What the Cloud Means for Small Business

92% of users feel email is important or critical in helping them get their work done and 75% of all communication is sent by email.

In an already jargon laden industry, it strikes me as comical to brand the next big revolution in computing as “Cloud” computing.

I speculate it came from our friends in the marketing department, after all, what better way to describe a hyper complex, highly specialized, and esoteric new system of computing? Ironically, the “Cloud” does accomplish its goal of packaging all those moving parts into one tag line, however, it is also a great adjective for many consumers’ comprehension of the technology. Minus the buzzwords and the amalgam of confusion, lets just say, for small businesses everywhere - Cloud computing is a game changer. Here’s why...

If you have taken the red pill, you have found your way to the truth about cloud computing and will begin your journey with me with a quick description of the technology behind the “Cloud”.

What is the Cloud, really?

Let’s start with the very familiar and probably most widely consumer adopted use of cloud computing, Software as a Service (SaaS). You will find the majority of the paid or free services on the web rooted in Cloud-based technology. Of course, I am speaking of services like Gmail, Google Docs, DropBox, and Salesforce. All of these services provide a front-end application to their base without the need for their customers to purchase any specialized equipment or software. The backbone allowing this to happen is considered cloud technology. In many instances the backbone of SaaS is made up of a cluster of highly expensive enterprise level Web and Database servers, all of which are painstaking interconnected and redundant for the ultimate satisfaction of achieving 100% up-time. It is estimated that another well-known cloud (SaaS) company called Twitter could be exposed to as much as $25 million dollars in losses per minute of downtime. This is based on revenue from ads on their 500 plus million users.

The beauty that allows SaaS to achieve the uptime and scalability necessary to service millions of users is grounded in virtualization. IT professionals have the ability to run multiple single-purpose servers, virtually on one physical hardware box. The initial appeal of this technology was first realized as a way for larger organizations to vastly reduce their datacenter footprint by way of consolidation via server virtualization. In 2007 and 2008 this also meant companies could take advantage of green energy tax credits, as they were able to reduce their carbon footprints by as much as 50%. Later, as the technology advanced, new methods of high-availability came into play and suddenly, IT professionals could keep a service like Gmail running without the worry of hardware failure crippling the system. So, as you can see, Cloud technology’s initial appeal for many established companies came in the form of cost savings through consolidation and server availability. New and innovative companies realized the potential and started building systems designed around hosted consumer based applications, giving rise to services like Salesforce and Google Docs.

I believe SaaS will be evolving rapidly in the next few years, and we are already enjoying the benefits in our every day lives of which many are hidden. The next major iterations will most likely be in full cloud based operating systems. Truly the “sky” is the limit.

Moving on to the next most used cloud based service among businesses is infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Instead of using the developed application-only infrastructure as a service allows its customers to take advantage of a completely hosted server infrastructure model. For example, if you are a bio tech startup and require specialized computing to sequence a genome, which requires a large amount of computing power, you would lean on IaaS to build the infrastructure necessary, easily and affordably without the need to purchase and maintain a large server farm. Once your biotech company is finished with sequencing, you would simply decommission the infrastructure and no longer pay for the service. This type of system is a true pay-per-use model in which you dial up or down computing resources as necessary. The IaaS model has found its place with companies subject to seasonal business fluctuations and more importantly business that are starting and need their capital to fund their mission and not their infrastructure. As prices decrease with time, the availability and applicability for businesses to adopt this type of cloud based technology as a permanent solution makes much more sense both financially and technologically.

I have provided two of the most widely used cloud based consumer uses, I have explained what it means to be in the cloud, and I have provided consumer based applications examples for each use. When I reach out to small business owners, I make sure I find a cloud based solution that fits within at least one segment of their operations. It is not good enough just to "fit" a technology in a business operation though, the service or product must meet some basic criteria before we adopt. Most significantly we require the technology either save money, provide process efficiencies, enhance conveniences, increase reliability, etc, etc,... and wouldn't it be nice if it could do all of those things!

Do you need the Cloud?

At the heart of this document the fundamental question begs to be asked. How can cloud computing benefit your organization? Let me preface by saying most applications of cloud computing for business use are still in early adoption phase. This means companies are still testing the waters and exploring benefits. I see the technology industry moving in the direction of increased cloud computing, because as I mentioned previously, the benefits to large organizations and startups greatly outweigh the costs of the traditional model. Emergence in the cloud can be as simple as a few key applications at first or you can decide to move your entire network. It is my opinion that eventually your decision will be made for you, as more software vendors are taking advantage of reoccurring revenue and hosting their software to offer as a service instead of a product. Purchasing software will eventually become reserved for large organizations that require the control of ownership.

Why are some SMB organizations moving to a cloud model? What benefits are they seeing that inspire them to change?

Most small business owners I have spoken with, regard IT as a necessary evil. Obviously, I am not one who would agree; IT has paved the way for young organizations to compete with larger better-funded corporations. Now, I think what they mean to say is they don’t want the headache of managing an IT department, nor do they love the worry of having their system vulnerable to downtime. So I believe most business owners view IT as a variable on their balance sheet and a point of fragility for their operations. Take email for instance, 92% of users feel their email is important or critical in helping them get their work done and 75% of all communication sent by a typical user is from email. We are all aware when a critical function like email is down it affects our entire business and possibly our bottom line.

So is it any wonder small business owners consider IT an evil? I submit it is their fear of the unknown, their dependence on their systems, and their reliability on one person or an outsourced vendor to make it all work, that causes their anxiety. It is this reality that makes the cloud such an attractive option for most owners. The cloud can help you scale your business by paying for what you use at the time you use it, provide tremendous accessibility options for remote or mobile users, and allows for a company to grow without the need for large capital expenditures. However, as I have just detailed, quite possibly the most important benefit for small business owners is the knowledge their company has a reliable technology backbone, their data is safe, they do not have to worry about upgrades and updates, and their key programs and files are accessible when they need them.

SMB businesses I see moving into cloud computing range from start-ups with little cash to well-established businesses with antiquated software and a host of manual processes. Both are looking to the cloud, but for different reasons. The startup needs to save cash and prove their business plan, while the mainstay SMB Company has a need to upgrade software and processes providing agility for growth. In both cases IaaS, SaaS, or a combination of both can be used to achieve their individual goals. While they have different reasons for adopting cloud technology, the fact remains, they both chose the cloud because of the inherit scalability, reliability, and accessibility it offers. Advancements in cloud technology only solidify its presence in the industry and increase its viability as a market solution. You may be asking yourself, “What’s the catch? Why isn’t everyone running to this technology?”

Keep checking back, as I address this and many other concerns cloud users and IT professionals have about the technology.

Practical Neuroscience Approach to Personal Mastery

Few entrepreneurs know the practical neuroscience principles and practices behind creative thinking, solving, working, learning, nor communicating effectively and making good decisions.

Several visionaries cite “learning” as a key ingredient to personal and organizational success:

Peter Senge identifies “personal mastery” as the second discipline of a learning organization in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization (1990). Senge describes personal mastery as a commitment of employees and leaders to the process of learning.

John Naisbitt says, “In a world that is constantly changing, there is no one subject or set of subjects that will serve you for the foreseeable future, let alone for the rest of your life. The most important skill to acquire now is learning how to learn.”

Peter Drucker states, “We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.”

Steven Covey declares that the mental component of “Sharpening Your Saw” (the 7th habit of The 7-Habits of Highly Effective People) is “learning, reading, writing and teaching.”

