Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

It’s Really Not a Riddle

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What do a yard maintenance company, an animal hospital, and an HVAC service provider have in common? They’ve all had a huge boost in business since using our search engine optimization and marketing services.

We don’t often brag about ourselves, but we’re making this exception because there are still business owners and managers out there who are skeptical about search engine optimization and search engine marketing (SEO and SEM). For those of you “in the know,” here’s your opportunity to spout a few statistics to the boss.

Let’s start with Mr. Lawn. When we first met with them, they weren’t doing any advertising at all. The first month of SEM generated more than $22,000 in sales! Adding SEO, their visibility increased dramatically, ranking in the top three for their most desired keywords. With the revamping of their website, their business has more than doubled in the past three years, and we continue to support that growth with ongoing services.

 

 

Clearbrook Animal Hospital was an established business when they came to us unhappy with their Google ranking and visitors to their website. With our assistance, web visitors from Google Maps increased 73%; direction requests went up 157%, and phone calls went up 66%. They went to the top three in ranking, increasing website visitors directly from results by 56%.

Quick Cool Heating and Air Conditioning Ltd. came to us wanting to have a more consistent stream of potential customers. Well, no problem! Organic traffic to their website increased more than 400% and the monthly number of phone calls went up by a whopping 4,300%.

Being good at what you do – even being the best – will not keep you in business if you don’t have customers. Digital advertising, in all forms, is the most effective and the most cost-efficient means of increasing patronage; and we’re really good at it!

Enough said.

Just One Thing

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Happy New Year! Traditionally, at this time of year we talk about new beginnings, doing research, setting goals, and making detailed plans to reach those goals. But with all that has changed in the past few years, and the uncertain trajectory of the year ahead, perhaps it’s time to change how we approach change.

If you Google “one thing,” you’ll find references to the power of positivity, a book about focusing on a singular goal, and a master theory in physics that will explain everything. Those are lofty concepts compared to the simplicity of what we’re talking about, although there are some similar elements.

So, what is this simple version of “just one thing?” Pick one task, and do it. Don’t over-think it. Don’t change your mind. Just get it done. It doesn’t even matter which task you pick, or if it was on your “to do” list in the first place. Pick. Do.

You can start with annoyances. It’s often the littlest things that drive us bananas. Those things suck energy, put us in a bad mood, and prevent us from focusing on more important matters. So, deal with it. Never any cream in the staff room fridge for your morning coffee? Add that to someone’s job description.

 

 

 

You can start with “I wish.” Are you still doing payroll with hand-written time sheets and wish it wasn’t such a time-consuming task? Make that your one thing. Talk to the bookkeeper, call the accountant for recommendations on automated systems, get pricing. The operation runs when you’re on vacation for two weeks. You can take two days to find a better, faster way to do payroll.

You can start with a task that will advance you towards a goal. Even if we don’t formally write down our goals, we all have them in our heads. You do have at least a sense of where you want to go, where you want to take your business, what you’d like to accomplish this year. So, what’s one thing you can do to move that agenda forward? Any one thing.

So many of us are tired, and basically overwhelmed by life in general. It may seem futile to spend weeks setting goals and making plans, when the day to day always seems to throw you a curve ball. If that’s your current mindset, Just One Thing might help.

Accomplishments give us satisfaction, make us feel more confident, and give us energy to move on to the next task. As long as you’re moving in the right direction, every step gets you closer to your destination. So, go ahead, take one tiny little step.

Good Tidings of Comfort & Joy

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The carols we sing at Christmas time, like “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” are centuries old, and remind us of a long past simpler life. Not that life was easy in the 1600’s, but simpler. Everyone lived in a “bubble” back then. There was little long-distance visiting or even news of those far away. The only troubles one knew about were those of fellow villagers. Was it a better life? Some could argue it was, while others would certainly note a multitude of reasons why mankind is far more fortunate in present days.

