Category Archives: Tips & Hints

Bringing back the hopper!

Once upon a time in a land far far away, I attended in intensive 5 day marketing training in Texas. Seems like forever and 2 company start ups ago, so I kind of dismissed the things I learned there as old knowledge. Well, I was just cleaning out my desk and I found some of the materials that I took home from that class and I came across the idea of a hopper system. A hopper is a system that captures leads and automatically sends response pieces to them so they won’t “Fall Through The Cracks”. When I learned about this system years ago, they placed big importance on doing “fax” blasts to people who had requested information from you. Well, faxes may be archaic, but the idea of regular communication with people who have reached out to you is still excellent.

I think all business owners intend to do this. Every January at NSNA we swear to write a weekly email to send out to our current customers. We intend to segment the list by industry and send them targeted messages, but somehow we never seem to get past the first mailing. I know we are not alone in our failure to launch a well intended, good idea.

So what do we do about it now? Start small. With the form tool on the ProFusion Ultra Internet Solution, you can send auto-responders. An auto-responder is an automated email that is sent to someone once they have filled out a form on your website. The autoresponder can be unique for each form on your site. I just went through the NSNA site and only one of our forms was using an active auto-responder. Shame on us! So this weekend, I am partially implementing the hopper with a small step. I will be writing unique auto-responders for each one of our forms. My next step will be to put together a series of responses and send them out on an automated schedule via the mailer… but that may be too much for one weekend. I’ll let you know how step 1 goes.

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!

How to convert any document to a PDF

For us PC users, there is no pre-loaded software application that allows us to turn any document into a PDF. I’ve heard that this is easy to do on a Mac, but have not verified it (any Mac users out there who wish to post the instructions here would be thanked profusely). The easiest application I have found to turn any document (Word Docs, Publisher files, PowerPoint Files, Images, etc.) into a PDF is a Free download call CutePDF. Once you have downloaded and installed CutePDF creating the document is pretty easy. Follow these steps:

1. Open the document that you want to turn into a PDF

2. Go to File > Print

3. From the printer drop down, instead of printing to your default printer, you will want to print to CutePDF instead.

4. Select where you want to save the PDF, name it and you are all done!

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!

Why most websites don’t work – a simple way to evaluate your websites effectiveness

I wrote this article back in 2004. I was going through my archives and found that the points I made 6 years ago still plague many websites today. For anyone who missed the article when it was first published, here it is again:

Why most websites don’t work…

The Internet is a huge opportunity for small and medium sized businesses for many reasons.

1. The Internet does not recognize size. If you are a small 2 person accounting firm, the Internet won’t know that, you can compete online with the larger firms and have a better chance of winning the business online.

2. The Internet is flexible. You do not have to pay big bucks each time you want to add a new service offering to your website. You can update information, add promotions, and add full color pictures (ink isn’t extra online) and images for no additional charge.

3. The Internet can extend your geographic reach. If you have a product that is not limited to the immediate Bellingham area, the Internet can help you sell in all other markets.

4. The Internet is cost effective. Having a professional website with necessary functionality does not cost tens of thousands of dollars anymore. In most cases you can see an immediate return on investment by adding information your sales people can refer potential clients to, having an time-saving informative FAQ section to free up your customer service reps, with appointment setting functionality, e-commerce and more.

This opportunity often goes untouched by business owners, even if they have a website. Too often businesses will put up a website with the following problems:

1. The website has no clear objective: when putting up a website you need to question everything. What would a website achieve for my company? Who is my company targeting and why would they visit our site? How will a website impact offline business? Start with a solid marketing objective and strategy.

2. The website is technology focused: Website development is often delegated to IT people. This does not ensure a superior web presence for your company. Your site will likely lose its marketing focus and may not be using technology that is user friendly. Develop a culture of designing customer focused online solutions.

3. The website is poorly written: Online, the written word builds relationships. Writing for the web is different, “corporate” or formal writing can come across stuffy or pompous on the web. Be flexible, but don’t be unprofessional. Always check and re-check your spelling and grammar. Bells and whistles may grab a customer’s attention, but words make the sale.

