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2013

Keeping_Web_Site_Fresh_body.jpgby Jen Hickey.

 

While it’s not only important to have a web site these days, keeping it up to date is equally important. Even if you’re a long-established brick & mortar business, without a web presence, you’re losing out on a large pool of potential customers. According to a recent ConStat consumer tracking study, a staggering 97 percent of consumers now go online to research product and service offerings from local businesses. So, if you fail to keep content updated or list the basics like hours and contact information correctly on your web site, as well as update search engine listings like Yelp and Four Square, you will not only turn off new customers but may cost your business the ones you have.

 

Updated content = more traffic & profits

“Search engines favor sites with new content,” notes web developer and business advisor Jason Reis, owner of Long Island, N.Y.-based brand consulting firm Flexhcorp. “If your business is among those that come up first in a search, that gives you a leg up over your competitors. And that helps convert visitors to your site into paying customers.”  If you haven’t already, Reis recommends setting up a Google Analytics account. “This tool allows you to track where visitors to your site are coming from, how they’re finding you and what areas of your site are getting the most traffic,” he explains.  The heat map function gives a geographical representation of your site, showing the number of clicks per image, text, link, which can then be compared against sales data or number of visits or inquiries if a professional practice. “It’s a powerful dashboard that provides a lot of insight into your business without requiring a lot of technical skills.”

 

Tim Murphy helps maintain the web site, MotionWorks, for his wife’s Neehah, Wisc.-based physical therapy practice. He notes that by adding more information to the website, search engines are able to index more content, and therefore, the site shows up in more searches, which in turn drives more traffic to the website, and as a result, more patients to the practice. “This happens slowly, but makes a huge difference over time,” he explains. Murphy typically sees an uptick in traffic when he posts articles from his wife’s monthly newsletter to the site “My wife thinks in medical terms,” he says. “With some key word research to see how people are looking for particular symptoms or conditions discussed, I convert them into layman’s terms to help capture the questions prospective patients are asking.”

 

“When a potential customer visits the site, they’re deciding if they'd like to do business with you or not,” Murphy points out. “An outdated web site can easily cause a potential customer to take their business elsewhere.” He sees the time put into the site as a long-term investment. “Keeping your site up to date shows that you’re actively involved in your business,” he explains. “We’ve found that it’s helped build our customer base over time.”

 

Keeping_Web_Site_Fresh_PQ.jpgSocial media helps, but is no substitute

Christopher Wenk, owner of Sinful Sweets Chocolate Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who supplements his brick-and-mortar store with online sales, noticed a significant dropoff when he did not update his web site over the period of a few months, so he started using social media to drive people back to his site. The result: sales grew almost 17 percent, month over month. While having a Facebook page and using Twitter can help extend the reach of your business to a different demographic, it should not be considered a substitute. “Think of your web site as the hub for your business, where everything begins and ends,” explains web marketing consultant Gretchen Roberts. “With social media, you’re basically renting the space.” Unlike your own web site, the provider owns the content. “It can be an effective tool to extend the reach of your business, that is if you can get enough people to ‘like’ or follow your business,” notes Adi Bittan, co-founder and CEO of OwnerListens, which offers an app that allows customers and brick-and-mortar businesses to connect with each other. Bittan recommends focusing on the channels that bring in the most customers.

 

Wenk, who hopes to expand his online business and establish a greater presence in the community, is in the midst of an overhaul of his business’ web site. “I’m trying to create a brand that people can identify with and depend on,” he points out. As part of his strategy, Wenk has employed a local web developer to streamline his site to make it more navigable and user friendly. “There will be more up-front information about our products, such a pricing per pound, and answers to questions customers routinely ask about our products.” Such features as “build your own chocolate bar” will also be added to the new site, and he hopes to eventually enable an online delivery system within city limits. The design team has also created instructional videos for Wenk on how to update and change certain features on his new site once the redesign is complete.

