What to Do if a Virus (or Malware) Hits Your Website

(Screaming and running around is optional.)

I have had to deal with malware in websites before.

It’s ugly.

Often the site is frozen or broken looking. The backend (or CRM) is quite often not accessible, because it too is frozen.

This is where panic sets in and you’re pretty sure your website will never work again. After all, you’re a small business — not large enough to have a computer management firm monitoring your system. A system that, let’s face it, is probably at least partly made up of what was in the house when you started your business.

Take a breath. It’s going to be fine. There are people to help. Continue reading “What to Do if a Virus (or Malware) Hits Your Website”

Million Dollar Small Business Question? Where Is My Time Going?

This is a struggle for everyone, let’s face it. It is, however, especially important for an entrepreneur because we don’t have anyone delegating to us and offering up deadlines.

Now, let’s be real — for many of us, this is one of the reasons we took the leap into business ownership. We love that we’re are responsible for all our time. We thrive on the empty page that is our day.

What comes with an empty page, sadly, is the possibility of inefficiency. Now, this NEVER happens to me, but if you find yourself in this position, I have some tips. Okay, okay. I have the tips because I, too, suffer from blank page day syndrome. Fine, I’ll admit it (begrudgingly.)

Queue the helpful tips:

  1. Keep a Timesheet: I don’t mean keep track of your every second. What you want from this exercise is a better understanding of where you really spend your time. I realized that I was doing more billable time than I was actually charging for. Trying to remember how long something really took a few weeks later isn’t helpful. In my case, I was giving time away. My timesheet helped resolve that.
  2. Give Yourself Guidelines: Does your business thrive on social media? Then you need to stay consistently engaged without giving your entire day over to it. I tend to miss a few days (weeks) here and there. For me, this is about being sure to log in and say “hi.” For some of you, it may mean turning the apps off for a few hours a day.
  3. Make an “Absolute Yes” List: This is take off of Cheryl Richardson’s life yes list. Choose 3 things that you will focus on today. If something comes up that is not related to these three things, postpone dealing with them for another day when they are on your Absolute Yes list. This will help ensure than your time is going to important items while recognizing that some days involve more than one priority.

As entrepreneurs, we put the time in — no one’s questioning that — but sometimes managing our time is the key to better outcomes. After all, the goal is to build a successful business; the goal is not to log the most time possible at our desk.

How Often Should You Change Your Brand?

I come across this a lot. We all want new, fresh starts. We all like pretty, slick, sophisticated, attractive marketing material. That does not mean, however, that we need to throw the baby away with the bathwater.

Sorry to disappoint.

Now, I’m writing this article from the perspective that you took some time when you first branded your company to think/dream/meditate on its personality and how you wanted it presented to the world. If you have not gone through this process yet, this article isn’t for you. Please feel free to go forth and brand.

If, however, you have a logo, colours, personality, and style for your company but feel that it’s stale, I’m talking to you.

Believe it or not, consumers don’t only relate to your outstanding customer service, your magical product, or your dedication to staying abreast in your field. These things are great. They’re the backbone of your company, don’t get me wrong. However, when people are wracking their brains, trying to think of someone to help them, they’ll just as often remember you by the colour of your business card, the event they saw you at, or the brochure they have stuck in the back of their drawer (the one they see every time they look for a pen). Branding works because humans use shortcuts to filing away and retrieving information in our brains.

So, if you have spent time associating yourself with one brand and then suddenly switch to something completely different, you will — in essence — need to reprogram every one of their brains to remember your company in association with different items. Why re-do all that work? I will even take it one step further and claim that your customer may not feel the same level of comfort with your business if it suddenly changes identities. It will be unconscious. They will not feel the same attachment and their brain may associate that with a break in loyalty. They will be “on the market” for a new whatever-you-do.

Does this mean you’re stuck with a 1980’s logo? Heck no! I recommend working with a graphic designer who is on-board with a re-stylization of your visual brand, rather than a complete overhall.

Don’t believe it can be done? Here are some companies who’ve done it (and you probably didn’t even realize it!)

Crayola

For the most part, their colors have remained the same. The green stripes on the yellow box has been around almost as long as crayons. Crayola has always made their re-stylized wordmark logo the most important piece of the text. Even in the most modern, slick packaging, these elements remain unchanged. Thanks to sandboxworld.com for the photo!

Coke & Pepsi

Their look has definitely changed but this is a great example how a step-by-step re-stylization can work in your favour, keeping your brand fresh over many generations of consumers. Note how holding the colours steady seems to be key in making major changes successfully. Thanks to underconsideration.com for the image. (Click the image to view a larger version)

See? You too can evolve your brand rather than inflicting shock and awe (and confusion) on your clients. I know that graphic artists exist who are willing (and would even prefer) to work with your existing brand. A great artist knows how emotions, thoughts, and feelings can be enmeshed in a visual object.

