B2B Websites – Sales Vehicle?

12.22.2011Many B2B firms do not think their website can be a valuable lead generation and nurturing tool. These firms believe no good customer lead would search for their services on the web, let alone contact them after visiting their website. When I view some firm’s existing website, I tend to agree. The website is not a credibility piece or resource center for current and prospective clients. When I then ask a B2B firm owner about analytics – tracking visitors and their actions on the website – all I get in return is a blank stare. How can B2B business owners be so positive about the lack of sales potential of their websites? Unfortunately most B2B business owners make decisions more on gut feeling versus any solid data and research.

For a B2B firm, how can your website be a sales vehicle? The following are attributes of an effective website that generates quality sales leads:

Intuitive Website Design
A website design is not just about the fonts and colors on a web page. How is the content organized? Is the most important information “front and center”? Can a visitor find the content they are seeking within two clicks? Effective website design not only builds credibility but also allows a visitor to easily navigate the site and engage with your firm. If a B2B company website is designed properly, it will serve as a gateway to conversation with your sales team.

Premium Content Focused on Conversion
As a B2B firm’s website is being re-designed, it is important to identify premium content that requires a visitor to complete a form to access. Premium content can be white papers, prospectuses, videos, online tools, etc. The creation of these premium tools will increase conversion and allow a sales person to follow up with a visitor to continue the conversation. It’s great news when you see a visitor view 15 pages on your website. However, if your sales team is not capturing their contact information, there is no way to follow up. Premium content entices the visitor and serves an excellent method to capture lead information.

Social Media as Lead Nurturing Tool
B2B firms are lagging on the social media marketing front. An excellent way for a B2B company to initiate a social media marketing campaign is through lead nurturing. For every lead captured on the website, make sure that a sales person is assigned to each lead and is responsible for linking with them on social media. This allows a sales person to position your B2B firm as a thought leader through quality content on various social media channels. Social media allows your firm to stay in front of ideal prospects, have a conversation with them for a period of time and eventually transition a lead to a paying client.

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New Client Website Design: MaintenanceNet

12.20.2011aMaintenanceNet Web Design ImageBased in San Diego, MaintenanceNet is the leading provider of warranty and maintenance contract management services and data-driven lead generation. They serve manufacturers, distributers, and large resellers who are seeking to increase service revenues through maintenance service contracts and warranties. MaintenanceNet’s core offering, Service360, is a cloud-based platform that enables companies to streamline their sales process and uncover and take action on new service revenue opportunities.

MaintenanceNet is a modern, innovative company that wanted their website design to communicate who they are. They also wanted to establish continuity between the old website design and the new one by retaining the same logo and color scheme. The result is a professional, up-to-date website that highlights MaintenanceNet as a thought leader inservice contract management and the automation of service renewals.

As a fast-growing company, MaintenanceNet needed a strong foundation for current and future marketing communication efforts. The website design establishes their sophistication. The content management system, WordPress, will make it easier to update the website with industry best practices, news and company press releases. The integration of the selling services blog and MaintenanceNet’s social media channels adds to the cohesive, professional feel.


New Client Website Design: NEXT TURN

12.14.2011NEXT TURN (http://wwww.nextturnconsulting.com/) is a an organizational consulting firm focused on improving the human aspects of business. Based in the Bay Area, NEXT TURN is led by Jill McGillen, a recognized authority in business consulting. Jill is one of sixty certified Inscape DiSC® System instructors. NEXT TURN’s clients are private and public companies as well as non-profit organizations. Next Turn Website Design Image

NEXT TURN is dedicated to taking business teams to the next level of performance. Bop presented a website design that effectively communicates the firm’s focus on improvement. The content strategy positions Jill and her partners as experts in the field of business education.

As a DiSC instructor, Jill sells numerous Inscape products that support and reinforce her consultations and training with clients. To streamline the sale of these products, Bop Design integrated a robust shopping cart that works seamlessly with the website design. In addition to providing convenience to local customers, the online store gives Jill the tools to reach a broader geographical audience.


To Blog Or Not To Blog

12.13.2011In A Website That Works, Mark O’Brien recommends that firms add 2,000 words of unique, expert content to their website every month. This not only helps with SEO (especially in the long-term as your library of content grows), but it also positions your website as an educational resource for clients and prospects.

For most businesses, adding new content means setting up a blog. But is blogging really right for your firm? What are some of the pitfalls? How do you avoid these pitfalls? The following will help you determine if blogging is right for you:

Don’t do it if you can’t keep it up. O’Brien states that the worst thing that could happen to your blog is for it to go dark after a few months. There are a couple of simple ways to avoid this misfortune:

  • Have more than one person contribute to the blog. Spreading the responsibility means no one person is over-burdened.
  • Develop a regular schedule for publishing blog posts. If someone knows that the second Thursday of every month is their day to blog, they have plenty of time to prepare.
  • Keep the blog private for the first few months after you create it. If you’re still maintaining it internally 2-4 months after starting, make it live!

It’s okay not to blog everyday. Unless you have a staff member solely dedicated to developing content, a daily blog is probably out of your reach. Blogging weekly is great, but it’s enough to blog once or twice a month.

Make your blog useful. I once saw a blog in which every post was dedicated to American Idol. This would be fine (I suppose) if it was a personal blog, but it wasn’t. It was a corporate blog. Unless your clients buy ad space on American Idol, please don’t post weekly show updates in your company’s blog.

Personalize it. Use the author’s name in each blog post. If you look below the title on the Bop Design blog, you’ll see who wrote the post. See? That’s me, Emily, the Project Coordinator. Dani, our Junior Designer, blogs a lot, too. Don’t you feel like you understand Bop a little better now?

Don’t try to hide. Be open on your blog. Some firms try to hide their infrequently blogging by hiding the date. If anyone checks your blog a few times, they’ll figure it out. It doesn’t help. Also, don’t try to hide your personality or voice. If your clients will be working with you, give them a taste for who you are.

Hopefully these pointers will give you some guidance about your company blog. 2,000 words of content a month is a great goal. Maybe it should be one of your business goals for 2012?

Guess what? Bop Design just posted 477 words worth of content—almost a quarter of the 2k goal.


Generating Content For A Successful Website Design

12.08.2011Since the recognition of the importance of a visual identity is increasing, many companies seeking a new website design to increase business leads often get so caught up in the designs that they tend to forget the importance of the content of their website. Both the design and the content of your website are extremely important and work together to generate and nurture client leads.

The website design will make the company stand out and differentiate from similar companies. It will also create an overall feeling that the client or potential lead can relate to and connect with. Often, companies want to portray a warm, welcome feeling but imply a professional, established feel as well.

The content is the reason the client or lead visits the website initially, for information on what your company does and how it is unique. The content, if written well and aligned properly with your company’s capabilities, will not only generate new leads, but will keep clients long term by establishes a trusting relationship.

So how can you ensure that you generate content best suited for your company, as well as a visually effective website design? The answer lies in a content generation strategy. Content generation strategy is the planning and coordination that goes into coming up with effective copy for your website that fits well within the design process and ultimately, the final website design. This process varies from one design firm to the next.

In terms of content generation converging with the website design process, there are many “chicken and egg” debates about whether the design should be created before the content, the content before the design, or creating them simultaneously. Some design firms preach that you cannot begin a website design without the final, approved content. While having the final content does help the designer, it also prolongs the process. The design firm must wait for the company to generate content before a website design is started.

Contrary to what many design firms preach, it is efficient to generate content during the creation of the website design. This allows a company time to draft and correct content while the designer designs the website. This is also beneficial because the designer can show examples of possible designs, and the client is then able to select which will fit best with the identity they prefer, as well as with their content. It is common for a company to want a lot of copy to make sure all their bases are covered in terms of literal business message. Once sent to the designer to be put into the website design, often the designer will ask the client to edit the copy so it is more concise and to the point, which limits the amount of copy. This will make the message stronger, as well as improve the design, as too much copy can cause visual clutter. The inclusion of key words for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is also important and takes some time to get it just right. By designing and revising the website while the client generates and revises the content, the clients and the design firm stay in touch and are able to essentially work together to make sure the website design is exactly what the client wanted visually, and will work long term because the content is functional (in terms of SEO and other marketing tactics), true to the company’s culture and capabilities, and qualitative.

Here at Bop, our process for developing a content strategy varies based on our clients. Whether you have copy approved and ready to publish or you need a copywriter to generate all of your content, Bop Design tailors its process and services to meet your needs.

Resources:
Smashing Magazine
Boag World
Shay Howe


One Tactic is not a Marketing Strategy

12.06.2011On average, I meet 5 to 10 entrepreneurs a week. When I meet with them, I ask them questions like: Who is your ideal customer? Who are good referral sources? Where do you network? How do you attract customers? 95% of the time entrepreneurs tell me that all customers come from referrals or networking and they do nothing else. I think this is a great strategy if one wants their business to remain stagnant. If an entrepreneur is satisfied with the number of clients and leads they currently have, then continue this marketing strategy. However, if an entrepreneur is serious about growing their business, one must focus on more than one to two marketing tactics. I remind entrepreneurs all the time that one tactic does not comprise an effective marketing strategy.

Tactical Mix

When determining a 2012 marketing plan, professional networking and referral partnerships should be two critical components of an overall strategy. Besides networking and referrals, there are other effective lead generation and nurturing tactics that most B2B firms can implement with successful outcomes. Remember that many business decision makers may not network as much as you do. How can you find and attract their business? Depending on your ideal customer, tactics such as direct marketing, advertising, email marketing, social media marketing, webinars, etc. can serve as effective tactics to generate brand awareness and “pull in” new ideal prospective customers. Different tactics resonate with different prospects. The decision maker who rarely networks may read the business journal everyday or may spend 30 minutes on LinkedIn each day. Even for the people who regularly network, follow up marketing tactics such as social media outreach and direct mail are excellent methods to nurture these leads along. Remember that a marketing strategy with a tactical mix will help you attract a variety of ideal prospective customers.

Fear and Ego

I think many entrepreneurs prefer networking and referrals because these tactics produce warmer leads than other marketing tactics such as SEO, social media marketing, email prospecting, etc. For most entrepreneurs, there is a fear of rejection with “colder” lead generation tactics. It’s hard to hear a definitive “no” from a prospect and most entrepreneurs’ healthy egos cannot take that rejection. This is why it’s easier for most to maintain a reactive marketing approach by only responding to referrals. A proactive approach is more aggressive and can be out of their comfort zone. Yes, networking is more proactive but you are only hitting a fraction of your target market. The key is to manage that fear and ego so more aggressive tactics are possible. The other alternative is to hire marketing or sales personnel who can handle the rejection much easier.

Lead Nurturing as Important as Generation

Many entrepreneurs focus solely on lead generation and pay little attention to lead nurturing. Remember that lead nurturing is just as important as lead generation. You may feel accomplished when you collect 10 business cards from a networking event or your firm’s new website design has generated 5 inquiries in a day. However, what marketing tactics are being utilized to nurture these leads from inquiry to customer? Lead nurturing tactics provide the follow up to build confidence in your prospect’s mind about your firm’s product or service. Your firm’s website design can be a lead nurturing tool along with white papers, capabilities brochure, success stories, references, etc. These tools allow a sales team to move the process forward and close the deal. It is important that marketing not only focus on generating ideal customer leads but also giving the sales team the tools necessary to seal the deal.


Collaboration – Driving Effective Feedback on Web Design Projects

12.01.2011bThe process of creating a new website design for a client is a collaborative one. Not only do members of the Bop Design team work together, but we also work with our clients to give them a website that resonates with their target market. This collaborative process is impossible without constructive feedback.

For those not used to the design process, giving feedback can be difficult, even confusing. Here are some tips on providing constructive feedback:

  • Condense Your Thoughts
    While it may be easy to provide feedback in little bits and pieces as you think of it, this can lead to miscommunication and even lost communication. A more effective solution is to note all of your comments and then provide it all at once. It’s fine to take a few days to collect your thoughts if that means you’ll be able to communicate them more effectively.
  • Choose Your Method of Communication
    Some people prefer email, while others prefer the phone. If you’re more comfortable talking, ask to set up a conference call. Our goal is to understand your feedback, regardless of how you want to give it.
  • Get Consensus First
    If you have several people on your team who want to provide input on the website, work with them before providing us with feedback. If we have one team member says they like the color blue and then a different team member says blue is their least favorite color, the design process is slowed.
  • Be Honest and Specific
    Our goal is to design a website that effectively communicates your company’s brand. We want to know if you don’t like the design! The earlier you communicate your preferences, the better. Try to be as specific as possible. Do you dislike the buttons, or is it just the font you don’t like?

Keeping these tips in mind when reviewing website design concepts can help speed the process along. A smooth, speedy process typically ensures satisfaction—which is Bop Design’s goal with every website design project.


Bop Design Offers 5 Tips on 2012 Small Business Marketing Plans

12.01.2011a

December is typically a time for companies to develop a marketing plan for the coming year. As 2011 winds down and companies determine a plan to attract new clients and increase revenue for 2012, Bop Design, a marketing agency based in San Diego and New Jersey, reminds small businesses of five critical trends and components of an effective 2012 small business marketing plan.

One Tactic is Not a Strategy

Implementing a marketing plan that focuses on just one tactic is not a strategy. Bop Design Business Principal, Jeremy Durant, states, “I meet many small business owners who brag about how all their business is through referral or professional networking. That’s a fine strategy if you want to remain stagnate. If you want to grow, you can’t select one marketing tactic like networking and expect to dramatically increase your client pool.” Bop Design recommends a tactical mix that can include web marketing, print advertising, networking, referrals, direct mail, email marketing, etc. The optimal mix depends on a business’ ideal client and resources. Bop Design mentions that they have some clients who are allocating all marketing funds to the web, which can be shortsighted. “Clients come to us and want a new website design for their firm. That’s a great start but if the new website design is not part of an overall strategy, I would not waste your money.”

Marketing and Sales Alignment

As marketing planning begins for 2012, it is important that the sales department is involved from the start. Durant mentions, “Marketing may devise a strategy that is not effective in generating or nurturing ideal customer leads for the sales department. Marketing’s top priority is helping the sales team perform their job better so a business can generate more revenue.” Bop Design suggests that key sales team members are present in the initial marketing meetings to provide feedback marketing successes and failures. The sales team can then identify marketing tools that can help them build more credibility with prospects. “Marketing may make a false assumption on the success or failure of a campaign. For instance, marketing may implement a SEO campaign that drives many people to the firm’s website, prompting a large number of visitors to complete a website form requesting more information. Marketing may assume the campaign was a success but maybe the inquiries did not fit the ideal customer profile – wasting the sales team’s time.”

Delegate the Right Tasks

As a small business owner determines marketing functions for 2012, an owner needs to remember that typically no one does a better job at selling a firm’s services than they do. “Sometimes business owners delegate the wrong tasks to employees. When they become busy, the owner will hire a sales person while he or she performs administrative tasks. No one is better at conveying the value of his or her business than the owner. They are the ultimate brand evangelists.” Unfortunately many small business owners “stay inside” working on operations and don’t practice their core competency. Bop Design recommends that a business owner remains involved with professional networking. “They live and breathe the business and that naturally makes them the ultimate sales person.”

