Business Details: The Devil known as Domain Names

William Feather – an American author – once cautioned,

Beware of the person who can’t be bothered by details.

As a business owner, the hardest part of owning and running your own business is paying attention to all the tens of thousands “loose threads” which make up your business.

For the past few years, I’ve been helping business owners set up self hosted WordPress blogs to power their online marketing message.  We walk through all the hundreds of tiny details which have to be addressed in order to create a powerful online communication tool for their business.

Why would you want to invest the time and money in launching YOUR OWN business blog instead of a starting with a FREE business blog?

Launching a new business blog is a LOT like launching the space shuttle.   When NASA launches the space shuttle -the 1,200,000 lbs of thrust generated by the main engines isn’t enough to break Earth’s gravitational pull.   NASA needs additional rockets to generate the additional 6,000,000 lbs of thrust.  However, once the shuttle has broken free of the Earth’s gravitational pull – those additional rockets are jettisoned having performed their job.

When you launch your business blog – there’s a lot of work that is done “up front”.  Just like launching the space shuttle – it takes a lot more effort to start a business blog than it does to maintain one. (By the way, this up front work has to start anew when you decide to “switch” to your free blog to your own self hosted business blog.)

The good news is that once that initial work is done (pick ujp a copy of the 8 Week Power Blog Launch to learn how to shorten that launch period to 8 weeks or less.)  – your business blog can easily “glide” with minimal effort on your part.

A few of my clients have actually “ignored” their business blogs for periods of 12-15 months at a time.  In several cases, this period of inattention has actually been a good thing. One client was pleased to discover that after a prolonged absence from business blogging -that her blog was enjoying quite a bit of success with long tail searches for her services.  Her blog was getting 100 unique visitors a day via search and when she returned she discovered that more than a dozen of those visitors had left comments requesting more information about her services.

Ok- it wasn’t “good news” from the visitor’s point of view.  Visitors left comments – asked for information – and got deafening silence.   However, the silver lining was when this business blog owner returned to see those comments, it ignited a renewed passion to begin really using her business blog as a marketing tool for her business.

Fortunately she had subscribed to the Cyber Angel hosting services which automatically updates WordPress and essential plugins – so when she did turn her attention back to her business blog she didn’t return to a blog which had been ruthlessly hacked or hijacked by someone who wanted to capitalize upon her tightly targeted niche position.

This is a happy tale of how one business owner “lost track” of one of the many details of her business and it ended well.  Because she had carefully crafted her business blog’s foundation – even a 13 month absence didn’t “destroy” her business blog.  As a matter of fact, she returned to a blog stronger than it was when she last logged in – a blog with an additional 13 months of “credibility” with the search engines.

Then there’s the other side the coin – when an inattention to detail has disastrous results.  It begins with an innocent email that reads, “Help!  My business blog is down and I don’t know why.” What follows is an “on your way to the top you might fall down” types of experience.

I’ve received various forms of this email over the past few weeks and in every case, the reason the blog is “down” is because the domain name registration expired.  When a domain name registration expires – everything associated with the domain name comes to a screeching halt.

When you register a domain name for your business blog – you’re only “renting” the name – you do not “own” it.   Because you’re renting it – you have to “renew” it on a yearly basis.

You might also be surprised how many business owners are not the registered owners of the domain name for their business.  Instead, they’ve chosen to register their domain name for “free” as part of their hosting set up.  When you choose that option, the hosting company – NOT YOU – is listed as the administrative contact for the domain name.   That means the hosting company is in control of www.yourcompanyname.com.  (Yes- domain names are considered “real” property and if your hosting company refuses to transfer www.yourcompanyname.com to your business, you CAN choose to pursue legal remedies.  However,  have you priced a lawyer’s services lately?  That “free” domain name is going to get really expensive once lawyers are involved. I J S)

This year alone I’ve had several business owners contact me – anxious to begin the adventure of business blogging – only to discover that their web developer or their hosting company “controls” (a.k.a. “owns”) the domain name that they thought “belonged” to their business.

Why is “registration” of a domain name critical?

Think of your domain name as the “address marker” for your business blog.  The real “address” is a series of numbers known as an IP address .  Your domain name is simply the “human friendly” way of finding where websites and blogs “live” on the web.

In addition to serving as an address market – domain name information is used extensively by the search engines.  Keywords contained within a particular domain name can bring hundreds of visitors a day via search to a blog.  (Just ask my client who “checked out” for 13 months to return to a blog full of comments from potential clients awaiting moderation.)  However, the search engine look at a lot more than just the phrases and word contained within the domain name – they also look at the HISTORY of a domain name.

