Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Key words

So you've decided on your email campaign. You have everything put together and ready to go. Take another look at your subject line.

What persuades you to open an email? What are the key ingredients that make an email irresistible to open? How do you increase your open rate to a figure better than 20%?

Offering your customer what they want in clear and concise verbiage can insure that your emails are not automatically headed toward the delete pile. Make sure your customers know who you are, what your business is, and what this particular email has to offer them.

What need does your customer have that this email can help them with? What information can help the customer with a future or current project? Why is this an event that your customer would like to attend?

Customers love the words free, gift, exclusive, event, party....but don't get into the habit of stating something that your email doesn't deliver or future emails will be ignored---deleted, unopened and you will lose opportunities to enthrall, assist, and interact with your current and future customers.     

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Year Media

With the Christmas over, the time to step up your media campaign is now. Keeping up your contact with those new and old customers, adding supplementary products and services to compliment their recent purchases, helping and assisting with future sales, these are the things that being on top of your social media at this time can do for your business.

Try an email campaign outlining a class and event schedule, tips through your blog, and top it all with a show stopping Facebook and Twitter Page. No time is better than this winter lull to get your business moving into the new year with new customers, new sales through online media marketing.    

Monday, December 19, 2011

Current Customers and your Website

Your website, email and newsletter lists, and social media are ways to be in constant contact with your customers. It's out of sight out of mind when your customer is not in your physical location. And these days people are so busy they are not going to be thinking of your business much on their own.

Encouraging use of your website and social media allows customers to discover immediately when you bring out a new product line. If that customer takes the new product home and has a question regarding the use, information on the website can provide a timely solution that produces more satisfaction with the product.

And, of course, more satisfaction can translate into more sales. Keeping customers satisfied and excited about your offerings is also easier online. Your business is not only vying for business from competitors but also the customer's time and interest in your very products.

Does your customer spend time with a video game or a more creative product like a sewing machine? Does the sewing machine go into the closet in lieu of a big screen television? Only you and your marketing can keep your product out in front of your customer. Making it easy, immensely more interesting, and exciting to visit your business over and over again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Social Media

There's been a lot of talk in the media about Facebook' going public. And a recent report indicates that there are some people who stay away from Facebook for various reasons.

And even though Facebook may not be the media of choice for some folks---some of those same people that choose not to use Facebook use other social media like Twitter, which could be viewed as less invasive to personal lives and somewhat safer to use.

Twitter is actually a really great way for customers to share information that you post to the internet either on your Facebook page, blog, or website. Let's say that you have 100 widgets you obtained at a bargain price that you can sell at a win-win deal to your customers; post the bargain to your website, tweet it, customers receive the tweet, re-tweet to their friends, and soon all 100 widgets are sold---creating customers, relationships, and a name for your business.

And, fortunately, there is a way to connect your Facebook page to your Twitter account; making it easy and simply efficient to post once to your Facebook page which will automatically create a Tweet. A Simple and easy way to keep on top of your social media.      

Monday, December 12, 2011

How will you Inspire your Customers?

The best kind of marketing is the kind that gives at the same time it wants to get something. The Bing Search engine has an ingenious marketing idea; each day for the month of December a visitor can obtain a gift per day. Some gifts are ads for products, but sprinkled among the products are freebies---patterns for holiday decorations, holiday music and video, special deals from vendors.

And these are the types of things that bring customers back to you over and over again. I may not have frequented Bing's search engine much over the previous month, but just about every day since I got my December email I've been going back to the site to see what's next.

It's fun. It's inspirational.             

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Coupon

Coupons are a great way to interest new customers or help out current customers in these tough economic times.

Here is a coupon from us to you:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Why Small Business is Best

What makes small businesses worth extra attention this holiday season and through out the year? Consider:


  • Small businesses are more responsive to customer needs. Need something special that the local small business doesn't normally carry? Most of the time all you need to do is ask and you shall receive.
  • Small businesses know their customers. Frequent a local shop and you'll soon be greeted by name---no longer a nameless stranger deserving the same treatment as the nameless behind you in line. You'll be a valued customer.
  • Personal service; many small businesses offer instructions, home set up of goods, and help with any issues you may have. Unique, personalized products are available from small businesses. And those small business owners are experts about the products they sell.
  • Small businesses will stand by you if there is a problem, help work through it with you, and deal with the manufacturer if necessary.       
  • Small businesses and their owners are part of the community. They're more likely to contribute to that local cause, contribute to that community Christmas light, build that community rapport. 
Services and products at small businesses can be more expensive but not always. And if you consider that you are getting more service for the dollar and that the jobs offered at small, local businesses are often better than that obtainable in the alternatives----small businesses deserve additional consideration this holiday season and the whole year through.    
 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kill SOPA and Protect IP

It's difficult for a small business to compete with the big guys. But in today's internet dominated world it is becoming easier for small business to get the word out about offerings a consumer may not even be aware of when choosing between the big and the small.

For example, a small business may provide more support and training for the products that are sold and what better way to get that kind of word out than on a website, blog, and social media?

But now there are 2 laws that are before congress that threaten to stymy that ability to compete on the world stage. Supported by big business and media companies, SOPA and Protect IP are laws that would affect what can be used and reused on the internet. Most small business have to start with basics, building with minimal tools---it's difficult enough to get started without having to reinvent the wheel.

Certainly copyrights should be protected. But not to the extent that the cost is shutting small businesses out of the internet or requiring small business to hire lawyers to govern every step that is made online. Government's role needs to be reconsidered. SOPA and Protect IP are laws that are counter productive and need to be stopped.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Competing online

Many small businesses are adding their presences online. And in the recent economic times this can be a smart business direction to go. Small businesses that service a niche can actually gain a stronghold over the big box stores because the small business does one thing and does that one thing well.

Small businesses can also position themselves on online search engines above the big box stores too. When you search for a sewing machine with a smart phone, for example, Walmart may not even come up as a store that carries sewing machines. (Even though they do.) This gives a small business a new advantage just by having a presence online.

And the more activity you have online the better your placement will be over all your competition. So blogs, responsive answers to email questions, frequent updates to your website, forums, as well as Twitter and Facebook posts can prove to your customers that a small business is a great place to go for good old fashioned responsive products and services.

Have a profitable Cyber Monday!        

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Have a wonderful holiday and don't forget to shop your local small business on Saturday.

I'll be back with a new web tip on Monday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Don't forget to Shop Small November 26th 2011

Small business' are often the heart of the community---providing local jobs that often pay more and are more family friendly than the box stores.

They're also higher on service and more satisfying and fun to shop in too. So this Saturday, November 26th pick a small business and shop. Help an entrepreneur through this economy, pick a unique and unusual gift, and help your local community----shop local, shop small.       

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

eBay selling

As an addendum to my series on internet commerce without a website; I need to add one more tidbit. If you are accepting payments through Paypal, know that Paypal is also owned by eBay. If your buyer, right or wrong, has a problem with the product---anything from buyers remorse to didn't read the listing or store policy, and the buyer invokes the "isn't as described" clause; the amount of the sale is put on hold.

This occurs even when it is past the returns are accepted time as indicated in writing in your store policy. This occurs even if the money is not in your Paypal account---remember Paypal has access to your bank account or credit card.

eBay then apparently acts as judge and jury in the case. The internet is full of angry, frustrated, and disgusted sellers who have been cheated out of the merchandise and the money. In contrast, rarely do you find a disgruntled buyer.

Beware of this pitfall when merchandising on eBay. As an eBay staff member put it "if you don't like or agree with our policies too bad don't do business here."

And that is indeed the kind of customer service you can expect whether you sell $1 or thousands of dollars.      

Monday, November 14, 2011

Small Business Saturday

In case you haven't heard, November 26, 2011 is Small Business Saturday. There is a big campaign going nationwide to encourage folks to shop their local small business on the Saturday after black Friday.

And small businesses across the nation are announcing bargains, deals, and festivities in order to celebrate and entice customers to shop their local businesses, creating local jobs in the local economy, keeping their neighbors employed, and coming up with some original and thoughtful holiday gifts at the same time.

