Website Essentials

I’ve been looking at a lot of websites for clients lately, and talking with others about whether or not they need one.  I know it’s a topic that we’ve talked about a lot, but since I’m seeing the same issues coming up again and again, I thought I’d share a few reminders with you today.

First, a recent statistic I saw said that 75% of people look online to find out about your business.  If you don’t have a website they won’t find you.  Even having a simple DIY website is better than nothing, and some DIY websites I’ve seen look and read much better than the professional ones, probably because they’ve got actual heart and passion behind them.  But back to the point: if you don’t have a website you NEED one.  A social profile will never replace a website.  They’re fine as marketing tools, but I would never ever recommend choosing a social profile over a website if you can only create one.

Second, websites have to contain updated information.  It’s another reason why I support DIY websites.  Yes, I know it adds another thing to your plate, but if you don’t have to wait for your developer to get back in touch with you or don’t have to find a new developer because your old one isn’t in business anymore, and you don’t have to pay their fees for updating your site, I’d say it’s worth it, especially for the little things like the copyright date or updating event dates or dated special offers. If it’s been more than a week past the written date, people will question what else isn’t up to date on your site.

Third, don’t be afraid to get personal.  There’s competition in just about every industry so if you don’t stand out, you have a much smaller chance of getting the sale.  Your website is one of the first things potential customers will see and if they think your offerings look like every Tom, Dick and Harry’s out there they won’t have a reason to choose you. Let your personality out a little on the site, show them who you are, and help them get to know you and the distinctive advantage you bring to the market or why your products are better than the countless others out there that are very similar.  Every business is started by a person, and I think it’s important to show the world and your potential customers who that person is.  You don’t have to look like a super celebrity, just show your smiling face to the world.

Can you have bells and whistles on your site? Sure, but they’re no good if the information isn’t there.  Worry less about having the perfect website, and focus more on having one that works for you and shows off you and your business.

Video Sound Smarts

As we get back into the swing of things in this new year, today I want to talk about something that I don’t talk about a lot and isn’t a personal preference: video.  That said video is wildly popular for both marketing and entertainment.  If you’re using video for marketing or if you’re considering it, here are a few things to consider when making your next video.

Video on your websites: one of the quickest ways to send potential customers packing is to have a video that autoplays on your website.  Video is great, but you should give your website visitor the controls for watching your video.  The only website that has an exception to this is a site like YouTube because people go there for the videos.  You may have great videos on your website, but that’s not typically why people are there, they’re there to learn about your company.

The second two things to consider for videos are about your marketing videos.  These are things to consider whether you’re using video in your Facebook ads, on TV or even on your website for when your visitors click on them.

Soundless videos: I’d say it’s a trend, but it’s not something that’s going away and it’s really something that’s always existed because of closed captioning.  When doing a soundless video, or the video is on a platform that cuts the sound unless the watcher engages it, or the user just doesn’t have the ability to use sound at the moment, one of the most important things to include is proper text. Obviously you’re not going to include the amount of text that closed captioning includes, but you should include enough text that those watching it can understand what’s going on in the video.

Include the right sound:  No, I’m not really talking about the background music although that’s important.  What I’m really talking about here is making sure that for those who aren’t watching the video or can’t watch the video that they understand what’s going on in it.  Two obvious examples would be if your laundry room is in the room next to your TV and you’re in the laundry room getting the laundry done or folding it and can’t see the TV but can hear it, and the other example would be if you have a sight impairment.  These two people can’t see what’s on the TV so if you’ve got a well dramatized commercial going on and all it has is nice background music and maybe mentions how many awards in general it’s won and that there’s a special deal and then the commercial ends, you have no clue what the commercial was about, do you?  I’d have to tell you or you would have to be able to see the TV to know that it was a car commercial.  Including the right words in your video is essential because you don’t know that someone has their eyes glued to the screen, especially in this age of multiple devices at our fingertips at all times.

As a marketer I spend a lot of time checking out what businesses are doing.  I would say that at least half of the videos I see have one or all of these issues.  So this week as you’re consider or getting started on your new year of marketing make sure that you’re doing the very best you can to reach your potential customers with your videos.

Personal Marketing

We’re getting closer to Christmas and Hanukkah with each day, I hope that your business is filled with cheer and good will (and lots of sales!).  Today I thought we’d take a moment to talk about one of the challenges when it comes to marketing and business.  There are 2 general audiences and 2 sub audiences that businesses may try to reach: the general audiences are men and women, and the sub audiences are boys and girls.  No, everyone doesn’t fit into those neat packages, there are men who have no interest in football and women who love football for example.  But as I was thinking about the differences between targeting men and women in business it got me thinking about Christmas and making sales this time of year.

