Small Business Toolbox – June Thirtieth

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.

I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Cacoo – A very easy to use online drawing drawing tool that makes it easy to create diagrams, mind maps and website layouts.  Offers a free account and is user friendly for web novices.

Quote Base – A free service that let's you create price quotes for clients that look beautiful.  Customize it with your own logo, create pdf documents and collaborate with other team members….plus alot more.

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

Low Tech Tools and Tips for High Tech Entrepreneurs

This is a guest post by Ashlee McCullen of Apron Addicts, find out more about Ashlee at the end of this article

I suppose I’m what some would call a “digital native.” I turn to computers for just about everything. At least I did until not too long ago.

Recently, I’ve found inspiration and productivity by occasionally turning off all the screens in my life. Try going low tech now and then if you’re the type whose eyes never veer from the glow of LCD. Here are some low-tech tools and tips that help me think differently in a high-tech world.

Index Cards

Index cards turn out to be a surprisingly flexible and handy way to record and manage tasks. They fit in your pocket like a smartphone, but they’re tangible like a pen-and-paper list. And by writing out each task on a different card, you can organize and rearrange tasks just as easily as you can with sophisticated task management software. Check out the hipster PDA for ideas.

Whiteboards and Glassboards

In addition to index cards, I find great inspiration from whiteboards. And while we’d all love fancy Krystal glassboards, any bootstrapping business owner can create her own glassboard or find cheap alternatives. I love that a well-placed whiteboard is “always there.” Project maps, task lists, and reminders can be a little too easy to ignore if they’re tucked away in software or buried under desktop windows.

Ergonomic Furniture

I don’t know about you, but I spend gobs of money on computer hardware, business software, smartphones, and apps. Yet, that stuff needs to be replaced in a year or two. By comparison, decent ergonomic furniture can last decades. By finding what works for you, you can save yourself strain and be more relaxed at work.

Nature Walks

I sometimes joke to myself that boredom is “dead.” I mean, you can be standing in a long line at the DMV and just pick up your smartphone to entertain yourself. But sometimes, it can be a great thing to put those screens down and to just be with your thoughts, such as with a nature walk. Or meditation. Or even just by getting up and walking around your office. You’ll feel refreshed and reenergized.

Books

As an entrepreneur, you’re in the “idea business.” So keep your mind sharp and open to new possibilities by reading books. And not just books for entrepreneurs, either. Try reading the classics, or bestsellers. Read fiction and non-fiction. Famed Texas lawyer Racehorse Haynes, for instance, swears by his daily regimen of reading classics for an hour.

Ashlee McCullen is a staff writer for Apron Addicts, a website about kitchen fashion and home style. She also writes about mobile technology and self-improvement.

The WordPress Weekly Roundup

This week in the WordPress Roundup……..

Manage Your Team Through Your WordPress Dashboard

Use Asana to create task lists that can be shared and edited by several members of your team.  It's a free service that has a WordPress plugin that lets you integrate Asan through a widget on your admin dashboard.

 How to Back Up and Move a WordPress Blog

A step by step guide to backing up and moving your WordPress website using FTP.  Make sure you backup your site before trying anything and check with your hosting provider first, as some will move the site for you.

Launch WordPress Videos in a Lightbox

Learn how to launch your videos in a beautiful lightbox using the WP Video Lightbox plugin

25 free-wordpress-portfolio-themes-for-photographers

25 free themes for showing off your photography skills.  Designed with the professional photographer in mind but useful for anyone wanting to show off their creative work.

The Best Plugins For Reviving Old Posts

Have alot of old content that is buried and in need of some love?  These plugins will help you revive some of your older content and get it in front of a new audience.

4 WordPress Stats Plugins Compared

4 great plugin options for viewing your website analytics right from your WordPress admin panel

Add Flickr Creative Commons Pictures to WordPress Posts

Any blogger will tell you how time consuming it is to find quality images for an article and then download/upload them into your post.  This nifty plugin let's you add Flickr Creative Common images to your posts directly from the WordPress editor.

If you want to find even more great WordPress resources, follow us on Twitter!

Have a question about what plugin or theme you should use for your website?  Ask and you shall receive an answer!

 

8 Website Best Practices You Should Be Following

Are you proud of your website?

Is it an accurate reflection of you and your business or does it look like a something you'd make fun of…..if it was someone else's website.

How your website looks is just as important as how your actual business looks, maybe even more so since your website likely has a far greater reach than your physical business does.  People make snap judgments when they land on a website, within a few seconds  someone will know if this is a website they can trust or one that “just doesn't feel right”.

