Monday, March 31, 2008

Service Providers: Turn Your Website into a Marketing Tool that Makes Browsers Into Buyers

If you are a sole proprietor or owner of a small business that provides services, rather than products, there's a great article in the NYT today about Internet tools for you.

The article mentions three online calendar tools—HourTown, BookingAngel and Genbook—that ennable you to add the "book an appointment" feature to your website.

According to the Reiki provider featured in the story, adding that service to her website gave her a competitive edge over other similar providers in her area. The results? She's more than doubled her number of clients since offering online booking and creating a PPC (pay-per-click) campaign.

I've seen the same idea in action. Scovare Expeditions, a client of mine (I consulted to launch its e-newsletter campaign and to write and format its e-newsletters), had a static website for its first 18 months of operation. For the first season in business, Scovare booked by phone its charter sailboat excursions along the Portland, Oregon waterfront. By the second season, however, owner Captain Shane St. Clair saw how his website was underutilized.

"There were hundreds of people visiting the website and reading about our charters," he said, "but only a handful of people picked up the phone to book a cruise or learn more."

So Captain St. Clair added a "Pay Now" function to his website with PayPal, encouraging browsers to instantly book cruise packages. Then he followed up by phone or email to arrange date and time for the customer's cruise.

What Captain St. Clair realized is the competitive power of the Internet. By empowering customers to order, reserve, book, and/or pay online, service providers shorten the distance that the customer has to travel to retain your service. While they are looking at your service, considering your service and showing interest, you give them the opportunity to simply, instantly make the connection.

Not only do you convert more browsers into buyers that way, you make your website a much more powerful marketing tool. When it can turn a mere visit into a sale, your website becomes your 24-hour/7-days-a-week sales rep. Now all your marketing efforts—ads on Craigslist, gift certificates on eBay, PPC ads, online coupons in local directories—all become exponentially more powerful.

If your website is currently functioning more like an online brochure than a sales rep, it's time to take it to the next level. If you don't, your competitors will.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Drop in the Ocean of the Blogosphere

Did you know there are several million marketing websites on the Internet?

Search for "marketing advice" on Google and there are more than 8,000,000 pages of results.

Thanks for reading mine.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

GTD Widget?

Periodically, I like to check to see how readers are finding "Ditch the Dusty Widget." (Oh yeah, BTW: you are being watched with Google Analytics.) This morning, I noticed that a fair number of people find my blog searching for the keywords, "weekly goal widgets."

Which made me wonder, "where can I get a weekly goal widget to offer on my blog?" I could use a tool like that myself. My smart, entrepreneurial readers may be onto something.

In doing a search for said "weekly goal widgets," (and reveling in my top page search showing) I noticed that a few results below me (yes, I added that for emphasis) was a blog entry by Leo at Zen Habits about "cranking widgets."

A visit to his entry revealed numerous references to GTD.

Do you know about this?

Given my overall tendency to pick up on major trends about 2 years after everyone else, I'm not surprised it was news to me. For those of you who are equally uninformed, it stands for "Getting Things Done," and refers to an organizational lifestyle approach trumpeted by productivity guru David Allen.

Leo at Zen Habits has a useful page of links to learn more about GTD, including his first one that points to the 43 Folders blog. Both of these blogs are among the blogosphere's top-rated, top-read blogs of all time, by the way. So if these guys are using the system successfully, there must be something to it.

I'm intrigued and now must sign off to learn more. And what could be more justifiable for taking a day off work than to research how to be more productive?


And for those of you who found this because you're looking for "weekly goal widgets," here is a link to a To-Do list widget. It requires that you have Yahoo! Widget Engine installed on your toolbar, which I don't, so I have no idea how it works. Use at your own discretion.

Weekly Affirmations for the Self-Employed

I am skilled in solving problems.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Maternitique, Tara Bloom Feature on

Many thanks to Kevin at for featuring me and Maternitique this month! The interactive website is a one-stop resource for small business owners in the Portland, Oregon metro area.

