Acceptance of Circumstances, brand promise, competitive advantage, keeping up with trends, lead generation, sales, staying current, target audiences, website

The Website-Horse Connection

As I continue to talk and work with clients and prospective clients related to driving target-audience traffic to their website, via a variety of digital marketing activities, I’m regularly reminded of a phrase spoken by the leader of a webinar I attended last year — “your website should be your work horse.” Whether you spell it as one word or two, as shown below, the phrase “work horse” indicates someone or something that consistently, and endlessly, accomplishes a difficult task.

workhorse definition

Now, for the second horse reference — “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Technical SEO, paid search ads, and social media posts & ads are all effective means of driving traffic to your website, but if your website isn’t your work horse, or doesn’t cause a horse to drink, all the other digital marketing tactics in the world won’t help your organization generate more leads and sales. In almost all instances, an organization would serve itself better, from a lead- and sales-generation standpoint, if it invested time and energy to support its website being its workhorse — prior to investing in and launching other traditional or digital marketing activities to increase website traffic.

In many cases, your website will provide the first and only impression an individual or organization has of your organization. Your website should reflect that:

  • you pay attention to detail
  • you care about your organization’s reputation and image
  • you care about accuracy
  • you strive to make your visitors’ life easier and you don’t want to waste their time
  • your clients and customers can expect great things from your products and services because, well, you’re a top-notch, well-pulled-together organization
  • you are relevant and current
  • you are able to make — and do take — the time to ensure your website’s information is current and links and any interactive tools on your site function properly

horse

THINKSTOCK IMAGE

Steps to make sure your website is your work horse, and that will ultimately contribute to your being the “dark horse” in your industry or niche:

  1. Make sure there are no misspellings/typos on your site and your writing adheres to good grammar principles. It’s easy enough to spellcheck and grammar-check content/copy in MS Word or other software before you load it to your site.
  2. Check your site regularly for broken links, particularly links that point to another organization’s website, since these external sites may remove or move content to which you’ve pointed.
  3. Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. I won’t name any names of content management solutions (CMS) or free or inexpensive website creation tools or hosts. You tend to get what you pay for, and sites using cheap or free tools often end up looking cheap too — particularly when they allow for a website that is small and hard to read and not sized to work well on your desktop or laptop computer.
  4. Related to bullet #3 above, be sure to launch your site on a CMS that allows your website to be “responsive”, i.e., respond to the device which accesses it, whether it be a mobile phone, tablet, or desktop or laptop computer.
  5. Be consistent with where and how you use fonts and colors throughout your site. For example, use the same font and color for page headlines throughout your site.
  6. Make sure your site has a “cohesive” feel and certain pages don’t look like they belong on a different planet than other pages.
  7. Make sure your site is secure. Any website should be an https:// site vs. https:// site. Horses can sense danger, and nothing is going to cause a horse to bolt faster in this day and age of identity and privacy theft, than an indication from their browser that your site is “insecure.”
  8. Forego any kind of over-the-top dynamic video, photo, and graphic displays that are going to cause your site to load too slowly. Horses want to keep moving forward. Any kind of roadblock could cause them to take an undesired detour.
  9. Pay attention to current website trends, and when your existing site strays too far from those trends, update your site’s look and feel, so it feels fresh and relevant. Likely, you’ll need to do this at least once every five years.
  10. Include user-friendly navigation that calls out in clear language the topics that visitors would expect and want to find on a site that offers the types of products and services you offer. Related to this, create and include content & interactive tools that will ensure that visitors can accomplish what they want and need to do on your site. This should ultimately lead to sales and lead generation for your organization.
  11. In keeping with bullet #10 above, use clear “call-to-action” buttons (that link to appropriate page of your site) throughout your site that pertain to tasks your target audience(s) will wish and expect to accomplish when visiting your site, such as “subscribe to our e-newsletter” or “schedule a complimentary discussion.”
  12. Make sure any text is properly aligned and there are no extra spaces between words or inappropriate spaces between paragraphs or large blocks of text.
  13. Remove outdated documents and content, such as pdfs with information that is no longer accurate or relevant/timely.
  14. Delete events that have long since passed from your events calendar.
  15. This is Marketing/Branding 101 – but be consistent as to how you refer to your organization throughout the site and with logo use.
  16. Don’t make your site a dumping ground. Less usually is more. On any one particular page, don’t include so many call-outs and links to pdfs or other pages of your site, or so many graphics and images, that it’s impossible for your visitor to know where to focus.