I don't know about you, but I actually enjoy shopping the small main street businesses, with their unique wares, helpful and knowledgeable staff, and, all in a Currier and Ives like setting too.

So...polish up your website, Facebook & Tweet, and post those fun holiday festivities that are to be to your blog! And let's bring a little of Main Street USA to this year's Christmas.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Keeping Customers

It costs much more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing customer. Everyone knows that---they teach that in customer service 101.

And today it is easier to stay close to customers, keeping them informed of new products, new uses for products they already purchased from you, and special deals and offerings you have in the works.

Many businesses have a seasonal aspect; whether it's the typical retailer's season in the fourth quarter of the year, the spring and summer period for products like lawn tractors, or those that focus on winter hobbies, you can stay in front of your competition by offering year round information, time saving tips, and communications.

Even if people are packing away those tractors for the season---think coupons for repairs or maybe a clearance sale for that guy who dreams of a replacement model for next year's lawn.  This can be done relatively inexpensively through your website, social media, newsletters, and business blog.

Year round connection, a club-like atmosphere, personal communication---means you'll be hanging onto the customers you already have. And new business marketing can focus on new business---not only replacement.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Your online business extention

Visiting Kmart or Walmart online is much like visiting one of their physical stores. The sites are full of online shelves where customers buy basic merchandise at cost effective prices. There isn't a whole lot more. This is as expected.

When offering your wares on line, whether services or products, consider your online site as another physical location. What is it that makes your business stand out? Do you offer quality merchandise with professional advice? Do you offer bargain basement prices and efficient delivery?

Keeping your brand and extending your business to online will be easier if you keep your identity consistent between the physical and online locations. Just because you add an online entity to your business doesn't mean that you need to go from being a Neiman Marcus to a Walmart.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Social Media

It's exciting to help a business grow via social media. I'm currently assisting a local business with over 30 years of experience grow via social networking. I love hearing that customers are enjoying the emails full of tips, deals, and information.

When coupons posted on the blog or website are brought in, or a sale is made because the product was posted on the web and when the traffic into the physical location is increased----in this economy---it is a great thing.

Providing value through the blog, Facebook, Twitter; solving customer's problems when the customer had no idea a solution existed--enhancing the customer experience, making life easier, and, yes, generating additional sales; it's great.    

Monday, October 31, 2011

Social Media for Your Business

Did you know you can join Facebook and Twitter pages? When you allow your Facebook page to talk to your Twitter page you can catch customers in both areas at the same time, making it easier and more efficient to connect to your customers.

Try adding a helpful tip to your Facebook page, allowing it to automatically update to Twitter, and your business blog's widget. All in one post! Don't miss an opportunity to connect and stay close to your customer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It Takes Time

Since information appears online immediately, normal expectations are that customers will find and respond immediately too. But most things that are done online require some time to disseminate and for customers to begin reacting to the information.

Which means that if you're planning activities for the upcoming holiday season informational emails, suspense building cues on your website and blog should be occurring now.

Special events need to be added to customer's busy schedules as soon as possible. It can take about 30 days for information to filter through to action---even in a world of instant information.  
  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Navigation and Search Boxes

Website navigation is a tricky thing. No matter how simple you make it some people are bound to get lost eventually.

And that is why any issues mentioned, even casually, by your users should be communicated to your website consultant. The priority of every website is to assist your customers in finding out about your products, learning more about your organization, and perhaps even making a purchase.

The easier you make it for the customer to locate everything on your site, the more connections you will make with those customers.

And that brings up search boxes. I frequent a site that sells products with price tags of up to $10,000 or more. And yet, no matter what browser I'm using if I search their site I receive a blank page back without results---not even a sorry we don't have any results that match your criteria----only a blank.  Don't let this type of thing happen to your customers.

What does your search box give you?  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Don't forget the Reason Behind Your Website

Whether you're a nonprofit bringing your services or message to the web or a small entrepreneur wishing to drum up some business without having to wear out a pair of shoes, don't forget your audience or how they will use your website.

Pictures of products and services in action, short and to the point descriptions of products go a long way towards introducing and familiarizing your audience with your product. Simple is the best. Sometimes it's best to leave out cute animations that may detract from the real business and purpose of your site (unless you're advertising cartoons to children.)

Whether you're looking to attract sponsors for your cause or attracting that next new business account don't forget your audience and don't distract them from the services you have to offer.

 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tale of the Bison

This weekend I came upon a marvel of Internet marketing. Business groupings were made into tours that people could visit in a weekend afternoon drive. There were tours of wineries, places to shop, farmer's markets, flea markets, art galleries. All were on one website with links to individual sites as applicable. A virtual tour of a region---and it was all in my backyard.

I love bison. They're big lumbering creatures that man almost totally destroyed. I've traveled far and wide to view a bison---clear across the country, to the other side of the state, to three or four states over.

My love for bison doesn't stop at just observation either. I have tasted bison meat; it's good and better for you than beef or pork.

One of the virtual tours that I browsed this weekend included a bison farm---less than 15 miles away from my home. One that has been in business for over 5 years and that I only found because of the power of Internet marketing.        

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Giving a Customer a Great Experience

Some customers need a little more help than others. This is true even for online customers who may not be familiar with your business that has been delivering great service for over 30 years in the physical world. Conveying your business history on line is the first step towards allaying customer concerns.

Landing pages can contain a bit of history information with links to your about page to further clarify how your physical customer service continues to your website business. Having someone to respond to customer inquiries much as you do for your physical business is also important and a key to making customers comfortable enough to send you some business.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Compared to the Competition

I had the opportunity to compare websites last night. In one site I was entering book reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Then I priced a repair item for my home on two different home center's sites.

The book review went smoothly on both websites. I was able to get to the page through a quick search. Once on the website, I entered the information to pull up the book I was reviewing and within minutes had completed my business. But there the comparison ended. On one site I spent a little more time perusing the offerings, even though I'm feeling a little broke, there were some new books that the one website was hawking just to me due to my search criteria. They didn't make a sale but they got my attention.

On to the home center sites. On the first site I entered my criteria and was able to review different product offerings and I could even purchase online.

But on the second site the search gave me a totally irrelevant list of 200+ items that I had to wade through before I finally found what I was interested in. And then the prices weren't listed and there was no opportunity to buy online even if I wanted to.

Search optimizations are necessary when putting up an e-commerce site and need to be tweaked as time goes on. Also, once your site is up and running, have a review of  the offerings that are suggested to customers to give customers a reason to return and make another purchase.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What you're good at....

As your business moves to doing business online the same business philosophy can be applied to your online presence.

A business that  offers education and personal service can add that touch online as well through blogs and forums.

Making sure that there is someone to respond to emails and online inquiries is important in an online world where people are used to and expect timely responses. Make use of the auto responder offered by your email provider to let customers know the time frame that they can expect a response.

 And all inquiries are chances to solve your potential customer's problem--- don't miss the opportunity.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ecommerce Summary

My last few posts have been all about comparing some online places to market your products without a website of your own.

Even though eBay is difficult, time consuming and expensive, eBay does get results, which is what it is all about.

Amazon and etsy also garner sales, at times, at a slower rate; and the fees are much more reasonable.

Your own website, properly search engine optimized may still be your best bet. Depending on what you sell a couple of sales commission fees saved from eBay may pay for a good portion of setting up your website.

And as more and more traffic is directed towards your site through social media, with proper management, you will see your web sales going up and your fees going down.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Solutions

How many times have you spent a sleepless night viewing an infomercial of some newly hatched idea---something you never knew existed. Have you ever thought to yourself---wow, that would be handy!

Everyday on the internet potential customers search for solutions to their problems and those solution can be in the form of the product or service that you offer. Being clear and concise is more important than ever. A vague description of your product or service may mean that a customer moves on to some other website that offers the same solution but in clear terms.

Spending a little more time and money making your descriptions and terms crystal clear may bring you more sales and more repeat customers.    

