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3 Easy Steps to Creating a Web-based Business

steps.jpgIn truth, having a web-based business isn’t difficult.

What’s difficult is getting really clear about who you are, what you do and who you do it for. The problem is, there are tons of approaches for doing this which sometimes leads to confusion. Do I need to write a business plan? What about vision? Etc. The questions are many, but the answer are endless.

Of course, once you’ve answered the questions about your business, you have to ask a whole other series of questions around marketing. What system? What mediums? How best to reach our target audience? Etc. This can lead to even greater confusion, frustration and waste of time and money than the business development quesitons.

This whole process can be really big. That’s why I’m always looking for ways to simplify it. Because, really, developing and growing a business isn’t as hard as we make it. Basically, we need to create a compelling service – one that solves a problem that people need solved. Then, we put our service in front of the people who have the problem. That’s really it.

So it’s really very simple – especially with the internet.

That’s why I was excited when I found Matt Cutts‘ 3-step process to building up a really good site (read: business). Take a watch:

Matt Cutt’s 3-Step Process

  1. Create a compelling service – spend the time to create something people can love.
  2. Start a blog – get links and engage in conversation.
  3. Smart marketing – SEO and have something interesting to say.

Pretty simple, right?

So if I was taking Matt’s 3 steps and putting them in my language, I’d say:

  1. Create a service, you love, that solves a problem that needs solving. What are you good at? What do you love? What is the need? Bring these three questions together and you’re on your way.
  2. Start a blog – and learn how to use it. First write, and write often. Join in the conversation on other blogs immediately. Learn about linking and link often. And really learn how to use one of the social networking sites. You can get to the others later.
  3. Get the word out and be authentic – Matt says if you use WordPress, much of your SEO is handled for you already. I’d say 80%. The other 20% is in the details. So worry less about SEO in the beginning and more about the quality of your content. And have something interesting to say – but say it in your way. Be a real person because it’s people that people want to do business with.

So if it’s this easy, why don’t more of us do it? What gets in the way? And why do we make it so difficult?

What do you think?

(note: image, Joe Walking Up The Steps from hip.kids on Flickr)

In Business, Make It About The Relationship First

biz-relationship.jpgA couple of days back I was speaking with a client of mine. She’s a life coach who wants to know better how to use the web (and soon her blog) to increase her marketing reach and, ultimately, her business.

We spent the better part of an hour talking about how a blog, when used well, can become a hub for creating buzz about her business. But as we talked, I could sense there was something I wasn’t communicating clearly enough for her to understand.

She was focusing on how her blog would get her in front of so many more people than her static website and how those people would “just convert to clients.”

Of course it doesn’t just work like that. People don’t just become clients for no reason. And just because we’re blogging doesn’t mean our business will grow.

So I asked her to describe how she’d write a blog post to me. She said she’d simply write about what she does, how she helps people and what problems she can solve. She knew from our previous conversations that she wanted to use her blog to build conversation with her readers. And she was clear that she needed to followup with her commenters.

It all sounds pretty good, right? But something was missing for me. Then I asked her what the point of having the conversation in the comment box with her readers. She told me to convert them to clients. So I asked her, “do you see your readers and commenters as prospects?” Her answer was, “Certainly!”

So I asked her, “What about you, your family, your life…are you planning to share any of that through your blog?”

“Why would I,” she responded? “I don’t want them to focus on my life, I want them to do business with me.”

Ah, now my fog was lifted. I knew what she meant – that she wants to use her blog to draw perspective clients that she can then interact with and convert them into clients. But she was unknowingly leaving something out…the relationship.

Sure, there’s lots of ways to market your business using your blog. How I use mine is to build relationships with people. I don’t see you, someone reading my blog, as a reader (though I’ve used the term) nor a prospect. Rather, I see you as a person; someone who has some interest in what I have to say. Hence, I have interest in getting to know who you are. That’s fertile soil for a relationship.

So I share with my client how I’ve found relationships to be the key to growing my business successfully over the years. I’ve learned that when I let the relationship lead the way, the business end of things takes care of itself. I’m not talking about relationships over business. I’m talking about the relationship part of business leading the way.

That’s one way I’ve found conversational blogging to be so powerful. The comment box creates a space for us to have a conversation. Over time, that conversation can lead to a relationship. Some of those relationships can be acquaintances, some friendships, and some business relationships. And each on different levels that grow organically.

When I shared all this with my client (we went over our hour), she got it. Not only did she get it, she was invigorated by the potential to touch people. And while she wasn’t, yet, completely clear how to ‘lead with the relationship,’ she had a sense of how it worked.

