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Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Business

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In business a new year often means new goals and a plan to achieve them. Next thing you know, several months go by and sometimes that means things get a little cluttered or you might even find yourself slightly off track. Spring is always a refreshing turn of the season, because it not only signifies that you have survived the less than desirable winter, but it’s an opportunity to organize your enterprise. From the collective crew at Shout Out, here are a few Spring cleaning tips for your business:

Nathaniel Seevers

When a company has a product or service they’re passionate about they want to tell the world; tell them everything, every feature benefit and scream it from their homepage mountain. It’s understandable but what can often result is a bloated, busy, confusing first impression when someone hits your site.

For a spring clean homepage purge consider:

  • Reducing the number of slides in your slider. Online attention spans are short. Few visitors stick around to see more than 2, 3 slides at the most. Getting more concise with your benefit statement helps you in other areas as well. Even challenge yourself to reduce to one static main image. Get really good at being captivating.
  • Attracting your visitors to specific click-throughs for diving deeper into content versus telling the whole story in one spot
  • Implementing a heat mapping tool like Crazy Egg to see what people are clicking on, hovering around and ignoring. This can help you better understand what’s working and what you can cut.

Gretchen Ardizzone

To many businesses a customer email address is like a golden ticket. But how much is that ticket worth if it’s extremely out of date? My tip is take time to clean up your email lists. Why waste time and energy communicating to a vast group of people who hardly even read your stuff, can’t remember when or why they subscribed, or frankly they may question how they ended up on your list to begin with. Spend your time communicating with those who want to read what you have to say or see what you have to offer.

If you have an old list, don’t start re-engaging by sending them a promotional email, instead consider a quick reminder email to make sure they remember who you are and want to continue to receive your communications. And if it’s been a little while it doesn’t hurt to include an opportunity to opt-in again. Give them a couple of chances to opt-in before finally removing them.

If your email list raises some questions to begin with, you might want to check out this MailChimp article titled “Is my list ok to use in MailChimp.” While this may be intended for importing lists into MailChimp, I think many of the questions they ask are still applicable in evaluating the quality of your list. If you’re anything like us, you’ll enjoy the humor and appreciate the advice.

Shannon Blair

Ah, Spring… you begin cleaning out cars and closets – but what about social media? Yep, there are quick and simple ways to clean that up too.

Twitter: Go through your Twitter lists and followings and clean those up by unfollowing the ones that are inactive or who aren’t posting content that’s relevant to you or your company.

LinkedIn: Have you updated your resume, done some networking, or moved positions in your company? Dust off those cobwebs and update all that information and connect with new contacts!

Pinterest: You can comb through your Pinterest boards and tidy up by creating new boards or deleting old, irrelevant ones.

Google+: Clean up those circles, people!

Facebook: Get on Facebook and check on your information and update content that needs it – also give your Facebook a facelift by adding a new photo or header.

Luke Pierce

This winter was a tough one in central Ohio. It is easy to let the clutter accumulate in that kind of weather, not only around the house, but digitally as well. For whatever reason, I let my desktop on my computer get overcrowded, hardly emptied my browsers cache, and let hundreds of things pile up in my downloads folder. This week I decided my spring cleaning was going to take place on my lap top. I cleared my desktop, getting everything in organized folders to where it needed to be. Emptied my browsers cache. And cleared out my downloads folder. Not to my surprise, my laptop started functioning loads better. It always amazes me how easy it is to make things better and it makes me wonder why I don’t keep up with it all the time. Next up: properly back up my laptop on a regular basis.

Do you have a Spring cleaning list of your own? Share your tips in the comments below.

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Growing Our Business: A Look Ahead

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When we started this little experiment we had several goals in mind: everyone will always be treated with respect, clients will always receive our best counsel, we will never take on a project just for the money, and we will create a culture where people get to showcase their talents, love what they do and love where they do it. Oh, yeah…and we will not compromise on any of these points.

So far we’ve done pretty well, but now comes growth.

Rightly or not, what we’ve created feels like a recipe of well-blended ingredients, but now we need to add in some new people, new skills and probably a new office. What’s this going to do? How do we add to the mix but not loose the flavor we’ve created?

At this point we’ve made two decisions about Shout Out’s growth, people are everything. Finding the right people with the right personalities and skill sets is absolutely essential, and in a showdown personality always trumps skills. Skills can be improved, but it’s a little tougher with personalities.

Secondly, we want to make sure we continue our philosophy of taking what we do very seriously, but not so much with ourselves. We need to stay true to ourselves. To manage this we have proclaimed Nathaniel our company Oracle; the keeper of the flame, our personality barometer. His sense of what is right and wrong for us is spot on, and last but not least it’s because we love calling him The Oracle.

Actually we’re going to do what every organization out there does: do the best we can. But, we’re going to journal this process of growth and see what we do learn. If you have any interest please join us and ask us any questions you have along the way.

