Unseen Business Killers

How a common business blogging excuse may be a sign of an unseen killer within your business.

Lately I’ve been inundated with stories of people battling cancer.  One of my friend’s sister was recently diagnosed with the disease and a client’s sister also received this devastating diagnosis.   Then I received news that the outlook isn’t bright for a client of mine who is also battling this killer disease.  While she was diagnosed within a few weeks of my friend’s sister – my client didn’t discover she had cancer until symptoms forced her to see her doctor.  By the time the cancer was causing her discomfort, it had spread throughout her body.

Just as early diagnosis is a key element in treating cancer – it’s also a key to combating a common unseen business killer as well.

Over the past few years, I’ve helped hundreds of client launch blogs to promote their businesses – and I’ve had perhaps just as many if not more decide against launching a blog.  One of the most common excuses I hear is, ” I don’t have time to blog.”

Unfortunately, when the gloves come off – “I don’t have time to blog” is usually exposed for what it really  is – an excuse.

It’s an excuse used to avoid confronting what may be literally a CANCER which may be growing within the belly of your business.   Like all cancers, early detection is the key to an effective cure.

It’s easy to determine if “I don’t have time to blog” is an excuse or a reason.  If you really don’t have time to blog for your business, you can either

  • hire someone to blog for your business or
  • hire someone to assume some of your duties so you can find time to blog.

Nine times out of ten, when this “either or” is presented,  the REAL objection to blogging for business surfaces.  It takes various forms, but it can be “boiled down” to a very simple: “I don’t know what to write about.”

AH -now here’s the REAL reason most business owners aren’t blogging. It’s not a lack of time – but rather a lack of direction.

It makes sense if you think about it.  After all, we human beings always seem to be able to MAKE time to do what’s important.   The working mother who exercises regularly doesn’t do so because she’s got an extra hour not available to the rest of the population – she MAKES the time to exercise.   She does so because she recognizes how important daily exercise it is for her health and her sanity.

If the reason is that you aren’t blogging for your business is that you don’t know what to write about – the answer is deceptively simple:

Simply write about your customer’s GDP.

It doesn’t matter if your a B 2 B or a B 2 C – if you’re in business – you are either helping customers/clients  to

  1. achieve a goal
  2. satisfying a desire
  3. solve a problem

I call this magic triad “GDP – Goals – Desires – Problems.  Pick one -pick two or pick all three as the reason you’re in business and then start talking about it via your blog.

If you find you can’t isolate one of these three reasons for being in business – then chances are you aren’t creating or communicating an effective marketing message for your company.

If you don’t KNOW what goals you’re helping people achieve,

If you don’t know what desires are being quenched,

If you don’t know what problems need to be solved,

Then OF  COURSE you aren’t going to know what to blog about.

This is definitely a case of what you don’t know CAN hurt your business.

If you don’t know which GDP “button” to push – you’re eventually going to find yourself – and your business – in between a rock and a hard spot.

Your business blog could be the greatest business diagnostic tool ever created.

The sheer act of creating blog posts forces you to FOCUS upon prospective clients/customer’s GDP.   If you don’t know your target audience’s GDP – then you know you have a serious problem in your business.

Discovering that you don’t know what your target audience’s GDP is is almost like discovering you have the earliest stages of cancer.  Admittedly, it’s not good news – but it’s news much better delivered sooner than later.

It used to be that it took a competitor who who understands the target audience’s GDP entering the marketplace and inflicting “sales discomfort” to send the average business owner scrambling for a speedy business diagnosis.  Unfortunately, the explosion of social media  has lead to a new “symptom” for the company with a lack of understanding of consumer GDP: customer complaints being shared via social media tools.

There are plenty of reasons to hit the keyboard and start to blog for your business.  Perhaps the best reason to begin blogging is the act of blogging constantly encourages you to focus upon what matters most – your target audience’s GDP.

If the REAL reason you’re not blogging for your business is that you don’t know what to write about – think of it as an early stage diagnosis of a serious problem – one that should be addressed quickly and decisively.

