Take Command of Your Online Brand

“Reputation, reputation, reputation. Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” (Cassio)  Othello Act II, Scene 3

According to WebpageFX, a digital marketing and SEO company headquartered in Harrisburg, PA, about 25% of a company’s market value is directly based on its reputation.  Along with word-of-mouth reviews, which are indisputably powerful but nevertheless comparatively limited, a company’s reputation is significantly impacted through online sources.  Management of your organization’s online reputation, which is part of your brand, is a must-do.

The online reputation starts with the look and content of the company website and also encompasses reviewing sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List and Trip Advisor and the array of social media platforms from Snapchat to Facebook.  If you throw in content marketing campaigns that are distributed through email marketing, I wonder if the 25% impact figure is generous enough?

WebpageFX also reports that organization leaders now take online reputation management very seriously and 15% of organizations have followed through on an online reputation management strategy and 87% agree that managing online reputation risks is even more important than managing strategic risks.  Think about it—strategic risks are potentially costly, but when paid and unpaid haters flood the comments section of an influential site, the hapless company that perhaps has done no real harm can be shoved into the abyss.

Online attackers spew a shocking amount of vitriol and their diatribes seem to have a million-year half-life.  Blackmail can be involved as well.  I’ve personally witnessed the strong-arming of the General Manager of a lovely B & B by –are you ready for this?– a retired police officer who faked a problem in his guest room, refused to be placated by what most would accept as fair settlement for the “inconvenience” and threatened to ruin the business with bad Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews if his request for a free two- night stay (worth $450) was not granted.  Rumor has it that he’s played the game to the detriment of several small guest houses across the country.  A shoot-out at the OK Corral might be easier to win.

WebpageFX data showed that 91% of consumers search businesses online.  When I’ve gone to meet new clients, in particular someone who has been referred to me and whom I’ve not met,  they frequently mention that they’ve read this blog and viewed my website.  80% of consumers (presumably B2B and B2C) changed their mind about doing business with a company and 67% will not buy from a company that has received from one to three negative reviews.

Regarding social media sites, participation on the various social media platforms is a given for most Freelance consultants, business owners and corporate and not-for-profit leaders. The extent of your B2B client’s social media engagement as regards their external labor force along with your time and inclination, will determine which social media platforms that you’ll use. Maybe you’ll use one or two platforms, plus publish long-form content sent out as an ongoing email marketing campaign.

Just because you don’t use every available social media platform doesn’t mean that you should ignore those that you don’t use. To the contrary, claim all business listings and social media platform addresses, so that a competitor or imposter cannot assume your identity.  Start with your website. Your business name should belong to you alone. Protect your business and buy when possible your business domain name in the .biz and .net formats.  if there is a name that is similar to your company name and it becomes available, buy it and save yourself the potential for headaches down the road. Ensure that an imposter cannot claim your name and make sport of you, bear false witness, or commit other devious acts.

On your preferred social media platforms, maintain a reasonably active and consistent presence as you bring value to your readers.  Post content that will benefit your organization’s reputation and sales revenues.  WordPress allows posting to LinkedIn and my 100 or so connections expect to hear from me every Tuesday.

Finally, if you should receive any negative feedback online, respond quickly and diplomatically. Demonstrate that you regret the mishap and you intend to make amends.  As you publicly clean up the mess, you may win a few customers who like the fact that you’re human and you care.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

IMG_0015    Tall Ships Parade in Boston Harbor June 16, 2017

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Time to Redesign Your Website?

Have you become disappointed with your website, or are you merely bored? Have you been visiting the websites of your colleagues and contemporaries and thinking about how you may want to do a website makeover? Think carefully about your goals before making a decision.

What would I like the site to do for my business?

Ultimately, a website gives information about your products and services and communicates how doing business with you can benefit those who would become your customers. Your job is to develop a website that gives prospects the confidence to explore more seriously the idea of working with you. Whatever is on your site—text, audio, or visual—must support that action.

Older websites are likely to be static, rather than interactive. That means in order to update the site with new information, it’s necessary to pay a web developer to make  changes in text, photos, videos and lay-out. As a result, static websites often do not reflect much of what is happening now.

