Can Simplicity Win?

30 09 2011

Today Google is known for many things, including its innovations and search engine domination. But with the passage of time, it is easy to forget an important lesson Google provided that we can all learn from and apply to our own businesses.

Not long ago, Yahoo! and AOL dominated the Internet like Google does now. It was common to use the homepages of these past giants to see calendars, news, sports scores, weather, stock quotes, personals, email, auctions, games, classifieds, travel information, and more. The thinking was that more is better, and so they kept adding more. Shopping, horoscopes, real estate…the list goes on.

Then came Google. In complete contrast, the Google homepage contained just a simple logo and search box. Underneath the search box, there were two simple options: “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky.”

At a time when we are being bombarded with marketing messages and our email boxes are packed with spam, it’s no wonder many complain of information overload. Maybe to stand apart and catch attention it’s time to do the opposite of everyone else. Sometimes less is better. Sometimes simple wins.

It seems to be working quite well for Google.

Boost Sales with FAQs

27 09 2011

Many people enjoy shopping online for one main reason: convenience. A frequently asked questions (FAQ) section on your website will save your customers time by providing them with quick answers and relevant advice. At the same time, it will also save you time by eliminating repetitive questions. A well-produced FAQ will reinforce buying decisions and shorten the time it takes to order from your business. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your FAQ section:

  • Answer each FAQ with well-written content that will also help rank in search engines for keywords relevant to your industry. Doing this can help turn your site into a resource for customers and other prospects.
  • Allow answers to expand and minimize with a single click, so the questions remain easily scannable and readers don’t have to wait for a new page to load each time. Do not create the FAQ as a separate file (such as a PDF) that customers need to download to read.
  • Update FAQs frequently to ensure answers are still relevant.
  • Organize questions so they are easy to find, such as by category, with the most popular questions first.
  • Use brief, informative answers. If detailed answers are required, provide a link to more information. Have the link open in a new window, so the visitor doesn’t have to leave the current page.
  • Focus on providing helpful information. Avoid flashy designs that distract from your content.
  • Include various contact methods should the reader want more answers. In addition to general contact information (phone, fax, email, mailing address, etc.), provide a question form that’s easily accessible from your FAQ page.

What does a $300 million cable have to do with your bottom line?

20 09 2011

We’ve all heard the adage that time is money. Well, in the financial markets of New York and London, they measure that time in milliseconds and the money in hundreds of millions of dollars.

More precisely, a new transatlantic cable, currently in development, will save traders about 6 milliseconds per transmission. The project’s cost: $300 million. Once finished, the company behind the cable plans to charge as much as 50 times more to use the service than existing alternatives, and financial companies are already chomping at the bit to pay.

Why? According to one estimate, a savings of just one millisecond would add $100 million to a large hedge fund’s annual bottom line.

So where can your company shave time?

  • Start small. Sure, you’re not likely to see a $100 million savings, but even little time-savers — a few minutes here, a couple seconds there — add up and can help you work more productively.
  • Streamline processes. Engineers working on the new transatlantic cable project studied commercial flight paths between New York and London in planning their route. As a result, the new cable will be about 310 miles shorter than existing lines. What best practices can you follow to achieve similar savings at your company?
  • Plan for the future. This is the first new transatlantic line installed in the last 10 years, and planners have spared no expense to make sure it lives up to its promise. If it fails — or someone builds a faster conduit — all they’ll have is a very expensive piece of cord lying at the bottom of the ocean. So how can you plan ahead to keep momentum going? Start by investing in technology, building up infrastructure, and creating a mindset of efficiency and effort at your company.

Why You Must Diversify Your Marketing

16 09 2011

If you ever listen to financial experts, you will inevitably come across an often repeated phrase: “Diversify your financial portfolio.” Why do financial planners preach this ad nauseam?

History has taught them that, if you put all of your eggs in one basket, you increase your risk of losing your portfolio. The greater the concentration in one type of investment (just stocks, or just bonds, or just parking cash in a low-interest money market account), the greater the risk that you will lose in the long run. So diversification in this instance is really just risk management.

Advertising and marketing have been around a long time now. Traditional options range from mass marketing like radio, TV, billboard, and newspaper ads to personalized print and direct mail advertising. Websites, email marketing, social media, and mobile ads are the new kids on the block. Experts in each of these specialties claim their medium is the best investment. Whether a fresh-out-of-school social media guru or an old-school yellow page ad rep, each has a valid point to consider that paints their tool in the best light.

So what should you do? Which medium really is the best to use for your business? Only you can answer that, but the smart money may be to take a page out of the financial experts’ wisdom and apply it to marketing your company: diversification. You don’t need to use every advertising medium known to man, but you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in one basket either.

The prospects, leads, and customers you are looking for use different media for different reasons. When you only use one, you are only reaching a small portion of your audience. So manage risk in your marketing campaigns by diversifying your marketing portfolio. When you accomplish this, your financial portfolio will be much happier, too!