Many people agree on the underlying value of personal mastery through lifelong learning. However, few know the practical neuroscience principles and practices behind learning with ease, thinking imaginatively and logically, solving problems quickly, working happily, communicating effectively and making decisions accurately. Most people appear highly interested in learning more about how their brains are wired for success and what makes them tick. There seems to be a strong undercurrent of awareness that understanding and leveraging individual and collective brainpower may be one of the last frontiers for human development.

Practical Neuroscience 101 for Gaining Personal Mastery

The following is a summary compilation of practical neuroscience principles and practices to help you understand and leverage your brain strengths for personal mastery.

Practical Neuroscience: An overarching term comprised of neuroscience-based principles and practices focused on understanding “self” and the people you influence and lead. Practical neuroscience acknowledges and respects diverse brain strengths, varied knowledge, personal interests and emotional trigger points; it enables people to be the best they can be, individually and collectively.

Neuroplasticity: Your brain is the most amazing mass of protoplasm in the known universe. It contains about 100 billion neuron cells, each having the potential to make multiple connections with other cells. Your brain is dynamic, not static. Neuroscience research reveals that you have “brain plasticity” or the ability to continuously grow and adapt your brain as you learn and use new information, despite your age. The more you learn, think and use knowledge, the more you grow and increase your intelligence and resourcefulness. What set Einstein’s genius apart, was not what he started with, but how he developed his thinking through vast neuron pathways. The bottom-line is that we can rewire our own brains for new and better outcomes and help other people do the same.

Learning Is Voluntary: Your brain must establish value and positive emotions to engage with learning, thinking, listening, working and any form of mental or physical activity. Fear works poorly as a motivator and is not healthy or sustainable.

Unique Sensory and Cognitive Strengths: Everyone has their preferred order for taking in sensory information; there are six combinations of Visual, Kinesthetic and Auditory sequences. Besides, people have cognitive preferences for processing sensory information, receiving communications and for specific types of work activities; there are three major categories: Sequential, Global and Integrated.

Alignment Is Your Key to Success:  No one combination of sensory and cognitive preferences is better than another. The key to success is aligning your brain strengths with activities and tasks you are passionate about and require your strengths. Communication challenges are often due to misalignment with how people prefer to receive and process information. You can “flex” and align with people who are different from you to gain rapport, respect, trust and understanding.

Integrate Fun Into Everything You Do: Your brain is naturally curious and loves to learn. A fun and safe environment naturally engages your brain. Create fun and safe environments for others; teach others what you want to learn. These are some characteristics of a neuro-leader.

In conclusion, practical neuroscience is the pathway to greater self-awareness of your potential for personal mastery. Online, validated assessments accurately determine your sensory and cognitive strengths and offer tools to help improve your learning, thinking, problem solving, decision making, communication success, career fulfillment, and help you experience more fun in life.

A Vision for Manifesting Success in This Century of the Brain

Individuals are looking for powerful ways to experience greater prosperity, have fulfilling careers, improve their personal relationships and leapfrog their lives forward.

Psychology, business models and self-improvement programs have taken us to a place where the velocity of individual and organizational development seems to have slowed down. And, the number and gravity of our individual and world problems have accelerated. We may be hitting our heads on the ceiling of solutions.

Individuals are looking for powerful ways to experience greater prosperity, have fulfilling careers, improve their personal relationships and leapfrog their lives forward. Leaders in business, government, healthcare, science and all-important fields are more eager and open-minded to trying new approaches to solve their problems.

The thinking of the past is incapable of solving the problems they created.

People from all walks of life want a better life and a better world to live in. It’s becoming more obvious each day our local and global problems are interconnected. We have daunting challenges involving economic stability, employment opportunities, family prosperity, a more peaceful world, environmental issues, healthy food and clean water. There seems to be a greater awareness amongst more people that we are in this together and that we all had a small role in creating the mess.

Practical neuroscience may be one of the last frontiers for human development. The Vision for the Century of the Brain is intended to inspire and guide individuals and leaders in all walks of life to use brainpower to solve problems and create a better world.

Vision for the Century of the Brain

As we enter the Century of the Brain, we see a world where women and men of good will and shared intentions come together for manifesting positive changes in their lives without hindering or harming anyone else’s dreams. We work and think smarter, not harder. We know that the power of our brains and neuroscience is the key to manifesting what we want and avoiding what we don’t want. Conscious thought and action amongst integrous people becomes a transformative power for good.

We remember great ideas originate from individual and collective imagination. Family units, small groups, organizational teams and leaders in all field of endeavor work together to define their desired outcomes, ideate the possibilities and create action plans manifesting their pictures of success. Joining like minds amplifies power within and we use it wisely. Fear and negative emotions are strangers here.

We know, use and trust our brains. Instinctually, we attract and join with minds aligned with our highest values and intentions. Celebrating success and the success of others is a way of life. Our miraculous brains connect us with one another and the divine.

In conclusion, if you align with the intention and central ideas contained in this Vision please share it with others. Practical neuroscience may be the unrecognized solution to our individual, family, organizational and world problems. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by using the scientific principles of leveraging brainpower. I believe we will see and experience what seem to be “miracles” when we join our minds and hearts; besides, it will be a fun and rewarding experience with a big “wow factor.”

Using Digital Tools to Manage Your Business

Business owners are always trying to find ways to run their business more effectively and save time.

It only makes sense because time is money. Economic conditions and competition in today’s market demand productive management. Digital tools are emerging at a rapid pace. This allows several options for us, as business owners, to evaluate these tools for different areas of our business. Tools can dramatically improve business flow and provide a productive boost.

Common Challenges

We also face common challenges where these tools are more necessary to conduct business with source agnostic solutions.  Within our society (personally and professionally), we have become independent of our workstations. We check email anywhere, meetings back-to-back, commuting, and conducting business on the go. As this is as much a benefit to our flexible business culture, without certain online tools that are device or source agnostic, we would live in a productivity nightmare. It’s critical to access your important information no matter where you are or in the event of a computer failure, which we know always happens at the worst time.

Investment costs are also a concern for many. Luckily, digital tools are typically more cost effective for the small to medium sized business owner, both in terms of an initial investment price, and not having the overhead costs to upgrade and maintain traditional software.

Digital tools really are the key to some proficiencies. There are numerous types of productivity tools like the following:

  1. CRM (Content Relationship Management)
  2. Accounting
  3. Contract Management
  4. Event Management
  5. Support Ticketing
  6. Project Management
  7. Document Collaboration
  8. Brainstorming
  9. Note Taking / Research Clipping

All are unique and solve specific needs to help increase efficiency to sell more, do more, assist more, and make more.

I’d like to share one digital tool that has revolutionized our business. At SimpleFlame, we do business across 6 different continents. Between time differences, international costs and the not-so-dependent email tracking, we were faced with challenges like:

  1. Versioning issues
  2. Delays in responses
  3. Tracking issues
  4. Delayed “official documents” via snail mail
  5. Various repositories for digital and hard copy contracts.

Adobe Echosign to the Rescue

After researching different ways to manage documents and contracts, Adobe Echosign was the solution that solved our business pains for contract management.

All businesses require signatures across different kinds of documents such as: contracts, work orders, estimates, proposals, and more. The type of document doesn’t matter, but how these documents are generated and how they are signed make up a process unique for any business.

Adobe EchoSign helps reduce the time it takes to go through this process in a very simple manner.  It’s an online subscription service available through cost effective plans meant for businesses of all sizes.

