Category Archives: Small Business

Information to help the small business

Tips for a Great Website

 Tips for a Great Website

Marketing youweb designr small business can be a tough job.  Most small business owners don’t have the resources to hire someone to do it all for them, so they do the best they can on their own. If you find yourself in this position, I hope you have found this blog series helpful. This blog post (the last in the series) will focus on your website.

If you’ve followed this blog series, you have your logo, business card, and brochure. You might also have started creating a newsletter. Those are all great for getting organized to build a website. Here are some things to consider

Content

This is where a lot of people get stumped. If you have a brochure, use that as a building block. Websites are an expansion of your brochure. Here’s where you toot your horn: give credentials, list awards, share the history of your company as well as your philosophy, mission, and vision. A lot of people are shy about sharing all their accomplishments during casual or business meetings. If you are one of those people, just hand over your business card (with your website listed, of course) and suggest they check you out. If you have a professional designation, tell people what that means…what do the letters stand for and how does that set you apart from your competition.

Obviously, your website should include your services or products. Whether you share your pricing structure is up to you and your industry. Take a look at what others are doing in your field.

You will also want to make sure you have a way that people can contact  you (Contact Us page). If you are a home-based business, you do not need to list your home address. Simply state that you are a home-based business and prefer the initial contact be via email or phone or whatever you are comfortable with.

Use the tried and true 5 Ws: Who, What, Where, When and Why

Who – who are you: a short bio of employees is appropriate. Pictures are nice, too, especially if they reflect the personality of your business (professional or more relaxed/candid).

What – what do you do/sell

Where – where are you, how do people reach you

When – what are your hours, are they set or by appointment only

Why – why should people do business with you, what makes you unique; include testimonials of existing customers.

Design Tips

All content should be written in the third person. With certain content, like a bio or mission/vision statement page, first person is OK, but set it off with quotes.

Fonts

Not all fonts are web friendly. Keep that in mind as you dress up your website. Before you make it “public,” go to the library and look at it on their computers. Ask friends to see it on their devices. There are just a few fonts that are mobile-friendly. Just know that a fancy font may not look so fancy, if that particular font is not loaded on your customer’s or potential customer’s computer.

Colors

Use a color scheme that is in, or compatible with, your logo. Search the internet for color themes, if you are not sure. ALL of your pages should use the same “template” of colors and layout. If you change every page, visitors to your site will wonder if they are on the same site as they go from one page to the other.

Media: photos, videos and flash

Also, be VERY skimpy with fancy Javascript or “Flash” elements. They tend to slow down the loading of pages and people just don’t have the patience for that. If you need/want videos, don’t put them on the home page, with the exception of a SHORT intro video. Always put in a disclaimer if the video or flash is going to take some time to load, i.e., more than 5 seconds (no, I’m not kidding). Resize your photos to fit the space and no more than 72 pixels per inch.

Good luck on marketing yourself and your company. I would LOVE to hear what you found most helpful in this series. Also, please share other tips you have.

In This Electronic Age, Do You Really Need a Brochure for Your Business?

sample_brochureDo you really need a brochure?

Yes, if you ever attend a business networking event with more than 10 people attending and you are not the only one in your business category. You don’t necessarily need to carry them with you, though. As you exchange business cards, ask if the person would like to know more about your business. You can then mail them a brochure when you return to your office, which has the added benefit of bringing you to mind in a couple more days. Use this opportunity to put a post-it note on the brochure with a quick note, saying you enjoyed meeting them and look forward to working with them soon.

You also need a brochure if your company name is like mine, Strohm Consulting. I need a brochure to list all the things we do. The branch manager at a local bank, probably has less need for a brochure.

Brochure Basics

Here are some things to consider when creating your brochure, whether you are a do-it-yourselfer or you are having someone else help you.

What type of brochure fits your needs the best?

If you are going to mail them, they will need to fit the envelope. If they are going to be in a display tray, they need to be sized for that as well. If they are going to be mailed without an envelope, you’ll need to design a place to put the address on one side. If your intention is to include a premium or sample, then you can use the entire space available.

