Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reasons To Avoid A Partnership

If you have talked to many business people who have had partnerships you have undoubtedly heard a LOT of horror stories. I personally have spoken to over 20 people who opened up to me about partnership fiascoes. Believe me - the whole truth is far worse than the individual tales that you hear. After hearing so many people speak of the problems that had arisen from partnerships I felt compelled to write a piece that may save others from this misery.

At face value a partnership, much like communism or socialism, sounds so blissful. Everyone works hard and everyone shares in the fruits of the labor. The reality is there is always a portion that does the majority of the work and a portion that exists by sucking the life out of the working majority. Interestingly enough, the parasitic group always thinks that they should be in charge - usually to get the power to protect their sorry existence. In partnerships, this is often what comes to be.

Typically if you are approached by someone who "wants to be your partner" they have had a bit of self reality that they lack certain (often a LOT) of skills for the particular endeavor they choose to pursue. Somehow, they have targeted you as the competent and able individual who can take them to heights they would never reach on their own. Thus they plead their case at how great it would be to form a partnership and find incredible success together. Often they will try to be your best friend - basically it's a con job to convince you into believing that they are a great friend. They act as an illusionist - they distract you with one hand while they do their trickery with the other.

In the beginning all partners, good or bad, will communicate well and work with you to plan and execute successful business strategies. This is because each partner is allowing the other to apply their own skills and build the business. Shortly after there is a steady period of success the bad partner types will begin to morph into scheming and controlling people (their real form). At this point they begin to become very secretive about their behaviors, show signs of distrust for you (projection), and weasel their way into controlling finances and the customer base. Inversely, the rare good partners continue to work closely with you and you feel a genuine sense of camaraderie.

When the bad partner begins to emerge from their fake front the average honest partner will discount or make excuses for the perceived ill behaviors, then they will move through a denial period because such behaviors are not a considered behavior for themselves. By the time the honest, hard working partner realizes what is going on the bad partner will typically have gained a strategic position to effectively steal the company for themselves. In one case, we heard of a partner who had been brazen enough to approach customers and tell them that he was starting his own business and tried to divert customers in his direction. Fortunately the customers found this to be a disgusting act that clearly displayed reasons for NOT following the bad partner.

The bad partner is essentially looking for someone they can use to gain an opportunity to make money. Unfortunately for them, their behaviors and lack of ethics will be the cause of their ultimate failure. For the good partner, a bad partner can cause financial losses from lost customers, attorney fees to battle through dissolution, and significant personal misery from dealing with what is essentially a scam artist. Of the people with whom we have spoken, the good partner can find success, usually even greater success, within 1-3 years after dissolving the bad partnership. Our recommendation is that the only partnerships that seem to work are professional partnerships such as attorneys, doctors or financial professionals.

In over 90% of the people with whom we spoke, following the dissolution of the partnership and when both partners remained in the same business, the bad partner became obsessed with the good partner. The bad partner attempted to rabidly emulate the style of the good partner only to find that they are incapable of doing so. The bad partner typically did not last over 2 years (post dissolution) before realizing total failure. This effectively brought things full circle - the good partner continues to be successful while the bad partner cannot achieve success without the good partner. Sometimes, there is justice in nature.

Personally, we think that partnerships are a very bad idea. Before you START a partnership, do a deep background check on your potential partner, ask yourself if what they can bring to the table can be hired in lieu of sharing ownership rights, and have an attorney create a very solid partnership agreement. If all of these don't check out, especially if you get pushback on the agreement, you should walk away immediately! Before entering into ANY partnership, think long and hard about your future and critically assess if you truly need a partner.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Internet Marketing vs. Yellow Pages Advertising

It's becoming painfully clear to the yellow pages people that their glory days for the phone books are over. Unfortunately for consumers the yellow pages advertising companies have worked hard for several years to develop internet advertising to stop their massive loss of print advertising revenue. The internet yellow pages (IYP) is a bigger "game" than the print book ever came close to being. With this said, let's look at "Real Internet Marketing" and "Yellow Pages Advertising".

First, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Do a Google search for most anything and make a note of how often the IYP website is not to be found. This means that a real Search Engine Optimization Company can beat the pants off of the phone companies when it comes to getting a business on the first page of Google, Yahoo or Bing (or any other search engines). Obviously there is no way to believe that a potential customer would not click through to a business website listed on the first page of the search results. This is the most obvious, and most objective manner, to see that IYP is a poor option for increasing your online traffic.

