Do clients only want your content?

In this linked article, Chris Brogan talks about customers wanting a “better path” – that they need a solution to their problem, and content is not necessarily that solution.  Chris goes on to suggest that the use of some emerging technology, plus content, may be what businesses need to implement to improve client experiences. He challenges his reader to consider how to use technology with content:

“look beyond content marketing, digital marketing, social media marketing, and *just* marketing as a way to drive more sales and retain more customers” (Brogan, Chris, posted April 26, 2018)

I think his point is well taken especially after an experience this last few weeks with one of my clients.  Unbeknownst to me, my client (Inherent Wellness Inc) had planned to attend a networking event over the weekend to prospect for new clients.  His business just launched so he’s pursuing a client acquisition strategy quite aggressively.  He has website content in the website I put together for him, he has created an Instagram account, a Facebook account, has looped in his Linkedin account, and is learning about Google Analytics and Search Engine Strategies.  We have been chatting about content, building momentum, and marketing locally since his primary service is an in-person one.

Sounds good right? He’s doing all the right things to get his business launched and off to a great start.  I’m so excited to be on this path with him and so pleased to see him already having success in getting paying customers in the door. Yeah!!!!

But you know what?  There was a technological problem this weekend with his online appointment booking software.  We’d been having some troubles with it for a few weeks, and while I thought I had found the problem and resolved it, between Wednesday last week and 8am Sunday morning, something went horribly wrong.  My client went to book a client using the online booking tool on his website and got the dreadful looking page I’ve used for this post.

It took me a few hours to sort out a short term fix and thankfully my client was gracious and kind and understanding.  Obviously I’m now looking for a different tool for him, as he has lost faith in the one I originally recommended.  Even though its working on two other websites, that’s not the point – it didn’t work for this client. His needs were not being met and he lost at least one sale that we know of. I don’t feel so good about the whole thing, but I’m grateful that my client trusts me to let me work through fixing the problem and making it right for him.

The lesson here, going back to Chris Brogan’s point, is that the content my client had written wasn’t enough – the sales process was reliant on a technological tool (in this case a piece of code in the website) and not the content he had written.  While it wasn’t AI or blockchains, technology was supposed to be enabling the sales process.  When that scheduler worked well, it worked great and led the client right into the specific call to action of the business, automated an onerous process, and integrated email notifications for both parties (etc.).  The technology was an enabler to helping the client move their solution forward – not the content.

As someone who works on websites regularly and is always looking for ways to automate processes that support my clients, I totally get what Chris is saying – aside from offering content that is useful to your clients and that establishes you as an expert, also look for technology (old school or new) that enables and supports your sales process and that enhances your clients’ experiences with your services. Don’t waste their time or yours if there is good technology out there that will ease your client’s path to solving their problems and making it easier to do business with you.

After all, as its been said elsewhere, for clients to do business with you, they need a great experience; and without paying clients, yours is not a business but a hobby.  You will have more paying clients if you find smart solutions to add to your content.

What should I blog about?

You have a website and want to use blogging to build up your web presence and offer value to your followers.  Obviously you will be blogging about your services – but how many times can you explain that without getting boring? Not that many, right?

So what can you do instead of writing the same-old boring, old-school sales copy that doesn’t inspire anyone to do anything?

