“I built a website- where are the customers?”

With the tough economy we have a lot of new entrepreneurs starting up. Many worked for other people and are getting their first taste of how business really works.

I highly recommend reading The E-Myth by Michael Gerber, which spells out the difference between a business and a job.

We’ve been getting a lot of “beginner” questions lately- and so I thought I’d share some answers:

As to the question in the title of this post- just having a website doesn’t bring customers anymore than having a business on a side street. You still need to advertise,  marker, or beat a drum. Building a reputation requires continuous action and reaction.

SEO be damned- even turning up first on Google isn’t anymore of a strategy than being listed first in the yellow pages- even if your name is really “Aardvark.” Although turning up in Google somewhere is mandatory- but, a quick trip to places.google.com can solve that.

“I want to buy a bunch of email addresses and send out a newsletter to get them to my website so they’ll buy.” Sure- and what do you do with e-mail that comes from strangers? Do you read it all?

“Call the paper and find out why they didn’t write a story about my new business.” Right now newspapers are having a hard enough time writing real news- and getting people to read it. Some have a “press release submission” page on their site- and post everything. When was the last time you went and read it?

“My prices are the best in the {pick one: City, State, Nation, Continent, Planet, Universe} why aren’t people buying from me?” If you are planning on using price as your main marketing tool, get out of business now. It’s hard enough competing with price comparisons a google click away.

Here are some bits of wisdom for all new entrepreneurs:

  • People do business with people they like. Do thinks that make friends- online and offline, and then work like hell to get your friends to talk well of you.
  • Trust is the most important currency in business today, don’t play games with prices, people, or promotion. Mean what you say- stick to your word and under-promise and over deliver and you’ll be fine.
  • Branding does matter. If people are going to talk about you- they need a name to talk about. If we print it on a t-shirt for our employees- will customers want to buy the shirt from you to wear around town? That’s the quick way of figuring out if you have a brand people like- or not.
  • In this economy there are no “safe” moves. Don’t do things like your competition- do things that make them want to be like you. Being flamboyant is cool again- be it with constant self-promotion via social media like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook- or, driving a billboard. Don’t be shy- it’s not going to get your name out there.
  • As a warning- many of you will find that working for someone else isn’t the same as working for yourself, you thought you got rid of your old boss- now every customer is now your boss. The idea that when you own your own business you can take a half day off anytime you want- the correct answer is which half, the first 12 hours or the second 12. Young businesses are like babies- they need a lot of attention.
  • Banks aren’t lending like they used to. Be warned, credit cards aren’t your friends. Learn quickly the value of cash- and never forget it. It’s probably the least pushed part of small business accounting in business school- but, cash is king- you heard it here first. With cash- drive a super-hard bargain every chance you get- and try to get your vendors to finance as much of your business as possible- then they have a real stake in if you will succeed or not.

And if you still are wondering where the customers are- you can always call a good ad agency who can help you find them and deliver your core message. We’re available btw.

Marketing is a service! Google gets it right again.

There has been a movement to “marketing as a service”- where the customer is rewarded for their attention instead of bothered by it.

Good advertising makes fans/friends, good service makes customers for life.

Google decided to spend their marketing money giving customers something that is useful: free WiFi at airports (note- at least two on the list already had free WiFi- Las Vegas and Jacksonville).

When you’re traveling this holiday season, you can enjoy free WiFi at 47 participating airports and on every Virgin America flight. Just bring a WiFi-enabled laptop or mobile device and stay connected to family and friends for free while you travel now through January 15, 2010.

via Free WiFi - A 2009-2010 Holiday Gift from Google.

The real question is why most airports haven’t realized that business travelers, who are their bread and butter, would tell you that WiFi is more (or at least equally important) as toilet paper in the bathroom stalls. In the hyper-competitive market for business travelers there is no excuse for not having both free WiFi and plenty of charging stations/power outlets for the power traveler.

What can your business give away to build goodwill? What information could you provide that makes you not only the expert in your field, but invaluable to customers? Make every interaction with customers one where you give them value and they will value your business relationship.

The value of value.

I read an incredibly stupid post this morning about how Google would have to shut down YouTube because it wasn’t making money.

It would seem that a lot of companies should have been doomed for not making money, including the American automotive companies, but that’s not how finance works when you are the 800lb gorilla in your field.