Second, convenience is a critical success factor. Web users want the fewest click to gratification. Let's look at two user experiences and you decide which is more convenient. ONE, a click to Google to start the search, a secong click to a website in the organic placement, and (possibly) a third click to another page of the chosen website - BAM, 2-3 clicks and the prospect has their selection. TWO, a click to Google to start the search, (assuming visibility) a click to the IYP site, another click for the "heading category", another click to one of the IYP listings (which shows little to no info about the company), and then another 1-3 clicks to get info and maybe visit the business website - 4-6+ clicks to view just one business. Again, a site with effective SEO crushes IYP.

Now for the subjective evaluation. An IYP listing provides little information unless you dig deeper into the IYP site. Unlike a search engine like Google which applies a Quality Score to a business website, the IYP site gives better placement to the company that pays the most money. From a usability standpoint, you probably have to work hard to get a "pure" list of companies. The IYP model does not serve the user as much as the advertiser - you pay high prices and they try to get you more traffic . . . so you will continue to pay high prices for IYP advertising. (notice that the quality for the web user is not part of this equation.

What about cost? IYP can bleed a company to death. The sales reps confuse you, generate fear and concern to "spread you out" into all of the various headings that they created, and then you go into the sales pitch about what you have to spend to get listed high in each one of the selected headings . . . . and keep paying every month, for as long as you can bear the burden. With a good SEO service you can often make a one-time intitative to gain significant ranking improvements and, if needed, pay a modest fee for temporary SEO work to improve or expand your search engine ranking. And, with an SEO and internet marketing company, you can expect truly personal service and have consistency in your contact people.

Our clients that have significantly reduced, or entirely eliminated, their yellow pages advertising (and switched to SEO/internet marketing services) consistently report vastly improved ROI's at much lower costs. For more information please leave a comment and get our thoughts.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How Do You Start Your Day?

How you begin your work day can have a dramatic impact on your productivity. A key part of a productive day is being in control of your time. A fundamental part of controlling your time is to have a rolling list of your priorities. Naturally things will arise during your work day which will require immediate action however, working from an agenda can lessen the chances of getting significantly off course.

The best way to begin your day comes from how you ended the previous day. You need adequate sleep in order to feel fresh and energized when you arise. Also, a good nights sleep makes it easier to get up on time and avoid beginning your day in a panic rush to be on time.

Arriving to your work at least 30 minutes early will not only earn you a good reputation, but it will allow you precious time to review your day's plan and get through some basic tasks. First, check your voice mail and email to make certain that you have the latest information sent to you. Reply to all before your normal start time. This shows that you are very responsive, PLUS it prevents you form getting bombarded with follow up inquiries all at once, at your usual start time. In fact, it pushes the demand for action upon the other person which buys you a little time in your morning. Returning a voice mail witha voice mail also helps you to avoid protracted phone conversations.

The worst manner to start your work day is to wake up with barely enough time to get to work. Your appearance will be lacking, your rushed entry will make you seem disorganized, and your mind will not be focused when you arrive. When you arrive late, your voice mails and emails will immediately set the direction for your morning and you may not get on track until nearly lunchtime. If you are in sales this could cost you a lot of money . . . and hinder your ability to "hit your numbers".

If you are not inclined to arrive at work early then at least remember this; if 8:00 a.m. is when work starts that does not mean that is when you should arrive and spend 15-20 minutes putting away your jacket, unpacking your briefcase and strolling to the coffee maker. If you find yourself being careless with your time (and your employers time) you should perhaps consider changing jobs to find something which motivates you to be responsible. Whatever you do, arrive ready to work and perform your work at maximum levels!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Importance of a BBB Accreditation

BBB Acreditation is a great thing for any legitimate business. If a company truly has passed the BBB background check they can display the BBB logo on any marketing material including a website. If you see the BBB logo on a website you should be able to click on the logo to visit the BBB site and confirm that the company is a legitimate BBB member.

The blunt facts are that society, as a whole, has been conditioned to excuse behavior that is immoral, unethical and even criminal. While there may be an initial "gasp", the public quickly forgets about the misdeeds, and in some cases the ill-behaved party becomes a pop celebrity. When it comes to being a business owner it is very important to know that you are not working with, or about to hire, one of these unscrupulous people or companies. A great way to get an objective idea is to check with the Better Business Bureau.

When you are evaluating a potential supplier, vendor or partner company you obviously undertake some due diligence. If this includes checking references, you can feel certain that you will be provided with only references that are guiaranteed to give a glowing rating. Beyond this you don't have much else in the way of external credentials. This is where it can help you to look at a company's BBB rating or perhaps their info on Manta or D&B.