Focus on the real life problems that your products and/or services solve
  • These types of articles shouldn’t be “benefits” write-ups – tell a story about how people are actually using your service. What have they learned? how have they adapted it? what did you help fix?
  • This type of post is a great way to also get really clear about your ideal clients – by writing about real ways your ideal clients are interacting with your products and services, you are improving the focus of your marketing too.
  • Do your products need to be disposed of in a particular way? Maybe write an article about recycling in your community and why you chose particular elements in your product – then explain how your product packaging can be recycled.
Focus on people connected to your organization
  • Do a highlight piece on your board of directors, or one of them each quarter
  • Highlight each of your team members and what they bring to the clients
  • Focus on one of your service providers or strategic partnerships
  • Maybe you have some awesome volunteers who would be interested in talking about why they volunteer?
  • If you take donations, some of your donors might really appreciate a feature story about their contribution to your organization – time? money? in-kind? all count as donations in this type of story.
  • Do you have a client who has an interesting story about the use of your product or service?  Maybe they’d like the chance to tell that story.  You can give them author credit and link to their website if they have one! That can help you both.
Focus on your charitable and community activities
  • If you donate money, time or resources to any non-profit or charitable efforts, you should talk about why you picked that organization, how you support them, and create links to that organization. Let them know so they can link to you
  • Are you participating in an event in the community – write about it pre or post or a combination of the two!  why are you participating? what did you offer? what did you get out of it? Let the other organization know about your blog post and establish some links back and forth.
Focus on your events
  • Do you offer courses?  why haven’t you got postings about those?  what do people learn? do you have testimonials – incorporate them! Maybe include a survey asking interested people to answer a couple of questions about their desired learning outcomes.  You can both collect their contact information AND get some new fodder for more courses!
  • Do you have Annual General Meetings or other regular meetings that the public can attend?  Feature stories about the purpose and outcomes of these meetings are useful on many levels.  Not only are you reporting back to your community, but you are also demonstrating your effectiveness and transparency.  People are drawn to organizations’ “behind the scenes” activities when the stories are well written.
  • Perhaps you have an upcoming team meeting.  Why not write a story about some of the topics, some of the challenges you are working on? If you did a team building event, you could write about the relationship building and team culture that benefits your clients!
Prompts from other sources
  • Did you read something that you totally disagree with? Write about that and why your approach is different.  Likewise if you agree with someone else, you can write about that and link to that article.
  • Are there books or resources that you regularly use or recommend?  Write a book review that explains your perspective or how its influenced you.
  • If you ran a survey, report back on the results and what you are going to do about it.
  • Did you mess something else and get a learning or ah-ha moment from it? Write about that!

There are obviously a myriad of other topics you can write about.  The thing is to be sincere, use your own voice, and let your personality or corporate culture shine through.

Or if you’d rather and have the money, you can also hire someone like me to do research and writing for you.

Hope this was a useful article – let me know what you think!

I have a website – now what?

How exciting! Your first website!

Yep, its looking great, it does every thing you want it to do: from offering online appointment scheduling, to a members only area, to links to your Youtube / Vimeo videos, to a live feed from your Twitter account, to displaying your beautiful things for sale, to having a shopping cart for selling downloadable information. AWESOME!

But now what?  You sit there staring at the computer screen and checking your email waiting for something to happen……nothing happens. Why not?

“If you build it, [they] will come”, à la Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, is unfortunately not the case with websites. People need to know you have a website. Makes sense, but how do you do that?

Here are some suggestions, based on my study of marketing for the last ten years.  Do note that this is NOT a comprehensive list – this is an overview.

 There is no “one size fits all” – except that EVERYONE must do some form of marketing to stay in business.

Here’s my list:

The basics – get the website address (aka url) on your business cards, your letterhead, your business signage, your magnetized car sign, the jacket of your self-published book, basically anything printed, and then your social media accounts and your outgoing business email signature.

Yes, its ok to tell your friends and family about your new website.  Be generous though and offer to feature their website, hobby, business or website in a blog post or a free ad.  Maybe one of them is an aspiring author and they could write some “guest articles” about your topic for you. This is win-win as both parties get exposure and backlinks, and lets face it, when the challenges of life knock on your door, who is standing beside you?  Family and Friends.  Be good to each other and reciprocate! For example, my big brother Joel has a bazillion awesome ideas for using websites and occasionally sends clients my way – he’s a mortgage broker in Oregon State if you are in need of re-financing, mortgages or connections into the Real Estate market there, give him a shout. (see, reciprocity at work).

If the website is for a “side-gig”, what about telling your co-workers? Well, for some, that may work.  If your side-gig is in competition with your main-gig, I say “Don’t do it” legal troubles could land at your door step. If your side-gig is in the same industry and doesn’t compete with your main-gig, be very, very cautious about telling your co-workers but it might be ok outside of working hours – so long as you don’t have a clause in your contract that prohibits you from side-gigs (and if you do have a clause like that, what are you thinking?!  Get some legal advice right away).  If your side-gig has nothing to do with your main gig, then it should be ok if you are respectful and do it outside of working hours and again, if you don’t have a prohibition clause in your contract.

Referral business models have an interesting intersection with websites. Because you are/have been growing your business “organically, through word of mouth”, you may think you don’t need a website.  The truth is, common practice is now that you will be asked, “oh, do you have a website where I can learn more?” Or, people will be given your name and the first thing they do is go look you up on the internet, right? All around the world, people have now been trained to look things up on the internet before they commit to moving forward with their purchase decisions.  See that smartphone?  Instant gratification for Q & A – bet you do that yourself don’t you?  My point is, there is comfort (and possibly a bit of superiority complex) in believing that your business doesn’t need a website or marketing plan. Staying in business or growing your business will require you to step out of your comfort zone.  Use your website to support your referral business – having even one page that explains your services and provides a contact form means that you can share it, your tribe can share it, and your prospective clients can share it.