Social Media is here to stay!

Many small businesses, especially B2B firms, are resistant to any social media marketing. Durant adds, “We work with B2B firms that refuse to be active on social media – they think it is a fad and not an effective branding vehicle.” No matter if a firm is B2C or B2B, Bop Design advises its clients to build out their company profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn and make sure that all employees are linked to the company. As salespeople make face-to-face connections at networking events, they should follow up with a social media connection. “At the very least, social media is an effective method to stay top of mind with connections and position your firm as a thought leader in a particular industry.” Bop Design encourages a firm to post all news, press releases, success stories and relevant business articles on their social media accounts. “Social media allows a small business to amplify their brand message to existing connections, helping their sales team nurture a lead from an original inquiry to a customer.”

Analytics

The “I know 50% of my marketing is working, I just wish I knew which 50%” excuse is not valid anymore. With the analytical tools available especially on the web, it is relatively easy to determine which marketing tactics are effective and which ones are not. Google Analytics recently released “In-Page Analytics,” which provides an intuitive, visual representation of the actions taken by webpage visitors. In one quick view, a business can see the content and images effective in driving traffic through their website. Durant adds, “With Google Analytics, a business owner can not only determine if a marketing tactic was effective in driving people to the firm’s website but then see if the website design and content was effective in prompting action and engagement.”

Google has released another easy-to-use tool called the Google Optimizer. This tool lets a business test content, titles, images and other variables on a firm’s webpages. One can choose two webpages on the website and set up a Multivariate Experiment for each of the pages to test the content and/or layout of the page to see if a firm can increase clicks or conversion. “The analytical tools available allow a business decision maker to make optimal decisions on their marketing strategy and fine-tune tactics throughout 2012.”

About Bop Design, San Diego and New Jersey Web Design

Bop Design is a boutique marketing communications firm headquartered in San Diego with offices also in New Jersey. We express your business’ values through web design, branding, advertising and print design. We also help attract your ideal customer through search engine optimization and search engine marketing. Our focus is on small businesses that want an external team of marketing specialists to help give their brand an edge in the marketplace.


The Sitemap: The Backbone of Your Website Design

11.29.2011One of the first deliverables we present to our clients in a website design project is the sitemap. This seemingly simple document, usually no more than a page in length, often causes a great deal of confusion. The sitemap is a critical piece of every website, so it’s important to understand it.

The sitemap is the spine around which your website will be built. The sitemap dictates—or rather, it demonstrates—the navigational structure of your new website. Here’s a breakdown of what the sitemap contains:

  • Parent Pages: These are the pages that appear in the top-level navigation. The pages that appear in the navigation bar are those that your clients are most likely to be interested in. Remember, it’s a hard fact of business that clients and prospectives care more about themselves than they do about you. Having one parent page about your company is good—having three relating only to you, not so good.
  • Child Pages: These are the pages that belong “under” the parent pages. For example, on BopDesign.com, Services is a parent page and Website Design & Development is a child page. Sometimes a child page can have its own child page. Anything beyond a “grandchild” page is unadvisable, as it can make your website look messy. Make sure the child page is a good fit for the parent page. Putting your Team Bios under the Services page is a sure-fire way to confuse your visitors.
  • Top Links: This is typically reserved for social media links. We won’t discuss here the pros and cons of the various social networks. Suffice it to say that you should only post a link to social media accounts if you plan to update them regularly. A Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since February 2010 is worse than not have a Facebook page at all.
  • Bottom Links: These links are typically overlooked. They include pages like Privacy Policy or Legal. While you may think no one reads this information, it’s important to include it nonetheless. Your visitors have a right to know what information (if any) you’re collecting from them and how you’re using it. A Privacy Policy is especially important if you have a contact form or an email newsletter sign-up.

Bop Design’s clients don’t need to develop a sitemap themselves because it’s part of our website design service. However, it is just as important that they understand the purpose and value of the sitemap. Every website project should start with a sitemap. Without it, you risk your website becoming a wobbly, unstructured mess.

Want the whole story? Download our free Guide to the Top 10 Questions About Website Design!


5 Tips For Maximizing SEO with Images and Photos

11.28.2011Images and photos are often overlooked when optimizing a website. Although they don’t carry as much SEO weight as they used to, it doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Here are 5 tips to maximizing results through images and photos:

  1. File Name
    The file name is the name of the image or photo that is stored on your computer (i.e. BopDesignLogo.jpg) and is often overlooked when uploading photos to websites and social media platforms. The file name field can provide SEO assistance for your target keywords. Before uploading images or photos to your website or social media profile take an extra minute to include target keywords in your image. Don’t be spammy about the file names. Instead, focus on generating an image file name that describes the image.
  2. Alt Tags
    Alt tags are meant to be an alternative information source for people with screen readers, for users that have chosen to disable images in their browsers, and search engines. The keywords that are included in alt tags are less important for SEO than they used to be, but leaving them empty can negatively impact your website ranking. So take a minute to include an alt tag with every image on your website.
  3. Image Title
    Image titles are the descriptive pop-ups that are displayed when you hover over an image on a website. This is more for website design than for SEO, but it is important to do correctly if implemented. If you are using image titles on your website be sure to keep them short, relevant, and catchy. See example below.
  4. Photo Sharing
    Starting up a Flickr, Picasa, or other photo sharing account for business photos and images can provide SEO benefits to your website. Within these accounts you can often add geo-targeting to your albums and target keyword phrases in both the captions and descriptive fields. This tactic requires little maintenance and is easy to implement.
  5. Photos on Facebook
    Uploading photos on Facebook is not only a good way to generate communications from followers, but they also open the opportunity to spread awareness. After you have uploaded photos to Facebook it is beneficial to go back and tag people, places, events, or businesses in the photos or images. Tagging your photos will help to get the Facebook page more exposure in other news feeds.

Photos and images will always be important to the design of your website and social media platforms, so take advantage of them by implementing the above optimization techniques.

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New Client Website Design: Miranda & Associates

11.18.2011Miranda Associates Website DesignMiranda & Associates (http://www.mirandaaccountancy.com) is a full-service accounting and management consulting firm. Based in southern California, they serve clients throughout Orange County, San Diego and the rest of the state and in select national and international regions.

As a firm dedicated to providing expert services and cultivating close relationships with clients, Miranda & Associates needed a website design to reflect that. The website presents a sophisticated, professional image without being stuffy. The structure of the site clearly shows both the services offered and the industries served, all the while highlighting Miranda & Associates’s experience and knowledge.

Bop Design worked closely with Miranda & Associates to select photos to perfectly complement the look and feel of the website design. The result is a website that clearly communicates who Miranda & Associates are and how their services can help businesses in need of financial and management services.

Learn more about CPA and accounting practice marketing.


Bop Design Selects the Top 5 Best College Football Logo Designs and Applies the Lessons Learned to Small Business Marketing

11.15.2011aWith the recent controversy over the new University of Maryland Terrapins football helmet and the college football season in full swing, Bop Design, a design agency with offices in San Diego and New Jersey, has released their list of the top 5 college football logo designs. Read the article below for the list of Bop Design’s top 5 college football logo designs and lessons that can apply to small business marketing.College Football Logo Designs

“It’s important that a college logo is versatile enough so it can be re-purposed on promotional items such as polo shirts, pens, field of play, etc. If the logo is too complex or ‘busy,’ it cannot be used in different situations. This is the problem with the current University of Maryland football helmet. The helmet is busy and distracting but most importantly, it cannot be easily utilized in other applications.”

Bop Design reminds businesses that the same lessons learned from college logo designs can be applied to the design of all marketing collateral – from website design to brochure design to print advertising design.

Here is the list of Bop Design’s top 5 college football logo designs and lessons that can apply to small business marketing

#5 Michigan State Spartans
The Spartan logo design is a clean rendition of the Spartan mask headgear. The disciplined design could have easily been overdone with too much detail or clutter. Instead, the design is simple but memorable. Jensen adds, “The Michigan State logo gives off the feeling of intimidation and seriousness with sharp lines and angles – which is perfect for a college football team.” The logo has staying power and classic styling – it’s been consistent since 1983. “It definitely holds its own again the classic collegiate ‘M’ of their intrastate rival.” Bop Design remarks that a clean logo is always advisable for any business. Jensen comments, “As a business, a logo is most effective when it is simple and clean. It conveys a message or idea about a company but does not go overboard. With all marketing collateral, less is more.”

#4 Miami Hurricanes
Many teams use a school’s initials for their logo, but the University of Miami Hurricanes logo design is unique with a dual tone one-letter icon. It acts more like a symbol than a letter. The logo has been so impactful that many people refer to the school simply as “The U” in reference to the logo itself. The logo design is clean, contemporary and will never go out of style. Jensen adds, “The Miami logo captures the ‘style’ of the South Florida region and it’s understated – they could have overdone this and made it UM.” This logo design has staying power – it was redesigned in 1972 but still looks contemporary. Bop Design cites company logos such as the Starbucks and McDonalds logo as two examples similar to the Miami Hurricanes. “Just like the Starbucks siren or the golden arches, all you have to do is see the ‘U’ and you know it’s Miami.”

#3 Clemson Tigers
The Clemson Tigers logo design displays a rich texture and a fun personality. The logo is a bold color palette and as the Clemson website claims, “Clemson University ‘owns’ the color orange.” The orange used in logo and branding is actually called “Clemson Orange”. Jensen comments, “The logo is versatile and the paw makes a mark. The school does not need the literal tiger or mascot like other universities.” The design is balanced, showcasing a nice size ratio. The school also has fun with the logo application – Clemson typically uses the logo as the “o” in Clemson. The school redesigned the logo in 1976 as a dramatic upgrade from the previous “tiger” logo that was entirely too intricate. Citing the Clemson Tigers logo, Bop Design reminds small businesses that they do not need to “connect all the dots” in a logo. Jensen adds, “Many businesses want a logo to convey their entire process or product. That is not the point of a logo. It is to entice and convey a general idea about a brand. Clemson could have easily remained with the tiger mascot as their logo but then there would be no mystery or intrigue.”

#2 Michigan Wolverines
The University of Michigan Wolverines logo design showcases the classic collegiate styling with the strong “M” icon. The bold, bright maize and blue colors allow the logo to be seen from afar and make a dramatic impact. Jensen adds, “The Michigan logo design is versatile, clean and balanced with a logo that will never change. People see the ‘M’ and they immediately know it stands for ‘Big Blue’.” Bop Design remarks that going simple, traditional and big can convey boldness. “Michigan is simply content with a big yellow ‘M’. This showcases confidence and bravado. The same idea can be applied to small business marketing. A firm having a simple bright logo design implies they are secure and not overcompensating for something.”

#1 Texas Longhorns
The Texas Longhorns logo symbolizes the strength of the football team and truly stands for the entire Texas geographic region. Jensen comments, “The horns are iconic and even translate well to the ‘hook’em horns’ slogan and hand signal. It’s versatile with just the right amount of detail.” The logo was originally designed in 1950 and has never changed. With Austin being a design-centric town, the Texas Longhorns logo definitely conveys the strong design talent in this college town. Bop Design reminds small businesses that a logo acts as a brand reflection and should express a company’s internal culture. Jensen adds, “No logo is more effective in conveying a local culture than the Longhorns logo in conveying the ethos and region of Texas. The same should apply to business – a firm’s logo should imply something about their employees and culture.”


Bop Design Issues a Warning to Small Businesses of a Common Design Mistake

11.15.2011bAccording to a recent study in the popular business book, The 24-Hour Customer, “People see more than 34 billion bits of information per day – an equivalent of two books per day.” Consumers are continuously bombarded with advertising messages and can suffer from information overload. “More data will be generated in the next four years than in the history of the world,” the book contends.

With more and more studies strengthening the case of information overload and advertising clutter, Bop Design, a San Diego website design agency, reminds small business owners of the most important tip when designing marketing collateral for their firm – white space is good space. White space is essentially the empty space between the texts or images in the composition of a page. “Whether it’s a website, brochure or business card, clients want to fill up the white space to say more about their company”, states Kara Jensen, Bop Design Creative Director. Bop Design reminds small businesses that customers are bombarded with brand messages all day long and it’s important that the most important messages are “front and center” with no distractions.

For instance, with website design, Bop Design advises all small business owners to practice discipline when making decisions on the design of their firm’s website. “There may be some unutilized space on the top right corner of the website and you are thinking to yourself, what can I put there? Or maybe the back of your business card simply has your tagline and for some reason, you think it’s a good idea to list all your services there as well. Even trained designers can be guilty of crowding up a design from time to time, but white space is a ‘must have’ in every design,” says Jensen.

White space, also known as “negative space” helps bring focus, balance and legibility to design. Having negative space around specific design elements allows viewers to focus on what’s most important – helping to communicate a brand message quickly and clearly. The goal is never to communicate everything at once; it’s to communicate the most important message quickly.

As an example, Bop Design cites the two anonymous website examples above. Jensen asks, “Both companies do the same thing but which website design is more effective?”
“Clearly, design #2 is a more effective website design because it communicates with ease and a visitor can easily find what they are looking for,” states Jensen. The Eye Tracking Update study confirms that empty space allows a visitor to focus on the most important message at hand. Also, “white space” does not technically have to be white – it can be an area of color that is empty.

According to a study from Eye Tracking Update, an organization focused on eye tracking news and trends, “Viewers love white space. White space is good. It’s tempting to fill up a page with text and images, but if you offer a viewer a white space, not only does it give them a place to rest their eyes; it helps focus information so readers know where to find it. Too much text overwhelms.” (http://www.eyetrackingupdate.com)
Jensen adds, “When designing your next marketing piece, PowerPoint or brochure – keep it simple, get rid of anything that isn’t absolutely necessary and learn to embrace the white space.”


Bop Design Offers Small Business Lessons Learned From The Great Recession

11.15.2011c

As the economy continues to be unstable, what lessons have small business owners learned from the 2008 “Great Recession” that they can apply to current economic times? Fortunately most small businesses have not forgotten their successes and mistakes over the brief years since 2008. Bop Design, a marketing agency focused on small businesses, reminds their clients of the lessons they learned as they were beginning as a business in 2008. “We could not have started at a worse time, but we have always said if we can make it through this, we can handle anything!” exclaims Jeremy Durant, Bop Design’s Business Principal. There are three lessons Bop Design considers best practices for any business as they navigate through this uncertainty. They all relate to making decisions rooted in confidence, not rooted in fear.

  • Still be Choosy with Your Clients. Don’t panic and act desperate! As a B2B company, a small business wants to be selective with its clients. A business does not want clients who will provide more heartache and stress than money. “One thing I learned in 2008 is to stick to your ideal customer profile – don’t sign clients who don’t fit your ideal customer profile. Sometimes we panicked and began to approach and sign clients because of the money. Don’t do it!” says Durant. There were many times in 2008 when Bop Design would sign a questionable client just because they were scared about the lost revenue. “Stay true to the ideal customer profile and trust your gut.”
  • Do Not Lower Price Arbitrarily. Prospective clients will push a business on price and want a firm to offer more services for less money. “If your pricing structure is sound, stay true to your pricing! Don’t lower your price without decreasing project scope,” advises Durant. A business will almost always regret reducing their price just to win the business.
  • Do Not Cut Marketing Investment. When times get tough, the first thing many businesses do is cut marketing allocations. It could be the worst time to cut marketing! As you navigate through the economic storm, maintaining an effective lead generation program is critical. “Even though marketing costs money, if implemented properly, it will still deliver a business plenty of ideal clients,” stresses Durant.

