in real time. When you post, take a few minutes to hang out and wait for responses so that you can have real time interactions with your connections. If you don’t have time to do this then monitor your feeds (most social apps facilitate this). Thank people who share your posts (if you do they will be more likely to do so again). Remember your manners.

4. Find ways to start and stimulate conversations  – If you are linking to articles remember to include the @twitterfeed of the original source – that helps you build new relationships.  Tell people what it is about the post that is interesting / adds value or you disagree with. Include a call to action. Share pertinent articles that you think will be of specific interest to your network and, even better, share directly with individuals in your network.

5. Integrate online and off – use social media as a tool to augment your in person business development.  If you are attending conferences or events, look for your fellow attendees in advance and connect with them online so you can meet break the ice before meeting them in person. Get into the habit of connecting on social media with people you meet at networking events then go back to steps 2 and 3 in order to enhance your relationship with them.

How do you start and maintain your online conversations?  What works for you?  Let us know.

Other Out-Smarts Blog articles you might like:

The top 10 social media mistakes businesses make

Using social media to maintain and grow your network

10 Ways to Kickstart your Tweets


Small Business: Here’s Why Your Social Media Isn’t Working

Social media can really level the playing field for small businesses. It gives us the ability to do more with less and yet many companies claim that social media isn’t working. The fact of the matter is that it’s not social media that’s at fault, it’s you. Here’s why:

1. You’re  not listening – and you are not alone – 40% of brands using social media don’t respond to comments, questions, replies or retweets. Guaranteed that by doing so you are ignoring inquiries and opportunities that could bring you business. Get in the habit of monitoring your feeds regularly and respond frequently.

2. You’re rude to your fans/followers – fans are like exotic hot house plants, if you care and nurture them they will grow abundant and spread but if you ignore them they will simply die off. Nurtured fans can become your marketing dept on steroids. So why are you ignoring it when they retweet or share your content? A simple thank you is all it takes to keep them happy. Why would anyone retweet your content if you ignore them for it?

3. You’re a headless chicken scratching around doing what you can but with absolutely no direction. You started out with a blog, then added a Facebook page because everyone’s one there, then Twitter because you saw it on TV, and now Pinterest, Google+…. The fact of the matter is that it takes you so long to do your social media that you don’t have enough time to do what you do best and make money. There are thousands of social networks out there. You can’t be on all of them effectively and still make money for your business so choose 2 or 3 (max) and do them really well. Choose the ones that your target audience is most like to use.

4. Your branding sucks – sounds harsh, but it is true. Before you embark on building your social media presence it is important to make sure that you you’ve done your homework and that your brand is ready, and that isn’t just your logo (but that’s important too). You should understand what your company stands for, how it is perceived, how your offering is different. If you know this then you will be more likely to succeed online and off.

5. Your customer service stinks – another hard thing to hear but if your offline customer service stinks then it’s just going to be amplified online, rolling out the red carpet for trolls. Fix your processes and make sure your customer service rocks before you start.

6. You like the sound of your own voice – sorry to tell you but this isn’t about you, my friend, it is about your audience.  Stop mouthing off about you and your business all the time. Eighty percent of your posts should be focused on adding value for your audience and twenty percent should be about you (not the other way round).  And save the photos of your coffee (yawn).

7. Your social media stands alone.   – your  presence on social media needs to reflect your real world activities.  If you are having an open house or event, Tweet about it.  Closed on Monday, then post it on your Facebook page.  Consider social media as a component of your overall marketing, communications and business plan.

8. You’re an old school communicator – many small businesses fail on social media because they take the old approach to communicating and talk at their audience rather than with their audience.  This isn’t about you pushing out your message, it is about building conversations centered around your customers.

9.  You  don’t know what social media is and you don’t care. For you, social media is a passing fad and not worthy of your attention. People said the same thing about the Internet 15 years ago and the telephone 100 years ago. The fact of the matter is that if you want to do business with the next generation of clients, you will have to use social media to some extent.  If you’re not on there then they will rule you out and you’re business will suffer.

10. You delegated to the person in your office who has a thousand Facebook friends.  Just because someone knows how to use social media socially, doesn’t mean they can use it effectively for business.  Make sure that whoever is doing your social media understands your business, goals, audience and what to say or not to say before they start.


Hear the Engagement Ring with Email Marketing

Guest blogger, Robert S. Burns shares ways to engage audiences with email marketing campaigns:

Hear the Engagement Ring with Email Marketing

When you think of email marketing, you may see visions of dancing Viagra tablets or poker playing bimbos popping out of their tops, trying to tickle your primitive instincts. But beyond the rude and raunchy, lie many carefully crafted campaigns, developed by top internet marketers.

Engaging ContentWhat every successful email campaign has in common is the ability to engage its target audience. Yes, you’ll need hooks, but ones that will create and maintain a long term relationship with your consumer. Cleavage and suggestions of chemical stimulation are great for a one night stand, but sincere, organic communication will get your readers to take your message home to meet Mum.

Listen to Seth Godin discuss permission based marketing. It’s all about creating relationships. And to do that we need to start by looking at our content from the perspective of our reader. Who is she? What does she want? Where does she hang out? Does she play poker or pinochle? When we have the answers to these questions we can begin to tailor engaging content that builds an ongoing, one-on-one dialogue.  We’re looking for lasting loyalty rising from a focused, personalized connection, not an anonymous bump in the night from a shotgun email blast.

This may sound simple, but we need to say the right thing to the right people. Sending a spore-laden bouquet to your auntie with allergies may stimulate her sputum, but it’s not going to convert her. And that’s nothing to sneeze at! With a 4,000% ROI up for grabs, she should be reaching for her wallet, not her Kleenex.

And beauty is in simplicity. Keep it short and simple, according to Out-Smarts Marketing in Vancouver, Canada. As a rule, we want to get to the punch line before we wear out our welcome in this world of audience ADD.

The key is to entertain, inform and motivate. Readers respond to unpredictable content, so push yourself to be original – even outrageous.  To develop the best email marketing campaign, reach for the moon and go for the gut and you’ll end up with a winner.

About Robert S. Burns

Robert is an author, blogger and social media marketing strategist based in Vancouver. You can read more of his captivating content and find out how he helps businesses engage their clients and customers at

(Ring photo by Jewellery Monthly)