My desire is to provide helpful and thoughtful information about all aspects of doing business. Feel free to share your comments, experience and insight!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Searching From Your Customer's Point Of View

There is a lot written about search engine optimization (SEO)...how to achieve it, how to do it better, why you should pay professionals to do it for you and the list goes on and on. But the reality of it is quite simple - you have to put yourself in your customer's shoes.

This is no earth-shattering revelation but it is not easy to remove yourself from the depths of your business and look at it from a fresh perspective. That is exactly what good SEO principals begin with. When you are trying to develop your message and get your point across to web site visitors, you need to stop and think, "What do they need...what is the message they want to hear...how can I help them find what they are looking for?" It is no doubt a shift in thinking for most and it is a hard transition to make without some thought.

Following just a few simple suggestions will help:

1) Avoid industry jargon and language whenever possible. This may vary by industry of course, but really focus on the concept of using more standardized terms. Consider what the largest population of your web site visitors might call your products or services - and use those terms when developing keywords.

2) Keep your information organized and simple. Over-the-top web site design and intricate, hard-to-follow navigation does nothing to help your customers. Remember, it is not about having a "cool" site - it is about serving web site visitors and helping them find what they are looking for!

3) Enlist the help of trusted contacts to look at your site. Ideally, have someone who is not overly familiar with your business give you a fresh perspective. Have them review your site and even have them try to find your site using search engines. You will be amazed the insight you can get from those looking at your site (and your products & services) for the first time. Note those comments and consider them as valuable nuggets of insight as you work on SEO.

Again, not earth-shattering suggestions, but important considerations to help you get started. Regardless of your SEO budget, every web site owner needs to consider these things. It will put you in a better position as you develop content and try to service the very customers you have a web site for in the first place.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Time Is Now To Address Social Media

Well, like it or not, social media is not going away. With users increasing daily, small businesses need to realize the fact that social media is here to stay. However, with the continued development of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and other web tools, there is an unprecedented opportunity for small business to take advantage of low-cost and even no-cost marketing tools. Now is the time for small business to address social media.

Recent surveys have found the majority of small businesses are not taking advantage of social media - either from lack of understanding or lack of time. It is a tough spot to be in but the benefits are clear - direct communication with your target market equals an increased potential for sales.

A simple way to get started is to begin in one place - start with just one of the social media platforms. Learn what you can, enlist help from others you know, read articles and jump in. Keep in mind the purpose of social media is to build relationships with others. As a business, your goal is to build a network of connections that mean something to your company...and even more importantly, you want to offer valuable information about your business to your connections.

Free promotion is truly priceless. So now is the time for small business to get on the social media bandwagon and take their marketing message to whole new level - all for little or no-cost. Now that is a strategy you just can't beat and one that should be implemented sooner rather than later!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ethical Standards Apply To Everyone

Within the last several weeks, there has been a flurry of news about high-profile people engaging in less than appropriate behavior. From Roman Polanski's 22-year flight from justice to David Letterman's admission of relationships with women working on his show, the details of their actions have been reported and discussed all over the world.

I have heard it said more than once over the last few weeks that as an example, these two men are a part of a "different professional environment" where the standards are different, than say a politician or a Fortune 500 CEO. It has been suggested that the entertainment industry is not necessarily subject to the same ethical standards that other professionals or industries are. To me, that is a convenient way to avoid accountability.

The reality is, ethical standards are just that...a level of quality and excellent actions viewed as the customary pattern of behavior by our society. There is no room for exceptions in this consideration...actions viewed as appropriate and ethical for business are universal.

So I ask you to consider all business circumstances under the same ethical umbrella. It is never acceptable for a superior to sleep with a subordinate...it is never acceptable to steal or misuse company property...it is never acceptable...and the list goes on and on, without exception for profession or industry.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Control Your Professional Social Networking Image

The advent of social media is changing the way we communicate. Research shows that 43% of Internet users now use social networking sites, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Compared to just 27% of Internet users in 2008, it looks as though the phenomenon is not only here to stay, but growing quickly.

So what does this mean to you? You need to learn to manage your professional on-line image. If you are not among the social network users, use this information as a reference when and if you do decide to join the ranks. If you are a social network user, seriously consider what is out there, who sees it and how you can manage it.

  • Do a search of your name on the major search engines.
    This will give you a place of reference to see what is out on the Web with your name attached. Note what web sites, networking sites and other files and pictures are associated with your name.
  • Clean-up information that you can access.
    Take out inappropriate photographs or information. Review personal information you have disclosed...make sure it is clean, appropriate and overall unoffensive. Consider what personal blogs, connections and web sites you link to - if they are questionable, what does that say about you as a professional?
  • Be selective in join groups.
    There are groups for every walk of life on the social media networking sites. They run the gamut from charitable organizations and professional groups to fun and absolutely silly. If you are trying to manage an on-line profile, only join groups that leave others with a good impression of your professional objectives, social involvements and professional interests.