Membership is free and enables you to blog, post questions, post answers and generally learn from and network with other business owners in our community.

Read the feature about Tara and Maternitique here.

Easily Ship and Mail from Your Business:

When I think of the US Postal Service, one word comes to mind:


Not “efficiency.” Not “reliability.” Not even “mail.” No, my first reaction is to wince.

Sure, the USPS is attempting to be a more competitive, appealing choice for shippers and businesses. It wants to encourage people to keep mailing in an Internet age. It has a mission to dispel the label of “snail mail.”

But frankly, it still sucks.

Navigating the labyrinthine rules of mailing and shipping with the USPS is maddening. There are so many "if, then" equations that it's like being stuck in an SAT nightmare.

If you want Flat Rate Priority Mail shipping rates, then you must use Flat Rate Priority Mail shipping box A or box B, but not Priority Mail box A, B, or C, nor standard boxes A, B, C, or D. If you want your package to arrive in 1-2 days in Zone A, then you must choose First Class Mail or Priority Mail, but only First Class Mail if the package is sized below variable X and weighs below variable Y. If your package is larger than variable X and weighs above variable Y, then you may not choose First Class Mail, you may choose Priority Mail, but then your package will deliver in 2-3 days. If you have a package in a plain box, that weighs 2 lbs., 1 oz., and is traveling to Lansing, Michigan, then what label or postage should you choose for delivery in 2-3 days?

Without fail, the USPS website makes me pull my hair in frustration. Post offices make me tense and irritable. Postal forms stymie this user every single time. Rather than waste 45 minutes online trying to figure out which custom form it is I need to send my package into Canada, I've learned that it's faster for me just to fill out both.

When I started my online store, then, it’s no surprise that my shipper of choice was UPS.

Several months into shipping, however, the numbers made me reconsider my choice. My UPS account is expensive. And the benefits that used to make UPS stand out from the USPS—delivery notification, speed, reliability, carrier pickup—are all services that the USPS now offers. Plus, USPS packages will get across country in 2-3 days, whereas UPS packages take 5-7 days.

Oh, if only there were some way to harness the power of the USPS without having to DEAL with the USPS.

There is.

I’ve been trying now for a month and I love it. It is a fee-based service: for the standard plan, the cost is $15.99 per month. Packages for extra users and business that need to maintain higher postage balance go up to $34.99 per month. is so easy to use: in less than 10 minutes, I had installed and customized my account, printed my first Priority Mail shipping label and set my package out for the mail carrier pick-up.

Ah, yes. That’s how it should be.

In addition to printing shipping labels from your computer, lets you:
* print stamps
* print postage directly to envelopes and postcards
* complete customs forms for international shipping
* custom design and order stamps with your business logo on them
* hide postage costs on your shipping labels
* receive instant email notification of package pick-up and delivery
* and more

Buying postage is practically instantaneous and the printing options are so flexible (print on basic 8.5” x 11” paper in your printer, cut and tape to package, or print on label sheets that you can get from Avery® or, choose from a variety of sizes for additional cost-savings and to ensure proper fit on package, etc.). has saved me money and time, two things that I guard carefully in my business’s start-up phase.

I recently learned of another service akin to A quick visit to their website shows a similar suite of product and service offerings at comparable rates. I haven't worked with, so I can't say which company has the better service, but I'm confident that whichever one you choose, either is better for business than working with the USPS directly.

Standard plan allowing you to print and ship packages from your office: $15.99 per month.

Postage printing supplies from store: $2.99.

Completely avoiding the Post Office forever: Priceless.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Free Business Listing on

My friend and fellow Internet entrepreneur, Melinda (, sent me this notice last night: features a BusinessFinder directory that is free and open to local businesses.

Creating a new business listing with this tool is fairly easy and takes only a few minutes. It allows you to upload a graphic, pinpoint your location on a map, list your store brands, business description, tagline, hours of operation, website, memberships and more.

And did I mention it’s free?