How does your website make people feel?  Are the fonts, colors and layout in-line with each other, or at odds with each other?  Does it give off a warm fuzzy feeling, or does it make people cringe?

When it comes to a website's design and and structure, consider the following:

  • Research by Nielsen Norman Group found that when a website is re-designed with a focus on usability, key business metrics increased by an average of 83%
  • A study by the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab found that good, simple, crisp web design increases engagement and credibility.
  • The Eyetrack III from Poynter Institute study found that:
  1. When people look at blurbs (summaries) under headlines on news homepages, they often only look at the left one-third of the blurb. In other words, most people just look at the first couple of words — and only read on if they are engaged by those words.
  2. People typically scan down a list of headlines, and often don't view entire headlines. If the first words engage them, they seem likely to read on.

You don't have to have a perfect website, but you should have one that gives off a look and feel that accurately reflects your business. A nicely designed website can be the difference between generating leads and losing a potential customer forever.  If you haven't created a website for your business yet or it's time for a refresh of your existing one, consider these 8 best practices for creating a great website.

Layout

Don't clutter your website with lots of useless junk. Don't let your homepage look like the inside of a dollar store.  Use a simple design with lots of whitespace in between.  If something isn't on your website for a good reason, consider removing it or moving it to a back page.

The height of cultivation runs to simplicity ~Bruce Lee

Good

Clean home page layout

Bad

messy home page example

Colors

Use 2-4 colors that are either shades of each other, or compliment one another.  Choose colors that will give off the feeling you want your customers to get when they come to your website. Colors should compliment  the messages on your website, not distract from them.

Good

nice colors for website

Bad

poor website colors

Navigation

Is your website organized in a logical fashion?  Can visitors find what they are looking for without getting frustrated, or do you often leave them at dead ends with nowhere else to go.  Some geberal tips for good navigation:

  • Use breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are those little line of links you often see at the top of a page showing you where you are on the website, allowing you to backtrack back to towards the homepage without getting lost.
  • Make sure visitors can click back to the homepage from any page
  • Make sure the categories in your navigation bar make sense.  Organize topics and products in a logical order, from the customers point of view.
  • Add sitelinks to the footer of your website for additional navigational links.  This helps to keep your main navigation bar uncluttered.
  • Use short, concise words in your navigation

Good

good example website navigation

Badbad website navigation

Typography

The font, size, spacing and colors of the words on your website are a big deal.  People may not be able to point out what's weird on a website, but oftentimes it's the type of font used and the way it's presented on the page.  Some general guidelines:

Stick with simple fonts.  Fancy fonts makes it harder and more tiring to read text than simple fonts.  General rule of thumb, one font for your headlines and sub-headers and one font for your paragraph text.  Many people like to use serifs for headlines and sans-serifs for paragraph text.

Make your fonts bigger.  Reading on a computer is more tiring than reading a book.  If you use the typical small font sizes found in magazines and newspapers, it'll be hard to read anything more than a few lines.  Most of the time, bigger is better….many popular websites are using 14-16pt fonts for their paragraph text.  Just be sure your line height and spacing are appropriate for your font size.

Use whitespace.  Don't jumble your headers and paragraphs together.  Leave an appropriate amount of white space to create clean breaks in your text.

Good

nice website typography

Bad

Poor typography

Copy

People don't read websites, they scan them.  People typically scan headlines and the first sentences to see if it's worth reading.  When it comes to what you want to tell your visitors, get to the point.  People don't want to hear about your mission statements, your core values or other things that are important only to you….they want to hear about the things that are important to them.  Some general guidelines:

  • Make your message short and simple.  Get what you want to say across with the least amount of text, using simple language.
  • Avoid long paragraphs, they are difficult to read online.
  • Use simple and concise headings.  Use short, descriptive headlines and headings that will engage people.
  • Use headers, bullet points, bold type and whitespace to break up text.  Integrate these to make reading easier, to organize your topics, and to bring out key points or sentences you want to highlight.

Good

short web text

Bad

long paragraphs blogging

About Us

The About Us page is your chance to tell the visitor who you are, why you do what you do, and what makes doing business with you so cool.  Often times though, the About Us page turns into a never ending paragraph of why the company is so great, how many awards they won and other nonsense that nobody cares about.  Use this page  to start making a connection with your visitors and let them know what your really about.