Monday, September 26, 2011

E-commerce without a website of your own Part five

Whether you choose between e-Bay, Amazon, Etsy or some other website (or even your own) to sell your products one issue that you will always face is how to keep your listing on top of the search agents and how to make it stand out from the rest.

One way is to link your site to an expert blog; no matter what you're selling or where you do the selling--- you need to be the expert.


  • What kind of features does your product have that makes it special? 
  • What kind of uses does your product have? 
  • Are there uses for your product that a potential customer isn't aware of yet? 
  • What do YOU offer the customer that no one else can?      


If you can answer these questions in the first few lines of your listing and then list more detailed information, it doesn't matter where you're doing the selling---you'll be one step closer to that sale.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

E-commerce without a website of your own Part four

One thing I can say about eBay is that it gets results. If you're willing to sell a product at a good price, it will not last long and will be sold in a reasonable time.

Sales, however, are expensive and energy intensive compared to other places on the internet. For every sale on eBay you may receive twenty or more inquiries. Where consumers on other sites will go to a manufacturer's page to obtain information, customers on eBay will go to you.

EBay's fees are some of the most expensive there are; 7% to a whopping 13% of a final value that includes the amount you charge for shipping. And you may not do business with eBay unless you hand them the keys to your paypal, bank account or credit card to automatically deduct their fees from.

On eBay when a customer clicks buy they do not automatically pay. Your item is removed from the listing and listed as sold even though you are not paid. As difficult as it may be to believe you as a seller are directed by eBay to send an invoice. You can't initiate a cancellation of a sale due to non payment for 5 days and then the customer has another few days to respond.   In addition eBay charges you, from the automatically deducted bank account, for the 7%-13% fee EVEN THOUGH YOU MAY NOT HAVE BEEN PAID.

I currently have a sale that's been up in the air for nearly two weeks, the customer has been unresponsive and eBay is charging me almost $100 on an item that hasn't been paid for. EBay is unresponsive via email and lacks customer service skills over the telephone.

If you have a choice between a site of your own and eBay----my advice would be to see a web consultant. You'll be money, and a bunch of aggravation ahead.    

       

Monday, September 19, 2011

E-commerce without a website of your own Part three

Etsy is one of the best places for a small business to sell products on the internet. The only limitation is what can be sold on Etsy---for the most part handmade products and vintage items.

Etsy is a a community of like minded cottage industry small business people who support each other through advise, promotion, and no nonsense business ethics. Etsy itself supports it's community of shopkeepers with blogs, mini widgets and programming, and advise on photography, postings, and sales.

Shopkeepers are encouraged to promote each others businesses through circles and treasuries, where favorite items are listed in groupings that can be viewed and emailed to potential customers. Etsy sends out emails to subscribers featuring products that frequently show as sold after the email is sent.

With all the support you receive at Etsy the .20 listing fee and the 3.5% commission fee is reasonable. And, unlike places like Ebay, you're treated like a real business owner, it is your responsibility to pay the fees on time; they don't automatically deduct out of your account.

Your sales are immediately credited to your account, unlike Amazon. And you choose what to charge for shipping.

Listing couldn't be easier or more helpful. And your store front is a beautiful thing. For any small business selling items that fall into the Etsy categories, Etsy can't be beat. It's a big site with a small town feel. And a fair and reasonable place to do business.        

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

E-commerce without a website of your own Part two

Selling products on Amazon.com is a fairly painless procedure. The best sellers are books, of course, but if you have some used or fairly new electronics, software, or DVD's--- they do well too.

On Amazon the rules are made by Amazon and their teams of Pro sellers---a seller that is not paying a monthly fee to be a Pro Seller is not allowed to enter or change information in the catalog except to upload a picture of an item that doesn't have one. In other words, you are limited to the products that are already listed on Amazon.

In addition you are competing with Amazon's best new price and those of the pros that can offer free shipping and other Amazon perks to customers. Shipping fees are set by Amazon and cannot be changed.

But in spite of all the controls Amazon is a fair, equitable, and efficient place to sell online. It's very easy to manage inventory all in one place and you get your own store front that you can customize somewhat.

All fees for products pass through Amazon and they can become quite hefty. Not only does Amazon charge a commission on each sale of 6-25%. But a closing fee is also charged. But there is no fee to list an item and an item that doesn't sell isn't costing anything to remain in your store.

All said, Amazon is a fair place to do business on small electronics, books, and DVD's. Buyers are usually educated on a product before shopping Amazon so the first notice you'll receive of any interest of your product at all is a notice of sale. You ship out within three business days and receive your funds within a week or two. A fairly painless procedure that usually garners you an excellent rating.            

Monday, September 12, 2011

E-commerce without a website of your own Part one

So you want to sell online but you're not too sure you're ready for a website of your own? Products old or new can be listed on a number of websites, here are comparisons on 3 of the major players:

Amazon.com---Anyone can list on amazon for free as long as the product being listed is already part of the online catalog. Only Amazon's pro-listers can add to the catalog. Pro's pay a monthly fee that is prohibitively expensive to all but those who sell a big volume. Amazon collects money from the customer, takes Amazon's commission out and distributes the fee to the seller within a week or two of the sale.

Etsy.com---Etsy is set up mainly for hand crafted items. Exceptions to the handcrafted policy are vintage items (those that are over 20 years old) and craft supplies (not crafting tools). Etsy charges a minimal 20 cent fee to list, has a wonderful support network, good analytic tools, widgets for blogs and websites. When items are sold payments are immediately made to the seller, and the seller is invoiced for the fees by Etsy.  

Ebay.com---Ebay has the strictest rules and little seller protections. A fee is collected up front for listing and can run from 50 cents upwards to many dollars depending on the listing type and product. Fees are collected whether the product sells or not, unlike Etsy (except 20 cents listing fee) and Amazon. When a product sells on Ebay the product is taken off and marked sold. The seller is expected to invoice the customer. The customer has 5 days to pay. The seller is not protected by the agreement and a customer can decide that they no longer want the item, or can't afford it and the seller is then under the obligation to cancel the deal. In addition, once the item is marked sold, Ebay invoices the seller the full amount of commissions, sometimes as much as 10% immediately. This can leave the seller with a fee paid to Ebay (you cannot sell on Ebay without agreeing to automatic payments out of your accounts) and no sale.  When dealing with Ebay "Seller Beware"

Next time I'll compare additional experiences and fees of these three allowing you to consider for yourself the risks as well benefits to including these online companies in your business plan.

   

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ecommerce

If you're thinking about dipping your toes into online commerce one solution that you should look into is nopCommerce. NopCommerce is an open source program that has a big community of support and options. It works well with sql or sql compact.

NopCommerce handles email campaigns, detailed customer information, in store and online sales. There's a forum, a blog, and a news feature.

There's a whole community that offers fee based designs and custom programming if you need to have the program adjusted to your needs. The program is an option that can help small businesses compete with the big guys on the internet.

Blue Heron Moon Web Consulting can assist you in setting up nopCommerce for your small business. Contact us for immediate assistance.

    

Monday, September 5, 2011

Remember the Jobless on Labor Day


There are many families who can't afford to have a burger on the grill this Labor Day. Over 15 million in this country are unemployed and have been for a long time. So before you go out to that holiday celebration show your support by tweeting, liking, or donating to these sites or post one of your own.

Unemployedworkers.org 

Ucubed

And make sure your congressman or woman knows where you stand on the issue of jobs. It's hard to celebrate Labor Day when so many are suffering the degradation of unemployment.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Accuracy

It's tempting to use stock photos and verbiage imported from your product vendor. Often the import is on hundreds of products and is done by a web designer/coder that has little knowledge of your product or business past the web development.

And as time consuming and monotonous as it may be, all photos and verbiage need to be verified.

I recently had an experience with a company who I've been doing business with for years. A few years ago they were a catalog outlet with good prices and service. They had a loyal customer in me until this most recent, website experience.