It’s commonly accepted “web wisdom” that older content – and older domain names – get more search engine “luv” than new content and newly registered domain names.

Domain names and great original web content get better with age.

Which is why – it’s so heartbreaking for me to get an email from a client who has invested the time and effort building a brand new blog under a brand new domain name into a blossoming business blog which is climbing the SERP charts only to have the rug pulled out from beneath their feet by an expired domain name.  It’s even more frustrating because it is so easily avoided.

As I write this blog post, I am reminded of an earlier email from a client who is currently experiencing this heartbreak.  She had hired a new virtual assistant and needed her blog log in information so her VA could handle the many web based details which were overwhelming her.    Obviously this “detail” of renewing her domain name had slipped by unnoticed by this cut rate VA.  (Read “Avoid Hiring the VA from Hell” for more tales of VA horror.)

Meanwhile, her product is almost ready for beta testing – and the firmly established web position she had staked out is now gone.

My client’s VA dropped the ball  and now she’s got to choose whether she will invest more time and money into launching this business.

Personally – I hope she fires her virtual assistant and continues her journey to launching a product which targets an emerging online trend.  I hope this doesn’t derail her vision or cool her passion for creating her product.  I hope the fact that her domain name was snapped up so quickly serves as evidence of the potential that lies ahead.

But in the end – it’s up to her whether she decides to get up or stay down.  What would you do?

Social Media is Consumer Controlled Conversations

Ah the “buzz” around social media is burning like a wild fire out of control – it’s the bright shiny bauble of our time.  Everywhere you turn there’s another guru offering yet another “product” promising to provide everything you need to know to harness the power of social media and magically build your business.  The only problem is these programs often are guilting of forgetting what social media really is – it’s PEOPLE behind those screen names.

Promising a magic marketing with technology is nothing new.  About a decade ago, there was another bright shiny techno-bauble being lauded as the magic marketing technology anyone could use to effortlessly build their business – an online email newsletter.

Time passed and before long email marketing newsletters lost their shiny new appeal.  The “buzz” ceased and they were no longer lauded as the “fast, easy magically delicious” way to build your business online.  Just because the buzz has died doesn’t meant that email newsletters are no longer a powerful online marketing tool.  It just means that the “gurus” have moved on to the next “hot topic” – which is currently social media.   Want to use Twitter to sell more stuff?  There’s at least a dozen gurus offering webinars as you read this on how to sign up and use Twitter.  The darlings of the day these days are currently Facebook and Twitter – though 18 months ago it was Myspace.com and prior to that it was business blogs which are just now beginning to display the evidence of the promises made five years ago.

Just because the hype has moved on doesn’t mean that any of these “past” beauty queens are not still lovely when viewed through the lens of creating marketing magic.  As a matter of fact, none of these technological tools ever officially ended their reign as valuable online marketing tools.   Smart business owners didn’t drop their email newsletter when social media came knocking – they used social media to build their list.  In my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I talk about the phenomenon of email marketing newsletters and how those with a solid marketing strategy in place simply integrated this new tactic.  Just because a tactic is shiny and new doesn’t mean it’s valuable – or worthless.  A paintbrush in the RIGHT hands can create beauty –  Social media marketing tactics can also create beautiful bottom line figures when implemented within a solid marketing strategywhich is focused upon meeting your end consumers’ GDP – (Goals, Desires, Problems) –  email newsletters, business blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all have the potential to grow your business.

I was recently afforded the opportunity to “listen in” on recording of an online sales training class being run by one of my clients.  She too preaches the “gospel” of “focus upon your customer’s GDP” to create a solid business base.  One gentleman on the call was nicknamed by his peers “The Load”.  He began the call with a description of how LOUSY his business had been over the past few years – living up to his nickname quite nicely. (My thought when listening to him – “Oh my goodness – he should NOT have a blog!!!  I think that’s why my client was sharing this call with me… but that’s another story!)   The Load introduced himself on the call by moaning and groaning  about how LOUSY business had been for the past few years.   Yet later in the class I heard him tell the story of how he’s changing his behavior.  He said, “I recently had a customer who was asking the sun moon and stars.  Before taking your class, I would have told them to get lost – we don’t DO THINGS like that around here.  Instead – because of your class – I listened to them and we focused upon meeting their needs.  We did a lot of extra work but we were well compensated.  They’re happy – and we made a lot of money on this sale so we’re happy as well.”