Good

great about me pageBad

bad example about me page

Images

Two hands shaking, an arrow pointing upwards into blue skies, the perfect multicultural mix of young, good looking professionals…..the possibilities of stock photography are endless.  Don't use them.  People are past those cliche' stock images and they do nothing for your website or your business.

Find someone with a good quality camera and who knows a thing or two about photography and have them create your images.  People want to see real images of your business and the people who work there and images of your products or service in action.  Will it be as clean and polished as stock photography?  No……but it'll be real, and that's what people are looking for.

Good

good images website

Bad

bad stock photography

Contact Us

  • Whatever form of contact you use on your website, make it easy for people to find it and easy to use it.  Some general tips:
  • Put your contact info front and center on your website, not buried in the footer.
  • Use a contact form instead of adding your email address.  With an email address, people either have to copy and paste it or they click on it and get the “email setup configuration wizard” on their computer that they never knew existed….and have no idea how to use.
  • Use a simple contact form, only ask for enough information that's necessary….too many businesses try and use their contact form as a prospecting tool

Good

great contact form example

Bad

bad contact form example

Whether you hire someone to build your website or you attempt to do it yourself, following the suggestions above will give you a guideline for creating a nice website you can be proud of.

Small Business Toolbox – June Twenty Three

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.

I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Present.me – A neat little service that let's you conduct an online video presentation side by side with you're slide show or video presentation.  Has a free option for 3 presentations a month and for lengths of less than 15 minutes.

TwitSprout – Measure your Social Media in style.  Social Media analytics presented in beautiful graphical display.  Free for up to 3 social media accounts.  If you're not measuring your Social Media, this is a great free tool to have.

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

What Is a 301 Redirect?

A 301 redirect is a technical term used when you want to permanently redirect traffic from one URL to another URL.  It's the same concept as if you were moving to a new home.  You would notify the post office that any mail that's delivered to your old house, get forwarded or “redirected” to your new house.  That's all it is.

What are some examples of using a 301 redirect?

When you move your website to a new domain.  If you decide to move your website domain from “http://myoldbusinessplaybooksite.com” to “http://3bugmedia.wordpressdevelopment.ca“, you would setup a 301 redirect so that the search engines, and your visitors know that this new domain is actually the old one with a new name.  The best practice is to do a 301 redirect of your individual web pages to their new individual page on your new site.  It's alot of work, but this preserves the most SEO value from your old website.  If you didn't do a 301 redirect in this situation, the search engines would consider it a totally new domain and you would lose all of the links and domain authority you built up with your old domain.

When you forward your “www” domain to your “non'www” domain.  It may not make sense, but technically, according to the search engines,  when you type in “http://www.mysmallbusiness1234.com” or “http://mysmallbusiness1234.com” they are considered two different websites.

Sometimes they figure it out on their own, but often times you will find the search engines indexing the websites as if they were separate.  Not good for you from a search engine optimization perspective.  Setting up a 301 redirect and having one of the URL's forwarding to the other remedies this problem.

How do I setup a 301 redirect?

You would normally setup a 301 redirect through your domain control panel, provided by your hosting company.  For simple 301 redirects, such as forwarding just a few links from your site to a new one, there are a few WordPress plugins you can use such as Simple 301 Redirects.

Before you try and fiddle with anything on your website, always….always….create a backup of your website.  This suggestion is made from experience.  If you're unsure about the process, call your hosting provider or ask someone you know that knows what they are doing before you attempt anything yourself.

 

7 Great Ways Your Can Promote Your Blog Articles

How do you promote your content online?

If you're like many bloggers, especially those just starting out, you probably put  80% of your effort in writing the article and 20% promoting it, if that.

Did you know that most top bloggers do the opposite?  Writing the article is the easy part, the hours spent afterwards promoting it and responding to reader comments accounts for alot of their effort.  That's not to say top bloggers don't put in a boatload of effort in writing  a new article, they put in lots of it, it's just that they realize even great articles need a good push if they really want it to take off.

Think of it like starting a business.  You wouldn't spend all of that time and energy to get your business opened, and then not market your new business.  The results wouldn't be very good if you did that……and it's sort of the same with writing a new blog article.  Why would you go through all of the time and research to put together a great article……and then stop?

You may not do everything below for every article you publish, but you should be spending almost as much time promoting that new article as you spent writing it.  Unless you're Seth Godin, you're killer blog post is not likely to take off unless you give it some legs at the start.

