Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Most Underrated Marketing Tool in Your Arsenal

If the barometer of success for any marketing strategy boils down to ROI, it’s time to consider the PDF file as one of the most overlooked ways to get the word out about your product or your service. If you consider the myriad of ways to draw potential clients to your business, few are as easy to put together, as cheap, or as effective.

Simple Tools That Are All in the Box

Imagine you’re unveiling a new product line at your store. One of the most conventional ways to draw attention, and promote your new product, has been the leaflet. In the digital age the leaflet has to now be regarded as one of the more ineffective ways of driving business. Consider all the steps involved and who needs to be employed:

  • A graphic designer needs to be employed to handle the layout.
  • A completely separate company needs to be hired just to handle the printing.
  • Finished leaflets then need to be distributed.

Now consider how those steps can be refined and made more cost effective with a PDF file.

  • Virtually any word processor or design tool can be converted into a PDF file.
  • No printing necessary.
  • A final PDF can be distributed with a single click of a button in an email blast, or via per click advertising on almost any social networking site.

With a PDF no materials are wasted and no leaflets get unceremoniously tossed in the garbage. Save a tree.

So Many Options

PDFs can assume a variety of forms that may be useful in driving people to your business. Here are a few ideas:

Catalogues – PDFs are specifically designed to integrate images with text. They are quite literally the digital gold standard for delivering professional looking, unalterable, designs modeled after traditional print publications for the digital age.

Informational Material – For service companies, educating your client base on what you provide can help establish trust and offer them a reminder that they may be in need of your service. A well-targeted PDF tutorial, offering something as simple as a quick tip, can often spark in the minds of your clients a number of ways that they can use your service.

Promotional Video – With easy-to-use screencasting software such as Camtasia and Screenflow, it’s simple to turn a PDF file into a promotional video that can be quickly embedded onto your website or on various social networking sites.

The total cost for all of these methods are a fraction of the costs associated with conventional print materials, billboards, radio, and television advertising, and by using social media, the reach is even greater.

Other Benefits of PDFs

By now it should be clear that the PDF is able to profit from the fact that it can travel digitally and has a demonstrable versatility. But there are still a few more points that make PDFs so handy.

They’re Unalterable – No matter what design tool you’re using whether it’s Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, it doesn’t matter, converting to PDF places the final stamp on a design and makes it final. When it goes to the world it can not be imported and have it’s design components altered, leaving copyright and design control in the hands of you and your company.

They’re Universal – Unless you’re dusting off your old Amiga, chances are your PDF will be read by any device from a PC to an iPad. It will always look just the way it was intended and never suffer from corruption by crossing platforms.

They’re Light Weight and Cheap – No heavy boxes to move around and, in fact, PDFs require minimal amounts of space on your hard drive. Just about every software tool under the sun has a “save as PDF” option. Total cost: $0.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Etiquette in the Virtual Office Environment

The office is a constantly evolving environment. In fact, the tech boom has given rise to a brand new work environment unlike the world has ever seen. Globalization and the internet have transformed the way we do business, altering the landscape and changing the way workers, united under the banner of a common vocational purpose, interact and see a project to completion.

Online office environments, like oDesk and Elance, have become an increasingly common way to infuse expertise into small businesses by outsourcing skills and aspects of a project that may not fall within the core competencies of its key constituents. In fact, it is now possible to see a project from acorn to oak by building a workforce of contractors from around the world operating in a virtual office environment which tracks their time and progress.

Operating through the soft barrier and anonymity that is the internet, it’s easier than ever to be detached from some of the more mundane aspects of the job. In their infancy, virtual office environments were a breeding ground for employers looking to get something for nothing by offering the promise of work to desperate contractors. Thankfully, the market has found a way to regulate itself and, though the problem does still persist, it is no longer the norm. Employers will be keen to protect themselves from contractors looking to make a quick buck and leaving them in the lurch with poorly executed, or incomplete, work. On the other hand, most contractors will be inclined to protect themselves, and usually only want to be compensated fairly for their time and their expertise. It’s important to remember that there is an element of give and take that is essential to making the relationship function optimally.  

As tempting as it might be for an employer to contract the data entry services of someone working for $1 per hour in a distant country, there’s no guarantee that what is needed will be communicated effectively or that the work will be done correctly. One might even be persuaded to convince several prospective contractors to complete samples in order to prove that they are capable of completing the work and then running off with the aggregate without compensating a single contractor for their work.