When The Load launched his business, delighting the customer was never a part of the plan.  When he delighted his first customer, only then did he begin building a foundation upon which a social media campaign could be launched.   If that customer tells their friends via Facebook or Twitter – that’s the beginning of social media marketing.  However, even if that customer is NOT using social media – yet – they still have connections where they can tell their story. There’s no limit to the bet I’d make that suddenly – everything in The Load’s business will start turning around.    His phone will begin ringing – and he’ll have the opportunity to delight more customers.

The Load addressed the unseen business killers at work in his business and began focusing upon the consumer.   If he keeps on track, soon he’ll be ready to begin to harness the power of consumer controlled conversations – a.k.a. social media- and put it to work building his business.

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.

Disappointing customers without remorse – until the handouts begin

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could ignore, abuse and ridicule your customers and still make money?  Usually, the ability to “ignore” the economic realities of doing business is limited to giant corporations who keep running in spite of themselves.  However, a recent phenomenon is for these giant corporations to come begging for taxpayer money because they’re just too important to our economy to allow them to “go under”.

Reuters reported yesterday that GM has issued a HUGE “mea culpa” to the “American People” in yet another effort to secure more money from the government.   In the article at Reuters, GM says it “disappointed” and “betrayed” consumers:

General Motors Corp on Monday unveiled an unusually frank advertisement acknowledging it had “disappointed” and sometimes even “betrayed” American consumers as it lobbies to clinch the federal aid it needs to stay afloat into next month.

The print advertisement marked a sharp break from GM’s public stance of just several weeks ago when it sought to justify its bid for a U.S. government on the grounds that the credit crisis had undermined its business in ways executives could never have foreseen.

It also came as Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, who has led the automaker since 2000, faces new pressure to step aside as GM seeks up to $18 billion in federal funding.

GM has been making repeated trips to the government hand out trough.  Briggs Armstrong in a post at the Ludwig von Mises Institute blog points out:

It should not be forgotten that in September of 2008, Congress gave the “big three” automakers a loan totaling $25 billion. Now they are back. This time they say that with a mere $50 billion they can turn things around and become profitable in the future.

I can’t remember a time when GM cared about their pleasing their customers.   In the words of just about every business analyst on the planet – the reason GM isn’t making any  money is they aren’t making cars anyone wants to buy!

I love working with small business owners and this is why – because small business owners “get it”.  If they don’t, they’re bankrupt and broke in no time.  Meanwhile, it is going to literally take an act of Congress for GM execs to get it through their collective thick corporate heads that they need to start building cars people WANT to buy.

Remember the blockbuster movie, Transformers – released way back in 2007?  Remember the ultra HOT Camaro featured in the movie?  Remember?  Gosh – I remember.  I haven’t been passionate about a car in DECADES, yet I really wanted to own a new Camaro when I walked out of that movie.  It’s a good thing I couldn’t walk out of the theater and buy one because there would be on sitting in my driveway right now if GM had played their cards right.

Instead 2009 is almost upon us and  you may be able to finally drive one next spring.  That’s right – spring of  2009.   Oh, and instead of featuring the 2010 Camaro in another blockbuster action movie (been there, done that) , the dolts in charge of marketing are giving you a sneak peak during a third rate network television show “My Own Worst Enemy”.  (Is that show still ON television?  Hasn’t it been cancelled yet?)

Can you imagine Naomi Dunford promoting her Online Business School and then waiting two YEARS to release it for sale?  If Naomi were to adopt such an idiotic marketing strategy, you’d seriously doubt her marketing acumen – yet that’s the rule rather than the exception over at GM.

Long live small business!  Long live the small business owners who “get it” and who product products and services that people want to buy!

Why this is a GREAT time to start your own small business!

Actually, anytime is a GREAT time to start your own business – but these days, with the media bleating about how “bad” the economy is – [insert PRIMAL SCREAM] their pessimism may be EXACTLY what you need to begin building your own dream of starting a business. There’s never been a better time to being offering your own solutions to the trials and tribulations other businesses – and the people who run them – are facing every day.

Jason Cohen in a guest post over at On Startups gives 6 Reasons Why This Economy Is Good For Startups. Tom Volkar also has a great post on Grounding your Business Vision. (For some really great tips on what NOT to do once you’ve made the leap, read Cath Lawson’s How Not To Promote Your Business On The Internet)

Why do I make a primal scream over the media’s bleating?    Because I believe  the media is trying their best to turn an “economic slow down” into the next Great Depression!    Consumer confidence plays a HUGE role in the current US economy and when traditional media outlets spend every second bleating about how “bad” the economy is – well, consumer confidence is destroyed and VIOLA!  A self fulfilling prophecy at work.

