Saturday, June 30, 2007

Free Ways to Promote Your New Web Site

Just because you build it, doesn’t mean that they will come. There are millions of web sites on the Internet; don’t expect flocks of visitors to yours when it first launches. Companies with budgets for web site promotion will explore sponsored search advertisements, banner ads, link exchange programs, print campaigns and extensive search engine optimization strategies to ensure that their web site gains heavy traffic.

So what’s a small business owner to do?

You don’t need to have a big budget to be found online. By making full use of free resources and directories, capitalizing on your current promotion activities, and getting creative with spreading the word, you can build momentum, traffic and repeat traffic. Once you start collecting “hits” (as visitors are called), your site will naturally begin to rank higher on search engine results.

Describe your web site carefully when you submit.
Usually, your web designer or web hosting company will offer to submit your new web site to the search engines (this is the way your site gets “crawled” by the likes of Yahoo!, Open Directory and Google). Take them up on that offer, but first, be sure to craft a submission listing that uses your keywords and tells your story well. I recommend following Robert Woodhead’s advice at

List in Free Directories.
I’ll include a more extensive list of free directories in a later blog entry. But for now, start with Yahoo! Local, a free listing with the Yellow Pages online, and any other directories you find related to your business (think neighborhood, city, or state business directories, trade directories, etc.). On a roll and want to do your own research? Check out these free web directories.

Add your URL to current promotional activities.
Do you place print ads now? If so, update them with your new web site address. If you manufacture products, add your new URL to your product labels and packaging. If your business has t-shirts (or other give-away items) or advertisements on TV or radio, be sure you’re including your new web site information on those as well.

Use the ways you already communicate with your customers.
Ready to print new business cards, letterhead and envelopes? Be sure to add the new URL to them. If you're not ready to reprint those, consider making stickers for use on your company's large envelopes, outgoing packages, brochures and catalogs. Don’t forget to make store signage, and be sure to update your after-hours phone recording with mention of your new site. Add a link to your new web site to your email signature.

Ask every business you know to add your site as a link.
Your business has natural partners: vendors, service professionals, membership organizations, and more. Contact the folks you know and ask them to add your web site link to their web site. If possible, offer to reciprocate.

None of the above options is time-consuming, costly, or difficult. With a little work and persistence, you’ll soon be reaping the benefits of your new web site with valuable traffic.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Do As I Say, Not As I Do: the Value of Web Site Design

Small business owners know how to save a buck. I haven’t met a small business owner yet who doesn’t make me explain the value that my writing services will bring to the bottom line. And that’s a good thing: it’s your livelihood and you should be mindful of where the money goes.

Add to that: most small business are so resourceful, competent and smart. They can—and do—wear many hats at once. From purchasing inventory to hanging the company sign to fixing the copy machine, no task or problem is too much for the entrepreneur to handle.

So when it comes to web sites, it’s understandable that business owners will be tempted to make their own. Several easy-to-use web site templates and web site development programs enable novices to get a decent-looking site up within a matter of only a few hours. Why not do it yourself?

The answer is: because someone else can do it better, and in this case, better is a better value.

In 2003, an e-commerce study revealed that:

65 percent of Internet users won’t patronize a poorly designed site—even that of a favorite brand—and 30 percent reported that Web site design is more important than a great product. Even rock-bottom prices only persuaded 4 percent to shop on a poorly designed Web site. What’s worse is that nearly 30 percent stop buying from their favorite offline store if their online experience is poor. (from, "the network for retailers online")

Do you want to risk losing 30% of your current customers or up to 65% of your prospective customers? I didn’t think so!

The adage “you have to spend money to make money,” applies in this case. Trust the experts and put them to work making the Internet work for you.

Professional web site designers and architects know many important things you don’t, such as:

  • how to ensure that your graphics are sized properly and load as quickly as possible on users’ machines;

  • how to scale your page design so it fills viewers’ screens;

  • how to display design (logo, buttons) and copy (product descriptions, instructions) elements so they guide users through your site; and

  • how to test different web browsers (Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Firefox) to make sure that your site appears attractive and correctly laid out on each.