As is obvious from the above, while well worth the effort, making sure your website is your work horse and, therefore, will lead the horse to drink is not for the work-shy. If the tips above, have you saying “hold your horses!”, we’re always ready to “saddle up” and get you moving in the right direction quickly!

Acceptance of Circumstances, Consulting, Enjoying What You Do, integrated marketing, lead generation, Making Connections and Introductions, marketing consultant, staying current

What I’ve Learned From 5 Years of Running a Consulting Firm

comfortzone

Ninety percent of my blog posts cover marketing topics and trends, particularly digital ones. This, of course, makes sense as I want to be a resource for “all things marketing” for my existing and prospective clients, as well as demonstrate my expertise, and remind folks, in need of marketing help, that I’m here to assist them with both marketing strategy development, and hands-on, day-to-day execution of marketing tactics. That said, for a while now, I’ve been wanting to share with friends, colleagues, and particularly those considering starting a consultancy of any nature, the great, the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a consultant.

I know already I’ll be commenting on or editing this post as pros and cons of consulting come to mind that I neglected to include!

Let’s start with the GREAT!

  • New People, Partners, Connections: You meet so many interesting, knowledgeable, passionate and creative individuals — whether they be fellow small business owners/entrepreneurs/consultants or employees of small, medium, or large for-profit and non-profit client organizations. And, on certain client work, you get to partner and collaborate with fellow consultants who are experts in their particular field.
  • New Industries, Products and Services: You learn about so many different industries, and unique products and services, and you get skilled at getting up-to-speed quickly on various industries. You know the types of questions to ask and the information you want and need to hunt down.
  • Diverse Service and Solution Provision: No two clients’ challenges and opportunities are the same, so with each engagement, you are required to step back and think about which of the solutions and services you offer would most benefit a client and have the most immediate impact on whatever pain point they are struggling with. In my case, because of my line of work, this means I have the opportunity to oversee or assist with a large, diverse set of marketing activities and analytics.
  • Money and Time Savings: If you’re a consultant who works out of a home office — like me — or a local, shared work space, you save time and $$ commuting to an office. You also can spend far less money on work clothes and lunches.
  • Pajamas and Sweat Pants: I don’t do it very often, but yes, you can work in your pajamas and sweats and even attend phone meetings wearing the aforementioned. Before I hit my home office and computer, I prefer to get dressed for the day in something a little less comfortable than sweats or pajamas, so I don’t feel too relaxed and feel more professional and in “work mode.”
  • Flexible Schedule: For someone like me, where past cancer treatment left me with some chronic health issues, it’s nice to have the flexibility to take care of my health and work at a slower pace, if and when required, and to be able to go to doctors’ appointments when I need to. I can also take a longer break to meet up with a friend or colleague for lunch or coffee, knowing that I can make up the lost work time at night or on the weekend.
  • No Difficult Office Politics or Managers: I don’t think the former really needs explaining…keep in mind, though, you can end up with difficult clients, or clients with difficult office politics.

Now, the GOOD!

  • You Are the Boss of You — I’ve always been driven and self-disciplined, so I treat every week day as a work day and rarely run personal errands and/or do personal chores during that time,  but for some being their own boss and not having someone tell them how to use their time or what their deliverables should be, doesn’t suit them. That’s why I listed this as “good” vs. “great”, even though I personally love being my own boss.
  • Nobody Rains (or Snows) on Your Parade — Literally and figuratively. If you don’t have face-to-face or in-person meetings scheduled, you can stay warm and dry on cold or wet days, and you don’t have to deal with negative co-workers dragging you down.