At the very least, today we have the option to turn off the tech, take a walk in the snow with a warm jacket on, and sip a hot chocolate in a candlelit room. Juxtaposing that scenario with the reality of the expectations we put on ourselves and the semi-controlled chaos that many of us abide on the daily, we present to you a very simple chocolate chip cookie recipe from ihearteating.com that you can whip up in a hurry.

 

The Simple Chocolate Cookie

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar packed
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Microwave the butter for about 40 seconds. Butter should be completely melted but shouldn’t be hot.
  • In a large bowl, mix butter with the sugars until well-combined.
  • Stir in vanilla and egg until incorporated.
  • Add the flour, baking soda, and salt. Please read the recipe note about properly measuring flour.
  • Mix dough until just combined. Dough should be soft and a little sticky but not overly sticky.
  • Stir in chocolate chips.
  • Scoop out 1.5 tablespoons of dough (medium cookie scoop) and place 2 inches apart on baking sheet.
  • Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until cookies are set. They will be puffy and still look a little underbaked in the middle.

From all of us here, we wish you comfort, joy, and a sense of peace, throughout this holiday season.

Merry Christmas!

Actionable Trends: Part 4 – Chatbots

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Actionable Trends: Part 4 – Chatbots

We’re looking at big trends that even smaller businesses can use, to draw in more customers and increase sales. Today, we’re talking about chatbots. A chatbot is a software program that mimics a human conversation with a user. There are many different types, from very simple to quite sophisticated, depending on your needs and how much you’re willing to invest. Since chatbots are designed to enable you to manage with fewer staff, doing a cost-benefit analysis is well worth your time.

There are a number of articles you can read to learn more about how chatbots work, and there are some links below. The main things to know are that the simplest of chatbots look at keywords input by the user, and then answer according to a script. A sophisticated chatbot initially uses a large database of information, but learns about each user and learns more information, as it goes.

Chatbots can perform numerous functions, within your business operations, as well as interacting with your online customers. This later task is what we’ll focus on here.

 

Smoothing the Sales Path

Internet users are notoriously impatient and get frustrated if they don’t see what they’re looking for right away. Those who have difficulties reading or navigating a website will also find a chatbot helpful. A chatbot can help users find specific items or information. While similar to having a search function, a chatbot is perceived as being a helpful agent, offering suggestions for the customer “looking for a long red sweater.” Depending on the database info, the chatbot might also suggest items made from cotton or on sale.

The chatbot can answer any questions that you’ve identified as frequent or important to decision making, and have provided the answers in your database or scripted content. Things like shipping costs, sizing, or even sustainability issues.

For service providers, the chatbot can provide costs for standard services and even book appointments.

Anything you can do to smooth the sales path for customers will increase sales, and a chatbot might just be one of those things.

Filtering Options

When customers have large selection to choose from, like car parts or houses, chatbots are a great tool for filtering. This keeps customers from being overwhelmed and narrows down the options to just a few. So, in real estate for example, the chatbot can narrow down the options by price, neighbourhood, type of building, etc. By filtering one criteria at a time (rather than using all the filters at once, which many users do on a typical real estate site), the user sees how each criteria impacts the options. Again, the other thing is that it appears to the user that someone is working with them to assist in the effort.

Customer Inquiries

A chatbot can be used to deliver answers to your basic frequently asked questions, or to answer specific inquires about an order and its status. Chatbots can also forward the chat to a live agent if the queries go beyond its capability. This is a great option for high volume sites, cutting down the number of people needed to keep up with demand, and making sure that the customer gets to the right person to handle their issue.

Customer Follow Up

You can integrate a chatbot with your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program, to connect to past customers when they revisit your site. So, for example, it can ask a returning customer how they liked the previous item or suggest items in new inventory that the person might like, based on previous purchases.

Here are those links if you’d like to learn more about chatbots. If you think a chatbot could help your sales, just give us a call.

Actionable Trends: Part 3 – Alternative Search

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Welcome back to our fall series. We’re looking at trends that all businesses can take advantage of, beginning with those that have community benefits as well. In this article, we’ll talk about optimizing your website for searches initiated by voice or an image. There are numerous advantages to doing this, so please read on.