Learn more about this digital signing service at echosign.com.  E4e Partner Expert, Cesar Keller, shares strategic reasons for using EchoSign at SimpleFlame, a successful Saint Louis based web agency with international clientele.  Learn practical aspects on how SimpleFlame manages contracts and work orders by reading the article within the e4e Academy.

Hit Your Email Marketing Bull’s Eye

Satisfying customers is what successful marketing efforts are all about. But profit is your reason for being in business. How do you know if you're hitting your target? How do you connect the dots between customer demand, email marketing and your profits? Analysis is one piece of the puzzle.

Marketing intelligence tells you if you're hitting your target

Electronic marketing efforts offer the opportunity to gather intelligence and measure results. With that information you deliver what your customers want instead of wasting their time with stuff they don’t.

When your email campaigns deliver what’s useful, interesting or entertaining, it puts you in a favorable light. You probably won't get immediate results but it makes it more likely people will do business with you. The additional work is worth it. When you hit the bull's eye, you'll eventually be rewarded with more sales.

Get the bare-knuckle truth about your email efforts

Don't kid yourself by simply looking at open rates and call it a job well done. You don't want your accountant lying to you, so why would you want anything but the facts about your marketing efforts? Frankly, the truth about your email marketing campaigns can be a little humbling. But when you know the truth you can improve your efforts and make them pay off.

How do you measure their level of interest?

Your Email Service Provider (ESP) offers reports that show open rates. But that can be a little misleading. An "open" includes your mail being viewed in the preview pane of Outlook. So you know you showed up on someone's radar screen.But how do you find out if they actually read what you sent and their level of interest? Here are two steps to implement.

Start with dedicated web pages. If you are dealing with an article, first put it on a dedicated web page or blog post. Do the same if you're dealing with a product. Make sure the web pages have Google Analytics installed on the page.

I used to think I was giving my newsletter subscribers a bonus by giving them the first look at my articles. I then made them publicly available on my blog. It was a nice thought, but I've changed my method. I now post to my blog first and my newsletter only has a snippet of the article. To read the whole thing, people have to click on the link to the blog post.

Combine Google Analytics with ESP reports. Your Email Service Provider (ESP) will show how many people "clicked through" to your website, giving you a picture of where their interest is high. That, however, can also be deceiving.

Clicking the link indicates INITIAL interest, but looking at your Google Analytics report indicates if they liked what they saw when they arrived. You'll find out if they lingered or if they "bounced" out. That's valuable information helping you understand your audience better so you make strategic decisions about future content.

What do you do with the data?

Maintain a spreadsheet that shows the results of your email campaigns. Show the date, subject line and key elements of each email. Then show open rates, basic click-through rates and which elements were most popular.

As you create content plans for next year or next quarter, review that spreadsheet to get some clues about what people want and what people don't want. And if you tie your email results to buying behavior, you are well on your way to a successful email marketing effort.

Why a Business Owner Needs a Buy-Sell Agreement

A Buy-Sell Agreement is a legally binding agreement between partners or co-owners that eases resolution if one person dies, becomes disabled, or leaves the business, preventing infighting among family and co-owners.

 

A business client came into my office the other day with a problem that could have been avoided if he'd had a buy-sell agreement.

Let's call my client Max. Max’s business partner owned half the business. The partner died, leaving behind a wife and two adult children.

Max had always gotten along with his partner's family. But he never had any business discussions with them. A few months after the funeral his partner’s wife called asking questions about the business. His partner’s children also called asking questions. They all claimed to be co-owners of the business according to his partner’s estate plan. They either wanted money to buy out their shares or they wanted to make important decisions about the company’s future.

“I don’t have money to buy their shares in the business.” Max said “So, am I really in business with my partner’s family now?” The answer was difficult to take. Without money on hand to buy out the shares, Max was indeed in business with his partner’s family. Max wasn't happy.

That leaves us with two questions. What are Max's options now, and how could he have avoided this mess?

What Is a Buy-Sell Agreement?

One of the most crucial documents for a company with multiple business owners is a Buy-Sell Agreement. A Buy-Sell Agreement is a legally binding agreement that governs what happens when a partner or owner of a business either dies, becomes disabled, is forced to leave the business or chooses to leave the business.

A buy-sell agreement can provide liquidity for dealing with these major events in a business. It also helps to avoid infighting among family members, co-owners, and spouses.

For Max, having a buy-sell agreement could have answered the following questions after his partner died:

  • Is my new co-owner my deceased partner’s wife and kids?
  • Do I have to buy them out?
  • If I have to buy them out, what amount do I need to pay them?
  • If I need to buy them out, where does the money come from?
  • Can they sell their interests in the business to my competitors if they need money?
  • Can I start a new business or do I have to stick with the old one?

How Does a Buy-Sell Agreement Work?

A buy-sell agreement legally binds people who sign it and their heirs as well. That means any co-owners wives, children, and other beneficiaries are also bound by terms of the agreement. The agreement can also establish a manner of valuing the business for buy-out and purchase purposes, so there are no disputes as to how much money needs to change hands.

How is a Buy-Sell Agreement Funded?

A life insurance policy is generally used to fund a buy-sell agreement. When someone dies, insurance money flows into the business. The money is used to purchase business interests from heirs of the deceased co-owner. It also provides enough money to stay afloat during the transition. Finally, it ensures the business interests stay in-house and the original owners can control with whom they partner.

Are There Any Options?

There are many different types of buy-sell agreements. They can address many issues such as disability and retirement, beyond just death of an owner. An estate planning and business attorney experienced in drafting buy-sell agreements can help you choose and draft the right type of agreement for you.

Who Needs a Buy-Sell Agreement?

For any business owner in business with others, an updated buy-sell agreement is an absolute must have. Just like many other legal issues in business, if you prepare in advance, you are better off when something unforeseen happens. If protection for your business and family is important to you, act now before it is too late.

Brian G. Quinn is an Attorney with the law firm of Quinn & Banton, L.L.P. in St. Louis, Missouri. If you are interested in learning more about protecting your business using legal strategies, please feel free to contact Brian at 636-394-7242 to schedule a consultation.

The Biggest Problem with Most B2B Sales Efforts and What to do About it

As a business leader, you’ve been “sold to” many times.

Pitched, proposed, approached, and marketed to…whatever you want to call it.
Your guard is up, and it takes a special approach to get you to lay it down.
Yet, are you using these exact same tactics in your business?

Here's the problem that most B2B companies have with selling; it's largely viewed as a transactional effort where you are selling benefits, features, and value.

What Sales Looks Like For Most B2B Organizations

You’re out there canvasing the market, knocking on doors, making calls, sending emails and promoting your message.  These are all outbound marketing and direct sales efforts, and they have a definite place.  But they also will not work for a large percentage of your target market.
It takes a refined system of targeting, outreach, and persistent follow up to get maximum results from outbound sales efforts.  Most B2B companies struggle to do it well, consistently.  Thus, results are far less than optimal.

You don’t have a relationship with your prospects, and you rely solely on the quality of your marketing materials and message to get opportunities.

What Sales Looks Like For Advanced B2B Marketing Operations

The companies generating the greatest returns are building communities around their brands.
They don’t start with a cold call.  They don’t start with a direct mail piece.

The first thing these companies do is invite their prospects to join a branded community of industry thought leaders and resources.  They invest resources in establishing their brand as a leader, by developing engaging online and offline communities that offer true value to their prospects and key industry partners.