Your Email List – Send out your new article to your contact list.  Let them know you just published a new article and ask them to check it out (if it's relevant to them) or ask for their opinion on the article.  If you're a business, hopefully you're using a proper Email Marketing service like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact

Twitter and Facebook – This is where most bloggers start…..and end their marketing of a new article.  I'm guilty of this, but just posting or tweeting an article and forgetting about it won't get you very far, unless you have a huge following.  Remember to respond to every comment, “Like” or “Re-Tweet” and to actively reach out and mention people who you think would enjoy the article….just try not to be annoying.

LinkedIn – There are lots of awesome LinkedIn groups you can join and post your content too.  LinkedIn can be a great source of traffic for your website if done right.  LinkedIn groups are a great way to connect with others and to introduce new content to a relevant audience.  The key is, just like in the real world, is to build some relationships first before posting your content.  Nobody likes the WIIFM type of people, on the internet or in real life.

On your website – Do you have a special spot on your homepage to highlight new articles?  If you're like most businesses, the blog page is buried somewhere in the back of your website, in a place even you forget is there.  If you want people to see your new article, find a spot on your homepage to highlight it.

In your Email Signature – A great spot to highlight your latest blog article.  Services like WiseStamp make it easy to add your latest Tweet or article in your email signature.  If you think about all of the emails you send out on a daily basis, that's alot of promoting you can do!

On your Business Card – Use a QR generating service to create a QR code you can add to your business card.  Link that QR code to your blog page so that anyone that scans the QR code will automatically see your latest blog article.

Websites and Forums related to your industry – There are probably dozens of discussion groups and forums related to your niche that you can get active on.  Just like with LinkedIn, I would only post articles if you're a part of the community and people know you're active there.  Usually the etiquette in forums and discussion groups is to not directly promote your stuff….unless it's really, really relevant.  Rather, most allow a bio or signature line below your discussions….and that's a great place to link back to your article.

How do you promote your content?

Here are just a few suggestions, there are plenty more…..i'd love to hear them!  Leave them in the comments below.

 

Are You Keeping Track Of Your Customer Touch Points? [free download]

Do you have a written plan for the various touch points you make with your customers?

If you're like most small businesses, you probably don't even know what i'm taking about.

Keeping track of, and optimizing your customer touch points is essential if you want to create a consistent and predictable customer service experience for your customers.

What is a Customer Touch Point?

Customer touch points are any interactions and communications your business has with your customers during the life of your relationship with them.  Customer touch points can be, but are not limited to:

  • Your marketing materials
  • Any employee contact with your customers
  • Phone and written communications
  • Your website

As you can see, a customer touch point is anytime your customer has an interaction with your business, whether with a human or with your marketing and branding efforts.  Do you know all of the possible touch points you have with your customers?  Maybe you should stop now and write them down.

Why is keeping track of your customer touch points important?

It's important because a company that delivers great customer service does so in a consistent and predictable way.  That takes planning.

One of the  principles of creating a great customer service experience is not doing spectacular things for your customers, it's doing little things in a spectacular way.  I'll add to that even further……it's doing little things in a spectacular, but consistent way.

If you do something nice for your customers, like send thank you cards…..do you do it consistently, or just when you remember or feel like it?  Do all of your best customers get one, or whoever you happen to remember that day?

Just like with marketing, your customer's experience with your business shouldn't be left to the whims and moods of you and your employees…..your customers should feel good knowing that if you do something nice for them once, you'll remember to do it again for them.  The only way for you and your employees to deliver customer experiences in a consistent way is to have a written touchpoint plan or calendar.

Customer Touch Point Calendar

A customer touch point calendar is alot like a marketing calendar, except that you're tracking and scheduling your customer service activities in advance. One, so you don't forget to do it, and two, that you do it consistently.  It's simply writing out the various touch point opportunities you have with your customers, and including activities throughout the year to coincide with those touch points.  You can download a sample touch point calendar here, it's a simple Excel file that you can use as a template or customize for your own business.

Some of the activities cross over into the marketing side of things, so be sure to coordinate your marketing calendar and customer touch point calendar.

Are you creating a consistent customer service experience for your customers?

If not, maybe it's time to re-evaluate your customer service activities and come up with a plan for delivering a great experience each and every time you make contact with your customers.

 

 

Small Business Toolbox – June Sixteen

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.

I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Callfire – Low cost service to implement call tracking for your marketing initiatives.  For as low as a buck a month and with no contracts, use tracking phone numbers to see where your advertising dollars are being well spent.  Great for online campaigns, trade shows and print advertising.  You can also use call recording features to make sure your customer service is up to snuff.

