How agile is your business?

Ever feel like the world around you is changing too fast for your company to keep up?

Of course you have! Every small business owner or entrepreneur has probably felt this way at one time or another.

It’s a scary feeling. Especially if you’ve spent years getting your business up to speed — your staff well-trained and efficient, your processes streamlined and in place or your products ideally matched to the wishes and whims of your target market.

Technology leaps forward, and suddenly your services (or products) are on the way to obsolescence. Or falling behind a new-to-the-market, more agile competitor.

Smart companies are agile.

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that Fresh Market is closing stores around the country, including two in the Chicago area. The chain jumped on the organic food trend when it launched and rode it as long as it could. But when all the other grocery chains jumped in with farm fresh products, Fresh Market could no longer compete.

Whole Foods, on the other hand, became more competitive. Acquired by Amazon, they lowered some prices and offered customers Amazon Prime specials, discounts and delivery.

This is how companies stay successful. They can reinvent themselves on a dime…..or so it seems. They’re agile.

Fresh Market isn’t the only company in distress. Think about some of the once successful businesses that have closed — or are in the process of closing. You’ve no doubt purchased from them in the past.

If you have kids, you’ve shopped at Toys R’Us. Needed sports gear? You went to Sports Authority. Own a business or simply need to manage your schedule? You had a Palm Pilot. Then maybe a BlackBerry. Searched on the Internet? You used Alta Vista (right, WHO?) And if you’re a Chicagoan like we are, you’re no doubt still angry about the demise of Marshall Field’s.

So how can you avoid being on the short list of doomed businesses?

You certainly don’t want to wait til a crisis hits to start trying to figure out what to do. You need to be constantly vigilant and always proactive. You have to have a plan. And if you’re not sure how to do that, the best way to learn is to look at successful businesses.

Here are four things that successful businesses in highly competitive industries do to stay on top:

  1.  They’re nimble.
    They’ve streamlined the chain of command to make decision-making simpler. They’ve implemented technology solutions to make processes flow better. They’re making use of AI (artificial intelligence) for improved efficiency.They’ve honed communication skills to make meetings shorter, emails simpler and calls briefer.  Amazon comes to mind. Why? Check out how Jeff Bezos likes to run meetings
  2. They’re inventive.
    They’re constantly looking for a better way. To make products more efficiently, to bring a product to market faster, to SELL products to a broader market, to make customers happier. Whatever it takes to stay on top of the competition, a successful company finds a way. Yes, Amazon comes to mind once again. But so does Southwest Airlines, which is always looking for new ways to improve the customer experience. Read about how they do this courtesy of engage.customer.com.
  3. They never sit back on their laurels.
    Successful companies don’t get complacent. They’re not satisfied with status quo. They’re smart enough to know that a savvy competitor can appear almost overnight – with a cooler gadget, a smarter business tool, a glammier spokesperson, an everyone-needs-this must-have, a smoother system.Once Uber was the only game in town. Then Lyft appeared. While Uber is still #1, when a negative news report hits the  airwaves, Lyft gains market share. Uber’s problems in 2017 were a boon for Lyft’s bottom line.

    But Uber management is sound. They’re quick to respond to negative news, and the company continues to hold the    bulk of the ridesharing market.

  4. They’re humble.
    Successful companies take responsibility for their mistakes. They own up to their misdeeds. They ask their shareholders and supporters for forgiveness and promise to do better.

In the past year, we’ve seen far too many cases where this didn’t happen. Take for example, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Fox News as covered in fortune.com in 2017. Both men had been accused of sexual harassment. More than once. But it wasn’t until advertisers began to bail that Fox did anything in response. And they never said they were wrong. No humble pie here.

So how would your small business rate on the capabilities cited above? You may not compete with big companies, but you can certainly learn from them. Especially from their mistakes.

If we’ve encouraged you to think about this, we’ve written a good post.

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Understanding Customer Care.

Whether you’re a shop owner or a service provider, your customer care will influence how clients feel about you and your products. And those feelings will impact future sales –including whether or not there will BE any.

Customer service with a smile.

We seem to remember the best and worst customer service experiences. For instance, if you go into a store and can’t find a salesperson, odds are you’ll be frustrated. You’ll probably leave without buying anything.

But when you’re warmly greeted by a smiling saleswoman you’re likely to linger and browse around. The more you browse, the more you’ll discover. And the more likely you’ll be to make a purchase…..or two.

We tend to be forgiving — even if we can’t find something we wanted — when we receive good customer service. The fact that we’ve been acknowledged says “they give a damn”. And that feeling is key.