Scream “FIRE” long enough and when someone finally lights up a cigarette –  people are going to panic!

I’m not saying the US economy is in “high growth mode”.  (By the way, another name for “high growth  mode” is INFLATION!)  But I am saying that if you take your world view from the evening news, you’re doomed to viewing the glass as half full.   Look at the media reporting of Black Friday sales.  Remember – good news doesn’t sell newspapers which is the reason for the need to “spin” coverage.  For example , Reuters reports Music retailers report bleak sales on Black Friday. See the spin?   “Oh, doom and gloom!  Music retailers can’t sell music on CDs.”  (Maybe that has more to do with selling music via downloads than the economy.)   Meanwhile PC Mag reports ‘Black Friday’ Pretty Rosy for Retailers. Same day, different report, different spin.  See, PC Mag isn’t trying to sell papers – Reuters is!

Meanwhile,  on the web Carrie Hall reports that Search Advertising is Strong in this “Adverse Economy”. Gee – if this is the beginning of another Great Depression – why is spending increasing on search advertising?  Either business owners are idiots for spending money to attract business that doesn’t exist – or maybe things are not as bad as you’ve been lead to believe.

For why this gets under my skin, here’s a snippet from a post from my blog promoting my book (Beyond the Niche) on the subject of smart small business marketing strategies

I’ll NEVER forget a conversation I had with a client many years ago -during a previous “economic downturn”.  The day before our monthly meeting, my client had attended a networking function where EVERYONE was “bemoaning” how “terrible” business was for them.  (Of course, few of them were actively measuring their advertising effectiveness.)  My client joined in the bitch session like a good little networking master.

We met the following day and I was greeted with a glum, “I’m sorry – but I’m going to have to cut my advertising budget because of the bad economic conditions.”   I didn’t know what had happened in the networking meeting at the time and I was shocked.  The last I knew, sales were up because of our efforts.

Instead of accepting her decision, I challenged my client.  I asked her to pull out her books and check this year’s sales against last year’s sales.  She did and was STUNNED by what she saw.  Her sales in that month were running a full 20% AHEAD of the previous year.

Yes, that’s right.  My client’s perception was critically altered thanks to the networking event.  She accepted their fate as her own and instead of rejoicing about a 20% increase in sales, she was ready to cut her lifeline to the very key to keeping her business healthy and growing.

Perception is EVERYTHING – in life and in business.

Somehow, the two (life and business) are magically and mystically intertwined. 😉

If you think your business is about to collapse – believe me, even if it’s not – your perception of the “truth” will make it happen!

If you’ve been pink slipped – take this as your opportunity to do it RIGHT in the marketplace!!!

If you were recently fired, I’ll bet you could probably write a BOOK on all the things your previous employer was doing WRONG!  Do you really think you got fired because of the poor economy – or was it because your former employer ran his/her business badly?  (Sure, we should all try new things and do more things badly, but some businesses seem to have that as their business motto!)

If social media is killing traditional media, my response is “good riddance!  Don’t let the media bleating affect your destiny.  If you’re feeling the need to start your own business, now is the time to do so! However, if you think starting your own business means you can sit on your ass and rake in cash – well, that doesn’t happen often in “good” times but it’s even harder to make happen now.

Do you have a way to make something faster, easier, better?    GREAT!!!  Get on it!  Make it happen!

So if you already have a business, start focusing on getting the solutions you offer in front of the people who need and are able to BUY what is is you have to offer!  If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, make certain that  in the business you DO CREATE that what you’re offering something of VALUE to your prospective customers or clients. Then hit the ground running and make it happen!

The future is only as bright as you can envision it will be!

Steps to Starting a Small Business: #7 Your USP – Unique Selling Proposition

No list which proclaims itself the key to “steps to starting your own business” can avoid addressing the topic of the USP – the Unique Selling Proposition.

While the definition of the USP is often draped in “mystery”,  quite simply your USP is the reason people choose to do business with you.

It sounds simple enough – doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing that this topic needs attention so I’ll begin with what a USP is NOT!

1.  A USP is not the price of your product or service.

“It’s cheap” is a poor imitation of a USP. That part you probably already knew.  After all EVERYONE knows that – except for the people I’ve been noticing lately who are trying to sell their e books by proclaiming that the reason to buy it is because it’s so cheap.  Free and cheap are both piss poor unique selling propositions.

2.  A USP is not the quality of your product or service.

Your USP is also not that you’re the best or most qualified.  Everyone’s the best – the fastest- the smartest – the cheapest – the finest.  People have a REALLY hard time judging the quality of a product or a service and they’re positively numb to exaggerated marketing declarations.