If you decide to refresh your brand, I’d love to see the results! Please comment below or send me an email.

Summer is the Perfect Time for Business…

I know what you’re thinking…you can’t seem to get anyone on the phone, decisions seem to be made super slow, and why does business seem to dry up with the weather, right?

While summer no longer means “two month siesta” for many industries, it does generally mean at least a slow down for most. Never fear, this is the perfect time for fine tuning your business. Here’s how:

  1. Networks: Networking events are difficult to find this time of year. Organizers are generally off coming up with fabulous ideas for the new season. That does not mean that your networking needs to suffer, however. Pick up the phone and call a few contacts you’ve been meaning to get to know better. If they’re well suited to one another, organize an informal after work cocktail at your local patio. If you’d rather chat with each of them separately, book outdoor coffee or walking meetings. Neither of you will want to be cooped up indoors.
  2. Refresh Your Marketing: Write a list of what you’ve been doing to market your business lately. Take a close look. What has been working? What activities have directly resulted in sales? Be honest. If there are items on the list not pulling their weight, consider replacing them with new activities. Note: this can be done in the sun on a patio or in a park.
  3. Get Some New Ideas: I get some of my best ideas while in the shower. I think it’s because my brain is free to wander (as the actual act of showering is pretty automated at this point in my life). Give your brain some rest this summer. Of course, I hope you take a vacation, but also consider planning “field trips” during work hours. Does music give you a jolt? Find a lunch hour concert (usually in the park!). Are you more visual? Go to the local art gallery. Love nature? Jump on a near-by trail for some serious down time. You’ll return to the office refreshed and ready to brainstorm.

Is That Marketing Activity a Good Fit for Your Company?

I am often asked to help clients evaluate whether a marketing opportunity is a good fit for them. There are usually lots of pros and cons but the decision always comes down to just a few considerations.

Next time you’re trying to decide to go ahead with an opportunity or not, go through these criteria in your head:

  1. Who is the activity targeting? Take a good look at who the publishers are targeting and how they’re going about it. If the activity’s target matches your own, it may be a good fit. Do you like the message? The look? Remember that when you advertise in a publication or on a website or with other businesses, your business is being linked to that other brand. Make sure you’re comfortable with that.
  2. Is the exposure adequate to justify the cost? It may be a perfectly targeted opportunity, but what if it’s only going to be seen by 50 people? Well, if those are the major decision makers and purse-string holders for your customers, they may be the only 50 people you need to worry about. However, if you sell globally, 50 people may not be a significant enough group. Exposure also includes how often that group will see your message and how it will be presented. For instance, getting a personal recommendation from someone the target really respects and listens to from a podium will be a different exposure than 5000 of your logo’d stickers sitting on a back table.
  3. Will you need to repeat the activity to get a good response? I wish I could tell you that spending your money once on one activity will get you all the business you’d like. Marketing just doesn’t work that way. Most times, effective marketing is a series of layers that support one another and reinforce the brand message. For instance, if advertising in a local paper seems like a good opportunity but you aren’t seeing the results you’d hoped for, take a look at your frequency. If you advertise once a year, your ads are not nearly as effective as they could be. Try increasing the frequency to once per month. Even better? Use a slightly smaller ad at a higher frequency and run another marketing activity at the same time. People need to see things a few times before they clue to into what they’re seeing and take action.
  4. Does the cost fall within your budget? Do you remember Pets.com? They were a dot-com pet supply company in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. You probably recall their award-winning ads with the sock puppet. They are infamous in marketing circles for spending over $11million in advertising in their first year of business and bringing in revenues (not profits) of only just over $600,000. Pets.com isn’t around anymore and it isn’t difficult to see why. Your marketing costs must fall within a budget. Listen to your gut. It will help you distinguish between a fantastic opportunity that’s worth a bit of a stretch and a big risk that might end your business. If it’s too much, it’s too much. Find another marketing activity that fits your budget (and your gut’s comfort level).
  5. Does it get you exposure to a difficult to target group? I have a client who wants to get their message in front of doctors. Not an easy target — doctors have really good gatekeepers in their reception team and may or may not even see the mail or emails sent to them. The client got an opportunity to advertise in a publication that is for doctors and is well used by the profession throughout the year. Now, we have a way past the gatekeepers and a way to begin building awareness.

Also, remember that sometimes the cost of an activity isn’t cash but your time and talent, as is the case with social media and in-kind sponsorships. The same considerations apply.

Do you have other criteria you like to measure your marketing activity decisions against? Please share. We all love to learn what works and what doesn’t!

Marketing to a Few Perfectly Targeted Potentials

In this world of social networking, we tend to forget the other methods of marketing. We focus on gathering as many followers as we can; followers mean a ready and waiting audience, right? Well, sometimes.

