Making a Difference - Going Green

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And the Orcs growing ever bolder wandered at will far and wide, coming down Sirion in the West and Celon in the East, and they encompassed Doriath; and they harried the lands, so that beast and bird fled before them, and silence and desolation spread steadily from the North.

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Posted by Kyle on 11th, 2009

I promise to use e-mail instead of paper correspondence.

I promise to buy recycled paper if printing is really necessary.  Do you?

What will you do to make a difference?

8 Minute Tips: Fix Your Site’s Titles

Posted by Kyle on 28th, 2009

You’re reading the first entry in an ongoing series called “8 Minute Tips.” This series is all about little things you can do to improve your website, email, or anything IT-related in your business in eight minutes or less.

What Does Your Title Say About You?

Optimize your title tags!

Take a look at the title on your website. What’s it saying about you? Is it consistent with the goals of your website?

Looking to build brand recognition? Your title should be your company name, followed by a brief explanation of what the page is about.

Selling something? Skip the company name and focus on the product or service.

Keywords, People!

Search engines pay close attention to your title. It broadcasts the entire point of your page, so make it count! The most important keywords and phrases describing your business should appear in that title. If you are the owner of Widgets R Us, the title on your home page should be something like “Widgets R Us: Premium Widgets and Widget Accessories.”

The product name (widget) appears three times in that short title.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

SEO Book: “SEO Book.com ~ SEO Training Made Easy”

IttyBiz: “Small business marketing ideas - Starting a home business | IttyBiz”

SmallFuel Marketing: “SmallFuel Small Business Marketing | Simple Marketing to Grow Your Small Business”

Take another look at your title. Now fix it.

Subscribe now to keep the tips coming.

On Hiatus

Posted by Kyle on 6th, 2009

As you may have noticed, things have stalled out here recently. I’ve been traveling almost constantly the last few months, and the blog has fallen by the wayside.

I plan to revamp things here in the next month, with a greater focus on cutting costs in IT and marketing without sacrificing quality. There are so many ways to get your name out there or to enhance your IT capabilities with little investment other than your time. Here’s one example:

Check out Balsamiq, my new favorite desktop application for creating rapid mockups of websites and applications. Here are a few screenshots from their website:

Wiki Mockup

Messenger

I started using this in my company, and can’t imagine doing business without it. Communicating design concepts to a client has never been easier - I can simply mock up a layout in 10 minutes to illustrate what I’m talking about. Simply drag and drop from a library of existing interface items like icons, buttons, windows, lists, and arrange them on screen. Add arrows and virtual post-it notes to explain parts of your design, and you’re good to go. Designs can be exported as images or sent in a format that allows other Balsamiq users to modify them. You can even download pre-designed interface mockups from their partner site, MockupsToGo.net. Check out this mockup of an Outlook message:

Outlook Mockup

There are still a few minor interface issues. Layer control isn’t great just yet - if you want to move a layer but have placed another layer in front of it, you can’t get to it. You’ll end up moving the layer in front of it first. For complex, multi-layer designs, this can get aggravating. Otherwise, the tool is awesome. Check it out.

Full Disclosure: I received a licensed copy of the Balsamiq application in return for an honest review of their software. This in no way influenced my review of this awesome tool.

Building a Web Business: How to Tell if a Website is Worth Buying

Posted by Kyle on 24th, 2008

If you’re considering starting a new web business, or, in my case, purchasing an existing one, you’re going to want to do a little research first. Buying an existing site (either the domain name or the business that goes with it) is an investment you don’t want to just jump into. A site may seem to have a lot of value, when it turns out it’s crap. Or it may turn out that the idea is good but there’s just no market for it right now. So how do you figure out what a site is worth? Full Story →

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There was a lot of cheering and cries of Harapo's the one! and The Avenging Terrier will strike!

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Building a Web Business: Introducing SnowConditions.com

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Posted by Kyle on 23rd, 2008

Let me start with a little background info. My family has been vacationing in Eagle River, Wisconsin for four generations, since roughly the time of the Great Depression. It’s the most peaceful place I’ve ever been  (sorry Florida, Switzerland, New York City, it’s true), and if I ever get around to having kids I’ll be bringing a fifth generation up there with me. We do a lot of boating and skiing in the summer and recently started snowmobiling there in the winter (it’s the snowmobile capital of the world… true story).

It was through snowmobiling that I first stumbled across SnowConditions, a site that tracked the conditions of snowmobile trails in Eagle River, provided trail maps and had a few webcams. It also happened that the site was for sale. I thought it could be a fun hobby and would give me an excuse to snowmobile and write it off as a business expense (note to the IRS: just kidding… sorta). Someone’s gotta report the conditions of the trails, right?