4. The website has a poor design: The design of a website can make or break a website. CyberAtlas reports that “65% of Internet users surveyed won’t patronize a poorly designed site – even that of a favorite brand.” Take a look at your website, is it easy to navigate (rule of thumb to use here is that no matter where a person is on your site, they can always make it back to the homepage within 2 clicks), are the colors appropriate, does it load quickly?

5. The website has no clear call for action: Do your visitors know what to do on your website? Have you given them a good reason to do it?

6. The website is invisible: 85% of Internet users start their search online with a search engine. If your website is not listed under the appropriate keywords for your industry your website is essentially invisible on the web. Having no traffic on your website is a huge missed opportunity.

7. The website doesn’t work: Choose your hosting environment carefully and test everything. Get other people to check it. Ask your hosting company for site logs to find pages that have errors, and check all of your links and forms regularly. Your reputation is at stake, demonstrate attention to detail.

8. The website has poor maintenance: Does your website say “Last updated September 2001?” Is it filled with under construction and coming soon pages? Your website should reflect your changing business. Update it often.

Having an Online presence is a necessity for any business that wants to be a major player in their industry. There are many ways to market your business online. Through Search Engine Optimization, email newsletters, high-touch relationship marketing and Search Engine Marketing you can make your website an investment that pays you dividends.

Use the 8 common problems above and evaluate your website. If you were a customer of your business, how would you answer the questions? If you are happy with your answers, congratulations, you are maximizing your investment on the web. If not, it might be time to revisit your website to make sure it is working for you and not against you.

Grammar Check – Are you making these common mistakes?

I don’t consider myself a grammar expert by any stretch of the imagination; however, I am consistently shocked at how often some words get misused or misspelled. Many of the gems below came from Tweets over the past few weeks. I get that a tweet is 140 characters long and is basically a stream of consciousness. However, for most of you, your tweets are public. That means a potential client or employer could be reading what you are writing and it never hurts to sound intelligent. Some of the biggest offenders are:

  • Lose vs. Loose – you are not going to loose your mind, you are going to lose your mind. And if people keep making the same mistakes over and over again, you may wonder if they have a loose screw. If you lose a screw, don’t worry, just go to Lowes and buy another one.
  • Irregardless – this just flat out is not a word. Regardless of what you think, irregardless does not show up in the dictionary (actually it does, though only to tell you it’s nonstandard, improper, wrong)
  • Site vs. Sight – we sell websites. So when we refer to the product that we sell, we talk about sites not sights. If you need better sights, you can check out some products from Nikon. If you need a better site, you can call us.
  • There vs. Their – this has plagued people since elementary school, but is really quite simple. There is a place, their denotes ownership. If we are going to a meeting together, you will not see me their, you will see me there. And if the meeting is at a friend’s house, we can go over to their place together.
  • Your vs. You’re – Anyone ever told you that your the best? It really should be you’re the best. Because you are the best and since you’re is a conjunction of you are, then you’re should be used. If we are going to your best friend’s house, then your should be used.
  • To vs. Too – you are invited to a party, can I come too? Both correct usages. Too is usually used as also when adding or including some additional information. Whenever you want to include something else, think of it as adding; therefore you also need to add an extra o.
  • Anyways vs. Anyway – Anyways is incorrect, anyway should not have an s on the end. Ever.
  • Mute vs. Moot (or Moo) – I can’t type this without thinking of Joey from Friends. If you didn’t see the episode about Joey’s Moo Point, watch it on YouTube. This would all be a moot point if people would use this term correctly.

And while I have you all thinking about the words you are using, be on the lookout for these sneaky words that look very similar when typing a message, but have very different meanings.

  • Out and Our – the t and the r are right next to each other on the keyboard, be careful which one you actually hit.
  • Now and Not – I have received messages from people that say “this is not a problem” when they actually meant “this is now a problem”. Obviously the words are very similar, but they have very different meanings.
  • You and Your – there is nothing technical about this one, just makes you sound less intelligent if you accidentally mistype the word you mean to use.

So take some time to actually read what you write. Read it out loud if you need to. If it is an important email or document, have someone proof read it for you. It never hurts to check your work