Who’s afraid of the FTC’s new guidelines?

social media's magic ingredientAnswer – ” Not you if you’re operating under an authentic business model.”

Social media is all about information flowing freely and easily.    When a company engages in questionable business activities – social media is there, allowing customers to share what it’s like to do business with someone.  However, there have always been business owners who don’t want to play by the rules.  Instead of gathering authentic testimonials – they resort to crafting lies to promote their product or service.   They create “faux blogs” to promote their products – complete with fake testimonials.  They hire celebrities whom you trust, banking on that trust being transitive.   Well, the US government (via the FTC ) has been receiving complaints and is about to join the game.  They are in the process of crafting some new “rules” for the game of doing business – both off line and online!

The FTC stands for the Federal Trade Commission- a US government agency which is charged with the protection of American Consumers. The FTC was founded in 1914 – in the era of “trust building and trust busting.”  Since then, the agency’s powers have been enhanced to include all “unfair and deceptive business acts or practice.”  The most recent (1980)  guidelines are receiving a “face lift” for the new millennium – and may be a cause for concern for those who have been operating outside the bounds of “authentic” marketing and business building.

It’s not just brick and mortar businesses that have to worry about the new guidelines. Bloggers and internet marketers are definitely affected by the latest FTC guidelines that ban deceptive or unfair business practices.  If you’ve embraced my 3 step  authentic business success secrets formula – then you’ll probably welcome the relief offered by these new guidelines -written with social media marketing in mind.

New guidelines are being drafted which in their current state would allow the FTC to go after bloggers for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.   The current draft of the guidelines also allows the FTC to go after the companies who partner with bloggers as well.

By the way, this same language also applies to celebrities who endorse products.  It looks like those D list celebrities who endorse such products as Cash 4 Gold had better take a good hard look at the reputation of the company who wants to hire them.

So, if you’ve written a glowing testimonial for a product you’ve never used – you might find yourself in as much hot water as the person for whom you wrote the testimonial.

If you’ve written a glowing review of a product you received  for free and you failed to disclose that you received the product for free –  again, you might find yourself in the same hot water.

Mary Engle of the FTC tells why in this video:

It  appears that the FTC is joining in the effort to keep the communication going on via social media “clean” and free from manipulation.

If you’re running an authentic business model – you have little to fear with the new guidelines.

If the testimonials you feature on your blog or web site are real – both the ones from your customers and the ones you have written for other bloggers and internet marketers – then your compliance with the guidelines will be easy peasy lemon squeazy.

For most ethical business people and bloggers, you may need to disclose the fact that the links in your blog post are affiliate links – but other than that – the new rules shouldn’t cause most authentic and ethical business owners and bloggers much concern.

If however, you’ve been less than authentic in your marketing communications – then you may have a serious problem on your hands when the guidelines are finalized – expected some time in 2010.

Business Building Strategy: What will you do to get their money?

steps to building your businessI’ve been doing a lot of individual work with clients and a phrase I’ve been using a LOT lately is…. “What are you willing to do to get their money?”

It’s easy to blame those idiot customers for not being smart enough or willing to work hard enough to do business with you.

You know – the idiot customers who aren’t SMART enough to properly spell your Eastern European last name which you use as your domain name.

The idiot customers who aren’t SMART enough to search for your business by name – and instead they’re searching for a solution to their problems.

The idiot customers who still call and ask the VERY questions answered on the FAQ page of your web site.

The idiot customers who call and ask for directions when there’s a map right there on the web site under “more information”.

What are you willing to do to earn their business?

One of the key elements I bring to my clients is an objective “outside eye”.  Often, my input will ruffle some feathers – because in the end – I can’t make your customers “smarter” or “prettier”.  Often – I find myself delivering this nugget of wisdom:

Your customers are NOT idiots – really. (Check out “Business Building Secret:  People are pretty smart” for more on this.)

We can spend shit loads of money trying to influence customer behavior  or we can go the  quicker, easier and more profitable route which is to change how YOU ARE doing things rather than trying to change how YOUR CUSTOMERS are doing things.