Over a number of months, prospects become so familiar with the generosity of the brand they feel like great friends with the people running these communities. Through numerous touch points over a short amount of time, the company establishes itself as one of the good guys and can build real relationships with targeted prospects.

What Are These Communities?

These communities can come in many forms, and depends on the strategic focus of your company.  More specifically, who are your prospects?  Build a community they will love.

The community could be a local networking group specific to their industry. It could be a career network for the kind of people you target.

Your community could take the form of a LinkedIn group, or a private Facebook group.  It could be a private online forum, on a branded website you develop.

There are many options.  For brands that invest first in building these relationships, the sales process changes dramatically.

What Does This Do to Sales?

When you establish yourself as a true resource and friend, business almost takes care of itself.

The need for direct mail is greatly reduced.  Cold calls are always warm, welcomed calls. You’re not pitching somebody, you’re helping a friend discover a valuable solution for their business.

You don't need to invest as much in sales resources because your marketing is increasing the effectiveness of your sales team.

It's a complete paradigm shift in the way you sell, because of the engagement your marketing activities generate.

Sales go up.  Cost goes down.  And client retention increases as you build real, valuable relationships with your prospects.

The Psyche of Cold Calling Prospects

Cold calling and telemarketing are one of the strong tools in the “marketing tool box” most owners and sales people need to address. Cold calling is ONE of the main mechanisms to the successful sales person. It is important to realize the phone is your best friend, not the enemy. Calling is a means to an end; to take you from point A to point M eating!

Strategic skill sets include; being disciplined, having persistence and topping that off with consistency equals the KEY to your BREAKTHROUGH every time.

What you do on a daily basis has a huge impact on your future sales. Your attitude determines your altitude. (How high you fly)

The decisions you make about cold calling, guide your direction, which determines your destiny.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” Colin Powell.

Sales Rule of Thirds

As a sales person or business owner, make sure you comprehend the sales RULE OF THIRDS.
You get 1/3 of your sales, no matter what you do. And 1/3 of sales you are not going to get. It is the last 1/3 of the sales which are up for grabs, and where excellent sales people separate themselves from mediocre sales people.

Leveraging the last 1/3 of the sales process and knowing you are the person responsible for making things happen requires you take goal oriented action to increase your sales.

A Look at the Psyche of Cold Calling 

Sales people typically see cold calling as scary, unpleasant, boring, repetitive, pressurized, confrontational, getting rejections, and demoralizing.

Let’s look at how prospects see cold calling done poorly. They view it as a nuisance, unwanted, dishonest, tricky, shifty, contrived, unprepared, indiscriminate, insulting and patronizing.

Now adopt a new perspective and reverse your mindset. Let’s look at what successful cold calling really means. It should be straight forward, honest and open, interesting and helpful, thoughtful and reasoned, professional and business like, enthusiastic and upbeat, informative, thought provoking, along with credible and reliable.

Read the above psyche areas over and over, understand what YOU view cold calling as to your personality. Then realize what the prospect feels on the other end of the phone, and make cold calling the success side it needs to be to generate meetings that result in proposals, that pump up the sales that make you money. Be a winner on the phone and don’t let cold calling slow you down. Have an attitude of “I am the best caller on my sales team”, and be passionate about conversing on the phone, sharing your smile, happiness and confidence which plays through the phone, then the prospect respects your call and in return sets up that meeting!

“The winners in life think constantly in terms of I can, I will, and I am. Losers, on the other hand, concentrate their waking thoughts on what they should have or would have done, or what they can't do.” Dennis Waitley

Be the best at your sales craft, study the psyche of cold calling, focus on what the prospect will be excited to hear in your sales pitch, and GAIN that last 1/3 of the sales you are due, never looking back, only moving forward to the next phone call to repeat the winning process over and over and over again!

John Eyres, President of Business Connections Consulting, works with many sales people and business owners to sharpen their cold calling skills and better understand the process of telemarketing. John resides in St. Louis, MO and can be reached via phone at 314-495-2089 or email;johneyres@busconcon.com.

Do Customers Control Pricing?

“What consumer wouldn’t rail against that kind of arrangement?”

The CEO of a staffing firm asked what I did for a living. When I told him that I help companies get higher prices regardless of what their competitors or the economy are doing he said “That’s great if you’re in an industry where you control your pricing. Our customers control our pricing.” A few weeks later I saw an article in stltoday.com entitled Could medical pricing transparency control runaway costs? The article cited the fact that healthcare consumers are bearing more of the cost of healthcare in the form of higher co-pays and deductibles. The article went on to suggest that United Healthcare’s new online cost estimator could allow healthcare consumers greater control over the prices they pay for healthcare.

Are these new trends in pricing? Has control shifted to consumers? These are the questions were going to explore today.

New trends?

There are movements afoot that are driving providers away from their traditional pricing models. In some instances the change is long overdue. In others buyers are completely unrealistic in their expectations.
The legal profession is being pushed to a fixed fee pricing model instead of the their hourly rate model. The only surprise here is that it has taken so long for consumers to press for this change.

In essence, the hourly rate model has basically said to the consumer “You have to take all the risk. We don’t know what the outcome will be, how long it will take or what the total cost will be, but here’s what you’ll be paying per hour.” What consumer wouldn’t rail against that kind of arrangement?

On the other end of the spectrum I know of one Fortune 500 company that has demanded to see its vendor’s costs so that they can assess whether or not they’re getting a fair price. The vendor is also a Fortune 500 company.

That’s over the top. Why would you want to penalize an efficient company for being efficient? That’s exactly what would happen if the customer knew the vendor’s costs. The customer would take the cost and add what they felt was a ‘fair’ margin to it which has the effect of penalizing their more efficient vendors. That’s crazy. We need to incentivize efficiency both for our own welfare and for competitive advantage in the world economy.

Has control shifted?

The short answer is ‘not really.’ In the case of the legal profession consumers are simply pushing for more transparency, more predictability in the pricing. There will still be buyers who will pay multiples over the lowest price alternatives to get the ‘name’ firms, the political connections they have or to create the image of success that comes from using the most expensive firms available.

Similarly, United Healthcare’s push is designed to help consumers become more aware of what their options are so they can make an informed decision. The consumer will still choose a higher priced alternative based on other factors like speed of access, care and concern of the physicians, nurses and staff, convenience of location and the provider’s reputation in the market place.

It’s no different than buyers choosing Walmart over Nordstrom or vice versa. Each buyer places a value on the products/services they’re buying. Some are very valuable to them and they’ll choose the top of the line because it is important. Others are necessities they’d just as soon avoid, consequently they’re going to choose the lowest-priced alternative.

I’m sure you’re wondering about the staffing company’s CEO’s claim that customers control his pricing. That’s absurd.

Without realizing it this CEO is, in essence, saying that he doesn’t see the difference between what he’s offering and what his competitors are offering. If he saw a difference he’d be able to communicate it in a way that would help buyers decide whether or not it was important to them.

Because he can’t see the difference, they can’t either. That simple reality explains why he feels he’s at his customers’ mercy when it comes to pricing. Indeed, it’s why any business, in any industry, feels trapped by industry pricing.

The seller doesn’t understand how his offering is different than his competitors or he doesn’t know how to convert that value to dollars and cents. Either way, the buyer doesn’t have the information he/she needs to make an informed decision. The result is the consumer pushes for lower prices.