To sum it all up, it comes down to discipline. The more disciplined a business’ leadership is, the more successful a business will be in the long run. A good practice is to post both the mission and vision statement on an office wall to ensure practice discipline. With any strategic decision, a manager should always look to those statements and ask, “Does this fit my business?” Fear can cause one to become distracted and make decisions that do not fit the mission/vision of their company. Stay the course and always base decisions on confident thinking. Confident thinking will give a small business owner the discipline to stay on the straight line and be successful through this current economic uncertainty.


Why Is WordPress So Awesome?

11.15.2011dAfter attending a web design-related event about the up-and-coming WordPress website/blog building platform, I decided it would be a great idea to give a basic introduction and explanation of what WordPress is and why it is becoming so popular. During the event, the speaker talked about how many designers, and even their clients, ask for websites made in WordPress without knowing exactly what it is and what having a WordPress website means for the client or backend user.

WordPress is the result of the collaboration of developers from all over the world. They have created and continue to build what is now a highly successful, user-friendly blog and website building software. It can be used to create a free, hosted blog on WordPress.com or a non-hosted website (not free since one must pay for selected hosting services), which is supported via WordPress.org. When creating the blog and/or website, the user is able to select pre-made templates, also known as “child themes.” These themes are very basic and can be altered by the user through an extremely easy to use, back-end interface called the “dashboard,” which is very similar to the interface of Blogger. New posts, media (photos and videos), pages, sub-pages, widgets and plug-ins can be added without the help of a developer/coder, making updates to a website or blog easy and fast for both the designer and the client. Not to mention a decent amount of built in security, search-engine-optimization (SEO), globalization capabilities, CSS coding options, and many more fun and helpful tools.

Another benefit is the ability of WordPress sites and blogs to utilize widgets and plug-ins. These enable the designer to pull in information from other websites or databases for display and interaction on the designed website, i.e. Twitter, news feeds, and anything that is updated frequently, plug-ins will serve as a window to those updates on the website. This makes sites more functional and because many of the WordPress templates are already designed with places for widgets and plug-ins, adding them to the site often does not interfere with the overall website design.

All of those things make designing a website quick, cost effective and make content management easy for the client to control once the designer has completed the website. But this does not conclude the list of benefits of using WordPress. WordPress is powered by PHP code. This means that graphics and images are supported in a way that doesn’t compromise their resolution so the site looks clean and sharp. This is great news for designers who have long struggled with keeping their designs as close to their original design as possible. All too often, after going through all the flaming formatting hoops that other coding platforms often require, designs are squished, bitmapped, and otherwise distorted if things are not saved or built just the right way. Long story short? WordPress helps accommodate for small human (designer) mistakes to make the site look as good as possible with as little coding and fussing as possible.

The functionality of WordPress doesn’t stop there. If a designer is able to collaborate with a developer versed in PHP and the ins and outs of WordPress website design, then the sky is the limit. Here at Bop, our developer creates custom templates to fit our client’s needs more specifically. The result is a large portfolio of visually stunning and communicative websites that can be created in less time than ever before. And as WordPress grows and becomes even more user-friendly, I’m not sure why anyone would want to use anything else to build their websites.

Resources:
http://sandiego.aiga.org/events/2011/11/70169414
http://wordpress.org/
http://wordpress.com/#!/fresh/

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How Steve Jobs Revolutionized Website Design

10.24.2011

Being only 23 years of age, I have been lucky to have grown up with a generation that had access to computers. I was one of the kids that said they wanted to be an artist when they grew up. I continued to love traditional art throughout my educational years. I grew up with mostly PCs and very basic programs (I only used Kid Pix paint shop and computer games). As a product of Gen Y, I understand and appreciate the privilege of being familiar with computer interfaces from a young age.

It wasn’t until high school when I was introduced to an Apple computer. It was very foreign and took me a while to become familiar with the new interface. Once I did, I knew it was a big deal, and from that point on, I was inspired to become a graphic designer. Never in my wildest dreams, though, did I think that I would be designing digital graphics and website interfaces for a career. If it wasn’t for one genius of a man, I would have never been able to make art such a rewarding, fulfilling and fun career.

Steve Jobs is responsible for changing technology in a literal sense, but he also changed the way people perceive and interact with technology by making it accessible and easy for anyone to use. He created a legacy of quality products, and was never afraid to push the envelope and think outside the box to make Apple the leader in technology for the masses. His technological innovations directly shaped web design, but his perception and high opinion of the importance of design also shaped the way in which all of us see his creations, and technology as a whole.

The following are ways in which Steve Jobs has changed the path of website design for the better…

  1. Efficient Processing: Jobs worked hard to learn the ins and outs of computer engineering. He pushed new computer hardware and software technologies further than many believed possible. In doing so, he made computer speed faster and memory space larger making it easier for businesses and individuals to be more self-sufficient and productive. Having more space to store files and a quicker ram to access them makes it possible to complete a website design and make it live in less time.
  2. Graphically Supported Interfaces: Early on, Jobs enlisted help to create a user platform that people would easily be able to navigate. He oversaw the creation of graphics and icons in which users can recognize and access files and software. He also stressed the improvement of pixels per inch making screen resolution smooth and easy on the eyes. This is very important in designing for the web, as designing with specific software, the designer must maintain a particular resolution for visually stunning and successful websites.
  3. Simplified/Improved Programming: Visual improvements to any interface, whether it’s for a website or for a computer platform, means there also needs to be improvements to the programming involved. Jobs had a large influence on the manipulation of many programming codes, including HTML, to make the development of updated platforms for the latest versions of the many Mac products. Improvements in programming for platforms have had much effect on programming for websites, and other digital applications accessed by Mac products.
  4. Truetype Fonts: One, of many, impressive contributions to successful digital communication design that Jobs made is the use and familiarity of certain fonts by Mac users around the world. Jobs collaborated with a designer and created computer specific (meaning not just for print) typefaces that, when viewed on a computer screen, look crisp and clean. Fonts, in the years before, looked rough and pixilated. In creating web-specific fonts, Jobs opened up a new world to digital and web designers to create crisp looking website and interface designs.
  5. Emphasis on Design: The industrial, graphic, digital, web, advertising and print designs that Jobs oversaw in his years with Apple has created a brand that now defines a large portion of computer users around the world. He showed us that technology could bring beauty into our lives and also be beautiful itself. His stress on simple, friendly user interface design and powerful application has affected technology and the way it is, and most likely will continue to be, designed for users now and in years to come.

As I sit here typing in front of my iMac desktop computer with my MacBook to my left and my iPod to my right, and a fresh career in graphic and web design, I wonder where I would be today without Steve Jobs.

Resources:
Navigation Arts
May’s Blog
Winning Web Works


Being Small Has Its Merits

10.17.2011Most businesses want to be what they are not. A large business wants to appear small and personal while a small business wants to appear larger and more stable. Customer perception can be created through marketing communications – print collateral, advertising, website design, social media marketing, etc. Small businesses must remember that it’s okay to be small and being positioned as a small business has its own selling points. Let’s not forget how many large businesses try to appear like small businesses. Corporate behemoths such as Kashi, Starbucks, and State Farm, want to be positioned as the friendly neighborhood brand that helps enhance your life. If the “big boys” are doing this, why not accept your small firm for what it is? Being small is a competitive advantage and we will discuss how to maximize the positives of being small and minimize the negatives.

Cohesive Brand Message

Every high performing large company communicates a consistent brand message to their target market. Many do it so well that their target market can repeat the brand message word for word. A small business can appear larger than it is by developing a consistent, compelling brand message in all marketing communications. This means that the firm’s website, capabilities brochure, social media messaging, etc. all complement each other. Branding is not just about consistent “look and feel” among marketing platforms but also consistent selling points that differentiate the firm from the competition. For instance, when a visitor lands on a firm’s website, they immediately know what the business stands for and what makes it different. There cannot be any mystery.

Many customers would prefer to hire a small business over a large one. A customer’s primary concern is the reliability of a small business. Can a small business be relied upon to deliver quality service in a timely manner? Many customers make a judgment on small business reliability through a firm’s marketing communications. If a small business can articulate its brand message in a dependable manner, this is a good indicator that it can deliver on its services.

Greatest Negative into a Positive

If you are a small business, you must embrace it! Being small needs to be part of your firm’s unique value proposition. Don’t hide from it. Think of the positive characteristics associated with a small business: personal, local, friendly, attentive, communicative, less overhead, less bureaucracy, etc. Make sure your business has discipline and is not linked with any negative descriptors: unstable, inexperienced, incompetent, provincial, “small time.”

As you become comfortable with your firm’s small image, make sure to include brand taglines that incorporate the positive traits. If your firm has a compelling website design, strong capabilities brochure, etc. the less likely your firm will be linked with the negative traits.

Deliver on your Brand Promise

Perception is critical. Marketing communications help create perceived differences in your target audience’s mind. However, no matter how well your firm’s website is designed and how innovative your marketing strategy is, if you can’t deliver on your brand promise, your company will be doomed. Make sure that your firm can actually deliver on what it says. Effective marketing communications will attract the right customers with the right expectations. The next and more important challenge is to meet or exceed those expectations.

There are many companies that have a cohesive, compelling brand message but they actually cannot deliver on what they promise – perception and reality could not be farther apart. As a small business, you cannot overpromise and underdeliver. As a marketer, be entrenched in your business’ operations and truly know what your firm can do for its customers.

Conclusion

A small business utilizes various marketing tactics to attract and retain ideal customers. A website will help draw the right customers and if designed properly, it will contain valuable resources that in turn, build confidence in a prospective customer’s mind. The overall objective of all marketing tactics is really to build confidence in a prospect’s mind. If a small business can do this, it will generate consistent business with its target market.


Bop Design Analyzes Top Presidential Candidate Websites

10.12.2011Bop Design, a San Diego based web design and marketing firm, has analyzed the websites of the top tier presidential candidates: Obama, Romney and Perry. “A presidential campaign’s website is not only a critical fundraising tool, but also a way for a voter to ‘dig deeper’ and truly understand a candidate’s positions and biography. A candidate’s ‘complete picture’ may not come across in one debate or interview. Through their website, a voter is granted better access to a candidate,” says Jeremy Durant, Bop Design Principal. A candidate’s website design is an invaluable branding tool that helps position a candidate’s brand in the political arena. Bop Design Creative Director, Kara Jensen, elaborates, “Yes, every candidate will utilize the red, white, blue motif to highlight their patriotism, but there are certain design components that will subtlety communicate and resonate with a specific demographic.”

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 73% of adult internet users (representing 54% of all US adults) went online to get news or information about the 2010 midterm elections, or to get involved in the campaign in one way or another (www.pewinternet.org). As more information is being gathered on the internet, a candidate’s website is just as important as traditional media in communicating to likely voters. As of October 2011, the top three presidential candidates in major polls are Obama, Romney and Perry. The Bop Design team analyzes all three candidates’ websites and gives suggestions on how to better position a candidate’s brand and how to improve the effectiveness of a campaign’s website design.

Barack Obama
http://www.barackobama.com/

Introduction
The Barack Obama website is designed like a blog or social media profile – simple yet strong and clean with attractive typography. The website communicates the visual brand with unique color and texture, unlike other candidates who use more traditional reds and blues. This implies a more youthful image. The design conveys a brand position of youthful, idea-oriented, and connected.

Positives
The blog/social media style can be effective with attracting a younger, more web savvy audience. The blog style implies that the website is updated frequently and is in constant flux, as opposed to a more “more polished” website that may not be updated as frequently. The design allows for constant updates and interaction with website visitors. “The design allows for an administrator to update continuously without affecting the design consistency. This can allow for a website to serve as a true resource center for supporters, allowing them to read updates and be informed on current events,” states Jensen. “Supporters feel that they are more connected to the campaign.”

Potential Negatives and Suggestions
The cascading, blog style makes it more difficult for users to access important information without scrolling. A wider layout with a traditional home page and more “call to action” buttons will help a visitor navigate more effectively. The blog style may seem messy and disorganized to an older demographic. “Younger audiences are on social media profiles and blogs more than traditional websites, so the blog style works for them. However, an older audience may be overwhelmed with the amount of text on the homepage,” explains Durant. The website does not provide stances on issues, which may be redundant since he is the current President, but is still helpful for people to compare candidates.

Mitt Romney
http://www.mittromney.com/

Introduction
Clean and simple design with a large rotating banner on homepage – serves as an effective attention getter without being too fast and harsh on the eyes. The website is designed like a conventional Fortune 500 company website, which will be more recognizable to visitors and allow for intuitive browsing. The design conveys a brand position of business-oriented, powerful and traditional.

Positives
The website design allows for a website visitor to find what they are looking for in a timely manner – two clicks or less. Jensen adds, “A website’s hierarchy and content strategy must be purposeful, so that a visitor can find information in a minimal number of clicks. If this does not happen, a visitor will lose patience and leave a website.” The website presents a polished image similar to Romney’s brand position in the campaign. The website design allows for display of both static information (candidate positions, biography, etc.) combined with changing information (news, events, etc.).

Potential Negatives and Suggestions
The homepage icon button designs can be visually overwhelming and the clutter may overwhelm some visitors. Also, the donate button is highlighted at the top navigation but there is no donate button at the bottom navigation. “It’s advisable to include a donate page at the bottom of each page so there is a clear call to action after completing a section,” advises Durant.

Rick Perry
http://www.rickperry.org

Introduction
Clean and simple design with a fresh logo that stands out for its 3D qualities. The layout is simplistic with effective typography. The lack of clutter makes it easy to read and navigate. The design conveys a brand position of plainspoken, direct and effective.

Positives
A straightforward, basic design. The website consists of a strong, attention-grabbing header with intuitive navigation. Includes pages with news, candidate stances, social media buttons and newsletter sign-up for connecting with people. “The Perry campaign has a website design that emulates their candidate’s brand position – a leader with ‘no nonsense’ solutions to complex problems,” explains Jensen.

Potential Negatives and Suggestions
The website design is so simple it borders on boring. The site is not as robust as other candidate websites – this may convey the idea that the candidate has not developed specific plans for certain issues. The lack of robust information and simplistic design may not excite website visitors enough, prompting them to continuously visit. “The website design is monotone compared to Perry’s political rivals. For example, there is too much blue on the homepage. The overuse of the blues in the background and header make it visually monotone and stand out less,” says Durant.

Conclusion
Each presidential candidate’s website consists of strong and weak website components. “A presidential candidate’s website is more difficult to design than a small business website for example, that usually targets a niche client,” explains Durant. A candidate is targeting the American voter, each with varying interests, lifestyle, background, etc. This is the challenge to a web designer, conveying critical information about a candidate in a concise manner and ensuring the brand position resonates with potential voters and donors of various political persuasions.