Photo Credit: ortizmj12

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Building Our Business: What We’d Do Differently

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When we started this business roughly two years ago we were faced with the challenges that many entrepreneurs and small businesses are faced with…how to build a brand, assemble a team, and form the right client relationships. Now that we’ve been on that journey for a little while we’re able to look back at building our business. While we can’t go back and change the past, we can reflect on what we might do differently.

Luke Pierce

Although it may seem trivial, the one thing that I would do differently is to simply write down our goals, and do it often beginning on day one. Sometimes our creative ADD can really get us going in directions we previously had never dreamed of, which can be fantastic but it can also be a distraction. Sometimes I feel we lose site of what our real goals are and what we are doing in the meantime to get there.

It’s one thing to talk about your goals and ambitions, but to me, it’s an entirely different thing to write them down. If we had written our goals down from day one we could look back on them now and tell the entire story of the company. If we could tell that our goals on day one are matching up with our goals on day eight hundred and nighty seven, we are probably doing something right and if they don’t we can reflect on what changed in us and determine our new direction or how to get back to the old one.

Gretchen Ardizzone

When we first discussed this question, I thought to myself, “Why would we want to do anything differently?” Look at where we are today. But our relationships with our clients goes beyond just being a team of digital marketers, we work side-by-side to understand the constraints and challenges that prevents them from being successful at what they do best. Looking at what we’d do differently helps provide perspective and uniquely relate to our clients who are also trying to grow their business.

If there were one thing that I say could’ve been done differently was to make more time for ourselves. That may seem strange to hear, but I think along the way we’ve determined that we need to make time to focus on our own company and individual goals. We’re finding that happy balance now and I think being a stronger team and continuing to build our own individual skills only brings more benefit to our clients. We now have team members being certified in certain areas of digital marketing and others who are taking on leading their own initiatives. So my takeaway for others is to not just focus on being better marketers, but to focus on being a better team and continue to grow your individual roles.

Shannon Blair

I started working for Shout Out when the company started, only I began as an intern. Essentially, I grew with the business. When asked what I would want to change if we did it all over again, instantly I think “nothing!” The reason I think nothing is because I’ve watched our company go from an idea to a work in progress. Sure, that doesn’t sound rewarding, but it is because every business is a work in progress. If we are at that stage, I think we are doing really well.

However, under the question asked I cant help but think what would I have done differently as an individual. The answer that comes to my mind is to have been more goal-oriented. I recently discovered my love for tools (such as CoSchedule and HootSuite) that help me achieve these goals. There’s a possibility if I had found that love earlier I could’ve been a bigger asset to the company from the beginning. However, I have learned a ton working with this company and other than changing how I could’ve contributed in a different light, there isn’t much I would change because I’m proud of the company Shout Out has turned into.

Nathaniel Seevers

Call it foolish or naive but the thing is, I’m not sure I’d do anything differently if we were to start it all over. I say that for a couple reasons.  First, because we started with a great mix of people who brought a range of skill sets and skill levels to the table. Were we missing a skill or two for a running start? Possibly. Instead we focused on the will do more than the can do and outside of a handful of positions like, I don’t know, surgeon or rocket scientist or bar tender, I would do that every time. The other reason I feel this way is because we’ve learned so much on this path, some easy and some tough lessons, that will make us better over the long haul.

Photo Credit: nettsu

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Inspiration For Everyday Business

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It’s February. It’s down-right nasty outside. It’s still the beginning of the year so business is crazy. Considering all of this, it can be easy to fall into an inspirational slump. For us, creativity is at the forefront of what we do, so we have to fix this, stat. Last week we worked in a new office space for the day with color and creativity surrounding us and it was awesome. That space got me thinking; what are more ways to get out of the creativity slump in the bleak days of winter?

Switch it up.

The notebook you use, your regular schedule, the font you type in, the color of your nails. Simple changes, something new, can inspire you to switch it up mentally. Heck, even if there is something you really don’t like about your day, such as conference calls, make fun of it.

Have your meetings somewhere awesome.

We recommend gathering someplace where diversity and inspiration is around every corner. If you usually have your meetings in a small white room go crazy and have it at a cool space like this, or at a new coffee shop in town.

Focus on you.

It can be challenging to inspire a whole team, when all else fails, focus on inspiring yourself. Pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read. Catch a few Webinars or Podcasts for motivation. Doodle, even if its not good. When you are inspired it can catch like wildfire around the office. You can even do something great on the weekends like turn off your phone for a whole day (Say whatttt?!).

Do you have ways to stay inspired during the dull days of winter? Let us know.