A lot has to do with trust and confidence in a corporations ability to convince people that it has intrinsic value. Newspapers have been getting away with this for years, even though their business model died when CraigsList went global.
Didn’t people say Google would never be able to successfully monetize search?

YouTube is now the second leading search site. People now want to watch video to answer questions as well as reading text.
If you’ve seen the new audio transcription tools in Adobe Premier, you know it’s not long until video is easily searchable as well. That will change the value of YouTube considerably as the largest depository of video online.

Getting back to value, most people don’t realize that all those annoying ads they can’t stand have value to them- because they were used to subsidize the content they’ve been enjoying for “free” for all these years.

The mass media have been asleep at the wheel, believing that as long as they have great content, they’ll have big audiences and can continue to count on advertisers accepting that some of their message will be skipped or delivered blindly.

Those days are over.

No advertiser will be willing to accept less than 100% targeted delivery in the near future, and this is where Google will deliver the ultimate power play of modern business history.

Google was never in the business to monetize content: it’s in the business to monetize you- the viewer. By building a trusted relationship, based on providing a superior service (search) they have earned the right to become your middleman in serving you premium content in exchange for showing you personalized relevant ads.

They know you from your search history. They know you from your browsing habits. They know you from your gmail account, your Google voice account, pretty soon, you realize you have a benevolent big brother who knows you better than you do. Google has been called the database of future intentions- and by comparing you to others like you, they can make some pretty good guesses of what you’ll like and won’t like- much like Netflix and Amazon do with their suggestion engines.

You watch ads relevant to you, they serve you the content you want, advertisers reach exactly who they want, Google gets a better understanding of you with each ad and your response (did I mention you’ll have to respond to every ad with a brief thumbs-up, thumbs-down or answer a few questions?)

As the mass media model fails- Google will be in the unique position to be your agent in brokering ads to pay for your content.
That’s their business model, providing value to you and to the advertiser, and YouTube is one of the keys.

The importance of offline in an online world

David Meerman Scott is becoming one of the social media Illuminati, with his books, talks, blog and tweets. The cool thing about all this social media stuff- is a lot of it is good old business common sense repackaged in a 2.0 format.

His post, which I’ve excerpted most of here- is one of those common sense things that corporate America needs to relearn. No matter how many amazing, expensive, beautifully shot car commercials we see- we still have to complete a transaction at the local level- with a, that’s right- car salesman. Note to GM- this is part of the reason Saturn started out so strong- you cut out the worst part of buying a car- but I digress, read what David says:

People want to do business with people. We’re human, and we crave interaction with people who know us. When you build content especially for your buyer personas, you build a relationship with people before you’ve even met them.

How about the opposite case? Have you recently visited a company Web site or blog and said, “Wow These guys understand me” Didn’t it make you feel different from how those boring old sites you usually see do?

When online content seems created by some nameless, faceless corporate entity, it doesn’t entice us. And we’re just not interested in doing business with that company. A corporate-brochure site will never start a World Wide Rave.

We all want to do business with other humans. We want to know there’s a breathing person behind the Web site or blog that we’re reading. And we want to know that those humans on the other side understand and want to help us. A great site or blog or YouTube video, created especially for us, drives us to action. We want to do business with people who understand our problems.

There’s no secret to building great online information. Start by understanding your buyer personas, not by hyping your products and services.

Web Ink Now: People want to do business with people.

The reason social media driven sites work so well, as opposed to brochure sites is that there is a chance to have a conversation. People want to be heard, and the reason they are on your site is they are looking for answers for their problems. They probably came to your site because Google put you there as “the expert” on their search- it’s your job to prove them right.

In my recent search for a printer, the company that I eventually ended up doing business with seemed like the expert in the area of large format color printers. Their site was extensive, but what got me to call, was watching a youtube video explaining and comparing two printers. The people weren’t professional actors- they were the sales team. The production wasn’t slick, it was probably flip. When I called, the people on the phone seemed to care about me getting the best possible printer at the best possible price. It wasn’t about them- it was about solving my printing problems.

A lot can be said about advertising, design, strategy, marketing- but in the end, people do business with people they know. We tell this to our clients. We remind them constantly that if they aren’t in the evoked set of possible suppliers (either in Google or in top of mind) they don’t exist. What can you do to increase your perception of expertise and accessibility to your clients?

