Author Archives: Peg Emmons

Who Says Blogging is Dead?

With the prevalence of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, it may seem like blogs have become obsolete. Some publications advise amateur wordsmiths to not even bother creating a blog, claiming that adding anything to the already super-saturated blogosphere will inevitably become white noise.

The problem, however, lies not in the audience but in the uncommitted writer. Considering how easy it is to make a blog — most can be set up for free in less than five minutes — the blogging trend caught on with the masses very quickly and so many unattractive, uninteresting, and useless blogs were created that the numbers became inflated.

Those blogs whose writers have a specific purpose, especially blogging for business purposes, have been much more successful and met their purpose better than something like a kitten fan page, and for good reason. Because business blogs have a specific focus and an — admittedly smaller — but more interested and dedicated audience, they cannot be as accurately tracked with statistics as mass-appeal general topic blogs are. Generalized blogs have the advantage of appealing to a greater audience, but they are at a major disadvantage when it comes to keeping a reader’s attention long-term. They are also at a disadvantage in that they have no specific purpose, which often leads writers to stagnate and just stop posting.

It’s not blogging is dead, it’s that not everyone with access to a computer can write something worth reading. For these people the limited lengths and guaranteed audiences of social media is a better option. But this doesn’t make the blog useless or obsolete, and the numbers agree; according to a recent eMarketer study, 53.5 % of the online population in the U.S. (122.6 million people) read at least one blog every month.

In fact, most bloggers (up to 75%) believe that blogs are being taken more seriously as sources of information now than ever before and 74% of self-employed bloggers say that their blog has proven valuable for promoting their business. Commitment and longevity in blogging pays off, since 68% of successful bloggers have been posting for 2-6 years.

So then how, in a full-to-the-brim blog community can you make your blog successful? A business blog has the advantage of a specific purpose a continual stream of topics which will help to keep the blog fresh and thriving for as long as the business is, but only if it the writing is up to business standards.

  1. First and foremost you have to know your subject and audience, and gauge the content of your blog accordingly; a business blog is going to require more time and effort than most to be interesting and substantive, but the possible rewards vastly outstrip those of a blog about kittens.
  2. The next thing to focus on is the layout and design of your blog (but remember that writing quality needs to be your first priority). Because the blog is such a fluid medium, there’s no reason for yours to be boring or unattractive. A proper understanding of the CRAP principles can also work wonders. The challenge lies in finding a balance between readability, navigability, and attractiveness. A clear layout and a subject-based archive of past posts as well as the standard chronological one can be very effective.
  3. Also, highlighting new posts, either through including new posts in existing weekly newsletters, having a specific mailer just for blog updates, or using an outlet such as Google Reader will make it effortless for your readers to keep abreast of new posts and can increase readership dramatically.

Now that blogging has moved out of its infancy, things are changing; the blog format is established, audiences expect higher quality content, and readership is more specialized. But that’s no reason why a blog cannot be informative or successful, it just means we’ll have to try a bit harder.

Are online coupons an effective marketing strategy?

 We’ve all seen them, and most of us have used them at one time or another, but are online coupons really worth it?

The simple answer: yes. Coupons are a win-win situation; the customer feels especially good about the purchase they’re making and the seller is more likely to make the sale or even multiple sales. According to research done by Harris Interactive, 34% of web consumers now will wait to make a purchase until they have a coupon, which is up from 30% last year and 27% the year before.

According to AllExperts.com, 5.7% of consumers look for coupons online, 4.4% of them receiving them via email. They found that nearly 22% of respondents want to receive coupons via email. Online coupons can translate to offline activity, they’ve found, and the key to effective online coupons is correct targeting.

They report that “the combined 32% of those who prefer to receive coupons on the Internet and via email jumps to 55%, provided the coupons are specifically tailored to the interests of the consumer. Targeting your audience properly will allow you to deliver greater value, and in turn, a higher open rate of your e-mails.”