When possible, keep the brochure to one sheet of paper. Anything more than that is likely to not be read. Work at being concise with your words. Here’s where a professional can be of the most value. Also make sure you are writing to your audience, which means you’ll want to use little, if any, jargon and abbreviations that are not generally recognized. by the general public, your audience.

What should you include in your brochure?

First of all, don’t be afraid of white space. You don’t need to fill up every nook and cranny with text. Find a couple of pictures, use your logo, a picture of yourself or your facility are great things to include.

Write brief paragraphs about your business: Who you are, what you do, where you are located, when you are open for business, why should someone use you and how do people contact you. Also include any licenses you hold that are essential to your business and industry awards or certifications that you have earned, if there is room.

Now that you have all of that, organize it so it fits the brochure in an eye-appealing manner. Try not to have too much information overlapping columns. Your potential customer will appreciate the organization of your information.

Glossy paper or Matte?

That’s a matter of personal preference. However, if your brochure has a picture of YOU, go for the glossy. It just looks better. Which ever you decide, use a professional printer to get the best quality. You’ll be surprised at the quality of the cheaper “big box” office stores. If you have a color printer, print off one copy, then take the electronic file (on a thumb drive) to the store and see if they do a better job.

Now you have a great marketing piece. Check back here next week for the last piece: Websites!

Writing a Great Newsletter

newsletterFor someone uncomfortable with writing, newsletters can be challenging. Here are some tips to make it a little easier for you.

Plan out what you want to cover and how often. Usually, once a month is maximum. If you want to reach out to your customers more often, consider a blog or Facebook post instead. Once a quarter is minimum. This fits in nicely with the seasons. If you are new to the idea of newsletters, quarterly is a great way to start. It makes more sense to start out quarterly, then if you decide you have more to say, you can change to monthly or bi-monthly. Doing that in reverse order doesn’t work as well.

Write out an outline of what articles you want to include in each issue so you are not staring blankly at your computer when it’s time to compose the piece. Work at least 6 months out. Be flexible with your content, though, so if something noteworthy happens in your industry or company, you can prioritize and decide what makes the final cut. Having too much info for each issue is better than too little.

Keep them to one sheet of paper. If it is more than that, be sure the most important information is on the first page or two. After that, it might not get read. If it is a self-mailer (fold, stamp and send) put a call-out on the address portion to bring attention to a special event or offer. A call-out can be a star burst with “20% off, see page 2” or a box with “Open House July 6, 3-9 PM”. Keep this call-out extremely short and to the point.

Make sure the bulk of your newsletter is newsworthy. Items to include would be recent awards your company or employees have won, brief bios on your employees, new product launch, tips on how to use your product or service, etc. I also like to include a joke or two, especially if it pokes fun at your industry. Only 10-15% should be “buy my great stuff”.

Your number one goal is to make your newsletter something your customers will look forward to receiving each month. Write the kind of newsletter YOU would like to get.

Getting Started with Great Marketing Pieces

marketing_puzzleNow that you have your logo and are establishing your brand, here are some tips for your marketing pieces.

Marketing Pieces are brochures, flyers, email and print ads, etc.

Use just two fonts: one plain and one fancy; or one serif and one non-serif. Any more than that and it starts to look non-professional.

If you are not sure what colors work well with your logo/brand, do an internet search to help you decide. Or hire a graphic designer.

Don’t be afraid of white space. If there are too many words, they won’t get read. Edit your piece, so you are using as few words as possible.

Proofread, then proofread again. If it’s an article, read it backwards: read the last paragraph, then the next to the last and so forth. Reading it backwards keeps you focused and helps you really concentrate on finding errors. Don’t rely 100% on your spell check.

Photos and graphics for print and website are not the same. For a good printed image, you need at least 600 dpi. When viewing it on your favorite electronic device, from desktop monitor to phone, you only need 72 dpi. Be sure you have both sizes, if the image you are using is to be used in your printed and electronic marketing. A 600 dpi image can pretty easily be scaled down, but you can rarely scale up for a good print image from a web image.