A stock photo and verbiage was shown for a scanner on their website. The scanner showed a cable and verbiage states that a stand is included. I emailed prior to purchase to verify the cable and connections. When the scanner came, it was without the cable and no stand was included. When I called I was told too bad---the website uses stock pictures that the company is not responsible for.

Costing them a customer of over 20 years. Lesson learned.        

Monday, August 29, 2011

Your "About Us" Page

When I find an interesting company online---maybe I'm searching for a product I need to purchase, I always take a look at the posted "About Us" page. Woe to any company that doesn't post who they are; I'll leave the site. I like to know who I'm doing business with.

What does your "About" page say about your company. This is a place to identify with your customer, seal a sale. The page should include your corporate mission statement. A bit of company history is always a plus. And a personal account of the CEO puts a personal touch on the company.

A separate "About" page is not necessary if you include these components on your home page; but identifying the who's and why's of your business is important to your online success.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Connecting

This morning, like every Wednesday morning, in my inbox was an email outlining the farm fresh produce available at one of my local farm markets. My mouth watered as I read about the sale priced tomatoes, watermelons, peppers, peaches, and pears. Also offered was a variety of sale priced nursery plants.

Two links to the farm stand's website were included in the simple text type email; one to a special internet only coupon and one to a job application---the farm stand is hiring and giving a customer an inside to a job.

I look forward to the Wednesday email. I miss it when it is late. I read through the deals each week. And it gets me into the market to get peaches to can or tomatoes for sauce, even when I wasn't thinking of canning peaches or making sauce.

Proof positive that regularly connecting with your customers is important---whether you tweet or send a simple email find a way to regularly connect.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

It's all in the Packaging

Building an online audience and following can seem daunting. Finding regular content for blogs, tweets, and websites can seem time consuming and unnecessary.

The content that you surround your product with is your online packaging. Building trust and a regular client base and interest does take time but has very little cost other than that time and can have enormous potential rewards. When you catch someones interest online that person can pass your name on to an infinite amount of contacts who also pass the word.

And it only takes a few minutes of tweeting, blogging, and communicating each week to attract new customers, new business, new possibilities.

It's all in the packaging....  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Are Internships Apprenticeships or Bargains?

Pounding the pavement marketing my growing web consulting business, I often run into a hard to overcome obstacle that is a symptom of this economy. On opposite ends of an ever growing problem, I run into internships.

Outside of this economy internships were rarely heard of except in the medical and teaching professions. In today's economy it is difficult for students or new grads to obtain paid work---so the schools and students are marketing students and new grads to companies as interns for little or no pay. Big and small corporations alike can benefit from this free labor.

The downside is that even though the student may gain experience, only the rich students or grads can afford to work for nothing, thus gaining an advantage over a poorer student who will take a minimum wage job in an unrelated field to support themselves. Paying jobs are also taken out of the economy as minimum wage laws are by passed in the name of free labor.

And is the free labor always a bargain for business? With 30 years of practical business experience I can offer a small business actual expertise in marketing, training, management, IT, and business administration. Because I'm a new business, I work at a reduced rate that is very reasonable for a small business. I have a vested interest in every job I do---I'm growing a business and hope to employ others some day. I build the business one relationship at a time and want satisfied customers no matter what.

Visiting one business, I am told that the owner feels he can't afford to pay for a website and is looking for an intern to put a site up.

And I rarely hear about the good intern experiences; in fact I haven't heard anyone rave about how they brought in an intern and now have a wonderful site. I do listen, often, to a very disgruntled business owner, who normally has sworn off  a business website altogether because an intern has left a half done site that poorly represents the business. Often the owner has been locked out of his or her own site. The owner simply hasn't the time or resources to clean up the mess that has been left.


I hear these stories over and over again---for every 20 businesses I contact, I listen politely to one tale of woe; knowing as I listen that chances are I will never convince this prospect that I can change that woe into wow.

This brand of internship does a disservice to us all. Not only does the business owner suffer, but the student couldn't have had a positive, learning experience either. The student was not an apprentice, learning with a master. The student, being left to flounder on his own, didn't learn anything from the experience and came away with nothing for the efforts put forth for free---not even a reference.

It's just a no win situation. Business owners lose. Students lose. Unemployed lose. And in this economy we don't need that.

         

Monday, August 15, 2011

Social Media

I attended a webinar the other day on the importance in today's economy of social media. The presentation was made by Lon Safko, who has written a book on social media. Lon had some good insights and meaningful tips on using social media.

One of the points Lon made was that your business brand and reputation travels with the speed of light. Your customers are talking about you and helping (or hurting) your brand over an assortment of social mediums. Social mediums can help you keep the eye on your competition and strategic partners too.

And to use social networking to its full potential you need a strategy and goals. Convert your online activities to actual customers and sales. To learn more of Lon's tips visit his website.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Importance of Managing Your Business Online ---Website or Not

Whatever the reason, many small business owners choose not to have a website. Some have attempted to build their own and had no luck. Many have hired a student cheaply and been left high and dry with an unfinished website and no password to get in and fix and finish. And there are businesses that just don't want to be on line.

Whether your business has a website or not, your business is likely to have an online presence. There are sites that encourage people to log on and enter reviews of businesses in their area. Sometimes, if a customer has a fantastic experience that stays fresh in the mind, a business may get  kudos online.

Quite often, though, the review is negative. And if the review is allowed to linger without comment it may reflect permanently on that business.

Take a recent example: I had a friend who was unhappy with her vet and searched on line for alternatives in her area. The closest vet in the area had a negative comment, left by an unhappy customer, that came up in her initial search. After reviewing the comment my friend decided to go with another vet. It wasn't that she believed the disgruntled customer's story totally, but that the complaint was unresolved.

A customer was lost. So---whether you are online with your own website or not, your online presence is still there and requires management. If you are unsure how to proceed contact us and we'll be happy to show you how.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Making ecommerce pay

What are your goals for that ecommerce site that you just rolled out? How can you move forward to those goals? There are a number of things that can be done but each requires time and media savvy. Here are just a few:


  • Analytics---Keeping an eye on your traffic is important especially in the early days of your website deployment. Great tools can be had for free from Google and your website hosting provider.
  • Blogging---Put some of your company expertise on the table. Campaigns and freebies draw readers and customers in.   
  • Social Media---where do your customers spend online time? Stay on top with contact.
  • Email---regular email campaigns keep your business on top of the customer's mind. Chances are that customer was just stepping out to make a purchase.
  • Coupons---everyone loves a bargain and coupons can draw customers online and off. Smart use of coupon campaigns can be a win-win situation for you and your customers.
Don't have time for all of this? In this economic climate, online media is an important way to increase revenue. Why not try out a web consultant. Contact Blue Heron Moon Web Consulting by clicking here

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Databases

If you're like most businesses you have a database full of client and financial information taking up space in your computers in your physical business. Most hosting providers, once you get past the free site that may come with your cable or DSL service, also provide databases---usually in the form of a SQL or MySQL database.

Whether you use MySQL, SQL, Firebird, or some other program to manage and manipulate your data, you can shore up the database information, at the same time providing yourself with a timely back up.

Or it  may be time to go to just one database that meets all your needs where information is all in one place and at everyone's fingertips when it is needed, yet is safe and secure. Is it time to review your organization's information structure? Here are 5 things to keep in mind:


  • Security---increasingly customers are concerned about how their data is used.
  • Access---is access to the information timely but on a need to know basis? Appropriate security levels for different levels of personnel within your organization protect your business and your customers and at the same time allow your employees to perform their jobs.
  • Are you backing up and can you restore the back up in case of a corruption or disaster?
  • Is your information timely and what you need to drive your business forward? 
  • Are you using the database information to its full potential? You don't need to micro-eye the info collected. But a monthly review of sales figures, customer trends, and clicking data can help you spot downward turns before they start to spiral or help you get into place with an opportunity before the competition. 
In this ailing economy opportunities don't always fall into your business as easily as the information you already are collecting---making the database a source that should be mined for the nuggets it contains.
       