Voice search has become very popular. If you’re not sitting in front of a keyboard, it’s much easier. In the car, it’s safer, and in the kitchen, when your hands are already in the dough and you need a substitute ingredient, a virtual assistant like Google Home and Alexa is ready to help. Voice may also be a user’s only method of interacting with the internet, which makes voice search an accessibility tool. There are an estimated 60 million such devices in the U.S. alone.

Optimizing for voice search requires some thought though. The thing is that we speak differently than we write, even when the query or intent is the same. Your website’s keywords and content therefore need to relate to spoken wording as well as the more traditional typed search terms. Just as two examples, a user might type “flights Vancouver to Toronto” to check the cost, but for a voice search, they’re more likely to ask “what’s the price of a flight from Vancouver to Toronto?” Or, they might type “egg substitute” and say “what can I substitute for eggs in a cake recipe?” The differences are subtle, but that’s what optimization is all about – subtle differences that have a big influence on ranking.

 

While some consider FAQ (frequently asked questions) pages an outdated trend, voice queries are often in the form of a question, giving the old FAQs a new reason to exist. In fact, really good FAQ content can also get your site boosted to the very top of the results page in the form of a snippet, which is when Google displays your content right on the results page.

Search programs are also using artificial intelligence to identify images. The user can snap a photo or upload an image and ask Google to find something similar. It’s a great way to figure out what something is called, like a car part, or to locate an item that you want to purchase, like a coat that someone else is wearing.

Optimizing for image search isn’t complicated, but it does take work. First, you need several high-resolution images of your product from different perspectives, like front, back, and side, preferably with a plain background. Then, you need to provide a keyword-based caption, description, and alt tag.

Whatever form it takes, great content is great for search engine ranking. Remember to create your content based on your customer persona(s) and how you can help them accomplish their goal.

Actionable Trends: Part 2 – Collecting Data

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In this series we’re talking about societal trends that are important for businesses to understand and take action on. One of those trends is the demand for more internet-user privacy, sparked by complaints and already actioned by several governments. Big names in the industry, like Google, are also getting onboard, slowly, by getting rid of third-party cookie. (Learn more about cookies.)

What this means is that digital advertising will no longer be able to target individuals who have shown an interest in a particular product, the way it happens now. What that means, is that you need to start collecting more data yourself – with permission.

We know that personalized advertising makes more sales than a generic, shotgun approach. Since you won’t be able to target persons on a large scale, you need to focus on your existing customers, visitors to your website, and personas (which we’ve talked about before).

For example, rather than trading a discount for an email address, ask a few more questions, like age range, price point desires (e.g., luxury, value), and something specific to your brand or offerings.

 

 

You can also use Facebook polls, or more detailed surveys in exchange for a gift or chance at a more valuable incentive.

Whenever you have a consumer on the phone or in a chat, ask questions and record the answers.

Don’t ask for too much information at one time, and do NOT interrupt your sales path with questions.

In this Forbes article, they suggest using personas to target segments of your market, and that’s a great strategy for expanding your customer base. Be sure to set up a strategic landing page for each persona.

Remembering that it’s always easier to sell to someone who has purchased from you before, the most important tactic is to keep records on each client, what they purchased, cross-referenced by details relevant to what you sell. E.g., If you have a client that has purchased blue garments several times, you can then send them an email when a new item arrives that comes in blue.

While the targeted advertising you know and love will continue for a while yet, the sooner you get your own data collection strategy in place, the better. Let us know if we can help.

Actionable Trends: Part 1 – Representation

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Welcome to our new series. While we often talk about trends at the start of a new year, things are different these days. The kind of trends we’re focused on aren’t the cool new fashion colours or the comeback of fondue parties. Not even close. The trends we’re following are the result of protests, violent struggles, and years of oppression. Yes, heady topics for small
business, but important ones none the less. So, let’s get to it, starting with representation.