Some Freelancers depend upon their websites to pre-qualify prospects through the use of an online contact form.  Rather than posting your email and telephone number on the “contact us” page, there is instead a form for interested parties to complete, so that they will receive a call-back. Serious shoppers only, please!

Content marketing will be featured on the website.  Freelancers who produce a weekly blog or monthly newsletter typically include the link on their website.  Your social media platforms will likewise be accessible through your website, as will videos, webinars and podcasts that feature you in a starring or supporting role.  Case studies to help prospective clients envision how your insights and expertise might help their organization resolve challenges and achieve goals may be posted to the site as well.

How is my site under-performing?

Much depends upon the information you’d like your website to provide to interested parties. Your site can be a one-page affair that is basically an online business card.  You may list three or four services, a photo,  a 3-minute video clip of you in action (or not) and contact info and that may be quite enough to convince prospects that you are a capable professional worthy of consideration.  But maybe you would like to have a much more active and engaging site?

Up-to-date products and services list

If you’ve substantively altered—simplified, upgraded, expanded, or eliminated— the services and products that you provide, let your website reflect what is current.  As well, old content and photos might be replaced and updated with an accurate depiction of how you bring value to clients today.

Can I accurately measure how prospects respond to my site?

This step can be the key to your website design.  If you are serious about updating your site,  contact an analytics service and sign up to obtain data that will guide the development of your website.  There are a number of modestly priced website analytics services available and Google has a level that offers free analytics. Collect three or four months of data before you act.

To begin with, you’ll learn how many visitors the site receives each month and the pages that are most often visited. Now you’ll know what visitors want to know. You’ll also learn which pages are least often visited and if there are pages that are quickly abandoned for other pages, or seem to cause visitors to exit your site.  If you decide to update your website, ask your developer to build-in analytics or integration features, so that data will be yours at no extra charge, post-upgrade.

Is the site mobile-friendly? 

I write or edit three newsletters and the analytics for each consistently shows that about 50% of readers use mobile devices (smart phone or tablet) to read them. The other half use either desk models or laptops. Don’t frustrate your visitors,  make sure that your site is optimized for mobile.  Both interactive and static websites can be mobile optimized.

How’s the technology?

Recently, I met a truly brilliant MIT educated web developer named Al.  He showed me the site of a nationally known not-for-profit organization that on its website has an inoperable “donate now” button on the landing page.  It is imperative that all links and buttons on your website perform as intended on all types of devices.  Audio features must produce sound; videos must play; documents must download; ecommerce transactions must be secure.

“About us”

Trot out your brand story.  Connect with site visitors and concisely tell them what motivated you to start your business, how you developed your expertise, your vision and the company mission.  Share your guiding principles as the founder and business leader and discuss how that is reflected in your business practices.  Finally, let it be known that you love what you do and value the opportunity to work with clients. Recommended length of the text might be 200 words.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Social Media—Not?

It is by now standard operating procedure for business owners and other self-employed professionals to have a visible presence on one or more social media platforms,  in addition to an online presence provided by a website.  We’ve  internalized the assumption that there is no way to either launch or sustain a viable business without an active online presence spread over an array of platforms.

The majority of my colleagues and competitors spend rather a large amount of time  researching and writing newsletters,  tweeting,  Instagramming, or linking with and friending sometimes 500 + “connections”.  One of those colleaugues pays me (a modest sum) to edit her newsletter.  But really folks,  what is the demonstrable ROI of most of this effort?  Beyond a certain point,  I respectfully submit,  social media produces very little beyond siphoning off a chunk of scarce time and money.

How does social media provide a demonstrable ROI for Freelance consultants, who typically provide an intangible service? Our ventures run on referrals based on trust and reputation—how can that resource be communicated electronically? Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting and author of numerous books that address the consulting trade, including Million Dollar Consulting (2009), has for several years offered to split his (large) consulting fee with anyone who shows him how to acquire a client purely through social media or website channels and he signs a client as a result.  To date, there have been no takers.

The reality is that most of us in business are afraid to dial back the social media and so the practice continues. We fear that if we don’t participate,  our competitors will eat our lunch and customers will abandon us.  I’ve observed that in certain businesses and organizations,  social media and website marketing yield a good ROI.  A large collaborative of Boston artists and galleries has recently hired me to edit a newsletter and perform PR functions for an ongoing monthly event plus an annual special event and that is money well spent for the group.  Performing artists,  clothing designers, restaurateurs and professional organizations come to mind as excellent candidates for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to provide outreach / engagement with past, present and future patrons.