Bop Design Reveals the Top 5 Components for Small Business Website Design

10.04.2011San Diego, CA (PRWEB) October 04, 2011

Bop Design, a San Diego based marketing agency that works with small businesses throughout the United States, has released the five definitive website components every small business must have to be successful.

Bop Design, a San Diego based marketing agency that works with small businesses throughout the United States, has released the five definitive website components every small business must have to be successful. “In the past few months, there have been more and more TV commercials advertising small business website designs for less than $20 a month. Companies such as Intuit offer numerous templates and promise that a business owner can start doing business online immediately. This is a tad concerning since the top priority of any business is differentiation,” states Bop Design Principal, Jeremy Durant. “If template websites become the norm, every law office website, accounting firm website, management consultant website will look the same. Yes, the content may be different, but how long will a visitor remain on a website to make that determination? A business with a template website sorely underestimates how judgmental a website visitor can be. Imagine if there were only five templates for a restaurant layout or a clothing store interior design?” Durant questions. Bop Design contends that by “templating” marketing communications, a business is losing a prime opportunity to engage with their ideal customer. This applies to any size business in any industry – a business only has a few opportunities to gain customer attention and directly communicate to effectively position their brand.

Bop Design Creative Director, Kara Jensen contends, “Whether small business owners want to believe it or not, people subconsciously draw conclusions about their business when they look at all marketing communications – logo, website, marketing collateral and signage. A poor appearance can trump a firm’s experience, work, press, etc. and generate an overall lack of confidence among potential customers. With the website being the centerpiece of most small businesses marketing campaigns, why have a ‘me too’ strategy with a run-of-the-mill template website?”

According to BIA/Kelsey, small and medium size business spending on digital/online media will grow from $5.4 billion in 2010 to $16.6 billion in 2015 (http://www.bia.com). “With increasingly stiff competition among small businesses to attract and retain customers on the web, it is important that a business creates a unique website experience, which will generate better-qualified customer traffic and an increase in conversion – a visitor taking a desired action,” says Durant. Attracting the right customers and engaging them on a small business website can generate new revenue at an exponential rate. But how? How can something as superficial as website design impact the success of a small business? There are many reasons why a well designed website will attract an ideal customer and prompt dialogue with a company. Bop Design has identified the five fundamental components to keep in mind as a small business explores options for a website design that fits their unique business-

1. Navigation
Possibly the most important part of a website is the navigation. The navigation can make or break a small business website. If an ideal prospective customer can’t find what they’re searching for quickly, they will leave a website. On a custom website, navigation will be designed to fit a sitemap (outline of pages on a website) and be as intuitive as possible. A template site will consist of an “off the shelf” navigation that typically is not intuitive, adaptable or scalable. With a template website, a business may be forced to organize pages in an unnatural way because that’s what the template framework dictates. Good navigation should be easy to find and comprehend – making for quick and easy travel throughout the entire website. In most cases, a simplified navigation maximizes ease of use for a wider range of customers. “A good tip is that a business’ website navigation should be so intuitive even your 75-year old grandmother can understand it,” adds Jensen.

2. Brand Consistency
If a company has a corporate identity that is utilized frequently in print materials (i.e. business cards, pamphlets, letterheads, etc.), then the logo, brand colors, brand messaging and imagery used for print must be carried over to the website design. This is another potential danger of a template website – where colors and branding can be inconsistent with other marketing collateral. “Templates can consist of colors and imagery that are similar, but do no exactly match other marketing collateral. Customers are smart and can tell the difference and will make a judgment about your company,” says Durant. This can cause a prospective customer to visit a website and wonder if it’s even the same company. It is important for customers to recognize a brand in all forms of communication, so they associate the brand position and promise with the corresponding business. If the visual communication changes with a brand, it can cause customers to feel uncomfortable, which can cause them to create a negative association with a company.

3. Reading Patterns and SEO
Most people are comfortable reading a web page the same way they read a book, from top to bottom, left to right. Web designers also take this into account when designing a website. Good designers place the most important information on the upper left hand column. This will help get a brand message across more effectively. “Many templates limit content placement on a webpage and business owners can find it difficult working within these constraints. Also, placing important information in these areas of a website improves search engine optimization (SEO),” states Jensen. When you include important company-related keywords in the html-based text, search engines such as Google and Bing are able to crawl a website easily, increasing search engine placement and giving a website and small business more overall visibility. As a small business, be cautious with template websites and ensure that the backend programming is clean and up-to-date so that search engines can easily crawl the website. If SEO is a top priority, hiring a firm with SEO expertise to do a custom website design is always the best bet.

4. Content & Messaging
The content of a small business website is important for reasons besides the fact that it literally communicates a company’s brand position and promise. There are other important elements considered when a copywriter creates the content and the designer creates the complementary visual environment. Making the message short and to the point, yet warm and welcoming (depending on the industry,) helps the reader to remember the message easier. Also, when there is too much text on a page, the page becomes visually cluttered making it more difficult for a reader to physically read the page let alone remain interested. By streamlining the content, the designer is then able to insert the text into their design, which typically includes plenty of negative space. This empty space lets the reader’s eyes rest so they do not tire of reading. If they tire, the visitor will leave a website. With a template, the website design is already determined and one must fit the content into the design of a page. This can lead to clutter which in turn, leads to visitor fatigue. One advantage of a custom website design is that content creation and website design work in sync. Durant compares design and content to songwriting, “where lyrics and music are typically created in tandem.”

5. Trust
Building trust among customers is extremely important, but will not happen unless a business really gets to know them and what they value. Marketing communications can act as a dialogue with potential customers, which will be a great way to discover more about a clientele’s needs. By strengthening dialogue with customers, a small business can implement tactics that positively resonate in a custom website design. On the other hand, a website template will not be designed specifically with ideal customers in mind and may turn them off by not being compelling or professional enough. Credibility and professionalism are two primary objectives of any small business website design, but also keep in mind conveying some personality through a website. “Don’t be so professional that your website borders on being ‘stuffy.’ The more welcoming and trustworthy a website is to visitors, the more traffic on the website, which will then lead to an increase in new business leads,” adds Jensen.

Summary
A website designed specifically for a particular business and its target market is the most effective gateway to new ideal customers. If designed properly, a visitor will land on a small business website and become excited due to the compelling design and relevant content. Because a website is so engaging, a prospective customer will spend significant time on it and conclude that it’s time to begin a relationship with that business.

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Original Article link: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/10/prweb8843904.htm


Steps To Maximize Your Company On LinkedIn

09.27.2011LinkedIn is not only a great solution for personal networking, but it also provides ample opportunities for your business. LinkedIn can provide your business with the tools to become a recognized thought-leader, achieve brand awareness, drive new leads and organically increase SEO for your website. We have outlined the following key steps to help take advantage of these free tools.

Listing Your Business – Brand Awareness

  1. Overview
    The first step to creating brand awareness for your business on LinkedIn is to create a company page. The first section you will encounter is the Overview section of the company page. Please be thorough in completing the overview section and include as much information as applicable to your business. Include your company locations, business description, company specialties, blog feed, Twitter handle, and company industry. Not only will a robust profile help users understand your business offerings immediately, but the information you provide will also make it easier for users to find your business. Be sure to add keyword-rich text within the text areas. This is a great opportunity to include target keyword phrases within the company page to help improve your website SEO. Lastly, don’t forget to upload a business logo to brand your company page.
  2. Products & Services
    After you have completed the Overview section of your company page, the next step is creating the Products & Services section of your company page. The Products & Services section allows you to build a more robust description of your business offerings. We highly recommend adding a Products or Services section to fully complete your business page. First, choose whether you are going to list Products or Services. After you have made this decision, the next step is to decide whether you need to create multiple variations of the Products/Services section. Multiple variations are especially helpful for companies that offer different products or services for custom audiences (i.e. different countries or demographics). For most companies the default version will suit all customer segments.In the second step, you need to create an overview of your products and services. We recommended creating a description different than the one you listed in the Overview section. In the third step, you have the option to create three banner images for your company. We recommend creating banners to showcase your business offerings, upcoming events, resources, or promotional items. An added bonus of the banners is that you can include links to your website for each of the three banners. Go ahead and publish these changes and then let’s move onto adding the products or services. You have now completed the overview for the Products or Services section of your company page.The next step is adding each of your products or services. You will see an Admin tools button in the upper right-hand page of your Products or Services section. Choose to add a product or service from the drop-down. We recommend including as much information as you can for each of your products or services. There are some basic fields to complete for each listing such as an image, features, category, description and a link to the product or service on your website. There are bonus fields to make each product or service listing more robust, such as a link to your product or service on YouTube, the contact information of a specific employee at your business, and a special promotion for each product or service. It’s ok if you don’t have all of this information when you first create the listing but we recommend setting an objective to create these materials over time to update each listing.After creating a listing for each of your products or services, the last step for this section is going back to the overview Products/Services page. Click on Admin tools from the upper-right corner and choose edit. Scroll down to the fourth step to choose a featured product/service. Simply add a title to the text box and choose your product or service from the first drop down. This will place the featured item below your banners and above the other products/services.
  3. Careers
    The third section of your company page, Careers, is for posting open jobs. LinkedIn provides a detailed explanation on how to post a job on your company page – simply click on the Careers tab for all the specifics.
  4. Analytics
    Analytics is the last section of your company page that we will cover. Here you will find easy to understand reports on the performance of your company page. The following are a few details you will find:

    1. Page views by section and the number of unique visitors. Not only does this report provide information regarding your page performance but it also provides information on how your page compares to similar companies.
    2. Members visits by industry, function, and company. Reporting on the job functions of visitors to your company page may help you learn more about your target audience. We recommended taking a minute to review the member visits by company to take a peek at which companies have looked at your page.
    3. Number of members following your company page – the more active you and your employees are on LinkedIn the more members should follow your company page. Be sure to include a link from your website to your company page to help drive more traffic.
    4. Products & Services performance. From this report you can see what people have clicked on the most under Product & Services: promotional banners, more information, special promotional links, etc.

Now that you have completed your company page we recommend asking your employees to include a link to your company page from their personal profiles. They do this by adding the company as their current employer.

In the next couple of weeks, we will release a new blog post with steps to using your LinkedIn company page to become a thought-leader in your industry, drive new leads, and create SEO for your website.

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Keeping Screen Resolution in Mind when Designing a Website

09.20.2011With the web being in constant flux, it is important for website designers to stay current with the most current web design standards. For new blog entry topics, I like to peruse other web design blogs for inspiration, and in turn, stay current with my web design skills. I recently visited a blog that stood out for discussing a topic that would seem to be common knowledge among the web designer community – screen resolution. After some thought however, it is a topic that needs to be discussed. Even though I consciously enter the pixel size of a window when creating a new website design, I never really focus on how it applies to the screen resolution. As a helpful refresher, I have looked into this further and have written a nice, simple, informational blog about this seemingly elementary topic. It turns out, there are some important terms and practices that correspond with these numbers that you might find helpful when devising your future website designs.

Website Resolution Stats

First, to show the different screen resolutions and the corresponding percent of users that utilize these particular resolutions, I created a visual aid. This data was collected by NetMarketShare and represents user activity in August 2011. There has been a lively debate on the proper resolution designers should use to design a website. A few years ago, it was common to design for a 1024×768 and 800×600 pixel screen. Now, it has become common to design strictly for 1024×768 pixels due to increasing screen size by leading computer manufacturers (referenced in visual aid). Even though many users have increased the size of their monitors, some thought leaders argue that users still keep the browser windows relatively small on their screens to view other task windows simultaneously.

There are different tools available to correct these issues. I enlisted the help of a less current but still very helpful blog that summarizes these tools. The key to addressing screen resolution issues is to optimize for (or design for) a 1024×768 pixel screen. This size is the most versatile for both larger and smaller screen sizes.

When designing for a 1024×768 pixel screen, use a liquid layout. A “liquid layout” is a tool that allows a website to easily adjust when resizing the browser window, while maintaining the design and content. Be sure to test this by verifying that the website still looks good when the browser window size is changed.

Ensure that the website has good initial visibility. “Initial visibility” is the content viewed when a visitor initially lands on a website. It is common for a viewer to scan a website like they read a book, from top to bottom, left to right. Have the most important brand information, both visual and textual, in the upper left part of the web page. This will also enhance website Search Engine Optimization (SEO), making it easier for search engines to crawl your site and index keywords based on the content in this part of the website.

Based on solid research, viewers do not like to scroll. Design your website so viewers obtain the majority, or preferably all, of their information from the upper-most part of the fold. The “fold” is where the screen gets cut off and a scroll bar is needed to see the bottom of the site. Think of most newspaper layouts. If you design with the fold in mind, your website will be successful in allowing viewers to get the information they need at a faster rate.

And finally, make sure the site looks good! Be sure your design fits flawlessly with all technical resolution requirements. Formatting the content is very important. As screen sizes grow larger and larger as technology improves, keep in mind that the wider a line of text spans the harder it is to read. Keep copy in smaller columns to avoid losing readability and creating clutter.

The use of mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, has dramatically increased in the past few years and will continue to rise. Because of this, designers also need to consider designing a separate screen ratio from the main site for compatibility with these devices. This will make websites, as well as the overall brand of the company, much more visible and marketable. And with improved operating systems on these devices, it is becoming easier to design and incorporate these mobile website designs to the web.

Keeping resolution consciously in mind when creating a new website design will ensure less updating in the future and more success in maximizing visibility and user traffic to your website.

For more about screen resolution and website design, visit Design Festival, Use It and NetMarketShare.


Bosses’ job descriptions grow

09.04.2011aTruck unloader, office manager, you name it and the head of a small business is doing it

Ever seen a chief executive driving a forklift?

You likely won’t find statistics this Labor Day on how hard small-business owners are working to keep their companies afloat. But ask any local entrepreneur and you’ll get an earful about his or her ever-growing “to do” list.

We profile three hard-working San Diego business owners here.

“I don’t really add up my hours, because it’s whatever it takes to get the job done,” said Jim Frost, president and general manager of Frost Hardwood in San Diego. Frost is not only the boss, he’s also the company’s credit manager and buyer of imported lumber, positions left unfilled for now.

And when there’s a truck to be unloaded, guess who may be doing the heavy lifting?

“I don’t wear a tie anymore, because I never know when I’ll have to jump on a forklift,” Frost said.

Times are tough, even though the recession is technically over. For the small businesses that are surviving, it’s often with a skeletal crew. They’re holding off on hiring help, but obligations haven’t fallen off.

Often, if there are customers to greet at the counter or an invoice to send, chances are good the owner is the one handling those tasks, said John Kabateck, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in California.

“More and more small-business owners in California are working harder — and with fewer employees — thanks in large part to the soaring costs and mandates heaped on them by government at every level,” Kabateck said. “Many have already scaled back operational costs to extreme bare-bones levels. When unanticipated new taxes, fees or regulations hit them from left field, they have nowhere left to trim but their employees.”

Nearly 70 percent of small-business owners do not plan to make hires in the next year, according to a survey released last week by The Small Business Authority, which provides professional services for about 100,000 business accounts.