 

Your website is often the first impression of your business

“No matter how a potential customer hears about your business, they’re more likely to visit your web site before visiting your business,” points out Roberts. When she takes on clients, they often have different notion of what their web site means to their business. “What matters is that your site is found,” explains Roberts. “And that depends on the content, not the design.” And once you get those visitors to your site, it’s the “authenticity” of the content that will help turn them into paying customers. Roberts is surprised by some of the stiff language and corporate speak many small businesses use on their sites. “As a small business, one key advantage is size,” notes Roberts. “This allows you to reach out to consumers on a more personal level.”

 

Reis also cautions against websites with a lot of sales talk. “You want to establish a personal connection with visitors to your site,” he explains. “The best way to do that is give them a ‘backstage pass’ to your business.” That could include a behind the scenes of upcoming changes to your business or special access to events/sales that non-visitors are not privy to. 

 

Having a plan is key to developing quality content for your site. Roberts gives all her clients questionnaires to help them develop a web strategy tailored to their particular needs and goals. “If you can explain who you are and what makes your business different from your competitors using key words so your site is easily found in a search, that will pay off on your bottom line more than having all the bells and whistles of the latest in graphic design,” Roberts points out.

 

Don’t forget about mobile visitors

“We are seeing increasing customer complaints about businesses’ web presence,” notes Bittan. “This is mainly due to increased mobile usage.” Incorrect opening hours and unclear directions are a common complaint, as are incorrect menus or product listings. “This is particularly an issue in urban and tourist areas, where people are more likely to be looking up a business on their smartphone,” Battan points out. But there are tools out there to help make your website more mobile friendly.

 

Consumers are also connecting to businesses through apps and sites like Yelp, Google Places, and Trip Advisor. “Such sites are feeders to your website and your business,” explains Battan. “So, you must keep them up to date as well.” Companies like Yext or Single Platform charge a monthly fee to update business listings for you. “This is free traffic to your site,” points out Battan. “If your business is listed on multiple sites, it may be worth paying for such a service.”

 

SBC newsletter logo.gifMaking sure your web site is compatible across multiple platforms is also important. “The trend in development has shifted to creating a ‘responsive’ web site,” notes Reis. “Depending on what resolution in which a site’s being viewed (e.g. tablet, smart phone, etc.), pages/images are scaled to that resolution.”  This allows a web site to be readable on any device.

 

While regular blogging is a good way to keep your web site high up on the search engines, for many small business owners, that may be difficult to sustain. “If you’re pressed for time or writing is not your strength, record a short video blog using a web cam instead,” recommends Reis. “You can then upload it to your site and filter it out to your social media channels.” And Bittan points out the importance of giving existing and potential customers multiple platforms (email, chat, text, phone, social media) in which to contact your business, as that’s largely determined by age. “Provide people with easy ways to give feedback without having to fill out long contact forms or provide personal information if they don’t want to,” she explains. “If someone wants to know if your business is open, give them as many ways as possible to find out.”

GrowingSmartly_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

There's an oft-quoted maxim in the direct marketing business that says lists account for 40 percent of a mailing's success, followed by 40 percent for the offer, and 20 percent for everything else. Whether or not the ratio is accurate is hard to say—but the necessity of working with good lists is indisputable. Ordinarily, a house list—names of previous customers or prospects—is much more valuable than so-called compiled or cold lists bought from outside sources. The cost of an outside list varies depending on the criteria for choosing prospects, such as their income, age, household size, or geographic region. We asked some experts to give us their best techniques for the care and feeding of marketing lists.

 

Do: Set the proper expectations

Most of the people who come to your website are first-timers, and many will probably never come back—otherwise your site would have a high number of repeat visitors—so it is essential to capture visitors' names in an easy, friendly way. For example, a pop-up box prominently displayed that asks for their email address in exchange for giving them some kind of relevant information or future news.

 

Don't: "Not everybody starts on your homepage or ends up on your homepage. So if the only thing you're doing is putting your sign-up form on your homepage, you're missing out on some potential subscribers," says Justin Premick, director of educational products at AWeber Communications, a Pennsylvania-based developer of web tools for email marketing.