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HubSpot 30-Day Blog Challenge: Lessons Learned

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When we first heard about the HubSpot 30-Day Blog Challenge, there was no doubt in our minds that we planned to participate. After all, we’re already actively blogging anyhow and this meant just stepping it up a notch. Little did we know we’d learn a little along the way too! Here’s a look at the lessons we learned:

Luke Pierce: Strike when the iron is hot.

The most important thing I learned this month is to start writing as soon as you have an idea. I found that if I started writing as soon as I was inspired by something, I would be finished writing the article in no time at all. Not hesitating not only made the writing easier, but it took the pressure off of deadlines. Once I started writing as soon as I was inspired, I found I would be a week ahead of my deadline. Pretty soon I was two weeks ahead. And now, coming out of our 30-day challenge I already have two blog articles waiting to put the finishing touches on to publish. If you can’t start writing as soon as you have the idea, at the very least, just write that idea down so you can come back to it later.

Colin Smith: Write what you know.

When it comes to writing, in any genre, it can be a challenge to come up with content. Something to help get over this initial panic is to write about what you know. This will allow you to produce content that starts a conversation, as well as the opportunity to continue it. Once you get the ball rolling, tackling subjects that seemed intimidating at first will be more manageable.

 Shannon Blair: Content betters our online presence.

Having more content to provide on a daily basis allows for us to have a better presence online. This means that we can share our content on social media and our blog, and by doing so we have a greater advantage when it comes to connecting with others online and sharing our knowledge with others. We aim to meet the needs of our audience and in providing knowledge this past month in our 30-day blog challenge we have met those needs and wants.

Gretchen Ardizzone: Keep it organized.

When it comes to our normal blog strategy we try to evenly spread the responsibility throughout the team. We feel our readers get the most out of our content hearing from different expertise and points of view. With that said, we knew with increased blog activity we’d need to stay organized with our content so our topics weren’t overlapping and we didn’t cover too much of one subject. Luckily we found a super handy WordPress plugin, CoSchedule, to plan our editorial calendar. We scheduled out the whole month of posts and proposed topics, assigned tasks to team members and had the flexibility to easily move around as needed for individual schedules.

Marsh Williams:

When we first started the 30-Day Blog Challenge I was excited, but also concerned it might become a pain in the rear. Well on the last day of the challenge I can tell you that I was absolutely wrong.

Not only was it not a pain, it was fun and everybody pitched in to help; the entire team. The challenge taught us a few more things that will turn out to be very valuable lessons.

  • It’s not as hard as we thought.
  • Planning things out including topics is a tremendous help.
  • Be flexible, if someone’s creative muse didn’t show up on the assigned day then let another person step up.
  • Writing in your “own” voice is a lot easier than trying to sound like an expert at a conference podium.
  • It was a solid team-building exercise.

We’re here, the last day of the HubSpot 30-Day Blog Challenge and we did it. It was worth the challenge and we’d do it again tomorrow.

We will be analyzing the data results over the next week and report what we found in the next week or two. Stay tuned.

Photo Credit: Mark Brannan

How To Be A Better Business Blogger

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In previous posts, we’ve broken down the anatomy of an effective blog post and established why blogging matters for business, but how can YOU be a better business blogger? Here are a few best practices you might try:

Collaborate With The Team

There’s no “I” in team right? Well, there’s no “I” in blog either. The most refreshing blogs online these days are the ones that have different viewpoints – why? Because it’s different! Working together as a team allows different to be created with little to no effort. How does that happen? In 3 ways:

  • When you collaborate with a team you feed off of each other’s ideas. If I’m stuck and my creative juices aren’t flowing I can look to my team to support me through that. They offer ideas or things they would want to hear about.
  • Your team isn’t afraid to say no. Or yes really. Often as individuals, we sit around and question our ideas, yet when we present them to the team we more often than not get a positive response or ways to make our posts even better.
  • Think in broader terms of a team. Everyone has a perspective and sometimes it’s those with the softest voice that end up having a ton to contribute, it just takes asking and they’re excited to be involved.

Understand Your Audience:

You know how everyone and their brother tells you that in order to be a successful company you have to understand your audience? Well, they’re right. It’s Business 101. You have to be able to understand your audience’s wants and needs – and more importantly, provide for those wants and needs. The same goes for your blog. We could sit around all day blogging about why cupcakes are so delicious, but that’s not what our audience wants to hear because that’s not the information or the business we provide to benefit them.

Sometimes it’s as simple as just going straight to the source and asking what they want to hear more (and less) about. Survey your readers directly on the blog or poll your audience via social media. You don’t know if you don’t ask.

Network With Your Peers:

Don’t blog with blinders. Get out of your office and go talk to the world. It’s easy to get into a rhythm of developing content, but an outsider who’s not on the front lines with you all day long can help provide a fresh perspective. Sometimes ideas are spurred by just having conversations with your peers. Ask them about issues they’re challenged with, and turn it into an opportunity to use your expertise to help educate others who might be dealing with a similar issue. Don’t just focus on challenges though, we all love to hear a good success story and share ways we can be more efficient and effective in business. Consider even doing a monthly roundtable with other business leaders to discuss hot topics for blog fodder.