I’ve run across several people over the last few months who are masters as social networking. They have followers in great numbers, can get lots of people to Tweet Ups, and can even bolster big support for fundraising efforts. The kicker? Their businesses aren’t necessarily better off for it.

Now, am I saying that social networking is a waste of time? No — not at all. I just think it’s important to pair it with other ways of attracting potential customers. Yes, you want good reach into the world but you need clients too.

How do you target the perfect client in this day and age? Time to go old school, my friends:

  1. Write a list: Take a few minutes to review the cards you’ve collected over the last bit and to browse through any directories you use or are a part of. Do any of these companies pique your interest? Anyone you’d really love to work with or sell to? These are the companies to write on your list. Do a bit more brainstorming and come up with 20-30 potential clients.
  2. Evaluate the list: We’d love to sell to everyone but — let’s face it — only those with the capacity to pay for products or services can buy. Harsh? No. Don’t waste their time (or yours) when you know it can’t go anywhere. Review your list and cross off anyone you know wouldn’t be able to engage your company in the short-term.
  3. Write the message: Is there anything the remaining companies have in common? Are they hip? Are they serious? Do they fall into a particular industry? Now figure out what your product or service is solving for them. Write your message to their situation. Do you have a trial to offer or some way that they can check out what you do in a relaxed way? Include it, if you do.
  4. Figure out the process: Is this a one-time hard sell or are you building a relationship (always preferred, by the way). Will email be the best way to contact them or would this group like a phone call inviting them to coffee? Do they attend a network? Are they on LinkedIn? It’s easier to follow a process than to wing it 25 times. Your nerves will thank me.
  5. Go for it: Time to just do it. Send out the email, make the calls, go to the events. Get to know the people on that list; build relationships and soon you’ll not only be bringing them on as clients but they’ll be sending their colleagues over as well.

And best of all? These are all people you want to work with. They are your perfect target.

Still intimidated? Get help. Ask your business colleagues for suggestions and support or bring in an expert. Sometimes it pays to bring back traditional methods — give it a try!

Segmenting: Subtargeting Your Target

At the Think Session last week, I had one participant ask how she could target the 20-30 year old market. I have to admit — there was a few seconds of silence in the room.

How do you target the 20-30 year old market? Where are they? Well, they’re everywhere and doing everything, we soon discovered. Our “where are they” list included getting married, travelling, working on their corporate career, studying in university, apprenticing at a trade, having children, postponing adulthood, learning new extreme sports, buying a home, and the list literally went on from there.

What can someone do when their target is, well, untargetable?

Segment. Daydream about what your ideal customer will be doing in their 20-30s. How much money will they have? What will their priorities be? How will your product or service make their lives easier or better? Pick the best subset of the larger target and go with that.

Still nervous that you’re leaving too many potential customers out of the “net”? Don’t be. Targeted marketing works better than floppy, messy marketing and is easier to measure. Besides, there’s nothing saying you can’t have more than one target.

Once you have the first segment’s marketing program humming away, go back to your segment list and pick another. Just make sure you don’t mix them in with the first group. Treat them as a separate target (because they are) and build campaigns just for them.

Marketing It, Old School

A good friend gave me a flat of soda from The Pop Shoppe for my birthday a while back. I just love the old, glass bottles (now with twist off caps, mind you!) and the nostalgic flavours. Okay, the flavours were nostalgic even when I was little, but you get my point.

As I sit here drinking my neon red-pink Cream Soda, I got to wondering — in this day and age of social media and web marketing, are there still great ways to market “old school”? Heck yes!

Three come to mind right away:

  1. Networking: Many people would rather visit the dentist than network in a group of strangers, but — done smartly — networking in person is a great tool. In some industries, it’s still the only way to get noticed. So, grab a few tips on how to get yourself out there, find an event that matches your business and personality, and go for it!
  2. Cold Calls: This one makes me cringe too, but it works really well in many industries where the trust built through personal interaction is important. Think group insurance. Think setting up referral partnerships. How can you soften the cold call? Ask for referrals from current clients and colleagues so the calls are warm. If you aren’t super comfortable on the phone, ask for a coffee meeting. Not everyone has the time to meet for coffee but if you’re in a more comfortable environment, your message will be better delivered and, hopefully, better received.
  3. Trade Shows: Done well, these can bring a great awareness to your company, sell lots of product, and fill up your email lists. Done badly, they can be a money pit. The lesson? Do them well — choose the right show or fair for your product and take the time to plan exactly what your booth will look like, how visitors will interact with you and your booth, what you will offer, and what you’d like to get from the visitors (e.g. purchase, email, feedback). As well, remember to follow up with the visitors to build a relationship and re-enforce the message they got at the event.

Take a few minutes to consider adding these oldies but goodies to your marketing activities. They may just be the fresh new approach you need!