It’s virtually impossible to judge the quality of most products or services without experiencing the product or service in person.  That’s why ecommerce retailers are offering online reviews – to help buyers access the opinions of others who have previously purchased products or services.

Another reason it’s difficutl to just quality is that buyer’s PERCEPTION of quality often affects their judgment.    For example, researchers asked volunteers to judge the quality of different wines.  The volunteers were hooked up to monitors and the pleasure centers of the brain were measured as they drank the wine.  In the experiment, the participants were told that there were 5 different wines ranging in cost from $4 a bottle to $90 per bottle.  You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the participants enjoyed the more expensive wines much more than they did the cheaper ones.

The kicker – there were not 5 wines in the study but only three.  One wine was doing double duty – being served as both a sample of $4 a bottle and a $90 per bottle of wine.  The same wine actually tasted better when served as a more expensive impostor.

This should illustrate how important it is to properly brand and market your products or service – but don’t confuse applying the label of “the best” with a viable USP.

3.  A USP is DEFINITELY not the “uniqueness” of your product or service. Unless you’re offering sex change operations for chimpanzees – there is probably someone else who offers a reasonable facsimile of the good and services you have to offer.

If you are TRULY the only one offering a product or service in a free market – it means competitors don’t view your product or service as a viable business.  Initiation is the sincerest form of flattery and it’s validation you’re on the right track.

So what IS your USP?  What is your UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION?

Hang on to your hat because this may come as a surprise to you:

Your USP – like Soylent Green- is PEOPLE!

That’s right.  The REASON people choose to do business with you and your business is usually nothing more complicated than you (or your staff) are reasonably competent and cordial.  If a customer or clients feels BETTER when they hang up the phone or walk out the door than when they picked up the phone or walked in the door to your business, then that my friends is a USP that can’t be beat!

Yet many business owners are on a QUEST to REMOVE themselves and their people from contact with their customers.  As more and more businesses set up ways to automate communication, they unwittingly (maybe not so unwittingly) set up barriers that prevent customers and clients from connecting on a personal level.

I’ll never forget a situation several years ago that stays with me to this day.  I had a friend who purchased one of the earliest info products on marketing offered online. My friend visited the website several times and called to ask my advice a few more times.  As he moved closer to making the decision to purchase, he picked up the phone and called the author before he placed his order. All the info guru had to do was pick up the phone to close the sale.

Meanwhile, I was creating a website for a coaching client who asked me to remove her phone number from the website.  I replied by referring to the role having the phone number displayed had played for this info guru. I have to confess, I was stunned at the passion in her reaction to hearing this.  Seriously,  you would have thought I had asked her to include photos of her having sex with household appliances into the design by her response.   Apparently the thought of people calling her on the phone literally terrified her.

I’m not a coach nor a therapist, so it wasn’t my job to figure out why connecting with people who might want to hire her frightened her so.  I removed her phone number from the website design.

Which brings me to my favorite subject, which is why blogs are the cat’s meow when it comes to a web presence for service professionals.

Your blog is a great way to allow people to “get to know you” before they pick up the phone and call – or send you an email.  They can “sample” what it’s like to do business with you by reading your blog.  They can guage whether you know what you say you know.    They can get a glimpse of what it’s like without taking the scary leap of faith and actually contacting you directly.

If you think your Unique Selling Proposition is anything OTHER than the people who are part of your organization  – then you have a rude wake up call in your future.  Social media is all about people making connections and those connections form the most important part of any business USP.

Creating a Website that Does Almost Nothing.


business successs secrets

I’ve worked with hundreds of business owners in creating websites for their business – and often discover during the process that there’s a lot of “magical” thinking out there when it comes to web site development.

Many business owners just assume that by simply creating a website, they’re going to automatically experience floods of traffic from qualified prospective clients/customers.

They expect the website to collect and process leads while acting as a 24/7/365 sales force that never sleeps.

Of course all of the above is possible – but only if you build the website with accomplishing those goals in mind.

In Steps to Starting a Small Business, I advise small business owners to:

Remember, when you’re starting your own small business everything is going to take longer and cost more than you planned.

Chances are, you aren’t a MASTER at all of the jobs you’re going to need performed in your small business, so you should probably plan on farming out at least SOME of the work.

One of the jobs I recommended you farm out is the development of your website because there truth is, unless you’re an experienced web developer, the first website you create is going to be a piece of shit.

(Sometimes even experienced web developers need a little help at seeing “the forest for the trees” which means, it’s possible for an experienced web developer to create a piece of shit for themselves – even though they “know” better!)

