Our small business community can beat this!

illustration of the words small business punching with a boxing gloveThe coronavirus has impacted how we live and work.

Schools are closed. Restaurants and bars, too, except for delivery or pickup (at least in Illinois). Appointments that aren’t critical are being postponed. Our world is getting much smaller.

It seems the entire country is working from home for the next few weeks. Savvy companies like Google and Zoho are making that easier to do with free productivity tools. Remotely from Zoho was developed in just one week. Google is offering access to their advanced Hangouts Meet feature to all Education and G Suite customers until July 1st. 

Since it’s  not going to be business as usual for a while, we’ve been thinking about how companies can put this quarantine to good use. Cause we’re going to beat this!

 If you’re a small business owner or a solopreneur, this might be the perfect time to catch up on your marketing. Updating email lists. Creating an inventory of blog posts. Checking in with customers to see how they’re managing. And updating your website, which seems to be a stumbling block for many overwhelmed small business owners who never seem to be able to catch up. Here’s your chance. 

A Robust Marketing Tool
Your website should be your most robust marketing tool. According to Blue Corona, here are two reason why:   

  1.  97% of consumers go online to find a local business or local services.
  2.  Studies show that between 70-80% of people research a company online BEFORE visiting the small business or making a purchase with them.

Think about it. If your website hasn’t been updated with fresh content, new products and security fixes, you’re probably giving away business at a time when more and more people are online working remotely. Especially when we’re quarantined and looking for things to buy.

Amazon just announced that they’re hiring 100,000 workers to keep up with online deliveries. Give you any ideas?

What can you do?

Keeping a website fresh is actually not very difficult if you know what to do. It’s time consuming, however. So why not use this forced stay-at-home time to work on it.

Here’s a checklist of four things you need to do keep your website working for you:

  1.  Add new content regularly.
    Blogging is a great way to keep content fresh. A regular blogging schedule lets Google know to crawl your site on an ongoing basis.
  2.  Keep your site secure.
    Think only large companies fall prey to cyberattacks? Think again.According to Accenture, 43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses. And of that number, only 14% are prepared to defend themselves.Cyberattacks now cost companies $200,000 on average, putting many out of business. Make sure you install ongoing security updates. It’s not enough to just do it when your site is new. Hackers are constantly finding new ways to break in. So it’s critical that your site is protected with the latest technology.
  3. Keep your site optimized.
    Much like the security issues, algorithm changes affect search functionality.  So your keywords and phrases should be refreshed regularly. Don’t let your competition push you to the bottom of a search page.
  4. Never assume.
    As a business owner, you can’t afford to take things for granted. Periodically check your website to see how it appears on different size screens. A site that looks great on a desktop may look wonky on a cell phone.If there’s a problem with responsiveness, you want to be the first one to find it. You don’t want to hear it from  a client.

If you’re reading this and feeling that bringing your website up-to-speed is still not something you have time (or the interest) to do, contact us. We can handle your website management so you can spend your time doing something else to drive business. 

Because as scary as the current business outlook appears at the moment, eventually the coronavirus will be knocked out and life will resume. 

Hopefully, we will all come out of this experience safe and sound…… and wiser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

ever feel like you’re pretending to know more than you do?

Recently, we’ve noticed an interesting term bandied about in networking circles. It’s called imposter syndrome. We don’t like to miss anything, so we decided to do a little research.

Here’s what we learned.

Impostor syndrome is “the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications.” (Yes, Imposter Syndrome Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It. Abigail Adams, Time Magazine, June 20, 2018).

While it smacks of insecurity, it’s not very unusual. According to Melody Wilder In her Fast Company article “The Five Types of Impostor Syndrome and How to Beat Them”, “70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their career.”

If these figures are accurate, 7 out of 10 people feel they put on a good show. They’ve internalized the negative connotation that the word imposter implies – fraud, charlatan, cheat. Actually, Fake It Til You Make It sounds a whole lot better. So does Act As If. But they’re all the same — Act Confident Til You Really Know What You’re Doing — Pretend and Hope No One Notices.

The idea that 7 out of every 10 people you know believe they’ve achieved success or recognition due to luck is hard to fathom. Especially if you fall into the 7. Maybe we need to rethink how we’re thinking.

The fact is that insecurity comes quite naturally to many of us when faced with something unfamiliar — particularly if you’re a perfectionist or micromanager.

Any time you learn something new, there’s a learning curve. The more you learn, the more you understand, the more your confidence grows.

One day you realize you know this topic pretty damn well. You may not fashion yourself an expert or a specialist, but you know you can deliver a product you’re proud of.  Imposter no more!