Your web site designer can also explain to you why you might choose one company to register your domain name (registrar), another company to host your site (web host), and still another to connect to the World Wide Web (ISP, Internet Service Provider). They can help you maintain your site into the future, adding features as you grow and pointing out ways to maximize your Internet presence. The value they extend to you far exceeds the investment of cash needed to get them on board.

Yesterday I met with a colleague of mine, Andrea from Rareheron Web Design. We talked about the value of web design, the different maintenance programs available to people who want to update their own sites, and the nuts-and-bolts of Internet file transfer (FTP). I left excited, thinking about how much easier and affordable it is to have good web design and how much I wanted to help more small businesses improve their Internet presence.

But before I left, she asked, “You did your own site, didn’t you, Tara?”


Yes, I’m guilty of not following my own advice. I created my own web site and now my own blog. And it’s okay; you can be honest—you can tell, can’t you?

Of course you can; and that’s exactly why you should do as I say, not as I do.

Monday, June 18, 2007

On Writing

My boyfriend sent me a link today to an interview with an infamous blogger he enjoys. In it, Dusty Scott gives this advice to fellow bloggers: write what you want. Trying to write for a specific market will just make your content boring.

As a professional copywriter, I make it a matter of personal pride to write for specific markets and keep it interesting. Nevertheless, I believe that Scott has a point. Your writing should have integrity and reflect who you are. Your blog should reflect and express you, your voice.

After all, good writing starts with a strong voice, and great writing starts with a truly authentic voice. Why should it be any different for a blog?

Writing is communication preserved. When we write, we do so to communicate things that are essential to us. We want our ideas, needs, feelings, vision, abilities, and opinions to be heard. We write about them, in part, to cast our thoughts, like a fishing line, out to others.

Because we use written communications to express things that are so important to us, I take writing very seriously. I am passionate about my professional copywriting because not everyone has the ability to put his ideas into words, but every person deserves to see the greatest representation of himself expressed well on paper (or in cyberspace, as the case may be). I believe that we feel our inherent dignity resonate inside us when we read our thoughts in written form.

That's just one of the many reasons I write. But these thoughts about why I do what I do were sparked by one line in the aforementioned Dusty Scott interview. When asked by the interviewer if his blog was meant to convey a "message" or just to tell a good story, Scott replied:

I don’t think there is a message other than “Hey, you’re not the only one thinking it. Now let us bind ourselves together with twine made of logic and rule the universe.”
Ruling the universe is just one reason I write. Here are a few others:

"I'm not the most connected individual, Denny. Sometimes words are all that allow me to feel like I'm a part of the world, a part of life. If I don't have words, then I'm alone."
~ Alan Shore (James Spader) to Denny Crane (William Shatner) in
Boston Legal, Season 2: Episode 21

Verba volant
Scripta manent

Spoken words fly away,
but writing remains.

I hear in my mind/All of these voices
I hear in my mind/All these words
I hear in my mind/All of this music
And it breaks my heart
Breaks my heart
It breaks my heart

Friday, June 15, 2007

Do I Have to Have a Web Site?

In short: Yes. These days, every business needs a web site. No matter how small you are, you don’t want to fall through the cyber-cracks and get missed by the Net-dependent. Without a web site, you lose credibility instantly. And I can assure you that you lose business.

This week, a friend commented to me that she uses the Web for “everything.”

“Seriously,” she said, “I don’t ever use the phone book anymore.”

And you know what? Neither do I.

When I want directions to a store, someone to cut my trees, or to know the hours of a new restaurant, I go the Internet to find it. The information I’m looking for is usually on the company’s web site, but even if it’s not, I can look up the company’s phone number there without ever having to find where I put my Yellow Pages.

If your business carries the product I want, you cut trees in my neighborhood, or you opened a new restaurant recently ~ but you don’t have a web site ~ you didn’t get my business. And you didn’t get my neighbor’s either.

The kind of web site you need depends on the nature of your products or services, but it doesn't have to be complex, expensive, or daunting. Sure, if you’re in the music or movie industry, you may want exciting audio and visual features on your site. On the other hand, if you’re an independent massage therapist, you don’t need complex programming ~ a few static pages that contain persuasive information about you, your services and training, and how to contact you will do the trick.

