Category Archives: Business Development

5 ways to tune up your content for 2011

 

It’s that time of year. The time where you start looking at your website and tilt your head wondering if it’s starting to sound a little stale to readers. If it’s been a few years since you’ve updated your content, your site could probably use a good scrub. A lot changes in a year – trends, tools, keywords, methodologies – and you want to make sure your Web site is giving users (and the search engines) the most up-to-date information about your company. The best way to do that is to give your website a quick content audit to determine what exactly it’s saying about you.

Below are five ways to tune up your content for 2011. You want to start the New Year off on the right foot, don’t you?

1. Highlight your strengths.

You’ve probably heard it a lot over the past year – marketing is storytelling. Each sentence on your site should be part of a larger effort to tell your brand’s story and lure readers in. To capture people’s attention, your content has to be telling a story that displays your product/company’s strength and tying it back into how it will solve a problem they’ve expressed. Does the content on your site do a good job highlighting your strengths or is it simply a list of features? Do you show customers how your product will help them achieve a larger goal or are you waiting for them to put it together themselves? If it’s the latter, you need to go in and tweak your message. What’s different about your product or service? What goes above and beyond in a way your competitors don’t? Revamp your copy to include these selling points and clearly outline the benefits you offer to customers.

2. Know your competition’s weaknesses.

Part of knowing where your product succeeds means also knowing where your competitor’s product fails. Maybe you deliver superior customer service, maybe it’s a price point issue, or maybe they’re nowhere to be found on social media whereas you’re dominating and ever-so-accessible. Whatever their specific weakness is, make sure you account for it when highlighting your strengths. Don’t do this in a way that speaks badly about your competition, but in a way that highlights something that you do really well. It’s about you, not them. You have to remember that potential customers are landing on your website to research their options in service providers. Make sure you’re showing them why you’re the best choice and what you offer that your competition can’t match.

3. Tighten your calls to action.

One of the most important things you can do for your website is to use your analytics to find your high-traffic/low-conversion pages. You know that a large number of potential customers are landing on these pages, but for some reason, they’re abandoning before they can convert. Why? Often it’s due to too many distractions on the page, or maybe your calls to action aren’t as compelling as they should be. If it’s a case of the latter, experiment with your calls to action to try and find ones that do better with your audience. Sometimes simply changing the call to action on a page can change the whole tone and make things sound fresher.

4. Reassess keywords.

Two years ago you used keyword research to help you determine how users were searching for your products and which terms you needed to rank for. You then developed content based on those terms. But have you checked back in to see if you’re still on the right path? Are you regularly looking for new opportunities, checking for any terms that may be falling off, or calculating the ROI for going after a specific term? If you haven’t, now is a good time to go through your site and reassess your keyword needs. Just because your customers typically referred to something one way doesn’t mean they’re still searching for it that same way. By tidying up your keywords you ensure you’re attracting the right people and optimizing your search traffic.

5. Freshen up your stats.

Another way to revitalize your content is to go through it and update the statistics you’re referencing to make them more relevant. It’s hard for customers to establish trust in your brand when you’re still talking about how effective your company was five years ago or about the latest in mobile trends from 2002. Make sure you’re constantly reading up on different sources to update your stats as your industry and market matures. If your site is talking about what happened decades ago it’s an unintentional sign that you haven’t done anything since.

The end of one year gives us a chance to tidy things up in preparation for the next. One of the best investments you can make for your website right now is to clean up your content to make sure it’s attracting the right people and properly differentiating your business from your competitors. Give yourself a content audit before the calendar hits 2011 to start things off on the right note.

 

http://smallbiztrends.com/2010/12/5-ways-tune-up-content-2011.html

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11 customer service trends to watch out for in 2011.

Customer service is a perennial issue that is critical to all small business owners. Although it is included in every company mission statement, no one wants to focus on it. But some key customer service trends for 2011 make this phase of your business even more critical in the coming year.

Eleven Customer Service Trends in 2011

Here are 11 customer service trends to watch in 2011:

  1. The time to react to your customer is shrinking. In this 24/7 instant gratification world, the time in which your customer expects you to be able to resolve their problem is getting smaller. Most customers expect to be able to reach you 24/7, and for you to resolve their concern on the very first call (or at least the same day). This is putting increasing stress on companies’ infrastructure and pressuring companies to ensure the profitability of each customer. Look for companies to begin to “fire” customers that don’t meet their profitability metric.
  2. Customer service has become the new marketing. Small business owners used to be afraid that a dissatisfied customer would tell 7 people. Now, through social media sites, they can tell 7 million people. On the flip side, “raving fans” can be your biggest source of new business as they tell everyone how great your company is. Consumers believe what their peers say about your company more than they believe any of your own paid advertising.
  3. You can find out exactly where your customers are talking about your company. Every business is being talked about on the Internet, but where? New customized software from companies like Flowtown allow the business owner to insert a contact’s name or e-mail address and identify the social networks in which that contact participates. Knowing where your prospects and customers congregate online is critical for engaging your customers where they are.
  4. The “social support” experience grows. Consumers now talk and bond directly with each other over using your products. Companies like Get Satisfaction and Feedback 2.0 are building online communities that facilitate conversations between companies and customers. Get Satisfaction states that 46,000 companies use its product to provide a social support experience to listen and talk to their loyal customers.
  5. Faster resolution of customer service issues through blog and social media site comments. Calling a company’s customer service number is no longer the fastest way for a customer to get an issue resolved. Since most brands are tracking what is being said about them on all the social media sites, tweeting your concern or posting it on Facebook will often yield quicker results. This has especially been effective for me with my vendors like Comcast, Vonage, American Airlines and Discover Card.
  6. Integration of Web customer service and traditional phone support. Customized software now allows integration of what prospects and customers are saying on the Web about your company. More solutions like Parature for Facebook are available to integrate that information with your website and customer service center. Software now enables Facebook users to search their knowledgebase, submit help tickets and chat with customer service agents. Look for online and offline customer input channels to continue to merge in the coming year.
  7. More self service: It started with ATMs 40 years ago and now we rarely go to the airport without using a self-service kiosk. This past year, more complicated transactions like renting a car are now being done via kiosks at companies like Hertz. Although it takes a bit longer, it is effective for impatient customers who do not want to wait in lines. Many stores have also implemented self checkout. Can buying a car or house via self serve be far behind?
  8. Faux personalization becomes an expectation. With many consumer interactions now happening online or through automated kiosks instead of live people, customers have come to expect the type of “personal service” they get at websites like Amazon. Easily being able to track your current, past and recommended future purchases has become an expectation that is not easily matched in a brick and mortar store. Amazon always remembers who you are, but does your local retail store? As a result, where would you rather shop?
  9. Retail stores are now an experience. Successful retail stores like Apple and Brookstone have become demo centers with a lot of service people around to help. On Black Friday, when other stores were struggling to keep up, I was in and out of an Apple store in 5 minutes with my iPad purchase. In order to compete with online shopping, successful stores are now fun places to come out and shop. Gone are the days when you couldn’t find someone to help you at Toys R Us (and I don’t miss it).
  10. You need to chat. Helping a customer on your website used to providing an e-mail address or listing the company phone number. Real-time chat is now becoming a requirement in order to help your clients. Can video chat be that far behind for an even more personal touch?
  11. Online inventory tracking from your customer’s phone. Your customer will no longer come into your store to see if you have a product. Companies like Milo.com can now tell the customer if a product is on your shelf. The company says it tracks real-time availability of 3 million products in 52,000 stores. Is this the end of “window shopping”?

http://smallbiztrends.com/2010/12/eleven-customer-service-trends-2011.html

Selling your company?

Selling your business is an emotional rollercoaster. It is a unique mixture of fear, uncertainty, excitement, arrogance and eventually relief.  Knowing the appropriate time to feel each of these emotions comes from experience, and understanding what to expect may be helpful when you eventually sell your company.

Over the years I’ve realized that receiving your first letter of intent or “LOI” is a very confusing part of the business sale process. Experienced sellers (there are not many of these) realize there is about a 40 percent chance that a LOI will actually result in the sale of your company.  In fact, the majority of LOIs never actually turn into a closed deal.  There are many reasons for this, and how you approach, think about and react to your first letter of intent will dramatically impact your opportunity for a successful sale.

Selling Your Company?

As evidence, let me present the most recent annual report from Riverside Company, one of the best mid-market buyout firms in the country.

As reported in their 2009 annual report, Riverside Company submitted 63 LOIs yet closed on just 15 of those transactions (23.8 percent):

  • 4,228    Deals Considered
  • 1,315    Companies Screened
  • 347     Company Visits
  • 63     LOIs Submitted
  • 15     Deals Closed

They are very good buyers and know how to close deals, yet less than 24 percent of their LOIs resulted in a happy, wealthy seller.  The tough economic climate of 2009 was a contributing factor, as was Riverside Company’s extreme discipline as a buyer.  Regardless of the specific reasons, this example is instructive for any entrepreneur who is considering a company sale.  There are a few important lessons to glean from this report about the process of selling your company.