Whether it’s your first website or your first blog, you wil no doubt be FILLED with pride when you complete it.    If there were such a thing, surely your website would win the “good for a beginner”  award.

The problem is, no one is “grading” this project.  This is your BUSINESS we’re talking about!  If your business is small, then you REALLY want to do everything you can to make your business look – professional, established and trust worthy!

If money is tight, the last thing you want to scrimp on is your web presence!

Here’s one of the first websites I ever created – talk about long ago and far away: WADERS.  I created these web pages by hand using Notepad.  I thought WYSIWYG HTML editors were for the weak and addle minded!  (Turns out they were MAGIC for those who charged by the hour!)  The site was created when you accessed the internet via dial up and a 28.8 baud modem was FAST!

When you come to those pages “organically” there isn’t anyone explaining my beginning programming status.  There’s no commentary saying, “These were created without an WYSIWFG HTML editors.”  “Look ladies and gentlemen, she’s an economics major performing low level (HTML) programming!  Let’s hear it for her!”

Thank goodness the websites I later created for pay were better than those I created in my humble beginnings!

If you’ve read more than 2 blog posts on this blog, you’ll know that I’m all about “integrity”, “authenticity” and most of all “trust“. I believe that trust is the foundation of any successful business.  I am CONVINCED that “branding” and “TQM” are attempts at QUANTIFYING the trust a company has established with its customers.


The Exclusive Concepts website features a blog post headline:  Bad Advice in the Wall Street Journal: Creating a Website for Almost Nothing. Scott writes:

Instead, the title should have been, “Creating a Website that Does Almost Nothing.”
(NOTE:  YES, I STOLE THIS FOR THE TITLE – IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY!!!)

The Wall Street Journal is offering bad advice to millions of small business readers by recommending an “on the cheap,” “don’t bother to think it through” approach to the 64% of small businesses (businesses under 100 employees) that don’t yet have a website.

I find it ironic that while the WSJ continues to tout the fact that the web is changing the world, the author, Vauhini Vara, would have you think that your company can capitalize on this by launching a cheap website that is nothing more than a hope and a prayer.

After reading the article it is clear to me that “objective” experts informed very little of the information provided. In fact, the first thing I did when I finished the article was to see if it was labeled as an advertising supplement.

Scott goes on to THOROUGHLY dissect and dismantle the article.    He’s brilliant, he’s articulate and he’s right on the money.

Because I recognize the TRUTH in what he says, he’s already gone a LONG way towards building trust with me.  Not because he’s referenced in an article oniMedia Connection – because he’s writing and sharing his expertise.  I recognize the truth in his analysis and truth leads to trust.

Building Trust is What Blogs Do Best!

Scott was inspired to share truth (one of the signs of a good SEO practictioner, according to Ron Belanger’s article) instead of hiding behind a veil of secrecy.   In doing so, he’s instantly gained my trust – while alerting me to a reason why the WSJ doesn’t deserve mine anymore.

There are SO MANY small businesses with websites that do almost nothing.  When they start looking for answers – they find websites that shouldn’t get an ounce of trust.  These peoploe don’t know what they don’t know, so it’s buyer beware time.  They’ll spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on empty promises.   If they survive long enough, they might find the answers they need.

It’s one thing when a no name nobody slaps up a one page sales page and buys adspace to promote this garbage.  However, when the Wall Street Journal presents it as “news” – well – this comes at a time when I thought my opinion of the press couldn’t get any lower!

 

The “Real Deal” – The Value of Authenticity in Blogging

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.

David M Ogilvy

It’s no secret that I’ve been a HUGE fan of Cath Lawson for quite some time now.  While I don’t remember exactly which blog post it was that I first read, but I still remember the feeling that washed over me when I discovered her blog.   Was it recognition?  Was it relief?

It was probably a little of both.  After all, I’ve publicly declared that there are times when I feel like I’m the only ” honest politician in Washington” because sometimes, I sometimes get EXHAUSTED by the “self proclaimed gurus and experts” who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk!  I was half way through reading my first Cath Lawson blog post when I recognized that I had found another “honest politician”, even though she lives “across the pond” from me.

See, Virtual Impax is NOT my first rodeo.  I’ve jumped in and out of self employment ever since the birth of my oldest child and I worked extensively with entrepreneurs and business owners during my time as an AE with an advertising agency.