You select the category (or categories) in which to post your free ad and within minutes…presto! your business will start showing in’s BusinessFinder.

Just don’t ask me how visitors get connected to BusinessFinder.

Create your own listing here. Thanks, Mel!

The photo above is from one of the new lines of jewelry available at I love this piece! Check out the other unique, hand-crafted offerings from dozens of artists and tell her I sent you!

Friday, March 21, 2008

I’m Linkedin. Are you?

A few weeks ago, one of my Seattle colleagues invited me to join her Linkedin network and I figured, what the heck. I’m online with Blogger, Maternitique, a small business magazine on Zimbio, my own bookshelf at and Tara M. Bloom Communications. This is hardly the time to be shy.

So I became a member of Linkedin and immediately sent out my own invitation to friends, colleagues and family (just in case friends and colleagues wouldn’t add me to their network, I knew my mom, aunt and cousins would).

What Is Linkedin?

It’s an online professional networking tool with your choice of free or paid membership. Its unique value is in how it enables you to leverage relationships you already have to create new relationships with people you may not have known you could access.

Linkedin is a great place to create your own professional profile. With space to add your photo, bio, personal summary, work history (a virtual resume), links to your website, blog, RSS feeds for your articles, awards and recognitions, educational history, organizational memberships and more, your Linkedin profile is your customizable CV online in a very searchable, very public, forum.

In addition to the profile feature, it has an active recruiting and job seeking tool and provides a dynamic service provider referral resource.

Why Should I Be Linkedin?

There are many ways to use Linkedin. You can:
* search for a job
* manage your online reputation
* gain credentials as an expert in your field
* network; gain and share access to a variety of people
* recruit for a job
* reconnect with alums and old friends
* build visibility and credibility for your services

Like any tool, Linkedin membership will only be as useful as you make it.

The starting place is to define why you’re there.

For me, gaining “expert” status, both as a marketing strategist and as a maternity resource, is important. How does Linkedin advance those goals? I can earn an “expert” label on Linkedin by participating in its Q&A feature. By answering other people’s questions about my areas of expertise, I gain visibility. When the asker selects my answer as the best, I earn a “point” towards my “expertise” rating. Your status as an expert shows in your profile and appears each time your name comes up on Linkedin search results—a valuable thing for those of us who seek to be published, quoted and sought as a resource to the media.

Another reason I want to participate in Linkedin is to build endorsements for my products and services. Sure, on my websites I can add testimonials from previous clients and customers. I can provide a list of references to prospective writing clients and I can show my finest work in my online portfolio.

But with Linkedin’s Recommendations feature, people in my network can add “thumbs up” signs next to the description of what I do. Actual customer responses in this section are a much more powerful endorsement than anything I could put on my own website and are instantaneously visible in a profile. No phone call required for this type of reference check!

Getting Started

Once you’ve identified why you want to be Linkedin, your next step is to build your profile accordingly.

Because I’m not looking for a job or wanting to build my reputation in industries in which I’ve previously worked, I chose not to enter any past employment information to my profile. If your work history is more relevant to your current endeavors, however, you would want add detail here. The idea is that you want to be the editor of your own information. Don’t fabricate anything, for heaven’s sake, but there’s no need to clutter your profile with detail that doesn’t advance your goals.

Once you’ve created a profile, it’s time to invite people to join your Linkedin network. Linkedin makes this very easy by prompting you through the process and providing a pre-written invitation. Plus, Linkedin syncs with your Outlook address book to automatically generate a list of people you know. With a quick and easy press of a button, you’ll be on your way.

Time to Participate

Like any social networking tool online, you have to be engaged in order for it to work.

First make yourself visible. Make your profile public, choose the option to create a custom public profile link and customize your public profile settings. Next, begin by making recommendations for people you know, and invite people to recommend you.

Promote your Linkedin profile by adding your public link to your outgoing email signature, displaying Linkedin buttons on your blog and/or website, and even adding your public link URL to your business cards.

