Does your website have a purpose?

[Re-post from June 16, 2009]

Ten years ago, you were considered ahead of the curve if your company had a website. Even large businesses like Barnes & Noble and Wal-mart struggled early on to establish a web presence, paving the way for the success of Internet companies like Amazon.com and eBay.

Why buy?

Remember these?

Ten years ago, your website could consist of a home page, “about us” page, and contact page, with perhaps another page or two that described your products and services. Your site was merely an online brochure – like a Yellow Pages advertisement but with more words and color (and let’s not forget the annoying flashing graphics like the one on the left!).

Ten years ago, your small business could even get away with not having a website, particularly if you only served a local market.

Nowadays, none of the above holds true. Your company – whether you employ one person (yourself), 10 people, 100 people, 1,000 people, or 10,000 people – must have a website that provides visitors with useful information, compelling content and, above all, a reason to engage with you.

Your website must answer this question – Why should a prospect choose to do business with you and not your competitor? This is the singular purpose of your site.

Take a look at your current website (if you don’t have a website, realize that your competitors do!) and ask yourself:

  • What questions would a prospect have when they come to my site?
  • Does my site answer those questions clearly and quickly?
  • Who are my target customers? What are their demographics, buying habits, persona types, and needs? Does my site address each customer segment?
  • Do I provide a compelling reason for the prospect to choose my company over my competitor?
  • Does the prospect know what to do next? Do I want the prospect to call me, fill out a form, watch a demo, download a free trial or whitepaper, make a purchase, subscribe to my newsletter, etc.? Does my site guide them to take this step?

If your website is currently the equivalent of a billboard, newspaper ad, or Yellow Pages listing, you are losing money. Your website should, and can be, a highly effective means for generating leads and sales. Does yours?

Can Divisiveness Be Good?

[Re-post from April 17, 2009]

This morning, I taped a political TV show called “FlashPoint” that airs on the local CBS affiliate here in Central Florida. One of the topics was the current divisiveness and infighting within the local (and to some extent the national) Republican Party. (I am the former chair of a county Democratic Party, so I was on as a Democratic analyst. Also on the show were Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor, and Deon Long, an attorney and local Republican activist.)

The host, anchor Lauren Rowe, asked us if such divisiveness was good or bad for the party. Professor Jewett answered that it can be both – it’s good to debate ideas and understand one another’s different viewpoints, yet it can be bad if everyone doesn’t come together at the end once a direction or compromise has been established.

After the show, I got to thinking that this applies not only to political parties but really to any organization or company, and especially to start-ups:

How can a company successfully deal with differences of opinion so that no one is left feeling unheard, dismissed, or unimportant?

I think that, first and foremost, the company must be completely open and transparent with its employees regarding the issue at hand. That means ensuring that all meetings related to the subject are open to all and that everyone is given an opportunity to share their ideas and concerns in a structured and professional way.

Second, the CEO or founder must be actively involved throughout the process – not as the dominant voice in the debate, but as the person who acknowledges and respects everyone’s opinions and seeks to build consensus.

As I was writing this last sentence, it reminded me of an article I recently read in The Washington Post about Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and his approach to group decision-making and leadership. According to the article:

“Every six weeks or so, around a giant mahogany table in an ornate room overlooking the National Mall, 16 people, one after another, give their take on how the U.S. economy is doing and what they, the leaders of the Federal Reserve, want to do about it.

“Then there’s a coffee break. While most of the policymakers make small talk in the hallway, their chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, pops into his office next-door and types out a few lines on his computer.

“When the Federal Open Market Committee reconvenes, Bernanke speaks from the notes he printed moments earlier. ‘Here’s what I think I heard,’ he’ll say, before running through the range of views. He sometimes articulates the views of dissenters more persuasively than they did.

“’Did I get it right?’ he says.

“The answer, in recent months, has been a resounding yes. And Bernanke’s ability to understand and synthesize the views of his colleagues goes a long way toward explaining how he has revolutionized the Federal Reserve, which under his leadership has deployed trillions of dollars to try to contain the worst economic downturn in 80 years.”

Now, regardless of whether you agree with Bernanke or with the Fed’s policies, you have to appreciate his ability to take in what everyone says and then build a consensus for action. That is leadership.

So, the next time your company faces a controversial decision or a group of dissenters, embrace the opportunity to have a spirited debate, generate new ideas, and ultimately find the best solution.