“I just wish the income was enough that I could hire a part-time worker here,” said Lisa Schmidt, who owns the gift shop Lisa’s Cottage in La Mesa. “The picking and the searching and the buying — that’s my forte.”

Many small-business owners are hiring only for duties they can’t do themselves. Take the case of Jeremy Durant of Bop Design in San Diego, who brought on a Web developer with skills that he lacked. Otherwise, Durant estimates that he is working an extra three hours a day to handle tasks such as driving to the bank to deposit checks.

“I have to determine: What are the tasks that I can take on, that are not going to take that much time?” he said.

BY TANYA MANNES, REPORTER – SMALL BUSINESS, SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2011 AT 6 A.M.

Original article link: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/sep/04/at-small-businesses-its-busy-at-the-top/


At small businesses, it’s busy at the top

09.04.2011bBop Design: Hiring some employees, but long days for the owners

Jeremy Durant and his wife, Kara Jensen, established Bop Design after he was laid off from a creative agency in 2008.

“We noticed there was such a need among small businesses that are professional services companies for effective marketing,” Durant said.

Bop Design soon signed up law firms and environmental consultants, among others, for a variety of services, including client generation, email marketing and search-engine optimization.

With an office in Bankers Hill, Durant has hired two full-time employees and about seven independent contractors. The company had revenue last year of $110,000, and it’s on track to triple that number this year, he said.

As Bop Design was gaining its footing, Durant and Jensen carefully considered whether they could bring on new employees. They decided to hire a Web developer because they needed someone with technical expertise, and a project manager to work directly with customers.

Kara Jensen and her husband, Jeremy Durant, started Bop Design after Durant was laid off in 2008. They have hired two full-time employees, and Durant is the default office manager.
Kara Jensen and her husband, Jeremy Durant, started Bop Design after Durant was laid off in 2008. They have hired two full-time employees, and Durant is the default office manager.

For now, Durant is the default office manager.

“I would love to bring somebody on to do that,” he said. “It takes away from my core competency, which is really business development and sales.”

Durant spends around three hours a day on office management, from paying the water-cooler bill to setting up the company’s intranet site. During a recent morning, he wrote a creative plan for a client, then headed to the bank to deposit checks. He and Jensen often end the day at a networking event, such as those held by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m working, on average, 70 hours a week,” Durant said. “It’s amazing how as a small-business owner, you’re such a generalist.”

Still, he doesn’t mind putting in the time. “Most of what I do every day, I enjoy,” he said.

BY UNION-TRIBUNE, SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2011 AT 6 A.M.

Original article link: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/sep/04/at-small-businesses-its-busy-at-the-top/


Why Website Design is Important

Website-Look-and-FeelYou may ask yourself why seek help updating your current company website? Yes, your current company website looks outdated compared to the competition but does a credible, compelling website design really matter? Reluctantly, you seek out a design firm to give your firm’s website a facelift, but you are not completely convinced that a new design will generate new business. Despite your skepticism, a plethora of studies show a well-built website will generate better customer traffic and an improved user interface will increase conversion – generating new business at an exponential rate. But how? How can something as superficial as your company’s website design impact the success of a business? There are many reasons why a well designed website will attract your ideal customer and prompt dialogue with your firm. The following highlight the five key components that a web designer should keep in mind when designing a website:

Navigation
Possibly the most important part of a website is the navigation. The navigation of a website can make or break a site, which is especially true for robust websites with many pages. Website navigation typically includes a navigation bar or list of labels that differentiate the pages of the website. Good navigation should be easy to find and comprehend – making for quick and easy travel throughout the entire website. When designing navigation, web designers sometimes get carried away with designs and fancy typefaces. In most cases, over-simplified navigation maximizes ease of use for a wider range of customers. A good tip is that your firm’s website navigation should be so intuitive even your grandmother can understand it.

Brand Consistency
If your company has a logo and that logo is utilized frequently in print materials (i.e. business cards, pamphlets, letterheads, etc.), then the logo, logo/brand colors, brand messaging and imagery used for print must be carried over into the website design. It is important for your customers to be able to recognize your brand in all forms of communication so they associate your brand position and promise with your business. Often when the visual communication changes with a brand, it can cause customers to feel uncomfortable, which can cause them to create a negative association with your company.

Reading Patterns and SEO
Most people are comfortable reading a web page the same way they read a book, from top to bottom, left to right. Web designers also take this into account when designing for a website. Many designers make sure to place the most important information on the upper left hand column. This will help get the message across more effectively for website visitors who could be current or potential customers. But what many people do not know is that placing important information in these areas of a website also improves search engine optimization (SEO). When you include important company-related keywords into the html-based text, search engines such as Google and Bing are able to crawl your website easily, increasing your search engine placement and giving your website and firm more overall visibility.

Content
The content of your site is important for reasons besides the fact that it literally communicates your company’s brand position and promise. There are other very important elements that are considered when a copywriter creates the content and the designer creates the complementary visual environment for the content. Making the message short and to the point, yet warm and welcoming (depending on the industry) helps the reader to remember the message easier. Also, when there is too much text on a page, the page becomes visually cluttered making it more difficult for a reader to physically read the page, let alone remain interested in reading the page. By streamlining the content, the designer is then able to insert the text into their design, which typically includes plenty of negative space. This empty space lets the reader’s eyes rest so they do not tire of reading.

Trust
Building trust among your customers is extremely important, but will not happen unless you really get to know them and what they value. Marketing tactics can act as a dialogue with potential customers, which will be a great way to discover more about your clientele’s needs. By strengthening dialogue with customers, you can implement what positively resonates with them in your new design. By making your website look more welcoming and trustworthy to visitors, you will see the traffic to your website increase, and an improvement in new business leads through website conversion.

The Internet can be a scary place for people who are more accustomed to doing business face-to-face. It can bring back haunting scenes from the movie The Matrix, which might be great for certain industries. Most businesses are looking for something more welcoming than a confusing labyrinth of letters and numbers. Website design is a great way to create a user-friendly environment where people come for helpful tips and best practices. If a website is designed and managed properly, customers will continuously return to your site and do business with your company.


Email Marketing- Lead Generation and Nurturing

08.19.2011Email marketing has two objectives: lead generation or lead nurturing. We recommend two different email marketing approaches for each. We will discuss each tactic below-

Email Marketing as Lead Generation

Email can be an effective prospecting tactic that can generate new ideal customer leads. When emailing as a lead generation tactic, please remember the following-

  • The More Personal, the Better: With email prospecting, make sure that the email is intended for one specific recipient. NEVER blast emails to a large list when using email for lead generation. Text emails work best since it appears more personal and more targeted. Make sure the text email is clear and concise.
  • Address a Specific Issue: When email prospecting, you want to turn a cold email into a warm email by citing recent news about the firm or recipient. Addressing a specific company issue cited from an external source is an excellent “bridge” to discussing your product or service. It also shows that you did your homework on the company and your email is not a mass email.
  • End Email with Call to Action: Make sure the recipient understands the next steps after receiving the email. A typical call to action is a follow up exploratory call or meeting. An email is intended to be a “door opener” to further the conversation with the prospective client.

Email Marketing as Lead Nurturing

Email is most effective as a lead nurturing tool. Get in the practice of inputting all contacts into your CRM database and export the email recipient list regularly. Decide how frequently you will send an email newsletter and determine topics that matter most to your contacts. When emailing as a lead nurturing tactic, please remember the following-

  • Use a well designed Email Template: Do not bore your recipient with a text email newsletter. Design an email template that is consistent with the “look and feel” of other marketing collateral. A well designed email template will present your firm as credible and professional.
  • Utilize an Email Program: Using an email program such as MailChimp, Constant Contact or Vertical Response will allow you to see which recipients open your email, click onto the website and forward the newsletter. An email marketing program allows you to review email data and make better decisions on future email marketing.
  • Relevant Topics: The email newsletter cannot just be news about your company, new clients, new employees or awards. No one cares! Always remember that a recipient thinks, “What’s in it for me?” Keep that in mind as you determine topics to cover.-

Email is a highly effective marketing tool if utilized properly. Make sure to establish a standard process for both lead generation and nurturing tactics. Good luck!


Decisions Rooted In Confidence

08.10.2011As the economy turns downward again, what lessons have we learned as small business owners from the 2008 “Great Recession”? Fortunately most of us have not forgotten our successes and mistakes over the brief years since 2008. There are three lessons that I think are best practices for any business as they navigate through this uncertainty. They all relate to making decisions rooted in confidence, not rooted in fear.

  • Still be Choosy with Your Clients. Don’t panic and act desperate! As a B2B company, you want to be selective with clients. You don’t want clients who will give you more heartache and stress than money. One thing I learned in 2008 is to stick to your ideal customer profile – don’t sign clients who don’t fit your ideal customer profile. Sometimes we panic and begin to approach and sign clients because of the money. Don’t do it! There were many times in 2008 when I would sign a questionable client just because I was scared about the lost revenue. Stay true to the ideal customer profile and trust your gut.
  • Do Not Lower Price Arbitrarily. Prospective clients will push you on price and want you to offer more services for less money. If your pricing structure is sound, stay true to your pricing! Don’t lower your price without decreasing project scope. You will almost always regret reducing your price just to win the business.
  • Do Not Cut Marketing Investment. When times get tough, the first thing many businesses do is cut marketing allocations. It could be the worst time to cut marketing! As you navigate through the economic storm, maintaining an effective lead generation program is critical. Even though marketing costs money, if implemented properly, it will still deliver your business plenty of ideal clients.

To sum it all up, it comes down to DISCIPLINE. The more disciplined your business leadership is, the more successful your business will be in the long run. A good practice is to post both your mission and vision statement on an office wall to ensure you practice discipline. With any strategic decision, you should always look to those statements and ask, “Does this fit my business?” Fear can cause you to become distracted and make decisions that do really do not fit the mission/vision of your company. Stay the course and always base your decisions on confident thinking. Confident thinking will give you the discipline to stay on the straight line and be successful through this current economic uncertainty.


Identify & Promote Your Differences

08.09.2011Today’s market is all about creating customized products and services designed to fit a select group of individual needs and tastes. There are very few generic products and services that can survive as “one size fits all” types of solution – most people want a solution that meets their unique needs. This can be a great opportunity for small business owners to create unique products/services that are tailored to fit niche markets.

The key to standing out from the competition is to determine what makes your product or service different from the competition. Answer this question and you will be sure to find success for your unique product/service. If you are uncertain as to what makes your business unique, or why this is important to your success? I recommend reading the “Purple Cow” by Seth Godin, what I consider to be a must-read for all small business owners and marketers.

Now that you have identified what makes your business unique, let’s find out how to use this to your advantage when marketing your business.

Branding is a major component to setting the tone of your business. Not only should customers be able to quickly identify what the services you offer from a glance by just seeing your packaging, collateral, or advertising, but they should also know what makes you different. With a multitude of choices available you want to make it as easy as possible for consumers to understand why your solution stands apart from the rest. Don’t try to create a generic brand that will appeal to the masses, instead focus on creating a brand that promotes your uniqueness and will easily capture the attention of your “ideal customer.” For example, if you offering house painting services that are environmentally friendly, then be sure to make the “eco-friendly” message stand out in your branding to attract customers that are looking for sustainable solutions. Don’t be shy about showcasing the benefits of your product or service.

Your unique branding and messaging should also be applied on your website. Make sure what makes you different is applied liberally throughout your website and homepage. Too often, business owners include every benefit and feature to the website – making it difficult for web visitors to decipher how the company can help. Instead, create a benefit hierarchy, with the most important benefits on the homepage so within 3 seconds, a website visitor will know the 2-3 most critical differentiators.

Promoting the unique aspects of your business, product or service will also help with your search engine ranking. Instead of competing for the more generic keyword phrases that describe your business, which for a small business can take years if ever to rank well, try targeting the more niche and long-tailed keyword phrases that describe your unique offering. Find the keyword phrases that describe your differences and are phrases that your “ideal customer” would use trying to find your product. For example, the house painting company should focus on phrases that are location based (i.e. “San Diego House Painters”) and unique target keywords such as “eco-friendly paint.” This will not only help fine tune the traffic that finds their site, but the low competition for these phrases should help them rank on page 1 or 2 within months. For more technical businesses, target keywords that are so technical only your ideal customer will be searching for them. Targeting technical keywords as part of your SEO strategy is an effective practice to only attract the most ideal clients.

Social media marketing is another way to promote your differences and build an online community of fans for your business. Online communities are a great way to find people that are passionate about what you do and products that you offer. Often the more niche and different your business, the easier it is to build engagement with prospects online. The first step is to find out the preferred social media platforms that your target market uses. Join these platforms, groups, and communities and start engaging with these followers and creating discussions. Don’t use this as a forum to pitch your product and service, instead share your thought and knowledge regarding the industry and slowly they will see what you offer. Targeting a niche group of followers who would be interested in your unique business, story, product or service will help you spread awareness quickly among other potential customers.

Decide what makes your business special and use it to your advantage by promoting it in your branding, website design, SEO and social media marketing strategy. Being successful is not about being shy – fitting into the crowd is not going to make you popular. To make your business successful, you want to amplify your unique traits to your target market.


Monologue to Dialogue

07.31.2011Up until 5 years ago advertising has essentially been a monologue, a one-sided conversation with the advertiser only speaking to the target audience. There was very little conversation. The goal of advertising was to create a resonating brand message and repeat it as much as possible so that the company’s message was “branded” in the audience’s mind. With the rise of social media, a brand cannot rely on a monologue anymore. It used to be very easy for a brand to create and amplify a message without much challenge from customers. Now consumers talk to one another and no matter how much money a brand has to allocate, they can’t create a brand story without it being true. As a B2B company, you need to have a dialogue with current and prospective customers. Traditional “monologue” advertising should still be an element of an integrated marketing plan, but part of your tactical marketing mix must be dialogue related activities. The following are some excellent methods for a B2B service company to spawn a dialogue with current and prospective customers-

Social Media- Social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook are excellent branding vehicles that help position your company as a thought leader. These platforms are also effective ways to start a conversation with your professional network. From developing new product ideas to discovering new networking venues, you can learn much from your network on how to service your customers. Keep in mind that you have to “give to get” – make sure to offer feedback to others if you are soliciting feedback from your network.

Ongoing Customer Surveys- It’s a good practice to regularly solicit feedback from past and current customers. An effective way to gather feedback is through a phone or email survey. This way it does not cost you too much time but you can still gather quality feedback. It also positions your brand properly – showing that you care about customers’ opinions.

White Paper- As you position yourself as a thought leader, it’s important to give 25% of your expertise for free. Talk to your customers about topics they would like to know more about. Create white papers covering topics that allow your network to implement some of the ideas on their own without having to hire someone.

Event Marketing- Hosting regular events like customer appreciation parties and expert discussions is a great way to stay in front of your customers and keep a conversation ongoing. As you think of event ideas, always keep in mind topics your customers are truly interested in.

Email Marketing- Email marketing is best utilized as a lead nurturing tactic, not a lead generation tactic. As a lead nurturing tactic, email newsletters serve as an ongoing conversation with your database. This allows your customers to ask questions on particular email newsletter topics and gives your your business the opportunity to provide solutions.