Then get involved! Since you know what your goals are for your Linkedin profile, work accordingly. My next steps are to make and invite recommendations and to participate in the Q&A.

To keep myself on track, I’ve pledged to devote only 30 minutes during the work-week to Linkedin, but put aside two hours on the weekend or after work hours. This way, keeping regularly engaged stays manageable and outside of normal business hours—so it really does feel more like networking.

View my Linkedin Profile and Invite Me to Your Network:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Weekly Affirmations for the Self-Employed

I have time to visualize where I want to be in 10 years.

How Much Should I Charge? Thoughts on Pricing Your Services

How do I figure out how much to charge for my ______ (fill in the blank: writing, photography, web design, consulting) services?

I’m often called and asked this question by people who are starting out as freelance service providers. There are already many good articles written about this topic. To find them, visit the leading trade associations for your profession and look up "resources" on their respective websites. Professional copywriters, for example, can join and find very helpful pricing guides in their members only resource section.

Here are my additional tips to beginning sole proprietors on pricing your services.

Know your target client

Are you interested in landing large contracts with big firms? Or smaller contracts with small businesses? Are you seeking long-term, multiple month contracts? Or short-term, hourly projects?
What types of businesses will most benefit from your service?

Once you’ve answered those questions, think of existing businesses that fit your profile and contact them. Ask the owners what their budget is for the types of services you provide. Ask them if they use contract service providers, and if so, what the typical pay range is for those services. If they don’t use contractors, ask them why not. You may learn some very important things about your prospective clients. (By the way, before you hang up the phone, be sure to thank the person for the information and ask if you can contact them again re: your services in the future!)

Know your competitors

Use the Internet to find service providers who are competing for the same type of work from the same type of client as you. How much do they charge?

Unless you are entering into self-employment with thousands of target contacts in your personal Rolodex and a firmed up deal with a significant first client, you don’t really want to start out pricing yourself on the high end of the market.

Know what others are charging, honestly compare your skills and experience with theirs, and adjust your pricing expectations accordingly.

Explore your value

When pricing, many people automatically default to pricing by the hour. Most people making a living with a growing, thriving consulting practice will caution you against this approach. The reason is that hourly pricing sets a limit for how much money you can make. After all, there’s only so much time in a day that you can actually work, right?

Consider the value you are providing to your clients and price according to project value instead. With this approach, you price by the product you deliver and its value to the client—not how much time it took you to do it.

In my experience, there are two disadvantages to this style of pricing.

First, you may find in the beginning of your business that you are underpricing yourself. While you may charge $500 to create a three-page web design, for example, it takes you 20 hours of work between the phone calls, meetings, and adjusting the finished product to make the client happy. That only comes out $25 an hour! Over time, however, your skills will improve and your work will become faster. You should get better at managing communications with clients and more adept at the work itself. In time, what once took you 20 hours now takes only 12. And then you’ve just earned a 60% pay raise.

The other disadvantage to this style is that clients often balk at it. I initially started out my copywriting and marketing consultation business with only project rates. I soon found that my larger clients couldn’t work in this structure. They compared service providers on an hourly rate basis and weren’t going to consider me if I couldn’t deliver a competitive hourly rate and explain my services in those terms.

My solution: offer both. I post my hourly rates on my web site and explain to potential clients that they have a choice. They can pay hourly as we go, or negotiate a contract with me for the project scope that will incorporate a reduced hourly rate but be more reflective of the actual value the project will bring to the client.

Know Your Differentiation and Explain It

Wherever you set your price, be able to explain it positively to prospective clients.

