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A Little At a Time

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Many small business owners feel overwhelmed with what they have to do and the time constraints they have for accomplishing both big goals and everyday tasks.

I heard an interview with Zack Hample (who wrote a book about baseball). Zack has a 203 pound rubber band ball in his home. The interviewer asked Zack if he was obsessive. Zack replies,

“I started working on that thing when I was four. So we’re talking about decades here, and it’s not like I work on it every day. Sometimes I’ll add a pound a day for a week, then I won’t touch it for a year. So, you know, you work on something for a few decades, it’s going to be BIG and CRAZY if you stick with it.”

Building a business, building your dream, will take time and tenacity. But if you really want it, work on it a little every day with the knowledge that it will become what you want in time.

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Category: Business Strategy & Planning, Managing Projects, Tasks & Time
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Is Your Important Business Data Safe?

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A few years ago we had a burglary in our office. Among the items they stole were two laptops.

But our data — especially our confidential client information — was safe. Here’s how:

  • We don’t keep client credit card information on our computers or in paper anywhere in the office. It’s all kept online in our shopping cart, and it’s only kept online for 30 days. Then it’s cleared out of the cart.
  • We keep all client files in a locked drawer or fire-proof safe.
  • We burn or shred all client information from inactive clients.
  • We don’t keep notes about the client in the computer. Instead, we take all notes manually and keep them locked away with the client files.
  • We back up our computers daily to an offsite backup. We use Mozy.com  and iDrive, which automatically uploads any new or updated files each night.

There are three things you need to protect against: loss of data because a hard drive fails, loss of data because of theft, and loss of data because of fire or flood. Most people backup their data to an external hard drive or CD. That will protect you if your hard drive fails, but it won’t protect you if your computer gets stolen or burns up in a fire.

We’ve learned some important lessons about office data security through this experience, and now that the dust has settled, we’re sure we won’t ever lose our digital data and we’ll keep our client files secure!

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Category: Running a Strong & Efficient Business

Managing Your Website Redesign Project – 22 Point Checklist

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I know many of you are thinking it’s time to redesign your website, but you don’t know where to start or how to manage the project. Let me share my experience with you in hopes that it will make your website redesign process smooth and efficient.

After 11 months of hard planning and implementation, multiple website graphics and layout choices, and lots of coding (1,200 pages!), we launched the new-and-improved version of the Passion For Business website several years ago.

Then we did it again last year for The Success Alliance website, moving to a simpler, cleaner design that’s mobile-friendly. And we’ll have to do it again next year for a newer version of the Passion For Business website (even though we just redesigned it three years ago). Technology and people’s tastes in websites change, and you have to move with the times or be left behind.

We learned a lot along the way about managing website redesign projects and making sure they matched our business and marketing goals.

Let me share that wisdom with you, in the hopes it will help make your own website redesign project run smoothly.

The checklist below is written for you; you may be delegating pieces of this work to graphic designers, website designers, copywriters, SEO experts, or your administrative assistant. Make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them during each step in this checklist:

  1. First, know that this is going to be a long process, so find that extra bit of patience. It will pay off big time, trust me. There will be any number of times that you want to cut corners or give up an important feature that’s a pain to implement on your site. Stop. Breathe. Start again.
  2. Make sure you DO need and want to redesign your website. Not sure? Take this self-quiz: Is It Time To Redesign My Site?
  3. Write everything down – don’t trust your memory on something this important. Keep your ideas and your To Do list in a Project Plan file so everything is at your fingertips in one central location. Keep all correspondence with subcontractors who are working on your site.
  4. Start the redesign process by asking the big questions: What are the goals of my business? What role(s) will my website have in reaching those goals? Who will visit my website and what do they need/want to find there? What is my business brand and image? Is it time to give my brand a facelift?
  5. Decide what content you need on the site, then organize that content into logical “buckets” so that it’s easy to design the menu/navigation structure, and easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for. Make a list of each individual page and file that needs to be on the site. Not sure what’s important to your audience? Look at your Google Analytics and find the popular pages…and put the access to them in an easy-to-find spot on your new site.
  6. Decide which extra features you need on your site: will you have a newsletter sign-up box, a free offer, sidebar advertisements, a blog, video files, audio files, social media, etc.?
  7. Design the graphical page layout to include your logo and business colors, making sure there is enough room on the page for sidebar advertisements, sign-up boxes, etc. This is the time when a good website designer can make this process easy.
  8. Remember, the reputation of your business relies on professionalism and a professional look — this isn’t the time to cut corners with do-it-yourself graphic work, logos, navigation, or website page layout. A good website designer can target your website graphics and layout to your audience, and can make it user-friendly. A poor website design will have people walking away from your site instead of sticking around. Read this blog post on How to Choose a Website Designer if you need more tips. If you can’t find a website designer who is also a graphic artist, figure out a way for these two people to talk together about the design and the project plan.
  9. While your website designer is working on some preliminary designs, it’s time for you to edit and/or write your website text. Take a look at all your existing pages: Does the text talk to the audience and helping them solve a problem or reach a goal? Is your marketing message clear? Has your business focus changed and now your website needs new copy? If you’re not good at copy writing, consider hiring a copywriter to help you with the text updates.
  10. While you’re busy writing, don’t forget SEO work to increase your rankings on search engines. Choose your keywords and make sure those keywords are in your text. Note: there’s more to SEO than putting your keywords in your text, but choosing and adding your keywords is the first step.
  11. Once you choose the website design that works best for your audience, your brand and your business goals, now it’s time to start coding. You have several options when coding your website: your website designer can code it for you, or you can use a platform like WordPress. Even if you use WordPress, there’s still a HUGE amount of coding to do, so if you are not deeply familiar with CSS or PHP, hire someone to do the coding for you. Typically you can find a website designer who does both the graphic design and the coding, or who works as a team with other professionals to get your site done. If you want to do it yourself, consider one of the DIY website creation sites like Wix, Weebly or SquareSpace.
  12. DO NOT code directly to your existing domain, overwriting your existing files. Create a “testing” folder to put new files in. Even whiz-kids can make mistakes, so create a duplicate site for testing before you make your new site live to the public. It lets you build and test new pages as needed and will save you oodles of grief later.
  13. Make sure you code the SEO in the behind-the-scenes coding (tags) to help with your search engine rankings. Choose a website designer who has a lot of experience with SEO so that you can be assured this work is done correctly. Remember, there is more to SEO than the text and code on your website, but you must do these two things correctly FIRST before other SEO work can be done.
  14. Once the site is done with the initial coding, TEST the website in all the standard browsers to make sure it’s compatible: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. Test it in several versions of these browsers as well; not everyone is using the current version of browser software. If you’re not sure which browsers your current website visitors are using, you can find this information in your Google Analytics statistics. (It’s under the Audience/Technology area of Google Analytics.)
  15. Test to see how your site looks on both PCs and Macs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. (This is a good time to get your friends involved so you can see your new site on their browsers and machines.) Test on smart phones, tablets and laptops, including all mobile browsers. Make sure your new site works on ALL hardware platforms and screen sizes.
  16. After you do the testing, you’ll probably find that your site looks great in some browsers/hardware and awful in others. This requires additional coding to test the browser version or screen size/resolution the visitor is using and write code to make the site look the same in all browsers. Now you know why you pay a website designer to do this work! 🙂
  17. Test all links. Okay, now you’ve got your final website design. It looks great in all browsers and hardware, and the text and graphics are extraordinary. Now is the time to test all links (both the links in the menu/navigation and the links in the text). Make sure all links open to the appropriate page, file and/or external websites. Patience, my friend, do this slowly and properly. If you have bad links on your site, you’ll lose visitors and Google doesn’t like a site with a lot of bad links.
  18. Now test all forms. Sign up for your own newsletter, your own free offer, contact form, or any other form you have on your site, and make sure each form does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Sick of testing yet???  🙂
  19. Use 301 Redirects. If you have renamed any of your website pages, add 301 Redirects to your site so that those old links now forward to the new page URL.
  20. Now you’re ready to go live. But wait! I’m only going to say this once (loudly): BACK UP YOUR EXISTING WEBSITE and BLOG. Trust me. If you overwrite files and something blows up, you’ll be happy that you can easily put yourself back to the old site while you fix the problem.
  21. Take a deep breath, and upload your new website design to your hosting.
  22. Once it’s live, test again. All of it. Seriously.

Finally, go ahead and tell your audience your site is live, invite feedback, and tell them if they find a problem with the site to please let you know about it. It’s great to have a lot of people checking out your new site to make sure there are no mistakes.

Congratulations, you’ve done it! Have a huge party to celebrate!  🙂

 

(If I’ve missed any steps, please leave a comment and tell me about YOUR website project experience!)