And, the BAD!

  • You Have to Look Good in Hats — You’ll be wearing a variety of them — CEO/President, junior- or entry-level staff person, bookkeeper, business development/sales manager, and marketing person, to name a few.
  • Friends & Family Think You Don’t Work — Friends, family, colleagues, etc. will think they can call or visit you anytime on a workday or you’ll drop everything to meet up with them because “you aren’t working” – hah!
  • Support May be Lacking — No matter how long your consultancy has been up and running, you’ll still frequently get asked by contacts, including friends and family, when you plan to return to a “corporate” job. Your circle may struggle with the fact that running a successful consultancy isn’t a temporary or short-term choice, it’s an active, long-term decision you made.

Boo hoo for the UGLY!

  • Client Work Gets Pulled — Promised work doesn’t come to fruition or projects for which you’ve officially been engaged or you’ve even started get put-on-hold or shut-down completely for a variety of reasons, such as:
    • your contact at your client’s office leaves
    • your contact’s manager or manager’s manager isn’t on board with proceeding with a project even if your contact is/was
    • your client has budget cuts
    • your client has new senior leadership or your contact at your client has a new manager
    • your client’s priorities shift — something unanticipated happens at their firm, in their industry, etc. that makes your work for them less of a priority
    • your client gets bought out by or merges with another firm

One of the most painful and expensive, but also beneficial lessons I’ve learned in the past five years of consulting is never leave “capacity” for a particular client unless you have documented approval of engagement for the work in-question.

  • The 50/50 Rule — At most, you will only be able to spend 50% of your work time, actually completing “paid” work for clients, this includes attending client meetings or participating in client phone calls. The remaining 50% of your time will be allocated something along these lines, unless, of course, you out-source some of this work:
    • Creating and issuing invoices, tracking expenses in an accounting system, such as QuickBooks — 2.5%
    • Posting to social media — 7.5%
    • Staying educated in your particular area of expertise through reading, webinars, and other trainings — 7.5%
    • Responding to RFPs/Creating Proposals – 10%
    • Phone or In-person meetings with prospective clients — 10%
    • Following up with individuals and organizations in your sales pipeline — 5%
    • Reaching out to individuals via LinkedIn, e-mail, etc. for the first time to see if they are open to a meeting — 5%
    • Attending short phone calls or responding to e-mails for which you can’t charge a client, since you don’t want to be viewed as “nickel & dime-ing” them. It’s just expected that a consultant will provide some “pro bono” hours – 2.5%

In sum, if you’re going to run a consultancy, you have to accept that about 50% of the work you do, will be “unpaid” work, i.e., work for which you won’t be able to bill someone.

  • If You Don’t Work, You Don’t Get Paid — enough said, and as I described above, even when you do work, much of it is work you can’t bill for.
  • No Employee/Employer Perks and Benefits (Both Tangible and Intangible) — when you are self-employed, you don’t have access to the following perks and benefits of a “corporate” employer:
    • true “paid”/”employee” benefits like health, dental, and life insurance, 401K contributions and matching, paid vacation time and time-off, short-term disability
    • office parties and celebrations
    • friendships and socialization that an office provides
    • support of and ability to brainstorm with co-workers, plus the ability to delegate work if you’re a manager
    • coverage of training and travel expenses
    • in-house training opportunities
    • and more!
  • You Work 60+ Hours, So You Don’t Have to Work 40 — So, I revamped this phrase that I snagged from Shark Tank, “entrepreneurs work 90 hours, so they don’t have to work 40”. But, basically, when you own and run your own business, it’s very unusual to have a week where you only work 35 or 40. Even if you’re not actively doing client work, you’re constantly checking your work e-mail at night and on the weekends, and quite honestly, often you you do have to work nights and/or weekends to stay on top of your accounting, proposals you need to create and send, blog posts like this one that you want to write, and client work that needs to be completed. And, yes, most consultants I know are thinking about their business 24/7 — while they are lying in bed at night, taking a shower, going for a walk, etc. It’s hard to turn your consultant brain off, particularly the part that knows that you need to constantly be creating new leads for your business.