So it’s only natural I guess that when I had trouble finding a reliable cleaning lady, I decided to start my own cleaning business on the side.  I don’t know WHY I thought that was a good idea at the time.  Looking back, that one was PURE FOLLY!  “Let’s see, I can’t find ONE person who will clean my house properly – I think I’ll start a business where I have to plant my foot in the buttocks of a CREW of people who don’t know how to clean a house properly OR show up for work!”

In the end, I learned A LOT about myself.  I discovered that  I SUCKED as a boss.   I ran my business like it was some kind of charity organization.    I hired women who needed flexible hours and extra money instead of hiring people for their work ethic.   I hired dwarves instead of giants!  I hired people who wanted easy money, not people who took pride in their work!

Of course, my employees used and abused me.  (As Liz Struass would say, “They were people being people.”)   I closed shop when I had a dream that I was working in food prep at McDonald’s.  In the dream, I was stinking of grease and exhausted, but I declared  within that dream that it was better than cleaning houses.

So that’s probably why, when Cathleen would write about the trials and tribulations of running her plumbing company, I could relate.  I recognized the voice of another battle scarred business veteran.

With that said, I don’t know why I was so FLOORED by reading Cath’s offer to run an ad for free on her blog.  I just sat back in shock and awe.

DAMN – SHE’S GOOD!

As a matter of fact, I’d say she’s a MARKETING GENIUS!  No wonder I’m such a fan!  Not only is she a giant, but her readers are as well.   As her readers have been finding this blog, I’m feeling quite privledged to be in the company of so MANY giants at one time.

By the way, I can DEFINITELY tell a difference between Cath’s readers and mine.  Cath’s readers leave comments.  Mine email me or use the contact form.  Either way is good for me!

Social Media Warning: I am Rubber – You are Glue …

Remember that chant – back when you were a child. Someone would say something mean or hateful, and your response would be the sing-song, “I am rubber – you are glue! Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to YOU!”

Web 2.0 gives us a real opportunity to share our thoughts spontaneously. Whether it’s posting to your own blog, making comments on other blogs or sending bulletins via MySpace – sometimes we might share things we wish we hadn’t. If we’re lucky, the rest of the world will be so self absorbed that most people won’t notice when we expose more than we planned.

I recently got a notification about an article which is getting a lot of attention on one of the various social networking sites to which I belong.  The article was written by a member who is telling business owners to get control over their personal spending lest it ruin their business. I think I’ve gotten more insight to her spending habits than she may have been planning on providing.  I thought it was just common sense, but if you want to promote your services as a financial manager, don’t tell me how many checks you’ve bounced in the past few weeks!

Meanwhile, the article makes me laugh because I am currently working with a client who has EXACTLY the opposite problem. This client is processing her own credit card orders manually because she doesn’t want to PAY an assistant to do this menial task for her. As a result, it’s taking WEEKS for some orders to get processed – money that could be safely in her bank account – less a small fee for hiring an assistant to handle the order processing.

We’re in the process of automating this process for her, by the way so she doesn’t have to hire the assistant – however, she’s reluctant to make the investment needed to make this happen.  Her business is relatively new and she’s having trouble making the transition from “requisition forms” to “you’ve got to spend money to make money.”

I can TOTALLY relate to my client because I too have battled trying to achieve balance between the art of bootstrapping and being silly.

For example, I remember that I worried for MONTHS over the prospect of spending $35 per year to register my domain name (way back in 1998) and the subsequent hosting fee!  It took me a long time to get used to the idea that I had to SPEND money to MAKE money. I’ve learned that it’s just a part of the transition from “employee” to “business owner” and for some of us, it’s a tough hurdle to overcome.

Meanwhile, the world is full of therapists involved in horrible relationships who spend their days “fixing” other people’s relationships – doctors who smoke, drink and abuse drugs but reach out selflessly to heal their patients – accountants who can’t keep their own finances in order. The list goes on and on but a key player in this kind of behavior are the MMO bloggers who aren’t making any money.

While it’s true that “The cobblers’ own children rarely wear shoes,” if you want to convince others that you know your stuff – you’d better have some impressive samples.

As always, this is going to come BACK to blogging.  One of the reasons I ADORE blogs is that it’s hard to “fake” expertise over the course of 100 or more posts.  When these MMO pretenders post their monthly earnings and think $89 a month is a sign of their success – well, it’s yet another reasons I ADORE blogs!

If you’re not authentic – or if your SOLE purpose is trying to fleece the masses – then don’t launch a blog and DO NOT participate in social media marketing.    If you’re a pretender, your blog will expose you as one!

If on the other hand, your business is in the business of helping people solve their problems, achieve their goals or placate their desires – the step right up to blogging and Web 2.0.  While you won’t find OVERNIGHT success, you’ll find it’s a fun and fulfilling path to travel.