I’m an evangelist (and didn’t even know it!)

[Re-post from April 9, 2009]

In my last post, I asked if you had evangelists for your product or service, like Netflix has (and Blockbuster does not), and what you could do to generate enthusiasm for your company so that your customers start evangelizing for you.

Today I had lunch with Julie Swatek, Founder and CEO of ScrapYourTrip.com, a multi-million dollar e-commerce company in Orlando that she founded in 2002 out of a spare bedroom in her house (if you like to scrapbook, then you probably have already been to her site; if you haven’t, be sure to check it out!). Julie’s company is the epitome of one that has benefitted from customers who have become evangelists for her.

While we were having lunch, I mentioned to Julie about the “Clean Eating” regimen I started following last year and how much I love it. I told her that I would send her an email with a link to the book on Amazon so she could buy it if she wanted to. After I got back to my desk after lunch, I realized that I was an evangelist for the Clean Eating products and I had not even thought about it that way before!

Since the time I had read the book last August and started using the recipes and following the guidelines, I have told many of my family, friends, and co-workers about it, as the subjects of health, energy, food, and diet have come up in the course of regular conversations. I have even purchased copies of the book for family members and several co-workers have bought the books themselves.

I then realized that the success of the Clean Eating books was probably due in large part to people doing what I have been doing – spreading the word because of their love of the product. There is no financial benefit for me; I don’t make any money if someone I tell buys the book. But, that’s not the reason I tell them. I do it because I sincerely believe that they could benefit the way I have.

That is the key to understanding whether your product or service can generate evangelists – do your customers think that what you offer is so good, unique, and beneficial that they will naturally tell the people they know about it and encourage them to try it? It doesn’t matter if you are an accountant, attorney, doctor or other professional, or if you sell software, cars, or t-shirts. How many Prius owners have rhapsodized about their cars? How did you find your current doctor or dentist? Did someone you trust tell you which one they went to and really liked?

On the Internet, having evangelists is even more important because it can help your company’s name spread like wildfire, at no cost to you. You can’t even buy that kind of advertising.

Thus, as you set out to build your company, your first priority should be to create an outstanding product or service that resonates with your customers – one that is so good at solving their problems that they’ll naturally want to tell others about it.

How Netflix Killed Blockbuster

[Re-post from April 7, 2009]

As part of the classes I teach in Internet business at Full Sail University, I post up current news and topics every day and ask my students to comment on them, whether it’s Apple’s change to a tiered pricing model for iTunes or the community activism at Etsy.com.

Today I read an article on Fast Company about Blockbuster’s impending demise and it got me thinking. According to its most recent SEC filing, Blockbuster may not be able to get a loan it desperately needs: “In effect, the company is saying it’s within days or weeks of having to close up shop – postal, online and brick-and-mortar.”

Ten years ago, Blockbuster was flying high. It had over 7,000 stores across the country and the world and was growing rapidly. It had put the small, mom-and-pop video rental stores out of business (remember those?).

Blockbuster’s biggest competitor at the time was Hollywood Video, another chain of video rental stores. I distinctly remember in the late 1990s when Blockbuster and Hollywood Video first started stocking DVDs to rent in addition to VHS tapes. At first, the DVD section was very small (just a few rows on the wall). Then, over the next five years or so, DVDs came to dominate shelf space as more and more households purchased DVD players and more people wanted to rent DVDs.

However, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video completely missed the revolution that was happening online: people were signing up for a new service called Netflix that mailed them the movies they wanted. Plus, there were no due dates and no late fees! Blockbuster, and even Wal-mart, came out with their own rent-by-mail service and it appeared that Netflix could be in trouble. Many analysts started signing Netflix’s death sentence, saying that Netflix wouldn’t be able to compete against Blockbuster’s billions of dollars, high brand recognition, and thousands of physical stores.

However, what these analysts failed to appreciate was that Netflix had built a loyal following around a culture of trust and authenticity. Many consumers had been personally gouged by Blockbuster’s ridiculous (and oftentimes hidden) late fees and were reluctant to trust the company again. Even if Blockbuster charged less than Netflix, many people were willing to pay a dollar or two more per month to Netflix (as I was) and, even more important, became evangelists for Netflix.

If you do a search on Google, you will find numerous blogs and comments (here is just one example) about the difference between Netflix’s and Blockbuster’s commitment to customer service and transparency: Netflix has it, Blockbuster does not. This is why Netflix killed Blockbuster.

