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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Owning Your On Line Presence

The big social media platforms are always changing, searching for new ways to gain users, keep engagement up and make money. Yesterday, Google+ announced new leadership and the reorganization of some of the features. Within the last year, Facebook has changed the way business pages are able to reach followers, drastically dropping organic reach. Twitter is working on implementing more advertising and native video. And the list of changes goes on and is happening on every single social media platform.

With the adoption of social media as a 'required' marketing element for business, one important reality is often overlooked...that every single one of the platforms is owned by someone else. As a user of any of those platforms, you have absolutely no control over what they decide to change, how they decide to present your information and when they will require paid inclusion. While I don't underestimate the value social media can provide right now, I don't think it's a good idea to have your on line efforts solely focused there. The best questions you can ask yourself are,
"What if (social-media-platform-of-choice) disappeared today?  
                 Would I still have an effective on line presence for my business tomorrow?"

The very best approach to social media is to use it as a supplemental tool, not as the end-all-be-all of your on line presence. It is time for you to own your on line presence and not leave it in the hands of others. So how do you accomplish that?  Develop and maintain a good website.

Affordable, professional website development from Intuitive Designs LLC
Now more than ever, your website needs to be the hub of information, content, calls to action and marketing efforts. With your website, YOU are in control of your company message, brand identity and business information, both how it is presented and the way it reaches your target audience. Investing in the development of your site is a long-term strategy that allows you to utilize short-term tools to boost effectiveness. (Read my blog post, "Is Your Business Internet Presence A Well-Oiled Machine?" to see how social media fits to an effective on line presence equation.)

So in the end, make the effort to develop your website - it is truly the element of your on line presence that will stand the test of time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Real Difference Between Low-Cost Website Builders & Professional Development

There is no shortage of free or low-cost website builders, stating you can have a site up and running in no time. Their packages say it's easy to have a professional, successful site. But if it sounds too good to be true....

However, not every website builder is "too good to be true" and not every single small business needs a professional developer to have a good site. There are pros and cons to both ways of getting a website put together. What I want to outline here are some considerations that should be taken into account when entrepreneurs decide how to go about website development.
  1. Learning Curve
    While the site builders are typically easy to use, it does take some time getting used to them and even learning the terminology and navigation of working within their systems. There are many drag-and-drop features but learning how they work within the builder can be time consuming. On top of that, content creation and layout considerations take more time. There is a learning curve even for the technically savvy.

    Using a professional developer eliminates that learning curve. They manage the complete process of the design and implementation of website development. A good developer also helps guide and educate about content creation and good usability for the design. That allows the entrepreneur to concentrate on their business.

  2. Short-term and Long-term Flexibility
    Any site builder has limitations as far as customizing and even hosting. Free and low cost development tools typically offer a set number of templates and while they can be customized to some extent, knowing how to make the most of those designing options takes considerable time to figure out. And once the site is developed, it is tied to that site builder and it's template. Change hosts or want to move to another builder, design and content creation have to start from scratch.

    A professional has the skills and knowledge to be able to design the look and function of exactly what is wanted. They can build the site on any platform to make it easy to scale as well as flexible for future changes in hosting or design.

  3. Design
    Drag and drop builders have come a long way in helping people make attractive sites. However, good design isn't just about aesthetics - usability is a major factor. If the site looks good but the navigation doesn't make sense or the overall layout does not draw on design best practices, the site won't perform well with visitors.

    A professional web designer knows the best practices for site layout, to not only make the site attractive but functional. If a site doesn't provide a good experience for visitors, they won't stay/interact/buy/contact. And ultimately, that's the point of building a website - visitor action!

  4. SEO and Content Know-how
    This is probably the biggest difference and what should be the major consideration for entrepreneurs building a website. Knowing the most up to date methods for effective search engine optimization (SEO) and how to craft compelling content is not something that can be researched and understood overnight. Site builders offer suggestions and provide apps, add-ons and tools but again, knowing how to use them requires time and research. Business owners can't expect a website to do well in search engines just because it looks good or because they have an added tool in their builder proclaiming "optimization."

    Effective search engine results and content creation is one of the specialties of good website developers. They know the technical requirements as well as the standards for making the most of every element, graphic, line of code and bit of text. And without SEO and compelling content, a website it just a shrimp in the ocean of over 1 billion websites worldwide (www.internetlivestats.com), without much of a chance of being found by the target audience. A professional designer uses their expertise to put a website in front of the people and businesses most likely to respond and take action.
As Richard Branson said, "If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you've got to learn to delegate."  By considering the real differences between do-it-yourself websites and professional development, most business owners will see the benefit in delegating that task to a professional. And that allows them to concentrate on why they're in business in the first place - to develop their company into a growing, thriving organization. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Respect the Fold

While screen sizes are constantly changing these days and responsive design is all the rage, user studies tell us that content "above the fold" — a term borrowed from print terminology and used to reference what is visible on the webpage without scrolling — is still very important and relevant. Regardless where the fold lands, what is at the very top of your webpage needs to be some of the most important content you are offering - or at the very least hold the promise of great content if a user scrolls.

So how do you make the most of the very top of your webpages? Here are some quick tips to consider:
  1. Exceptional Visual Elements
    Engaging graphics and great pictures can help draw the eye down the page. They don't have to be large but they do need to be high quality and placed in a way that enhances content.