 

While many businesses offer discounts or other kinds of money-saving coupons as an incentive for prospects to give up their name, Premick says that providing solutions or more straight informational features on your website will also motivate them to comply.

 

"At the same time, people want to be entertained. If your company has a funny, quirky personality, then you should be highlighting that when you give people a chance to sign up because they want to have fun. They're not online to be bored," Premick says.

 

Dropping a business card in a fishbowl at a trade show, live event, or even local retailer is a perennial way to collect names, but Premick prefers a more selective approach: telling prospects in advance what they will get when they hand over their card, so that the business sets the proper expectations.

 

Do: Regardless of how or why prospects give their contact information, prompt follow-up is critical. "You don't want to go a week or two before emailing people after they have put their business card in the fishbowl," Premick says. "The same principal applies anytime someone joins your list. No one will ever be more interested in your company than the minute they give you their email address."

 

GrowingSmartly_PQ.jpgDo: Use content as a hook

Getting permission from people to add their name to your list is a crucial but sometimes overlooked step in getting the relationship started on the right foot.

 

Don't: "One of the biggest mistakes I see is adding people to your list who have not been asked to be added to your list," says Karyn Greenstreet, president of Passion for Business, a coaching and consulting service for small businesses. "When you have their card, you should contact them in a private email and ask if they would like to be on your mailing list"—widely considered to be a prudent practice for permission marketing.

 

Do: Check out the requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act, which governs commercial email transactions, to ensure that your efforts comply and the potential for heavy fines and penalties is minimized.

 

"You have to be careful when buying—or, more accurately, renting—mailing lists from any vendor," Greenstreet says. "There's no guarantee that all the email addresses you get will be up-to-date."

 

Do: As a precaution, Greenstreet recommends asking the list vendor questions such as: How fresh is your list? What percent of your list is guaranteed accurate? Have people opted in to be on this vendor's list and receive information from the people who rent the list?

 

Do: A proven way to attract names for your own house list is with relevant information. For example, Greenstreet will write a long article with rich, deep content on a topic that she specializes in, with a free offer for more information at the bottom of the article. When prospects search that topic on Google, her article appears at the top of the search results. "I can get 200 to 300 people a month on my mailing list from just one article, without doing any other work," Greenstreet says.

 

Greenstreet will also conduct unique research occasionally in the form of a survey and package those survey results for her target audience, along with additional free offers. While this strategy also results in an unusually large cache of new names, the work involved is time-consuming.

 

Building your email list is just the beginning. "Learning how to nurture your list is the most important thing," Greenstreet says. "You need to think about how to continue providing excellent content without giving away all your trade secrets."

 

SBC newsletter logo.gifLeveling the playing field

Businesses that want help in building their lists can turn to software specifically designed for lead generation and maintenance. Case in point: Act-On Software, an Oregon-based company that provides marketing automation for small and mid-sized businesses.

 

For example, their software can provide analytics that identify visitors coming to a website, capture contact information, and even help get the names of people in a particular job function in a company. "It's not as good a list as the one where people fill out a form and express interest in your company, but it's a good approximation," says Atri Chatterjee, chief marketing officer for Act-On. More granular demographic information about visitors to your website, which gives a richer profile, can also be collected and used for more targeted lead generation.

 

Rates for the software vary, but Act-On has plans that begin around $500 a month and don't require a long-term contract. "Five years ago, you had no such solution like this software. The entry point was a lot higher and involved IT people," Chatterjee says. "Now, marketing automation is expanding much faster in the small and mid-sized business market than in the enterprise space. It gives them a more level playing field than they had before."

ConflictResolution_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

Conflict in the workplace can deflate the morale of workers, lower productivity, and possibly result in physical harm. Since many people try to avoid or ignore conflict, they don't learn how to confront it in a constructive, responsible way. Yet, some conflict can actually ignite creative and healthy energy in a business. Managers who know how to deal properly with disputes at work can help equip employees with new leadership skills and empower them to make the workplace a thriving, congenial setting for everyone.

