Monday, April 28, 2008

Do You Need a Small Business Blog?

Today's question was inspired by a meeting I attended this morning at the Monterey Bay Consultants Group, sponsored by IMC (The Institute of Management Consultants). I was on a panel with two other bloggers and the topic was “Blogging – what is the big idea?”.

I was very hesitant to accept the invitation to speak, I originally wanted Michelle to go as she's the better speaker and writer in this duo. Plus, I have to confess - I'm not fond of speaking in public. Originally we were going to be the only company presenting, but due to my hesitance, John Zott (the meeting presenter) found two other bloggers and made it a panel event. Once I found out I wouldn't be on the spot, I signed up.

The other two bloggers were Emily Thomas from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and Carol L. Skolnick, from Clear Life Solutions. It was great to hear their perspectives on blogging and how it helps their businesses.

I met all types of consultants and I enjoyed myself. I have to admit, I ended up speaking more than I expected because of the subject. I'm passionate about blogging and how it has helped my business grow. answer the question, "Do You Need a Small Business Blog?", my answer to you is YES. Yes you do! Here's a few reasons why I think you need one (based on the meeting from this morning):

1. Blogging gets you in touch with your customers. While your website is your online brochure to get your company message out, your blog personalizes your business and humanizes you to your potential clients.

2. Blogging is free. It doesn't cost you any money and can be a welcome addition to any of your current marketing campaigns. Emily uses her blog to showcase the events her company attends.

3. Blogging is instantaneous. You can post something and it's live on the Internet right away. You don't have to wait for search engine crawlers to find your content. Your blog is alive. People can comment on it too.

4. Blogging brings in business. Several of our customers found us through blog postings. It's a wonderful tool for getting your message out there.

5. Blogging creates new connections. Whether you are making connections on Digg, Facebook, Sphinn, Blog Catalog or Twitter - those connections can bring you potential business. Isn't that what every small business wants? More business?

Although today's meeting was a bit early for me (had to get up at 5:30 to be there on time), I had a wonderful time and met some great people. Funny enough "blogging" was the reason I met them...


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

When Planning Your Small Business Office Space, What Do You REALLY Need to Make it Work?

Photo credit (Mitchell Haaseth / NBC Universal)
If you’re starting a new business, you’ll need a place to work. Whether you have decided to work from home or to lease a space, you’ll need to plan ahead to stay organized with your new business.

The three essential pieces you’ll need to run your new office are:

Let’s face it; you’ll need one in this day and age to effectively manage a business. Do they even sell typewriters anymore? Your computer will be the hub for many of your business dealings. You should set up a computer station that’s ergonomically correct and comfortable for you. You’ll also need:

  • An Internet connection
  • Back up hardware
  • A combination printer/scanner/fax machine
  • Software to manage your finances (I’ve discussed this in other posts, it’s important that you keep track of your business expenses from the beginning.) If you don’t start off keeping accurate records, you may get too busy to enter the information later. You’ll need to account for every dollar come tax time and you don’t want to fall short on your record keeping and get penalized as a result.
Whether you choose to go with a local number or to have an 800 number, it’s essential that your potential clients and vendors can reach you. Nowadays there are online "800 number" services that allow you to maintain a professional appearance without all of the expensive phone equipment of days gone by. No longer do we need “phone rooms” with miles of wiring to keep communications up. You can have your business line forward right to your cell phone when you’re out in the field making connections.

Whether you are working out of your home office, or leasing space; your customers will have more confidence if you have an address. Especially if you have an online business, you should always have a physical address posted. Some small business owners choose to go with a P.O. Box to start off and allow for growth. It can be a smart idea if you expect rapid growth of your small business. You don’t want to spend hundreds on your company printed materials only to have them be obsolete a few months down the road because your business took off and you need a new space.

Obviously you'll need additional items for your business, but these three essentials are key to getting started. When you're just starting out money is tight, make sure that you research every aspect of any item you are considering purchasing so that you don't regret your decision later.

You can do it!


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day at Complete Business Systems

As I'm sure you know, today is Earth Day.

You may be asking yourself "How you can I help save the earth when I'm just a small business owner?".

Every little bit helps, maybe you commuted today or rode your bike, perhaps you used the same paper cup to drink from the water cooler all day. Or maybe you haven't done anything...yet. It's not too late!

Here's what we did today to contribute:

1. We purchased re-usable shopping bags.

2. We changed out the light bulbs in the office to CFL's (Compact Fluorescent Lamps).

3. We used Blackle today instead of Google.

Small beans I know, but if every person just made a few small changes today - we could make a huge difference.