If you’re waiting for your customers to make it easy on YOU to take their money- well – good luck with that.  The worm doesn’t find it’s way to the early bird – it’s the other way around.

Something triggers the call…. maybe the “problem” has been niggling at you for weeks or months.  Perhaps it’s visited you in your dreams.  Something isn’t RIGHT and it needs to GET RIGHT – the sooner the better.

“Our web site is getting lots of hits – but no one is buying” – is just one sign that SOMETHING isn’t right.

That’s why you call in outside help – an objective eye – to see what you can’t see.  Just don’t expect the answer to be, “You’re doing EVERYTHING right – you just need better and smarter customers.”

So assuming that you KNOW something’s wrong – and that what needs to change is on your end – where do you begin?

It would be easy to see the forest if you just weren’t surrounded by all these damned trees!

Begin with this – you don’t know what you don’t know.

If you did know – you wouldn’t need outside help.

Here’s the catch 22 – when you don’t know what you don’t know – how can you tell the difference between someone who really DOES know – and someone who just knows a little bit more than you do?

There was a time when finding out how much an “expert” knew  meant sitting down – either in person or on the phone – and talking to them.  You ask questions, the expert answers and you try to discern whether this “expert” can solve your problem.

However, and this is where “experts get frustrated, often as a potential client -it’s hard to get “up to speed” in a single 30-60 minute conversation.   So – the prospective client meets with SEVERAL “experts” – asking questions and comparing answers.   It’s all part of the process of educating themselves to the point of being able to MAKE a decision but from the experts point of view – these people are wasting time and time is what most experts are selling.

However – there is a way for experts to circumvent the time consuming client education process.  Instead of sitting down with individuals – answering the same questions over and over – the expert can begin blogging.

About a year ago – I began to notice something about my “new client” conversations – the people who were calling had read my blog.  Because of this, they were calling me at a later point in the “decision making process”.  Instead of getting tire kickers – I was getting people ready to sign up to work with me.

I recently had a tire kicker conversation – from someone who hadn’t read my blog.  I found myself – in the conversation – directing these people to various blog posts to answer their questions.   That conversation reminded me of the “old days” before my blog – the days when I spent a LOT of time with “tire kickers”… trying to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible.

What are you willing to do get their money?  Are you willing to make the investment of time and effort to educate your prospective customers with your blog?

When social media isn’t enough…

social media marketingLong long ago, Liz Strauss wrote the immortal words – “Your blog is not your business”.  Recently – I had a conversation with a client who learned that lesson – the HARD way.

“Amy” [not her real name] was referred to my business a couple of years ago.  The story behind how she came to me is very common – at least in my practice.  Years earlier, she had paid BIG money to a web developer to create a web site for her brand new business.  Because she didn’t know a lot about this strange world known as “the internet” she assumed that her web site would cause people to line up to hire her to do work for their business.  When that didn’t happen – she began doing some homework.

When she began doing her homework she learned that the search engines drive most of the traffic on the internet.  So, she typed in some words she thought people would use to find her business.   Her web site – the one she paid BIG buck (five figures) to have developed – didn’t show up.  So she tried some other words and her site STILL didn’t show up – ANYWHERE.  She contacted her web developer and asked what was up – and he told her to be patient.  Things like that take time, he said.  She she was patient – she waited a couple of YEARS and still nothing.

She began talking to other people and eventually had a conversation with one of my clients.  She contacted me and asked me to take a look at her site.  Long story short- even though her page LOOKED great through a browser – it had been cobbled together in such a manner that it was anything but search engine friendly.  Even though the site “looked” fine through a browser – that’s not how the search engines see a web site.  They look at the code – and in this case, it was a real mess.

She told me she loved the site and didn’t want to change the way it looked.  (I later learned the web developer is a friend of her husband’s and I suspect she didn’t want to have a show down with him.)  I assured her we could accomplish her objective in a much more cost effective manner by launching a self hosted WordPress blog to work in concert with her web site.