Monday, August 1, 2011

Websites 101---After the .com Purchase

So you have your hosting and your own .com--so what's next?

Many business owners will try to build a website on their own and, if you are tech savvy this is a fine, economical way to go. This option is especially wonderful if you just want to get your brand and logo out there and don't need anything fancy or custom. Most hosting providers furnish you with template software--pick your colors, upload your logo and a couple of pictures and away you go.

For more complicated sites a call to a web consultant may save a lot of time and aggravation. If you're thinking of collecting customer information, setting up databases, or creating an E-commerce site, do yourself a favor and at least opt for one consultation with web consultant---it'll save you some time.

And by all means---never post your web address directly to a web page. If you do eventually you will get spammed---a very annoying and time consuming diversion from necessary business. There are programs to hide web addresses from spammers, but at the very least post  your address as "mail at yourcompany dot com."            

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Websites 101---Hosting your domain

If you're a small business owner the costs that come with your website can become a bit confusing. Often the beginner will wet their feet on a website that is included with their cable or DSL service. The first site may not even include your own domain or "your_company.com."

Later you discover that your needs have graduated to having your own .com. Moving your website up to your own business site may include the following:


  • Domain Registration--this is the fee to register the name that you give your website; i.e. your_company.com. No other company can register a domain name exactly like yours. The fee you pay for registration is around $10.00 per year and needs to be renewed or it will expire and be available to someone else. 
  • Hosting---hosting is where your site resides. Websites are placed on servers(on computers just like yours only with special programs) that are constantly on the internet. You can take your domain and move it to any hosting provider that fills your needs. Hosting fees differ with the services offered. Often you can start with a cheaper provider but find your needs grow with your online presence. Some considerations when choosing a hosting provider may be:
    • Service---how responsive are they when you have problems?
    • Programming--what kind of programs are available on their servers for you to use?
    • Security---if you're collecting customer data you'll want to know it is safe. Larger e-commerce sites may need a dedicated server. 
    • Space and band size---what are the allotments and how much will satisfy your needs?
    • Up time/Down Time---all servers need maintenance every now and then. How is this handled?
Navigating through the maze of hosting and domain choices can be daunting and time consuming. A good web consultant can make this task an easy one and have your business generating leads and products online in no time.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why bring your business to the web?

Over the past week I've spent a lot of time promoting my business to local businesses in an attempt to drum up some business in this somewhat tough economic climate.

I don't know that I've made any sales, but I have located some local sources for products that I might have purchased over the internet because I was unable to find them locally from an internet search.

My local grocery quit carrying an herb that I like to use in my cooking, savory. Preferring to buy local produce when available, I'd been searching all over for the tasty seasoning. I started my search on the internet. Performing a search on my home city, Valparaiso, Indiana and herbs/savory. I tried both Google and Bing, and with no results, I searched Yahoo. The closest place I found was a business in Ohio. I bookmarked the site and decided to search locally on foot.

Most people today would order from the online source if a local business does not appear on the search. Last week I found the local business, that just happened to carry other items that I had been looking for also.

Turns out that the business had been there for years but I would have missed it had I not been our promoting my services. And that is why your business needs to be on the web.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New site is launched

The new Blue Heron Moon Web Consulting website was launched this week. We've included samples of e-commerce sites for small businesses and links to our photography portfolio. Our prices are reasonable and can be customized to your needs.

There's even  an area where you can view a testament to our service. We're celebrating our anniversary--so mention this blog and receive 10% off of a service through the end of August 2011.

What we can do for you:


  • Assist with templates and fixes on current sites
  • New web solutions and design
  • Set up e-commerce for retail needs
  • Photography
  • Logo Work
  • Search Engine Optimization
In these economic times you can't afford to neglect the web as a revenue resource. Keep us in mind---for great service, at reasonable rates. Visit us at www.blueheronmoonwebco.com today.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Copyrights

There has been a lot of talk around the internet and government lately about copyrights. Over the weekend a fellow blogger searched on the first twenty or so words of a blog post. The resulting search indicated that those same identical words had been repeated over and over again with no credit whatsoever back to the original blog or writer.

Even worse are the comics, art, and photos that are pilfered without due credit. These are folks that make their living from their creations. Stealing from these folks is stealing their ability to provide a living for themselves.

And this kind of thing is also bringing regulation to the internet; something that, I believe, all who use the internet regret; once the regulation begins who knows where it will stop.

So if there is something good that needs to be shared let's link it back to its creator; you'll probably make a new contact, customer, or collaborator in the process...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Images

Having issues with your images on your website? Here are a couple of tips and  two really great tutorial sites to check out:


  • Make sure you complete your alt attributes--these are for sight impaired folks or for visitors that have issues loading images. The alt will explain what the picture would show if it could be seen.
  • For the mouse over information that you would like to impart to the visitor complete the title attribute. For example you can show a picture of a certain product and the title could produce a  mouse-over with the pertinent information; even model number and price.
A really cute and informative website demonstrating the wonderful things that you can do with images is  images css. What fun! And check out the other site that is recommended by clicking here.
         

Monday, July 11, 2011

Calculating that shipping

I recently reviewed the current site for a potential client who was setting up for online commerce. The prices of the products were more than reasonable compared to similar products available. The shipping listed was astronomically low; low enough to generate substantial loses. The client was a local business heading for a successful online business...with a few tweaks.

All the major shippers; Fed-X, UPS, even the USPS, have handy aps that can be added to a website to calculate shipping costs. Ask your Web Consultant to add them to your e-commerce site.      

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guarding your Email Address

Spammers have special programs that crawl the internet looking for unsuspecting individuals and small business owners who unknowingly post their email address to an internet page; either blog or website.

If your business' email addresses are being spammed and your hosting provider is unable to find an issue, you may want to take a look at your blog or website. Chances are you will find that your email address has been posted without the protection of a program to disguise the address. CAPTCHA programs can be added to pages as an additional step to protect a particular page.

And security can be added with a tiny Javascript ap that disguises your address. So, before you post your email, see your web consultant.   

Monday, July 4, 2011

Let Freedom Ring!

Happy Independence Day! What a precious gift we were handed by our forefathers. May we never take it for granted, but guard it with every breath we take.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What to Tweet?

OK. So you've got the website. You've got the blog. And you'd like to take advantage of those new phones everyone has to keep your business out in front of the competition.

First take a look at the competition. Are you a retailer? Most retailers, whether they sell vacuums or food compete with places like Walmart or Target. What are they talking about?

They're talking about their deal of the day, their sale events, their career opportunities, and their charitable events. No need to buy into Groupon. Post your own sale, tweet it out to a few customers at once, follow it up with a link for an internet coupon posted to your website or blog and watch as your customers get the word out to all their friends.

Hey there's a big sale down out Ma and Pa's this Saturday!

That's competing with the big guys.     

Monday, June 27, 2011

Social Media

Thinking about using social media for your business? Someone has performed a study of the various users of  Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

If you would like to know how your choice of social media falls out you can follow the link here.

The study can help you to focus on the media choice that will bring in the most customers. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More on the Cheese

Yesterday's local newspaper carried a story of a long time neighborhood bakery going out of business after decades of serving the community the best wedding cakes and pastries that could be had for miles. Today the news is of a giant--Barnes and Noble struggling for survival as a massive upheaval occurs in the book world.

Whether it's cakes moving to a more convenient or economical location in the supermarket or paper books desolving into electronic bytes and bits, survival is all about staying close to your customer, providing service that is unsurpassed, and staying one step ahead of the change.

It doesn't really matter how big you are; in fact, it's often easier for a little guy to change direction and move ahead of the competition. That changing cheese....it's an opportunity.   

Monday, June 20, 2011

Change and Cheese

Recently I had the opportunity to read the book Who Moved my Cheese by Spencer Johnson. The book is a great tale about how people respond to change and how with a simple paradigm shift in our thinking we can relish the change and use it to our advantage.