Please leave a comment and let us know what you did today to honor earth day. We love hearing from you!

Tomorrow I plan to post another small business tip regarding setting up your office space and what equipment you will need.

Thank you to all of you who have emailed regarding the last post and poll!


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Should Graphic Designers Provide Mock-ups?

That question is a tough one. Many designers feel adamant about not providing mock-ups because the time and effort spent on conceptualizing and designing is time that they should be paid for. I couldn't agree more.

However, consumers want to make sure that the designer they hire can get the job done for them. Often times designers who claim they understand what the client is looking for and can deliver, fall short. This is a valid point too.

We've had potential clients ask for design mock-ups from us in the past. We've experienced both positive (getting the job) and negative results (loss of income) from doing so. As a result, we decided to make it our policy not to do mock-ups until hired because the risk outweighs the benefit. It's a difficult balance as sometimes we aren't chosen for jobs because we won't provide a free watermarked mock-up. On the other hand, we've had potential clients contact us (because of our affordable pricing) with a watermarked mock-up that another designer had created which they wanted our designers to copy. Keeping that in mind, we decided it wasn't in our best interest to offer them.

I read an article the other day from a consumer who purchased a logo design from a designer and the sole deciding factor was that they were provided with a mock-up before an agreement was made and that made the designer stand apart from the other design firms in the running.

I also read an article from a designer furious at other designers for providing mock-ups. He was angry because he felt that it was destroying the industry of graphic design. His gripe was that designers are working for free without the guarantee of being compensated and that the practice can also result in copyright infringement.

I wrote this post today because I want to hear your opinion.

Small business owners, please weigh in, tell me what you think! Should designers provide you with mock-ups? Do you feel that it is standard practice in business today?

Designers, are you providing mock-ups to your potential clients? Do you think it is increasing your sales? Or hurting your bottom line?

Please post your comments, or if you don't feel comfortable sharing in public, please feel free to take the anonymous poll in the upper right hand corner. Or, if you're one of my regular readers, email me. I'd love to hear what you think!

As always, thanks for reading...


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

7 Things Every Website Should Have

Don’t monkey around with your future. If you’re going to invest in a website - do it right the first time!

What do you really need?

1. A Professional Design
Trust a professional to design your site for you so that you can avoid all of the common mistakes many small businesses make. Just because you can build your site with Yahoo site builder, doesn’t mean you should. Take time researching professionals and go with one that has a proven track record and clients to back up their claims.

2. Meta tags
That’s right, you still need them! Time and time again I speak to clients who have a page rank of 0, yet they have had their website up for years. Every time I click the link to view their site and check the source it’s always the same. No description, no keywords, no title tag. Some argue this point that the search engine crawlers don’t pay attention to this due to over-use. I argue right back that you’re wrong. I’ve seen evidence of it for far too long.

3. Keyword rich content
A delicate balance should be used here. Often times people over stuff their content using the same word over and over. Does it help you in a natural search? No it doesn’t. Sometimes it penalizes you. Study up on keyword density (as it’s also ever changing) and publish your content accordingly.

4. A web CMS (Content Management System)
Unless you have the budget to have a Webmaster on staff, or the budget to continually hire a contractor when you need changes, make sure that you get a CMS solution that will allow you to update your site yourself. It will help with your SEO (search engine optimization) by allowing you to continually provide fresh content to your site.

5. Analytics
It’s vitally important that you have analytics installed and that you actually look at them and use them. It doesn’t matter if you go with a paid option such as ClickTracks, WebTrends or if you use Google. Just make sure that you do include them. Just think if analytics were available in traditional advertising all these years? What a wonderful tool to be able to tell which one of your marketing campaigns is working. What page on your site is driving people away? What website referrals retain visitors longer. Knowing who your customers are is imperative, and having the ability to make tweaks and measure improvement is a fantastic tool that we all should be using!

6. Good Hosting
If you don’t have a reliable host, how will people view your site? If the server is consistently down or your email isn’t working – you could put your business and your reputation in jeopardy.

7. Basic SEO
You don’t have to pay a bundle to see search engine optimization results. Don’t trust any company that guarantees you #1 placement. No one can claim that and even if they could get you there for a minute, they’d have to continually work on your site full time in order to keep it there. Also, don’t fall into the trap that you have to plunk down a bunch of cash on a PPC (pay per click) campaign in order to be seen on the Internet. It takes time and effort to show up in a natural search result, but if you invest the time – the benefits are well worth it.

Most of all make sure that you properly research the designer you decide to go with. Make sure you Google their name and their company domain name. Contact their previous clients and make sure that you feel comfortable talking and that they will be there for you in the future if you need help.