Create integration with the rest of the world wide web because, as John Donne wrote  “No man is an island, entire of itself;…”.  Basically, the internet works because we create relationships between a wide variety of websites – like I have done in this article.  The goal is natural writing that can be enhanced by links to other websites that support your writing, is pertinent to your writing and isn’t just a page filled with random links to websites that have nothing to do with what you are writing about.  Sometimes people will put a disclaimer that they get paid if you click on a link (for example, see the bottom of my blog post Thoughts on Exploring internet security) – full disclosure is important.  Then there are strategies for getting other websites to link to yours, called “backlinks”. For example, Gotch SEO has a new guide for 2018 that is a good overview for those wanting to explore an active campaign to get other websites to link to your website (I’m not paid for this link – just liked his stuff).

That brings us to Search Engine Optimization. Just because you have a website, it does not mean it will automatically show up in popular search engine website services like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask.com, DuckDuckGo, as well as non-western based search tools like Baidu in China. There are basic things that your website developer should do when creating your website, but beyond that, there is an entire world out there chasing the magic of getting into the first page of search results. Indeed, like Gotch SEO mentioned in the last paragraph, there are companies that you can pay that will work with you and your website team to take your website to a new level.  If you want to learn techniques for maximizing your marketing efforts using your website, I recommend that you start with one of the original SEO guides from the Moz  which is updated regularly. Ironically, you can also use the search engine tools to search for search engine optimization techniques. There are a lot out there – just beware of what techniques will get you blacklisted by the search engines themselves.

Next to discuss is, “social media”, which is now a catch-all term for a plethora of online tools that people use to share information and connect with one another.  I have already mentioned Youtube, Vimeo, and Twitter.  There is also Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin, Google+, Reddit, Yelp, Tumblr, Digg and the list goes on.  But I will not.  Because that’s way too many links.  The point I make to anyone who asks me, is, use the social media outlet that both matches your business and your comfort, at least at first.  For example, if you already use Facebook, one of the most highly used social media channels, then it isn’t too far of a stretch to learn how to use their business tools.  If your business is visual, then you are going to want to consider Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Youtube, etc. If you are offering professional business services, then something like Linkedin, which you may already be on, is an excellent choice.  You may have hoped I’d tell you which one to use.  I’m not going to because I admit, I am not a social media expert.  There are lots of people out there who offer that service though, and depending on your marketing aspirations, you may be well advised to track one down.

The bottom line though, is to use your presence on any of those social media sites to send people to your website, which you control, and sell them something, give them something, or get their contact details.

Lastly, I’d like to discuss email marketing.  My son thinks I’m nuts to continue to recommend that people use email marketing. He claims that young people don’t use email any more.  That may be true from his teen experience, however, email marketing is used in business because it still works and converts followers into customers. And, in contrast with social media, YOU OWN YOUR LIST OF CONTACTS and your marketing plans won’t be smashed by a social media company changing the rules in the middle of your marketing efforts (yes, that happens – do a search about the affect when services like Facebook change the rules).  If you want an extensive, data driven review of email marketing for 2018, try this article from SmartInsights.com.  As with any of the strategies already mentioned, the best results come from a plan. That, and knowing what your legal responsibilities are.  Canada has federal Anti-Spam legislation and Privacy legislation. The United States of America has the CAN-SPAM Act.  And the list goes on – here’s a link to an awesome infographic that explores international email law.  I’d like to add, that automation is your friend when it comes to email marketing.  There is no need for you to stumble around in your computer trying to automate your email marketing.  Like Social Media and SEO, there are companies that do a superlative job helping you use email marketing to get people to your website and your services.  Check out WPBeginner’s list for small business  or explore deeper and wider using Capterra

Are there other methods of sending people to your website?   Undoubtedly.  As I mentioned, I didn’t set out here to give you a comprehensive education on marketing in 2018.  My hope for you is that you first of all recognize that you must do marketing if you are serious about owning a business.  Secondly, I hope you got some hints as to what might work for you, and that you found some links that will help you to explore your options. If you want specific help, certainly you can book a time with me.

Good luck with your marketing efforts – and remember, if you start feeling overwhelmed by it all, go back to the basics of what you know how to do, create a plan and start from there.  You can also book a time with me to discuss your marketing strategy needs, or to get some coaching – I’ll ask you the tough questions that you won’t ask yourself.