We sure need to deal with change these days. I recently attended a training camp at Microsoft. The staff of Microsoft was humorously self effacing when discussing how long Microsoft has sat on some of its browser editions, thus holding up new web standards. They vowed to move forward with faster, better deployment of new versions of IE and new webtools.

And we'll see if they keep the promise with a release of IE 10. We are promised cleaner, faster, brighter, better. Better cheese.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Online Marketing--Beware

Seems odd that I should be repeating a warning about online marketing? Yesterday I came across an article about an innocent small business owner who signed on with Groupon for a campaign. You can read about her experience here.

What this small business owner's experience demonstrates is the power of online marketing. Online marketing has the power to bring in customers that would not have considered you previously; maybe because they were unaware of the need for your product or maybe they often use the product you sell but were never aware that your business existed and had better service than what they were getting elsewhere.

The Groupon experience brought in so many customers with discount cards that it presented a financial hardship for the business owner. Beware--don't under estimate the power of online marketing. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Coming Soon...

Within a week or two I will be rolling out a completely new and improved Blue Heron Moon Website. I'm excited to show you the new sample designs; price structure, and a list of services that we perform.

Our samples will include two levels of e-commerce sites. If you're not sure you want a full e-commerce but know you'd like to sell a few products on line, we have a basic version, without all the bells and whistles that you can take advantage of.

In addition, the new website will showcase our photography portfolio and demonstrate what we can do for your products---photos that make products shine. Whether you're selling kitchy vintage items, antiques, cars, or craft products, we can provide the special touch to give your product and your website pizazz.   

I'm really looking forward to the new web debut. Please keep us in mind for your next web project or if you just need a quick fix. We are professionals who specialize in bringing Small Businesses to the web at a reasonable cost.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Key Products

What is the best product you have to offer? Is it the latest and greatest; something that everyone in your customer base wishes to own some day? Is it an every day item that all your customers will eventually purchase or may purchase time and time again?

What do you place just so in the front window of your business?

Take a moment to consider what that specific product is--the one that draws your customer into your store and then make sure that's the product featured large on your landing page. Make sure that your key words feature that product. Make sure you come out on top of all searches for that product; especially in your local area.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Office 2010 and the Hand

Do you have a problem selecting text in Microsoft Office; in Outlook or in Word? Does your cursor turn into a hand either closed or with finger pointing, therefore removing your ability to select text to copy and then to paste?

Have you searched the help files, the internet, in an attempt to find a solution to this annoying problem?

Try this:

Over your scroll bar in Outlook you will find a button with a hand on it. Click on it and your cursor will do normal things like select text to cut and paste.

Click on the hand again and you can use the cursor to pan larger than screen media.  

   

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Listing those files

Occasionally it is useful to take a list of files from a windows directory and list them in an Excel spreadsheet or bring them into a SQL database. One use may be a directory full of pictures that you would like to build into your webserver database. Keying those file names is time consuming and there is no way to copy and paste them from a file folder into a database or spreadsheet.

The only alternative is to turn to your CMD window. I know, I hate it too. But it does simplify things and save time in the process. Here's how to create a list in Windows 7:

  1. Click on your start button and in the search box type CMD.
  2. Navigate to the folder where you want to create the list.
    • Open the folder in windows where your to be listed files are.
    • Click on the address bar and then click copy address.
    • In the black CMD  window type cd and then paste your address into the window and press enter.
  3. Create a text file of your directory listing only file names:
    • key: dir /b>textfile.txt press enter
  4. Your file should be created in the same directory/window
Windows will not allow you to save a file in your drive's root directory ie: directly to your "c" drive so you'll have to create a folder and direct the textfile to be saved into the newly created folder.

There are many options that you can pull from the "dir" command. View all the options available by typing dir/? in the black command window.
   

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Remember the troops;
The wounded, the fallen;
Those who served;
Remember the mothers;
The ones who waited;
Who loved, who mourned.

Remember the children;
Fatherless, Motherless;
For a year or two, forever;
May we always guard what
They suffered for;
Hold freedom dear;
Remember them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Don't forget your Favicon

If you're currently getting a web designed or are planning one, don't forget to include a Favicon request in your bid. A favicon is the tiny icon that appears next to the favorites in your favorite list. This icon also appears on your web tabs next to the title of your page on your browser as you cruise the net.

A favicon can further assist your visitors or customers to identify your company and brand. Favicons should be simple; they are very small, only a few pixels at most. But they pack a big punch and they're well worth asking your web designer about.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Paying to Come Out on Top

I was recently told by a company that they were paying (what they considered to be) a bargain rate of around $10 per day to stay on top of a major search engine. The CEO of the company was quite pleased when the employee that had suggested the expenditure proved that, sure enough, the money was well spent, there they were right on top of the search for those exact keywords.

There are a few points to consider if your company is planning to throw marketing money at a major search engine. First, there is more than one search provider and each handles searches a little bit differently. You can position your company on one search provider and it won't make a bit of a difference on the others. Often customers don't realize they are using Google over Bing over Yahoo and don't care.

Secondly, your company can hit the top without the extra outlay and search optimization should be part of the cost of the web design and deployment and strategy.

Or you can continue to pay a princely sum to the search engines... 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ready for your own Logo?

If you've always dreamed of having your own logo for your business you may want to check with your web designer.

Logo's and web design go hand in hand; often the same tools go into the design for each.

A design can be specially made to encompass web and print colors so that no matter what you plan to do with your logo, whether letterhead or email, tiny Android Ap or billboard, the logo will shine in any media.  

Your unique and personal logo will make your business stand out in the crowd and help your customers remember your unique brand of business.   

Monday, May 16, 2011

New Web Regs up for a Second Round

Protect IP Act is up for a second round in congress and is worth watching. The bill is designed to protect copyrighted work and has the support of the music and movie industries and other people who offer their copyrighted work on the web.

But, as is always the case when the government steps in, there are issues that could complicate matters for those having legitimate sites on the web. The bill is worth watching as it goes through the congress and can be found here at the Open Congress Website.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More on Pictures

When taking product pictures be sure to get in close and show all the great details as well as all the patina on vintage articles if you want to make an online sale:


And add some interest with an odd angle and some different colored background:


 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Product pictures

Taking pictures of your products to post to the web can be challenging. Here are the top issues that need to be considered.

  • The pictures need to show true color: No editing here. Pictures need to be taken in daylight if possible. If the product can't be moved to good light then invest in some good lights that represent daylight.
  • The photos need to be clear. Don't skimp on this. Make sure that even if the customer zooms in the picture remains clear.
  • The photo should be close enough to give your customer a good view of your product. And, ideally, all angles should be covered. Customers like to know what they're buying. Even if you are selling antiques with patina be sure to show the patina.   
  • The background should be uncluttered and not distracting. And make sure the product doesn't blend into the background.
  • Products should sparkle. Take a closer look at pictures on the web that catch your eye before all others. Sometimes the pictures are taken at odd angles or with other artistic license. Experiment for some eye catching results.
With fantastic pictures, you'll be selling products in no time.
  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Finish up your Site

Don't forget to finish up your site. While getting your products listed and shopping carts working may be your priority other items are important to your online customers who may not know you quite as well as those customers that have visited your physical location. Don't forget the following:

  • Privacy Policy --Customers want to know that you are going to protect their information and not sell it to the highest bidder.
  • About us ---Here's the place to introduce yourself, your staff, and brag about all that experience you have. Don't skimp.
  • Contact Us--Provide an actual person with an email address at your dot com, not a generic hotmail or gmail account. 
  • Return policy --Best to make this as specific as possible. Keep in mind that your online audience has to trust that your pictures and item descriptions are correct when you develop your policy. Also online customers can broadcast positive as well as negative experiences to a wide range very quickly. Often customer feedback that occurs online is difficult to take back once posted. You need to keep these folks happy and satisfied.

 Be sure to finish up your site so that customers feel comfortable and protected in making online purchases from your business.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

When it's time to turn to a professional

The proliferation of templates for building websites makes it easy for the small business person to build a website. Templates are great for getting your business up on the web. Some also allow you to set up virtual shopping carts to sell products, in addition to forms that provide your customers with a way to contact you.