As more and more products and services are discovered and consumed online, face-to-face communication happens less and less. This makes building relationships difficult. The personal touch is gone….replaced by bots and apps.

So how can online retailers build relationships with customers they’ve never met….and never will? Simple, actually. It’s all about communication and customer care.

New Orleans restauranteur, Ella Brennan, who ran the famous (and fabulous) Commander’s Palace, was the queen of customer care. Reminiscing on her recent death, her executive chef said “she understood that business is about how you feel when you walk into a restaurant. You may not recall the quail or the Chardonnay, but you remember a feeling a restaurant gives you.”

A savvy business woman, Brennan made sure her staff provided outstanding customer service. If a customer complained, she responded immediately. She understood customer care, and she will be remembered for making French dining accessible and fun. (Source: Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2018))

Smart companies know that poor customer care can kill a deal….and worse, go viral….quickly spreading the word that you’re a lousy company to do business with. Social media and business rating apps like Yelp make it imperative for companies to stay on their toes. Constantly. Because reputations can be sullied in a heartbeat.

Case in point: Starbucks. Wonder how much business they lost last month after arresting two black men who asked to use the bathroom while they were waiting for a meeting but didn’t buy any coffee. It hit national news immediately and became a full-blown nasty stain on the Starbucks brand.

To deal with the fallout, all locations were closed for mandatory 1/2 day training. For all employees. Stores with closed doors can’t do business, so this was a costly error for Starbucks.

Poor treatment isn’t easily forgiven. Odds are when you think of Starbucks, the racial incident will be top of mind for a long time to come. And all because of the ineptitude of one employee.

How much smarter to make customer care an integral and ongoing part of employee training. It may determine whether you succeed in business or fail. .

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Is your website marketing-driven or driving visitors away?

A website is a marketing tool.

Probably one of the priciest in your communications arsenal aside from digital advertising. But the digital advertising…..and any other marketing you do….is directed at sending potential new business to your website where, hopefully, you’ll either intrigue the visitor to learn more or make a sale.

What’s your goal for your new website?
This is one of the first questions we ask when working with a new client. Another is: how do you envision this site will build your business? And more importantly, have your figured out how your business will solve a problem for potential customers?

Before we write a single line of code, we need to answer these questions. As specifically as possible.

If you haven’t established clear goals for your website and identified your target market’s pain point, good luck creating content that converts.

You need a better mousetrap.
Let’s suppose you’re a startup. You’ve designed a new and better product than what’s currently on the market. How are you going to convince potential customers that your product really IS better? What are you going to say?

A few things to consider first:

  • Is your marketing plan complete?
  • Do you know who your competition is, what their price points are and where they sell?
  • Do you know their USP (unique selling proposition) – what makes them different and better than the rest of the players?
  • Have you defined your USP? Why should buyers consider your product? How will it solve a problem for your (potential) customer?
  • Do you have a budget?
  • Have you allocated that budget across all your marketing tools? The ones that will help drive business to your website?

You can see where we’re heading. These are important questions that your web development team should ask at your first planning meeting. If they don’t, you may not be happy with the end result.

Developing a website doesn’t happen in a vacuum. A marketing-driven website…the kind you want….is informed by a marketing strategy.

make it easy for visitors to find what they're looking for on your website.
Make it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for.

A successful website does far more than look good.

Just looking good won’t cut it. A successful website has to hit all the bullets on your to-do list. And on ours.

A few of those “musts”. Your website has to:

  • be a spot-on representation of your brand
  • be visually appealing
  • speak in your brand voice
  • engage the visitor
  • immediately address your visitor’s problem, need or pain point
  • be very easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for (UX or user-friendly)
  • speak in authentic and conversational language.

Is your company website marketing-driven and engaging visitors…or driving visitors away?

If you’re not sure, here’s a really good article we found on Harvard Business Review by Mark Bonchek and Vivek Bapat on why you should focus on potential buyers.

It’s well worth your time to read.  Then, if you need help, call us. We’re happy to talk about how we can help you.

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Getting Down To Business with Good Website Design

We were excited to be on Shalom Klein’s radio show, Get Down to Business, yesterday. We talked about good website design, what makes a website great and why our clients like to work with us. Many thanks to Shalom for the shoutouts. And yes, we’d love to come on your show again!

  

Listen to our interview.

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It’s OK to turn down business.

turning down business
Sorry, we can’t help you.

It happens to all small business service providers if you’ve been in business long enough. You meet with a potential client. She needs a fill-in-the-blank-with-what-you-offer and wants you to quote on it. In our case – a new website.

