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Many of the world’s best business leaders were born out of failed businesses. Knowing that there is a chance that the company you work for or own right now could someday fail, you need a strategy that can ensure your personal success no matter what cards your business is dealt. Let’s have a conversation about your personal brand.
As a 20-year entrepreneurial veteran, I have learned a few things about branding. The most important lesson of all is that I am my own brand, and so are you. That’s not to say that my businesses are not brands in and of themselves. However, you, as your personal brand, is a living, breathing, money-making, sales-churning, customer-serving human being.
Every entrepreneur is their own personal brand. If you don’t believe that’s true about you, then you are in for some trouble. If you own or work for a franchise and your pitch to prospective clients, employees and partners is all about the value it brings to the table, then what happens when another franchise opens two doors down? If you believe you are not a brand, then does that mean that when the company you work for fails, you do too?
The only insurance you have against extinction is building your brand. Here’s how to build your own personal brand in conjunction with or separate from your business brand:
Find your personal value proposition. You have a very specific value proposition that you bring to the table as an entrepreneur. Perhaps you’ve worked in your industry for 50 years, have a Harvard education or have lived through an experience that makes you better at your job than most. Whatever value you bring to the client, the employees of your company and to the organization as a whole should be spelled out regularly.
Work your value proposition into every presentation you give. Let your clients know the unique value you bring to the table to help them accomplish their goals. If you are the CEO or president of your company, create a blog where you write regularly to your employees, stockholders and customers. The more you speak to them, the more you establish yourself as the face of the organization.
When you become a brand within the company brand, you insure longevity for yourself, separate from the organizational brand. Zappos is an amazing brand, but so is Tony Hsieh.
Capture your brand “logo.” You are a brand and your logo is your photo. Your photo should be on everything and you should work with a photographer who can capture the essence of who you are. Let your business personality shine through in that photo. People can relate to a human being more so than they can relate to an inanimate figure. It’s OK to use your company logo, but certainly also include your personal photo. When the client, employee or stockholder thinks of you, wouldn’t it be nice if they pictured you as a human being and not some vector image?
Distinguish both brands. Building a company brand takes hard work. The best way to distinguish between your personal brand and your company brand is to explain and distinguish the two whenever possible.
Building a business is like creating a living, breathing, entity that will someday live all on its own — at least that’s the goal for many entrepreneurs. The inherent risk in building this type of entity is that many do end up going extinct. That doesn’t mean you should too. Certainly Walt Disney and Steve Jobs never worried about their employability nor their ability to build new and better business entities. They didn’t worry because they were, as human beings, strong brands too.
Build your own personal brand simultaneously to your business brand and you’ll have no problem plucking yourself away from your current entity someday. Be well poised to start your next venture way ahead of the curve because you bring your brand to the table.
Last fall, Google rolled out one of its largest changes of the past decade – an entirely new search algorithm, nicknamed “Hummingbird.” In contrast to the past updates, Panda and Penguin, which modified existing search algorithms and affected roughly 2 to 5 percent of search queries, Hummingbird is believed to have affected nearly 90 percent of all queries and dramatically changed the way the engine processes user requests.
The impetus behind Hummingbird comes down to context. In the past, Google’s algorithms processed user queries according to each individual word in the query string. As an example, a past search for the keyword phrase “hotels in Chicago” would require Google to parse through its index and find the best matches containing the words “hotels,” “in” and “Chicago.”
But now that users are more likely to enter complete questions — for example, “what is the best hotel in Chicago?” — into the engine, Google wants to understand the context behind the query in order to serve up the best possible results. Did you mean the best hotel in terms of price point or luxury level? Are you on the move in Chicago and looking for the best hotel nearest to your location? Hummingbird attempts to determine the context for your question, although it isn’t immediately clear whether it does so successfully in all cases.
What is clear, though, is that there are some tweaks you’ll want to make to your SEO strategy in response to this update — especially if you’re still using “old school” techniques. Here are a few of the strategies you’ll want to incorporate into your day-to-day SEO routine:
Don’t do keyword research — do market research. As Google continues to evolve, it’s clear that traditional keyword research — as in, the measurement of volume and competition metrics for individual, granular search queries — is on its way out. Google now cares less about whether you’ve optimized each individual page on your site to a particular keyword and more about whether your page’s content answers the question presented by the search user.