Freedcamp – A free and easy to use project management and team collaboration tool very similar to Basecamp.  Loads of premium features you would pay for elsewhere, yet still simple to use.

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

10 Essential Tools Every Webmaster Should Use

Before we get into essential tools for any webmaster, we should first review who and what a webmaster is.

A webmaster is a person or group of people who oversee the development, maintenance and performance of a website.  For a lone blogger or small business, this is most likely the owner of the website or a geek friend they know who helps out. For a bigger website, it may be an in-house team or a third party company that maintains the website.  Most webmasters are knowledgeable when it comes to html and even java script and other programming languages.  If you're a business owner or blogger, this may not be the case, but you can still perform most of the functions a webmaster is required to perform.

If you're the person that is responsible for maintaining your website or blog, below are 10 essential tools that any webmaster should have on hand to help better manage their website.  Some of them are monitoring tools, while others will help you get better performance out of your website and will help you to become a better webmaster.

Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster tools is the first place any webmaster should start.  Within Google Webmaster Tools you can submit sitemaps for your website, set your preferred URL type (www or non-www) and even your websites preferred country for displaying in the search results.  You'll also get detailed statistics on your website such as your ranking for certain keywords and the type of search queries people use when finding your website.  Lots of useful data for any webmaster.

Bing Webmaster Tools

Though Bing and Yahoo won't drive the same traffic that Google will, Bing's Webmaster Tools is a great resource.  While it will give you similar data for your website as Google, except from the perspective of Bing and Yahoo search, there are a few tools here that are really useful that Google Webmaster Tools doesn't have.  Yahoo Site Explorer used to be a tool that every webmaster and seo used….that is until Yahoo discontinued it.  Well it looks like Bing Webmaster Tools has integrated it back into it's service under the name Link Explorer, which can be found under the Diagnostics and Tools section of the site.  You'll also find other cool resources such as an seo analyzer and keyword research tools.

Google Analytics

Every webmaster should be monitoring their websites visitor statistics and luckily Google offers one of the best analytic tools for free.  Once Google Analytics is integrated into your website you'll be able to view detailed visitor statistics such as how much time they spent on the site, what pages they viewed and how they found your website in the first place.  It's a goldmine of data for the webmaster who loves statistics.

Uptime Robot

A free service that will monitor your website every 5 minutes and will notify you via email, text or on Twitter if your website goes down.  It takes 2 minutes to set up and is an invaluable tool for monitoring the uptime of your website.

Pingdom Page Test

While a fast loading website has always been critical to a great user experience, Google has announced that they officially consider your websites load time as one of their search engine ranking algorithms.  Pingdom Page Test is a free service that will perform a speed test on your website, showing you how fast it takes to load as well as the load time of every image, file and function on the page.  It will give you a quick view of what plugin, image or application is slowing your website down.

Google Keyword Tool

Part of the Google Adwords toolbox, the Google Keyword Tool is a great place to start when conducting keyword research.  Find estimated search engine traffic (globally or country specific), the competitiveness of the keyword, as well as related keywords and terms.  Use this tool as a starting point when determining what keywords and terms you're trying to rank for in the search engines.

Smush.it

Part of the Yahoo Developer Network, this free tool is great for compressing image files in a lossless way before adding them to your website.  Large image files can really slow your website down and this tool will create a smaller file of your image without losing image quality.  If you use WordPress, there is a great plugin called WP Smushit that does the same thing automatically.

Evernote

Probably the best productivity tool on the web, at least in my opinion.  This is one of the tools that I use everyday and rely on to keep me organized.  From creating written and audio notes to saving images where the text inside is fully searchable to clipping websites and articles when conducting research, Evernote is just awesome.  As a webmaster, create a notebook with all of your reference materials and resources so you can access them easily in one place.

Code Academy

An easy to use and interactive way to learn programming.  Every webmaster should know html as well as some java script  at the very least, but if you don't….you can learn it here for free.  The lessons are easy to understand and your progress is tracked and saved.  A great resource if your new to programming and would like to learn it.

Symbaloo

A free visual bookmarking service that I use as my startup dashboard in my Chrome and Firefox browsers.  Create a webmaster dashboard with all of the tools listed in thei article!  You can build multiple dashboard pages, create your own customized bookmarking tiles and get suggestions for services you've never heard of before.  I've covered Symbaloo before on my small business blog, The Small Business Playbook.

What webmaster tools do you use?

These are 10 of the tools I think are essential for any webmaster, especially a novice webmaster.  There's lots of other great tools out there, i'd love to hear about them so leave them in the comments below!