Deal Flow

Most acquiring companies, private equity firms or buyout firms have a network of professionals they rely on for deal flow; Riverside relies on them almost exclusively.  In 2009 Riverside developed a complete screening memo for 1,315 companies and submitted a LOI to less than 5 percent of those companies.  A professional introduction or “friend of the firm” is always the best way, and often the only way, to present your company if you want any serious consideration.

Real Interest

Selling your company is a humbling process.  You’ll talk to dozens of buyers who are not interested, and many of those who are interested will tell you “your baby is ugly.”  I often talk with CEOs or entrepreneurs who tell me they get calls about buying their business “all the time” as if that adds credibility or value to their company.  The problem is that it sometimes leads to arrogance, which is always a problem when selling a company.

Again, if you consider the Riverside numbers, only 8 percent of the deals they considered created enough interest even to arrange a management meeting (that is, a visit to the company).  Calls of interest are always gratifying, of course. The key is to stay humble or the process will do that for you.

Minimum Deal Size

Riverside actually visited 347 companies in 2009. These management meetings are often preceded by a phone call to determine if a visit is warranted.  If it is, there are expenses for hotels, meals and airline tickets on top of Riverside’s existing infrastructure to handle their deal flow.

Understanding these dynamics helps to realize why many investors require a minimum of $1 million to $2 million of net earning (EBITDA) to take a close look at a company.  There is almost the same amount of due diligence for a $10 million purchase as there is for a $150 million transaction.

Distraction

I spoke with a client just yesterday who confessed he is excited to receive a pending LOI and completely distracted by the possibilities his deal represents to him personally.  He finds himself thinking more about the sale than about how to grow his business, which is quite normal.  Once we get past the LOI stage, he’ll have to produce plenty of due diligence materials, which will also require time and attention.

Experienced buyers recognize this and will use human nature to their advantage when timing their transaction process.  Time is most often on the side of the buyer, and good buyers will often use that advantage to wear you down mentally and emotionally.

Selling your company is a long process with many ups and downs, timetables, information requests, accountants, lawyers and advisors.  If you want to sell your company for maximum value, be sure to have a good team of advisors who will let you know when to get excited. (Hint: It will not be when you get your first LOI.)

http://smallbiztrends.com/2010/12/selling-company-understand-letter-of-intent.html

7 reasons your site doesn’t convert.

It’s frustrating. As a proud small business owner, you put a lot of time into your site and perfecting its content. You’ve segmented your customers and have created targeted landing pages to attract them but, for some reason, they’re not converting. What are you to do? It’s time to tweak and troubleshoot your landing pages for ultimate success!

Below are seven reasons your landing pages may not be converting for you and how you can help turn it around.

1. Too Many Distractions

One mistake folks often make crafting landing pages is to throw everything they have related to a topic on one page. The hope is that if you list everything, something will catch a user’s eye. However, that’s not actually what happens. What happens is you muddy up their conversion path by either overwhelming them into taking no action at all or encouraging them to take an action that doesn’t put them on the correct conversion path.

Instead, limit the number of distractions and products you place on a page. Be confident that if customers find one thing they’re interested in, they’ll look around for the rest of what you have to offer. You don’t have to throw it at them all at once.

2. Important Content Is Hidden

One of the basic tenents of journalism says that if you want something to get read, you have to put it “above the fold” (that is, in the top half of the paper’s front page). The same thing goes for content marketing. Make sure the most important bits of your content, the ones that are meant to drive customers to do something, are in a place where users will actually see them without having to page down. There’s no point in having exceptional content if you’re just going to hide it in the basement. Put it front and center to help it do its job.

3. You Need Stronger Calls to Action . . .

. . .or maybe you just need a call to action, period! The call to action you place on your landing page is often what either compels (or doesn’t compel) someone to do something. If your pages aren’t converting, then it might be a sign that you need to tighten up your calls to action. To get better at persuasive copywriting, do some reading over at sources likeMen With PensCopyblogger or Problogger. Any of these blogs can help you learn to how to speak to your customers in a way that encourages them to take action.

4. You Need Stronger Direction

You know the conversion path you’re trying to set for customers.  Can they identify it? Are you making it seamless or are you allowing them to veer off course because things aren’t clearly laid out? If you’re not sure of how well you’re pointing people in the right direction, take a look at your analytics.  If you find that lots of people are abandoning the process at the same spot, it may show you that something odd is going on in a certain part of the conversion process.  Maybe you can tighten up your writing, maybe you need to remove a distraction link or maybe it’s something else.  Either way, you want the flow of your page to be clear to those reading it.