It struck me as interesting that many of the Christmas stories we know and love are based around men (or boys); think about Santa, Jesus, and Scrooge, not to mention more modern characters like Buddy the Elf (Elf), Jack Frost, Kevin McCallister (Home Alone), Charlie Brown, George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life), Clark Griswold (National Lampoon) and Ralphie Parker (A Christmas Story).  Yes, some of these were given the lead role because men are traditionally seen as leaders.  And yes, each of those stories has at least one female in a serious role too.   But I couldn’t name the women like I could the men that the story is based around.

The point is that it’s easy to stick a man in a lead role because that’s what we know, just like it’s easy to try to incorporate sports, sex, cars or success into your marketing to target men for example, or kids, love, relationships and beauty to target women because that’s what a large portion of them like.  But what more businesses are realizing is that there’s a lot more to men and women than just those blanket categories.  The recent Dollar Shave Club ads highlight this well with regards to men.  In the ads you’re shown a bunch of different guys who shop for different types of body wash or some other related product.  There’s Mr. Muscles, the Slob, the Cool Dude, the Clean Cut Guy, and the Average Joe.  Yes, all these guys use the same types of products (body wash etc.), but each product isn’t right for every guy (no matter what a celebrity spokesperson might say).

In this world of customization and numerous companies offering something similar yet different, it’s very hard to be successful with a blanket product or campaign that speaks to (or tries to speak to) one or more of the general audiences as a whole.  In those cases there’s a specific goal with the ad, and it’s usually more often about branding, not a specific product (think about some of the holiday ads you’re seeing for major companies).  I understand the appeal to selling to “everyone” but let’s face it, that’s not a reality anymore with all the options that are available in 2016.  Taking the time to really get to know your customers and their likes, dislikes and interests will help you get clear on how to target within the larger general audience to speak to your specific audience.  Don’t stoop to the old standby, easy answers unless they’re the right ones when it comes to your customers.  Take the time to customize your marketing and show your customers that they matter to you and you understand them.

Empowering Through Sales

It’s September so of course I’m thinking about lots of education topics and about the next generation.  Last week we talked about something that kids are known for: asking questions, but we talked about it with regards to building a better business.  Something that we may talk about in other contexts later this month or next month is the topic of bullying because it’s a serious topic that affects people of all ages, not just kids, but it’s most discussed with regards to kids.  What I want to talk about today is something that relates to bullying, is actually in some ways the opposite: empowerment.

The way I see it businesses are in the business of empowering their customers in one way or another.  Whether they offer a product or service they empower their customers through the solutions they offer to problems in their lives (darkness, coldness/heat, hunger, transportation, infertility, crazy kids, divorce, loneliness, sickness etc.).  The dictionary defines empower as “to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means, to enable or permit.”  By putting whatever you sell in their lives you’re giving them the power to overcome the challenges in their lives, to make living life a little easier or better, and you’re giving them the opportunity to make the right choices for their life.

So the question we ask often is how can we make our customers and employees happier?  Logic, systems, leadership, training, testing, communication, marketing, good people and customer service are all ways that we as business owners can give our customers and employees can make their experience with us better, longer, and more satisfying.  Make sure that what you offer and what you tell people make sense.  Make sure that you’ve got good systems, leadership, training, hiring practices and communication in place to support and guide your employees. Make sure that people can find you, know what you offer and are able to understand what you offer and how to use/apply it.  And make sure that the experience they have with you and what you offer makes them want to come back for more, even if their initial purchase with you isn’t the greatest.

By choosing to go the extra mile with preparing your products and services for customers, giving your employees the tools they need to be successful and support your customers and giving your customers an experience that reinforces the great product or service you’ve sold them, not only are you more likely to be more successful as a business, you’re empowering your clients and customers to solve their problems and enjoy their lives.

How do you empower your customers and/or employees?

First Impressions Count

It’s back to school time so today I’m thinking about something that many of the students are thinking about: making a good first impression.  Many business owners only get one chance to make a good first impression because their first impression was bad or unremarkable.  In these cases if a second or third impression opportunity comes along the business owner has a very difficult job of overcoming the negative impression the people had and showing them that they do deserve their attention.  Many people won’t give them a second opportunity because there are other options out there for just about everything.  With as challenging as it is to convert people into being customers, it’s important to make sure you do the best you can for your first impression.  Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to make a good first impression.

Get the details right.  When people visit your website they expect the information there is accurate.  When people call in they expect to be told the correct thing.  When people give their name they expect for it to be said back to them correctly (I’m talking about a Bob/John difference, not accents, inflections or languages).  Don’t be ashamed to take notes.  Don’t be afraid to hire someone to make sure all the details (especially dates) are kept up to date.  Don’t be afraid of making changes because it means things have to be updated.