Templates can be a great, cheap way for a business to start out on the web. But websites are time consuming. And templates are not designed to go beyond the typical cookie cutter framework.

I often hear the same story when I'm out consulting. A business owner is enticed by a template and starts building a website. More often than not, the site that is planned is a larger one than would be recommended for a beginning webmaster. The business owner runs into time constraints. The template either does not meet with needs, can't be adjusted, or stops working all together so the business owner hires a student to take over the site. The student has a bit of coding knowledge but no practical business experience or expertise on the particular template. As the owner gets more impatient with the project, the student takes off to bigger and better things and the site is left undone, in limbo, halfway on the net, costing money but making a poor representation of the business online. Half done sites can pose a business risk.

A tech savvy business owner can develop a professional looking site. It takes time and patience. A small site that offers customers a contact form but doesn't offer online sales can take a minimum of 40 hours to design, code, and test properly.  It may mean calling in a professional for help with placement, advice, and photo optimization. Search engines need to be notified and site maps need to be made.

In the end it may be better and more cost effective to call a professional to set the foundations properly and get the site you dream about.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Landing Page

Your home page is where most of the visitors to your site will enter your online store. Think of it as your front door comparable to the front door of your physical location.

When a customer lands on that home page a few things should immediately happen:

  • It should be immediately apparent what your business does.
  • The customer should be welcomed.
  • There should be enticements to enter other areas of your site.
  • Your brand should be immediately identifiable and consistent throughout the rest of your site.
  • Navigation to other pages should be clear and in good working order.
Thinking of your landing page as your front door helps to determine what information should be included and what should be left off. A sampling of photographs of your products, your logo, a catchy slogan and clear and concise enticements to come in and explore what you have to offer and who you are will have visitors exclaiming with delight over what you have to offer.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Benefits of PayPal

As a marketer of products online, I've used PayPal, exclusively for a couple of years. For around the cost of dealing with the credit card vendors directly, a business can receive these multiple advantages:

  • Secure and safe transactions that protect your business and your customer. You're not storing credit card information on your own server. The customer's information is stored by an expert in the field.

  • PayPal reports; there is a whole catalog of reports that can be downloaded and utilized for your quarterly and annual needs. The reports should be downloaded quarterly so that they will be available for tax season or future uses. Your information currently stays on the PayPal servers for 3 months.
So if you haven't already, check out the safety and convenience of PayPal. Your customers will thank you with purchases.
    

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Make it Yours--Make it Original

One mistake that new bloggers often make is borrowing art work, photo's, and other details from other sites. Even if you overlook or get past any copyright details, using something that is readily available on the internet is not a good way to set up your individual brand.

Branding should be unique to your business and your site. If your site is as successful as I hope it will be, people will identify you and  your business with that branding. Once your identity is well established, it can be difficult to change; think of that blue Walmart sign or that K in Kmart.

Once you become well known you would hate to be required to change your branding, the way that customers view you, because of copyright infringements or because a competitor also begins to use the same free domain graphics.

In the end you will do much better developing  your own unique identity that makes you and your business or blog stand out in the crowd.      

Monday, April 18, 2011

Keep it Simple

Back when  the web was first being born, when there was little interactivity, blogs, and few business websites, I found a site that could be termed as a precursor to the blog. It was a simple site and yet it has enticed me to visit it just about every day for over 10 years.

Wouldn't it be nice to have loyal visitors like that?

The secret to attracting this kind of loyalty is no mystery. The site is simple. It makes a promise. Each day it delivers new, informative content. It keeps the promise it makes.

Sure there are short, very occasional periods of time when the site goes down for maintenance, but the owners always warn in advance and keep it minimal.

The site has not updated its design since inception; what you see today is generally the same basic format that was there early on. It works. Nothing fancy. No heavy graphics. No overload of flash.

Just a promise; on a simple design; updated daily; great content; promise kept. Lesson learned.

Visit the site and become a fan yourself....click here.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Web Regs Up for debate

In case you've missed it, there is a bill up for discussion in the senate regarding Internet privacy. This bill may change the way you collect information from the visitors on your website. You may already be complying with some provisions, like sharing why you collect information and how you use that information,

Limits on how long that information can stay in your database may create opportunities to update your current procedures. You'll need to update your email collection with collection/expiration dates to comply.  

If you're currently updating your site, it's never too early to examine how you can comply with the procedures, should they be adopted.  You can view the current language of the bill by clicking here and join in the discussion by emailing your senator and the sponsors of the bill.  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Google a Calendar

Did you know you can add a great calendar to your web site or blog?  If you already have a Google Account you have the option of opening a calendar. This calendar can either be private or public. There are many options; pick a color and how you would like the calendar to be viewed. Then hit the button and copy the code to your website or open a new page on your blog and add there.

You can let customers know about special events, training opportunities, career opportunities, or even that special sale that is coming up. And best of all you've added a special dimension to your site making it more interactive and giving us all a reason to return.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Product Review: HP Printer Photosmart Premium C309

The HP Photosmart Premium C309 printer prints some great photos. Its print is clear and concise. It does a good job at double sided brochures and fliers.

But it isn't the workhorse that past HP printers are known for. This printer is temperamental. My initial C309 was returned to HP; it printed one or two photos absolutely stunningly and then printed everything covered in a blue wash. And it didn't keep the network connection.

HP stood behind their product; shipped a new printer and provided additional instructions via email on how to ship the defective one back to HP. They followed up in regard to how the new one was operating. For a while it did well; printed pictures and text, two sided brochures.

The wireless is a different issue. It continually drops the network connection and only restarting the printer, sometimes several times, will fix the issue.

Another issue with the printer, (it is not exactly plug and play), is that Vista has a difficulty loading the driver software and, as little as 6 months ago, the CD that shipped with the printer didn't include the Windows 7 driver; requiring a download from the website.

The printer also uses 5 ink cartridges that seemingly are always out of ink. A cartridge costs roughly $10.00 to replace and together all five are expensive.

This is a fine printer if you would like to use it wired and can afford the ink. But if you plan to go wireless, my recommendation is that you find another printer.        

Monday, April 4, 2011

Merging Web and Print Material

If you are looking for content for your website, take a look at your current marketing material. By optimizing colors and photo's for the web you can transform those dazzling brochures into web pages that inform and sizzle.

On the other hand, if you've paid for a brand new website that sparkles and pops, you'll want to take another look at your marketing material to make sure it matches up to that new website. Many web consultants will be more than happy to furnish material in print friendly colors and sizes. Your web consultant may have already anticipated your need and may have a version in print ready styles waiting for your approval.

Whether it's business cards, brochures, your physical store, or your web presence; all should consistantly reflect your own personal brand.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Minor Irritations

Here are the top five ways to irritate your customers online:


1) Opening links in new windows:  Often a gut reaction for businesses new to the web is to open all links into new windows.  The rule of thumb is, if you are providing an internal link, linking to another page on your website, the link should open in the same window. If you're linking to another, outside site a new window can be used.

2) Music that plays automatically: Nothing is more nerve racking than researching information and landing on a site where music is blared at you. Worse is when no option is made available to turn the music off. If you offer sound, give the customer the option to turn the sound on and off.

3) Not properly testing your site in popular browsers. There are people that love Apple and have something against Microsoft. There are people who do all their work in FireFox. No matter what browser or platform you like the best when it comes to your website keep your customer's preferences in mind. You may love that new iPad but most of your customers are likely still using Microsoft.

4) Poor Navigation: Test your links. Make sure that customers can move back and forth through your site easily, and that once they find a piece of information they don't lose it again within your site.

5) Animations that interfere with information: Butterflies and growing flower animations are lovely but when they interfere with the reason your customer is really at your site the animations can become too much.

Minor irritations can cause a customer to forego your site for a competitor's site ruining your chances to stay in front of the competition. When it comes to the web, just like  the physical world, keep it simple.

 

Monday, March 28, 2011

How Can I Help You?