To practice what I preach, I would like to solicit ideas from our blog audience…how do you keep an ongoing dialogue with your customers?


Moving Opportunities through the Funnel

07.22.2011salesfunnelIn sales and marketing, the focus should always be on the opportunity funnel. Unfortunately in many small businesses, there can be a disconnect between the sales and marketing department. Sales and marketing’s objectives are not always aligned and because of this, there can be two competing/contradicting funnels instead of one formidable funnel. The “sales funnel” is a way to describe the sales process, the unfortunate thing is that because “sales” is in the title, marketing does not think it is responsible for the funnel. If you asked many marketing folks what the sales funnel is referring to, there would be blank stares. It is advisable to term it the “opportunity funnel” to ensure both marketing and sales pay attention.

The funnel is an effective way to visualize the lead generation and nurturing process – the transition from marketing (lead generation) to lead nurturing (sales). The funnel of customer opportunities gets increasingly narrow as the number of inquiries are qualified and determined to be actual leads then even more qualified when they are deemed a prospect and finally, the most qualified prospects becoming customers.

As the number of opportunities become narrower because of lead qualification, the tactics become more targeted and measurable. Every organization’s funnel is different – have you created your own sales process funnel and received feedback and buy-in from both the sales and marketing department? What tactics are appropriate in each stage and which department is responsible? Documenting your sales funnel and making that a centerpiece of your sales and marketing process will help rally both departments around business development and client acquisition.


Guest Blog by Richard Clayman: Appreciating the Primal – Part 4 – Your Script

07.12.2011In writing your website videos, we’ve determined that what’s necessary is the skill of a television writer. After all, when you or your spokesperson pops up on the website visitor’s screen, it’s much like a TV commercial.

Or is it?

Think about this – when a television ad comes on, are you expecting it? Were you actively looking for it? Is it always something you’re interested in purchasing?

Of course not. The TV ad is designed to catch the attention of someone heading to the fridge or the bathroom. To halt the conversation about to start during a break in the programming. Maybe to get you to stop cleaning the living room for thirty seconds. Which means it has to be loud, in-your-face, and perhaps funny. Or absolutely quiet.

Regardless, something which will make you look up and pay attention, and on the fourth or fifth pass, get you interested in buying.

Not so with website videos. This audience is sitting at the computer or PDF searching for exactly what you sell. They’re already sold on the idea. They just need to decide on whom to place their trust to deliver the goods.

So when writing the teleplay for your website videos, remember the following:

  1. As hard as it is, don’t sell. No elevator speeches here. Be comfortable and conversational. Don’t be inappropriate for the intimate relationship between the viewer and the device, or you’ll be back-buttoned into the ether before two seconds have passed.
  2. Keep your eye on the ball, which is to immediately relay a sense of who you are. While not so casual as to be sloppy, don’t shy away from relaxed dialogue. Use contractions. Throw in a “well” or “yep.” Stay away from arcane terminology, particularly if it’s grossly multi-syllabic.
  3. Make sure, however, that it’s all in the context of what you do. We don’t want to see (as I recently noticed on a substantial law firm’s site) you putting on your scuba gear, or dancing in your ballet tutu, or sitting before your easel covered in paint. It’s great that you do those things, but that’s not what we’re there for.
  4. Keep each piece short, not much over :30 seconds, if that long (keep testimonials, which I don’t like to script, even shorter). Four short website videos on four separate pages is easily preferable to a single piece four times as long on your Home Page. A couple of reasons: Longer videos are more difficult to download and watch smoothly. And if the visitor views a compelling video on the Home Page and then clicks on the, say, About Us Page, without any video, it will feel deader than Frank McCourt’s chances of keeping The Dodgers.
  5. Read it aloud. Over and over. If something doesn’t come out of your mouth comfortably, then rewrite it until it does.

Hey, you can’t always hire a professional TV writer. But if you follow these rules, and take your time doing it, you may just find that the script for you website video or marketing video will be pretty darned good.

Once the script is right, the next step in making effective website videos is the filming. We’ll begin on the various elements available and which are necessary in the next post.

About the Author
Richard Clayman, Cloudwalker VideoWorks
Richard Clayman’s multiple award-winning career has spanned 30 years as a director, producer, writer, executive, and actor in television, theater and film. Projects on which Richard has directly worked have won dozens of Emmys, Golden Globes, and many other awards.


Website: Testing, Testing and more Testing

07.07.2011aIn my most recent blog post, “Take the Guesswork Out of Web Design,” you learned how to determine the “hot spots”, or highly clickable, areas of your website.  Now we will delve deeper into the inner workings of your website visitor by creating test webpages.

Google has released another easy-to-use tool, the Google Optimizer (www.google.com/websiteoptimizer).  This tool lets you test content, titles, images and other variables on your webpages.  There are two different test solutions available – Multivariate Experiment and A/B Experiment.  A/B Experiment allows you to compare the performance of two entirely different pages, whereas Multivariate Experiment allows you to test content variations in multiple locations of the same page.  This can be extremely beneficial to testing layouts, design, and calls-to-action on various webpages.  No longer do you need to create multiple webpages for your PPC landing pages to test what works best.  Instead, simply create one landing page for your PPC campaigns and set up different variations using Google Optimizer.  This testing method will create less duplicate webpages on your website – duplicate webpages can hurt SEO efforts – and will provide less maintenance for PPC accounts.

Google Optimizer is also useful in testing the overall effectiveness of website pages.  Choose two webpages on your website and set up a Multivariate Experiment for each of the pages to test the content and/or layout of the page to see if you can increase clicks or conversions.  You may find that these small tweaks increases engagement with website visitors and allows you to determine what visitors want to see on your website.

Set up an experiment today and see if you can improve website conversions.


Marketing Tips as a Sustainability Firm

07.07.2011bAs a company that wants to position its brand as sustainable, green or environmentally friendly, a company must lead by example. Practicing what you preach is critical in marketing a sustainable company. If your firm is truly sustainable, all aspects of your business must be environmentally friendly – from business materials to communications tools to forms of travel to office space. All aspects of the business must be as sustainable as finances allow.

When marketing your sustainable practices firm, one cannot be modest. Make sure to highlight all sustainable practices in marketing collateral. Because being sustainable is a major selling point, there are many businesses that flaunt being green but really are not.  To set your firm apart from the impostors, one must use language that only your ideal customer will recognize. In marketing, it is typically a best practice to use laymen’s terms at all times. However, with marketing a sustainable firm, it is important to use industry and technical terms that decision makers will recognize as legitimate and then want to engage with your firm.

Make sure that all sustainable or green certifications are “front and center” on all marketing communication tools. Use terminology that showcases your knowledge of sustainable practices and trends. When marketing a sustainability firm, green industry-specific terminology will help position your firm as an innovator.


Guest Blog by Richard Clayman: Appreciating the Primal – Part 3 – Writing Your Script

07.01.2011aIn the last two posts, we’ve looked at what website videos and marketing videos are made to engender.

Trust.

An immediate sense with the visitor that he or she doesn’t merely know what you do for a living, or what your taste is in fonts, colors, or IStock photos, or about your economy with written words (quite likely written by someone else, by the way).

We’ve discussed why it’s so important that your website visitors, human beings searching for someone to deliver a specific service or product, get an instant sense of more than what you do – who you are.  And why you shouldn’t sell in that intimate setting.

The whats and the whys.  Now let’s take a look at the hows.

The first step in creating a top-quality video is – just like with your website – the writing.  So who’s going to do that?  You could.  Take all of your experience in manufacturing baby rattles or surfboards, or addressing a jury, or filing a tax form, or investing people’s money, and use it when you put pen to paper and write a script.

Oh, right, that experience, profound as it is, doesn’t help much there, does it?

Okay, go hire a professional copy writer, perhaps that bright young woman who did such a nice job with your website text.

Although, quite likely, this will be her first teleplay.

For that’s what needs to be written for your videos.  A teleplay, the television version of a screenplay (which, of course, is the movie version of a play).  So tell me – would you have a plumber rewire your kitchen?  A labor attorney review your will?  A mortgage banker sell your home?

I don’t think so.  Then why would you have a (perhaps fine) writer with no video experience turn out your website video, product video, TV ad, or fundraising film teleplay?

Think about it.  While a screenwriter is a writer, a writer is not necessarily a screenwriter.

Remember, your website video or marketing video is, first and foremost, a film.  And if every aspect of its creation – beginning with the writing –  is not overseen by a true professional in the craft, well, it just won’t be as good a film as it could be.

Next time, more on what to look for in this kind of writing.

Read Part 1
Read Part 2

About the Author
Richard Clayman, Cloudwalker VideoWorks
Richard Clayman’s multiple award-winning career has spanned 30 years as a director, producer, writer, executive, and actor in television, theater and film. Projects on which Richard has directly worked have won dozens of Emmys, Golden Globes, and many other awards.


Accounting/CPA Firm Marketing Tips

07.01.2011bRunning an accounting firm can be a stressful but rewarding endeavor. If you manage your client relationships properly, you will retain a client for the long-term. As you market your accounting firm or CPA firm, there are a few marketing practices to remember and implement. Here are a few helpful tips-

Industry Specific

Many accounting firms do not want to focus on specific industries in their marketing communications. By focusing too much on industry sectors, they are afraid they are cutting off other business opportunities with industries not mentioned. There is a saying in marketing that says, “You can’t be everything to everyone.” As an accounting firm, it is important you “take a stand” and be explicit about the industries you typically serve. If the language in your marketing communications is too generic, your accounting firm brand message will not resonate with anyone. You don’t need to select one industry, instead, select four to seven industry sectors that comprise 85% of your business. This will make a prospective client comfortable about partnering with you.

White Paper Creation

A primary component of CPA/accounting firm marketing is positioning your firm as a thought leader in the marketplace. An effective method to highlight thought leadership is through the creation and dissemination of a white paper. A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that helps solve a problem. White papers are used to educate readers and help people make decisions, and can be used as a sales or marketing tool. For example, as an accounting firm that frequently partners with family businesses, your firm could create a white paper on accounting practices related to family or closely owned businesses.

Event Marketing

A typical challenge for most CPA/accounting firms is the lack of face-to-face interaction with clients. Yes, you are typically emailing and speaking on the phone but there is tremendous value in seeing your clients in-person from time to time. Coordinating an event for clients is an effective way to be in front of clients more. If you are an accounting firm that works with small businesses, a networking event with a known speaker is a great way to engage with your clients. This way, clients can network with your other clients – your accounting firm is essentially serving as a connector through an event. Also, an event that includes an expert speaker can add value and position your CPA/accounting firm brand properly.


Startup Business Marketing

06.29.2011Startup businesses are usually cash strapped and need to allocate resources carefully. When marketing a startup business, you need to find a balance between money and time allocation. Typically a startup business will have more time than money. Therefore, marketing tactics such as face-to-face networking, online social networking and blogging can be fruitful marketing tactics that require much more time than money. However, even if you have all the time in the world, there are tactics that a marketing agency is better equipped to handle.

As you discuss your startup business marketing plan with an agency, discuss the tasks you will be responsible for and the items the agency can address. An agency can develop a tactical plan comprised of effective lead generation and nurturing tactics. From there, you both can divide up the tasks. Being that a marketing agency does this all the time, rely on them to develop the strategy and advise you on implementation. For instance, an agency may develop a blogging strategy and advise you to blog. Even though you are a capable writer and can do this on your own, the agency can refine the approach – helping you with blog messaging, though leadership, distribution, etc.

Be up-front with an agency about your startup marketing budget. Also, be truthful about your skills and bandwidth. Being up-front will save time in the long run so your startup business is generating ideal customer leads faster. Being cash strapped, startup businesses typically allocate more marketing funds to online tactics versus traditional advertising. Traditional advertising is an effective marketing tactic but it can be cost prohibitive to startup businesses. Also, ensure the agency you hire does not devise a marketing strategy and not oversee implementation. Select an agency that can devise a strategy and has a proven track record with execution.


Marketing a Professional Services Firm

06.30.2011The term “professional services” could be the most generic-sounding business classification. According to businessdictionary.com, professional services “consist of accounting, legal, medical and other such services provided by a formally certified member of professional body.” Professional services firms provide solely service – they do not have a product or something tangible that helps differentiate their company. Word-of-mouth, referrals and testimonials are all critical components to marketing a professional services firm. As a professional services firm, how do you differentiate your firm without appearing too “radical” that you cut your firm’s credibility?

The most effective way to differentiate your professional services firm is by continuously engaging with your target market. Is your firm a thought leader among your target market? Is your website a resource center for common issues clients face? Are you regularly communicating with current and prospective clients with pertinent information? This can be done through email, social media platforms, phone, events, etc.

Fortunately most professional services firms are weak at marketing. They are too busy doing the actual professional services work and when it comes to marketing communications, they are more reactive rather than proactive. When it comes to professional services marketing, it’s all about being a step ahead of your client and serving as their trusted advocate. I can’t tell you how many small business decision makers complain to me that they never hear from their accountant or lawyer unless they need to be paid. A constant flow of communication to your clients will differentiate you from 90% of professional services firms.

Communication to current and prospective clients is part of professional services marketing. By implementing a marketing communications process, your firm remains credible and is able to be ahead of the competition. The communication can’t be irrelevant information though – it must be timely information that  is of concern to your target market. The more a professional services firm can serve as a “content curator” and in-disposable time saver, the more valuable your company will be to your ideal customer.


Law Firm Marketing

06.27.2011When managing a law firm, one must balance service delivery with business development. As your law firm is starting up, frequently more time and resources are devoted to marketing your law firm versus actually performing legal work. Hiring a full-time marketing or business development director is usually cost prohibitive – so how can you effectively market your law firm and still get the legal work done for your clients?

Hiring an external marketing agency allows you to employ marketing specialists who can successfully generate and nurture leads while you deliver for your legal clients. A marketing agency essentially serves as an outsourced marketing department, but is much less expensive and a more effective option than hiring full-time internal marketing staff. You employ a virtual marketing staff that expands/contracts based on marketing initiatives.

As you search for the right marketing agency for your law firm, make sure the firm has legal industry marketing experience. Make sure they are asking questions about your unique value proposition and ideal customer profile. Ask for references to other law firms they have worked for in the past and request specific success stories/outcomes from their marketing efforts.

Typical marketing tactics for a law firm are SEO, email marketing, blogging, article distribution and social media marketing. A combination of these marketing tactics will help you differentiate your law firm and attract your ideal customer.


Take The Guesswork Out Of Web Design

06.24.2011Do you feel like most of your decisions are based on “educated guesses” when it comes to website design and content creation? It’s ok, you are not alone.  Most website owners use instinct and guesswork to choose their website design, layout, styling, call-to action items and content.

Feel more comfortable by making data driven decisions and let your instincts take a backseat. Many free tools and resources can provide information about what people “like” on your website and the types of actions that lead to conversions. One of my favorite free tools for small business owners, and other people that wear many hats, is Google Analytics.  If you haven’t installed Google Analytics on your website yet, I suggest you make this your number one priority.  Google Analytics released a relatively new beta report called “In-Page Analytics.” You can find this report under the section named “Content.” This analytics report provides an easy-to-read visual representation of website visitors’ actions.  See the Bop Design example below:

Website Design Report

Easy-to-Read Reporting
Google Analytics provides a wealth of information at your fingertips.  Unfortunately, generating and interpreting Google Analytics reports requires time, patience and SEO knowledge to truly understand website performance.  But as you can see from the above snapshot of an “In-Page Analytics” report, this report provides an intuitive, visual representation of the actions taken by webpage visitors.  In one quick view, you can see the content and images that are effective in driving traffic through your website.