So instead of spending a ton of time trying to find the magical combination of keyword metrics that’ll guarantee you natural search traffic, brainstorm the questions your users are asking about your industry and brand. Then, make sure your website’s content clearly answers these questions in a way that’s easily understood by the search engines and provides extra value to your visitors.
Incorporate questions into your content. As you begin to incorporate the questions you’ve come up with into your site’s content, there are a few new guidelines you’ll want to keep in mind:
• Unless your content is poorly written (and at risk of suffering from a future Panda penalty), there’s no need to go back and rewrite every page you’ve ever created to target user questions instead of keywords. Add on extra content if you need to, but don’t risk messing with content that’s already performing successfully.
• There’s no need to follow a “one page, one question” rule, as many page managers used to do with traditional keywords. Pages can answer multiple questions, as long as the search engines can make sense of your content and each question is answered fully for your visitors.
• Try to provide your readers with as much information as possible. Plenty of SEO managers are concerned about the potential of Google’s new information card feature — which displays answers to questions posed directly in the sidebar of the results page — to steal away traffic that would otherwise arrive from search clickthroughs. While this feature is currently only available in Chrome browsers, there’s no reason to think it won’t be rolled out more widely in the future. To prevent possible traffic poaching, give your pages so much substance that it’s worth your readers’ time to take the extra step of visiting your site.
The more content, the better. Posting new content to your site on a regular schedule has been an SEO recommendation for some time, but with Google Hummingbird in place, this tweak becomes even more important. The more content you have, the more questions your site answers — and the more likely it is to appear in the contextual search results. For maximum impact, focus on adding new content that explicitly answers user questions — including “how to” posts, FAQs, process tutorials and other similar pieces.
Beyond these few tweaks, keep following the SEO best practices that have been put in place for this post-Panda, post-Penguin era. Build great content that accumulates high quality, relevant backlinks naturally on its own. Use a responsive design that makes it easy for readers to find information from you wherever they are. And above all, stop trying to outright manipulate the search rankings. Think long term about the direction Google appears to be going and make your site as attractive as possible by playing by the rules and being a good webmaster.
Creating a well organized, well written website is a great accomplishment and it can lead to a lucrative business, but that isn’t where the work ends. Whether a website was created last month or last year, it is absolutely essential to keep the content fresh, accurate, and up-to-date. Updating the content on a website so that it remains on topic and relevant can help push any business to center stage.
The Internet plays a vital role in many people’s lives today. Through the decades, the Internet has evolved from a novelty to a tool that is used in almost every aspect of one’s life, from paying bills and ordering groceries to communicating with friends and family to earning an income. Because the Internet is so dynamic, webmasters must constantly deal with the challenge of simply keeping up with regular changes and the latest innovations and trends. That means that regular website maintenance is essential to ensure that visitors are getting the very best information possible.
Update frequently – it’s essential
Consistently updating a website’s content is the only way to maintain a competitive edge. Here is a look at the importance of updating certain aspects of a website to ensure that users are getting the best experience possible which will, in turn. result in improved sales and a better online presence.
Types of website content
There are two types of content on a website: that which is static and that which is dynamic. Static content would include the likes of the “About Us,” “FAQ,” and “Contact” pages, whereas dynamic pages might include the news section or blog. The dynamic content should be frequently updated and should be relevant at all times. Static content should also be updated, however, it does not need to be done as frequently.
When updating the content of a website, it is not only important to ensure the content is relevant and fresh, but also well crafted. New search engine algorithms require that content be well written for the human eye rather than for the search engine spiders. The focus should be on original, quality content that is not just limited to the written word but should also include infographics and videos.
If a webmaster fails to update a website for a significant period of time, that website will fail to keep up with the constantly changing market. This can mean certain doom for any online business because the website will almost certainly lose its ranking in the search engines, and every webmaster knows the lower the rank, the fewer the customers.
Hiring a competent copywriter to maintain a blog is not the only way to keep the content of a website updated and fresh, though it is an excellent way to attract regular visitors and engage the customer. Today, social media plays a vital role in the success of a content marketing strategy. Therefore, any business should have a presence on the leading social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, where customers may obtain the latest information and engage with the business.