Look good.  First impressions often have to do with how things appear, whether we’re talking the physical or virtual world.  If you have a website that looks like it was made in 1990 people will assume your business isn’t relevant to them in 2016 (unless you deal in 1990’s stuff).  If you or your team are sloppily dressed and don’t clean up the mess around the store, people notice and assume that the products or services you provide might be contaminated or aren’t that great.  No, you don’t have to spend thousands on appearances, but current, neat and tidy are the minimum.

Communication counts.  How and if you communicate is also key to creating a great first impression.  If you know you’ll be dealing with multiple cultures and languages do your best to understand the cultures and offer translations or interpreters to make it easier to do business with you.  While some would say the first hours (minutes even!?) after are the only appropriate time to respond, I say make sure to respond to all inquiries and orders within 24 hours.  Take courses on how to become a better communicator (everyone can improve).  Always try to provide a helpful (not pacifying) response, and do your very best to provide real answers and solutions to questions and issues.

These may seem simple but how your business deals with them says something very important about your business: do you care?  How you show up is a great indicator of how you and your team feel about the business and your customers.  It shows whether you care about what you’re selling and about the people buying.  What does your first impression say about you?

Trend Talk for August

Today I want to talk about two trends I’ve been seeing and reading about in business this month.

Facebook’s update: the latest update dropped page organic reach to somewhere around 1%.  Yep, it really stinks.  While we won’t dive into the obvious discussion of what to do about it, the thing I do want to talk about is why I support the update in some ways (but of course not totally because it does not encourage business owners to remain involved).  The thing that I see so many businesses forget is that Facebook (and the others like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram) is a social network.  That means that the goal of Facebook etc.  is to connect people and have them interact and be engaged.  Too many businesses are so busy being promotional and trying to create viral content that they forget the basic requirement of Facebook to be social.  If businesses showed that they actually cared about the Facebook community I think Facebook would reconsider this latest update.

Learning and Training: Do you train your employees? Do you expect them to stay up to date on relevant trainings?  Do you get training and educate yourself? When you’re looking to hire an employee how important is it for them to be up-to-date with their education (even in fields where it’s not required (training is required in the medical field))?  One of the current debates is over whether or not to invest in training your employees and potentially lose their skills to another company.  The other is why employees aren’t pursuing education that would help bring them up to par with more recent graduates and help them stand out in the job market.  Personally I think you should always be learning things, and it’s your responsibility to do so.  As to whether or not to train, in talking it over with someone the other day they reminded me that if a business is really a great place to work for their people have no desire to go elsewhere with their new skills.

What are your thoughts on Facebook’s change and learning and training in business?

Business Classics

As we go through this summer I’ve been enjoying summer classics like ice pops, warm sunny days, late night walks, thunderstorms, fresh fruits and vegetables and less traffic on the roads.  Thinking about summer classics got me thinking about some of the things in business that never get old.  Like the summer classics there are lots of variations on the classics we can try, and the true summer classics don’t get old, so don’t be turned off by thinking these are just the “same old things” or dated and aren’t relevant, they’re as central to business success as sun is to summer.

Good leadership: I start my list with this one because as we see in the news, often it’s the leadership behind the business that makes or breaks it.  If you want to be successful make sure that you’re the person who can truly lead your business or that you hire people who can.

Good products and services: there is nothing that beats a happy customer.  Happy customers usually mean more customers, and that’s always a good thing.   One of the best ways to have happy customers is by providing them with products and/or services that live up to their description and the promises made about them and really help people.  Some products or services are successful because they make people happy even if they don’t technically fill a need or resolve a problem that customers have, but all things that are bought or sold must have a purpose of some kind to sell well.

Good customer service: whether we’re talking about the processes of shopping, buying, using or getting help, customers need help! Your products and services don’t magically transfer from you to them, there are things that happen between first knowing about it and the end result (and sometimes after that too).  How easy is it to work through your process?  Do you make your potential customers jump through unnecessary hurdles?  If so you may be scaring customers away before they have a chance to check out your fabulous products or services.  And don’t forget about the people (employees, bosses etc.) that are part of your business too.  Make sure they’re fully equipped to help with a whole variety of customer service needs and are pleasant too.

Good marketing: there has to be some kind of marketing done for customers to hear about your business and what you offer.  We’ve seen laughable attempts at marketing as well as non-existent ones (both of which can end a business).  Marketing can be as singular as a physical storefront or website, or as involved as a national campaign using all kinds of media.  But all marketing does one thing well: communicate to potential customers who you are and what you offer.  How detailed this communication is depends on many things, but all marketing must answer that essential question.

What are some other aspects of business that are classics in your mind?

Work with a Website

This week I was asked a question that I get asked on a regular basis and thought I’d share a few thoughts about it with you today.  The question?  About starting a business without a website.  My answer to them was that I would never run a business in 2016, or even the past few years, without a website.  With all the free software out there, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t put one together yourself even if you don’t have the finances to have someone create one for you or a ton of technical knowledge.  And even if you don’t have tons to pay someone to create one for you, again, someone could create the simple one for you on the free platforms for a small fee.