D&B or Manta require a certain level of input from the company to build a profile, and then have to do a lot of work to keep the infoprmation current. The beauty of a BBB rating is that if there is anything negative, there is a good chance that the offended party will take the initiative to post a complaint with the BBB.

From the standpoint of obtaining BBB accredidation, it can really make your business stand out - and get the credit you deserve for running a good business operation. It could very well be the deciding factor when a potential customer is down to only a few potential suppliers.

In a business like ours (internet marketing and web design) there are a LOT of flakey freelancers and shady outfits. We often hear tales of customers paying nice sums of money only to have their "web designer" disappear, stop calling back, or never providing any work. To set ourselves apart we went through the BBB approval process.

There is a great satisfaction in receiving BBB acceptance and seeing that a background check produced zero customer complaints and you have an "A" rating. Our clients have commented about it so we know that they like the reassurance that we are a solid and reliable company. We think that a BBB accredidation is a grerat asset for any company.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Obamaconomy and Your Business

Every business owner and manager is keenly aware of the miserable state of the Obamacomony. Wherever we turn we hear of layoffs, cutbacks, business closings, bankruptcy, foreclosure and other financial travesties. All of this means that there are normal business concerns that should be elevated in bad economic times.

Everyday that you are in business you must be aware of financial losses from low margins on sales, supplier rip-offs, employee theft and non-pay customers. In dire economic times these sitautions should be a much greater concern . . . with a few more additions.

Suppliers, whether it is the company itself or just an unscrupulous delivery person, can cause losses for your business. The additional concern is that you make a substantial payment to a supplier on Friday only to learn on Monday that they filed for bankruptcy, and you lost your money. It may take longer to get credits for returns or receive any earned bonuses, rebates or incentive funding which can impact your cash flow.

Employee theft may increase for any of several ways. Obviously employees hat are cash strapped may be tempted to skim from the register, take donation money, or steal or forge checks. Employees may be tempted to steal product to sell for cash. Employees may also try to work side deals with your customers to make extra money. Being alert, and moving employees around (including changing up their interaction with customers) can make a big difference.

The last two, customer non-pay and low sales margins, are increasingly related. When times get tough there are less sales opportunities. This means that sellers tend to accept orders for much lower prices which obviously means that the risk of financial loss is very real. Further, it's often a distant thought that the people placing orders may be in bad financial shape. This means that a company may spend their time and money to fulfill an order only to not receive payment or have payments drag far beyond 120 days. Taking on too many of these orders will consume your cash flow or credit line and effectively stall (read:KILL) your business.

You should look for trouble signs and intervene when you perceive a problem. It's your business so don't be afriad to ask questions, change payment terms or even put some customers on lower credit lines. Red flags can include a customer making payments far slower than normal, finding "reasons" for unpaid invoices, switching from cash payments to credit cards, asking for very lenient credit terms, or suddenly adding other suppliers (where that negotiated lower prices to switch).

We believe that you never want "all of the business" - there is a lot of business that you don't want. When times get bad the volume of "business you don't want" may be higher. We all know that money is the lifeblood of every business. Keep an eye on yours and don't lose your business when trying to survive the Obamaconomy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Have Your Google Reviews Disappeared?

Many people have had an unsettling experience when they realize that all of their hard earned reviews on Google Places are missing. While this is a minor cause for alarm it it generally believed that they will be restored at some point. Google has explained in their own forum that this can happen when Google does major system updates.

On a side note, we hope that people understand that the originating IP address of your reviews might also be an issue. If clients are in your office when they post a review it is possible that Google thinks that your company is posting spam reviews because they all have the same IP address. While requesting a client to post a review "on the spot" and know that it gets done, it may prove to be ill received by Google.

Some people have suggested keeping a separate record (copy) of the posted reviews with the name of the customer posting the review. Probably not a bad idea since reviews (testimonials) can be used in a lot of places!

Keep working for all of the reviews that you can get and trust that Google will take care of you - even if it's recovering from a glitch in the system.

Google Places Changes

Recently, Google enhanced several features of its Local Business Center and rebranded it Google Places. Among the new features is an ability to specify the regions a business serves. But will the new changes help B2B marketers serving a larger region get found?

Most B2B company locations serve a large region, and it can be challenging to get found in the local search results for geo-targeted search queries. Let’s say a business is located in Gary, Indiana, and primarily serves the Chicago area. Downtown Chicago is about 30 miles away from Gary. With the new features in Google Places, the business can specify whether it primarily serves customers at its location or serves customers at other areas in the region.