 

Address conflict head-on

Instead of being afraid of conflict, experts tend to agree that it should be faced directly. "It should be a priority of companies to create an environment in which people are comfortable bringing up conflicts," says Susan Heathfield, a management consultant and human resources expert for About.com. "You want people disagreeing because that strengthens your company and your mission."

 

For example, employees may have strong feelings about the direction of the company or the next product line to introduce. Heathfield says that business owners should have some way to recognize and reward co-workers who take a stand and support it with concrete evidence, not simply personal feelings. Even if their recommendation is ultimately turned down, it encourages workers to take an active, constructive interest in the growth of the business. "The most important thing a business can do is to create a culture in which conflict is okay, where people feel comfortable debating ideas and directions and thoughts," Heathfield explains.

 

For conflicts between co-workers, managers should take a lighter touch. "It's not the manager's responsibility to referee or set themselves up as the all-powerful arbiter," Heathfield says. "They need to sit the two people down in a room as they talk out their individual differences and make sure things go okay. If you do it with that approach, you've made them more comfortable airing their different points of view to each other."

 

Talk away from the office

Sometimes conflict can flare up simply because co-workers aren't familiar with each other, even though they work side-by-side.

 

ConflictResolution_PQ.jpg"A lot of people have their defenses up at work. They don't know the other person and they don't know what's going on in their life," says Andy Teach, a California-based career advancement expert and author of From Graduation to Corporation. "If you just sit down with them and try to talk to them, you might be surprised at how things can work out."

 

While direct communication is key to resolving conflicts, picking when and where to talk is also critical. If, after two or three emails, antagonism is only rising, it's time to pick up the phone or knock on their office door. Still, it's never a good idea to talk when you're upset, even if that means waiting a day or two to calm down before addressing the issue. Instead of talking to the person you disagree with at work, inviting them out for coffee or lunch—somewhere offsite where the stresses of the workplace are absent—can facilitate a more personal and productive conversation.

 

But wherever you meet, exercising some self-discipline and focus is paramount. "You don't want to start accusing them or raising your voice. You want to have a conversation," Teach says. "You can say: 'Look—you're treating me in this inappropriate way. Do you agree with my assessment? Can you tell me why? Is there anything I can do to make the situation better since we have to work together?

 

To settle a conflict with a fellow employee, a co-worker can offer them an incentive, Teach says. For example, the reward for settling a dispute amicably on their own can mean that both of them will enjoy their jobs more, produce more, make the workplace more harmonious for everyone—and help the department garner praise from upper management.

 

Keep it impersonal

It's essential in conflict negotiations to keep emotions out of the discussion and to focus on the disputed action—not the person behind it. Still, if you are attacked in an objectionable way, you can take control of the situation and even gain an advantage by holding your fire.

 

SBC newsletter logo.gif"If somebody raised his voice at me, I might say: 'Are you aware of how loud you said what you just said?' It moves it from attacking the other person back to making them aware of what they just did," says David Stanislaw, founder of Michigan-based Stanislaw Consulting, and a trained psychotherapist. "The biggest problem that people make in addressing each other is that they think the other person knows what they did. The level of self-awareness generally is low in the workplace, particularly when it comes to emotionally-charged communications."

 

After defusing a verbal exchange, it's best to step back and ask questions that move the discussion in constructive ways. "The idea is to take on the responsibility of being the communicator and to not assume that you know how to use the correct combination of words that accurately conveys what you're thinking or feeling to somebody else," Stanislaw explains. One key question to ask could be: "I don't think I meant that in the way you're taking it. Can I clarify what I was trying to say?"

 

Stanislaw points out that most conflict is subtle—such as an offhanded joke or a rude attitude toward another person—and is often ignored or dismissed because many people don't want to address it. Laying out transparent rules for settling disputes that everyone follows—including the owners—can be the first step toward a healthier workplace.

QASteveRowe_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.