  • Learn to use all the privacy tools available.
    Most of the social networking sites have privacy controls associated with your account. Learn to use them. Don't forget that others can see your connections, groups and photos if you don't set your profile settings carefully. Monitor comments, links and posts to your profile. Make sure that your public profile only shows things you would want your boss or a potential employer to know about you.

  • Use good communication skills.
    Make sure you are using correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. Keep your comments, posts and entries free from profanity and inappropriate references. Don't bad-mouth others or past/current employers.

With more and more people using the Internet, as a professional it becomes that much more important to take a pro-active approach to managing your on-line image. You should care what a potential client, customer or employer will see when they look for information about you. It can easily make-or-break their decision to contact you. As an example, a survey by CareerBuilder.com in June 2009 found that 45% of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates (and that is up from 27% just last year). That alone should tell you that these social media sites are gaining ground from the professional community as a valid tool to learn about you.

Social networking is your opportunity to take advantage of an incredible resource...so be sure you are conveying a professional image and emphasizing your qualifications and skills. So use the steps above as a place to start controlling the image you have on social networking sites.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Many years ago, a fellow employee gave me a desk sign made by a local West Michigan company. The sign read, “DWYSYWD”. As a young professional, I was eager to learn and I expected the details about the sign to be full of profound business insight. As my colleague explained, the acronym on the sign stood for “Do What You Said You Would Do”. My first thought was that this was no exceptionally inspiring saying on a sign… just a trinket to have on a desk.

However, through my work and life experiences, I have learned that the acronym and all it stands for is one of the most powerful truths an individual can grasp. Professionally, it is important to follow through with what you say – whether you are a salesperson speaking with a customer or a co-worker collaborating with others. If the people you work with and for every day know that your “yes” means yes and your “no” means no, you will gain respect and reap the rewards of integrity.

It is easy to say and it looks good on a sign, but when the rubber-meets-the-road, is it really worth it to stick to that truth…to do what you said you would do? If it means losing the sale, the order, the contract, the promotion? I have had many experiences in my career where I was faced with the dilemma…do I say what they want to hear or do I tell them what is accurate and factual? Time and time again, it was obvious that taking the high-road was more difficult in the beginning but the end result far outweighed the value of a single, momentary “success”.

I kept that sign and still have it today, sitting in my office and reminding me every day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why Would My Business Benefit From A Web Site?

Despite how business was done in the past, it is a reality now that nearly all business competes globally on some level. With the proliferation of the Internet, a large number of American consumers have access to information about goods and services all over the world…not just down the street. This opens up a whole new arena for businesses of all sizes and types to take advantage of benefits they did not have available 10 or 15 years ago.

It is obvious that big business understands the importance of the Internet – they spend millions of dollars on web sites - keeping them up-to-date and performing well in search engines has provided positive effects to for their marketing campaigns as well as investor relations (GE, American Airlines, Ford, etc.). And that is not to mention the virtual companies that started with a simple site that exploded into success beyond expectations (Amazon, eBay, etc.). Once unknown companies are now talked about in everyday conversations around the world.

So how does a small business begin taking advantage of the benefits of competing in the global economy via the Internet? Having a well developed web site is the key to getting a foot in the door. Sounds pretty easy, right? But as many businesses will tell you, it is not effective enough to throw together some information on a web site and expect great results. An effective web site requires attention to detail, planning, good design, search engine optimization and continuous improvement. Not as easy as it seems. That is why it is helpful to partner with a web development professional to get the most effective site possible for your budget. And yes, it can be done affordably – you don’t need a budget of thousands of dollars to start.

With that said, the benefits of small companies having the opportunity to compete around the country and even around the world are obvious. With minimal investment, an effective web site can bring in business that would never be possible using other methods. Remember, Internet users are looking to find your company – and with a web site, your company can be found 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. Dollar-for-dollar, it would be hard to find any advertising program that could match the exposure & return on investment of a good web site.

Even small businesses that don’t ship products or that just deal with local customers can have something to gain from a well developed web site. As more and more consumers turn to the Internet for product & service research, the better opportunity the small business has to get noticed! As an example…I need a box of widgets - today. I can go to the Internet, do a search and then begin to narrow my search to find local companies that can fill my need. By the time I have done my 5-10 minute research on-line, I can easily identify & immediately contact the companies that have the widgets I need – today – all locally.

Of course, there are a few assumptions involved in my example above. Obviously, the local companies have to have web sites. Those web sites have to be developed well in order to take advantage of key terms, details and products / services offered. The web sites also have to have clear, concise information and easy-to-find contact details. And lastly, those web sites have to offer enough of the right information to entice the researcher to contact the companies to make a purchase.

So the benefits of an effective web site can be seen across the board – regardless of the type of business you have. A helpful web site development professional can partner with you to create a web site that takes advantage of these benefits and provides your site visitors with the details they need...and hopefully turns those visitors into customers!