Another way to utilize both your expertise and your peers is to swap your knowledge. Be a guest blogger and pay it forward. Provide insight on a subject matter that might be relevant to their audience, and in return give them a platform to share their knowledge with your audience. Sometimes it a nice little break on both ends.

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There’s Nothing Wrong With Saying No

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At one point in my career, about 324 years ago, I had the privilege of working with Harry Gard, one of the original people behind CompuServe, and one of his favorite sayings was “…I’ve made more money saying no than I ever have said yes.”

I’ve always had a tendency to say yes and felt saying no to something, be it a client, a project, a whatever was a sign of weakness. “I don’t want anyone thinking there’s something I can’t do,” and that philosophy has probably created more problems for me than I want to admit. There’s nothing wrong with stretching yourself and learning, but overreaching and promising something just so you can say yes can cause a lot of problems.

But, over time, I’ve come to understand that know what can be done and what should be done in a given situation is a great strength. I’ve learned to say no. Oh don’t get me wrong I still hate to say no, but I’ve learned that it’s the best route in certain situations.

Two weeks ago we were in a meeting with a prospective client and we were asked if we could help them develop a retail marketing strategy for something. Could we? Maybe. (That’s nothing but arrogance speaking.) Should we? No. It’s way out of our experience and core competencies. I told them that it was just not something we were comfortable with and it would be lying to them if I said we could.

The CEO thanked me. What I was really prepared for was, “Well thank you but we’re looking for a firm with broader capabilities.” What I got was, “…thank you. That’s the most honest answer we’ve had in any of our meetings. I’m just sick and tired of everyone saying they can do everything.”

Did I want to tell him yes…of course, I’m a recovering pleaser, but I had to tell him the truth. He would have found out anyway and at that point, our relationship and credibility would have taken a huge hit.

Saying no is hard, there is no doubt about it, but if asked to do something outside your expertise or abilities, try it…I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

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Why Do We Have A Website?

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Why do we have a website? Every-once-in-a-while it’s really important to stop and ask this question. It’s important to validate what we are doing as a company and make sure that we’re still on point with what we are publicly communicating about our organization.

I can tell you this, what we were when we started is not what we are now. Change is inevitable and we love it. Change is growth, learning, movement, adaptation, and natural, but we need to remember that our story and how we communicate it needs to keep pace with that change in all we do. This is the hard part. It’s so easy to just put something out there and leave it alone and have it be fine, and in reality, it’s what we all want, but in reality, it’s never going to happen. So what do we do? We stop and ask ourselves three key questions:

  • Why do we have a website?
  • What does it say about us?
  • What do we want from it?

It gets to be a little convoluted from time-to-time but here is how we handle it.

We have a website to tell our story. It’s not a sales tool it’s a tool that lets people see into our organization, what we do, how we do it, who we are, and what we’re like. If they like what they see we offer them opportunities to get to know us better and hopefully they will get some insights from our blog,—”Why do we have a blog?” is another topic for later—but we do not expect our website to sell anything…ever. We just think of it as a way to share, our knowledge, something about who we are and tell our story.

What our website says about us is important, not in the description of what we do, but in the words we choose and how we present ourselves. We want our site to reflect who we are as a company and what we are like as individuals. We like long-term relationships and that means we have to be really honest about ourselves. It doesn’t do any good to present ourselves one way on the website and actually show up and be different people. We are, for better or worse, unique. We are the only “us” there is and that’s what makes us different from every other firm in a very crowded space.

We cultivate that difference and work hard to reflect it in our communications. It took a long time and a lot of effort to find our genuine voice and eschew the standard marketing speak for real communication that people can identify with. We do not want to lose this and it’s incredibly important that our website says what we believe and reflects our culture as it really is.

Some companies just don’t care for what we put out there and think that it’s too informal or too “creative,” but that’s alright we are very comfortable with who we are as a firm and a team, and for the companies that can relate to that it’s usually a great place to begin our conversations.

Lastly, what we want from our website is interest. That’s it. We want our website to generate interest in knowing more about our firm. We want our website to generate interest in knowing more about our people and how we dissect and solve problems for our clients. We want someone who needs our services to visit our website and say, “I don’t know if this is the right team or not, but I’m crazy if I don’t meet with them.”

That’s why we have a website…why do you have yours?