To Buy or Not to Buy

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I mean to raise your wages again--I begin to feel that I can afford it.

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I started doing a little research and decided the site might be worth more than just a hobby after all. The domain name was a good one, and I had been reading more and more about flipping websites for serious profits and snowconditions.com seemed like a good place to give this concept a try.

I’ve never been one to rush into things, and I’m definitely not one to throw my money around. I decided to take it slow, develop a plan, research the market, the competition, and set some goals. If I felt, after all the research, that I could make a good return on my money (without it consuming my life), I’d buy the site.

Building a Business

After doing the research, I decided the site was worth buying and moved on to negotiating a price and a contract.I started to draw up the makings of a business plan, a marketing plan, and various other plans.

At the same time I started thinking about the design: logo, website, business cards, and whatever else I thought I might need. With an internet business (or any business, really), particularly in marketing, you’re sellilng an image. If your image sucks, so will your sales.

There will be plenty more to come as I get deeper into this venture, so this is just the introduction to the Building a Web Business series. Here’s what’s coming up (links to these posts will be added as they’re completed:

  • Researching the Business (How to Tell If a Business is Worth Buying)
  • Developing a Plan (Deciding What Exactly You’re Doing)
  • Designing Your Business (Looking Legit Even if You Don’t Feel Legit Yet)
  • Marketing Your Site (Telling the World What You’re Doing)

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I finished my work and had opened the door to leave, when he spoke to me.

In a daze she let Pilgra pull her toward the Bowl.

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A quick disclaimer: I don’t consider myself an expert on any of these topics. I’m just describing everything I do as it happens, and sharing the advice and resources I come across in the process. I’ll share the opinions of actual experts as I come across them. Then, if I make a boatload of money, I’ll call myself an expert and charge you for my advice. Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see…

To follow this series as it unfolds, why not subscribe to this blog? It’s quick and almost totally painless.

A New Direction

Posted by Kyle on 1st, 2008

As you may have noticed, this blog has been pretty dormant the last couple of weeks. That’s because I have been working on a new project and considering a new direction for this blog.

When I started this site a few months ago, I had a pretty well-defined plan: I would write about whatever topic in the business field caught my interest that day, millions of readers would subscribe and advertisers would throw heaps of money at me. So far none of those things has gone according to plan. The site has lacked focus, and sometimes for a week or two at a time I would find very little of interest to write about. That wasn’t helping anyone.

The New Plan - A Case Study

As I mentioned, I’ve been researching a new venture, and pending approval, will be launching it within two weeks. This venture will involve taking an existing, very under-utilized website, and building a business around it from the ground up. I intend to focus most of my posts over the next few months on the process of overcoming the problems a web-based small business must face, including:

  • Market Research
  • Logo and Corporate Identity Design
  • Website Design
  • Marketing and Sales
  • Developing Good Content
  • Search Engine Optimization

As this venture progresses, I’ll discuss my experiences, the sources I use in my research, the advice I’m given, and the barriers I (hopefully) overcome.

Check back over the course of the next week for updates…

What’s Your Customer’s Time Worth?

Posted by Kyle on 7th, 2008

Wasting My Time

Last weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to the San Francisco area to work with a few clients. I absolutely love that part of the country, but getting there and back from Chicago is a real pain. Very few carriers seem to offer direct flights, so I always seem to get stuck in LA or San Diego with a layover. This time, I flew Frontier Airlines, so I had to pass through Denver. We had 30-40 minute delays going both ways, which no one bothered to explain or justify.

Ordinarily getting by with just a 40 minute delay would be a blessing. Not so when you only have 30 minutes to make a connecting flight. The connecting flight, of course, left on time. Without me. So I found myself at the Denver airport at 9:30 Friday night not sure how I’d be getting home. I was also scheduled to leave for vacation at 8:00 the next morning. From Chicago.

After confirming that I had missed my connection, the gate rep referred me to the Frontier customer service counter, which had a line of 20 other angry looking travelers waiting in front of me. I decided to try to book another flight through their 800 number while I was waiting in line. Fifteen minutes later I spoke with a rep on the phone who informed me that rescheduling a missed flight (regardless of fault) by phone carried a $100 surcharge. I promptly hung up on her and decided to wait it out in line.

Making Up for the Inconvenience

Frontier knew they had screwed up and had seriously inconvenienced those of us trying to make tight connecting flights. They probably also knew that first-time Frontier flyers (like myself) may be inclined to fly with another company in the future.

so what does Frontier think its customers’ time is worth?