So how has blogging helped you create conversations that have led to relationships? What type of relationships have you built? And how have those relationships benefitted your business?

Be Careful Who You Ask For Help With Your Business

help.jpgI can’t tell you how many calls and emails I get from small business owners who have had a bad experience with their web designer or their marketing coach. It seems so common. Maybe 1 in 3 of the people who contact me do so because they’ve not gotten what they’ve needed from the person they’re working with.

In the past ten years, I’ve seen everything: web designers who take the money and run, have ever-increasing project costs, outrageous pricing for simple projects, horrible design (and over design), and just plain rudeness.

With marketing coaches it’s a little better. At least they’re usually nice to their clients. But usually clients call me because they feel ‘boxed in’ by a marketing program. They don’t feel heard, they’re not really getting it, or their coach simply doesn’t get how to effectively translate a marketing message to the internet.

All-in-all, I end up bailing people out.

Now, I’m not complaining. I love the business. And I love helping people who really need my help in using their websites to grow their business. Yet, I’m not happy that they’ve gotten such poor service before they found me. And I’m definitely not pleased that sometimes they’ve been down right taken advantage of.

That’s why I think it’s important that you’re careful about who your hire to help you with your business. Remember, you’re entering into a relationship; one that should help you with your business needs. So to be sure the relationship has a foundation, here’s a few questions you can ask yourself in deciding whether a marketing coach or web designer is a good fit for you:

  • Do I like the person?
    Sure, we’re not always a good judge of character. But most of the time you’ll have a sense as to whether you’ll get along with someone. Even the best marketing coaches have personality ticks (as we all do). And sometimes those ticks don’t jive with our own. So don’t work with someone who you’re not sure you can get along with – regardless of how successful they are or what your friends say.
  • Can we communicate clearly with each other?
    Don’t overlook this one. Relationships are built on communication. If you and your web designer or marketing coach don’t communicate well, don’t even consider working together. The frustration and misunderstandings you’ll have will just cost you headache and time. You need to find someone who you understand…and who understands you.
  • Do they care about my business?
    Okay, seems trite. But there’s a difference between the web designer who’s just designing another website and the one who takes a real interest in what you do. The former is just doing their job to make a buck – which isn’t wrong by any means. The latter is certainly interested in making a buck. Yet they also take a sincere interest in your success. And you want to work with someone who wants you to succeed.
  • Do we share a common vision about how my business growth?
    You know your business. You may not have crystal clarity around it, but you do know what you do. Your coach needs to clearly understand your vision. They should listen and clearly understand what it is you do and then help you refine your branding, your approach, your message, etc. They need to add to your already developed vision, not take from it.
  • Am I just a number?
    There’s a lot of programs out there – both for web design and for marketing and business development – that sort of cookie cut the process. Often, these materials or courses can be highly helpful. But some miss the point of really helping your individual needs. Know yourself and what you need. If you thrive by reading a book or working in a group environment, buy the book or take the course. But if you’re someone that benefits most from one-on-one help, spend your time and money getting one-on-one help from a coach, consultant or web designer
  • Can I learn what they have to teach me?
    We all have things to teach each other. The question is whether we can learn from each other? Take the time to find out if you can learn what they have to teach. Your web designer may know code up the yin-yang. But do you really need to learn it? And your marketing coach may be an amazing copywriter. But can they teach what they know in a way you can learn? Whoever you work with, make sure you can learn what they have to teach in the way they teach it.
  • Can I afford to work with them?
    The old adage is true – you need to spend money to make money. I’ve found that to be true. So the question you want to ask yourself isn’t whether to spend money – if you’re building a business you need to spend money. Just be sure you have a budget. And also try to get clear what sort of return you can get on your investment. Spending money that doesn’t return is one thing. But your budget might be a little different if you consider that what you spend is an investment that can be returned on. Don’t be afraid to spend, just be sure not to overextend yourself.
  • Can they really help me?
    This is really the bottom-line question. You want to know inside yourself that the people you hire to help you with your business really can help you with your business. It doesn’t matter so much what they can do. What matters is can they do it for you? And can you mesh together to create a successful relationship that will help you solve your business needs.

Someone once told me that a teacher isn’t just someone who knows some things. A teacher, to deserve that title, needs to be able to teach you in a way that you can gain from their knowledge. Otherwise, they’re not a teacher at all; they’re just someone who knows some stuff.