Nevertheless,  there is a group of social media and website holdouts and at least a handful are making a good living.  Maybe they possess valuable competitive advantages,  such as excellent word-of-mouth,  always the best form of advertising,  and exceptional skills? Among that group are two interior designers who have more clients than can be handled (in three or four cities, mind you) and the owner of a small neighborhood breakfast and lunch restaurant that is always packed.  Three of the six most successful Freelance consultants with whom I’m acquainted do not even show up on Google.  Author Otessa Moshfegh,  a member of the internet-obssessed Millennial Generation,  has eschewed both website and social media and her debut novel is selling nicely.

I’ve learned that Ms. Moshfegh has a professional publicity team and that gives her a significant edge. Her team portrays her as elusive and not given to crass displays of self-promotion and that is good publicity (!). The consultants once worked for larger consulting firms and like any hairdresser, when they went out on their own, they stole clients.  Nevertheless,  they continue to grow their client lists without websites.  The interior designers seem to be known by the right people and receive lots of referrals. On an a laptop or tablet,  they have a few photos to show their work to prospects.  The restaurateur has been in business for 20 years,  a Starbucks opened across the street at least a decade ago, but he continues to prosper.  Patrons started Trip Advisor and Yelp pages for him and patrons control the reviews on those sites.

You may wonder how my website and blog perform for my venture? I did not work for a consulting firm, so the website I feel helps me look legitimate.  However,  no one has ever hired me as a direct and exclusive result of visiting.  This blog has shown prospective clients that I have a solid knowledge of business topics and that I have a certain writing proficiency. The blog has been a factor in my hiring, but the clients were a result of referrals and not this blog alone.

I do not advocate that Freelancers and business owners close down their internet presence.  Rather, I respectfully recommend that you consider the ROI of your investment and take heed of the analysis.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

 

Online Reputation Management

Shakespeare, in Act 2 of his circa 1603 play Othello, said it best: Reputation, reputation, reputation.  It is the original personal brand and one of the defining realities of our lives.  As a Freelance consultant, reputation governs the projects offered to us and therefore, our income and the kind of life we’re able to live.  It pays,  in more ways than one, to cultivate a peerless reputation and guard it vigorously.

In the internet age  that is especially so, in both the personal and professional spheres.  Mistakes and mischaracterizations made in digital formats are extremely difficult to dodge, ignore, deny, or correct.  One’s online reputation is the ultimate flypaper.  Take steps to ensure that what sticks to your name is all good.

Images

Along with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest are the sites where images of you are most likely to be posted,  by yourself and others.  When cameras are around,  meaning whenever anyone has a cell phone,  which is about 24/7,  make sure that your behavior represents you and your brand well.

There’s nothing wrong with being photographed in an obviously casual gathering—just make sure that you (or others) are not in the midst of activities that could be misconstrued and reflect poorly on you sometime in the future.  If you regularly appear in photos that you know or suspect will be posted to social media sites, counteract with a photo of your own that shows you at work, paid or volunteer. Balance your accounts, so to speak,  and show that there is more to you than non-stop partying.

Content

Create and regularly post original content that makes you look smart, professional and successful.  On your LinkedIn account, announce when you will attend a symposium,  serve on a panel,  teach a course or workshop,  or have recently earned a professional certification or advanced degree.  If you’ve presented a webinar,  request the replay and turn it into a podcast for your website and YouTube.  If you write a newsletter or blog,  link to your website and LinkedIn.  If you’re on Twitter or Instagram,  produce streams of high-quality feed and images that convey the competencies and values that you want to be known for.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can feature glimpses into your personal life as well and it could all be for the good,  as long as you are strategic about what is revealed. Your volunteer work is always a safe bet.  Training for a marathon or even a fun and casual volleyball or softball league would be excellent.  Your parent’s wedding anniversary party would make another good personal aspect to include in your online narrative.  Be aware that narrative is the operative word.  Create the story that you want to be told, in a manner that makes you look wonderful.