Why File Management for Startups?

If you are like me, you absolutely HATE filing.  My former bosses would attest that I was terrible at filing, putting it off until there was so much that I’d have to hire a temp to help me get it all sorted.  To this day, I still abhor the task, whether it is electronic filing or filing paper items. What has changed though, is that I have come to 100% believe in a solid file management plan, regular and consistent follow through on that plan, and above all, businesses MAKING the time to place importance on getting file management right for their business.

Consider these scenarios – you are switching laptops, you are sharing files, you have privacy legislation you have to adhere to, you have hired new staff, you are involved in a litigation or an audit… The list can go on.

There are many resources on the web that can help you. For medium to larger companies, or companies working in specialist fields, you might want to consider looking for some records and document control best practices.  The International Standards Organization (ISO) has a lot of resources, starting with the ISO9000 Quality Management.  While you might not want to get an ISO registration, at the very least you can learn from them, or those who use that standard.

For solopreneurs, start-ups and small businesses, you don’t need to go all out like the ISO, unless that is a requirement for you to win client business.  You do need to consider starting with a good framework though, as you never know when you are going to need to scale up quickly.  Having some solid day to day practices will help you in the long run.

So what makes a good framework for electronic filing?

  1. Understanding of what documents that you will regularly be sending to your clients and receiving from your clients, as well as what documents you will regularly be using to run your business. This list will obviously expand and contract as time goes on, however, as you know, it is quicker, easier and cheaper to alter what you already have than to start fresh every time. So, what templates could you create, or copy/adapt from a free repository such as Microsoft’s, that would make your life easier as you take on your new clients? For example,
    1. Proposal template
    2. Contract template
    3. Pre-service template
    4. Invoice template
    5. Email templates
  2. A folder structure you can replicate for each client and which will allow you to quickly find files when you need them. Here’s an example from my own file system:
    • 0-ClientName_Proposals
    • 1-ClientName_Agreements
    • 2-ClientName_Received_Materials
    • 3-ClientName_Correspondence
    • 4-ClientName_Invoicing
    • 5-ClientName_Design_Ideas
    • 6-ClientName_WebUploads
    • 7-ClientName_WebBackups
    • 8-ClientName_Final
    • 9-ClientName_Misc.
  3. A file naming protocol that makes sense for your business and that again, will help you find files when you need them. Every time you save a file, you should have a formula as to how you name it. I strongly advise against using a spacebar in an electronic file name! Use an underscore (_) or a hyphen (-).
    • For example: ClientName_What-it-is_Date.file type.  So, a proposal I send to a client would end up with the file name of “client_1stproposal_2018jan15.pdf”
    • A great article is here: Probably the best file naming convention ever
  4. Version control.  There are many ways to approach version control and in smaller companies this may not be necessary when there is only one person working on a file.  If you have several people contributing to your files, I strongly recommend that you seriously consider using a consistent version control practice. You can use the date, or a number, or a letter.

So, bottom line, I know it can seem boring and annoying to take the extra few minutes to name files and save them in particular folders. Trust me, you will be glad you did when you have any technical challenges with your equipment, or when you start scaling your business.  Start early, be consistent, and keep taking care of your business.

Company Culture and the Customer Experience

Culture is the ‘personality’ that defines the atmosphere in which employees work, and produce. There are many areas to consider when determining culture, including mission, goals, ethics, value, and of course, expectations ( of both employees, and customers ).

What is always prevalent in every organization with regards to culture, is the provocative question – “ Customers first, or Employees first…..”?

When looking at the service industry, it comes down to one simple sentence; Your customers will only be happy if the people providing them their service are happy. And here is where culture is paramount, because while great employee engagement will not ensure great customer engagement, poor employee engagement most certainly guarantees poor customer engagement. Each customer is crucial to the success of a business, without them, there isnt a need for employees. Both have to be in balance to one another. All employees in any organization must be committed to customer satisfaction, and take ownership to it, or at least a piece of the overall experience.

When an employee is considered as a kind of ‘internal customer’ by management, the answer becomes very clear – they both matter equally. They are part of an inseparable, interdependent loop of reinforcement.

If an organization’s culture puts the customer at the heart of business, this will drive employee behaviour.

Leadership strategy and clear vision, along with employee engagement, will give you the best opportunity for a winning customer experience. There is a need to create connections, along with visibility, across the board so that everyone sees how the work of one will impact the other, and how they ultimately impact the customers take – away