One factor that both a corporate job and consulting have in common — workloads fluctuates. There will be times when you have far too much work, and times, when you have too little.

Despite some of the more difficult consequences and challenges of being a consultant, there is so much upside, and I wouldn’t change my work situation right now. I so enjoy where I’m at in my career — serving as an advisor and extra-hand to both clients and fellow consultants and marketing agencies — and I enjoy the challenges that come along with it. They’ve pushed and continue to push me to step outside my comfort zone and develop or enhance skills like sales and public speaking. I so look forward to what lies ahead for me in the next five years as a consultant!

A special shout-out to my niece, Angelique Snow, who alerted me to the expression in the image at the top of this post — one that is particularly fitting to my situation and that of other consultants — and to Angelique, who lives her life fully by stepping outside her comfort zone.

 

 

 

 

Acceptance of Circumstances, integrated marketing, keeping up with trends, Objectives Setting, online advertising, social media, staying current, Target Marketing, traditional marketing, Uncategorized, Understanding Your Environment

Happy (I think?) 25th Anniversary to the Internet!

As with all national days and unique holidays celebrated via social media, I’m going to take the news that “today marks the 25th anniversary of general public access to the internet” with a grain of salt; however, it’s fitting that I learned of it via Twitter.

I didn’t grow up as a “digital” marketeer. I’m proud and glad to date myself. I broke my marketing teeth in the world of traditional advertising and public relations. Think “Mad Men” vs. Mark Zuckerberg. While my very first marketing-related position was at a national market research supplier, Market Facts, where I oversaw or was involved in conducting primary research for large consumer brands like Stop & Shop and Gillette, all subsequent positions have been more marcom (marketing and communications)  focused.

My earliest marcom roles were at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of MA and Bay State Federal Bank — back in the early 1990’s through early 2000’s — when companies were just dipping their toes in the promised power of the internet. Companies felt compelled to launch and maintain Web sites and set up e-mail addresses at which they could be contacted, but I don’t believe marketing professionals, or any professionals for that matter, appreciated then the extensive impact the internet would have on traditional marketing, the role of a marketeer, or life, in general, as we knew it.

Mad_Men_season_5_cast_photo

I have to digress and take my fellow marketeers down memory lane for just one minute. Remember the days when advertising options consisted only of print, radio, network T.V., and vehicles like billboard and transit? And the days of needing to mail camera-ready ads aka slicks to media for publication? Yes, those days when e-mail blasts, social media influencers, pay-per-click and banner ads, and vlogging and blogging didn’t exist?

I’m guessing the majority of my readers will agree that there are pro’s and con’s to a world ruled by the internet. Below are what I believe to be the most critical impacts of the introduction of the “World-wide Web” (for those who don’t remember or know that’s the origin of “www.”). Given my profession, I focused on those that affect marketeers, but obviously, there’s been immeasurable impact on the day-to-day lives of all human beings.

Pros

  • It’s easy to find like-minded people or individuals facing similar challenges or opportunities, and to hold a conversation with them.
  • The opportunities to target individuals who enjoy certain hobbies and interests, belong to certain demographic groups, and/or who serve in particular business roles seem endless and are abundant.
  • Smaller organizations without deep marketing pockets can play the advertising game as well as, and sometimes even better, than larger advertisers via integrated online campaigns that are much less costly to execute and run (partly because of low or no production costs associated with online ads vs. the higher production costs often associated with print or broadcast advertising).
  • You can use the internet to research or locate just about anything or anybody.

