It’s no secret that the purpose of business, as with life, is to grow and evolve. In life, the bumps and bruises teach us our lessons but in business a skinned knee can cost a small fortune.
There are those in business who grow and succeed and those who stagnate and eventually fail. Stagnation is just slow death, so we must strive to learn quickly and that means attempting to learn from other’s mistakes and heed their painful lessons and listen to advice that will propel us forward.
Some businesses hire experts to guide them in their infancy or when they cannot climb the hill of difficult times. Some businesses take stock in their strengths and weaknesses and plan accordingly. Some businesses refuse to change, believing their old ways will be effective for their future. The fact is that evolving technology is the key lesson in business and each must also evolve with technology to succeed or be left behind.
In the early days of the personal computer, some jumped in with both feet and others held off, believing the technology wasn’t needed or couldn’t replace certain human efforts for business growth. Like the evolution of stone tools to metal, the computer and internet could not be ignored as they are tools to be used wisely and not magic answers that replace human efforts but enhance them.
Optimizing Your Web Presence
In the days of yore, companies would produce their products, use advertising channels and send out a huge sales force to reach individual consumers – the first “social media” of sorts. The web may have killed off the door-to-door Willy Lomans as now companies can reach right into a prospect’s office and living room but there’s still the need to convince, persuade and show your product has the means to fulfill the needs of the consumer.
An old advertising motto was (and still is), “advertising doesn’t make consumers buy things they don’t need. It shows them the need and then gives them the means to fulfill it.”
The biggest mistake a business will make with a web presence is to believe that just having a web site is enough and search engines being used by consumers will do all of the work. At business networking events or meeting with fellow web designers, the big question from many is, “how do I find customers?”
The very question is the answer – how do I find customers and not, how do customers find me!
The web, as with the computer, metal tools and sales force is all the tools you need, wrapped up into one easy to use source…if you use it correctly. No one channel will do it.
Let’s start with your web site. Is it effective when you do get people to visit? Here’s some key things it must do or contain:
- What is the first thing someone will see when the site comes up? Is it your key product or service?
- Is the navigation to other products/examples obvious and easy? Can people navigate back to the home page without using the back button?
- Is all the pertinent information available? Is the price/cost listed or do people need to call you for more information?
- How easy is it for people to contact you? Is there a form for contact of a link to your email?
- If someone leaves your site before ordering, will a pop up act as a reminder or ask them to complete and order?
- Does the site act as an opt-in list builder?
- Is there an RSS feed so people can receive updates and news without an opt-in list or having to do email marketing?
- The copy describing your product or service can be legally binding. Is all of the information correct or provide the legal disclaimers?
- Are you using your site to build your social media outreach (Twitter follow button, share buttons, Facebook “like” button, etc.?
If you answered “yes” to all of these, you are ready to optimize your site. If not, you need to think about changing things to make your site more user friendly.
Building Your Social Media
I’m amazed at companies that don’t use social media to their best advantage. Certainly social media has taken business by storm. People are still in a quandary about how it works, despite proven stats and ROI. Some companies do it on the cheap and some throw millions into it. It seems odd that so many people can’t see what social media is all about – being social!
One of the key advantages to social media is the interaction between you and customers or future clients. Most customers who leave a regular supplier do so because of perceived indifference on the part of the supplier. Social media is interactive, allows for instant feedback on new products and services and also allows for inbound marketing where the customer gets involved with your marketing efforts. The best marketing is where other people do the work for you.
In working social media, you are creating a network. A network is drawn together from the people you know and those you wish to know. Quality is definitely important as numbers only stress your efforts down the road as opposed to having qualified buyers of your goods and services. One of the best things about a smaller network of quality is that you can pay more attention to the needs of that network and not try a shotgun approach to a larger, diverse network and, in the end, be less effective.
There are the standard tools you undoubtedly have heard of every single day. They are usually free but not all of them will fit your needs. It is better to have a couple of strong outreach tools than to have all of the tools with sporadic use and less confidence on the part of your network.
Facebook, for instance, is an interesting study in social media for personal use vs. business use. If you are a Fortune 500 company, you can afford a staff of social media experts to make sure your brand is everywhere. You also have the budget to keep it going. For smaller businesses, you need to weigh the advantages to your business.
I’ve had friends who’ve used Facebook ads for their business. While FB demographics certainly make up business owners and executives, no one seems to have been successful using Facebook as a marketing tool. If you’re Coke or Toshiba, then Facebook fan pages will be a necessity but for small businesses or freelancers, time is scarce for properly using social media, so use Facebook for keeping in touch with your friends and family. Taking time to update a FB fan page takes away from other social media channels that will be better for lead generation.
LinkedIn is a purely business site. Because people are there to do business, you can build a list of thousands of dream clients/prospects. Search companies, identify the right people (not the CEO; try people who are in a position to book your services or buy your product) and build a list. Make sure you respond to every accepted connection with a personal note (via LinkedIn) to thank people for connecting with you and include your site URL for “more on me.”
LinkedIn has thousands of groups you can join and even more “questions” that you can answer for awards for “best answer.” Search for questions on marketing and answer how design helps marketing initiatives or advertising. Become an expert in the eyes and minds of possible leads who will need your services.
There are some members of LinkedIn that like to give one-sentence answers that usually make no sense or don’t even address the question. They like to have the “most questions answered” title for all to see. Their reputations aren’t the best on the site so think quality and not quantity! Good, sound answers show others you are knowledgeable about your field. Building trust with prospects is an important step in gaining new clients.