Advertising needs to be relatable. That means that potential consumers want to see themselves represented in your marketing materials. It’s obvious from the television advertising of big brands that they have embraced anti-stereotypical situations to show their acknowledgement of diversity and inclusion. You’ll see men doing laundry and making meals, families comprised of same-sex parents, and women in hard hats.

Brands that don’t typically advertise on TV have made changes to their websites, like tool maker DeWalt.

 

Even brands like Victoria’s Secret, long associated with stereotypical, but far from average, long-legged, well endowed, young women, have made moves to include just about everyone. 

 

So, what does this mean for you? It means doing an audit (or having us do one for you) on your website, ads, and other marketing materials, to see how you are relating to potential buyers. Are you using language and images that demonstrate diversity, inclusion and representation?

The world is making demands to right some wrongs, and no one is getting a free pass. Do some good for your business and your community by being part of the solution.

How Would You Market to a Martian?

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Nasa recently announced that the Mars rover, Perseverance, had discovered the “strongest signs yet” that there had been life on the planet at some time in the pastThat got me thinking about marketing exercises, and “selling to an alien” is a good one for all types of businesses.

Marketing is about persuading others that they must have the product or service that you’re offering. We want consumers to know how we will improve their lives by saving them time or money, or fulfilling a need for entertainment or joy, or by keeping them healthy and safe. When we think about benefits though, we make assumptions.

We assume, for example, that people want to save money. We market our offering as the least costly option, and don’t really get into other information. The issue is that we’re therefore not marketing to those who have other decision-making criteria that are at least equal to the cost factor. You’re missing people who don’t know what your product does, why it’s important, or how it will benefit them; other than saving money, which is of no interest if they don’t intend to make a purchase.

Other common assumptions include that everyone wants to lose weight; everyone wants to smell fresh; everyone wants to save time cleaning. So, here’s the challenge of selling to an alien – you can’t make assumptions. We don’t know if most Martians are overweight, or if they would care if they were. We don’t know how they live, if smelling fresh is a thing, or what kind of shelter is commonplace. To promote our product or service, we need to drill down and explain all of the things we otherwise assume. In a way, it’s like trying to explain something to a 4-year-old who asks “why?” after every answer you give. The purpose of the exercise is to think of things that you wouldn’t usually mention in your marketing. Let’s try one.

 

You clean window blinds. Blinds are a convenient window covering that give us privacy and help modulate the temperature inside our homes. We don’t give them much thought, and while we don’t really notice, they do get dirty. Why do we care? Because they collect dust and grease, which provides an environment for mites, pet fur, germs, and other air borne contaminants. That poses both short and long-term health issues. Like what? A child with allergies or asthma who’s playing in the house and bumps into the blinds or opens the blinds to see outside, is going to get bombarded with particles that could cause an acute reaction. Over time, these contaminants continue to build up, so that every time you open a window to let in fresh air, you’re really just blowing those impurities all over your home. You end up creating polluted indoor air that can lead to chronic respiratory and other health problems.

So, having your blinds cleaned regularly is about providing a healthy environment for your family. That should be the primary focus for marketing, and you can make the educational approach your differentiator. The consumer will assume, that since you know why you are cleaning the blinds, that you’ll do a good job.

Try the exercise on your own products or services and see what you come up with.

A Refresher on Making Small Talk

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Networking events are back and that means polishing up on small talk and conversation starters. It’s been a long while since we navigated a crowd of mainly strangers. So, if you find yourself standing alone, take a breath, move in, and get chatting.

Before You Go

Scan the news headlines, and peek at the movie reviews. Current events are always good topics.

Opening Lines

Introduce yourself – Stick to a first name to make it easier to remember, and hopefully the person you’re meeting will do the same. Give a little tidbit of info about you, and ask a question. E.g., Hi, I’m Dave. I’m accountant at an ad agency. What kind of work do you do?

Start with a compliment – E.g., Hi, I’m Sarah. I’ve been admiring your fabulous shoes.