5. You’re Sending Them Away

Another reason people may not be converting is because you’re accidentally sending them off the desired conversion path. Do you have a link back to your home page in the same place you’re encouraging someone to “check out”? Do you mention your other product pages from the landing page of another? Do you link to a funny YouTube video for comic relief? If you do, you’re giving people an excuse not to buy from you. Don’t put extraneous links on pages that are meant to funnel people into a shopping cart and get them to make a purchase. People will do anything not to buy. If you give them an option to get out, they’ll take it.

6. You Scare Them With Too Much Text

I don’t know about you, but when I land on a page that has 6,000 words and barely any white space, I hit my back button. It doesn’t matter how interested I was in the product or how engaging the copy might be; it’s too intimidating to tackle. If you want people to convert, make sure your pages are lightweight, scannable and easy to process. If you’re overloading them, you may end up scaring them away.

7. They Don’t Trust You

A final reason customers may not feel comfortable purchasing from your site is that they don’t trust you. That could be the result of a number of things. For example:

  • You don’t have an About Us page. Or, you have one but it doesn’t feel “real.”
  • You don’t list any contact information like a real street address, phone number, social networking profiles, etc.
  • Your site doesn’t look professional.
  • Your content is filled with typos, grammatical errors or is too informal.
  • Your content isn’t engaging or doesn’t show that you’re committed to your customers.
  • You can’t be found on social media.

If any of this sounds familiar, then I’d encourage you to go into your site and amplify these trust factors, as they’re often the deciding factor for customers looking to purchase from an SMB.

The point of your landing pages is to attract customers and get them on a specific conversion path. If this isn’t happen, you need to start testing/tweaking to find out exactly what’s setting users off course and how you can rectify it. What landing page problems have you experienced? How have you combated them?

How to become a celebrity in the eyes of your niche.

We are currently living through a ridiculously interesting period in small business and entrepreneurship:  The rise of entrepreneurial niche celebrity.

If the word “celebrity” makes you cringe or cry, let me clarify a bit. This isn’t about pouring champagne up in the club, bling bling, red carpets, PR people speaking for you and being a jackass. It also isn’t about being a household name in every household in the world with paparazzi chasing you around town.

Instead, entrepreneurial celebrity is all about being viewed as an approachable, trusted resource to a specific niche of people or around a topic of interest. The go-to person and company. A leader.

A better term is a trusted resource.

A trusted resource brings a specific subset of people together and leads them. A trusted resource also:

  • Educates, entertains and inspires.
  • Makes a lot of money because people know, like and trust him or her.
  • Is often a person as opposed to a faceless company.
  • Is accessible and transparent on social media sites, via e-mail, etc.
  • Is not all-knowing and stuffy, but instead friendly and helpful.

Contrast that with the “old school” concept of the expert or “celebrity” which was focused on a public persona deemed interesting to mainstream media, based on the illusion of perfection, and heavily hidden behind gatekeepers (agents, publicists, etc.). These people were unattainable (good luck getting an e-mail back) and often took the “I’m better than you!” stance.

But here is the interesting thing. If you want it, you can become the next trusted resource. Here are three things to consider so you can become the next Chris Brogan, Anita Campbell, Ali Brown or Gary Vaynerchuk in your niche in your way:

#1: Show Your Face & Personality

Yes, you. Young or old. Male or female. Whatever. The social Web and new media have completely changed the entrepreneurial world. Today, if you think about it, it is a return to the way business used to be in small towns. We do business with people we know, like and trust. Just like the butcher on the corner who knew the names of his customers’ kids in 1943, there is a craving for personal connection with the people we do business with.

Here is the secret: People rally around people. That is why wine lovers love Gary Vaynerchuk. It is why boxing lovers love the White Collar Brawlers. It is why female entrepreneurs love Ali Brown.

What are some simple ways you can jump on this?

Show your face on your website. It doesn’t have to take up the entire screen, but I bet we would all love to see the man/woman behind the company.

Show your face on social media sites. Yes, you. Not just the logo. For example, my Twitter handle is @therisetothetop but I use my name and also my photo. People know it is me and not Intern Izzy or whatever (I don’t actually have an intern named Izzy…you know what I mean).

Inject your personality in everything you do. Your website copy. Your videos. Your blog. Your content. Can you eliminate jargon and replace it with with key traits of your personality? For me, I strive for:

  • Non-boring
  • Fluff-free
  • High-energy and personality-filled

What about you?

#2: Consistent, Free, Public, Interesting Content

There is no way around it. After interviewing over 100 of the Web’s top influencers and personalities, they all have something in common (drum roll, please): consistent,  free, interesting content. Period.