In order to successfully grow your business, you’ll need to attract and then work to retain a large base of satisfied customers. Marketing emphasizes the value of the customer to the business, and has two guiding principles:
1. All company policies and activities should be directed toward satisfying customer needs.
2. Profitable sales volume is more important than maximum sales volume.
To best use these principles, a small business should:
• Determine the needs of their customers through market research • Analyze their competitive advantages to develop a market strategy • Select specific markets to serve by target marketing
• Determine how to satisfy customer needs by identifying a market mix
Marketing programs, though widely varied, are all aimed at convincing people to try out or keep using particular products or services. Business owners should carefully plan their marketing strategies and performance to keep their market presence strong.
Conducting Market Research
Successful marketing requires timely and relevant market information. An inexpensive research program, based on questionnaires given to current or prospective customers, can often uncover dissatisfaction or possible new products or services.
Market research will also identify trends that affect sales and profitability. Population shifts, legal developments, and the local economic situation should be monitored to quickly identify problems and opportunities. It is also important to keep up with competitors’ market strategies.
Creating a Marketing Strategy
A marketing strategy identifies customer groups which a particular business can better serve than its target competitors, and tailors product offerings, prices, distribution, promotional efforts and services toward those segments. Ideally, the strategy should address unmet customer needs that offer adequate potential profitability. A good strategy helps a business focus on the target markets it can serve best.
Most small businesses don’t have unlimited resources to devote to marketing; however, the SBA wants you to know that you can still see excellent returns while sticking to your budget if you focus on target marketing. By concentrating your efforts on one or a few key market segments, you’ll reap the most from small investments. There are two methods used to segment a market:
1. Geographical segmentation: Specializing in serving the needs of customers in a particular geographical area.
2. Customer segmentation: Identifying those people most likely to buy the product or service and targeting those groups.
Managing the Market Mix
Every marketing program contains four key components:
1. Products and Services: Product strategies include concentrating on a narrow product line, developing a highly specialized product or service or providing a product-service package containing unusually high-quality service.
2. Promotion: Promotion strategies focus on advertising and direct customer interaction. Good salesmanship is essential for small businesses because of their limited advertising budgets. Online marketing is a cheap, quick, and easy way to ensure that your business and product receive high visibility.
3. Price: When it comes to maximizing total revenue, the right price is crucial. Generally, higher prices mean lower volume and vice-versa; however, small businesses can often command higher prices because of their personalized service.
4. Distribution: The manufacturer and wholesaler must decide how to distribute their products. Working through established distributors or manufacturers’ agents is generally easiest for small manufacturers. Small retailers should consider cost and traffic flow in site selection, especially since advertising and rent can be reciprocal: a low-cost, low-traffic location means spending more on advertising to build traffic.
The aforementioned steps combine to form a holistic marketing program.
The nature of the product or service is also important in citing decisions. If purchases are based largely on impulse, then high-traffic and visibility are critical. On the other hand, location is less of a concern for products or services that customers are willing to go out of their way to find. The Internet makes it easy for people to obtain goods from anywhere in the world, so if you’re worried about reaching a certain market, selling your product online may do wonders for your business.
Early branding of a small or emerging company is key to business success. It is the quickest way for your company to express what it is and what it can offer. Inaccurate branding of a new business can make it difficult for people to grasp why the business exists in the first place.
For startups and small businesses, branding can often take a backseat to other considerations, such as funding and product development. This is a mistake, as a company’s brand can be key to its success. Dollar for dollar, it is as important and vital as any other early steps.
One software management company, temporarily named TallyUp, decided to invest in a branding overhaul. Its flagship product, a software suite that tracks and runs bonus incentive plans, needed a clear identity and platform to appeal to its target audience — primarily financial executives. The name TallyUp, while somewhat descriptive, didn’t capture the level of sophistication needed to attract the appropriate clientele. TallyUp hired a branding consultant, who recommended the name Callidus (Latin for “expert and skillful”) to effectively communicate its positioning in an instant. The new name communicated a similar concept but on a completely different level. Callidus positions the software product correctly.
A brand is a company’s face to the world. It is the company’s name, how that name is visually expressed through a logo, and how that name and logo are extended throughout an organization’s communications. A brand is also how the company is perceived by its customers — the associations and inherent value they place on your business.