  • A free hotel room for the night at the Crystal Inn (one of the nicer hotels I’ve stayed in - I kept the Bath & Body Works soaps and shampoos…)
  • A $9 meal voucher for dinner that night
  • A $5 meal voucher for breakfast in the morning
  • A $150 flight voucher to be used toward future flights
  • A sincere apology from the service rep who booked my 6:00 flight to Chicago the next morning

Was I still mad? Sure. It set my vacation back by about four hours, I was only able to get 3 hours of sleep that night, and I was cranky as hell all day. But will I fly Frontier again? Yes. Once more at least, since I’ve got a $150 voucher to use. But if they screw me over on the next trip, that’s it for me.

A Lesson in All This

Airlines are particularly good at calculating the value of customers’ time. The 25 minute delay of that flight cost them over $200 for each customer that missed a connecting flight - and there were dozens of us. They could have simply said “sorry about that” and sent us on our way, but the effects of that approach would have cost them far more than $200 per person in the long run (see my post on customer lifetime value). They’d rather pay to make it up to you and hope you come back and have a better experience next time.

This is a lesson airlines have learned better than many other businesses: if you inconvenience your customer or your product or service doesn’t meet their expectations, you’d better find a way to make it up to them. How you do that depends on how badly you screwed up and how much you value your client’s business. At the very least, you have to set things right and fix whatever went wrong. And for god’s sake, apologize, and mean it! If that’s still not enough, offer a free product or service upgrade that will convince your customer that you’re worth continuing to do business with after all.

It’s a whole lot cheaper to keep an existing customer (even a disgruntled one) than it is to find a new one. Keep yours happy.

Learning to Take My Own Advice

Posted by Kyle on 28th, 2008

I was just reading a post on IttyBiz about those days where, for whatever reason, you just don’t want to deal with the customer. Maybe you didn’t get much sleep the night before, or maybe one of your customers just rubs you the wrong way. Whatever the reason, sometimes we all slip and forget who’s paying our bills.

I’ve certainly been there.

What Was I Thinking?

I was working with a client to put some of their company training online. After I had finished the project, I got a call from my client, which went something like this:

Client: “I was reviewing the training and found typos and errors on these five pages.”

Me: “Okay, well we can fix that. It’ll probably cost about $X to get it taken care of.”

Client:  “You’re charging us to fix your typos?”

Me: “No, I’m charging to fix your typos. What you see online is copied and pasted directly from what you provided us. We don’t proofread your content - that’s up to you. If you want us to proofread your work, that would cost $X.”

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I never heard from him again. As far as I know, their training content remains unchanged, typos and all. When I think back on that conversation now, several years later, I think “Wow, what a colossally stupid thing to say.” I was busy. I had other projects to worry about. Bigger clients. Bigger problems. SO WHAT? This is someone who had come to me and said “I need to do this, and I’m willing to pay you to do it.” Even if they’re not a top priority, I should treat them like one.

If I Could Travel Back In Time…

What I should have done is pretty clear. It would have taken me (at most) 30 minutes to make the requested changes. I should have told my client I’d be happy to make those changes, free of charge, but informed my client that, for future reference, it is our policy to take content and put it online exactly as it is submitted to us.

In fact, even before that I should have run a basic spelling and grammar check on the entire document. Then I should have informed my client that I made these 10 changes (free of charge) and wanted to verify that they were in fact errors that needed to be fixed. That would have allowed me to subtly show my client that I’ve got his best interests in mind. A little goodwill goes a long way. Since then, this has become our standard policy.

As a business owner sometimes you have to step back and remind yourself that it’s not about you, what you think, what makes your life easier. You have to look at every part of your operation and say “Is this in my best interest, or the customer’s?” Ideally, it will be both, but when a conflict arises, your operations need to favor the customer.

Ever had a day like this, where your frustration spilled over onto a customer? How’d you make it right? Or was the damage already done?

Maximizing Customer Lifetime Value

Posted by Kyle on 20th, 2008

Customers for LifeI’ve been reading Carl Sewell’s Customers for Life, which focuses on the value of a customer over the course of a lifetime. Sewell runs a chain of car dealerships in the southwest. His philosophy is that you can either sell a customer a Lexus for $40,000, or you can go out of your way to completely satisfy that customer, ensuring that he’ll keep coming back to you in the future. Sewell has calculated that the average customer for life is worth over $500,000, more than 10 times the value of any single, one-time customer (in some industries, customer lifetime value can be closer to 1000 times a single purchase price). Full Story →

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Tech Tools: AdobeAIR Apps

Posted by Kyle on 10th, 2008

Adobe Delivers

If you haven’t heard about this yet, it’s worth checking out… Adobe has released a “cross-operating system runtime that lets developers combine HTML, Ajax, Adobe Flash®, and Flex technologies to deploy rich Internet applications (RIAs) on the desktop” (more info). In other words, web developers can use the same web tools like Dreamweaver and Flash to develop feature-rich desktop applications.

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Adobe AIR Full Story →

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