When dealing with any contractor in an online environment the key is to first give them the benefit of the doubt. Knowing that they are capable of what they say they are is important and most will be able to provide a track record of successfully completed work. Inherent in the system of most E-offices is a feedback system and, although abuses are not unheard of, there is also some legitimacy to them and should be another factor to consider before making a hire. Lastly, reach out – a virtual office relationship is still a relationship and a quick Skype call can go a long way to establishing trust between contractor and employer. Employers demonstrate that they are the real deal, with honest money to pay for an honest service, and this informal interview process is usually enough to unveil the wizard behind the curtain.

No matter who you hire for what service, keeping the lines of communication open is essential and a “set it and forget it” mentality is never a recommended approach. As your business grows, so will your relationships and it’s important to nurture them and keep in mind that sacrificing some early returns can, with the right amount of patience, generate greater stability over the long haul. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Hire Employees

Being exhausted from working around the clock driving your business forward can actually be a good thing. Despite the bags under your eyes, the gravelly voice, and potential spontaneous hair loss, all that stress can serve as a signal that your business has advanced to the point where it’s time to hire some help. As tempting as it can be to continue to assume all the responsibility for your company and reap all the financial benefits as well, it may actually be more profitable in the long term to surrender some of the immediate dividends and take back some of your days.

There are two basic paths to take when hiring someone:

The first, and most obvious is to hire an assistant. Any business has mundane components, or a series of tedious small jobs, that are seemingly unrelated to the main focus of the company. They include everything from answering telephones, sending out emails, filing, billing, laundry, getting coffee, etc. When hiring someone to handle all the jobs you don’t want to do, the goal is often to find someone who’s driven, pays attention to detail, doesn’t sleep, and is willing to work for less than they’re worth.

This method of hiring, especially at such an early stage in the growth of your company, is akin to exploitation and will further limit the growth of your company. The types of people who will end up working for you are those that simply need a job. The kind of employee you should be looking for is one who wants to work for you, not one who is putting themselves in a position of indentured servitude. The reason for the drawbacks with this method of hiring is due to the fact that it means that all the jobs in the company are accounted for. It might be effective to get by on a day-to-day basis, but a ceiling is reached the minute your employee becomes truly effective at their job. The net result will be a former employee who uses their experience at your company as a means to get a job that’s more meaningful to them.

The second method to hiring is to find a partner. Anyone who has seen Derek Sivers’ riveting TED talk from 2010 about how to start a movement knows that as the leader you’ll get all the credit, but the true catalyst to starting a movement is the involvement and commitment of your first followers. As Sivers points out, it’s important to embrace your first few followers, or employees in this case, as equals. When things began, you may have been the very embodiment of the company, but by embracing your first employees as equals, the focus now becomes the company and not the individual roles that are being filled within it. Suddenly, instead of all the jobs in the company being accounted for by you and your various assistants, new jobs are being born through the cooperation and vision of your close circle of followers.

So what is the key to finding a great partner?

The real trick to finding a great partner is to position oneself within reach of people that are like you, but with complimentary skills. For example, an audio professional might want to align themselves with an expert in film and video where suddenly you have a production company capable of offering an array of services instead of focusing on just one. It’s also important that they be at the same relative stage in their career so that you can both grow together without one feeling like they are dragging the other. And finally, your partners should hold the same core values when it comes to what they feel is important for the company to thrive – citing artistic differences as the cause of the destruction of a promising union has almost become cliché.

The very last thing to consider is how you attract the right people to your business. It’s important, regardless of the channels you use to draw attention to your company, that in the job description it clearly indicates that candidates will be immediately positioned at the same level, and be performing the same duties, as the founder of the company. Be forthright about your own abilities, your goals, and your expectations and make it clear to the people you decide to interview that their involvement in the company represents an opportunity to be a part of something that has the potential for real growth.

The net effect of this second strategy is not only having a willing partner who will help lighten the load in the short term, but also a friend who will take ownership of their role and nurture the company with the same care as you in the long term. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Finding Your True North

It’s no easy task explaining to someone what it means to be a business. To anyone who’s grown up with the mentality that they have to work hard in order to find a job at a company, meeting someone who is a company can be a perplexing idea that they just have trouble wrapping their head around. For example, there are a number of concepts inherent in the established paradigm that just don’t apply to the self-employed:

·         Setting one’s own work schedule and hours.

·         Determining one’s own rate of pay.

·         Working wherever they please instead of a set space, or office.

For anyone who has been successful at being their own business it often leaves others wondering whether they do any work at all. Answers to the questions, “What do you do?” and “How much do you make?” are purposely vague unlike those of their counterparts who might prefer the lofty title next to the reputable company name that commands a predetermined pay scale with benefits. But anyone who has ever set out to become self-employed knows that there is something that working for a company can not offer – the freedom to determine one’s own sense of vocational happiness.