Launched in 2010, the MyCityWay app provides users a unique way to navigate their world with just one tap of their mobile screen. By partnering with brands such as BMW, Macy’s, and the New York Daily News, to name a few, MyCityWay enables marketers to connect with customers via mobile technologies, such as smart phones and tablets. At the helm of this partnering evolution is chief revenue officer Steve Rowe. He knows a thing or two about transforming the power of relationships into solid results. Before joining MyCityWay, Rowe was head of sales and marketing for Zagat Survey, where he helped develop mobile and web marketing programs, as well as custom content and brand licensing for global corporations. Rowe recently sat down with writer Heather Chaet to share his insights about the critical importance of creating partnerships, and the impact of mobile technology on small businesses.

 

HC: Tell me a little about MyCityWay and how it all started.

SR: MyCityWay started when three long-time friends—all Wall Street banking technologists—decided to enter the first-ever NYC Big Apps competition, run by Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York. The challenge was basically: ‘Here’s all of our data, come and get it, and build a guide to the city.’ Subway information, transit alerts, weather, food ratings, all of it was open to anyone who wanted to enter. So, these friends said, ‘Why not? Let’s give it a shot.’ They actually built it on nights and weekends because they were working during the day on algorithmic trading systems, which is all about the predictive nature of the markets and how do you serve up what is happening in the markets to a non-techie trader for them to be able to read the data and understand it.

 

The MyCityWay app they created was a hit and was selected as both the People’s Choice and Investor’s Choice, and the mayor gave them an honorable mention. As part of the competition, the mayor took them out to dinner, where he suggested they focus all of their energy on MyCityWay and said that he would invest with them. They thought about it for while, and when the City of New York became one of their first investors, along with FirstMark Capital (known for Pinterest and StubHub) and IA Ventures, they quit their day jobs and started MyCityWay.

 

 

HC: What exactly does MyCityWay do and how has it evolved?

SR: We started by doing guides to cities—New York, Boston, Philadelphia and over 100 others—with the whole idea of having an app where people can go to one place, instead of 30 different apps, and get everything they wanted in one shot.

 

Basically, we use all of the data that is available in the public market, both free and licensed content, and we pipe in all of that data and content. The next layer is when all of this information talks to each other. Let’s say you are going out to eat. The MyCityWay app lets you know not just what else is near the restaurant, but how to get there, if you can park on the street, or where there is a nearby parking garage. Via our partnership with Open Table, you can make a reservation. We don’t just tell you where the closest subway is; we also have an alert from the city that says if it’s delayed or on time. All of this is in our one app.

 

We took it one step further with MyCityWay Now, which personalizes the experience even more. You get to pick what you see on your home screen: your favorite traffic camera that you use every day, the price of the grade of gas  you use, you pick whatever you want. We learn more about you because you are telling us these are the things you care about.

 

We use that information as aggregate data to get an anonymous picture of you so we can give you other information that will be most relevant to you. So that is where all the know-how from Wall Street and the algorithmic data gets combined with mobile. We try to figure out what you will want to know next. Say you like street fairs, and our data shows that there is a street fair four blocks away. We don’t think you’ll get that upset if we tell you that through the app.

 

 

QASteveRowe_PQ.jpgHC: As part of your job as chief revenue officer, you cultivate strategic partnerships for MyCityWay, and you've managed to do that with companies including the New York Daily News, Calvin Klein, and MasterCard. Why did you first think about approaching companies and how did it blossom from there?

SR: When you have a small business or even a young business, you are constantly working to grow as fast as possible. Every day counts. We are always asking ourselves, ‘Where’s the need in the market for something that we might have?’ At first, it was consumer guides for cities. Then, we realized we had this group of people using our app, we know where they are, where they are going, and what they are interested in. Someone really interested in shopping may want to know there is a Lacoste sale near by, so why not work with retailers that are looking to experiment in mobile.

 

We started to do campaigns with brands such as Lacoste, MasterCard, and Tommy Hilfiger. BMW came to us to do marketing for their BMW “i” brand of vehicles. They were interested in our technology and intrigued by our philosophy on connected devices. We believe it isn’t about what device you are on, but about you. BMW is a lifestyle, and they saw the strategic fit and, invested in us through their BMW i Ventures. Currently, we are working with them on specific technology for their car-sharing program.