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Category: Internet & Social Media Marketing, Managing Projects, Tasks & Time, Website Planning
Tags: , , ,

Nurturing the Not-Ready Customer Through the Buying Cycle

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We’d all love it if we could close every deal or every sale with a new customer in 30 minutes or less. But that rarely happens. A sales cycle can last up to six months, depending on how much research the potential customer has done before he or she comes to you.

Before customers are ready to sign on the dotted line, they first must go through a well-researched route to purchasing products and services, called the Buying Cycle. You need to nurture these potential clients and help them along this route to ultimately choosing the solution you’re offering them.

Studies show that 79% of website visitors aren’t ready to buy. They’re somewhere else in the buying cycle. They may not even be aware of the scope of their problem, and may simply be in the early stages of researching a possible solution.

But just because they’re not ready to buy doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity for you as a business owner. If you continue to educate them and nurture those leads – wherever they are in the buying cycle – you’ll be at the top of their minds when they’re ready to buy.

The Buying Cycle

The typical buying cycle goes from having an awareness that there is a problem to evaluating the possible solutions, choosing one and implementing it. And it ends, hopefully, with a long-term, meaningful relationship with a customer.

A more detailed explanation of the buying cycle:

  1. Acknowledging there’s a problem they need to solve. Something is broken – either a physical product, like their washing machine, or a process in their business – and they need to fix it.
  2. Making a decision to fix this problem. They can’t do it themselves, so they need outside help.
  3. Determining exactly what results they want. What’s their end goal? What outcome or results do they want after purchasing and implementing a solution?
  4. Gathering basic information. They’re searching for companies that can help them, and often doing this research online. Perhaps they’re asking friends or other business owners who’ve had similar problems about their solutions.
  5. Identifying possible solutions or vendors that will give the result or results that they want.
  6. Comparing those solutions or vendors.
  7. Selecting a vendor/product.
  8. Negotiating the deal.
  9. Making a purchase decision. This can mean either signing a contract or making a direct purchase.
  10. Implementing the solution. Your relationship doesn’t end with the purchase. Now you have to help them use your product or service wisely to get full results.
  11. Forging an ongoing relationship. This allows for repeat business from the same customer and ensures ongoing customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth referrals.

Recognizing where your customer is in this buying cycle is key. When a customer first makes contact with you, have a set of questions ready that help determine where he or she is. “Tell me about your situation?” “Have you looked at other solutions?” Their answers to these questions can help determine whether they’re still early in the buying cycle, or if they’re close to making a decision.

Pick Marketing Techniques Based on Buying Cycle

Choose different marketing techniques for each phase of the buying cycle. For instance:

  • A well-designed website can help customers early on in the buying cycle by allowing them to gather information.
  • A free whitepaper outlining possible solutions and comparing them helps mid-way through the buying cycle.
  • An email campaign helps prospective customers through the pre-purchase process, and later forges an ongoing, repeat-buying relationship near the end of the buying cycle.

Having content for each stage tells your customer, “We’re ready when you are.” If they’re early in the buying cycle, back off and let them explore, but be available to answer questions. If they want to discuss possibly buying from you, be available for a phone or in-person meeting, and have marketing material ready to help them make a choice from among your offerings.

By being aware of the different stages in the buying process, and thinking about what questions your customer are asking at each stage of the cycle, you can provide a prospective customer with the appropriate marketing technique at the right time.

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Category: Internet & Social Media Marketing, Marketing

What’s Your Learning Plan?

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People always focus on New Year’s resolutions at the end of December, but I have a better way of ringing in the new year.

I love to learn fresh ideas and new skills. The phrase Lifelong Learning truly defines the way I live my life.

So this week, I wrote my “learning plan” for the next 12 months, in terms of business and marketing topics I want to study … I also plan to learn how to cook vegetarian meals!

By asking a series of questions, I came up with a list of what I want to study next year. This helps me to keep focused on specific topics and not run around trying to learn everything at the same time. (I can see you nodding in agreement. We must avoid Shiny Object Syndrome at all costs!)

Here’s how to create a focus for your learning plan:

  1. What are my big goals for the next 12 months for my business?
  2. What topics do I need to study to attain those goals?
  3. Of all the thing I can study, which ONE THING is the most important to start with?
  4. How long do I want to devote to studying that topic?
  5. What resources do I currently have available to study this topic?  (What do you have in your bookshelf or on your own hard drive right now?)
  6. Where can I get further resources for studying this topic? What books are available? What classes can I take? Who do I know who is a whiz-bang at this topic, so I can pick their brains?