A brand is a kind of promise. It is a set of fundamental principles as understood by anyone who comes into contact with a company. A brand is an organization’s reason for being and how that reason is expressed through its various communications media to its key audiences, including customers, shareholders, employees and analysts. A brand can also describe these same attributes for a company’s products, services, and initiatives.
Apple’s brand is a great example. The Apple logo is clean, elegant, and easily implemented. At a certain point in time the company began to use the apple logo monochromatically (as opposed to the rainbow stripes), signaling a new era for Apple. Smart branding allowed the company to clearly communicate a change in direction while continuing to build its reputation. Think about how you’ve seen the brand in advertising, trade shows, packaging, and product design. It’s distinctive and it all adds up to a particular promise: quality of design and ease of use.
Since Google Analytics was made available for free in 2005, marketers, media experts and everyone in between has struggled to make sense of the various metrics it records–page views, visitors, uniques. Meanwhile, many business owners have ignored this data entirely, focusing only on the number of sales or leads a site generates. After all, if a website doesn’t generate revenue or collect prospects’ contact information, then something must be wrong.
According to Jakob Nielsen, co-founder and principal of Nielsen Norman Group, a Fremont, Calif., firm that conducts evidence-based online user research, neither the marketers nor the business owners are entirely right. The one data point that matters most is conversion rate. This counts what percentage of visitors responded to calls to action on your site, such as clicking on an article, scheduling an appointment or buying a product. The rate provides an accurate measure of your website’s effectiveness at engaging visitors, no matter whether you see 1,000 or 1 million visitors each month.
To figure out your conversion rate, divide the number of people who undertake a specific action on your site by the total number of visitors. It’s that simple.
The tricky part is figuring out how to boost that percentage. Nielsen points to three classic website metrics that, taken together, play a critical role in your website’s conversion rate. Improve these numbers, and you should end up with a more successful website–and business.
Search engine ranking. Unless your site appears on the first results page of a search related to your industry, you may as well not exist online at all. That’s because only 2 percent of online customers bother to look at the second page of results. Months of SEO work, near-daily content updates and a streamlined back-end design will help you reach page one.
User loyalty. This is a measure of your site’s repeat visitors (defined by Google Analytics as visitors, as opposed to uniques). The fewer uniques you see as a percentage of your total visitation, the more loyal your audience. Why should you care? Because it’s always easier to sell to a loyal customer again than it is to sell to someone who doesn’t know you for the first time.
Bounce rates and visit duration. These are actually two metrics, but they’re related. Bounce rate is the percentage of users who leave immediately after seeing one page. (Presumably, they think your site is terrible.) Visit duration is the number of pages scanned per visit, or the amount of time spent on the site. A low bounce rate and high visit duration tells you that people find your website useful and valuable.
Nielsen cautions that even by addressing all these metrics, the decisive factor in your conversion rate is ultimately the product or service your business offers. Put simply, if you have something everybody wants, your conversion rate will be sky-high, even if your website sucks.
Too many small-business owners think marketing is like a trip to the dentist — something you just gotta do every six months or so.
But when marketing is continuous and targeted rather than occasional and shotgun, business gets easier. If prospects have a positive view of your wares and reputation before you call or before they start shopping, you’re that much closer to nailing a sale.
The next news flash is that ongoing marketing isn’t tied to a price tag. It’s defined only by putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time.
Here are 10 ideas for doing that — on the cheap.
1. Take steps to make customers feel special. Customers respond to being recognized, especially in these rush-rush, get-the-lowest-price times. “Even with a Web-based business, good customer service is possible,” says Denise McMillan, co-owner of Plush Creations (www.plushcreations.com), an online retailer of handcrafted travel bags. McMillan encloses a small, rose-scented sachet in every jewelry and lingerie bag she sells and also sends a handwritten thank-you note. “The sachet and note cost pennies but add something special to the purchase,” she says.
2. Create business cards that prospects keep. Most business cards are tossed within hours of a meeting. Instead of having your card tossed, create one that recipients actually will use — say, a good-looking notepad with your contact info and tagline on every page. “The business card notepad is referred to almost daily, kept for 30 days or so and carries a high remembrance factor,” says Elliott Black, a Northbrook, Ill., marketing consultant who specializes in small businesses.