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Content That Adds Real Value

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As marketers and bloggers, we try to keep up on all of the marketing articles floating out there for consumption. For a while it was really good, it was the golden age of marketing materials. But in our opinion, that time has passed. And lately, we just feel like the same crap is being circulated around the circles we follow. There are a hundred “10 Things You Need To Know About X” articles out there for everyone with honestly curated content with real-world experience examples. Trust us, were guilty of it sometimes too (see Top 5 Small Business Marketing Tools) but we want to take a little time to step back, breathe deep, and think about the things we really want to read from here on out.

Marsh Williams

If you’ve followed us at all you know how passionate we are about helping small business people take advantage of the Internet to grow their businesses, and usually, the first thing we have to do in a client situation is debunk the myth that there is some silver-bullet software solution that will fix everything. Despite what the various marketing and sales teams will tell you, there isn’t.

Although tools are sold based on capabilities, it’s the everyday understanding and uses that makes them valuable. Small business owners seldom have time to deal with theory, they want results and that means actionable direction. A step-by-step guide to an outcome is always going to be more valuable than a statement about theoretical marketing or sales strategies.

As an example, marketing automation solutions are often sold by touting their capabilities; generating more customers, delivering focused content, lead nurturing, etc. But, the real question for many organizations is how do I do that. How do I use these tools on a day-to-day basis to grow my business and delivery revenue to the bottom line? The answer is show me, lead me, give me step-by-step directions based on desired outcomes, not high-level theory. That’s adding value where it is needed in the small business world. Give me something to do that will actually help grow my business, not something that I have to figure out before I can even begin to apply it.

In providing content that leads to the desired outcome value is delivered…that’s where the real focus of content creation can come through.

Shannon Blair

We all know that content with Top Tens and 3 “How To’s” are informative and straight to the point but they often lack inspiration. I often sit down to seek out great content that I can share in the social media world… I mean great things gotta be passed on, right? But I have to tell you it can become tiresome when the content to be found every day is a repeat of last weeks old content about how great Twitter is for small businesses (we get it, people, Twitter rocks our socks too). The content I want to see more of is content based on inspiration. When I say content based on inspiration I mean an article that is perfectly written with not only a clearly defined purpose but with clarity that the author was motivated and moved by something, the really good stuff. This is the content that the marketing and digital world could use more of. There is nothing worse than a day chalked full of boring unoriginal content – come on people, get inspired!

Luke Pierce

I have been trying to grow my Twitter presence lately, and in doing so I have started to follow a lot of well known digital marketers out there. And now I have started to unfollow them. I was so sick of constantly having my twitter feed polluted with links to the same articles on the same subjects written the same way. All day every day. I liked to read that stuff when I first got into the digital marketing business, but frankly, I’m sick of it now. The problem I see now is that there is so much information on theory out there, but minimal amounts of information on the practice.

The marketing articles I really want to see now are the ones chronicling practice, not theory. Give me some transparency. I want to see exactly what people are doing, what worked, what didn’t work and how they are going to try and correct it. Tell me your failures, brag about your successes, and be innovative, not repetitive. Let me see the way others grow. In the future, I want to see way more well-documented case studies, analytics on specific campaigns, and crazy ideas put into practice. Digital marketing is not my religion, I don’t have to take things on faith. Give me cold hard facts.

Gretchen Ardizzone

I read a lot of content that is written from an authoritative, expert point of view, but what resonates with me most, and what I’d like to see more of, is content written from personal experience. It’s one of the guiding principles in many of our own posts. We’ve written about exercises in finding your company voice, why blogging matters, and how to conduct a blogger outreach program, just to name a few. Each of these we wrote from a personal perspective with total transparency.

It’s about positioning content so you’re not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. Writing from a personal experience perspective makes the content more relatable to the audience, and can be a great way to be able to express potential pitfalls that can be avoided based on your experience—what to do and what not to do.

Nathaniel Seevers

It’d be great to see less of all of it actually. Not just fewer sales pitch paragraphs at the end of blog posts, though that one is way, way up there, but less in general. Less focus on quantity and more focus on quality. From that; more stories. More background. More details.

2014 will usher in stronger movements toward reducing the noise and disconnecting. So when you, me, any of us put out content it better be damn worth the precious time someone spends to read it. Readers won’t be asking for more they’ll be purging blogs from their feeds so content has to stick.

There’s no hard and fast rule that says you need to put out a blog post every day to be relevant. We’re in the midst of a blog writing challenge right now as a company – all through January. But quality comes first and we planned our actions accordingly. We’d rather lose than not be useful to our readers.

 Tell us about the content you want to see in 2014.

 Note: This post was written in one hour as part of the HubSpot 30-Day Blog Challenge.

Building a Successful eCommerce Site – Part 2

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In part one of building a successful eCommerce site, we talked about how the location of a brick and mortar store is the equivalent of the search engine results for an eCommerce site. The gist of what we were talking about is putting the business in the best position for high volumes of traffic. However, high volumes of traffic to your business, whether it be foot traffic or Internet visitors, isn’t going to do any good if the business can’t convert the sale. So let’s look at another consideration that applies to both brick and mortar stores and eCommerce sites; Design.