Think about it. If you want to talk about it, feel free to call me, 937.228.4433. We’re here to solve your social media and marketing problems by helping you know more people to do business with.

Social media and your business: how small can be big

Your business depends on the perception of value to your customers. Consumers or customers or patients or guests- whatever you choose to call the people you sell your product or service to, want to feel that they have made the right decision in hiring you to solve their problems.

When we say “Create Lust: Evoke Trust” we get down to the core of what makes people buy. They want what you have to offer because they are confident in your ability to supply what ever it is that they want. They should feel good about their purchase. They look for affirmation from others to justify their decision. Often, just a client list can instill confidence that they are dealing with a professional.

For small business, advertising has become almost cost prohibitive in these days of too many media choices, too many messages and too many options. Because advertising via mass media is almost an oxymoron, sponsored search advertising has become perceived as the only viable option for small business. I’ll define “sponsored search” for those of you new to the term: it’s having your ad appear when someone does a search on a certain keyword. Google is by far the leader in this market, and it sets it’s prices purely by auction- meaning the price of an ad depends on how much competition you have. This is very good for Google- and not very good for you.

That’s why we believe that social media (a good definition of social media can be found on the Radian6 website (update 3012- Radian6 was bought by Salesforce and the link is gone) and on Wikipedia) and good branding are so important in this age of information overload. The Next Wave is one of the leaders in teaching social media/web 2.0 to it’s clients and to others across the country as well as one of the earliest adopters of the technology. It’s part of why we’re called “The Next Wave.”

If “fake it to make it” is really a strategy, and today, more than ever, it’s apparent that guru’s can appear from anywhere. If you want an example- just take a look at “The Evolution of Dance.” Needless to say, being able to dance your way through a meeting has taken new meaning.

Which brings us back to social media and small business. Experts are always nice to have around. If you want to grow your business, finding the right expert to solve your problem can make it much easier for you to do what you do best. Social media- or web 2.0 enabled websites (like this one- partially) allow you to demonstrate your value and knowledge to the world- and have a conversation with other people interested in your area of expertise. Building networks is still one of the secrets to getting your foot in the door- only now, the network isn’t built with closed communities (Harvard or West Point grads come to mind) but in open communities online. The more people you connect with in your field, the stronger your brand.

This video on social media has a whole bevy of people who have exploited the social media tools to build their value in the greater community. Proof positive was how easy it was to Google their names and come to a their site- on the top of the list.

We’ve even connected with a few of the people in the video- like Steve Hall from AdRants.

Their tips? Here is the search friendly run down of the six minute video:

The social opportunity
Brian Solis PR 2.0 FutureWorks
Grow communities around you by engaging them- you become an authority and influential

Rohit Bhargava- author “Personality Not Included
Word-of-mouth and customer referrals- number one source- cheap, viral works.

Tim Ferriss- The four hour work week
Get offline to meet the people online.

Steve Hall publisher of AdRants
Reach out to  everyone in your industry 9 times out of ten there is someone else doing it- and you want to make friends with them and their friends.

Toby Bloomberg- Bloomberg Marketing
A better way for small business to scale and to grow because of relationships.

Ryan Anderson Overlay tv
Great way to bypass traditional filters and go direct to your core customer.

Darren Rowse ProBlogger
To get your content out there- join up with others to get your content out there.

David Alston- Radian6
Use social media to build a brand in a highly targeted way.

Mari Smith- success coach
Be seen everywhere- online.

Liz Strauss- successful blog
To become irrisistable- know your goal. Three kinds of visitors- readers, people who do things or offer things- and the info sources.

Paul Chaney- International Blogging and New Media Association
How to show your product being made in process- turning his business into a story – to help the customer get to know your business.

While being on Linkedin.com, facebook.com and other business social media sites, there is nothing quite like having your own site and strategy to spread your message. Once you get your potential customers to your site, looking like you have your act together is critical- and that’s where branding comes in.

We have a small confession to make: we’ve been so busy working on other sites, that we’ve let our own slip a bit- but, that’s going to be addressed soon.

For a great introduction to how the web, search and open source content managers work (the best friend of the social media pro)- we highly recommend taking our Websitetology Seminar. If you aren’t in Ohio- we can bring it to your city- just organize a development day for your professional organization and we’ll do a revenue share that will help you raise money for your organization and build your social media knowledge.