Search

About every three months,  search your name and your company name in engines such as Bing,  Google and Yahoo and see what comes up in the first 50 listings.  Are you happy with what you see?  Try keywords related to your business along with your city and check your professional reach in a more profound way.

If you find that your business has been reviewed in an excessively negative and inaccurate way,  contact the reviewing site and request that the offending post be removed.  If customers have offered criticism that just may be constructive, address the matter.  Apologize and offer your side of the story.  Make amends if possible.  By doing so,  you’ll add to your credibility and customer service reputation.

It’s been reported that 70% of US employment recruiters have rejected potential job candidates when something about them that was considered unsavory appeared on social media.  Freelancers should assume that prospective clients will do the same.  Maintaining and monitoring your online reputation has never been more important.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

10 Ways To Reboot Your Email Marketing List

E-newsletters,  webinars,  Slide Share info-graphics and other email marketing content can go as flat as an open bottle of champagne after a while.  Business in the 21st century is sort of like show business,  folks.  Gypsy Rose Lee said it best,  “You’ve gotta have a gimmick”.  You need to know how to hold your audience.  For that matter,   you’d better know your audience well enough to recognize when they stop paying attention.

Assuming that the content you provide is relevant to potential readers and not just a 3 page sales pitch about you,  wonderful you,  there may eventually be a drop-off in the email open rate.  Attention spans are short and email in-boxes are filled to the brim with all manner of messages.  But you can’t afford to lose control of your “room”,  your list members.  Presumably,  that list is populated with clients,  prospects and referral sources.  They are the life blood of your business.  How do you win them back? Try these tactics:

1.   Examine your stats and identify who is not opening your emails.  Studies show that 60% of email marketing communications are never opened.

2.   Prune the list.  Facing up to audience members who have fallen out of love with you takes courage but like any love affair that’s over,  it is best to move on.  Resolve to remove the non-readers.  Carol Tice, who founded the Freelance Writer’s Den and maintains a formidable email list,  sends her non-readers an email and asks if they would like to remain on the list.  The overwhelming majority do not respond and their names are removed.  A handful ask to continue.  You will feel better when you do the purge.  You’ll have an open rate that makes you smile.  You will know that the creative energy and hard work invested in your content marketing will be appreciated.

3.   Ask list members to update their email information.  Your open rate could improve just by allowing readers to have communications sent to an alternate email address.  Those who don’t respond after a second or third reminder to update their info are clearly not interested and can be removed from the list.

4.   To maintain the interest of readers who remain,  especially if your open rate is dropping,  take a look at your subject line.  A well-written subject line is a siren song to potential readers.  See  headline hooks that reel in readers

5.   Include a tempting call to action and name it in the subject line.   A Survey,  free webinar (hosted by you or someone whose expertise you trust),  or a white paper on a subject of interest to your readers re-establishes your relevance and will persuade a certain percentage of non-readers and infrequent readers to click and engage.

6.   Think mobile.  In July 2014,  Forrester Research reported that 42% of emails from B2C retailers are opened on smartphones and 17% are opened on tablets.  Customize your email communications for responsive design,  so that reading will be easy on mobile devices.  Make it convenient for all potential readers to open your communications.

7.   Send on a regular schedule.  Frequent readers of this blog know that Tuesday is publish day,  even if Christmas or the 4th of July fall on that day of the week.  You may prefer to publish on a given date.   Whatever you do,  establish and adhere to a predictable publishing schedule.  Readers appreciate it more than you may realize.  Make readers anticipate receiving and reading your communications.

8.   Build your list.  Organically and with permission,  build your email marketing list.  You should have met each person on your list at least once.   At the email campaign launch,  send to all business contacts along with an introductory message that announces the debut,  explains the benefits to readers,  reveals the frequency (weekly or monthly)  and provides an easy and effective opt-out.  Resist the temptation to add to your list the names of everyone who hands you a business card.  When speaking with people,  do mention your email marketing campaign,  give examples of the subjects covered and how often you send.  Ask if they would like to receive at least one and let them know that if they choose to opt out,  that can be easily and quickly done.

9.   Personalize.  Whatever service sends out your emails should include a greeting to the individual recipient.

10.  Sign me up!  On your website and social media,  allow interested parties to sign up to receive selected email marketing communications,  register for webinars or receive a copy of any white papers.