If you’re starting a business or beginning a new career, you will face hurdles. Odds are, you’ll also need to stretch and learn on the fly.

Technology changes at a maddening pace. You can’t be expected to be on top of everything in your field. But you can learn. You can attend seminars and workshops or take classes. You can network with people in your industry who may specialize in areas you don’t or who’ve found a smarter way to handle a problem. And you can ask for advice. Or help. Yes, it’s what smart people do!

For example, a web developer might belong to a developer’s forum where members share common problems, discuss solutions and evaluate themes, upgrades and plugins. A newcomer to the group might feel intimidated by members who’ve been around for a while. This can lead to the they-know-more, they’re-experts – I’m not mindset. Their advice to you? Do your best and learn as much as you can. In the meantime, act as if you know what you’re doing. It’s probably what they did starting out.

How to beat the imposter blues.

If you’re not 100% comfortable with your knowledge on a particular topic or issue, you may find yourself faking it till you are. Or you may BELIEVE you are faking it while actually knowing a lot more than you give yourself credit for (never end a sentence with preposition…apologies to my English professors).

See if this make you feel any better:

  • No one starts out as an expert. It’s something you achieve with study, effort and time.
  • Just because someone calls themselves an expert doesn’t make it so. Don’t let a label make you feel insecure.
  • Everything we learn is new. That’s what learning is all about. Becoming knowledgeable on a topic — whether your goal is to be an expert or simply good, really good — takes work.
  • Unless you feel you know something inside and out, you may still doubt your expertise.
    Perfectionists often feel like imposters. This comes from never being satisfied. But you can learn how to lighten up.

Maybe it’s time to work on your self-confidence and stop worrying about what you don’t know. Glass half full time.

Jeff Atwood, who blogs at codinghorror.com, “If I’ve learned anything in my career, it is that approaching software development as an expert, as someone who has already discovered everything there is to know about a given topic, is the one surest way to fail.”

I like Atwood’s attitude. It’s humble and honest and celebrates all there is left to learn rather than getting stuck on what you don’t know.

On that note, I think this is a good place to stop.

For some excellent tips on dealing with imposter syndrome, read Abigail Adams’ Time Magazine article, ”Yes, Impostor Syndrome Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It.”

Feel free to share any comments if imposter syndrome is something you’ve dealt with. We might use it for a follow-up post on getting ahead.

Leave a comment

How mindful is your marketing?

Aware. Engaged. In the moment. All words and phrases affiliated with mindfulness. It’s all about a sense of “now”. No distracting thoughts about the future or the past. Just here and now and present and in the moment.

mindfulness can make your marketing more effective

Since mindfulness is good for the soul (thank you, HuffPo), we figured it must be good for other things as well. Like marketing.

A stretch, perhaps? Not if you think of it in terms of benefits — in this case, success.

If you were to apply the same techniques to marketing that you do to mindfulness, here’s what you might expect:

  • Improved focus.
    In this case, getting right to the point of what you want your marketing to accomplish. Honing in on the benefits your service provides, the problems your product fixes, the positive results of working with your company.
  • Less stress.
    We all know people who seem to live in a constant state of stress. They complain a lot, probably have high blood pressure and never dial down and relax. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound appealing. When your mind is racing, it’s hard to think clearly. Using mindfulness can help you slow down, allowing you to be more creative and making you more receptive to new ideas. New ideas can drive your marketing in fresh, distinctive ways.
  • Clarity of message.
    The clearer you are about what makes your product or service unique, the clearer your marketing message. We’re all overprogrammed and far too busy. The simplest messages have the best chance of breaking through the clutter. It’s the old KISS adage: Keep it simple, Stupid.
  • The beauty of balance.
    Mindfulness helps you get in touch with you feelings, your mind and your body. Why not apply it to making sure your business is healthy? Sort of a checks and balance tune-up. Doing an assessment of how your business is performing should be done regularly, long before the balance sheet looks bad. If the numbers aren’t where you need them to be, use the results of your assessment to create and drive new marketing messages.
  • Thoughtful decision making.
    At one time or another, we all make bad decisions. The more mindful we are, the less chance there is of this happening. When we slow down enough to look at all sides of an argument, we make better choices.
  • Learning to nurture.
    Mindfulness teaches us to find inner peace. Taking the time to think about what’s important in our lives is a nurturing first step. Incorporating that into our lives takes work. The same is true for your business. A successful business requires nurturing if it is to stay successful. Staying on top of the competition. Responding to your audience and your clients in a timely fashion. Keeping up-to-date on the technology that drives or supports your business. Hiring the best employees you can find, then keeping them happy.
  • Gratitude.
    If you’re a business owner who’s doing well, that’s certainly something to be grateful for. Share that gratitude. Let customers know you appreciate their business. Tell them – in correspondence, on social media, in content development, in every touch point with your company.