Sellers can control pricing as long as they:

  1. Provide value that their competitors don’t.
  2. Communicate that value effectively in their marketing materials and sales scripts.
  3. Price in a way that reflects that value.
  4. Understand which buyers value what they offer and why they value it.
  5. Target only those buyers who value what they offer.

 

Consumers will make their decisions based on the information the seller provides and what’s important to them within the context of the lifestyle they’ve chosen. It’s their choice where they spend their money, the seller controls the price.

The first step in gaining control of your pricing is to make sure that prospective customers know what to expect from your products and services. To help you communicate that message more clearly I’ve created an ebook, Brand Promise: What Do YOUR Customers Expect?

Separate Prospects from Suspects to Sell More and Suffer Less

Bill succeeds because he separates prospects from suspects... He speaks to people who view him as a welcome guest, not an unwanted pest.

I once worked with a sadistic guy named Ken who loved to punish the door-to-door salespeople who visited our office. If he was in a good mood (not often), Ken would gently point to the "No Solicitations" sign on our door, and say, "I'm sorry. We don't allow door-to-door sales. Go peddle your stuff somewhere else." Even when sounding calm, Ken was mean. If Ken was in a bad mood (usually) or if the "peddler" did not leave immediately, watch out! I heard Ken verbally abuse a water cooler salesman in ways that would make the saltiest sailor blush. I once saw a copier salesman dash from our office after Ken threatened to "shove that toner cartridge..." You get the idea.

We eventually fired Ken because of how he treated vendors, coworkers and clients. While we did not condone his behavior, we also did not sympathize with those sales people who invited the wrath of Ken. Every time they fled from our office, I thought, "Why do they put themselves through this?" Cold calling every name on a list or knocking on every door on every floor is an uncomfortable, unproductive way to make a living.

Compare that to Bill, a copier salesperson who called me last month. I met Bill a few months earlier at a networking event where we exchanged cards. He asked whether he could add me to his mailing list (he did not assume my permission just because I handed him my card). I received one email a month after that.

When Bill called, he said, “We met a few months ago and you’re on my email list.” I remembered him, of course. I had received his most recent email just two days earlier. The conversation proceeded with ease and ended with a meeting scheduled.

When we met, I asked Bill why he chose to call me on the day he did. “Because you’ve been reading and clicking on my emails,” he said. Bill explained he no longer goes door to door or makes call telephone calls. Instead, he establishes relationships with people through networking, referrals, web site inquiries, and other methods – in all cases inviting his new contacts to join his email list. He sends regular emails that offer office automation tips and other useful content – not just product pitches. And he uses email software that tracks who opens and who clicks. Those engaged readers are the prospects he telephones or visits.

In a fraction of the time, he schedules more appointments and ultimately makes more sales. And he does not have to face sadists like Ken who love to abuse cold-callers.

Bill succeeds because he separates prospects from suspects. He schedules more meetings with fewer calls because he speaks to people who view him as a welcome guest, not an unwanted pest.

Had Bill been a stranger who appeared at my office uninvited, I probably would not have spoken to him. Had he simply collected my card at the networking event and then called me (without engaging me through his emails), I probably would have pushed him away. Had he called on me even if I never opened his emails, I might not have remembered him and I certainly would not have known how much value he could offer.

Instead, Bill called on me only after he knew I was engaged. I had opened his email. I had clicked the link. I knew him. I showed interest.

Your time is precious. When you call on people who don’t know you and view you as a pest, you usually waste that precious time. Rather than wasting time calling on the suspects, spend some time to identify and cultivate true prospects.

There are many ways to do this. As Bill demonstrated, delivering valuable, engaging content via an email newsletter is a very effective way to do it. But how do you start? How do you plan and deliver an email newsletter that people will open and click? I answer those questions in this article in the e4e Academy.

Six Reasons to Factor Your Invoices

Many business managers view the “factor” as the lender of last resort, a sort of leverage only to be used when other lenders refuse to extend credit.   Unfortunately, this attitude arises from a lack of knowledge and is an obstacle to the success and full potential of many businesses.  Today, most businesses factor due to the accessibility and liquidity factoring provides as they sell their credit-worthy receivables for needed cash.

In the fifteen years of operating my factoring company I have discovered my clients rank the most important benefit of factoring is the ability to quickly raise cash when their business cannot get a traditional bank loan, or when a company is experiencing rapid growth and needs to purchase materials, pay vendors and cover operating expenses.   I have been amazed at the reaction of my clients when I explain factoring, how it can help them, and how quick they can get their company funded.  The smile just radiates from their faces as they discover all the benefits of factoring. Because it’s a dynamic financial tool that enables them to continue to make sales, accelerate and stabilize cash flow, businesses across the world continue to use this powerful tool.

There are a significant number of reasons why companies should consider factoring.   Here are six.

1.  Factoring is an extremely fast way for companies to raise money.   A factoring deal can be done in only a few days, or even sooner.   A company can have cash in hand in a very short amount of time.   As soon as the invoice is generated and verified, money can be advanced to a business desperate for cash or looking to quickly expand their operations.

Applying for a loan can take a good amount of time, including receiving word back on whether or not a bank is willing to provide the money needed.   A business may not have that amount of time.   The livelihood of its business may depend on getting money fast.

2   Factoring shortens the collection process.   Businesses often wait weeks or even months before they are paid for services rendered or products delivered.   During this time, many are cash poor and don’t have funds available to grow their businesses or even pay for current operational expenses.

If a company has to wait 30, 45, or even 60 days before receiving payment, its outstanding cash is actually funding the customer’s company.  This money is needed to pay payroll on time, replenish inventory, and buy vendor supplies at a discount.   If an invoice is factored, the company gets most of the invoice amount immediately to use however the business owner wants to or needs to use it.

3.  Factoring is funding without liability.   Banks look at the business assets, how long the company has been in business, the company’s credit score, the owner’s credit score, the balance sheet, and the profit and loss statement.   Today companies that could get bank loans a year or two ago cannot get one now mainly because of our unstable economy, and because the loan criteria has changed.   The company has to have a higher credit score and down payment requirements tends to be much higher.

“It is not about you, it is your client’s credit that matters.”

When a company factors they can get immediate cash with debt.  The factor looks to the credit-worthiness of it’s customer’s for its due diligence, and to see if each customer is paying their bills on time.   Therefore a company can be a new company, have little or no collateral, and may not have the best credit score, yet customer invoices can be factored.  In this way, the company receives cash instead of a loan with all the associated liability.

4.  Factoring strengthens the balance sheet.  As a company is factoring its invoices, its bank account is receiving this money.   The company can now pay its employees and creditors on time, and its taxes on time.   Its vendors are eager to sell them their products and give them discounts because now the company can pay them on time.

Factoring helps businesses become more likely to get that bank loan in the near future because now its credit score is higher since bills are being paid.   Employees are happy because they are paid on time and therefore do a better job and the job gets done on time, making the company more profitable.

5.  Factoring gives peace of mind to the business owner.   When factoring invoices, the business owner does not have to worry about when checks are going to come in so bills can be paid.  He has already received most of the invoice money upfront.   He may be able to cut his accounting department’s staff since the factor now keeps track of the invoice and sees it is paid in a timely fashion.

The business owner now has the time to work “on” his business instead of  just “in” his business.   He has the time to plan new projects and develop new products.