Brick and Mortar Interior Design = eCommerce Site Design

Quality design makes people feel at ease, it lets them know you are serious about what you do, and it adequately reflects your brand. Good design not only reflects well on your brand, it also influences how people buy. In a brick and mortar store, you have the advantage of employees to communicate the brand’s message to potential buyers, but eCommerce sites often don’t have the luxury of face to face communication. This is where design becomes even more important. Consider these things when you start to think about your site design:

Vet Your Designer

Do your research here. Look at their past work. Either ask them for references or look up contact info for someone they worked for and just ask them about it. Actually, do that! You might find that they were slow to work with but they communicated every step of the way, which is much better than someone who doesn’t communicate at all and gives you a finished product that vaguely resembles what you want.

Ask Them To Tell You a Story

So you found someone who designs some pretty slick stuff, great! But how are they at telling stories? If they are simply asking you what design choices you want and not at all about what makes your business unique and different, walk away. Just like that. Find someone else. There are hordes of people out there that have the technical skills to make a website work and look good, but most don’t possess the traits required to tell your brand story AND make it look good, which is what sets apart a successful eCommerce site and a mediocre one.

Set Yourself Up For Flexibility

We have written about why we love WordPress here before, but I can’t stress to you enough the importance to have your site built on a system that you can manage yourself. Most designers, and frankly people in general, tend not to be the best communicators, especially when you need something done urgently. The power to make changes yourself will be priceless over the life of your business.

One should place just as much importance on site design just as one places importance on the interior design, product placement, and customer flow of a brick and mortar store. In the end, good design will last the life of the business and pay for itself ten times over. Take your time and find someone who can help tell your story with finesse and efficiency.

Stay tuned for part 3 of Building a Successful eCommerce Site.

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Pinterest for Your Business

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There’s no denying there’s a visual aspect to digital marketing especially when it comes to social media—heck look at Instagram, which is virtually an image-based medium with little content. In the last couple years, Pinterest has definitely matured with an audience of 70 million users. From a medium that was once ruled by consumer pinning preferences to a place where brands have pinpointed the opportunity that lies within.

Pinterest has managed to influence many aspects of the online world. You may have even noticed big brands like a natural food market, Whole Foods, and luxury shoe brand, Jimmy Choo has adopted a Pinterest-like visual style to their website design. Most recently during the holiday season Target even created a Pinterest-powered online storefront with the beta launch of the Target Awesome Shop.

So it’s clear that brands understand that consumers like to visualize product, but let’s get back to the real question, how can you make the best use of Pinterest for your business?  Here are some suggested approaches to make Pinterest interesting to your followers:

Not Just Pinning Product

Some brands find Pinterest an anomaly and believe it’s no place for their brand. But if you think out-of-the-box and consider your strategy you might realize it’s a better fit than you think. Don’t be focused on just pinning your product. Pin things that represent your brand, inspire you or even give your followers a behind the scenes perspective into how you make the magic work. One brand who uses their pins to showcase their brand personality is Ben & Jerry’s. You’ll find boards like The People Behind the Pints, The Factory, The Flavor Graveyard, and Fan Photos, which gives recognition to the fantastic brand lovers of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. They even have a history board to serve as a visual timeline for the brand. The key is developing boards that represent your brand accurately and utilize an authentic brand voice.

Create a Guest Pinboard

Create endorsement for your brand and gain traction with your followers with an expert contributor. Piperlime’s Guest Editor, New York-based fashionista, Olivia Palermo, also serves as a guest contributor to the brand’s Pinterest profile with her own board of picks. It’s a great way to engage your audience through a like-minded point of view, but also potentially leverage interest from the guest’s followers too. At the same time explore what opportunities are out there for your brand to pose as a guest pinner for other brands. Whole Foods serves as a guest pinboard contributor for eCommerce site Etsy’s Pinterest board.

Engage with a Creative Campaign

If you’re looking to create awareness about a new product launch or seasonal product, creating a Pinterest campaign might be a great strategy for you. GUESS saw great success with their “Color Me Inspired Contest.” The brand invited pinners to create boards around spring colors that inspired them. The boards were judged by popular style bloggers and winning pinners received color-coated denim from the GUESS spring collection. Another brand who has found value in the campaign model is Michaels. In an effort to build awareness around their new upscale line of frames, “the Platinum Collection from Studio Décor,” the brand launched a “pin it to win it” contest. Little activity was required of the pinners. They simply had to re-pin a frame from Michaels “Frame” board to one of their own boards with a pre-crafted description about the frame, and they were entered to win. The end result was an increase of 86% of followers of the Frame board during the length of the contest.