My personal learning planning came down to one focus topic for January/February: writing and editing. My goal for this year is to write at least two books (one is already finished). Here are the ways I’ll implement my learning plan:

  • Getting thoughts on paper isn’t the same thing as a well-crafted manuscript, so I hired a mentor to look over my work and show me how to take my writing to a new level.
  • I have some writing books on my shelf, like On Writing Well by William Zinsser and Writing Nonfiction by Dan Poynter.
  • My friend, Pamela Wilson, just published her first book, Master Content Marketing, and I can pick her brains about the writing/publishing journey she went through.
  • Even better, she chronicled her journey in a podcast series for Rainmaker FM/Copyblogger called Zero to Book, so I’ll load that onto my smartphone.

By asking the right question, assets will come to mind which have been neglected. Now I have quite a few assets to explore in January and February.

Then I repeated the process to pick a key topic for all the remaining months for next year. For instance:

  • in March I’ll be studying email marketing campaign funnel design
  • in April I’ll focus on the psychology of marketing and why people buy
  • in May I’ll look at website traffic conversion

Then I’ll collapse in a puddle of happiness, with a full brain and tons of ideas to implement in June through December! 🙂

(There’s no sense in learning a lot if you don’t plan time for implementation. Don’t crowd your calendar with monthly learning; give yourself some assimilation space.)

Special Tip: Having a hard time keeping track of all the notes you take on a certain learning topic? My favorite note-taking tool is Evernote (www.evernote.com), a great web-based, computer-based and mobile app tool to help with keeping notes, including a way to tag each note with keywords for easy look-up. Your notes sync across your devices — a wonderful way to take notes on the go then have them on your work computer when you get back to the office. Neato!

Take a moment right now: What topic do you want to learn more about next year?

Best of luck to you as you design your own Learning Plan for next year! It’s exciting!!

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Category: Business Strategy & Planning
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The REAL Reason Santa is so Jolly – He’s Self-Employed!

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Believers and non-believers alike know that Santa Claus is a happy person. For that matter, so are Mrs. Claus and all the elves (even the ones who want to be dentists). In a world of trouble and strife, why are these folks so jolly?

The simple answer is that Santa is happy because he is self-employed. He’s doing what he loves to do and he has the freedom to create the business and life of his dreams. While running a family business can be complicated, with Mrs. Claus by his side, they deliver a perfect product to a cheering clientele.

Imagine that you owned a business where you had to deliver your product or service only one night a year to an audience eagerly awaiting your arrival. The other 364 days a year are spent in product development and listening to your customers. If that doesn’t make you jolly, what will?

But that’s not all. Each year, Santa’s audience of little children (and some not-so-little ones, like me) write letters to him, telling him exactly what they want. Getting your customers to be that specific — and to get them to put it in writing — certainly reduces the need for market research.

Marketing is easy. Word-of-mouth referrals blossom among the children who love him, and social media and the Internet only makes it easier to spread the word. He doesn’t use Facebook and Twitter to send out endless “buy my products” posts. Instead, he uses them to create relationships and to listen. Santa is GREAT at listening.

And how does Santa get paid? With love, cookies and milk, which are in constant and unending supply. He has no doubts about abundance or whether his clients will pay on time.

It shouldn’t surprise you that Santa has intricate and extensive leadership skills. He doesn’t make toys himself; he gets the elves to do it for him. He instills in them the passion, meaning and purpose of the corporate mission, and they eagerly make toys all year long, happy and singing. There are no recorded instances of elf employment protests. Santa knows how to respect and motivate the craftspeople who work for him. He puts the “elf” in self-employment.

But Santa doesn’t sit on his laurels (because, in fact, it hurts to sit on laurel shrubs). Every year his strategic team comes up with new products and services sure to delight his audience. Notice I said, “team.” Santa can’t do it alone and he recognizes the need to surround himself with those who are smarter than he is in their specialty field. I think it was Santa who first said, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

To all of you who own your own business, and to those who dream of one day being your own boss, I wish you the brightest of holiday seasons. We can all learn a thing or two from Santa Boss, can’t we?

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Category: Running a Strong & Efficient Business

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