“Factoring is a simple and straight forward business process.   It requires little paperwork, time, and little or no collateral such as hard assets or real estate”

6.  Factoring helps seasonal or service companies.   Payroll and payroll taxes fuel the cash flow needs of temporary staffing agencies, cable installers, security guard companies, and corporate consultants.  Because their assets often consist primarily of accounts receivable, which banks typically won’t lend against, obtaining financing can be challenging.

An Accounts Receivable Credit Line where cash is available “on demand” and there is no restriction on use of funds may be used to better manage and expand these businesses.   Funds can be drawn only as much as needed and the business pays for what it uses.   An Accounts receivable Credit Line uses far less collateral, requires only minimal paperwork, can be in place in a week or less, and best of all, grows with the business.

If you have gone the traditional lending route and had no positive results, why not try the alternative funding option of factoring.   Lexx Funding will help you discover if factoring will solve your cash flow problems.  Call Joy Ann now!  636.458.2612

The Dangers of Cost+ Pricing

In the early years of my consulting work I picked up a client that had been losing money for two consecutive years and was experiencing severe cash flow problems. They were using cost plus pricing. What went wrong?

Defining Costs

They didn’t define their production costs well. They had included some of their production costs in the operating expense category, consequently when they added the traditional industry profit margin to their production costs their prices were too low to cover their costs.

Lest you think this an aberration, I’ve worked with hundreds of companies over the years and most don’t know what their costs are. Why? There are a variety of reasons, some:

Don’t have a clear understanding of how to categorize costs.
Allocate overhead costs to production using subjective, irrelevant bases for the allocation.
Use standard costs which typically include ‘cushions’ to protect the production group from being criticized for cost overruns.

Indeed, one VP of production had included a 60% cushion in his standard costs and no one in finance knew it.

Costing Myth

As if those weren’t enough reasons, Eliyahu Goldratt in his famous book, The Goal, shows that traditional cost accounting drives up operating costs rather than reducing them. His book, It’s Not Luck, demonstrated that the same is true for service organizations.

Finally, and most importantly, production costs have nothing to do with the value to the consumer. That’s true whether you’re selling B2B or B2C. Allow me to illustrate this point.

Cost/Value Not Related

Let’s say that I’m a milk producer. I buy milk from farmers, process it and distribute it through grocery stores. Let’s assume that it costs me $1.12 to produce a gallon of milk. Now, let’s look at the various markets available to me as a milk producer.

Young families will typically place great value on milk because it’s essential for the child’s development. The elderly also have a health issue, osteoporosis, that adds value to milk for them.

Many adults, whose children are grown and aren’t yet concerned about osteoporosis, value milk only if they enjoy it’s taste. For the others in this group, milk has little, if any, value.

For people who are lactose intolerant, milk has no value. Indeed, it’s a health risk for them.
As you can see, the fact that it costs me $1.12 to produce a gallon of milk has no relationship to the value customers place on it.

Hopefully this simple example along with the challenges in defining costs outlined above will be enough to dissuade you from cost plus pricing.

Want to move from cost+ pricing to value pricing? You’ll find the tools you need in Dale’s book, Pricing for Profit. Available online atAmazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

The Wrong Hero

“There are only three things that any of us sells - image, innovation and time-savings.”

Marketing messages must be great stories... about the true hero.

I wish I could remember the source of the following elegant language. The person certainly deserves credit for this incredible bit of wisdom. After reading a marketing piece, he said ‘that’s a great story, but it’s the wrong hero’.

The marketing piece had discussed the company, not its customers. That’s why it was about “the wrong hero.”

If you want your marketing messages to translate into sales at premium prices, tell stories in which customers and prospects can experience the joy of your offerings - even if they haven’t tried them yet.

One of the fascinating aspects of the human mind is that we can experience emotions as vividly today as when we first experienced them. Tie your offerings to an experience that everyone has had that elicits joy.

Remember, there are only three things that any of us sells - image, innovation and time-savings. So when you’re selling image, help them experience the joy of having others admire and emulate them.

With innovation, make the story about the fun and excitement of playing with the latest, greatest toys or our childhood curiosity when everything was fascinating.

For time-savings, the story highlights the joy of spending more time with family and friends, traveling or just kicking back in a hammock on a beautiful spring day. If you’re selling business to business and the time savings translates into greater revenue-generating capabilities, make the story about the joy of growing a successful business - one that’s the envy of their competitors.

It’s counter-intuitive, but the less said about your company and what you do, the greater the likelihood that your marketing messages will bring buyers through the doors. More buyers, mores sales, at your price. Now that’s an experience that’ll bring a smile to your face.

Not sure whether you’re marketing messages are targeting the right hero? Take this free, confidential marketing self-assessment..

What Could be Better Than Gossip?

Initially about 50% of teams discover they aren’t secure enough or capable of
 ceasing to gossip. The reasons: they 
lack trust, skills, confidence, or compassionate understanding.

“Some say our national pastime is baseball. Not me. It's gossip.”
- Erma Bombeck

“The only gossip I'm interested in is things from the Weekly World News - 'Woman's bra bursts, 11 injured,’ that kind of thing.”
- Johnny Depp

Ah… Gossip’s not called “juicy” for nothing!

Most people agree gossip’s not healthy or helpful and that it’s everywhere! It’s in businesses, schools, homes, even churches! There’s good reason for this. And, in order to build trust and teamwork, gossip needs to go. The question is: how and what would allow people to find something more satisfying instead? I’m Judy Ryan, a Human Systems expert and I work with organizations, helping them understand the good reasons people gossip so they can incorporate new strategies to meet needs met by gossip, by substituting more satisfying practices instead.

Our Current Dilemma

When I work within clients sites, initially about 50% of teams discover they aren’t secure enough or capable of
ceasing to gossip. The reasons: they
lack trust, skills, confidence, shame nor a compassionate understanding of why there’s such a pull to gossip.

The Good Reasons We Gossip

That’s when the discussion begins. We talk about gossip, especially the good reasons we engage in it. Some include:

1) To feel empowered. Stress in relationships often triggers feelings of overwhelm and the belief we’re not empowered. To combat this, gossip gives a false sense of power; pseudo-power. Gossip then provides the illusion we’re taking meaningful action when, in fact, we’re avoiding it.

2) To feel lovable. We often have faulty interpretations of negative behavior from others, become triggered by self-doubt and insecurity, and conclude we’re not lovable. Gossip pro- vides temporary relief as we inflate our own virtues and exaggerate the faults of others.

3) To feel contributing. We gossip to compensate for times we’re not giving, doing or saying what would otherwise fulfill us and be aligned with our values, either because we feel too afraid, unclear, unable and unwilling to take action.

4) To feel connected. Especially in the US, many people report they experience inadequate physical and emotional connection. Gossip, unfortunately, is a widely sanctioned way to intensely connect as opposed to more vulnerable expressions of appreciation, encouragement and love often disdained as too mushy or touchy-feely.

5) “Don’t we just need to vent?” Venting can be helpful but not the way it’s normally done. Gossip as venting is just another way to create the feeling of meaningful action. And indiscriminate, unfocused venting hurts: the one giving it, the one receiving it and the one gossiped about.

When venting is handled with an intention to take constructive action and greater personal responsibility, everyone wins, everyone feels empowered and lovable, and you have the satisfaction that comes from creating an intensely positive, powerful connection, which is a fulfilling alternative. So if you find yourself in the habit of gossiping, stop and remember these five good reasons people gossip. If you want, you can then learn how to gracefully shift from gossip into something more constructive.