Perhaps you are less experienced, have a less extensive portfolio than your competitors, or want to drum up business quickly and so you start your business with a low rate. Be able to present your choice in positive, appealing terms.
Explain to customers that you are new to the market and interested in building long-term relationships with customers. Explain that your rates are introductory and that they have an opportunity to get top-tier work for a bargain rate while you build your network.
Alternatively, if you start out charging a rate that's on the higher end of the market scale, be bold in sharing the expertise, qualifications and demonstrated results that you bring to the table.
No matter where you end up pricing your services, be prepared to both market and explain what sets you apart from the pack.
As you’re starting out your new business, I’ll offer this final piece of advice: don't spend too much money on the printing and distribution of your rate information. You’ll likely find yourself modifying your price structure as you develop your business.
You don’t want to have several hundred dollars worth of glossy brochures on hand that include rates that no longer apply. Keep your initial communications flexible, so you are able to experiment and find what works.


What Every Creative Professional Needs to Know About Hourly Rates – Free Webcast

Free Hourly Rate Calculator from Freelance Switch

Graphic Design & Web Design Pricing Guides (not free) from Creative Public

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

True Story

I met my friend for breakfast this morning.

“I went to Powell’s over the weekend,” I told her. “I found a book called The Procrastinator’s Guide to Marketing.”

“How is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know yet. I haven’t started it.”

Weekly Affirmations for the Self-Employed

I enjoy being my own boss.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Monday, March 3, 2008

Changing It Up: Why Rename Your Business?

I received an email over the weekend from one of my vendors announcing the company’s name change and additions of new products.

While I’m excited about the new products, I’m finding myself really irritated at the name change.

Firstly, their products are among my best-selling items. So a name change put me at risk of losing repeat business from my customers.

Secondly, it’s more work for me. I have to acquire new product images, format and upload them, as well as update the company bio on my webstore. Those aren’t difficult tasks, but they’re a grand waste of time when I have so many other things to do. (Like many a small business owner, I’m beginning to more frequently ask: what’s in it for me?)

The company had a difficult-to-pronounce name to begin with, but the new one isn’t an improvement. The first name evokes the emotion of love, which tied in well with the product line of luxurious, conscientious, organic skin care products. But the new name sounds like a bastardized version of the Italian word for “baby.” The new company name has a way different mouth feel, sound and visual impact. And it loses that emotional suggestion and doesn’t replace it with anything more evocative or relevant.

So what made them do it?

I will call them and ask (and try to be supportive), but in the meantime, I’m noodling it on my own and coming up with nothing.

Consultants suggest that business owners only change their business names if they need to change direction, put the past behind (as in the case of negative publicity or scandal), or to be more clear and descriptive of what the business actually does. But none of those reasons seems to apply in this case.

My supplier has been in business only about two years, so part of me wondered if it isn’t part of the process of maturing. Like a toddler who finds his voice and screams “no” to the world of authority, is a 2-year-old name change a step in clarifying a business’s identity?

Or is it, as one British branding expert suggests, a mistake of vanity? Looking from the outside in as a customer, it does seem like a selfish thing to do. But knowing what I do about how thoughtfully my supplier approaches the business, I doubt it. There must be something going on. Perhaps a trademark issue?

That was the case for a local Portland manufacturer and retail boutique, Poppi Swim. In business for only a few years, they recently changed their name to Popina Swim not too long ago. When I saw that announcement in the newspaper, I had to scratch my head then, too. Why bother? Rebranding your business to make such a minor name alteration couldn't happen for no reason. And it didn't. According to Popina's archived winter newsletter, difficulties in acquiring a trademark for "Poppi" mandated the change.

Regardless of the motivation, renaming your business is not an inexpensive choice. The costs add up not only in potentially lost customers who can no longer find you, but in new signage, labels, stationery, marketing collateral, advertisements, website redesign and more. It can easily run you $10K in just those expenses alone.

Before you start dreaming up a new name for your business, consider whether that money wouldn't be better spent in advertising and promoting the one you already have.

How about you? What stories can you share about the pros and cons of renaming a business?

Want to learn more about lessons learned in the trademark process? Check out the cool retro swimwear by Popina Swim and visit their blog for the full story and advice on how to avoid trademark pitfalls as a start-up.

Recommended Reading:

Change Your Business’ Name: 7 Issues” at the Microsoft Small Business Center

Changing Your Business Name” at

Changing your business’ name” at