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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.

How Are Your Online Relationships Different From Your Offline Relationships?

one2one-sm.gifBoy do Liz and I have an interesting conversation going on about relationships.

My last question to her, if you recall, was how has your blog changed the way you think about relationships? She titled her response: I Knew Everything about Relationships Until an Audience Came. You’ve gotta take a read. Here’s an excerpt:

I don't think about relationships anymore. I see the people I have relationships with and the incredible differences they make. I see the changes we make in each other.

Of course, she passed a great question right back to me when she asked:

Do you see a difference between your online relationships and those offline — beyond the obvious physical differences?

Without a doubt!

One of the most interesting differences, for me, has been how easy it’s been to get to know absolute strangers. Just from blogging I now have a number of people I’d call friends. People like Chris, Wendy, Char, Lorelle, Ed, Ben, Mike and Mike, David and David, Gayla, Phil, Kammie, Easton and Tony, to name a few. Most I’ve met in person. And all I stay in touch with by phone or email on some sort of regular basis (sorry I’ve been out of touch a bit lately, David).

What’s really neat is that they each live in different places. And I didn’t know any of them before I was blogging. Same with Liz…one day, some months back, I got an email message saying, “I’m calling you at 2pm today.” Then she did, we talked and we’ve not stopped since.

I’m pretty certain that without my blog I’d not know any of these folks. Yet we each have things in common that bring us together. Each one of them (and many of you) have enriched my life in different ways. I feel fortunate to call them all friends.

And that’s where the internet, and the blogosphere specifically, continues to amaze me. Through my blog, I’ve met such good, caring, interesting and quality people. We may live thousands of miles apart, but we’re neighbors in the blogosphere.

So what brings us together in the first place? In each relationship it’s a little different. Yet a common denominator is that we have similar interests. Those interests bring us together. It gives us a ground to share what we know and what we love with each other. Combine that with wanting to meet interesting people and you have a formula for building relationships that extend beyond the blogosphere.

Now that’s not to say that the people I’ve met blogging have replaced friends I’ve already had. Not at all. Rather, it’s just expanded my circle of friends. And that circle keeps getting larger.

And you know, you’re a part of that circle as well. Yeah, I do mean you. Without you, I’m not sure I’d still be blogging. I’m blogging to start conversations and build relationships. So without you, without your interest, your readership, your comments, your sticking around to get to know me, none of this would be possible. Okay, maybe it’s be possible, but it sure wouldn’t be worthwhile. So thank you.

So please, drop me a line some time and introduce yourself. And we’ve already met, don’t be a stranger. I love hearing from you.

And there you have the difference, as I see it, between online and offline relationships. How could I invite a bunch of people I don’t know to start a relationship without my blog? And then give you the time to respond whenever and however you like…if at all?

Of course you should know by now that my goal is to turn my online relationships into offline relationships. And that happens organically. So I have to ask you, how have your online relationships differed from your offline ones? Let’s talk about it in the comment box.

You know Liz and I keep going back-and-forth in this one2one conversation. Remember, you can join in the conversation on either of our blogs as well. So when I ask Liz this question, I’m also asking you:

What’s the oddest beginning to a relationship that you’ve developed through your blog?

You can look for Liz’s response on Thursday. But we don’t have to wait til then to talk about it…

Business Owners…Try Making It A Conversation

People want to do business with people – not businesses.

conversation.jpgA few business owners seem to get this. But don’t seem to get it, though. It makes me wonder how business owners see themselves relating to their target audience.

Perhaps that’s the first mistake…target audience. What image do you create when you hear the term target audience? For me, I’m looking off the deck of a boat at an expansive sea whose swells ebb and flow. What I don’t see are the individual drops of water that make up the sea. In other words, I don’t see the individual people in the term target audience. I can’t imagine I’m alone.

Most marketing copy I read today does one of two things: It either tells me all about what ‘you can do for me;’ or it tries to make me identify the problems I face. Both work to some degree. The former by being straight forward in what we offer. The latter perhaps more so by getting me to feel that you understand me and my problems and, thus, can help me solve them. Yet I think they both miss the boat.

Why? Well, neither are really about having a conversation. When you just tell me about your business, there’s no room for me because it’s all about you. And when you make it about me and the problems I face, it’s still from your perspective. You’re not there, in it, with me. And if you were once where I am, it’s difficult to recapture the difficulties I face when you’re no longer in them.

I think that’s what Colleen Wainwright, the Communicatrix (gosh, I can’t help by love that name), was getting too when she wrote this comment on a recent blog post of mine around having the conversation with your niche.

Most of the time, people are thinking about what they want to say, rather than the people they're going to say it to. You can't possibly have a conversation with your customers (or anyone else, for that matter) over the sound of the projector running, if you catch my drift.

And that seems to be the crux of most marketing content I see today. Not all, but most. Business owners seem to spend more time being concerned about what they want to get across to people than they do considering what people want to hear. Yet giving them what they want and need is the key to being successful.

So how do you do that? Make it a conversation. Instead of being so concerned with getting all the right content so gingerly placed so perfectly on the page, engage in a conversation. When you write copy, think about it like you’re sitting down with someone referred to you from a friend. First, listen to them. Figure out what they need. Then speak (or write). But do so as you would in a verbal conversation by adding to it, not trying to turn it into something you want.