Navigate Your Website
Don’t stop at your homepage.  Within this easy-to-use browser you can navigate to other webpages to monitor other sections’ performance.  Is there content, call-to-action items, or images that are performing well on your website?  You may want to add these highly clickable items to other parts of your website, retaining visitors on your website for a longer period of time.  For sections that produce little or no clicks, consider replacing that content with something new.  Don’t be afraid to try new content or a new call-to-action.  Sometimes the most dangerous thing you can do is nothing at all.

Goal & Conversion Tracking
Explore the use of Goals in your Google Analytics account. Goals are an easy way to track and monitor conversions from your website.  For those of you already using Goal tracking, you will find the percentage of visitors who converted from these clicks within the In-Page Analytics report.  These metrics provide you with a wealth of information on the website items that resonate with your “ideal” web visitor.  For instance, do more people convert from your product webpage or your demo webpage?  If you are driving more conversions from demo webpages, consider adding links to these demos on other webpages. Continuously monitoring Analytics and acting on pertinent information will make your website a better conversion generator.

Take an hour to navigate “In-Page Analytics”, get the facts straight, and be equipped to make better informed decisions.  Leave the guesswork to your competition.

 


Guest Blog by P2 Photography: Hiring a Commercial Photographer

06.21.2011Your brand is an important investment.  As Meryl Streep once said, “How you first meet the public is how the industry sees you.  You cannot argue with them.  That’s their perception.” Once you are ready for custom imagery, hiring the right commercial photographer to illustrate that brand can be overwhelming.  An experienced professional photographer will be able to walk you through the process and assess possible challenges, but knowing what to expect and what kinds of questions to ask can make the experience less complicated.

Phase One: Determining the Details of the Project
Before beginning your search for the right photographer, iron out as many project details as you can.  The photographer will need as much information as possible in order to properly estimate the job.

A few things to consider:

  • How many products or people do you need photographed?
  • Would you like the products or people photographed in a natural environment, such as an office or factory, or on a studio background?
  • If using a studio background, what color would you prefer (grey, black and white are standard, but other colors may be available)?
  • If shooting in a factory or office building, when is the least invasive time to do so?
  • What kind of post-production will you require (facial retouching, removing dust and scratches from equipment, adding skies or sunset…there’s no limit to what you can request)?
  • What will you be using the images for?  Be as detailed as possible.  For example: second page of website, print brochure with a distribution of 5,000, 1/4 page advertisement in national magazine running for 4 months.
  • What are your preferred shooting days and what is your deadline?
  • What is your budget?  Many photographers will ask you for a project budget range, so be prepared to discuss this with them.

Phase Two: Finding the Right Photographer
A google search for “San Diego corporate photographer”, “San Diego commercial photographer”, etc will bring up many options.  Another resource is the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) Find A Photographer listing (http://asmp.org/find-a-photographer), which allows you to search by city or specialty.  Everyone listed on the site is a professional who makes their living shooting images.  Take some time to look at the portfolios and find a style that fits your brand.

Phase Three: Understanding the Photographer’s Fee Structure
Commercial photographers consider two factors when pricing a job.  The first is their creative fee which, as the name implies, is the fee for their services as a creative visual communicator.  Second is the licensing fee.  This fee is based on your intended use of the images.  Because photographers create intellectual property, legally they own the copyright and must license the images to you for use.  This system protects both you and the photographer in the event of infringement or misrepresentation.  Licenses can be tailored to fit your exact needs or include broader rights to cover possible future use.  For example, if you only need the images for your website, the usage fee will be less than if you want to use them for a trade show and a billboard.  Be prepared to have a detailed conversation with the photographer about your current and future licensing needs.

Other fees may include post-production, file transfer or an assistant to help coordinate the shoot.  These will be listed clearly on the estimate.  Expenses may be asked for up front if they are considerable, and mileage fees are calculated at the current government mileage rate.  Most payment schedules are Net:30, so be sure and let the photographer know right away if your company is on a different pay schedule.  Lastly, take a close look at all estimate line items and don’t be afraid to come back to the photographer with questions or ask him or her to revise their estimate.

Phase Four: Sealing the Deal
Once an estimate has been agreed upon, the photographer will send you a contract.  This must be signed and returned to the photographer before any shooting can take place.  If a change to the project occurs while the shoot is underway, the photographer will ask you to sign a Change Order.  If you cannot be responsible for signing the Change Order, they will request that you fax it to the appropriate person before going ahead with the rest of the shoot.

As commercial photographers, part of our job is to make this process easy for you.  Keep open communication, clearly state your needs and have as many conversations as you need to in order to feel comfortable.  Then sit back and watch your new, custom images work for you.

About the Author
Jenna Close, along with partner Jon Held, own and operate P2 Photography.  They are commercial photographers who specialize in the corporate marketplace, in particular the alternative energy industry.  Their assignments include photographing everything from factories to portraits to products in the United States and abroad.  P2 Photography also provides low angle aerial images using their remotely controlled helicopter.  The company was voted 2008 San Diego Photographer of the Year by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), and Jenna currently serves as a director on the National Board of ASMP.  P2 Photography’s work can be found online at http://www.p2photography.net.


Guest Post by Richard Clayman: Appreciating the Primal – Part 2

Primal behavior. When you do it right in marketing videos it inspires trust. Which is exactly what you want.

Being at my core a filmmaker, no matter the project, it’s always my job to be one thing above all else. The audience.

A network TV audience at home after work looking to relax is a very different audience than folks buying tickets to the movie theater for a Sunday matinee. The audience sitting at a gala event watching the new fund-raising film for a non-profit is not at all the same as the audience for a corporate video portraying a company’s virtues.

So why would a website video be anything like the others?

It’s not. “Being the audience” starts with visualization, then intellectualization, and, finally, empathy. Where is that audience member? What is he or she doing when viewing this? Why is that person here at all? What will deliver what that viewer is seeking?

Website videos – and we’re speaking marketing videos here, not entertainment – are usually seen in the most intimate way. One on one with the computer screen in an office or, perhaps more likely, a home. The viewer didn’t get to the website by accident – chances are it’s the result of a search, meaning that viewer has found a listing of providers for a product or service he or she probably is thinking of buying.

In other words, when the audience – the viewer – arrives at a product or service site (as opposed to retail or informational), that viewer knows what it’s about. No education is necessary. They don’t need to know what you do. They need to know who you are. This is where video – the right video – can’t be beaten.

So, when putting together a website video, you must keep certain precepts in mind.

Because the setting is intimate, the right video doesn’t try to sell.

Because the viewer knows what you do, you don’t have to keep saying it.

In the context of what you do, you simply must give that viewer a window into who you are. Not simply as a real person. As a real person who is, in your field, a professional.

There are specific ways to address these issues in film terms. We’ll begin to get into those in the next posting.

Read Part 1 of Appreciating the Primal

About the Author
Richard Clayman, Cloudwalker VideoWorks
Richard Clayman’s multiple award-winning career has spanned 30 years as a director, producer, writer, executive, and actor in television, theater and film. Projects on which Richard has directly worked have won dozens of Emmys, Golden Globes, and many other awards.


Guest Post by George Robertson: 3 Tips for Working with Bloggers – The Right Way

06.13.2011A few years back TechCrunch published what I consider to be The Blueprint for approaching bloggers – and these tips still resonate. Brian Solis, the author of the post, is back in the news with his new book about social marketing, Engage. Here are 3 of his tried-and-true tips that ring most true for me:

  1. You’re not the only story in town!
    In the post Solis states: “You send me an unsolicited press release as a “story idea”, and I write a new spam filter / auto-delete rule.” We see this now more than ever. My recommendation: Pitch very selectively and intimately know your targets interests, or you will be blocked. And don’t send them a press release unless they ask for it.
  2. Pick the Right Person to connect with the blogger
    Bloggers are not your average journalists, some, like Michael Lamoureux, blogger of Sourcing Innovation, is a PhD in computer science. His view: “A PR person who thinks Java is what you drink when you wake up…is probably not the right person to be reaching out to the doctor.” Be sure you have the right person pitching your key bloggers, especially if they need to go deep on technology or industry specifics, essential for establishing credibility.
  3. No Two Bloggers are Created Equal
    And this, from Solis: “Relationships are cultivated and should be mutually beneficial as dictated by the extra time the PR team takes to personalize and package the story and align it with their workflow.” Bloggers respect you more when they understand you are targeting them, and not just blasting some cookie-cutter pitch out to a massive list. Kind of like customers.

About The Author:
George Robertson, Media Strategist at Corporate Ink
Going on his sixth year at Corporate Ink, George Robertson is a media pro – driving killer placements every week in the pubs our clients care most about. He’s the insider’s insider when it comes to security and health care.


Life in San Diego as a Small Business

06.09.2011As a small business in San Diego, you’re one of many. Almost all businesses in San Diego County employ less than 100 employees. You’re probably thinking, “100 employees?? That’s not a small business!” Well, in the United States, a 100 employee is still considered a small business. Small businesses from 1 to 100 employees experience common challenges – one of the most critical issues being which positions to hire full-time versus outsourcing part-time? As a small business with limited resources, it’s difficult to bring all positions in-house. For many positions, from accounting to legal to marketing, it makes sense to outsource.

So what do you outsource? Think of positions you really only utilize 50 hours or less a month. Do you need an in-house legal counsel full-time? Do you need a full-time SEO specialist? Do you need a full-time CPA? For most small businesses, probably not. Small businesses tie up precious resources in some staff that is under-utilized. Plus, you’re allocating extra funds for benefits, workman’s comp, etc. Tapping into an outsourced employee pool where your workforce can expand or contract based on projects is the most cost-efficient way to run your business.

So why outsource? It’s extremely expensive to employ talented people in all business-critical functional areas. In San Diego, small businesses have the luxury of a plethora of talent to employ. You can employ a talented bookkeeper for 20 hours a month. The bookkeeper will be paid much more per hour and it will cost your small business much less. The same works for most outsourced professions. It’s a win-win! Also, outsourcing is an excellent way to test employees before you hire them full-time.

As a San Diego small business, you must wonder what is the best way to outsource? First rule, “Watch for talent!” If you lead a small business in San Diego, networking is key. You and your employees must be present at various networking events. Most San Diego networking events are attended by other small businesses that offer outsourced business services. You and your employees must be “on alert” for key business services. Your employees must be looking to build a business alliance group – a group of “power partners” who you can refer your small business clients to and utilize yourself.

A San Diego small business’ first instinct must be to outsource before hiring full-time. It’s the most effective way to keep your small business nimble and growing.


Guest Post by Steven Richardson: See and Be Seen – Solutions for Video on the Web

06.07.2011One of the questions we get asked all the time is ‘How do I get my video SEEN on the web?’ There are lots of simple things you can do to help get your video the viewers it needs, and most of them have to do with the placement and presentation of the video on your own website. Use this checklist below and see how your video measures up:

  1. Is your video on your website? There are lots of popular venues for placing video content, like Youtube and Vimeo, but an essential place for your video to be is on your own website. It’s a great chance for visitors to see be introduced to you while on your site, and to leave it out is a wasted opportunity.
  2. Where does your video show up on your website? If your answer is anything other than the Home page, then you could be losing potential viewers. As much as we all hope that visitors will click through and explore an entire website, the truth is that many visitors may not look farther than the Home page for several visits. Placing your video on the Home page gives your video the greatest chance of exposure. Additionally, placing the video on the top half of the Home page goes even further for catching a visitor’s attention.
  3. How are you labeling your video? Have you ever been on a website with icons that say ‘Learn About Us’ or ‘The Company Story’? There could be a video behind that link, or there could be a press release, or another web page, or a PDF – who knows? And since you only have a few seconds to grab a persons attention on the web, we’ve found that being direct seems to work best. What do you want the visitor to do? Tell them – ‘WATCH OUR VIDEO’!
  4. How are you presenting your video? Have you ever tried to watch a video on the web and been frustrated with how small it is, or how pixelated it is, or how the audio and video don’t sync up? Do you tough it out and watch it, or do you abandon ship and keep surfing? Now think about how your own video is presented. You’ve made the investment in a video for your company – treat it like the investment that it is! Knowing this is important, we offer video hosting packages that will help ensure your video is played – and seen – in the highest quality possible.

As with all lists, this is just a start. But on the road to getting your video viewed, these tips can help you get you on your way to more views and better results.  Check out the home page of our website to see some of our featured portfolio items, and this checklist in practice!

About the Author
Steven Richardson, Founder and President of Point7West
The founder and creative director of Point7West has worked in corporate video, sharing brands with the world for over 15 years. Believing that traditional corporate videos lacked spark, Steven was inspired to create visually stunning videos that would truly express a client’s true image.

Steven anchors the company with production services, video marketing and a focus on the image film industry. Steven has been committed to branding companies through image films and commercials, enabling clients to tell their unique stories with dynamic video in a polished and effective way. Helping each client meet business goals with each video, Steven has developed relationships with clients in varied industries.

With a background in corporate branding, entrepreneurship and strategic marketing, Steven has seen it all and filmed in the most interesting locations. He marvels that no job is ever the same—with different people, different locations and different stories to tell, Steven is inspired every day he gets to work with a new client. Whether he’s filming the corporate headquarters of a large company or the scenic outdoor spa of a resort hotel, Steven is always looking for fresh angles and exciting ways to capture his client’s message in the most visually stirring way.


Steps to Increasing the ROI on Your PPC Advertising

06.02.2011Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a great way for small businesses to start generating leads instantly.  One of the major players in PPC advertising is Google AdWords.  For most businesses, Google AdWords is a great method to generate new leads but if you aren’t careful, it can become a money pit with a low ROI.  Google AdWords, like all PPC advertising, is not a “setup and walk away” kind of program.  It requires weekly testing, monitoring and general ongoing maintenance to be successful.  Here are some best practices in building a successful Google AdWords campaign.

Organization is key. Lumping all of your keywords, ads and landing pages together in one ad group will guarantee a poor performing campaign.  Think of your campaigns and ad groups as buckets of “like-minded” information.  You want to keep similar keywords together with ads that contain the same keywords.  That way when people search for your keywords, they will see ads specific to their search term.  Take the time to set up an organized structure for your account.  You will not only see better results but you will also have an easier time keeping track of the results.

Find the right keywords. Try the free Google Keyword Tool when building your lists of keywords.  This easy-to-use tool is perfect for researching new phrases, gauging the competition and determining keyword traffic.  Try finding keyword phrases that have high traffic and low competition to avoid a high-price bidding war with your competitors.  Instead, maximize your budget by going after less competitive phrases.