3. Stop servicing break-even customers. If this idea makes you gasp, think harder. You’re falling for the fallacy of increasing sales instead of boosting profits. If you stop marketing to unprofitable customers, you have more time and resources for customers who actually grow your business. “More than likely, 20% of your customer base is contributing 150% to 200% of total annualized profit (TAP); 70% is breaking even; and 10% is costing you 50% to 100% of TAP,” says Atlanta marketing consultant Michael King. Take a detailed look at your customer profitability data and then direct premium services and marketing to customers who count. (Microsoft Outlook 2010 with Business Contact Manager can help you analyze customer histories.)
4. Develop an electronic mailing list and send old-fashioned letters. Most businesses have harnessed the power of e-newsletters — and you definitely should be sending out one, too. It’s very cost-effective. But exactly because e-mail marketing is now nearly ubiquitous, you can quickly stand out by occasionally sending personal, surface mail letters to customers and prospects. Just make sure the letter delivers something customers want to read, whether an analysis of recent events in your field, premium offers or a sweetener personalized for the recipient (a discount on his next purchase of whatever he last purchased, for instance). “This mailing has to have value to those that read it, so it reflects the value of what you offer,” says Leslie Ungar, an executive coach in Akron, Ohio. “Remember, the best way to sell is to tell.”The process is simplified by creating a letter template and envelope or customer label mailing list in Microsoft Office Word in Office 2010, which you can print out. The mailing list is easily created in Excel and then imported into Word.
5. Boost your profile at trade shows and conferences. You can quickly create signage, glossy postcards with your contact information, product news inserts or an event mini Web site — all with Microsoft Office Publisher. Check out its versatile features.
6. Combine business with pleasure — and charity. Spearhead an event, party or conference for a cause you care about. That puts you in the position of getting to know lots of people, and shows off your small business leadership skills. “I host an annual baseball game where I take hundreds of clients to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field,” says Kate Koziol, who owns a public relations agency in Chicago. “Last year, I took 300 people and we raised $10,000 for a local children’s hospital. Few people turn down a game and it’s a great networking opportunity for guests. It lets me reconnect with current clients and impress potential clients.”
7. Create a destination. Bookstore chain Barnes & Noble has its coffee bars. Furnishings giant Ikea offers child-care centers and cafeterias. Why? So customers gravitate to the stores to enjoy an experience, to hang out for a while. Sunday morning at Barnes & Noble becomes a pleasant weekend routine, rather than a shopping errand. Steal this idea. This tip isn’t limited to offline destinations, either. Using pay-per-click advertising, you can cheaply drive traffic to a one-time news event or specialty offerings, points out Jay Lipe, a small-business marketing consultant based in Minneapolis. Lipe set up a Web site for Games by James (www.gamesbyjames.biz), a retailer of board games, and quickly attracted customers via pay-per-click ads. “The effect was overnight,” says Lipe. “Traditionally in the marketing world, it takes weeks or even months to generate acceptable awareness and traffic. Here we saw traffic spike overnight.”
8. Become an online expert. This is the “free sample” approach to bringing in business. Research active e-mail discussion lists and online bulletin boards that are relevant to your business and audience. Join several and start posting expert advice to solve problems or answer questions. You may need to keep this up for a bit. But the rewards come back in paying clients and referrals. “E-mail discussion lists have been my single largest source of clients over the last eight years,” says Shel Horowitz, a small-business marketing consultant based in Northampton, Mass.
9. Court local media. Editorial features convey more credibility with prospective clients than paid advertising does. To get coverage from the local media, whether from the town newspaper, from TV or radio stations, or from trade journals, you need a fresh, timely story. It’s usually worthwhile to hire an experienced publicist to position the stories, target appropriate media representative and write and send press releases. Usually, you can work on a short-term or contingency basis.
10. Finally, don’t let customers simply slip away. Make an effort to reel them back in. It costs a lot less to retain a disgruntled or inactive customer than to acquire a new one. If you haven’t heard from a customer in awhile, send a personalized e-mail (you can automate this process), inquiring whether all is well. For a customer who suffered a bad experience, pick up the phone, acknowledging the unpleasantness and ask if there’s anything you can do. A discount can’t hurt either. Being kind to customers is the smartest low-cost marketing you can do.