Talk about the venue – E.g., Have you had any food yet? It sure looks good. I’m Veronica.

Follow Ups

Do you work in the neighbourhood? I’m looking for a nice restaurant to take clients.

How did you get into that business?

Tell me more about your job; what does a typical day look like for you?

Do you travel a lot?

Introduce Others

When you meet someone, really focus on their name. Repeat it, as in, “Nice to meet you Mariah.” And say it to yourself a few more times. Then, when someone else joins your group, introduce the others around you, and yourself to the new person. Add something about another, or what you’ve been talking about. E.g., “Sarah’s just back from Italy and we’ve been talking about how much we love Italian food.” Everyone will be impressed that you remembered their name, and the new person will feel welcomed.

Let Others Talk

Let others do most of the talking, but if you’re asked a question, give more than the shortest answer. If you’re asked about your job, give your title, what you actually do, and any specialties you focus on. Be sure to ask a question back, to keep the conversation going.

Networking is important and you want to make the most of the opportunity to expand your circle. Forget the sale pitch. What you do for a living will come up, guaranteed. Just enjoy yourself. A happy face says a lot about a person.

Maybe You Need to Rethink Your Org Chart

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It’s probably not news to you that there is a pretty significant labour shortage right now. If you’re not struggling with it in your own business, you’ve probably noticed it at the grocery store or coffee shop. It’s not just entry level or low paying jobs that are vacant either, it’s at all levels and all industries.

Some blame Covid for the great resignation, but an aging population is also having an impact. But the reasons why are not as important as what you’re going to do about it.

While some will advise you to offer incentives like a signing bonus, or let employees choose their own work places or work hours, those tactics are all about getting a higher share of a scarce resource. And, since the labour pool is going to continue to shrink for a while yet, the competition will get fierce and the bidding increasingly higher. But is there an option?

 

A colleague of ours had an interesting suggestion. She contends that most businesses don’t actually need all of the staff on their org charts, and that by analyzing each job function, you can pare down to a core team that is actually more productive than filling every position you have now.

When a business first starts, there are usually a few people doing everything. There’s a list of things that need doing and the first person who finishes one task takes on the next task on the list that they’re capable of doing. Then, you have more work than can be accomplished by the few, so a new person is hired. And this is where we all make our first mistake – we write a job description. Usually, the start-up partners put all the things they don’t want to do into the new person’s job. Shortly thereafter, the new job is far too much work for one person, and they off-load to a new hire.

Traditionally, job descriptions are a list of tasks, and then the skills to do those tasks are added. And then you try to find a person who has the skills to do the tasks on that particular job description. That’s the mistake. By listing the tasks first, you begin building barriers between team members. Every time you need more people, you create a task list for that person. Sure, you may think you have the big picture in mind, but you’re working against the whole notion of a cooperative and collaborative team.

A team needs a variety of skills to perform the tasks required to do the job that the business is in. “Skills” – that’s the key word. So, you need more technical support on your team. Typically, you’d take a copy of the job description you have for your one technician, and create a second position exactly the same. And even though you don’t have 40 hours of excess work, there’s no way that you’re going to find a technician to take a part-time job, so you hire full-time. The sales person is also struggling to keep up with leads, so you make a copy of the sales position and fill that. And on and on it goes.

The alternative? First, take inventory of all of the skills you already have. Since your office manager only put his office management experience on his job application for the office manager job, you don’t know that he also has sales experience. And the sale woman you have, also has experience in tech support. Pitch the job descriptions and look at what you have and what you need. Maybe one person does sales in the morning and tech support in the afternoons. Maybe the office manager wants to learn more about accounting. The point is, people have a multitude of skills and defining what is and isn’t their job, doesn’t give a team enough flexibility to be all they can be.

While we don’t necessarily endorse our colleague’s theory, it is interesting to note that our project manager also writes music, and our web developer is a talented artist, and our writer used to manage an IT department. Just saying, it’s something to think about.