Cons

  • Advertising $ have become quite diluted. The size of average marketing budgets has held steady and marketing monies now need to be spread across numerous media since target audiences are no longer listening to a limited number of radio or TV stations or reading a limited number of print publications. Per my Getting More Bang For Your Marketing Buck post, this means an advertiser’s marketing spend may not be as impactful, making it harder to achieve wished-for awareness or sales objectives associated with an ad campaign.
  • Marketeers may be pressured by external and internal clients to put the bulk of their time, energy, or budgets into online advertising and communications, such as social media or pay-per-click ads, when that may not be the most-effective vehicle for reaching a client’s business-to-business or business-to-consumer targets.
  • Maintaining an online presence on social media, blogs, vlogs, etc. is time-consuming, and marketing staffs may not be large enough to support the appropriate time expenditure on both traditional and digital marcom activities.
  • It’s become almost impossible for public relations (PR) professionals to know who and how to outreach to regarding covering certain topics and stories. Some publications employ different staff to handle their online vs. print communications and won’t share e-mail contact information. Instead, they encourage you to communicate with staff online. This evokes another “con”– it’s hard to have a private conversation these days as some social media users and bloggers don’t offer the capability for you to e-mail or message them, thereby forcing you to share your message with both them and the rest of the world.

What’s the key takeaway? As you set budgets, develop marketing plans, and hire staff for your next fiscal year, give a lot of hard thought to the target audiences for your products and services — not only where do your target audiences hang out, physically and virtually, but when and how do they best like to be communicated with? For example, they may be hanging out on LinkedIn because they’re conducting a job search or trying to do business development there, so that may not be the best time and place to bombard them with an ad about your business services. You and they might be better served by a more traditional marketing activity — a direct mail piece delivered to your targets’ physical office mailbox.

I’m always available to discuss any and all of the above and look forward to your thoughts. Depending on your feelings regarding the internet, take this 25-year celebration as motive to post and tweet away, or to take a walk outside and say “hello” to your neighbor in-person.

 

 

Acceptance of Circumstances, Enjoying What You Do, keeping a balance, making time for things you value, marketing consultant, Passion

Carpe Dieming

I’m not yet ready to break out all my fall sweaters on this Friday before the long weekend — one that signals that summer will soon be on its way and we’ll need to dress for crisper, cooler air.  In keeping with my post headline and being a New Englander, I plan to savor the warm days and nights of summer and all the season brings for as long as I can.

However, this post and the motto that I live by warranted my modeling a favorite sweater of mine.  Thank you Banana Republic!

IMG_2193

I’m such a big fan of both the phrase (and the color orange :)) that I eagerly scoffed up sweaters for me and my twin, Audrey, with this phrase, and wore it to work on some casual Fridays to inspire my former marcom team.

Audrey and I love to say that we are “carpe dieming” and regularly encourage friends and family to do so, being two of six siblings who have known our share of health-related hardship — three of us have battled cancer and now deal with the long lasting impact of treatment, and two live with the day-to-day challenges of multiple sclerosis (MS). Through all the great energy they bring to both their personal and work lives, I witness all the time the great awareness the Snow family siblings have of the importance of seizing every day and living each day to its fullest. And, I see this sentiment repeated over and over in a sarcoma discussion group that I participate in — whether it be voiced by current cancer patients, cancer survivors, or their caregivers and loved ones.

Given the fact that Americans, and perhaps, individuals throughout a lot of the world, think of September as a time of new beginnings and opportunities, I thought this was the perfect time to update and publish this post that I had drafted, but then put aside, several weeks ago.

To me, carpe dieming means:

1) Not putting off until tomorrow, what you can, should, or want to do today — whether it’s fun- or work-related.

2) Taking action towards your goals TODAY — whether they be to eat right, exercise, have more fun, visit more with friends or relatives, start your own business, or launch a new project.

3) Finding good in, appreciating, and enjoying every day.

4) Participating in life’s simple pleasures and acknowledging that the best things in life are, indeed, free.

5) Not over-focusing on “saving for a rainy day” to the detriment of doing enjoyable things today.