Become More Approachable

13 09 2011

Many people think that simply attending social or networking events is enough to get their name out there. However, being approachable and remembered are far more important than simply showing up. Here a suggestion on how to become more approachable:

  • Always wear a nametag at company events. Seeing your name will make people feel more comfortable (especially if they’ve forgotten it), and your company name can easily be a conversation starter.
  • Extend a friendly handshake, and introduce yourself to someone new.
  • Walk slower, smile, and look around. Make eye contact with people. This makes it easier for people to get your attention. If you are hanging out in one area, put your cell phone, computer, and other distractions away, so you don’t appear too busy to visit with others.
  • Bring business cards with you everywhere. Don’t avoid people if you don’t have time to talk very long — simply say you’re sorry to be rushed. Then give the person you’re talking to your business card, and ask them to contact you to continue your conversation another time.
  • Prepare a brief, creative answer for the question, “What do you do?” An intriguing response can easily fuel a conversation.
  • Be friendly to everyone, regardless of their job status or title.
  • Avoid crossing your arms. You will appear distant and unapproachable otherwise.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This shows you are listening.
  • Share experiences, whether successes or failures. People remember stories they can relate to more than hard facts.

Importance of Customer Testimonials

9 09 2011

Customer testimonials are a great way to reinforce the quality of your products and services. They can also influence the decision-making process of new prospects. When it comes to trying a new product or service, opinions from actual people who have experienced your products or services firsthand are the most trusted form of advertising and promotion. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of using testimonials:

  • Start asking! Many businesses feel embarrassed or don’t have time to ask for testimonials, but the rewards of positive reinforcement by far outweigh the time you spent asking for them.
  • Suggest specific topics for customers to write about. For example, why did they choose you over the competition? Have them list a few of your strengths. Or get them to talk about what part of your product or service they liked best, how you were the best value or saved them money, how helpful your customer service and communication skills are, or something similar.
  • In addition to offering details, ask for one concise statement that sums up their experience with your business. Then use that statement as a stand-alone quote.
  • Use specific names and locations in testimonials to add credibility. For example, if your business markets to other businesses, be sure to use their name, title, business name, and location. Consider adding their company logo or a link to their website.
  • Get people talking. In addition to static testimonials, encourage customers to post reviews or talk about your company via social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and product review portions of your website.
  • Utilize your testimonials in relevant areas of your website, on brochures, in direct mail pieces, and throughout your marketing.
  • Focus on quality, not quantity. Descriptive, quality testimonials will garner much more trust than generic, one-line quotes. And remember, gathering testimonials is an ongoing process, so don’t rush your customers to respond either, or your responses may suffer as well.

Measure twice

6 09 2011

There’s an old adage among carpenters: “Measure twice, cut once.” A moment spent verifying a measurement can save the time and frustration of having to re-cut, sand, or replace a board if the size is off by even the smallest amount. Taking shortcuts can literally lead to “short cuts,” which require more time, resources, and expense to fix and make right.

The same idea holds true for pouring a slab of concrete, laying tile, hanging a door, installing cabinetry… and running a business. Sometimes, in the rush to get things done, we all forget to “measure twice” before pushing forward on a project or policy. We think we’re working smarter, when in reality our shortcuts are short-circuiting our efforts and making us spend even more time, energy, and money fixing mistakes we would never have made if we had just taken the time to do it right from the start.

Of course, measuring twice doesn’t mean delaying decisions indefinitely or dragging our heels for fear of making a mistake. That could prove even more harmful than moving too fast. What it does mean is taking a step back, verifying our course, and then moving forward more confidently than before.

So the next time you’re tempted to cut corners, just to get things done, stop for a minute, assess the situation, and make sure those corners aren’t important to the structural integrity of your project before you pull out that blade.

Need a spark? Give these four websites a try.

2 09 2011

Looking for some inspiration to help carry you through your day? Here are a few websites worth visiting to reignite your creative spark.
Humbly calling itself the “creative center of the universe,” provides tools, ideas, and links to articles and web resources meant to stimulate creative thought. While you’re there, be sure to check out the Creativity Toolbox, filled with all kinds of interesting (and sometimes unusual) features, including a “create your own quote” generator, name prompts (to help with naming products or services), a random word generator, right brain workouts, and more.
Kickstarter bills itself as the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. Stop in and spend a few minutes exploring projects by artists, photographers, filmmakers, writers, musicians, performers, and other creative souls, whose talent and vision are limited only by a lack of capital. Even if you aren’t looking to invest in a project or to list your own project for funding, you’ll walk away feeling inspired, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle your day.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the Internet had a button you could press that would instantly take you to a website you’ve never visited before, but one that fits your interests to a tee and piques your curiosity? That’s the idea behind StumbleUpon. After registering with the site and providing a list of topics that interest you, the StumbleUpon engine will begin delivering content that matches those interests every time you click the Stumble button. Like a page? Click the thumbs-up button. Not so much? Click thumbs-down. Each click will help to train the system to better match your tastes. Many of the sites featured are hidden gems you might never have otherwise found on your own. You can even “follow” people with similar interests, as well as your Facebook friends, to further personalize and enhance your experience.

War Letters
Ok, this one’s a little different than the others on this list, but it’s no less inspiring. PBS created a documentary (viewable online) of letters written to loved ones from the front lines of various U.S. wars. The website features information about the production, special features, and links to other sites dedicated to preserving these important pieces of our national record. Watch the documentary itself (52 minutes long), read the letters, and grab some inspiration, enlightenment, and encouragement along the way.