Her problem: she wanted her web site to be found in Google.  The solution: we launched a self hosted WordPress blog to act as “bait”.  She could link liberally to her “traditional” web site using the blog  and when potential clients found her blog – she could send them to her site to “close” the sale.

When you go fishing – it’s not realistic to expect fish to jump into your boat.  So, you take fishing poles, hooks and various bait to catch the fish.  We were going to set up her blog to act as bait.  Of course, because there is no such thing as “marketing magic”, Amy had to learn how to USE her WordPress blog correctly.  Amy is one of the inspirations for my 8 Week Power Blog Launch product.  Her questions – combined with the questions asked by other clients – are the basis for the “curriculum” in the course.

Page One in Google

Recently, Amy contacted me.  Her blog articles had achieved her objective.  Her content is now appearing on the first page of Google’s results for her desired keyword – a fairly competitive keyword by the way.  However, if you think that the phone call was filled with rejoicing – it wasn’t.

Amy was disheartened and discouraged.  Even though she had achieved her objective of her blog content being found on Google’s first page – her business still wasn’t thriving.  As a matter of fact, she didn’t have a single client – and she had recently had to get a job to make ends meet.  She was ready to throw in the towel.

So, the first question I asked Amy was to describe her business model to me.  She launched into an exhaustive commentary on her marketing efforts.

“Amy, you’ve just listed the various marketing tactics you’re using to promote your business.  What is your business model?  How do you expect to make money from your business?”

“Well, people read my blog posts, go to my web site and then hire me.   I’m getting lots of traffic – but no one is contacting me to hire me.”

What followed was a distillation of my book, Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results In a nutshell – Amy’s business is engaged in making what is known as a Major Sale.  However, most of the “marketing tactics” Amy had been engaging in are only effective in marking Minor Sales.  Most of the sales/marketing advice you find (online and offline)  is geared towards  Minor Sale products, which is why Neil Rackham spent a small fortune and 12 years of his life defining and documenting the difference between Major Sales and Minor Sales.

When I first read Spin Selling – where Rackham documents his findings – I immediately recognized that many popular “marketing tactics” are geared towards making Minor Sales.  I’d been working with businesses on their advertising as an advertising account executive for over a decade when I first read the book – and it was truly an “aha” moment for me.  The Major/Minor Sale definition explained why marketing tactics – from radio remote broadcasts to midnight madness sales-  would work so well for one client, yet fail miserably for another.

Amy had been blogging with the goal of being found in the search engines.  She focused on creating creative blog post titles instead of creating relationships.  She didn’t recognize that once people found her via the search engines, they then needed to form a relationship with her so they could TRUST her.  See,  TRUST is an integral part of making the Major Sale – and social media is a GREAT way to build your business with social media– by establishing a relationship with potential clients and customers.

This  is why I cringe when I see an article which touts “the importance of search engine optimizing your Facebook profile” – or when I read someone touting Twitter or Facebook as the “quick easy way” to build your business.  Twitter, Facebook, and blogging are all tactics and nothing more.  Tactics are great when you’re on a mission to accomplish a pre-defined goal as part of a marketing strategy.  Tactics are exhausting when deployed using the “spray and pray” method of marketing.

When you read that “blogging” is dead – you’re probably reading the rant of someone who didn’t understand the difference between tactics and strategy.  A blog is a GREAT communication tool which – when used correctly.

Your Digital Footprints…

Do you give much thought to the digital footprint you’re leaving?  Unlike footprints left in the sand, your digital footprint can be notoriously difficult to alter.

There’s a song I learned in Sunday School long, long ago…

“Oh, be careful little feet, where you go. Oh, be careful little feet, where you go.. There’s a Father up above, looking down in tender love, So be careful little feet, where you go.”

Ah – those were the days.  Back then, I only had to worry about an omniscient and omnipresent God  hearing what I said, seeing what I saw and watching where my feet took me.