Don’t be afraid to branch out. If you already have a high SEO ranking for a keyword phrase on your website then don’t spend money on PPC for the same phrase.  More than likely people searching for that phrase will click on your organic listing instead of the paid listing anyways.  Instead, try some new niche phrases to target. A niche phrase is a more specific keyword with less overall searches but so specific that only your ideal customer will be searching for it.   PPC advertising can be a great way to test out new keyword phrases and see if you are attracting the ideal customer.  Another way to use Google AdWords is to attain traffic for keywords that you currently have a low organic ranking. For instance, your business shows up on page 10 when people search for “dog training” but with AdWords you can target this phrase and bid to be placed on page 1.  SEO takes much time, but PPC provides you with an effective way to gain exposure for keywords that might take years to rank for organically.

Spring clean your way to success. Don’t be afraid to delete an ad group, keyword or ad that isn’t performing.  It is very difficult to successfully monitor results if you have hundreds of paused or non-performing keywords.  Before you do a mass cleaning, we recommend making a copy of your account.  That way you have your historical information and you can quickly re-implement old campaigns if necessary.  Download the free AdWords Editor to help you make copy your account, make bulk changes and much more.

Change things up. PPC advertising is a fluid system where competition, traffic and searches change daily.  To be successful, you need to be responsive and willing to change. There are indicators in your account to help you decide what needs changing.  For instance, if you are getting high traffic but low click rates, maybe you need better content in your ads to encourage more clicks.  A couple ways to improve clicks is by adding targeted keywords to the ad copy, offering a new incentive, or changing the wording.  Another area to watch out for is a scenario in which you are getting a lot of impressions but few clicks.  You might have keywords that are too broad and are showing up for unrelated searches.  Try adding more negative keywords to tailor the search results, or refine your keywords so they are phrase or exact match only.  To see what people are searching on that brings up your ads, click on the tab labeled “Keywords” in your account and choose “See All” in “See Search Terms.”  This will pull up a list of keywords people typed in to find your ad.  Add unrelated search keywords to your Negative Keyword list so you don’t turn up again for these search results.  Monitoring keyword performance is the trickiest part of being successful.  These are just a few tips, but if you need any help contact Bop Design for more assistance.

Closing the deal. Don’t waste your money and time finding the perfect keywords and ad copy only to point a clicker to your homepage.  You paid good money for that lead.  Now you must give them a call-to-action or an incentive to “close the deal” and entice them to send you their information.  You can do this by offering a white paper, demo, recorded webinar, etc.  To further optimize your landing page we recommend including keywords from your campaign, including copy from your ad and include testimonials to prove you are trust-worthy.

Pay-per-click advertising is a lot of work, but it is a great way for businesses of all sizes to bring in new leads immediately.  Let us know if we can help your business start or manage a PPC lead generation campaign.


The Web Browser Wars

05.30.2011Ten years ago, if you were surfing the Internet, you were probably using Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator (AOL’s browser was using a variant of Internet Explorer). Not really much of a choice back then. Then over the years, more web browsers were released for multiple platforms and now we have along with Internet ExplorerMozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Opera. Some of these browsers are also available cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux).

Gathering web browser statistics can be tricky. There are websites that gather these stats such as Statcounter, W3Counter and W3Schools. These stats are good for getting a good overall view of what browsers are popular and should only be used as a guide. The most import web browser statistics are the ones you get from your website. Internet Explorer may be the most popular browser worldwide but your own website stats might say that the majority of your visitors are using Firefox.

Let’s take a look at the most recent web browser stats:

Statcounter April – May 2011 Worldwide
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W3Counter April 2011
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W3Schools January – April 2011
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From looking at these statistics, we can clearly see that Internet Explorer is definitely not as dominant as it was in the past.

Why are web browser stats important?

Knowing what browsers your visitors use is important because it can give you a better idea on how to design your website. If you notice from your stats that many of your visitors are still using Internet Explorer 7, then you might want to make your site more Internet Explorer friendly. This might include reducing the amount of javascript effects and a simpler CSS layout.

Or you might notice that the majority of your visitors are using mobile device browsers. You can then make the necessary adjustments to the website and create a mobile version of your website.

Which browser is the best?

There really is no correct answer to this question because everyone has different web browsing habits. Some people will just use whatever’s already installed. Some users will want to customize their browsers. Others watch more streaming video, subscribe to RSS feeds, play online games, etc.

I prefer using Firefox for web development and Chrome for general web browsing. Firefox has a vast array of extensions capabilities and Chrome is just flat out faster than the other browsers.

Since they are all free to download and install (with some exceptions), the best answer is to install them all and try them out. Visit your favorite websites and see which browser gives you a better experience. It might be something as simple as the fonts being easier to read.

 


San Diego Marketing – What to Ask?

05.23.2011As a San Diego small business, you have a multitude of marketing options. For most San Diego small businesses, it makes sense to outsource marketing. Why employ a full-time staff when you can outsource the services your business requires for much less? Imagine employing a marketing strategist, web designer, web developer, SEO specialist, social media specialist and email marketing guru all at once? That will cost your business hundreds of thousands of dollars a year! Employing a virtual marketing department that can expand or contract based on marketing initiatives makes the most economic sense. It’s great that there are so many talented San Diego marketing resources. Here are some things to keep in mind as you search for a “San Diego marketing agency”-

  • Integrated Marketing- It’s all about implementing a holistic approach. Don’t employ an agency that only specializes in SEO or web design or email marketing. Select an agency that can employ a variety of marketing tactics and implement an integrated marketing strategy.
  • Project Management- Many companies employ a marketing coordinator to manage outsourced marketing partners. A capable marketing coordinator will cost at least $35,000 a year plus benefits. Search for an agency that will handle all the project management. They will have a defined process and will coordinate much more efficiently and inexpensively.
  • More about ROO, less about Recognition- Creativity is important but make sure that the marketing agencies you meet with are more concerned about your marketing objective and the ROO (return on objective). Unfortunately there are many San Diego marketing agencies that are more concerned about recognition at an ad agency award reception rather than the marketing strategy accomplishing what your company set out to do.

The good news is that there are plenty of talented San Diego marketing agencies out there. You just have to ask the right questions to ensure the best fit for your business.


Guest Post by Richard Clayman: Appreciating the Primal

05.20.2011It seems I’ve been involved in film as long as I’ve been around. For a start, I grew up in L.A. My mom signed on at Fox when I was 12. I had the opportunity to be an extra on “Hello, Dolly” when I was 14, but opted to spend that summer day at the beach. I worked on the labor crew there when I was 17, watching Irwin Allen direct Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman in the underwater scene from “The Poseidon Adventure.” I somehow was the producer of “The John Wooden Show” while still a senior in college.

I’ve watched the medium – especially in television – grow. When I began with Norman Lear in the late 70s, working on shows like “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Sanford & Son,” we were recording on 2-inch quad videotape. It was a new technology, from production all the way through post. Before I was gone, we had moved on to 1″ tape and, soon after, it was digibeta. All of it, of course, a precursor to the tapeless, digital revolution.

I even sat at Zoetrope Studios in 1982 as Francis Ford Coppola screened a new form of tape – high-resolution (1125 lines, if I recall) HDTV. Produced on revolutionary equipment supplied by Matsushita of Japan. The same folks, I was told, who had built the Zeros which bombed Pearl Harbor. Probably, back then, some of them were still working there.

In other words, technology has made great and ongoing strides in my 30 years in the biz. But one thing hasn’t changed and never will.

The species of the audience.

Well, yes, a dog or cat or probably even llama will watch TV. But the shows are made for good old homo sapiens. So, no matter the delivery method, whether it be HDTV or IPhone or website video, the ballgame remains the same as it was when I produced the Wooden show on 16mm film.

To touch human beings on a primal level.

In the world of website videos, marketing videos, fund-raising videos for non-profits, and – as I’ve found lately – both product videos and fine art videos, you as the film-maker must start in the same place. Who is your audience? What drives them on an animal level? How do you touch them deeply, rather than intellectually?

As Frank Capra famously noted, it’s the job of the film-maker to make decisions. From writing to lighting, from performance to make-up, from location to pace, each decision you make will affect your final video in ways perhaps not recognizable, but certainly crucial.

In the next few weeks, I’ll explore how to make many of these decisions, and explain why the choices you make are the determining factors in whether or not your website videos engender the one thing they must above all else.

Trust.

About the Author
Richard Clayman, Cloudwalker VideoWorks
Richard Clayman’s multiple award-winning career has spanned 30 years as a director, producer, writer, executive, and actor in television, theater and film. Projects on which Richard has directly worked have won dozens of Emmys, Golden Globes, and many other awards.


San Diego Website Design – What to Ask?

05.16.2011Small businesses are the driving force of San Diego’s economy, representing more than 70,000 businesses (approximately 92 percent of all businesses in the City) and about half of San Diego’s job growth since 1991. When it comes to web design options for small business budgets, San Diego small businesses have very few options.

Bop Design recognized this lack of options over three years ago when the principals started the firm focused solely on small business. Bop Design wants to be known as the web design firm for small business. With the high number of small businesses in San Diego and the dire need for small business web design resources, Bop Design and the San Diego business community seem to be a perfect match.

So when it comes to web design as a San Diego small business, what are some items a business owner or marketing director needs to think about? Here are some helpful questions to pose when you search for “San Diego web design”-

  • Style Match? Make sure you like their style. It’s simple but many people forget to look at an agency’s portfolio and determine if the agency’s style is aligned with their company.
  • Process? Many creatives (especially ones who focus on small business) are not process-oriented. Make sure they have a defined web design process that starts with a creative discovery process then leads to web design/concepting followed by web development. Ask to review their process document or sample project schedule before moving forward.
  • References? As with any business relationship, it’s critical to ask for references to current or former clients. Call a few of them. Make sure the projects are similar to yours. Industry experience is not critical but make sure that they are in the same B2B or B2C realm.
  • Payment Options? Never pay a web designer in-full, up-front. With small businesses, it’s all about cash flow and you want to spread payments out as much as you can. See if you can split payments into four and do not pay the final invoice until you are at the website upload stage.
  • Marketing Background? Determine the marketing background of the agency. You don’t want web designers who have no marketing background and really only have an art education. Listen to the questions they ask about your business and your desired website. You can tell if they have a marketing background by the questions they pose. Are they asking about your ideal customer, industry segments, unique value proposition, etc?

There are many great web design firms in San Diego. Unfortunately there are also many disorganized freelancers who pose as web design firms and really have no marketing background or project management skills. Bop Design is here to be a resource for San Diego small businesses. Bop Design is a San Diego web design firm passionate about helping grow businesses in the San Diego region.


Communicating With Your Followers

05.12.2011Are you sending out regular social media updates but not seeing an increase in followers?  It might have something to do with the content you are sending.  The following are a few tips to improve communication with your social media followers.

Do your messages tend to be a little self-centered?

Many people fall into a rut of producing content that is only self-promoting and “salesy.”  This is the worst possible way to build an online community.  Don’t just drone on about how fantastic you or your company is – it’s not as reliable coming from you as when other people say it anyways. Instead, try providing your followers with educational, valuable and engaging content.  People are going to be much more willing to share educational information than a self-promoting or “salesy” message.  So go ahead and set a goal to start creating content worth sharing.

Are you a repeat offender?

Nobody wants to be bombarded with the same message over and over again.  Repeatedly posting similar messages will not only prevent new people from following you, but you might see a drop in your fan base.  In theory it might seem like a good idea to remind people of an important message or try to reach new people who may have missed your first posting, but really you are just spamming your followers.  There are a few occasions, such as event promotion, when you need to send similar messages over a couple months to remind your followers.  But this is the exception not the standard. Don’t think you can “sneak repeat” content by folks – most of us will remember and not be pleased.  Be original each and every day, and for those days when you can’t be original, don’t post.

Are your messages a little text heavy?

One of the best attributes of social media networks is that it provides snap shot views on the latest news.  People tune into your social media channel for quick updates.  For those days when you have content that won’t fit in the 140 character Twitter message, put your content in a blog post.  Once the blog is ready send a short message through your social media accounts to check out your blog post.  A short and catchy title in your social media message will help capture the attention of your followers.  To keep your social media profile pages from getting too text heavy we recommend posting videos, photos, or links to content with photos in the headlines.  These photos and videos will help break up the text on your profile pages and give visitors a quick glance at what you and your company are about.  Keep your messages short and sweet, and post images to add some personality to your profile page.

Are you a social media spammer?

We all have that friend who sends 10+ Facebook status updates a day.  Don’t become that friend or company that continuously spams its followers.  Since there is no golden rule for the “appropriate” number of postings on social media accounts, it is recommended to check different sources to determine your optimal frequency.  Here are a couple practices to find out what might work best for you.  First, you can take a look at your competition and see how frequently they post and determine if they are building a good community with their schedule.  Another idea is to research what people in the industry are saying about the recommended frequency on each platform.  Recent studies have shown that people on Twitter expect to receive more updates than people on Facebook and that 5-10 Tweets a day is expected.  Facebook is entirely different than Twitter when it comes to messaging frequency.  With its current set-up it is pretty easy to tie up your Friend news feed with messages.  So be respectful and try only posting Facebook updates a couple times a week up, or up to once a day.  Lastly, try asking your loyal followers what they think about your social media communications.  Do they feel like they could use more information or less?  A blend of all these techniques above should help you find the right amount of frequency for sending messages on your social media platforms.

Please share what has worked for you when communicating with your online communities.


Guest Post by Shawn Dennison: Video in Business

05.10.2011As business owners, we are always looking for new ways to market our companies. When a potential customer searches the Internet looking for a service, what is going to make your company stand out from the rest? You need to articulate your brand and make an impression — quickly. One of the best ways of accomplishing this is by developing a high quality video to introduce yourself and your product — produced by a professional video production company. A video can be used to market your business in multiple ways: embedded within your website, in a video news release, posted on social media sites and YouTube, email marketing, interactive displays and commercials.

According to PR Newswire, multimedia content is more broadly distributed – because each element of a multimedia release is distributed separately, and can attract its own audience – in social networks, and on search engines. Videos, for example, are distributed to more than 70 video-specific portals. Social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, allow people to share information quickly and enthusiastically with others. Consumers can “like” your video and your business – and distribute this information to their friends and followers.

These days, anyone with a flip cam or camcorder can call them self a professional videographer. From my perspective, the finished product that is produced in these cases often lacks a polish and can reflect poorly on your brand. Will potential customers that view your website take you seriously after seeing a poor quality video? Will they want to do business with you? In most cases, the answer is no.

You need to hire a reputable video production company with proven experience, has the demos to prove it, and has demonstrated ROI for their customers. You will notice when using a high quality company that it has a demonstrated professional shooting style, including the use of a tripod for steady video; crisp, clear audio; and enhanced lighting of interviews and scenery.

Would you make a positive impression interviewing for a job in shorts and sandals, or in a suit? The same can be said for video in marketing your business. A professional video will effectively tell your story, build your brand and get positive results.

About the Author:
An experienced and innovative photojournalist, D-PRO Inc. owner and president Shawn Dennison has more than 23 years of broadcast, commercial and corporate video expertise. Shawn has won numerous regional news Emmy ® Awards and Telly ® Awards, as well as being honored by the National Press Photographers Association and the Associated Press for excellence in videography and editing. For more information, visit www.dprovideoproductions.com.