Be mindful about customer relationships and they’ll continue to do business with you. After all, who doesn’t like doing business with people we trust and like?

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

Nice website. Too bad it won’t bring you any business.

lousy user experience

The goal of marketing is pretty simple. Attract, inform, engage.

You want to attract new customers. Then let them know how your products or services can help them. With clear, concise content and compelling graphics. Easy, right?

It should be. But too often, people make it far too complicated. Especially on websites. We’ve all seen sites that made us wonder why a company would ever attach their name to them.

lousy user experience
Lost. I’m totally lost! Image courtesy of morguefile.

Some of the most offensive generally include one or more of the following:

Flowery copy
Way too much overblown copy. Overwriting doesn’t attract. It bores. And boring content doesn’t get read. Instead, keep your copy clear and as concise as possible. If you can’t do that, at least break long copy up into digestible chunks. Or use subheads to make it scannable.

Convoluted navigation
Confusing navigation leads to a crummy user experience (crummyUX). It’s frustrating to have to guess where to click to find what you need. So visitors to your site end up leaving. And going to a smarter company’s website.

Why not make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for? Figure out the simplest way for people to move around your site. The fewer clicks to find something, the better. Make finding information easy.

Poor use of graphics
Compelling images can grab our attention. Bold, bright colors. Unusual designs. Wildly clever visuals. But when graphics make copy illegible, your clever marketing messages go unread.

Mixed messages
Your business might be the best in the industry. But odds are there are only one or two things that make it really special. Focus on those one or two things as key points of differentiation. Streamline your messaging so it has more of an impact.

Hidden contact info
Make sure your business phone number and email are in an easy-to-find place on your site. If you’ve ever tried to call a restaurant from your cell phone and not been able to find the phone number, you know what I’m talking about.

Five easy fixes. Well worth taking the time to do if you want your website to bring you new business.

Leave a comment

Why you shouldn’t build your own website.

It’s tempting. You’re a startup with tight (or no) funds. You don’t want to spend any money unless it’s absolutely necessary. You see all the DIY website promos and figure “how hard can it be?” Looks like a no-brainer. So you opt for WIX or some other development program and build your own website. For free. Over a weekend. An entire weekend!

So you're going to build your own website
How hard can it be?

You launch your website. But no one comes.

Hmmm. What went wrong?

Your first mistake was to assume you could do something on the fly. Web developers  and designers are generally highly trained. They’re schooled and skilled in writing code, designing layouts, font and color selection, navigation, and UX. And if you hire a web development team, there’s a copywriter or content creator on board to make you sound as good as you look. And likely an SEO expert so that your website comes up when people search for a keyword  or phrase that’s incorporated into your copy.

Oops. You probably didn’t consider that when you opted for DIY.

So before you waste a lot of time and commit to a drag and drop website, ask yourself these 6 quick questions:

  1. Do you have the time to learn how to build an effective website or should you use that time to build your business?
  2. Do you have a solid grasp of marketing and a clear picture of how your potential clients use websites?
  3. Can you write compelling copy and calls-to-action?
  4. Do you understand UX and how people will navigate your website?
  5. Do you know how to use color and custom fonts to build your brand?
  6. What will you do if you waste spend 10-20 hours “building” a site that you can’t use?

If you answered “yes” in 1-5, you might have the skills necessary to build your own site. If not, call someone who builds websites for a living.

Your business needs a website that works. Save money somewhere else.

 

How do you know when it’s time to update your website?

If you’ve ever gone house hunting, you know how important curb appeal is. It’s the “drive by factor. Even if the interior is absolutely smashing,  if a house doesn’t look appealing from the outside, few potential buyers will make it inside.

 

Gable end of home addition, Marvin windows

Photo Credit: Brock Builders

That same visual appeal applies to websites. Those that haven’t been updated are “drive by’s”. One look and the (potential) visitor is gone. No matter that what you’re selling is exactly what that visitor is looking for….they won’t ever see it!

Some people are vigilant about keeping their websites fresh. Generally, they’re web designers, developers or content marketers who do this for clients on a daily basis.

But let’s say you’re not a web designer or developer. No doubt, you’re busy with projects, proposals, meetings and keeping clients and customers happy. Days are full and time is tight. Marketing can often fall by the wayside. We get it. We’ve been there!
Continue reading “How do you know when it’s time to update your website?”

Leave a comment