You go back to the office, review your meeting notes and consult with your partners. Something feels off. You might not be able to put your finger on it but you have a bad feeling about this potential project. Maybe the person you met with was argumentative, negative or challenging. Or it could be just one of those gut things.

What do you do?

Don’t do this: We NEED the Business.

First of all, how badly do you need this business? Enough to put yourself through a month or two of misery? Because that’s what you might be getting into.

It’s one thing when your business is new and you need all the work you can get. You might overlook the danger signs and figure it will be fine once the project starts. Or just accept the stress as part of launching a new business. We get it. We’ve been there.

But after you’ve been established for a while, will you do the same?

Do THIS!

If you’ve been in a caustic relationship a few times, odds are you won’t be eager to say yes. Unless you really need the income, it boils down to a simple decision: are you willing to subject yourself to a difficult and stressful situation? Or would you be better off saying “Sorry, we don’t feel we can help you” and moving on?

We had this happen a few weeks ago. A potential client approached us to build a website. She seemed nice enough. We gave her a proposal. She called to say our quote was too high and asked us to drop our fee. Then she wanted to know how many hits we could guarantee to the site we would build for her.

After a brief company discussion, we declined the job.

Not because of her problem with our fee. We understand that not everyone can pay what we charge for a website. Even though our fees are well within the reasonable range for small business website development, not all small businesses have marketing budgets. We get it. It was the “give us a guarantee” ask that turned us off.

Google and Facebook ads have changed organic search. Now there are many variables and active competition for those 4 or 5 first page queries. Search positioning is still related to how well your site is written and the organic use of keywords, but we will not offer a guarantee.

We will, however, advise you on things you can do to help your website work for you. For example….

  • using social media to promote your site
  • adding new content reflecting changing keyword usage
  • staying on top of what you competitors are doing (are they advertising and if so, where?).

And if you want to ramp things up, we can connect you with folks who’ll help you run Google ad campaigns to keep you visible in search results for targeted terms.

The Upside of Saying No

So if your gut is telling you this might not be a great client for you, listen. Something else will come along. It usually does. In our case, a few days later, we met with a really nice client whose new website we are happily designing.

To read more on working with dysfunctional people, here’s a great blog post by Daphne Gray-Grant about dealing with difficult editors. Pretty much applies to difficult clients as well.

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Why WordPress?

At least once a month, we get a frantic query from someone with a website they can’t update. Their web designer or developer is AWOL They don’t know how…. can’t remember…never learned how to manage their site. So it’s basically useless.

Can we help?

Unfortunately, the answer is almost always no. We can’t do anything with a proprietary program. All we can do is offer to build a new site on an open source platform (like WordPress) so they don’t ever have this issue again.

why we build WordPress websites

According to WordPress, there are currently 51,494 WordPress plugins.

There are plugins for every functionality your website requires — content management, link checkers, SEO, blogs, calendars, memberships, forms, image compression, spam, and security…to name a few. Lots are free; others are very inexpensive.

That alone might be reason enough for us to be huge WordPress fans. But there’s more.

Robust. Secure. Powerful.

We love that WordPress is an industry-standard, powerful open source platform that offers frequent feature-rich updates and expandability. And that it’s robust and secure in a hack-and-spam-crazy world. And that it’s supported by a huge and active developer community that help one another troubleshoot issues. So if you have a problem with something special you’re trying to do, there are plenty of people to help you solve it.

But the A Number 1 reason?

WordPress meets a huge criteria of ours – usability. Quite simply, WordPress makes our clients’ lives easier.

Not Just A Website

Almost all the websites we build are on the WordPress platform. Because we’re not just building a website for your business — we’re developing what is probably the most important tool in your marketing toolbox. The face of your business. Open to the world round-the-clock. Accessible to anyone looking for the type of products or services you offer.

When you’re busy running a business, keeping your website current may not be high on your list of “must do’s”. But it might be the difference between making a sale or losing out to a competitor whose website is fresh and compelling.

No Techie – No Problem

With WordPress, you don’t need to be a techie to make updates and add new content. Got a hot new product you need to feature on a new page? Simple. Need to add some sweet testimonials to drive new business? Couple of minutes.

WordPress offers an intuitive CMS (content management system) with a short, sweet learning curve. Unabashed sales pitch: training is always included as part of our website development packages.

Generally, an hour of one-on-one is all that’s needed to get you up and running. It’s THAT user-friendly. But we stick around to help you out if you need a little extra support.