According to the Etsy.com seller handbook, discounts and sales can be effective for a wide variety of reasons:

  • Coupons can help to introduce and establish new customers who are then likely to become repeat customers.
  • Discounts like “buy one get one for $5 off” encourage additional purchases while offers like “10% off total purchase” will often entice customers to buy in greater volume.
  • Coupons are an excellent way to reward your best customers and maintain an excellent, mutually beneficial relationship.

In an uncertain economy every little bit helps, and with websites catering specifically to distributing them, it is easier than ever to spread the word about your coupons and by extension your company. These sites work in several different ways:

  • Groupon offers amazing deals, often 50% off or more, and consumers have the option of purchasing these deals. This guarantees volume purchases, which are the biggest benefit of offering coupons for the seller, because unless a pre-set number of people purchase the deal it is void.
  • SmartSource and RetailMeNot are organized resources for printable coupons for everything from groceries to dental screenings. These sites allow registered users (registration is free) to choose stores, categories, and brands they prefer and to receive email notifications of coupons which fit their preferences. Users can also search using many different criteria including location and percentage of discount in order to find the best deals.

 

Because they are an easy and relatively cheap way to bring in business, and because the use of online coupons is steadily growing, it is becoming increasingly necessary for businesses to offer at least occasional discounts and coupons. Keeping a continuous flow of time-sensitive discounts can increase the dynamic feel of a business and entice the on-the-fence customers to make purchases.

The C.R.A.P. Principles

C.R.A.P. (terrible name, infinitely useful) is an initialism which stands for contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. The term was coined by Robin Williams (author of The Non-Designer’s Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice) and has become a basic principle of design. Utilizing the C.R.A.P. principles allows even the most inexperienced amateur designers to avoid the dreaded wall of text and instead create dynamic and attractive web content.

The basics of the C.R.A.P. principles are:

Contrast – Elements that aren’t supposed to be the same should be very different. Making the only slightly different confuses the eye and causes the reader to see a relationship that doesn’t exist. Using differing elements on a page draws the eyes to appropriately grouped elements and allows for proper scanning.

Repetition – Continuing formatting and styles for the entire document to create and maintain a cohesive feel.

Alignment – Everything on the page needs to be visually connected to something else, nothing should be out of place or distinct from all other design elements. Clean lines create peace.

Proximity – Proximity creates related meaning: elements that are related should be grouped together, whereas separate elements should have enough space in between to be easily distinguishable. Never underestimate the use of white space.

For more information and examples, visit:
http://www.webcredible.co.uk/blog/revive-the-crap-principles
http://thinkvitamin.com/design/how-crap-is-your-site-design/

Long live email!

You may have heard that the use of email is shrinking due to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Add to that the deluge of spam or virus-infected emails floating around the net and the prediction starts to look promising. In addition, other technologies are gaining more and more ground such as skype, texting, and online calendar programs.

There are many reasons for the increased reliance on social media, including increased control over which messages you receive, the one-stop-shopping experience of an outlet which includes businesses, groups, clubs, and your entire social circle, and of course, let’s not underestimate the draw that an ever-changing platform like facebook can have for users simply for the sake of flashy new features.

So I have to ask, is email, once the height of information transfer technology, going the way of the pony express?

Email is by no means a perfect system; between spam (whether virus-infected or not), repetition or boringness of information in emails, and the sheer volume of messages that can accumulate when using a free instant digital medium for communication, lots of problems are likely to arise. Most internet-savvy users are able to control the settings of their email programs and personalize them so that they don’t encounter these issues, but for those who don’t know how or just can’t be bothered to do so, email can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help.

One important thing to remember is that the trend of increasing reliance on social media is not, generally speaking, a trend among businesspeople. While some smaller businesses do exist solely on sites like facebook, the vast majority of businesses that have a facebook page also have a main website and the facebook is simply an extra outlet for users who choose to recieve information primarily that way.

Despite the longevity of these predictions, email is still winning out. A study by iModerate Research Technologies found that 86% of consumers who send information over the Internet do so primarily through email. Facebook and Twitter, however, are dragging behind with 49 and 4 percent respectively. One reason for this high number of emails may lie in the age of the users; consumers over 35 are overwhelmingly favoring email at 93% usage, while even among the most Facebook-savvy age group — 18-24 years — 70% of users are still preferring email.