Pinterest On & Offline

We know that consumers use multiple channels in the shopping process and while they may start by exploring pins online, the actual purchase may end up taking place in-store. Consider how you can bring the Pinterest activity into your in-store experience. Nordstrom was one of the first brands to really make a move with this. The high-end retail brand started to identify the most pinned products online with hangtags featured on racks in-store. We know consumers love recommended products, in fact, we know they’re more likely to select a product that has been recommended than not.

Watch for New Features

In the last six months, Pinterest has launched several new initiatives like Place Pins, which allows pinners to explore pins in a map-like visual. This creates a huge opportunity for small businesses to utilize and put themselves on the map, literally. Not to mention the integration of advertising, and also the recent purchase of VisualGraph, which will allow Pinterest to suggest more relevant content or ads. For example, if you’re always pinning pointed flats (the hot spring trend), it’ll show more of those items instead of high-heel stilettos.

The key is to keep your eye on this social media platform and determine what new elements add opportunities for your brand to engage with the consumer. Monitor others who are doing it well, learn from them and see how you can make it work for yourself. At the same time, you can also use analytics to measure your pinning presence. Check out these recommended tools from Social Media Examiner.

Photo Credit: mkhmarketing

Building a Successful eCommerce Site – Part 1

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Some people believe that having a successful eCommerce site for their business is as easy as putting it on the internet and flipping the switch. “If you build it, they will come”, right? No. The fact of the matter is that most people can easily see the need to put the work into building a brick and mortar shop but simply can’t wrap their minds around putting the same thoughts and considerations into building their business online. To put things into perspective, let’s look at the considerations required to build a successful brick and mortar store and put them in eCommerce terms.

Brick and Mortar Location = eCommerce Search Engine Results

Location. Location. Location. Even the most inexperienced entrepreneur knows the value of a good location. In the brick and mortar world it’s simple; if you want a busy shop put your store on a busy street or highly populated area of town. In the eCommerce world, search engine results are the same as that busy street. If you’re on the first page of results the busier the street is and in turn your shop.

The big difference between brick and mortar and eCommerce is the ability to choose your location. With brick and mortar, one searches far and wide for that perfect location. A location on that busy street is probably more expensive than others. Often you pay a premium for those truly exceptional locations. With eCommerce look at it this way; you don’t get to choose your exact location, but you can invest wisely to build your site optimized for that first page of results. It’s kind of like building your website on that busy street.

Make sure you are paying attention to keywords, meta descriptions, and page content. With a brick and mortar, one picks the location, builds, and is done. With eCommerce search engine optimization (SEO) is an ongoing thing. If you do it right from the start it makes it much easier to build off of through the life of your site. Set aside some money in your budget for this reason, just like you would pay that premium rent for that busy street location.

Stay tuned for additional insight into Building a Successful eCommerce Site with this three-part series.

Photo Credit: balleynecc

Blogger Outreach: Building Brand Buzz

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If you’re a young brand looking to grow, but don’t have the capital to pay big bucks to get your product out there, word of mouth marketing in today’s terms might just be the right thing for you. What am I talking about? A blogger outreach campaign.

According to Nielsen Media, there are somewhere over 181 million blogs on the Internet with 6.7 million people publishing content on blog sites. That’s a whole lot of blogging going on, and a whole lot of opportunity to create some buzz. Using a blogger outreach campaign as a part of your marketing strategy can be beneficial to create brand awareness and exposure to relevant, targeted consumers.

Why does a message coming from a blogger sometimes have better reach than your marketing message? Trust. 81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs, and 61% of online consumers have made a purchase based on a blog’s recommendations (Source: BlogHer). One of the ways that you can utilize this influence is by getting your product in the hands of these bloggers to conduct a product review and post content around their experience with the product. Here a few recommended steps for a successful approach:

Establish your goals: First things first with any marketing initiative it’s important to understand what the goals are for your outreach campaign. Do you want to increase foot traffic to your website, gain a following on social media, build brand awareness, introduce a new product, etc? Understanding this upfront will give you something to benchmark and determine if your strategy was a success.

Find the influencers: Next, establish your criteria for qualified bloggers. You can use Technorati, Alltop or even Google’s blog search to help you locate them. Use tools like Pagerank and Alexa to determine what kind of traffic the identified blogger is getting. This will help you save time in the long run. Why waste energy pitching to someone who isn’t relevant or the end result won’t get your reach.

Establish rapport: You don’t ask someone out on a date before you get to know them. Establish rapport first before you approach. This means following them, engaging with them on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+), commenting on and promoting content that you like (honestly).