Content marketing is the new advertising and emailing your content is the best way to reach clients and prospects who no longer answer the phone.  Create a viable list by continually adding and purging members to enable your campaigns to deliver optimal ROI.  Draw in readers with relevant content and intriguing subject lines.  Format in responsive design to include those who prefer to read on mobile device.  Fulfill expectations by publishing on a regular schedule.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Health Insurance Options for Freelancers in 2014

There are five months left in the year and it is time to start planning for a successful 2014.  One important element of the business strategy plan for self-employed professionals must be our health insurance.  In 2014,  our options and requirements will change and we must be apprised of those changes and prepare to either make the most of them or minimize impact,  depending on our circumstances.

The individual mandate of the 2010 Affordable Care Act will require Freelance consultants and other self-employed individuals to purchase health insurance as of January 1, 2014,  or pay a penalty of $95.00 or 1%  of income,  whichever is greater.  That penalty will increase to $695.00 or 2.5%  of income,  whichever is greater,   in 2016.  If the revenue your consultancy generates is between 138%  and 400%  of the poverty level,  you may be eligible for a subsidy that will  ( in theory)  make the health insurance premium more affordable for you.

The subsidy for health insurance premiums will be available on the Health Insurance Exchange  (HIX).  Eligibility for a HIX premium subsidy is expected to be on a sliding scale,  but exact income thresholds have not yet been revealed.  It is possible that a single individual who generates about $45,000 annually will be eligible to receive a HIX premium subsidy,  according to information published by the National Association for the Self-Employed  http://www.nase.org .  It is expected that the income upper limit for a four person household to qualify for the HIX subsidy will be about $94,000.00 in annual revenue.

HIX enrollment is scheduled to begin on October 1, 2013,  for coverage that will commence on January 1, 2014.   Federal,  state and private health insurance plan options will be available for purchase through an online marketplace ,  where one can compare product features and prices.  One’s income tax data will be part of the enrollment application,  so that any subsidies applicable to enrollees will automatically be deducted as a tax credit.  Eligibility for Medicaid,  Medicare,  veteran’s benefits or HIX subsidy will be automatically calculated.  Be mindful that income of the self-employed tends to fluctuate and eligibility will fluctuate along with annual revenue.  It will be possible to renew with your present insurer,  but why not shop around and find out what else is available at your price point?

Unfortunately,  health insurance costs are expected to rise 10% – 13% in 2014,  in response to additional coverage that all plans must provide,  in accordance with Affordable Care Act regulations.  You may recall that in my April 2, 2013 post ,  I noted that when the Freelancers Union surveyed its members,  it was revealed that 58%  earn less than $50,000.00 / year and 29% earn less than $25,000.00 /year.  The majority of the groups’ members are in the New York City area,  a location that pays higher wages than many areas of the country.

That means many Freelancers will not qualify for the subsidy,  but will be required by law to pay large monthly health insurance premiums that will strain the already scarce cash flow.  As a result,  some will be forced to forgo health insurance,  because it is much less expense to pay the penalty,  even when it increases in 2016.

The penalty for avoiding health insurance in 2016 will be $1250.00 for those who earn $50,000.00 / year and annual health insurance premiums even for a healthy single person will far exceed that amount.  It’s a risky gamble that no one wants to take,  but for many it will be the only alternative.  When funds are both limited and unpredictable,  uncomfortable decisions must be made.

The rising cost of living and diminishing opportunities to generate adequate cash flow make it imperative that Freelance consultants must be savvy and diligent about marketing,  networking,  obtaining referrals and creating a good business model.  Responsible financial management is also necessary,  but first one needs to have money available  to manage.  Slacking off will not be an option,  at least not for those who are single or the primary breadwinner of their household.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Tame the Technology

Nonstop information crashing into our consciousness via the 24 hour news cycle,  added to the waves of pings from our social media entourage, has caused a whole bunch of us who live in the internet-connected world to feel pummeled.  Stir in the no-end-in-sight economic bad news to the mix and you’ll understand why Freelancers are feeling unacceptably anxious and overwhelmed.  Our colleagues and clients in the corporate and not-for-profit worlds are feeling that way,  too  (maybe that’s why our emails sometimes go unanswered?).