One reason for the continuing dominance of email may be its usefulness in online marketing. 37 percent of shoppers prefer email as the delivery method of promotional offers with only 9 percent favoring social media, according to eMarketer. In fact, social media is dead last on the list with Mailers in second place at 23 percent followed by text messaging and in-store with 18 and 11 percent respectively.

While the numbers will likely continue to grow in the favor of social media as it continues to grow, the fact that email is still by far the dominant form of online information transfer suggests that it will remain so for a long time to come.

Tips for a successful trade show

The very words Trade Show make some small business owners shudder. A Trade Show can take a lot of time and most of the time that’s something a small business owner just doesn’t have. With some careful planning however, a trade show can not only be fun they can be profitable as well.

Here are 10 tips we’ve picked up from attending a lot of shows, not only as vendors but participants as well. They may be basic but the best tips usually are pretty basic.

1. Set clear goals of what you want to achieve at the show. Do you expect to sell products, launch a new product or promotion, or possibly meet suppliers? You can set more than one goal but be clear and focused on what your participation will involve. In our business (selling web solutions) we don’t expect to sell a site on the spot. What we do look for is hot leads. At each trade show we attempt to identify 3 – 5 hot leads. We do this by gathering business cards from participants. When someone hands me their card, I quickly look for a web address. I then ask them one of two simple questions. If they don’t have a site listed on their card, I ask why? If they do have a site listed on their card, I ask them how happy they are with the performance of their website. Based on their response, I quickly note on the back of their card how “hot” they are. If they expressed some sort of displeasure or unsatisfaction with their website, I mark them as “hot” and follow up with them right after the show is over.

2. Find out everything you can about your space in advance. There’s nothing more frustrating than showing up to a show only to find that your booth is too big or too small to fit the space. Finding out the location of your booth in advance prevents you lugging around boxes and products in search of the right spot. Finding out everything that is included (table, table cloth, electricity, etc) in advance is a big time and headache saver.

3. Have everything you need, like extension cords; tape etc with you when you arrive to set up your booth. It prevents last minute searching for items needed to set up your booth which, if you’re in a strange town can quickly turn into a nightmare. We have a trade show box that stays with our booth that contains a hammer, thumb tacks, pens, rubber bands, notepads, band aids, extension cords, replacement light bulbs, tape, breath mints and much more in it. It has been used at every trade show we’ve been to and always comes in handy.

4. Make sure your display is appropriate for the group you are targeting. Who is your target market with your trade show display? Different audiences go to trade shows differently and have different needs.

5. Advertise in advance of the show. Let the public know that you are participating in a particular trade show. Invite your clients, customers, suppliers and be sure and give them your booth number. Advertise your attendance to the trade show on your website as well.

6. Stand out! Don’t just be another booth and vendor at the show – find something different and unique and use that to draw visitors to your booth. Arrange your booth strategically so that everything can be seen quickly by visitors. Put larger items in the rear and shorter items up front. A table runner on top of the table cloth is an effective way of making your table stand out. Be creative with your booth, include pictures if possible and be sure your company name and logo are more than obvious.

7. Should you give something away? Most people who attend trade shows are expecting some giveaways and food is always popular. Make sure you package your food in a way that allows you to have your company information on it. Gift Certificates for some of your services are another great Trade Show giveaway – there’s nothing better than getting a deal on your services. And when they redeem their certificate, they will learn how great your services are and come back for more. Offer a drawing for a prize that complements your business and appeals to everyone. Have visitors and guests sign a guestbook, fill out a form or drop their business card in a bowl. You can then use this information later to make a follow up contact. We gave away a Wii last year at a trade show and we were one of the most popular booths at the event! We collected over 300 business cards and have closed 7 deals from that show alone.

8. Arrive early enough to the trade show and make sure everything is set up correctly and that everything works. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes – you’re going to be on your feet!