Groups allow you to create closer connections with prospective clients. Are you going to join the “Lovers of Joomla” site or the “Small Business Marketing Ideas” group? The latter is filled with people who need your services. The idea of marketing yourself is to reach out to prospective clients, not to be friends with other owners of small businesses that may be your competitors.
Fellow alumni from your college, university or trade school are also valuable contacts. Familiarity will bring prospects closer – quality of your product or services will keep them close. Were you a member of a fraternity or sorority? Your brothers and sisters are no doubt members of a LinkedIn group. If not, then start a group. Starting a group puts you in charge and number one in the spotlight.
Twitter confuses people. They just don’t know how it will increase their business. I once explained what Twitter is to a client in very simple terms: It’s a billboard you pass at 70 miles per hour on the information highway!
Twitter is only as strong as your followers or ability to hashtag tweets to the right people. I know this sounds easy but it’s not. Most people on Twitter follow back without thought. This may lead to quantity but not quality. Unfortunately, as with everything listed to this point, some business people tend to huddle together and follow each other. Do you want your competition showing up on your follow list when a prospective client is checking out your Twitter profile?
As with LinkedIn, make your Twitter follow building the people you want to reach.
While my “Speider” account follows creatives and design publications, I won’t follow back “daily deal sites,” “insurance agents,” “real estate agents” or “fitness and diet gurus.” For my design Twitter account, these are the prospects that get followed back because they buy design services. See how that works?
When I add a new campaign to my site I worked on for a client, I tweet about that to this list. I will also hashtag (# symbol, such as #business #branding #realestate #advertising, etc.) to reach out to those who follow those interests. Hashtagging is a great way to reach out to people on Twitter who don’t follow you but will see your tweets on hashtag pages and, in turn, they will retweet your message and follow you for more information in the future.
Both LinkedIn and Twitter have intuitive feedback that help you connect, join groups, hashtag to hot trends and see who is following you or viewing your profile. Use this information to connect with the right people!
Does blogging bring in business? We are in a Googled world of information flying left and right. With sites like Stumbleupon and Digg, just to name two, and aggregators by the dozens, your blog will cross someone’s path at some point, either via a shared link, Facebook “like,” or just showing up in a search for some odd term. The key is to bring that person BACK to your blog again and again.
At my last full time job, people complained that I sent too many links every day. I would send out interesting product ideas or inspirational pieces to people in my department for the good of our company and business. Blogging wasn’t as popular as it is now (this was only seven or eight years ago, mind you) and I was receiving a weekly email blast from a design studio, which they called “The Hip-O-Meter.” It simply had three entries of interesting products or links, which weren’t even done by the studio. There was “Hip,” “Hipper” and “Hippest.” They followed it with a short blurb about something the studio had created as an ad for their services. Simple and brilliant. They touted that the e-newsletter, which was only type, went out to four thousand people. I was inspired but took it to the next level.
Taking all of the daily links I would send out, I created an e-newsletter with an embedded animated gif header, designed separators for each entry and drew together a dozen or so links of unique ads, products and other interesting stuff that would provide inspiration for our company business. Each Monday morning, the “Innovation Lounge,” as I called it, would go out to the department email list. Within a couple of months, it was going company wide solely through requests from different departments. The power of viral blogging that was shared by workers at this twenty-five thousand-person company and distribution grew. Workers even shared it with people outside the company.
When I left the company, I branded my new freelance-self and started a similar blog, using Twitter, Stumbleupon, Yahoo and Google to drive traffic with links to the new entries, email blasts to former coworkers and other connections and created an opt-in list for new subscribers aside from those subscribing to the RSS feed. Thanks to the viral nature of the web, the blog garnered over seven hundred unique hits on days new content was published.
The downside was it took a LOT of time and research. When my branding changed, I abandoned the blog to sit there, untouched for the past several years but every now and then I check the stats and it still gets between fifty and two-hundred hits per day due to the tags and images.
The key to this blog is that it was aimed at prospective clients. As with the “Hip-O-Meter,” it contained an ad for my services at the end of each entry. If I spotlighted vending machines, the ad focused on my studio’s ability to do work along that line and so on.
The mistake many businesses make with their blogs is they focus on business issues and techniques that only appeal to other businesses of their own ilk. Other similar companies do not buy your services, so it’s a waste of time. Focus your efforts on prospective clients and not fame among peers.
Blogging is a great way to reach prospects but very labor intensive. This is why many firms start to ignore their blogs – they don’t want to have an employee using their time to update the content or pay for someone to dedicate the time and effort. I have several clients that pay me to write blog posts for them. The big danger with a blog is having it show that it hasn’t been updated for months or over a year. It reflects badly on you and your company. Update it at least once a week, even if it’s just one little blurb. Ignore it and it is a blot on your company’s ability to keep up with marketing, which is not a good sign in business.
What Makes Interesting Content for Social Media?
If you sell products or services, the biggest news of interest is any sales or specials you run. If you are business to business, then past success stories grab the attention of prospects. Items that are informative, interesting and entertaining bring in followers and that evolves growth and your business.
Most of all, make sure your content speaks WITH your audience and not just TO them. Using first person writing makes your firm more human and…social! Use images that can become viral and stories people will want to share with others. If you include the share functions so people can just click and share and material they want to share, you have an army of people around the globe who will do your marketing for you.
All of the avenues mentioned in this article are dovetailed to work together. One is not better than the others and some just may not be necessary for what you want to accomplish. Any small business needs to advertise, market, brand and reach out to prospective clients. Target your clients and go after them. The idea is to use what works best for your needs, keep at it and make everything count towards gaining clients and business. It’s best to budget for one or more people who know marketing and social media to handle your outreach (freelance experts are cost-effective). If you plan to do it yourself, use the time to market yourself wisely!
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