Your blog won’t be a 30 minute solution to your marketing dilemmas – it may not even earn $89 per month in direct income for you, but it will be great way to begin spreading the word about the solutions you offer!

Good Quality Customer Service

As business owners, providing good quality customer service should be a top priority.

One thing about Web 2.0… when your customers don’t experience good quality customer service, they can usually find someone who is blogging about either the product or service you provide OR about rotten customer service experiences. Even if your upset customer isn’t a blogger, he or she can surely comment on a few hundred blogs easily enough, including the ones maintained by your local media outlets.

Catherine Lawson shares 4 Amazingly Stupid Ways To Lose Customers and can’t help but sharing the business that inspired her to write the list.

Steven Bradley over at VanSEODesign writes in his post Practicing Good Customer Service Is The Best Way To Market It

It’s hard to find a business nowadays that doesn’t claim to provide excellent service, but how many really do?

You can claim all you want that you care about your customers, but unless you really do those claims are worthless.

Marketing it as good won’t change the fact that the service is awful. And when your customers talk about it they going to tell others about their bad experience.

I’ve been battling customer service demons left and right lately. The most recent was last Thursday. It began when my home phone rang and I answered it. On the other end of the line was a college recruiter who wanted to speak to my soon to be a senior in high school son about playing football (on scholarship) for their university. Unfortunately, the next six phone calls in the next few hours were not college scouts but rather telemarketers. Three of those phone calls were from Cooking Light Magazine.

I had subscribed to Cooking Light Magazine to help support the organization that runs the football kicking combines in which my son competes. Because I had subscribed in that manner, they had my phone number. What a horrible, AWFUL mistake.

This is the SECOND time Cooking Light Magazine has unleashed their demon dialer upon me. Last month, my phone began to ring incessantly. Hanging up or ignoring the calls seemed to be interpreted as a sign to “call more often”. After two days of this, I answered the phone and ran the gauntlet. I listened patiently and pushed buttons to indicate I wouldn’t be renewing my subscription which expired 6 months from that time. Now, it’s happening again!

I was enraged. I went to the Cooking Light Magazine website to get a number for customer service. THERE ISN’T ONE LISTED! I dug out the last issue and after much searching, found the phone number in 2 point arial font on the last page of the magazine. I called and was subjected to yet another push button automated guantlet.

As I struggle through this, I have the subscription services page up for Cooking Light Magazine. There I see that their “sister” publications are:

–Coastal Living – for people who love the coast
–Health – America’s best source for women
–Southern Living – the best of the South
–Southern Accents – fine interiors & gardens

DARN! I like ALL of those magazines and right now, I’ll be [email protected] if I will EVER buy or subscribe to ANY of them.

When I finally reach a human, she’s begins by asking me if I’d like to share my email address with them.

“HELL NO! ” was my enthusiastic response. “I’m sorry that you have my phone number! Why in the WORLD would I give you my email address as well?”

She’s confused by my anger. She doesn’t understand why I don’t want to get five or more automated calls a day for weeks on end. When I ask for my number to be removed, I’m told it will take 90 days.

So, for the next 3 months, I can expect to experience times where I can either have my phone ring off the hook or I can spend 15 minutes to listen to pre-recorded spiels trying to get me to renew my subscription to a magazine.

My name is on the roles… they think I’m a customer. But I’m not. I’ll never purchase their magazine again because of the treatment at the hands of their customer service department. Instead of a customer, they’ve created an enemy. Just as the businesses Catherine writes about in her post about losing customers have created enemies as well.

Writing this post reminded me of when Patrick wrote about a customer service disaster with Ingram-Micro: Unfriendly to Small Business?

Think those rant style blog posts don’t stick in readers’ heads? Think again!

In Patrick’s case, he got a prompt apology from Justin Crotty, VP of North American Operations.

Nobody’s perfect. Good quality customer service is often a goal rather than a reality. However, in the case of Ingram Micro, they are actively managing their “brand” and standing behind their stated desire to provide good quality customer service. Justin illustrated how sometimes a customer service disaster can actually demonstrate your dedication to providing good quality customer service! I know I was impressed to see Justin’s prompt reply to Patrick’s post.

Joan Elias was the owner of the ad agency that gave me my break. She used to say, ” A satisfied customer will tell 3 people. A dissatisfied customer will tell 12.” Recent research puts that figure at closer to 16… and that’s without factoring in the power of Web 2.0.

There’s a lot of talk about “branding”… well branding is nothing more than a customer’s experience with your company, pure and simple!