WordPress Around the World

Think it’s just smaller companies using WordPress? Think again. A few of the big brands with WordPress sites:

  • Facebook
  • Disney
  • Sony
  • Bloomberg
  • The New Yorker
  • TechCrunch
  • CNN
  • BBC America
  • The New York Times
  • Microsoft News Center
  • Beyonce
  • Star Wars
  • TED

So next time you’re in the market for a new website, find a developer who builds on WordPress. We promise it will make your life a whole lot easier.

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Why Marketing Matters More Than Ever

It happens often. We meet with a business owner who’s struggling to build sales but won’t commit….or hasn’t set aside…. any money for marketing.

How does that work, you ask? Well, it doesn’t.

Our main business is building websites. But we approach web design and development with a marketing mindset because our team has a marketing background.

So before we start building anything, we sit down and talk to you about goals for your business and what you want your new site to accomplish. We’re building a big beautiful online marketing tool for you. It just happens to be called a website.

For people to find your website, a few things need to happen:

  1. It needs to be optimized for search (SEO) so that Google brings your site up when someone searches for your product or service.
  2. You also need to send people to your site.
    You can do this through social media, advertising (print or digital or both), PR, flyers, brochures or handouts, newsletters, emails, direct mail (like postcards), signage, premiums, business cards that you pass out at networking events, etc.

All of the suggestions in item #2 fall under the marketing umbrella. It’s what drives your business and builds your sales. No marketing = not much business.

why you need to market your business
marketing matters

So back to the “no money for marketing” scenarios.

A few examples stand out. One was a man who hired us to build a website for a small gym he had purchased and was renovating. His target market was personal trainers who would use the gym to work with private clients or people who weren’t comfortable at a big gym but needed some sort of coaching. That idea sounded solid and well thought out.

We built a drop dead gorgeous site (OK, so we’re a little biased). But it was sleek and sexy and did everything it was supposed to do. It was easy for visitors to get the info they needed and the messaging was clear and concise.

This was not your one-size-fits-all super gym. It was a small facility — a former house with a beautiful river view, where you could train relatively privately, and then go out in the back yard to relax after your workout. We loved the whole concept. This gym was a little gem.

Until the business model changed.

Classes were added, a few at first, then a lot. Yoga and bar work and meditation. Then floor work and Zumba. Now the “small gym for serious workouts” took on a “me too” slant. Fearing he was missing out on another market (women), the owner modified the original positioning.

Bad move.

Not only were there a bunch of hot new boutique-y gyms in the area, but the larger gyms like FFC, CrossTown Fitness and Equinox were doing great marketing and had huge name recognition. Not to mention swimming pools, running tracks and lots of classes at convenient times.

Our client had not allocated any money for marketing. There was no money for signage which made it difficult to find the place. There was no money for social media (he attempted to do some himself but since he had no idea about how social media worked, that never went anywhere). There was no money for publicity or promotions of any kind. 7 months after we completed the website, he sold the business.

We were bummed because we couldn’t show this gorgeous site in our portfolio. But the client was happy to get out without losing his total investment.

We hate to see this happen. Our goal with each project is to give clients a solid marketing tool that will help grow their business. Seeing a client fail makes us sad.

We use examples like this when talking to new business owners to make sure they’re budgeting wisely and not putting the proverbial “all their eggs in one basket”. Your website can be the most important marketing tool in your arsenal. But don’t let it be the only one.

SEO competition gets tougher every day. Unless you’re able to do considerable digital advertising (as in spending big bucks), you need to stand out any way you can. Good marketing can always help you stand out.

If you’ve got marketing chops and can handle it on your own, run with it. If not, make sure there’s money set aside to hire the experts you need.

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Time management tips to make you more productive.

Some people are naturally efficient when it comes to time management. Engineers come to mind. They think logically and linearly.

Our team is heavy on creatives, and creativity and efficiency do not necessarily play well together.

Our thinking processes tend to lean towards wandering. So, if we’re having a company meeting, a finite agenda keeps us on track. Pretty much.how to save time

We HAVE found some tools that help us work more efficiently. Some of you might find them valuable, so we thought we’d share them.

Facilitating Communications
Our hands-down favorite tool is a tool called Slack. After dealing poorly with unwieldly email threads, we (ok, Steve) discovered this super well-designed communications tool, and we all love it.

Slack lets you organize internal conversations into channels – by project, client or topic. You can create private channels (we use these for proprietary client work) or have open channels if you want to add someone to a particular project – handy if you subcontract people to work on specific jobs but don’t want to give them access to all your channels.

You can search, comment, direct message one another and easily add files, documents, videos and images by a quick drag & drop. It also allows you to share documents from Dropbox and Google Docs, and make voice or video calls from within Slack.