Google Places now allows the business to specify the zip codes, cities, or counties it services, or specify a service-area radius from the business location, apparently up to 600 miles. This should be great, especially, dealers, distributors, and others serving a broad region.

At first, this sounds like a promising enhancement; now the Gary company may be able to better compete with rivals whose addresses physical location is closer to Chicago. Hopefully, the ability to specify service regions will lead to more visibility in the local search results, right?

Probably not.

While it’s yet too early to determine the extent to which this information will influence visibility in the local search results, I’m guessing it will have little impact.

When you first receive local search results for a query, the map is usually pretty tight; it’s not unusual to have the top ten local search results in a radius of 10-20 miles. If there is little competition in a given area, you might get shown a bigger map so more search results can be included. However, unless your information somehow is so highly relevant to a searcher’s query, closer businesses will almost certainly be more visible in the local search results.

There’s nothing necessarily unfair about this; most searchers using geo-specific queries want to know the closest businesses first. And there’s nothing wrong with including the information on the service areas; it will be beneficial to searchers when reviewing details of a given search result.
Here is a reprint of an article by Galen DeYoung, found at the SearchEngineLand.com website. It discusses what might be expected from the recent changes to Google Places (formerly Google Local).

Many B2B companies serving broad geographic regions may be suddenly relieved there is an apparent solution to their challenge of getting found for geo-specific queries, but I wouldn’t expect this new feature to have a material impact on local-search-result visibility. Don’t think merely specifying a region or service area is going to displace your competitors’ visibility.

Better to keep your focus on optimizing other aspects of your business listing data be highly relevant to target queries and employ non-maps strategies (i.e., organic and paid web search results) for getting found for geo-specific queries.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Thoughts On Logo Design

Your logo is the face of your business. It is, arguably, the single most important part of your company's branding. Every part of your logo design puts forth tangible and intangible messages. Is your logo saying what you need it to say?

Our logo clients typically have trouble conveying what they want. The first problem is that they are usually poor designers yet have tried to rough out a design . . . and the battle starts here. The logo design firm then has to "unsell" the bad design before they can move on to a good design. The best clients provide a list of about ten adjectives that describe their business or business culture. These words, in the hands of an intuitive designer, can yield superb logo creations.

Here are some things TO DO and NOT TO DO.

1. Don't rely on family or friends to be your designer. And don't argue that "they have a good eye for design" or "they took a design course in school". Your potential logo designer will laugh hysterically when they leave the meeting. Let a professional do, what a professional does.

2. Pre-qualify your prospective design firm by reviewing their portfolio to see if their work is compatible with your tastes. Get a few references to check on the designers record for timely work and good attitude.

3. Set a reasonable budget. If you expect to get a good logo for under AT LEAST $250 you are in for a big surprise. Remember too that your designer is assuming a set number of hours to meet with you, discuss the project, create designs and make a few minor revisions. It is unfair and unreasonable to expect days or weeks of work for a small fee. Would you work days for $100? What you get is a direct reflection of how you, as a client, treat the designer.

5. Use a step-by-step process to create your logo. Agree on colors, fonts, any special images and then work into styling.
If these steps fail, perhaps the best logo isn't the one you personally love. Instead, your business may be better served by creating a logo that appeals to your clients.

Our bottom line advise is to understand that your logo is important, you will have to live with it a long time, and being in a rush or being cheap will haunt you. Hire the right logo designer, work together and you can definitely get a logo of which you will be proud.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

E-Mail Campaigns - Increasing Open Rates

The "OPEN RATE" is the key component of any email campaign. This relates to the subject line in your email. Without a good subject line your email is automatically deleted by a spam filter or simply ignored by the recipient. Simply put, subject lines can either make or break your marketing efforts.

Subject lines are among the first thing the recipient will notice when checking their inbox and they will make an immediate decision to open or delete your email. You need a powerful, interesting and spam-filter-friendly subject line in order to truly be successful.

Here are some tips:

1. Don't Use Trickery!
A subject line proclaiming "You Won A Prize" will get the attention of many people however if they open the email to find out they have been misled, all you have achieved is delaying the deletion of your email by about 4 seconds. Nobody likes to be tricked - don't use trickery.