I feel the same way about the people who you work with on your business. Be sure that you can really gain from your web designer or marketing coach. Ask questions and get to know the person, even if it requires a few conversations. If they’re not willing to meet your needs before you hire them, what makes you think that’s going to change once you do?

I’d love to hear about your experiences with a web designer or your coach. And if you have a good one, feel free to link to them in the comment box.

What To Do When People Aren't Paying Attention To Your Blog

one2one-sm.gifDon’t you want your blog to be noticed?

Sure, we each blog for different reasons. Some of us want to express our views or write about something we love. Others of us want make a buck or promote our business. And some just want to share their lives with others.

Regardless of why you’re blogging, it’s likely you’re doing so to get attention.

Now, I don’t mean that in a childish, acting out way. I mean that you want to be noticed; that you’re writing to gain an audience. And you want your audience to so something whether they’re just reading and commenting, clicking link ads or answering a survey. So you want attention – you want to be noticed.

But what do you when suddenly no one seems to be paying attention to your blog?

That’s the question that Liz Strauss asked me our latest one2one conversation.

As a blog and business consultant and coach, I get asked questions like this all the time. After all, the far majority of us blogging are doing so because we have something to share. But it’s hard to share when no one’s listening, right?

So what do you do when no one seems to be listening?

First of all, how do you know no one’s listening? Just about every blog that’s been around more than a couple of months sees some traffic – even it it’s a trickle. So people are listening. Okay, so they may not be listening, or even reading, but that trickle of traffic is finding you.

So you need to set criteria for evaluating whether people are paying attention or not. Doesn’t matter what you decide as the criteria, as long as you have some method to measure it. It could be traffic stats or referrals sources. It could be Technorati ranking or number of feed subscriptions. It could be how many comments you’re getting or how many ad click-throughs. Really, it doesn’t matter what your criteria are. Just be sure that it has meaning to you and it can be measured.

Once you have your criteria, you’ll want to begin measuring it. If you’re focused on comments it should be easy because your blogware (WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, etc) will show you comment stats. If it’s traffic, you’ll want to look at your server stats either through your hosting company or a service like Google Analytics. Technorati, feed subscriptions, and click-through ads will all have ways of measuring your what’s happening.

Why measure? Because it gives you a more objective sense of what’s happening on your blog. Sometimes what you sense is happening just isn’t accurate. For instance, if you’re blogging for the conversation you’re probably interested in the number of comments your posts get. So if the number of comments goes down, it tells you that something in your writing isn’t helping your readers create conversation. In this case, you’d go back, look at the posts that have few comments and compare it posts that got more comments. What’s commonly different between them? It could be content, style or wording. Find what’s missing and write your next few posts with those elements in place – and measure what happens.

If your traffic’s dropped, look back at your stats and see why. One place to start is with your referrers. Are you getting the same amount of traffic through your referrers? If not, find out why. Compare the headlines from your most popular posts and those that are less popular – see a difference? Also, think back to those higher traffic times and consider what you were doing then that you’re not doing now. Maybe you used to comment more on other blogs and you’re not now. That’s easy to remedy.

In general, you can almost always measure what’s going on with your blog. After you’ve set the criteria that’s important to you, it gives you a place to spend your time. That way you don’t have to be bogged down with the many aspects of your blog – you can focus on the one to two most important parts.

Probably the biggest thing is to remember that blogging is for your readers. So if you can’t figure out why it seems people aren’t paying attention to your blog, ask your readers. As in a post and elicit comments. Maybe even email a number of readers and create a dialogue with them. They know why they read your blog better than you ever will. And if they like you, most will be more than happy to help. So ask.

The key to all this is to see what works for you and your readers and what doesn’t – or at least what works less well. Blogging is a bit of trial and error – even if you know what you’re doing. Even Darren Rowse is still experimenting with Problogger. So be willing to explore things, try things and see how they work.

Which is what leads me to my next question for Liz…

What have you thought would work on your blog that bombed with your readers? And what did you learn from it?

You know, I’m not just asking Liz, but you too. Let’s see if the comment box can carry two conversations – one about what to do when people aren’t paying attention to your blog AND the other around what have you tried that’s bombed with your readers.

Are You Having A Conversation With Your Niche Audience?

You’d think the latest question Liz asked me would be simple to answer. And on the surface it is. Yet, I’ve needed an extra day to think about where to take this one2one conversation next.

When you go around the Internet, what mistake do you see most often?

one2one-sm.gifThat’s her question. Think about it for a second. Do you see what I mean? I could answer this from so many different levels and perspectives that I’ve actually been stuck on how I wanted to answer it.