You may be the expert on your topic and the referral may be coming to you. But they want to feel honored, cared for and listened too. They want their opinions to matter. And they want to know that what they know has value and merit.

Just remember, your target audience is made up of individuals. Engage them as such and you’ll be doing business with people instead of a trying to reach a marketing buzzword.

What do you do to engage individuals in your business? How does your blog serve the conversation and how has it helped build relationships?

P.S. …I just found out that today is Colleen’s Birthday. Stop by and shoot her a b-day wish.

Why Your Newsletter Content Should Come From Your Blog

If you blog do you really need a newsletter?

That’s the question I asked the other day which led to an interesting, and in some cases spirited, conversation. I love that we have the space and freedom to openly share our opinions. And I’m grateful that you feel comfortable enough to be open and honest here, in our comment box.

One statement that was made a few times in our conversation is how your newsletter content shouldn’t be separate from your blog content. So should your newsletter articles be different from your blog content?

This is a question that I get asked often. And my answer has evolved over time. At first I thought, “yes, they should be separate.” But now I feel the opposite. Your newsletter subscribers should be able to find your newsletter content on your blog…AND, before they get your newsletter.

Why?

Let’s think about the purpose of an e-newsletter. While it serves many, the main reasons you have a newsletter is to keep in contact with people who have some interest in your business. In doing so you want to give them valuable articles that can help them, build trust and pitch products and services. In other words, your newsletter is about building a relationship.

Yet a newsletter is quite limited in how it does this. Basically, you send it out and it arrives in subscriber’s inbox. They decide to read it or not. And if they do read it, they decide whether they’re going to select one of your offers. That’s pretty much it. The relationship and trust are built through multiple editions and by giving them great content.

But your newsletter can be so much more in building trust and relationship.

Imagine if your newsletter article was only the beginning of a conversation. With it, you simply kicked off an interesting topic that could be discussed, debated and shared easily. You would gain and your readers would as well. And, the conversation would go much further toward building trust with your subscribers.

Well, isn’t that was a blog does?

So forget exclusive content for your newsletter. Your readers likely don’t care if your content is exclusive or not. What they care about is whether the content adds to their life or their business. And if you help them, they’re going to want to get to know you better. And that’s what your blog can do.

Use your newsletter to direct them to the comment box on your blog. Create conversation…build relationships. Let your newsletter become the beginning of an interactive exchange between you and people who are interested in what you offer.

If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear your experiences. If not, let’s talk about why? And if you’re opposed to publishing all your newsletter content on your blog, I’d love to hear more. So let’s talk…

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…

The Part of My Business I Look Forward To Doing More Of…

Continuing our one2one conversation, Liz Strauss asked me (and you):

What's the the part of business, besides relationships, that you look forward to doing more of?

one2one-sm.gifOkay, so here’s how I read your question…”what other part of business, besides building relationships.” I hope this is what you meant, because my entire business is about relationships. From how I market to how I work with my clients, what I see in my business IS relationships.

But I can look through building more and stronger relationships at aspects of my business. So that’s what I’m going to run with.

I’ve been building websites for more than a decade at this point. So it’s mostly what I’m known for. It’s also the easiest way people can describe what I do to their friends, clients and colleagues. So more often than not, I get calls about website design.

What ends up happening, however, is that the people soon find out that I do so much more than most web designers. They learn that I understand business development, marketing, product development, copy editing, etc. And often, they hire me to consult and coach them while we’re working on their website.

So really, I’m really a born teacher. I know that sounds like a vast, presumptuous statement. Yet at every point in my life this fact has been mirrored back to me. In elementary school I used to show my classmates how to do math problems when they didn’t get it. As a baseball player I could spot mistakes in a teammate’s swing and help them feel the correction. Even when I had a private healing practice I would somehow find a way to explain complex spiritual concepts in a way that people just understood.

Even as a web designer, I’ve been very successful at making the technical easy to understand – even a neophyte. This gives clients the power to make their own, informed decisions about their business.

So like you, Liz, I am a teacher. I’m a teacher and I love to solve problems. And this has led me to doing more consulting/coaching/educating-type work. I love it. And it’s opened up a whole new part of my business.

Now people don’t have to need a new website to work with me. They can hire me to help them with any number of projects or aspects of their business: from service and product development to marketing, increasing traffic and building relationships to branding, utilizing a newsletter to just plain problem solving.

And best of all, they can hire me to help them learn how to use social media – blogging, social networking, etc, – more effectively, to grow their business or to increase the visibility of their blog. That I’m doing already with a handful of clients.

So that’s what I want to do more of…coach people to a more rewarding and successful business, consult with people to solve their business problems and educate people on how to do anything they need without being dependent on me. Does that make me a coaching strategist? Maybe.

So Liz (and you, reading this, too), speaking of strategy:

What do you feel is necessary to create an effective strategy to promote a business?

If you got this far, I’d love to hear your answers to either question. Join our one2one conversation in the comment box below.

And if you need some help with your business, let’s talk about it.

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