So in order to shift out of gossip, it’s important to really know, “What could be better than gossip?!” Please read my article entitled, "Imagine a Workplace with NO Gossip" to learn steps for how-to create a workplace with satisfying communications and behaviors that build strong and healthy relationships. If you’d like to experience first-hand helpful conversations and learn to integrate new practices that can drastically reduce and eliminate gossip in your workplace, become an e4e member and call me now to learn more and bring a program on this topic to your workplace! 314.878.9100

Entrepreneurs Should Speak!

One important component an entrepreneur’s marketing plan should include is giving great presentations!

Here’s why:

Delivering superb presentations has the potential to catapult a speaker to Expert status. We perceive really good speakers as experts. Perception is reality, and we like to work with Experts. (This makes sense, doesn’t it?)

Furthermore, the research shows:

Speaking Opportunities are Business Opportunities!”

Business owners who take and make those Speaking Opportunities grow their businesses.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs don’t Speak. They don’t for several reasons:

  1. They have a Fear of Public Speaking.
  2. They don’t do a very good job of presenting, and they know it.

Let’s look at each of these reasons for not using speaking as a marketing tool and what can be done to change them.

Speaking Opportunities are Business Opportunities!

 

The Fear of Public Speaking

There are reasons for having a Fear of Public Speaking.

  1. If you don’t know what you’re talking about you should fear speaking!
    • Don’t have a passing knowledge of your subject; be an Expert!
    • Research and study your topic. You’ll never know everything, but your mastery should be better than most people have on the subject.
    • There is a “confidence in your competence” that lowers anxiety.
  2. If you don’t know the structure of a presentation, or how to professionally deliver it.
    • An award-winning, delicious cake has a very specific recipe. If accurately followed, the “baker” will have rave reviews bestowed upon them.
    • If they have little knowledge of baking and merely throw ingredients together and hope for the best, the results will likely be disappointing. Disappointing to the people who expected a delicious dessert, and disappointing to the “baker” who didn’t take time to learn and follow a proven recipe.
    • A professional presentation, like a great cake, has a specific structure. When constructed and delivered like a pro, the results can be spectacular. The audience learns something, and the presenter’s message is received as intended.
    • Structure and Delivery can be learned. The results are worth the commitment, and time needed.
  3. If you haven’t practiced!
    • Do you think any of the athletes who participated in the Olympics just “showed up” at their event? Of course not!
    • Will any of the players who put on helmet, pads, and a uniform in the fall to play professional football merely “show up” at game time? No!
    • How about the next showing of Les Misérables? Do actors, the orchestra, and stage hands notice what time the musical starts and “show up” a few minutes earlier. Absolutely not!
    • All the above require days and days of practice and rehearsal. Why would someone think they could “show up” for an important presentation and “wing it?”
    • Steve Jobs is my presentation hero. He was a master at this and set the standard for delivering exceptional presentations. As good as he was, he still practiced ad nauseam before taking the stage. If he had a new product or service to introduce at an Apple Event, he would practice for weeks! (Weeks is not a misprint.)
  4. You’re very Uncomfortable speaking with audiences.
    • Of course it’s uncomfortable! Think about this:
    • Most our talking is one-on-one.
    • Much of our communication is on the phone, and we don’t see the person we’re talking with.
    • Increasingly our ”conversation” is an email or text message. We don’t “speak” to or see people we are communicating with.
    • It’s understandable that getting in front of ten, twenty, or fifty sets of eyeballs we might feel uncomfortable because we are out of our comfort zone.
    • The uncomfortableness will lessen each time we speak in front of an audience.

You’re a Lousy Presenter

OK, I believe you.

There is something you can do about it!

Developing and delivering great presentations is a skill. Skills are learned.

We weren’t born knowing how to drive a car, use a computer, or any of the many other skills we use daily.

There are plenty of great books on the subject. There are courses that can be taken and clubs, like Toastmasters that can be joined. There are people whose expertise is coaching public speaking and presentation skills.

Important:

A Presentation has Two Components.

  • Content - Your message.
  • Delivery - Presenting your message.

Each of these components is essential for a presentation. Neither can stand on their own.

Take note that Delivery trumps Content.

You may have the most outstanding content on your topic, but if it can’t be presented in a manner that educates, entertains, and explains it well, your audience will never GET IT! GETTING IT! is the goal of all communication; verbal, written, and visual.

Delivery, Content, and the Parts and Elements of each will be the topics of future Posts.

Till then, I hope your next presentation is - NO SWEAT!

In Every Challenge Seek Opportunity

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

 Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

I was raised by two hardworking and loving parents who taught me I could be anything I wanted. In 1974, fate led me to the love of my life, Holly. For the next 10 years, everything was picture-perfect. We began a family in 1977, built our dream home in 1978, and by 1985, our family consisted of four boys and a girl. I owned and operated three family restaurants and five muffler shops with my brother. All of my hard work had paid off, and I was living the American dream.

On August 13, 1985, we lost our infant son, which was very difficult, especially for my wife. In 1990, my brother and I had gone our separate ways in the business By 1993, our oldest son began to struggle with drug addiction. The year 1995, our city began a 19-month road project that resulted in our business dropping in half. December 17, 1997, our son Landon was killed in a car accident. In 1998, our oldest son was faced with eight years of prison due to his continued struggle with addiction. In 2000, my father passed before his time, falling victim to surgical mistakes.

"Our American dream was becoming our American nightmare. Why was this happening?"

For years, I struggled not understanding why all the turmoil. My belief I could be anything I wanted and I had control over my life was shattered. I had no control over what was happening. Our American dream had become our American nightmare. Why was this happening?

After a year of struggling with our second son’s death, a friend of mine wrote, “Larry, if Landon could talk to you now, what would he say? He would say,” Dad get your head out of your butt, take care of Mom, my brothers and my sister, and I’ll see you someday.” At that point I had a choice. My faith would either grow or it would go to hell. Luckily for me and my family, my faith grew.

Fast-forward to May 28, 2010—the day I suffered a stroke that paralyzed my left side. I laid in bed thinking, “Why me? What Now?” Through this stroke, I have been blessed with an understanding of patience and persistence. I walk carefully, and currently type with one hand. However, I am working full time, and life is good! I have been blessed to share my story with others, and this is what I believe:

Proverbs 16:9. “We make our plans, but the Lord guides our steps.” With each of these life challenges, I have been given an opportunity. I have been blessed with a wonderful family and love of my wife of 38 years. My three amazing children have all been blessed with their soul mates, and I have 5 wonderful grandchildren.

Life’s challenges have blessed me with an understanding of the importance of faith, family and friends. It is through faith we receive the gift of hope. It’s by faith our challenges can become opportunities. I would add to Dr. King’s quote to say, “The bigger the challenge the bigger the opportunity.”

The changing and growing landscape of SEO

 

A few days ago I received a call from a local divorce attorney that wanted more information on my SEO services. After a few preliminary questions, I realized I was speaking with a receptionist who had been tasked to 'find out more' about SEO. This is definitely not the first time this has happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last.

So if you've been tasked by management to research SEO for your business, here's the full scoop.

SEO isn't a one-time thing. It's an ever growing and changing landscape that involves a lot of factors. If you are looking for a quick fix to get to the top of google, you might as well stop reading here because you won’t find it. There's no such thing, and if any marketing company tells you different, it is lying (and stealing your money).

In short, there are two main parts to SEO.