Take a glance through your website and ask five questions.
  1. Does it welcome your customer?
  2. Will your customer know immediately what your business does?
  3. Does it intrique and hold interest?
  4. Is it easy to navigate?
  5. Does it ask "How can I help you" and provide a customer a way to respond. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Key Words

A good analytics software will provide you with the key words that helped potential customers find your website. It will also provide you with a hearty chuckle every now and then.

A recent customer of a handcrafted site found the site with the search words "mmmm pie." The online store couldn't help with that one but someone else was looking for diaper covers for little boys and there were a lot of people looking for St. Patrick's Day napkins. These were things the store's owner might be able to provide to potential customers.

Keep an eye on those keywords. You maybe able to provide potential customers a route to your online store.

Another way to look at keywords is to look at what people are talking about and the top key words that the major search engines indicate. Can your business be of service, even get in the discussion or provide information? Don't miss an opportunity--keep an eye on those key words.   

Monday, March 21, 2011

Attention Grabbers

Over the weekend I was on the Internet searching for information. In fifteen minutes or so I had the information I was looking for and I had bookmarked a couple of sites for later reference.

There were sites I quickly backed out of and there were sites that had nothing to do with the information I was looking for but that kept my attention enough to stay and bookmark.

Is your site the later? Each page of your site should grab a visitor's attention and make them want to stay. You never know what page that visitor may land on.

Offering valuable information that is related to your site is a great idea that creates bookmarks for later return. Whether you're a sewing store offering thread palettes, a garden center offering advise on taking care of the shade, or a gourmet kitchen center offering recipes, tantalize your visitor with a return possibility.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Customer Visit Expectations

What do customers expect when they visit your website? What do they expect when they visit your actual location?

Meeting your customer's expectations online can be a tricky thing. Your customers may have entirely different needs and expectations than you are providing.

Using a good analytics program, research how your current website is being used. Where are clicks being made? Where are customers exiting? Where do they enter?

A short survey on your site can also provide valuable information. Did the customer find what they were looking for? Was the site easy to use and informative? How likely are they to use your services or product in the future based on information they have obtained?

Understanding why your customer locates you on line, what they find when they locate you, and where and what they do from there are the first steps to making that sale and keeping that relationship going into the future.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Using Color Adjust in Corel Paintshop Pro

For this morning's example I took a picture that I wasn't quite satisfied with and added dimension and interest by using the Color Adjust tool:

Before


After tweaking with Color Adjust 
Much better--wouldn't you agree?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Design with devices in mind

Whether you're blogging or  creating a website keep in mind all the different ways that your customers can view what you have to offer.

Pictures, text, fonts, and formating should look good in as many different media as possible; whether on iPads, laptops, or phones.

Different browsers render different versions of your page. Fonts are not always available on your customer's devices.

Blog readers like Google's reader also render pages differently, so after posting it is a good idea to check out what the post looks like in a reader.     

Monday, March 7, 2011

Top 5 Photo Edits to make your photos pop

Taking good photographs and making them better can be a simple process of running the photos through your editor and performing these five tasks:

  1. Crop--Make sure the focus of the photograph is where you want it to be. Photos for the web need to draw the attention in and look good at different resolutions and sizes.
  2. Depth of field--wipe out any of the background that you don't want or need.
  3. Clarify--bring out the detail in your picture.
  4. Correct the hue--digital pictures taken under marginal light conditions can lose some of their color. Pop the color back up to match reality.
  5. Resize and optimize--help your pages load quicker, making it easier on your audience to view and web crawlers to find, by optimizing your photos for the web.   

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Black and White



Taking a digital picture and turning it into a completely different masterpiece is so easy to do with a photo editor like Corel's Paintshop Pro. The picture above started out being a color photo full of yellows and greens. 

There are a wide variety of effects built into Paintshop Pro. This one is the standard black and white; I moved the contrast up a bit to make the individual foreground flowers pop out. 

Consider using a bit of black and white for a touch of something spectacular on your site. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Depth of Field

With the help of a digital photo editor photographs that were taken with busy or bad backgrounds can be adjusted. There are a couple of ways to remove a background in Corel Paintshop Pro; today we'll talk about depth of field.

Bringing the focus to the photo's main subject and making the background disappear can easily be done by clicking on the adjust menu and then depth of field...

The depth of field adjustment is as simple as lassoing your subject with either the circle, square, or freehand tool and allowing the program to do the rest:


  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Photo Optimization

Have you noticed that your blog doesn't quite load as fast as it should? People don't stick around while hefty sized pictures load. Search engines may ignore you if your site takes too long; fortunately, with a little optimization, your photos will load in a flash with little or no reduction in quality.

In Corel Paintshop Pro simply head over to the File menu and click on Export. Point to the JPEG optimizer and drag it out onto your tool bar. Choose your photo, click on the optimizer button and let the wizard handle the details.

An example of a time the optimizer is a handy tool is when you want to use your own picture for the background of your blog. Blogger allows a picture of no more than 299K to be used. You can order the Corel Paintshop Pro program to optimize your photo for no more than 299K and be on your way in no time to a custom blog that matches no one else.  

Monday, February 21, 2011

Windows 7 and Windows Installer

As a follow up to last week's post on the Windows Installer 5 and Windows 7 problem; I have come across a solution for the more tech savy in one of the forums that I would like to pass along.

The solution involves going into the registry, not something that the every day user should take on, and if you don't feel comfortable performing the procedure yourself, consult your IT expert.

The procedure involves copying the correct registry key from a healthy machine to the sick one. If your machine is still healthy (i.e. still able to load and delete programs via the Windows Installer) you can back up the key to a file in case your key gets corrupted.

The directions for the fix can be found here.

Before doing any work on the registry remember to back the whole thing up. Your IT expert will be glad to assist.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Windows 7 and Windows Installer

Windows 7 is everything the advertising says it is; innovative, intuitive, and user friendly. It puts the user in the driver's seat making it easy to use the computer as a tool.

But a couple of weeks ago my Windows 7 lost the ability to install any program that did not come with its own installer program; which was just about everything. I spent hours researching the condition and so I am passing this research on to help others who will surely have the same problem.

The condition's main symptom is that instead of installing a program it crashes with an error message "Windows Installer Service could not be accessed."  Programs do not load.

If your Windows 7 shipped with an actual operating system disc, you are in luck. The repair program on that disc should fix your program.

If you bought your machine from one of the box retailers (like Best Buy), your computer probably came with a recovery partition and therefore, did not come with the special repair program. You are out of luck. You can try the options on the Microsoft tech site listed here. But, as the last option states, you'll probably end up wiping your harddrive; reloading Windows 7 and all your data, files, and preferences.

The issue is with the Windows Installer Program Version 5. Although Windows Installer is available for download over the internet in other versions it has not been made available yet in version 5, even though computers have shipped with version 5 since 2009. I only know this because that is how long this problem has existed.

If you already own a Windows 7 machine try to obtain a complete version of the operating system by asking the manufacturer for an actual disc. If you are told about the partition tell the manufacturer that files to fix a Windows Installer problem are not on the partition; only the actual operating system disc will do. Do this before you have a problem.

If you are considering a Windows 7 machine, make sure the computer comes with the actually operating system discs. If the box store won't provide the discs consider a local computer store that builds computers to specifications. These type of businesses generally provide better service if you experience problems (at least your machine and all your confidential data won't be sent to someone and some place you don't know.)                

Monday, February 14, 2011

More Photo Fixes

One photo fix that makes a big difference, yet is often overlooked is brightness and contrast. Most often helpful for rescueing a photo that may seem hopelessly just out of focus Adjusting Contrast can also bring a great photo up a level:


Before Brightness/Contrast Adjustment

After Brightness/Contrast
   Adjusting the Brightness/Contrast often removes some color from the picture, so after adjusting the contrast, take a look at the Hue setting. In Corel Paintshop Pro the adjustment can be made by accessing the Adjustment/Brightness and Contrast and Adjustment/Hue and Saturation menus.