2. Consider Spam Filters
Most email programs have built-in spam filters. Some have the ability for a user to adjust the sensitivity of the filters which means your subject line is under some level of scrutiny before it is delivered. You need to learn about words or phrass that trigger spam filters to pounce. USing words like "free" "marketing" "order today" "special offer" or other things that sound "salesy" could kill your email on arrival. You would be better off to use a neutral subject line with something to normalize it's arrival. One tactic is to start the subject line with "Re:" or "Fwd:" to make it appear that this is a reply to the recipient such as "Fwd:Updated Information"


3. Immediate Personalization
Successful email campaigns utilize friendly, personalized subject lines as an effective way to improve open-rates. The better you know your targeted recipient the better off you will be. If you are selling or promoting a high-ticket product or service it may be well worth it to send the email with a manually entered subject line that includes the name of the person. A sense of familiarity carries a trust factor that can often boost the open-rates of any e-amil campaign.

4. Test, Measure and Revise
Send a few, smaller e-mail blasts and measure the results of each. Adjust the top results and settle in on a few that work. Often, sending a e-mails ona regular basis can result in higher respose rates. And don't forget the method of sending yourself the same email and judge how it strikes you.

Think, plan and always work to improve your tactics. Email campaigns are not a perfect silver bullet but, if done well, can produce amazing results.

Selecting an Internet Marketing Company

There are numerous articles online about how to select the best internet marketing company, website design company, seo company, etc. Most of the articles or forum postings have good, logical information. We would like to provide some information that is timely and usually overlooked.

The web design, seo and internet marketing industry has long been home to a lot of "hacks" that have limited skills and rip-off unsuspecting business owners. As the economy has worsened, and more people are out of work, the number of people prmotin gthemselves as "website designers" or "seo professionals" has dramatically increased.

These people misrepresent themselves, often using portfolios with templated sites that make it appear that they are really talented people. With a little bit of fast talk and some industry jargon they seem to be knowlegeable too. It's six weeks after you pay the deposit, and no or bad work is handed over, that you figure out that you have been burned. So how do you avoid this growing problem?

First, we strongly suggest confirming that they have a business license. There are a LOT of people operating unlicensed and without any accountability. Second, we suggest requesting verifying that they have been in business at least 3 years (hopefully longer) and have references to support their claims. Third, ask specific questions regarding their use of website templates, providing live examples of seo success, and providing any credentials such as Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce memberships.

Taking an hour or two to fully qualify a vendoe can prevent you from being ripped off, embarassed or otherwise taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. For more information, send us a message and we will send you a FREE vendor qualification guide.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Online Reputation Management

People are beginning to awaken to the term "Online Reputation Management". This is a term for the actions taken to scour the internet for negative comments, reviews, posts or other content about your company, firm, practice or person. With the abundance of blogs, forums, gripe sites, and online review sites there are opportunities for disgruntled cutomers, ex-employees, and even unscrupulous competitors to post content that will be very damaging to your online reputation, branding and the perception of potential customers. Therefore, it is extremely important to locate any negative content and neutralize it as quickly as possible.

How do you do this? First, you must be willing to invest a lot of personal time or hire a qualifed reputation management company to handle the work. Whoever gets the assignment should be able to do extensive internet searches on the major search engines to find any problem content. Your initial endeavor into this research will consume a LOT of time. After the initial research it will be easier to maintain an eye on new content posted online.

When you find negative content you need to assess your options to neutralize the problem. Depending upon the site where the information resides, and the age of the information, your task could be relatively easy or could require exhaustive efforts to manage a successful outcome.

Your options, in order of preference, are to get the information totally removed (unindexed), attempt to post a rebuttal statement, or displace the information from a high visibility placement. The tactics to do these things take far too much time to explain in detail however it is well worth your time to learn how to do this or to hire a reputation management company as soon as possible.

In most cases a reputation management company can perform a relatively inexpensive "top level review" to find any significant problems. Obviously you can engage the company to dig deeper if you need a greater sense of comfort. When any information is found, the company can provide you with an estimation on the time, cost and expected results from their efforts to neutralize the problem content. Some companies offer results-based-fees while some companies charge for their time without any guarantee of any specific results.

The one certainty is that negative online content will damage your business reputation, branding and customer perceptions. We believe that it is worth a phone call to learn more and protect your company.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Contest - Win $$$$$$

WIN $$$$$$$ - There is a contest for the month of September. Ending on September 30, 2010, at 11:55 p.m. EST, you could win a $100 prize for getting the most people to "LIKE" the E-Platform Marketing or TigerSEO Marketing Facebook pages.

Have someone visit our page, hit "LIKE" and make a post including your name.

Only one name per new "LIKE" on either page. We'll make periodic posts on who is in the lead for the money! Make sure we have your contact info as it must be on file by the contest deadline in order to avoid disqualification. Good luck!