Contrast that with today when anyone with access to the internet can be granted an unprecedented level of omniscience – at least when it comes to observing digital interactions.  Online we’re constantly being judged by what we write! The blog posts I write, the comments I leave on other blogs not to mention the information contained in various online profiles are available for ALL to see.  Combined, those interactions are creating a digital footprint that can’t be easily erased or altered.

Internet access + basic computer skills = a level of  omniscience previously unknown to mankind!

The new Web 2.0 is providing a level of transparency which is unprecedented and is making social networking very similar to showing up naked to a cocktail party.

If there’s one term that you must keep in mind when you decide to engage in Social Marketing, it would have to be TRANSPARENCY!

Remember, launching a social marketing campaign is like showing up naked to a cocktail party. If you haven’t been hitting the gym, EVERYONE is going to know as soon as you enter the room. Oh, and if you’re a pre-op transvestite… well THAT fact is going to be obvious as well.

Now it’s more important than ever to be authentic in your interactions!

In What Every Business Owner Must Know About Web 2.0, I share that bloggers are the ULTIMATE power customers. If you don’t believe it – read about Cath Lawsons recent hosting experience and see if it doesn’t color your perception of her previous web host. If you’re a business owner, then it’s essential that you know what people are saying about your business.  The “new web” not only allows your customers to engage in more open conversations – it also allows you to monitor and join those conversations.   Your customers are helping to create your business’ digital footprint.

However, while customers are definitely helping to create your business’ digital footprint – it’s possible that  the one doing the most damage to your online reputation (a.k.a. “digital footprint”)- could well be YOU!

“We have met the enemy and he is us,” Walt Kelly in Pogo

Last Friday, I was having a conversation with a beloved long time client.  We met virtually in 1999 and have worked closely together over the years.  Over the past decade, this client’s profile has risen significantly, and that meteoric rise has been reflected in her fees.  While in 1999 she was an upstart in this “new” world called the internet, she’s now a highly sought after keynote speaker and consultant.

Last week I got an email from her, inquiring what I knew about a blog that had nominated her as one of the 50 “best” in her field.  The award was a classic linkbait post.  In this case, the blogger was attempting to curry attention and inbound links by creating his own award and  nominating the “top” performers in the field in this post.  It seemed the criteria for nomination was to be listed in the first few pages of Google in a search for a particular keyword term.

Unfortunately, my client was not amused by the company of practitioners nominated by the blogger.

One of the things I ADORE about this client is her wickedly sharp wit.  (There’s a reason she’s a sought after keynote speaker.)  In this situation, my client could have chosen to “ignore” the nomination or she could have done as many other “nominees” and thanked the blog owner for the “honor”.  However, she chose a different path – that of direct confrontation via the comment section of the blog.

She sent me via email the comment she left and it was positively sardonic.  I love her for that.  The blog owner replied defensively and the battle had begun. My client was winding up to take another swing and sent me a preview of the reply.  In a battle of wits – the blog owner was definitely unarmed and blissfully unaware of this fact.  My client was about to let loose with a salvo that would illustrate this clearly.

When she contacted me originally – I had suggested she politely thank the blog owner for the award or ignore it.  As she wound up for another round, and again asked my advice,  I took a more “direct” approach.  I told her, “When you stir shit – it stinks!  STOP STIRRING!!!”

See, there is a tactic of shameless self promotion where a blogger is encouraged to try to make enemies and therefore increase blog traffic and name recognition as a result.

In the case above, the upstart blogger had a lot to gain from positining himself as my client’s “enemy” – and my client had nothing to gain from such a pairing.  She’s well known within her industry and he is not.  It is my professional opinion that she doesn’t need to provide him with a “leg up” by engaging in this battle.   Quite honestly, her responses were entertaining enough to provide significant value to his blog.

We had a conversation about this on Friday and she thanked me for reminding her about the digital footprints she was leaving as she ventured into the strange new land of Web 2.0.

Have you ever “pulled back” and not commented on a blog post for fear of the impact upon your digital footprint?  Have you ever edited blog posts or comments with your digital footprint in mind?  How do you keep your personal digital footprint distinct from your professional digital footprint?