Content

There is nothing wrong with duplicating content among your pieces, as long as it makes sense for the particular application.

Make sure you include a Call to Action. This can simply be “Call today for your free estimate.” Don’t just give information and assume people will call you.

When possible make sure the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How Much are included.

Gear the content to your customers. What’s in it for them? Avoid jargon they might not understand.

One last tip: to track how effective your efforts are, select a unique contact method for each marketing piece. For example, use a specific person’s name as a contact: “Contact Bill today” even if there is no Bill in your company, you simply say, “I’m sorry Bill is not in now, but how might I help you?”  That way you know which of your marketing pieces is working.

What is Branding?

brandingIn addition to the services listed on this website, I also do marketing and promotional pieces:  brochures, e-ads, fliers and newsletters.

In the next few weeks, I’ll share some tips that I’ve learned along the way to help you with your next project.

Branding

You’ve heard about branding, but what is it? When you see a series of red rings, arranged like an archery target, you know immediately who that belongs to. A green mermaid-like figure in a circle quickly identifies a coffee brand.

But you don’t have to be one of the giant merchandisers to use branding. It is simply carrying a specific color, font type and logo (if you have one) through to all of your marketing pieces, including business cards, brochures, mailings, website, letterhead, etc. That way, when someone sees your specific set of colors, fonts, and logo, they can quickly identify it as you. If you use something different on all your marketing items, it can create a lot of confusion for your customers. You want to make sure they know, for sure, it is you.

So this week, let’s look at logo design considerations.

When you hire a graphic designer, be prepared to share information about your business like how you got started, how long you’ve been in business, where you’d like to see your business in the next 5 to 10 years, etc. That way a logo can be developed that is uniquely you!

If you are going to have your logo printed on clothing, be aware that circles can very easily become ovals when embroidered. The cloth can pull unevenly. Be sure to mention this to your vendor. Ask to see samples of similar work.

Printing on clothes other than white or very pale pastels often requires a base coat to make sure the imprint color stays true. For example, printing red on a blue shirt may produce a strange purple color.

Printed color is defined by four colors. Electronic versions have only three. You will never have a perfect match when you go from printed paper to website or vice versa.

If your logo is going to be used on small items as well as large ones, pay your graphic designer to give you different sizes. Artwork rarely resizes well – details can be lost when shrunk, and distorted when enlarged.

Next week, we’ll take a look at marketing pieces.

Happy Earth Day

earth-dayAh! That’s why there was no post yesterday. Well yes, that – and I just got really busy!

I remember the very first Earth Day. Yes, I’m THAT old. At first I thought What? Then I started listening and reading more about what the day was about and was totally on board. I’ve tried to be earth-friendly ever since.

So here are some great Earth Day tips:

  • DON’T PRINT YOUR EMAILS! Seriously, unless you need to take it somewhere, or it’s a bill you need to file. If it’s something you need to take action on, just move it to a folder in your computer or cloud’s email program that you have labeled IMPORTANT or TAKE ACTION
  • To encourage recycling, the BEST thing I’ve seen is labeling your garbage can LANDFILL and your recycling – well, RECYCLING. Putting something in that landfill bin makes you pause.
  • Change light bulbs to the CFL. There are only 2 or 3 in our house NOT CFLs.
  • Use your garbage disposal or better yet, compost if you are able.
  • Take public transportation, bike (as in bicycle) or walk whenever you can.
  • Look for ENERGY STAR ratings on appliances when you buy them.
  • Conserve water with shorter showers and no more pre-washing dishes.
  • And of course you are already using your own shopping bags, right?
  • For more ideas visit the EPA site: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/tips.htm

What is your favorite?

Spring Cleaning for Your Technology: Part 4 of 4

Desserts is Stressed spelled backwardsThis week is the last in a four-part series about spring cleaning for your technology. Week one highlighted ways to organize your files. Week two was the clean and purge step. Last week was updating your protection software.

This week we’re looking at spring cleaning our work habits – specifically how to be more productive by reducing stress.

De-stress to help with your productivity.