Still not convinced? Think of a web site as a way to increase sales, reduce your overhead costs, and enhance your customer service. Who doesn't want a simple way to do that?

If you have a bricks-and-mortar retail shop, you might be able to increase sales 10-25% ~ without having to relocate. Consider what would happen if you had a web site that entices visitors to come to your store, signs them up for a newsletter that offers special subscriber discounts, and features an online catalog or even a “Buy Now” button.

Restaurants can use web sites to promote special events, new hours, and seasonal menu offerings quickly, inexpensively, and without the hassle of direct mail.

And every type of business owner, but especially those in the service industry, can cut down on the number of unproductive phone calls from people who inquire about the same basic things. Your web site can answers frequently asked questions before people call. That saves you time and helps make your work day more efficient.

The phone book may still end up being your biggest source of referrals, but without a web site, you’re missing out on a whole market of consumers that now “let their fingers do the walking” on the keyboard.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"We don't say we don't know. We look it up."

My grandfather sold World Book encyclopedias door-to-door for many years. As a father of four, an avid reader and a life-long learner himself (though he never graduated from high school), he also kept a set of those encyclopedias at home. When his children asked him questions or, more pointedly, when *he* asked *them* questions and the response was "I don't know," my grandfather would admonish: "We don't say we don't know, we look it up." The children were sent to fetch the appropriate volume of World Book or the dictionary or whatever reference would provide the answer.

That insistence on finding out the answers was instilled in my father and passed on to me. As I advance toward my personal and professional goals, I notice that much of what enables me to progress is my willingness to ask questions.

There are still moments when I find myself overwhelmed and I begin to whine “but I don't know how to do that." Then I hear Grandpa’s voice of disapproval and I stop to reframe that into a question: "How do I find out how to do that?"

If you’re thinking about striking out on your own, know that you don’t have to have all the answers now. You only have to be bold enough to ask the questions and have faith enough to know that the answers are out there, and you can find them.

Last night, I attended my first PubTalk presented by the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network (OEN). With dozens of seasoned entrepreneurs as well as newcomers like me, it was a fantastic crowd full of talent, experience, and advice. It reminded me again of the resources that exist, and that I need only to avail myself of them.

Food for thought: Where do you go when you have questions? To whom do you turn? What resources are consistently useful in providing information or support? If you have a specific question, share it with me and I’ll let you know if I’ve found a resource that can help.

Time Keeps on Slippin, Slippin, Slippin...

A topic that's been highly relevant to me lately is that of time management. Or, for those of you who are averse to corporate-lingo, a.k.a., "What did I do all day?"

In the first two weeks after I left "the office," I enjoyed a very lax schedule. I slept in. I often didn't shower or change out of my pajamas. When I did, I spent lots of time outside.

While it may have appeared to be "slacking off," in fact, the time was well spent. The structureless environment aided in loosening my imagination from some of its binds (namely, the old biz) and allowed me to explore very valuable things: what I want, how fast I want to get there, how hard I want to work, and how confident I feel in being able to attain my goals.

I knew my imagination had done its job when my ideas and ambitions had gained enough loft to reveal to me a 10,000-foot view that was both exciting and stood up to the SMART test. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely). It was time for me to get "serious" and begin to "work."

I admit to having spent large portions of the ensuing three weeks in a terrified daze. Monday through Friday seemed to stretch out in front of me like giant, blank pages on which I was supposed to write my own schedule, my own to-do lists, my own goals and objectives. I found myself struck with a feeling rather akin to writer's block, gripped by the same kind of panic that results from the glare of the white computer screen and the persistent demand of the blinking cursor.

In those weeks, I struggled to gain traction and to master my own mind, my own time. My relationship to my phone, email, house, chores, refrigerator and coffee pot all changed. I had to reorganize my relationship to those around me: my family, my dog, my friends, my bill collectors. Where I used to do all the laundry on Saturdays, now I could do it Thursday morning while at my computer. Where I used to bring my checks, stamps and remittance forms to drop in the office mail, now I can pay my bills online instantly. Where my daughter had after-school care arrangements that she despised, now I could run out in the middle of the afternoon and pick her up from school. And the dog could come with us. I had time to meet my friends for lunch.

