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Develop a marketing campaign

January 26th, 2009

This is not a corn field and just because you build it, they won’t necessarily come.  While having a site for people to reference when researching you is good, getting people to contact you after looking at your site is better.

To generate some thought, below are a few free or inexpensive steps to drive traffic and create a little “buzz”.
1.  Leverage Facebook & Linked-in to establish a social and professional online identity.  These tools expand your network with friends, co-workers and classmates.  Do not wait until you need something from them to connect as your intentions may come to question.

2.  Create and post updates to your Blog to establish your expertise and build a personality.  Do not underestimate the value of humor and honesty.  Plenty of professional publications are available but people will subscribe to your feed if you bring to them things that are entertaining and relevant.

3.  The value of Twitter is still being established but it can support your activities if you can build a following.  A note of caution that while some people are willing to tolerate “I had a ham sandwich for lunch”, try to make things worth reading.

4.  Findability is my favorite term these days for improving the effectiveness of a small business site.  It refers to the ease at which someone can locate the information desired.  Search is by far the most powerful aspect of getting people to your front door.  Natural Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is valuable but do not fear Pay Per Click (PPC).  If you focus your keywords to local terms, a Google AdWords program has no minimum and the term “Fort Collins Consulting” is estimated to cost $.05 per click.

5.  Generate traffic and inbound links to your site.  This will have the extra benefit of improving your natural (unpaid) search results.

  • Email signatures are a simple way to announce your new website, twitter feed or blog.  All those that hear from you will have the opportunity to click and bookmark it.
  • Blog and article comments on popular content authors can bring great exposure if you can provide insight.  Posting a comment on a Wired article (that was subsequently listed on Yahoo’s home page) brought thousands of visitors to a site and created quite a “buzz” when it crashed our in-house servers.  Don’t forget a link in your signature!
  • Offering free advice on Yahoo answers (and others) gets not only visits from the person with the question but gets great search rankings with Google.
  • Linked-in and other industry specific group posts have similar effect of driving targeted traffic.
  • Understand also that people are lazy and many popular content sites are hungry for new and well written articles.  This can also expose you to a great audience but remember blatant advertisements are not likely to be selected.

Contact me if you want some help creating a campaign, monitoring it’s results and optimizing the efforts.

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Selecting a site framework

January 25th, 2009

Your content strategy will identify if the site needs are more static (build once and leave it alone) or dynamic  (frequent updates and additions).

For a static site, I would start with selecting a base template that fits your needs.  Many are freely available at OSWD.  You can take on the work of updating the code yourself or hire help.  I recommend using the experts because freelancers are available at reasonable prices.  Your time is just too valuable.

If you want to build the site yourself and do not know HTML a free good to start is W3Schools.  To make the actual edits, a free modification tool is Kompozer.

While dynamic sites are much more difficult to code, they but will bring return visitors.  Luckily the open source community has provided enabling frameworks that can be setup in minutes.

The content needs will drive the technology framework chosen but below are some of my favorites.

  • WordPress – Very flexible and popular blog framework.
  • Joomla – Powerful content management framework.  For those not familiar with the advantages of using a CMS read the wiki article.

If you use BlueHost.com either of these can be installed with a few mouse clicks using Fantastico.  It can install a number of these applications without a need to know Databases, PHP or any other technology.

Do not think that because you are using a common framework that all sites need to look the same.  Many free templates are also available for both Joomla and WordPress.

The same freelancers can also make customizations to any of the templates for added flexibility.

Small Business Setup , ,

Content strategy

January 24th, 2009

Now before launching headlong into your building your new blog / wiki / software portal site take a moment to think about your site. This is an investment and it’s effectiveness is a directly related to your ability to communicate to your audience.

This will take a bit more than a blog post to facilitate, but the principles of your business plan (yes you should have one) is realized where you meet the needs of your site users. Some typical site users are below

Potential Customers want to view product and solution offerings, customer reviews and your price/feature comparison to competition.

Existing Customers will need support information, places to leave feedback and information on how they can better use the product or future offerings.

Partners and Investors will be interested in your clients, history, philosophy and leadership background.

A major site content strategy should be the establishment of trust. Gone are the days of trusting everything you read online (except my parents). For every user above, the establishment of a trusted relationship will increase the effectiveness of your message. Content that builds trust include the below:

  • More than ever, corporate responsibility and environmental sensitivities resonate with end users.
  • An active industry relevant blog can establish yourself as an expert in the field.
  • Current and past client list with any testimonials available adds credibility through references.
  • For a service organization, a comprehensive business case of a successful engagement with quantifiable results is amazingly effective.