What do your customers think, and say, about your company? Do you have evangelists? If not, then take some time to consider and then implement ways you can improve your customer relationships so that your customers become evangelists for your products.

The Future of Conferences

[Re-post from April 1, 2009]

I attended an excellent conference today on digital marketing where I heard interesting speakers (including David Plouffe, who was Obama’s campaign manager), visited sponsors’ booths, and met new people in my field.

The best part was that I did this all right from my desk – no need to pay for a plane ticket and hotel room, take days off of work, and generally disrupt my schedule. It was an incredible experience that I highly recommend that attendees, sponsors, and event organizers try themselves.

The conference was organized by MarketingProfs.com and was free to attend. There were thousands of people online from all over the world.

I definitely see this as the future of conferencing. Have you ever attended a virtual conference? If so, how do you think it compared to a physical-world conference?

The Beauty and Power of Twitter

[Re-post from March 30, 2009]

I signed up for a Twitter account sometime last year for my business primarily because I wanted to reserve the name before someone else did. I didn’t see much value in using Twitter, so I didn’t post any tweets or even sign up to follow anyone else. Then, within just a few days, I started receiving requests from other people to follow me. And, what really surprised me was that most of the requests were from people I did not know but who were in a related field and thus were people I should know. I was intrigued, but still did not truly understand the beauty or power of Twitter, so my account remained dormant – until last week.

Last Thursday, I went to a workshop on using Twitter that a colleague of mine at Full Sail University conducted (his Twitter handle is “dangorgone”). He showed us how he uses Twitter for conducting research for his courses, reaching out to others in his field (web usability), and in general just posting his thoughts and links to articles he finds interesting.

He also showed us TweetDeck – an incredibly useful application that you download and install on your computer. It organizes your Twitter streams and allows you to easily tweet, re-tweet, and reply.

Best of all, you can put in a search term (such as “business model” or “website usability”) and every time anyone in the Twitter universe posts a message with that term in it, you will see it in your TweetDeck. Now, take a moment and think about that. Here is a real-time search engine that will inform you at the very instant when someone anywhere in the world is thinking about that topic or is asking for recommendations for companies that supply a particular product or service. How much would you, as a company, pay for these types of leads? Well, you don’t have to pay anything because they are completely free. Just be sure not to abuse the system. Here is a good article on Twitter etiquette that I highly recommend reading before you get started.

Twitter is also a great resource for seeing what is on the minds of the leaders and influencers in your industry, so look them up and start following them!

You can follow me on Twitter under my handle “CivicLink”.

Happy tweeting!

Who needs deadlines?

[Re-post from March 13, 2009]

Your clients do. (And you probably do too, but that’s another blog post.)

I’m sure we’ve all had clients who procrastinate on providing necessary deliverables, making decisions, and paying their invoices. Oftentimes, we excuse their tardiness and think to ourselves, “Well, if the client doesn’t care that this gets done soon, then why should I bother them about it. They’ll do it when they’re ready.” There are several problems with this. First, it throws off your schedule with that client as well as with your other clients. Second, it causes your client to de-value the work you are doing for them. If you act like it’s no big deal, then they will look at your work for their company as “no big deal”. (Of course, there are exceptions to this. If the client has a genuine personal or business emergency, then by all means give them the time and space to resolve that. Just be sure to take that into account for your scheduling.)

What can you do to keep your clients on schedule? Here are a few tips:

  1. PlannerInclude a project schedule in the contract paperwork the client signs. The schedule should clearly indicate what deliverables are due when and by whom, as well as which other deliverables are dependent upon those.
  2. Review the project schedule at the kick-off meeting. Ask the client, “Is there anything that would prevent us from achieving these goals on these dates?” If any adjustments need to be made, then have the client sign off on them.
  3. Update the schedule every day or two (or at least once a week) and send the updates to the client. Clearly indicate which items are on track, which are in danger of being delayed, and which are off track. For the items that are in danger of being delayed, and they depend upon the client, find out right away what is causing the hold up and when the expected delivery is.

If you end up with a client who is continually late in providing deliverables and making decisions, you will have to decide if you want to continue to do work for that client once the current project is complete. Or, you could include consequences in the next contract for late deliverables, such as an additional charge.

Remember that the work you do for a client is extremely valuable and should be given appropriate appreciation and attention from the client. Having a clear and detailed project schedule is a great way to achieve this.

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