For the last three weeks since I've had paying clients, however, I've still had to renegotiate everything. Only now, the pendulum has swung the other direction: I'm working like a fiend. I'm at the computer at 7:00 a.m., sometimes 6:00 a.m. I'm putting off the trip to the grocery store and walking the dog until I'm so fried from working that I can't think anymore. I've forgotten to return my friends' phone calls. The business day has become 10-14 hours long.

To some extent, I understand this ebb and flow is natural and expected. I will be busier some weeks than others. At any given week, five businesses may want things from me all at once, or no one may need a thing from me at all. It's not necessarily up to me.

But on the other hand, I am also realizing the necessity of analyzing, tracking, and evaluating how I'm spending my time. Like my father says, "You're your own best tool." I am my service. If I burn myself out, I won't be any good to my clients ~ not to mention my family.

Many friends, acquaintances, and random people who just like giving out advice, say the same thing: establish a routine.

I've tried to do that, and have been experimenting with some routines. I've even searched online for examples of work-at-home routines or time-management tips for the self-employed. Those yielded plenty of general articles, resources for students to develop their study habits, comments by other bloggers, and even the most extensive collection of Gantt charts I've ever seen at Help-U-Plan. But at the end of the day, it still seems like a regular routine is something that should work in theory, though in practice it's just something to aim for.

Fundamentally, I wonder: Is a routine necessary to aid my productivity, or is it more to fill a need for structure? I'd love to know from others who are self-employed: Do you really have a routine that you stick to regularly? If so, was it a matter of getting there eventually, or did you set it up and stick to it right away?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Is "Ditch the Dusty Widget?"

It's no secret that small businesses fuel our economy. In "The Small Business Economy" (December, 2006) the Small Business Administration (SBA) reports to the President that:

...of the nearly 26 million firms in the United States, most are very small—97.5 percent of employer and nonemployer firms have fewer than 20 employees. Yet cumulatively, these firms account for half of our nonfarm real gross domestic product, and they have generated 60 to 80 percent of the net new jobs over the past decade.
The number of women and men who change their status from "employee" to "self-employed" is pretty substantial, too ~ more than 10% of Americans are now self-employed. And, according to the same SBA report, that percentage is growing.

The temptation is great: as employers raise their time demands, real pay levels off, benefits shrink, and commutes grow more expensive and time-consuming, it's no surprise that many people will decide to take the plunge into starting and operating their own small businesses.

I'm one of them.

With more than a decade of diverse workplace experience in marketing, sales and project management, I, too, have decided to become a small business owner.
Tara M. Bloom Communications is my consulting firm that specializes in meeting the marketing & communications needs of smaller small businesses.

With my recent decision to be self-employed, I took on the headaches, joys, hassles, and adventures of being a business owner. From figuring out my own "unique selling proposition" to finding the best bank to meet my needs, I'm following in the footsteps of thousands of others who have traveled this way before, and thousands more who will follow in the future.

And on my way, I see that this path is rather well-worn. For every question I have, someone has the answer. For every roadblock I encounter, someone else has already found a way around it (or over it, or through it). With every discovery I make, I realize that others have already figured out what I’m seeing for the first time. It's only a "discovery" to me.

I'm grateful to everyone who is teaching, advising, sharing, mentoring, and encouraging me along the journey. Without their help, this already challenging undertaking would be even more daunting. In turn, I'd like to leave some bread crumbs along the trail for you ~ my fellow entrepreneurs and small business owners.

In "Ditch the Dusty Widget," I'll share stories of my successes and mistakes, ideas and tips, resources and recommendations for small business owners, with a particular focus on marketing and sales. As I live in Oregon, some of my information might be geographically specific. Other insights and stories, however, will be quite universal and useful to small business owners throughout the country.

Think you might want to fly solo, too? Start off by taking this quiz,
"Checklist for Starting a Business" (also from the SBA web site). Share your results with me here or leave a post if you'd like help with your next steps.