 

Companies started saying, ‘We really like your platform, and we wish we had something like it.’ We realized instead of just being a B2C business where we provide information to consumers, we could empower businesses to reach consumers through our technology. It’s B2B2C.

 

 

HC: One of your more interesting and successful B2B2C partnerships was with Macy's for a Thanksgiving Day Parade app. Can you talk a little about how that came to be and what it led to in terms of future partnerships and revenue?

SR: Macy’s wanted something mobile for the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. We had a platform that helped people get around town, and the biggest thing about parade day is getting around town. We licensed our platform to Macy’s—that’s the B2B—and now they are giving it to the consumers, which is the B2C.

 

Our whole philosophy is ‘Do that extra thing—or three,’ which often pays off in big ways, and especially did with this partnership. Macy’s asked us to follow Santa down the route with a GPS chip. We knew we could do something even better and suggested we use social media to track Santa and all of the marching bands so that grandparents and aunts and uncles at home can follow their nephew in the marching band. Macy’s was thrilled, and suddenly, we had them saying amazing things about us on The Today Show. Our idea was great for them, and, in exchange, they rewarded us immeasurably with publicity and partnerships for their next two major events.

 

 

HC: How do you keep that momentum going and move from that one partnership into others?

SR: The key is to figure out how much money is available to do it again after the first one. You may think you want to do it again for three more, but you have to be honest with yourself if you can pull that off in a way that you can produce and manage them. If those next three work, then the question is: can you scale that? You have to examine if you can go from three to eight relatively easily. If you can’t, you won’t be able to turn it into a big opportunity or profit. No matter how cool the deal or partner is, you need to know if the ROI will be there.

 

 

SBC newsletter logo.gifHC: How do you maximize your ROI when you team up with a company?

SR: I think there are five steps. First, if it’s a big brand and you are really excited about it, don’t get too caught up in the hype. At the end of the day, you have a good business. They are working with you, and they have chosen you over a lot of other businesses. They find your business or what you are providing interesting, so don’t sell yourself short.

 

Second, make it clear what the exchange is—what you are giving and what they are giving—whether it is money, promotion, or maybe something else like introductions to the rest of their business arena. You may have to come down in revenue for this opportunity, but get something in exchange. For instance, if it is a big event, make sure they do a press release with you.

 

Third, cover yourself. You have to get paid and cover your expenses. There are often a lot of promises of what PR will bring you, but it’s hard to measure that type of ROI, so be conservative about the expectation of that.

 

Fourth, be critical. Take a step back from the day-to-day to be sure the effort you are putting into is still on target to get those benefits. Our work with the Daily News was a good example. The results are fantastic. People are using the app more than they ever did before.

 

Then, right after the deal is done, take a look back at it. Figure out what you would do differently so, when you go into the next one, you are writing the contract or approaching the program in a better way. What was your ROI? Maybe you got all of this press and what does that mean to you? Are people going to be running into your cupcake store because of that press? Maybe for a week, and maybe that will turn everything around and off you go. But evaluate it with a critical eye.

 

 

HC: Why do you think it’s important for small businesses to get into the mobile space?

SR: Mobile today is where the web was a bunch of years ago. It used to be you just wanted a website. But now, it has to be a great website. The same thing applied with mobile. You have to have an app that is a great app backed up by systems simple enough for any business owner or marketer to use. We are seeing that how your app works affects how well your store performs.

 

The main emphasis about your app is that you want to package it in with something more than just your business so they open it every day. For example, add relevant content, blog or social media posts. Most folks don’t think to open the Home Depot app every day, but when you package it with something like the MyCityWay app, which offers more information and content, your customers now have a reason to open it even when they aren’t thinking about your business.

 

The other essential element to your app: give lots of options for people to share. When you are building that app, get in that share button—either one-to-one via email or text, or through Facebook or any social media. People who are friends with your best customer could be your next best customers. It’s free, highly targeted advertising every time.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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