9. During the show, never turn your back to the crowd and don’t sit down unless you’re having a conversation with a guest and you both are sitting. Stand in front of your booth, if possible, saying “Hi” to those that turn and look toward your or your booth. Have your elevator speech ready. More importantly, is being ready to listen to what your guests have to say, you may learn a lot about them and be able to fill a need that they have.

10. A portfolio or display of your work should be on hand for visitors to see. A digital photo frame is an excellent way of showing your work or placing a Power Point® presentation on a laptop – your visitors will find this visually appealing and it will draw their attention. Offering a brochure with your best work for them to take with them will serve as a reminder once the show is over.

These 10 basic steps to Trade Show exhibiting will make your booth stand out, draw visitors so you can gather their contact information, save you time, money and stress. The most important thing about a trade show is to have fun!

Don’t forget to LISTEN

Do Not Forget to ListenOne of the most important things to do when you’re speaking with a client is to really listen to them. Thinking about what you’re going to say when they are done speaking is a common problem and one that can get you into trouble and can also lose the client and ruin a relationship.

Don’t assume anything, you don’t know their bank account balance or their budget, so don’t assume they can’t afford much because they have holes in their jeans or old cowboy boots on. (I’m speaking from experience!)

When it comes to web design assuming that the client has your taste in design and only sending them designs that YOU like will more than likely bite you in the butt if you haven’t taken the time to listen to what they want or learn their story. Think about what you learn as well when you listen to a client’s story – you may walk away with a golden nugget.

Thinking that a person has nothing important to say and not listening to them is not also only a huge mistake but rude and it’s easy for the person speaking to tell that you’re not paying attention.

Focus on the person speaking and listen to what they are saying – you can show the person you’re paying attention by keeping your eyes on them and keeping open body language. Lean forward a bit and don’t cross your arms or legs. Let them finish their speaking before you begin to speak.

I’m not saying anything new here – it’s just common sense and sometimes we forget that we aren’t the most important person in our client’s lives and we need to give them space and time and respect. They will return the favor!

Websites are like Gardens

Running Away From HomeI lost a customer recently and that really bothers me. A small vendor of woman’s accessories, the customer bought a website from Net Solutions last year. She wanted an eCommerce site and she wanted to keep costs as low as possible. She used PayPal as her payment gateway and I designed her site, set up the pages, wrote and added text, added the items into her shopping cart and got her site launched.

After the site went live, she indicated that she did not like the flow of the PayPal system and requested that I change it. I tactfully informed her that I could not change PayPal’s processes even if I wanted to. I am not convinced she believed me. She never did anything with her website, nothing ever changed. After several months she pulled all the products off her site and now she’s canceled her site and her domain name. I feel like I let her down because her site wasn’t as successful as she wanted it to be.

One thought led to another and I thought about many of my clients and the misconception that a lot of small business owners seem to share, “I have a website, where are my customers?”

A website, especially one that’s as easy to use and maintain as a ProFusion Ultra IS website, is a fantastic marketing tool and when used correctly, can bring in new customers to your business, helping it grow and thrive. Unlike a phone book or print ad you can add all the color you want at no additional cost. Websites Are Like GardensAdd additional pages, video, forms, photos – things to make the website easier for your visitors to interact with your business easily, quickly and often – with no waiting for publication dates.

It doesn’t end there however, to be an effective marketing tool a website must be kept sharp, up to date and fresh. It’s like a garden, it’s never done. Ignore it at your own peril and like this customer did weeds will grow and choke the life out of it. It will languish with the millions of other websites, never found because no time was taken to keep it fresh and updated – no reason for search engines or humans to visit or ever come back. This is the main reason why Search Engine Optimization is so important for your website – it keeps your site from becoming just another pretty face among the millions of other pretty faces in Cyberspace. Use your website like the tool it was designed to be, keep your site sharp and up to date so you can reap the rewards it can offer you for years to come.

Even though I can rationalize why my client canceled her domain and took down her site, I still hate losing her as a customer.