Freelance consultants are nervous about staying current with market trends and selling cycles as we strive to anticipate fluctuating client priorities and keep contracts in-house.  We fear missing out on something important and that causes us to fear not being on-call nearly 24/7.   The mental fatigue and resulting stress take a toll on peace of mind.

Sherry Turkle,  professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA and founder of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self,  says  “We are struggling with the always-on feeling of connection that the internet can provide,  but we still need to figure out how to limit its influence on our lives.  We sometimes need to get a grip and separate ourselves from the iPhone”.  (New York Times April 17, 2011)

William Powers,  author of  “Hamlet’s Blackberry” (2010),  a book about taking control of your digital life,  appeared on a panel at the 2011 South x Southwest conference in Austin, TX and noted that he witnessed  “…a gigantic competition to see who could be more absent from the people and conversations happening right around them.   Everyone…was gazing into their little devices—a bit desperately,  too,  as if their lives depended on not missing the next tweet”.  (New York Times April 17, 2011)

I hereby suggest that you turn off your toys for a few minutes and let me help you learn how to manage your connections,  rather than be managed by them.  There is a time to  “just say no”  and we can figure that out here and regain control of our schedules,  handle our responsibilities with fewer distractions and increase opportunities for rest and regeneration.

Freelancers fear that if we are not constantly available,  our clients will become upset and lose confidence in us.  We’re afraid that competitors will obtain information that we don’t possess and use it to gain an advantage.  We’re terrified of being perceived as not being on top of things.  Maybe we’ll miss out on a good assignment,  an opportunity to shine and bring in some good billables?  Yet those who study the effects of stress and fatigue on productivity and creativity recommend that we find some downtime,  to recharge the batteries and calm the mind.  It is wise to set boundaries and unplug.

Try this strategy on for size: unless you’re on a big project,  Monday – Friday,  turn your phone off at 6:00 PM and check email and phone messages just once during the evening.   Start your day with a check-in by 7:00 AM.  On weekends,  check for business-related messages just twice a day,  in mid-morning and late afternoon.   Draw a definitive boundary between your working hours and personal time.

Revisit the practice of off-line communication.   Because there is such an intense focus on online social media as a basis for networking,  the value of face-to-face interaction,  or even live telephone conversation,  becomes increasingly valuable in cementing our relationships.   When working with a client,  pick up the phone every once in a while to discuss an issue that you’d like to clarify.  If you’ll be near a client’s office,  extend an invitation to come out and meet for coffee.  It will go a long way in building the relationship and will make working together more effective and pleasant.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Google Business Apps: The Best and The Rest

We are inundated by a deluge of online business management and office tools these days and it seems like a new product appears every month.   The choices are overwhelming.   Which,  if any,  might be useful to meet your business or personal needs?  Or maybe you say the heck with it and continue to use whatever you’ve been using if it works well enough?

But eventually,  one must update.   I decided to give the laggards a nudge and take a look at some  Google products.   Google Office Tools have several cloud-based options and the standard versions are free.   Premier versions,  which give greater data storage and unlimited customer support,  are $50.00/year.   Here are a few online tools to consider:

THE BEST

Calendar

 Google Calendar App is a platform to schedule meetings and other group events.   Calendar can be employed by multiple users in real-time,  since it functions in the cloud,  directly from the internet.  When a meeting or other event is scheduled,  Calendar will automatically generate confirmation emails for those who RSVP that they will attend and add the meeting to their calendars.   It’s also possible to merge the groups’ calendars with your own and thus manage a team’s schedule.   If you’re working with a team on a project or sit on a board,   Google Calendar is an excellent way to get everyone on the same page about scheduling and attending important meetings.

 Docs

I’ve been part of team projects that used Google Docs and can vouch for its usefulness.   If a group is creating and editing a report,  proposal,  or other document,  there’s nothing better.   Multiple parties can make additions / revisions simultaneously and real-time chats and comments that provide feedback are possible.   Changes are saved automatically and often,  another desirable feature.   The downside is that your documents,  when printed out,   may not look as slick and professional as those created in Microsoft Word.