  2. Compelling Content
    Write with user-focused language and give site visitors information they are looking for. Your visitors should be so engaged with your content they want to explore, scroll and navigate.

  3. Detailed Links
    Show users what is available below the fold with clear, well-placed links that will take site visitors right to that content. This includes descriptive navigation as well as links within on-page content.
And if you're still not sure that the fold matters much anymore, recent quantitative studies estimate the fold's impact on the user experience. On average, content above the fold was viewed 84% more by users than content below the fold. (Nielson Norman Group, Feb. 1, 2015)

So respect the fold when considering website layout, content placement and navigation. Your website visitors engage with top-of-page content so help them uncover your important below the fold elements. And they will scroll, click and navigate if you deliver on the expectation of valuable content.

Friday, January 16, 2015

3 Content Marketing Tips for 2015

Content marketing tips for 2015 from Intuitive Designs LLC
Many small businesses are under the false assumption about a web site, "if you build it, they will come." We are at a time when more web sites exist than ever before and that number grows significantly every single day. So how do you go about getting your site - your content - noticed by the users that matter most to your business? It takes some careful thought, ingenuity and marketing. Here are three tips to help you market your content more effectively in 2015:

  1. Focus on your audience
    Your content is for people...not Google, Bing, bots and crawlers. Every item of content you create for your site should be uniquely targeted to your audience. Clearly define and get to know your potential customers. Create content that speaks to their interests, needs, preferences and provides information that is relevant to them.

    And the result? Your site will develop positive search engine optimization scores. Google's search algorithm has evolved enough to now take into consideration user experience factors along with programming protocols. So site content that is optimized for users will organically begin to perform better in search engine results. Not to mention the fact that your chances to convert site visitors to paying customers is much greater as well.

  2. Promote - Promote - Promote
    Half the battle of content marketing for small business is just getting it published. If it's a blog post, a product video on YouTube, a new page on your web site or a new product picture on Instagram, making the time to do it is the challenge. But once you make that happen, it's time to promote and share that content through every means you have - email, newsletter, social media, guest blog post, maybe even a press release. And a key element is to direct people who see your content to your main information hub - your web site. It's fair to say that you should strive to put as much effort into promoting your content as you do creating it.

  3. Align your message
    For every place you publish content - whether it's blogs, web sites, social media accounts, emails - make sure your message is consistent for your target audience. That doesn't have to stifle creativity but it does require some alignment in the way you present your information. As users follow your content and visit your web site they get a cohesive message. And as those users transition into customers, they value the content you provide and will be keenly aware of the fact that you meet their needs.
So make 2015 a year for content ingenuity, not just creation. Your small business has a value-added message for others and it's time to share it!

Friday, January 2, 2015

3 Simple Ideas To Create Effective Business Goals

Whether it's the beginning of a new year or you're starting a new business venture, goals are an important aspect of planning and strategic thinking. However, many small business owners struggle with the concept - because it's either viewed as a waste of time or they just don't know where to start. But setting goals is a key element of success. Earl Nightingale said it best, "People with goals succeed because they know where they are going...It's as simple as that." Use the following ideas as a road map to begin creating goals that help your small business succeed:

  1. Make goals achievable yet challenging
    It doesn't do any good to set targets that are truly unrealistic. If your goal is to have $1 million in sales this year and you only had sales of $25,000 last year, there is not much validity in your target. Be honest and thoughtful when creating the expectations. Feel free to use industry standards or comparisons for ideas but keep in mind the goals you set will be unique to your business and circumstances.

    Also, consider realistic time frames for making things happen. As a small business, take into consideration your time, abilities, strengths and current project load when setting targets. For example, if you know the first quarter is usually busy, don't make all of your goals focus on things that need to happen in February. Common sense goes a long way in creating achievable business goals!

  2. Use specific benchmarks
    A vague goal of "increase sales" or "grow the business" isn't much of an aspiration without specifics. A simple $1 increase in sales is an increase. But is that really what you meant? And for business growth, does that mean by number of employees, a larger physical location, or any other number of achievements that would fit the circumstance?

    To develop goals worth striving for, make measurable, calculated determinations of what you want to accomplish.  For example, if your goal is, "Increase sales to $250,000," it is now measurable and tangible. Partner that with realistic due dates or time lines and you have a goal that can motivate as well as hold you accountable.

  3. Plan and act
    For every goal you develop that is a realistic challenge and has some specifics behind it, you need a list of actions to make it happen. Goals don't just magically fulfill themselves. For example, I can't decide to run a marathon in 6 months, register and get to the starting line with the expectation of finishing if I did not train. Finishing a 26.2 mile race requires a training plan as well as the resolution to follow through with the plan.

    In business, that 'training' looks like a list of tasks for each goal that will bring about the desired objective. Using the example goal of increasing sales to $250,000, we may decide the following things need to happen : 1) hire one salesperson by March 31; 2) outsource accounting functions by February 15; 3) update website content by July 31. That's a simple outline of tasks to make follow through clear and measurable.

    And remember, your plans and actions may vary from others in your industry because your unique business situation is different. What one small business needs to do to increase sales could be completely different than what another needs. So while the overall goals may be similar, the benchmarks and actions will be individually yours.

Knowing where you want to go is half the battle of business success. Now get moving by creating effective goals and follow through...it's as simple as that!