Onsite SEO

There are a lot of things you can do to your website that can influence the search engines to like you more. These include heading tags, page titles and a variety of other factors. Each one of these items needs to be addressed and fixed when necessary. A high level SEO audit can help you find many of these and, depending on your coding skill level, can be fixed without hiring an SEO guru.

While not a direct SEO factor, your websites usability should be taken into consideration at an early stage. If you can’t easily update your website, or it looks like it was built in the late 80s, it is probably time for a redesign. This can be costly, but if you are serious about SEO, it's not something you should dismiss quickly. I have turned down many good clients because they thought their website (usually one they built themselves) was the best thing since sliced bread. It's not.

Redesigning your website at an early stage in the SEO process is not only a smart investment, it makes your job a lot easier down the road when your SEO starts giving you tasks that need to be completed through the website. Using a user-friendly content management system (CMS) such as WordPress is a good way to go. You'll be glad you did.

A good onsite SEO evaluation should also include a conversation around calls to action. Since the ultimate goal of your SEO campaign is usually more leads (NOT more traffic), you should consider what sort of target audience you are hoping to attract and what sort of actions you want them to take once they visit your website. These are crucial to having a successful online marketing strategy.

Offsite SEO

Here's where SEO gets interesting. Believe it or not, there are a lot of things you can do on other people’s websites that affects your overall rankings. While it would be impossible for me to list them all, I'll try to hit the main ones.

Links

In short, the overall amount of positive links you have leading back to your website influences your overall rankings. I say positive, because there are a lot of easy ways to get links, but they aren't necessarily good links. Heck, I could get you a thousand links tomorrow if you'd like (and some SEO agencies still offer this service) but they'd be useless, if not hurtful for your overall goals.

So what is a good link?

A good link is a link from a similar industry website, blog or social profile. This means if you sell goggles, a link from a site like sears.com would be more desirable than a link from a site like wesellgogglespleasebuyonline.net. The authority and reputation Sears has far outweighs that of the latter.

Unfortunately, getting links from high authority sites isn't always easy. It takes time, it takes a process, and sometimes it just takes cash.

What then is a bad link?

A bad link is a link from a non-related website, a link directory or a site in a 'bad neighborhood' (porn, pharmaceuticals, etc).

Bad links are easy to get. You can use an automated submission tool, or just hire some company in India to do it for you. I wouldn't recommend it, though.

A Natural Link Profile

Up until recently, building links was always a process focused around keywords. Links based on words you use in your industry were worth more than links indicating 'click here' or 'check out this site'. However, a recent update from google called Penguin changed this line of thinking. Search engines are now looking for a good mix of both keyword, brand-related and generic links. When considering hiring an SEO person, make sure they understand the value of this mixture.

Citations

For businesses with real physical addresses, citations can play an important role in your overall search engine rankings. A citation is a mention of your business name, address and phone number on another website. It may or may not contain a link to your website, and that's ok.

Search engines use these mentions as indicators your business is real, so it is important every citation around the Internet has the exact same phone number, address, etc.

Getting started

If you are serious about getting started with SEO, please read my post on different options you have, what steps you need to take, and how to determine a good SEO from a bad one.

Two Files Every Website Should Have

When a search engine 'bot' visits your site for the first time, it looks for two files right off the bat: robots.txt and sitemap.xml. Search engines use these files to learn about your website and can make recommendations on optimizing, modifying, and even fixing your website.

The robots.txt file is like a stop light. It tells bots where they can crawl and where they cannot. Don't want your images included in Google index? This is where you tell them. Don't want them to crawl your admin section? I don't blame you. Block them.

The robots file goes in your root directory, and is a simple text file you can edit with notepad or any text editor. To see if you have one, just visit http://www.yourdomain.com/robots.txt. If nothing is found, you do not have a robots file or you put it in the wrong place.

There are two basic parts to the robots file: the bot specification and permissions for that bot. Only want to block your site from Yahoo!? You can (although I'm not sure why you would).

Lastly, you can add a line to tell search engines where to find your site map file. This is the full URL.

The other file, sitemap.xml, is just what it sounds like. It's a sitemap, or roadmap, of your entire website - complete with links to every page all bundled into one nice little file. To make this file, visit xml-sitemaps.com, put in your website address and it provides back to you a downloadable file for you to put on your website. The only downside to this process is you have to redo it every time your site changes.

If you're using WordPress, it's even simpler. Plugins like Yoast (is Yoast correct?) SEO (which I recommend) and Google XML Sitemaps will create and update your Sitemap file with every change you make.

Lastly, you can add a line to tell search engines where to find your site map file. This is the full URL path, so in most cases it will be

sitemap: http://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml

Having these two files on your website makes it easier for search engines to know what your website is about and will decrease the time it takes to get your new site indexed.

Are you always on the verge of getting ‘caught up’?

Do you ever get the feeling your life is out of control?

The internet has been a game changer in our lives, but is your life better off as a result of the internet? The answer to that question is probably “it all depends.” Being overwhelmed day in and day out can be stressful. We’re literally being bombarded with activities that drain our energy. It’s important to admit we are sabotaging our lives and can make the choice to live healthier and longer lives with less stress.

Did you ever try to catch butterflies when you were a kid? Catching butterflies is not an easy thing to do. At a minimum it’s difficult to catch butterflies without a net. Getting caught up is like catching butterflies. We are often unsuccessful, because we flitter from one task to another. No matter how hard we try, we become overwhelmed with activities and tasks.

NEWS FLASH …..Stop trying to CATCH UP! It’s futile. Now, don’t you feel better? You have actually accomplished something.

You might be asking, “Why is a sales expert writing about time?” What makes me a time management expert? In the selling game ‘time is money.’ Over the years, I have constantly honed my time management skills because there are a jillion time wasters in selling. It’s like skeet shooting. There are always clay pigeons disguised as real priorities everywhere you turn. In selling you can literally waste hours, and even days of time if you don’t develop good time management habits.

It might be easier to wheel you into your local hospital for surgery on your brain but you could settle for a simple paradigm shift to make profound change in your life. Change requires effort and forming new habits on your part, but in the end it’s safer and less costly than brain surgery.

The real culprit in our lives is the…Tyranny of the Urgent*

To illustrate my point, in my last job before starting my own business, I asked one of our people (an up and coming super star). “How do you decide what to work on every day?” His comment was simply, “I work on what comes across my desk.” This thinking is easy but produces mediocre or poor results.

Our lives will always be too full. You may believe there’s a lot more to do than you have time and energy to accomplish. It’s like someone put you on a tread mill and then turned the speed up as fast as the treadmill will go. To be successful you have to discipline yourself to practice making good choices. Decide what’s important, what really makes you happy. When you focus on your relationships with your friends, family, children and colleagues, you bring great joy into your life. Being healthy spiritually, physically, and mentally forms the foundation for all you do. Having worthwhile work is motivating and rewarding. It’s that simple. You then enjoy a place you can call home and transportation to get you around. Everything else is just small stuff.

You will never be satisfied with “stuff”. “Stuff” gives short-term satisfaction but is a fleeting form of gratification…

How you prioritize, what you decide to do every morning when you get up, isn’t going to get any easier. Make the decision right now you are going to take action to make better choices about what’s important in your life before it’s too late. If you don’t value your time, don’t expect others to value it either. Give you and your family the greatest gift of all.

Live a quality life built around things that matter most.

If you’re interested in learning more about the art and science of taking control of your life, sign up for our free membership trial or become an e4e member. Once you sign up, go to my 7 Steps to Sanity in a World Gone Mad in the Articles section of the e4e community.