Small Business Setup , ,

Site registration and remote hosting

January 24th, 2009

The days of a small business running a site out of a garage or closet are long over. You sacrifice far to much in reliability and spend far to much in technology infrastructure. My recommendation for a stable and cost effective remote hosting facility is BlueHost.

1. Once you have setup your account with your chosen domain, setup your emails accordingly.

- You can emails forwarded directly your exiting personal account but any emails you send will be coming from that domain instead of your own.

– This is as good of a time as any to download Mozilla Thunderbird and free yourself from having to pay Microsoft for Outlook. It will give you the ability to setup an IMAP account to view and send messages from your desktop.

- Another free option for email management is Google Apps.  It provides a fantastic web interface and can even work offline now.  You will be dependent on the Google network but it is as reliable as they come.

2. Register any domains that might be common mis-spellings of your site as a “parked domain” that points back to your primary site.  Think how much this guy is making for nothing!

Small Business Setup ,

Logo design contests

January 24th, 2009

Key to your on-line identity and web effectiveness is your logo and design aesthetics. Agencies and independent design shops will bill between $50 and $200 per hour for professional designs. At that rate, meetings, design briefs, competitive research and all the best practices of logo design can easily be thousands of dollars.

Another alternative exists where for less than $100 individuals are now creating design contests and only paying the winning design.

Please note, that you typically get what you pay for still holds true so please consider the designers and be willing to put in some time.

  1. To recruit better designers, make the award more than your last dinner and guarantee a winner.
  2. Provide a good design brief. As with anything, garbage in = garbage out. Follow the good examples of others and give solid details.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask the opinion of other talented and creative people. Designers are trained to appreciate color, size, and a host of other subtle features that you may not appreciate on first glance.
  4. Value the designer’s time with a reasonable design window (~5 days) timely feedback and a clear direction on edits.

Once you have chosen a site technology platform, contests are also open to creating full site designs and template modifications. While the value proposition is remarkable, I would be remiss if I did not also provide you with information about why it may not be the best solution for everyone (link).

Small Business Setup ,

Establishing your company name and domain

January 23rd, 2009

Beyond the basics of short, relevant and memorable, my best advice is to use your proposed company name in a mock conversation. Ensure that it does not interrupt the conversation and take away from your message.

Critical to your branding and company name selection is your domain name. Some common combinations include the below:

CompanyName.com (e.g. JoePlumber.com)

CompanyNameInc.com (e.g. JoePlumberInc.com)

CompanyLocality.com (e.g. JoePlumberDenver.com)

LocalityService.com (e.g. DenverPlumber.com)

ServiceLocality.com (e.g. PlumberDenver.com)

The same advice for company names holds true for the domain name. Things like hyphens or using anything other than “.com” (.biz, .me, .org, .net, etc) often is a hindrance for remembering the site.  Check for availability at CheckDomain or any number of sites.

The web is full of great articles for establishing a good company name. Below are a few.

Link 1= Nolo.com

Link 2 = About.com

 

Small Business Setup ,

Why do small businesses need a website?

January 23rd, 2009

This may be preaching to the choir but, before we get into this web strategy discussion, I think it is fair to ask the question “Does my small business even need a website?”

The results of a recent survey has just been announced that 40% of small businesses don’t have a Web site. Considering there are more than 20 million small businesses in the U.S., it is estimated that approximately 8 million small businesses in this country don’t have a Web site.

Here is why I think the majority of these businesses could benefit with a web presence.

  • Many small businesses rely on customers from the local area. Roughly 20% of all search engine searches are for local services.
  • Data showns that traditional marketing is bolstered with an on-line campaign happening in parallel.  The resulting cost of each customer aquired is greatly reduced.
  • Advantages for having a web presence include the ability to gain visibilty and answer questions by providing a set of FAQ’s (frequently asked questions) for your products and services.
  • Visitors can contact you via various methods – email, web forms, blog comments, etc.
  • Small businesses look big by playing on the same level as Fortune 500 companies.
  • The costs of having a website are low compared to other marketing methods, easy to update, and you have access to the global market.  This is the enabling tool for your small business to become “big”.

They most common reason not to take advantage of the web is the fear of high setup costs and maintenance. With proper planning and leveraging the free resources available, I hope to show how this can be affortabled.

Michael Dell of Dell computers was quoted as saying, “Show me a business that’s not on the Internet, and I’ll show you a business that’s out of touch with the future.” It is my opinion that he is correct in this assertion and that the 40% not online is a huge opportunity for everyone.

One thing not to forget is that a website is a passive means of communication. If you haven’t marketed it properly, it’s like taking a bunch of brochures, putting them in a cupboard and then wondering why sales aren’t going up.  But that is a topic for another post…

Small Business Setup ,