Are there “rules” to this? A few, but they are more “guidelines” such as:

The content has to be entertaining, educational and or inspiring…and injected with personality. Otherwise nobody watches, reads, links to it or takes any kind of action. If it isjust about products, nobody will care. If it reads like a textbook, nobody will care.

What is the bigger picture?

Consistency trumps frequency. You might post a new video one day a week. Or a new blog post three days a week. Or a new funny drawing twice a week. The frequency is less important than the consistency.

  • Gary Vaynerchuk posts a new episode of Wine Library TV 5 days a week.
  • Chris Gueillebeau blogs about world travel twice a week.
  • The White Collar Brawlers release a new episode of their Web series every Tuesday and Friday.

No walls or rules: Public content wins if you are looking to grow a fan base and community. It doesn’t mean everything you do is free (that would be a not-so-good business model), but the top trusted resources do offer something valuable for free. It might be a blog filled with tips and stories. Or an online show. Or….the list goes on. Why? Because people and bloggers link to free and public. People share free and public on social media sites.

#3: Interaction, Caring & Building Relationships

This is the secret sauce and something that genuinely can’t be (and shouldn’t be even if it could be) faked. The people online with the fascinating personalities get in the trenches and interact. It might be replying to every single tweet on Twitter. It might be replying to every single e-mail (like Seth Godin). It might be commenting on every comment that comes across your website.

Back in the day, this was not part of the formula. If you wanted to be a “quoted expert,” you would have to beg for media attention and media had the platform and controlled the one-way conversation.

Those rules are out the window now. It isn’t just about showing your face and personality. It isn’t just about creating awesome content. It is both of those mixed with a healthy dose of building one-on-one relationships online and off. At events in your niche. On social networking sites. In forums. On other blogs.

Without the secret sauce, the meat and potatoes end up pretty dry.

Bottom line: As a small business owner or entrepreneur, now is the opportunity to stake your ground as a trusted resource. It isn’t rocket science, but it takes dedication, caring and drive. But, I bet if you own your own business…you already know that.

The source of Entrepreneurial wealth

As Entrepreneurs, we have only one source of wealth. It’s not our talent or expertise. It’s not even our product or service.
 
Our only source of wealth is our customers.
 
Yet it’s very easy to neglect that source of wealth.
 
Today I want to focus on one of the most overlooked elements of Entrepreneurial success – your communications with your existing customers.
 
Most marketing efforts focus on acquiring new customers. But I’ve yet to find a business that is maximizing its marketing to its existing customers.
 
I would take this a step further. When I speak to a business owner, I know without a doubt that they are sitting on a goldmine. This goldmine consists of the wealth that is hidden in their relationships with their current customers.
 
How do you access that goldmine? By answering these questions:
 
What do you have to offer your existing customers? When did you last let them know? What are you not offering existing customers that you could be offering them? When did you last send a letter to your customers? When did you last email them? Did you measure the response? When did you last call them? What would happen if you doubled your contact with them this year? When you do communicate with them, what more could you be doing to clearly explain the specific benefits that they will experience?
 
I once helped an Entrepreneur who generated £300,000 by sending a brochure to their clients once a year. I asked what would happen if they sent the brochure twice a year. It might seem an obvious question but the thought had never even crossed their mind. We did it (and a lot more) and it generated a fortune for them.
 
This is not an unusual story. We are all so close to our businesses that it is often a challenge to step back and look at the obvious – the elusive obvious.
 
Here are some more useful questions: How often do you communicate with your customers by direct mail? Do you test and measure the response? Do you spend at least 15 minutes each month thinking of an exclusive offer you can make to your existing customers? Do you say ‘thank you’ to your customers either by letter, email or telephone? Do you ask your customers for referrals? If you have a limited service or product line – do you know of additional companies, products or services that your customers could benefit from?
 
There are hundreds of great marketing strategies for getting new customers. But before that, you need to nurture your relationships with your existing customers. It is the first key to the goldmine.
 

…Orchestration

Orchestration 
Gerber writes that you should integrate your most effective innovations into your processes and routines:

Once you innovate a process and quantify its impact on your business, once you find something that works better than what preceded it, once you discovered how to increase the “yeses” from your customers, your employees, your suppliers, and your lenders — at that point, it’s time to orchestrate the whole thing.  Orchestration is the elimination of discretion, or choice, at the operating level of your business.  Without Orchestration, nothing could be planned, and nothing anticipated — by you or your customer.  If you’re doing everything differently each time you do it, if everyone in your company is doing it by their own discretion, their own choice, rather than creating order, you’re creating chaos.