One of the best features allows you to get an alert as soon as someone comments or adds an update in one of your channels. We find this super useful when we’re brainstorming, working on proposals, designing and building new websites, preparing seminars, or need a quick answer from one another. It allows us to work remotely in real time. And no more checking inboxes multiple times throughout the day.

Other than the occasional wandering off topic (hey, we said we’re creatives), Slack keeps us focused while saving at least an hour a day that was formerly spent on email.

Reference Repository
Creatives tend to find lots of material to help them be more creative. Interesting design ideas. Unusual color palettes. “How to” articles. Research for upcoming blog posts. Keeping all that information organized can be challenging. Eventually all the bookmarks you save end up being deleted rather than referenced.

Enter iCyte. iCyte is a web research management tool that lets you save web pages and pdfs with all elements, including links, intact. You can also highlight content of particular interest allowing you to quickly find important elements.

Save cytes under topics you create — we like to set up projects by client or type of reference material. You can also add tags for easy searching and any notes you might want to keep. When you’re ready to retrieve pages you’ve cyted, simply go to the iCyte dashboard to easily find what you’re looking for. You can also share cytes with colleagues, clients or friends.

Streamlining Social Media
Organizing material you want to share on social media can be very time-consuming. Especially if you use multiple social media channels.

We currently limit our WAGW social media to Twitter and Facebook, a schedule that’s pretty easy to manage. But one of us uses multiple social media tools, adding LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest to the mix. She recommends Buffer for managing and scheduling tweets and posts and tracking analytics. It’s easy to use and reliable.

If you’ve been struggling with time management issues, we hope these tips can help. And if you’ve found any tools that you love, please let us know and maybe we’ll share them in an upcoming post.

Fun with Chrome Developer Tools

We love the WordPress community!  This was the weekend of WordCamp Chicago.  As usual, it was a time to learn, to share, and to meet old and new friends.  We’ll be posting some of the interesting sessions here as soon as they’re posted on WordPress.tv.

Steve was a speaker this year, on the topic of “Fun with Chrome Developer Tools.”  (Yes, developers think this is fun!)  Thanks to the many people who came to the presentation and offered comments and compliments!

How do I change the font size? Why is the background blue?  These are questions easily answered through the Chrome Developer Tools. Anyone wanting to do any customization of a web site needs to be familiar with them.  

View this full size in your browser from Google Docs  or download Fun with Chrome Developer Tools as a PDF.

How to craft engaging web content.

So you’ve got a brand new website, and it looks great. Well designed. Smart use of color. Smarter use of white space. Reasonably easy navigation. A business owner’s dream website.

But there’s one problem. Your website simply isn’t engaging.

It looks good, loads fast and seems to work well. But the copy is bland. Nah, it’s boring. It’s not written to entice the viewer but simply to provide information. So visitors to your site just don’t buy in to what you’re selling. They don’t sign up for your newsletter or your blog. They don’t opt for your special offer. They just leave. And they certainly don’t share your site on social media!

How good is that website now? Not very. If you think that site could be yours, it might be time to rethink your web strategy.

content marketing
Anyone reading your copy? Image courtesy of kaboompics.com.

Think strategically. What do you want your copy to accomplish?

Here are six easy tips to get you started:

  1. Think about the problem your products or services solve. Are you telling visitors to your site how you can help them? Don’t make them guess.
  2. Have you defined your target audience? The way you “speak” to Millennials is not the way you should “speak” to Boomers. Your copy style is important.
  3. Never  “assume”. If you want visitors to your site to do something, tell them. Sign up. Click here. Order now. Call now. Tell your friends. Short little sentences. Easy to write.
  4.  Make it easy for visitors to absorb your content. Is your product one that can be marketed with humor? Create a short clever video or hire an illustrator to create original cartoons to get your point across.
  5. Be relevant. Do you offer services for a serious issue…..for example, one that’s health-related? Easy-to-understand charts, infographics, copy with clear steps or bullet points and explainer videos are smart ways to share important information.
  6. Make it easy for visitors to share your content. If you’ve succeeded in bullet points 4 and 5, this should be a piece of cake. People share what they think others in their world will like. Content that’s interesting, amusing, informative, exciting,  compelling.But don’t forget to tell your visitors to share your content. Share icons are important but saying “be sure to share this with your friends” is just smart.

Your website may rank high but if visitors aren’t engaged once they land there, you’ve got a lousy site. Make sure your content is clear, well-written and speaks to your audience in language they understand and relate to.

If you can’t do it yourself, hire a professional copywriter. It’s well worth the investment.