But let’s start at the beginning.  I think much of the question about having a website when starting a business is that maybe there’s some uncertainty as to whether you’ll be successful or not and don’t want to invest in creating a website if you’re not going to be successful.  And the answer for that is simple: you don’t start a business without having done the research to see if what you want to sell is something that people are interested in.  No, you don’t need to have a huge percentage of the world interested in what you offer, just enough to be successful in whatever way you define success.  If you don’t know that there is interest, no, I wouldn’t start a business or build a website.

But once you’ve done the research to determine a customer base exists, then yes, I would make a website.  I wouldn’t start with just social accounts to build interest, I wouldn’t just start with my friends and their friends. Why? Because you only control a portion of your social media accounts, and even if you start with your friends or friends-of-friends you have to give them information in some way and a website is a very easy way of getting information to anyone, anywhere in the world.

So it brings us to having a website for your business.  If you’re not convinced yet, research shows that over 70% of people check out the internet before making a purchase, and that number is higher in certain parts of the world and with certain products or services.  Are you really willing to miss out on the chance that someone might find your website through their search when all it takes to remedy that is create a simple website?  No, I’m certainly not willing to take that risk.

Ready to get started?  There are good web designers out there, and you can also create your own using Weebly, as well as Jimdo, Webs, WordPress, or Wix.  Don’t let fears hold you back, get your business a website today, or update the one you have.

Telling the Truth in Business

Do you know what can sink your business really fast? Lies. When you lie about how effective a product or service is or what you’re going to do or who you are, people not only won’t buy from you again but they tell their friends too. And as we know negative news spreads faster than the positive news. I know some people will tell you that too much truth is a bad thing or that some mystique is a good thing. I agree that a little mystery can be a good thing, but what you offer and who you are should not be one of those mysteries.

The whole truth and nothing but the truth:
I understand that you want to keep some secret sauce for your clients. I have no problem with that. Some people find success in sharing their secrets, others have learned what “enough” is that they can share and interest people with what they offer. One of the things I advise some of my clients on is using Facebook. The first thing usually asked or considered is “what do you think of my page?” My answer is usually “I can’t really tell what makes you special” (or tell what you really offer at all), and sometimes also includes “and all your posts are promotional” (which isn’t a good thing). Most people don’t give sufficient information about their business whether we’re talking promotional materials, social media or in client conversations.

Do it right the first time:
If at all possible it’s always desirable to get things right the first time. The reality is that we don’t always get things right the first time and do have to fix things and sometimes start from scratch. But you’ll be more satisfied with doing the job right the first time than you would be if you gave it a half effort. Not giving it your best effort means you’ll also never know if you could have been successful if you gave it a little more effort.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right:
This is another of my favorite sayings. Too often we throw something together quick without really thinking it through or doing the research. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the research is as simple as reading what’s been written and already provided to you. I don’t believe in perfection so that’s not what I’m saying and I think questions are great, so I’m not judging that either. But if you’re really serious about helping people with your product or service you owe it to them (and will save yourself lots of time) if you disclose as much as possible.

Do everyone a favor and check your business for lies, misleading information and invisible information. What do your customers and potential customers think of your business?

 

The Path of Goals

This week I read a blog post that partly talked about the goals of having a blog. I love writing, it’s something I’ve done for many years (even before I started my blogs), but I know it’s not something that everyone likes. I do believe that having a blog and/or a newsletter that you send out on a weekly (or more frequent) basis can be a valuable part of your marketing strategy. It’s one of the best ways to consistently remind your clients and customers that you exist as a business and that you’re there any time they’re in need of what you offer. But what I really want to talk about today is the topic of goals.

We all have goals even if we don’t write them down or say them out loud. What the blog post reminded me was that there are about a dozen reasons why someone may start a blog or goals that they may have with it. Just because one of my reasons is because I like to write, and just because I have more of a goal of using the blogs to share my experience and expertise it doesn’t mean it has to be your reason or goal. It also means that we won’t all have the same purpose or goal in business, or in an aspect of business like social media for example. You may use social media to connect with others, while someone else may use it to look popular.

So what can we learn from all this? First that we’re not all in a line moving in the same direction. We didn’t all start our businesses at the same time, some have been around for hundreds of years while yours may be a few days old. Second, don’t be ashamed of your goals and dreams. It’s not bad to want different things from your businesses and for your customers, that’s part of what makes the world go ’round. Third, don’t let your excuses and what other people are doing stop you from achieving your goals. Make a plan for how you can accomplish your goals; do the research, figure out what actions are necessary, try things and don’t give up.