Clean your mind with a periodic break. It is amazing what happens when you take a break from a project, and the more intense the project, the more productive the break is. It allows your mind to chug and churn behind the scenes and come up with creative ideas and solutions.

Here are some of my favorite ways to de-stress:

  • Take a walk during your lunch break, or shoot some hoops.
  • Work a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Meet a client for some personal time – no work discussion unless she brings it up.

I also found this great article worth sharing:  20 Scientifically-Backed Ways To De-Stress Right Now

I’ll just bet you have some favorites as well – what are they?

Spring Cleaning for Your Technology: Part 1 of 4

organize-330x280Over the next four weeks, we’re going to be giving you some Spring Cleaning tips for your technology. Don’t try to do them all at once, it can be overwhelming. Just check off a few things each day and before you know it, your IT will be sparkling clean!!

Step One: Organize your files

Clean up your Desktop. If you have a lot of files on your computer’s desktop, it is probably taking you longer than necessary to find what you are looking for. Plus, many backup programs do not backup files that are on your desktop. So now is the time to organize those files and take them off your desktop. Create folders/labels for groups of files (Personal, School projects, ABC Company, Tax Files, etc.) then MOVE the files from your desktop to those folders.

Organize your pictures and store them off your computer. Pictures take up TONS of space! The great thing about digital photography is that you can take lots of pictures and see them instantly. But seriously, are all those pictures worth keeping? Choose your favorites and DELETE the rest. Once you’ve selected your favorites, create folders/labels on a CD or DVD and store them there.

Don’t forget about your phone – sync your pictures and videos to your computer. Then move them to your storage CD/DVD. Routinely empty your SD card.

An alternative to CD/DVD storage is cloud storage. Drop Box is very popular. They make it very easy to organize your files. And you can get to them wherever you are with a smart phone or internet connection.

Organize your email. To keep your inbox under four digits in size, create folders/labels and file the emails there. Create a Work folder with sub-folders for each project you’re working on. When the project is complete you can delete the folder.

For personal emails, you can create a Rule/Filter so that every email from Bed Bath and Beyond, for example, goes into their own folder. You can look at it later.

Next week – Clean and Purge

Charitable Giving

money_giftI know this is topic is not what you would expect from an IT consulting company, and probably not normally the time you hear advice about charitable giving, but I believe in planning ahead. If you take the time to research and make decisions now, your year end scramble to decide which charities are worthy of your donations, will be a breeze.

Years ago, Chuck and I were making small donations to charities all over the globe. We made sure we at least liked their focus, but really didn’t put much thought into it beyond that. Well, it soon got overwhelming with dozens of envelopes in our mailbox and LOTS of phone solicitations. So we decided to do some serious research on the charities that we REALLY felt strongly about, then pool the money together and make larger donations to those charities we chose.

First we whittled down the list of charities to the ones that really tugged at our hearts. Then chose a few with global focus and a few with local focus. We used a couple of charity rating websites to get a learned opinion on how the charities were managed to make sure our donation would be put to good use. We ended up with a short list that we really felt were worthy of our money.

Then, of course we had to decide what to do with the ones that didn’t make the cut. The envelopes were easily tossed, but the phone calls were a bit more challenging. Finally, I came up with a statement that defined our decision while still respecting the person on the other end of the phone. It goes something like this: “There are so many worthy causes in this country (world, community), and I know yours is one of them. But we decided to narrow our focus to the ones that really touched our hearts and unfortunately, yours was not one. Thank you for your time and what you do on behalf of this organization. Please remove our name and number from your call list.” Get ready to say no thank you a couple more times. Unfortunately, I’ve had to hang up on a couple, but eventually, our phone stopped ringing so much and the mail has really cut down.

WARNING – SHAMELESS PLUG FOLLOWS: If you are looking for a GREAT local charity (DuPage County), you’ll be hard pressed to find a better one than West Suburban Community Pantry. We volunteer there on a regular basis and are a sponsor for their yearly Spring Spectacular fundraiser. This year’s event has a Monopoly theme and some great entertainment. Check it out here.