I’d love to hear what Carpe Dieming means to you.  Regardless, I hope you’ll seize this long weekend and make it the best ever, and if you haven’t seen it, check out this tribute to Robin Williams related to the important message he shared with his students in “Dead Poets Society”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acceptance of Circumstances, Enjoying What You Do, keeping a balance, making time for things you value, marketing consultant, Passion

Attitude Truly Is Everything

While you’ve all heard my blog post heading said and written numerous times in numerous ways, I think it’s a message that bears regular repeating. It’s a timeless message relevant to everyone in every situation and in every century — your attitude can and will make or break you.

I was reminded of this late last week when a friend told me that as part of consideration for a newly created position — one that would initially require a lot of mundane, repetitive work, but that was expected to grow to a much more diverse, and challenging one — she had to submit her favorite quote. She submitted the following: “You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind” – Author Unknown. A perfect quote for my “Keep Up the Fight” page.

I do believe if you go into any situation — whether it be business-, social-, family-, or health-related focusing on the good — and if the good is not easily identifiable, hunting for it, you are more likely to be both successful and happy. I speak from experience as someone who has dealt with serious illness that if you look and give thanks for whatever silver lining you can related to the situation, such as the ability to help others dealing with the same illness, a greater appreciation of the simple things in life, the forcing of one to have more life balance, etc., you will fare better mentally and physically.

tango_face_glasses

The same holds true for any business situation. Thirty years of work experience has taught me that a positive attitude is infectious. If you are proposing or beginning a project with a strong belief that it will have positive outcomes, others will believe and approach the project with the same belief. This is one of the many things I love about being a consultant (and a leader, in general), and where I think consultants, regardless of their field of expertise, can really help. We aren’t battle-weary from internal and external politics and other challenges impacting a particular department or organization.

Consultants are like fresh troops who come into a situation with brand new ideas and eyes that bring renewed enthusiasm and energy to a situation because we believe that we can be effective and help lead individuals and teams of individuals to the best possible outcomes. If we didn’t believe that we wouldn’t do what we do for a living.

Belief that great results can be achieved and no challenge is insurmountable is a powerful thing. I’d love to hear how you’ve seen it work in your lives.

Acceptance of Circumstances, Enjoying What You Do, marketing consultant, Understanding Your Environment

Dance to What Is

https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-amazing-dance-red-flag-beach-female-dancer-image31641336

“Dance to what is” is an expression I apply to and share with individuals in all aspects of my life — family, friends, and co-workers.  A co-worker from my days as a marketeer at the former Bay State Federal Bank, a community bank acquired by a larger bank in 2004, shared this with me.  The expression wasn’t his invention, but he told me the story of how a friend of his found himself on a business trip in a less-than-glamorous location.  While the friend would have rather been in NYC or some place more exciting, he decided to make the best of being in a rural town by fully engaging in the activities going on at the local bar.

I loved this story and expression so much, I started sharing it with co-workers in situations where I felt we needed to “dance to what is”.  For example, as many of us have learned throughout our careers, senior management at an organization have the final say on various matters.  We may not always agree with their decisions or pronouncements, but we have to execute them.  “Dancing to what is” means not spending a lot of time trying to change things we can’t change, i.e., accepting things and moving forward vs. spending time crying over what employees may consider “wasted” work or time.  But most importantly, “dancing to what is” means “making the most of whatever situation you find yourself in”.  You wish you were in Paris, but find yourself in a much more modest location.  Make new friends, visit the local ketchup museum, and learn what makes that area special.  There is fun and learning to be had in almost all situations if you are open to them.

As I look to establish my own marketing, communications, and research firm after 30 years employed in the financial, healthcare, market research, and higher education industries, and to launch successful marketing and communications activities for clients, the foundation to my approach will be recommending strategies and tactics that “dance to what is”.  I believe any strategy and tactics selected should be founded on research, i.e.,  on an understanding of what is really going on;  in other words founded on “what is”.  For example, are sales off because of pricing, quality, poor service, or undesirable product or program features?  Are the wrong prospective customers being targeted?  Are the wrong media being used to reach those target audiences?

Saying “it is what is” has an air of resignation to it, but “dancing to what is” means enjoying and celebrating as you really pay attention to the music that is being played.