It’s understood that working for a company brings with it certain sacrifices. In exchange for financial security we are often bound to working on someone else’s terms (hours, corporate structure, defined tasks, vacation and sick days). As much as being self-employed might represent a departure from this framework, it is not without sacrifice. In fact, leaving the corporate world behind to strike off on one’s own is often one of the greatest sacrifices anyone can make because it is automatically associated with uncertainty.

Self-employment is not for the faint of heart. The early days of starting a new business are often so filled with ups and downs (mostly downs) that it can often leave people despondent, regretting their decision, and scouring the want ads to get them back in the rat race. And, while taking temporary employment to stay afloat isn’t out of the question, throwing in the towel should be only be considered as an absolute last resort.

We have a long established history of measuring success in dollars and cents, but there is a sea change occurring right now. People are beginning to realize that happiness is becoming a more accurate barometer of success and that living every aspect of life on one’s own terms is a critical factor in one’s perception of their own happiness. To this day there exists a misconception that people that are self-employed don’t work as hard as people who work a set number of hours per week, but the greater truth is that there now exists a culture of people who don’t define success by the established set of terms.

If happiness and success, therefore, are so nebulous, what does it actually take to drive a new, passion driven, business forward and allow it to achieve remuneration along with fulfillment? Only you can decide that. But, locking on to the values that you aim to hold as a business, understanding why you are doing what you’re doing, and demonstrating your resolve will reflect upon others that your business offers value. Passion is infectious, and if you love what you are doing, then the people you serve will love how you do it. It takes time and the determination to suffer through hard times, but if you know where you are headed then you will get there.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Five Tips for Managing Client Expectations

Nothing is more essential to a successful enterprise than repeat business. Every satisfied customer allows your brand to be passed around by word of mouth potentially creating a snowball effect that could be the difference between the long-term sustainability of your enterprise, or it ending up being a fleeting experiment. Referrals are your best friends and a one dissatisfied could spell the end of your business and is to be avoided at all costs.

Whether you’re a web developer, digital media consultant, graphic designer, or content creator, the clients that come looking for your services will bring with them some level of expectation, and it’s your job to manage those expectations. Below are 5 handy tips and tricks designed to help you navigate the mind of your client, understand their demands, and keep them and their friends knocking on your door.

1) Get to know what they know – No matter what a client might come to you for, if you know what they know about what you do, it changes the level of expectation. Some clients might have an in depth understanding about what it takes for you to do your job and some might be completely clueless and the key to maintaining customer satisfaction in either case is the level of sensitivity with which you handle each. It should be clear by the terminology they use when they speak to you, or how they respond to any questions you ask, so just be mindful.

2) Know what you’re capable of – Nothing upsets the balance of someone’s expectations more than being given false information. If you design websites and a client has come to you saying they need their site to go live in 24 hours, sometimes it’s better to risk losing the client rather than promise them that it can be done and risk not completing the work. No matter how much extra effort you might put into getting it done, the chances are your client won’t be sympathetic to your plight. They are under pressure too and all they’re likely to remember was that the work wasn’t completed when you said it would be.

3) Don’t be afraid to involve your clients – Some clients might not have the faintest idea of what’s involved behind the scenes of a good marketing video, but everyone who’s in charge of a project appreciates having their ego stroked. The more decisions they make, or the more they see of themselves, there is an increased likelihood they’ll take ownership of the project and value the work you did alongside them. However, remember that there’s a fine line here – some clients are just too busy to be bothered, and some can become so involved that it compromises the quality of the project.

4) Be available – The work has to get done but it’s not advisable to turn the ringer off on your phone – ever! The service you provide is meant to be a direct response to what a client has in their mind and the work has to get done in the spaces between them communicating to you exactly what that is. Every fragment might prove useful in you being able to deliver on their wildest imagination and should not be ignored. A client will remember every time that they tried to reach you and were unable to because it was time that they set aside, time they thought was important, and time they eventually wasted. Time is money, and they can give theirs to someone who will offer them the time they need.

5) Let someone else disappoint them – It’s time for a reality check – you’re not the only one who does what you do. Out there in the world is someone who others can go to for the exact service that you provide, and it’s likely you’re not the only one they’ve called. It’s also not uncommon to find a prospective client that simply has completely unrealistic expectations, and there comes a point where it’s imperative to stand your ground on an issue (work load, deadlines, rate of pay, etc.) because the integrity of your business will be at stake. A prospective client might simply hire the cheapest option around and don’t be afraid to let them. The chances are likely that they won’t be happy with the work that got done and will go somewhere else the next time. Be sure that if they do finally come around to you, and not simply the cheapest option available, that you do deliver the value you promise.