Google AdWords

Technically not an app,  AdWords  (and WonderWheel)  are nevertheless fundamental to the basic marketing strategy of every business.   Good AdWords steer the marketing team  (that would be you,  Freelancer)  to distill the business value proposition down to a concise phrase that prospective clients will understand immediately.   From there,  you integrate that and other key phrases into text that is used on your website,   Facebook and LinkedIn pages,  advertising and in your elevator pitch.   One can pay for Google AdSense and get wonderful long-tail key words,  but why not start with the free versions  http://adwords.google.com and http://googlewonderwheel.com

THE REST

Presentations

Because the presentation is stored in the cloud,  it’s possible to create and update presentation slides from any computer and that can be a real convenience.   Presentations also makes it easy to insert images and video into your slide show.   Moreover,  the template library allows you to collect and save whatever images or video you might want to weave into future presentations.   Best of all,   it’s easy to publish the completed presentation onto YouTube,  your website,  Facebook,  LinkedIn,  or other sites of choice.

Alas,   Presentations is not Power Point.  Those for whom esthetics is important will find Presentation design features lacking.   Worse still,   Presentation text boxes don’t work well and as a result the layout can become skewed,   unless you are very proficient at navigating the system.

Spreadsheets

If a team must develop a spreadsheet,  the availability of cloud-based access is crucial.   Real-time updates are included in the basic spreadsheet functions and there is even automatic compatibility with Excel.   The auto-fill function allows you to avoid the necessity of re-typing the same terms over and over.   The ability to drag columns to new locations and a stream-lined copy feature that makes duplicates in one click are very useful and ease the drudgery of producing spreadsheets.   The unfortunate part is that the Spreadsheet App is clunky when compared to the gold standard that is Excel.    For example,  the system is known to freeze up as you’re working–ugh!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

New Facebook Ads Up the Social Ante

Recently,  I taught a business plan writing class and one of my students,  a talented home baker originally from Mexico who specializes in Latin American confections  (her pecan balls are wonderful!)  and wants to upgrade her hobby into a formal licensed pastry catering business,   spoke of her business promotion success with Facebook and Twitter.  On her personal Facebook page,  Mariela utilizes the Fan page for her cakes and other desserts,  featuring attractive photos of the goodies.  Additionally,  she tweets maybe three times a day about what she’s making for the parties she sometimes caters,  new recipes she’s trying out or other baking topics.

To her great surprise,  Mariela received a response to her tweets from an employee of a huge US sugar company,  who tweeted to ask whose sugar she uses when baking  (she does use that company’s sugar).  Also,  a popular local blog in her town tweeted to ask if they could write an article about her.  So maybe it’s time to take another look at your social media strategy and think about how the benefits of Facebook and Twitter might help you get on the radar screens of prospective clients who would ordinarily be beyond your reach?

To grease the wheels of that process,  Facebook will soon announce a new premium ad format that will radically transform traditional online banner advertising and replace it with ads that potentially will become  “conversations” about the advertised product or service.  According to sources with inside information,  Facebook will make the new ads social by allowing Friends of the advertiser to Like the ad and make comments. 

The new Facebook banner ads will not exclusively contain the usual content written by the business and reading like a commercial,  but also endorsements personally written by Friends of the business,  who know and trust the products or services being touted.  These exciting new ads promise to be personal and active,  not finite and static.

When page visitors view an ad and decide to click the Like button or enter a comment in response,  those actions will be added to both the advertiser’s page and to the News Feeds of the poster’s and advertiser’s Friends.  Pictures of Friends who have Liked the ad or have made a comment will also be incorporated into the ad.  The goal is to start a conversation between Friends and Friends of Friends,  with comments traded back and forth,  spreading credibility and brand visibility far beyond the advertiser’s usual reach.  As a result,  the whole advertising process will become organic and based on who knows and trusts the advertiser.

To verify the process,  Facebook tested the new ads and found they produced 40%  more engagement  (meaning clicks,  comments and Likes)  and are 80%  more likely to be remembered by viewers.  Best of all,  Facebook claims that viewers of the new ads are four times more likely to follow-up and/or purchase products / services when they see their Friends interacting with the ads. The new ads are set to promote the coveted  “word of mouth”  that is widely seen as the most effective form of advertising.