Since Liz is asking me for one mistake, I’m going to need your help. So let’s have a discussion in the comment box. I’ll start it off…

Having been a web designer for so many years, you’d think the mistake I’d see most often would have something to with visual design, site architecture, or layout. Sure, there’s plenty of poorly designed sites out there. And we all know plenty of blogs that are poorly organized and cluttered.

But the mistake I see most often isn’t in the way a site looks. The mistake I see most often is how a site owner uses their site to communicate with their audience.

I’m bias, that’s certain. And my bias leans heavily in the direction of conversation and relationship. Yet, I know from experience, that it’s conversations that lead to relationships that lead to business. People want to do business with people – not with businesses. In other words, they want conversation and relationships.

Most website owners, most business owners and a lot of marketing coaches simply don’t get this. They focus on slick or carefully crafted marketing copy that’s meant to evoke an emotional response to create action. I’m not saying that’s bad – not at all. I just think that there’s more.

So what I often see are business owners trying to fit themselves into a method of copy writing that’s not so much about building relationship and which I feel is unnatural. Pick a handful of business websites and read the copy. Tell me if you feel like the business owners want a relationship with you or do they just want your business?

I advise all my clients – even those working with copy writing and marketing gurus – to consider their websites as the beginning of a dialogue with a person in their target audience. Don’t just meet them where they are, engage them in conversation. Write as though you’re sitting with them over coffee, listening closely to the problems they face. And respond with an open, conversational tone.

This is easier to do on a blog because of the chance for conversation in the comment box. The blog has the advantage as well in that you continue to engage in that conversation with your audience each time your write a post. But you can do this on a static website as well. As you write, just picture yourself having a conversation about where they are.

Remember, people want to do business with people. So don’t be afraid to show who you are as a person. You can be a marketing professional and still be person. Anyway, you know from your own business interactions that connection, personality and temperament play an enormous role in successful business relationships. So why not build your personality into your marketing materials. Let people know who you are right out front. Let them see you as a person. Then invite them to sit at your table with their cup of coffee. Who knows what can happen next.

So I think not actively engaging people in a conversation that can build a relationship is the most common mistake I see in websites.

There are many others – certainly – even around content. So I turn my site over to you to share what mistakes you often see was you’re perusing the web.

And I have to be sure to continue our one2one conversation by asking Liz

What’s helped you go from just being a writer on a blog to becoming a conversational dynamo?

I can’t wait to see Liz’s answers. She is truly a master at writing conversational copy, if you ask me. But until she answers, let’s talk…

How You Can Help A Friend With Their Business

one2one-sm.gifLess than a year ago, my good friend Adam Kayce decided to change careers.

For years Adam was a successful intuitive healer and teacher who helped countless people work with and heal their personal issues and physical diseases. As a teacher, Adam could explain the most complex ideas about consciousness and healing to people in ways that were easy to understand.

It was as a teacher that Adam got his first experiences working with businesses. Soon, he was focusing more on bringing spirituality and personal development into the workplace. And he loved it.

So this past fall, Adam decided to close down his healing practice and begin working as a business coach. Now his focus is on helping people find the “purpose and meaning behind their work, so you can attract and serve the people who love what you do.” (his words).

And so was born, Monk at Work.

Why did I tell you this story (other than Adam being a close friend)? Well, in our latest one2one conversation, Liz Strauss asked me

What do you do when your business is going well and close friend's is not?

My answer…YOU HELP!

monkatwork.jpgWhat else could I possibly say?

Like most new business, Adam had to endure the early, lean stages of Monk at Work. All the pieces were in place – knowledge, experience, expertise, great service and products, and…great looking blog (if I do say so myself). What he lacked was clients.

That’s where I knew I could help. I knew that I could use my own success to help my friend get started toward his. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the core of my work is to help businesses go from where they are to where they want to be.

Adam consulted with me on blogging, marketing strategy and relationship building. We talked a bunch about how to use the conversations on his blog to create momentum around your business. We talked about blogging as a central marketing strategy. I helped him with solutions for increasing his website and product reach. I even introduced him to people who are now fans of his work.

More than anything, I think what I’ve done is help Adam understand how his website/blog are the foundation for his marketing efforts. And now, Monk at Work is building momentum. Am I responsible for that – not really. He still had to put what we talked about into practice. I simply filled in his gaps in knowledge and helped him focus his efforts using his website/blog.

Do you have a good friend who’s struggling with their business? What can you do to help them?

And Liz, since we’re having a one2one conversation,

What tips can you offer for writing quality, conversational blog posts and website copy?

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