The data have convinced Facebook execs that the hyper-social ads will have a substantially better conversion rate for advertisers than traditional print or online ads.  The top brass believe that ads  “written”  by those who know the products and services best will convey trust and credibility in a way that traditional advertisements cannot.  The company is expected to discontinue its traditional banner ads and offer current advertisers replacement with the new format.

I was unable to find any cost data on the new interactive ads.  If even a couple of your business clients are inclined to follow Facebook,  the new ads could be a very savvy way of spreading the good word about your services and giving those who don’t know you well the confidence to hire you based on the endorsements of people they know and trust.  I’ve thus far avoided Facebook,  but I plan to pay attention to this new ad format.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Heads-up: Google + Business Pages

At last it is here.  The business page option for Google Plus was rolled out in November of last year.  The early adapters are still figuring it out,  but the consensus is that Google + is an innovative and useful social marketing tool for Freelancers,  business owners and our customers.   Google + combines and enhances the business-friendly social networking features of Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter and presents it all in one platform.

You’ll be able to share links,  location data,  photos,  videos and have interactive two-way conversations on the Plus platform.  Ian Schafer,  founder of the Manhattan digital marketing agency Deep Focus,  says  “Integrating with Google + is essential right now,  because of its impact on Google search results.  Experimentation will give businesses  (especially small ones)  a leg up on their competition.”

But all is not rosy.  First of all,  you need a Gmail address to set up and access the service.  On top of that,  there is as yet no cross-platform integration with other Google services.  Plus doesn’t mesh with Analytics,  Blogger or YouTube.  The company vows that full integration is on the horizon,  but an arrival date has not been promised.

As with all social media,  you must sign up  (with Gmail)  and create a profile.  Like LinkedIn,  describing your services is the name of the game.  The  “About”  tab is especially important,  for this is how visitors to your page will elect to invite you to connect with them  (or not).  Present an informative,  compelling profile and tell the story of you and your products and services.  You may provide a link to your website.

Like Facebook,  photos figure prominently in you Plus profile.  Before you sign up,  create five photos of yourself in action as you provide different aspects of your services,  sit on a panel,  speak or teach,  take a meeting or whatever.  Those photos will be uploaded to the Photo Strip,  which is displayed beneath your business name and tag line on your home page.

Next you can populate the  “Circles”,  “Sparks” and  “Hangout”  sections.  Circles are grouping categories for your connections.  Hangout lets you set up various group events and invite contacts from your Circles and also the public to interact in useful and engaging ways.  Sparks is a streaming feature that lets you choose to receive info that keeps you updated on business issues of interest to you.

Invite clients and professional contacts to join Circles that you will designate.  You get to curate what information is shared with contacts based on the Circle you place them in and that decision will be determined by their relationship to you and your business.  You may designate Circles for clients,  peers and colleagues,  members of your business advisory board,  friends,  press updates,  or whatever categories seem appropriate.

Through interactions with those in your Circles,  you may refine your understanding of what contacts would like to know about your business,  how your services can be packaged and marketed and/or what clients value most about your services and how you can become even more valuable.

Like the LinkedIn Answers forum,  questions can be posted and Google+ members can offer answers.  It’s a great way to expand your connections and build relationships by sharing your expertise.  Visit http://findpeopleonplus.com to find professionals in your target markets and find out what’s on their mind,  how you can help and who you want to invite into a Circle.

Hangout is a very intriguing feature of Plus.  It one-ups Facebook and the Skype connection.  Real-time interactive communication is possible on Hangout and with a larger audience.  Reportedly,  the Dalai Lama recently hosted a Hangout with Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu with an audience of millions. 

 With Hangout,  those of us who teach now have a way to present our courses and workshops in a free online classroom that will host up to 10 students in a group class.  Private consulting sessions are also possible with clients who live anywhere there is internet access.

So check out Google+ and consider the benefits for your business.  49 million hits were made on Plus in December 2011 and analysts predict that Plus will have 400 million users by year-end 2012.  Google is the word’s biggest search engine and inbound links are increasingly important in search engine marketing.  A well-thought out and crafted Google+ page has the potential to draw in prospects with the money and motive to join your client roster,  the best Circle of all.

Thanks for reading,

Kim