Outreach: After you’ve had some time to “get to know” them, you’re now ready to reach out. This is a big step though. Depending on how well known the blogger is they might receive thousands of emails just like yours. Your message needs to be genuine, personal to them, and creative. Something has to make them want to read it. If it sounds like a blanketed message, then chances are you’re just wasting your time. This part of the process does take time, but it’s worth it to put in the extra effort to connect with someone. That’s what will get you noticed. The key is not to be long-winded. Yes, what you’re sharing is great, fabulous and awesome I’m sure, but anything too long might get ignored. Be concise and to the point as far as what you’re asking for them to do.

Provide incentive: Be prepared to offer them something in return. What are you going to do for them that gives them a reason to even respond? Are you offering a complimentary product, are you willing to sponsor/fund a post? Sometimes bloggers (especially with greater reach) will only participate if you’re willing to provide a financial investment. It’s important to know upfront if that’s something you’re willing to consider. And if not, it’s good information to know and could be useful in the future.

Follow up: So you’ve sent your message. Next requires follow up, but make sure you’ve given the appropriate time to respond. Pay attention to automatic messages. If you get something stating, “Due to a high volume of emails,” you have to take into consideration that if might take them some time to even see your email. Wait a week. A lot of bloggers won’t engage until the follow up response. Planning your blogger outreach campaign well in advance will help allow for the turn around time it sometimes takes to get a response.

Support content creation: Once someone has agreed to participate, make it as easy for the blogger to develop his or her content. Provide them with information about the product. Is there a unique backstory about how it was created? If so, make sure to share, consumers care not only about the product, but a good brand story can help capture someone’s attention. Are there specific product features or benefits they need to know? The blogger may not know these intimate details so make sure you include. Many times bloggers will take their own photos of the product, but sometimes supplying additional imagery helps to support content. They may be featuring one product style, but if you want to show the breadth of a product line, that can be communicated through an additional photo.

Track your results: So your product has been featured, it’s time to track your results based on what you established as your goals. Monitor your website traffic, social media following and engagement. Make sure to thank the blogger for their efforts, you could be establishing an ongoing relationship with a blogger that may be interested in featuring your product more than once as you introduce new styles, limited edition collections, etc.

Be prepared for the negative: Something to keep in mind with this type of program though is you don’t have complete control in the process. You have to be prepared to hear the negative. There’s always a possibility your product won’t be a hit with everyone. It may mean the product isn’t right for them or it could be an opportunity for improvement based on some honest feedback.

Consider alternative outreach opportunities. Blogs are not the only platform brands have an opportunity to conduct outreach. Each social media platform (Google+, Twitter, Instagram) has influencers that create a potential for you to connect your brand with consumers. An interesting Instagram example was one carried out by shoe brand Puma. With a goal to increase their followers, the brand reached out to influential Instagrammers and sent to events (even some overseas) equipped with a camera to document “awesome places that shoes take you.”

Another unique example is how Audi utilized Twitter. After a raving Audi fan created a hashtag, #WantAnR8, around her desire to acquire an Audi R8, the brand made notice and gave her an Audi for the day to experience, document and share with her Twitter community. Audi promoted the event via twitter and encouraged others to do the same, resulting in a giveaway of eight more R8s. What’s interesting about that example is that the consumer created the opportunity, Audi was just smart enough to be listening.

The more unique the approach, the greater opportunity your outreach will standout in the crowd and gain a following. Start by considering what platform for outreach might be appropriate based on where your customers are spending their time online.

photo credit: Mylla
modified by Shout Out Studio

Ways to Wrap Up the Year

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It’s the end of the year, now what do you do? For each individual what we choose to do can vary greatly. No particular approach is right, but each one can help you either learn from the days of past or plan for the days ahead. Here are some ways we plan to wrap up the year:

Nathaniel Seevers

Though the happenings of the previous year are never wiped clean away, the start of a new year can be a great mental and emotional checkpoint. Both personal and business, there’s value in reflection and building goals around the positive – around improvement and around reward.

This year I’m asking myself these questions:

If I could only pick one, what is one particular area I want to focus on improving next year?
And how. Can steps be mapped out to get there? Then I would ask the same question for our business

How can I get better at disconnecting?
Hard work is rewarding. I love the work we do. I love being busy. But as our resident runner, Gretchen, will tell you, a sprint isn’t sustainable over the long journey. Part of being productive and being our best is understanding how to recharge and what drives the creative process. For me, that means time to disconnect from email and social media, from surfing the internet. I’m working on building more times like that into my weeks for next year.

Luke Pierce

Unless you are ridiculously lucky, I am sure that everyone reading this has faced some sort of adversity over the past year. We all come across misfortune now and again, but that is just part of life. The best thing you can do after a situation like that is to learn from it. The trouble is most people don’t take the time to really think about it and commit to change.

To wrap up my year, I am going to take some time to think about the worst things that happened this past year and how I handled it, probably with a nice glass of bourbon. I hope to not just learn from the past, but I hope to actually change it. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over. My point is that learning something new is pointless unless you put it into action. Learning is good, changing is better. I suggest you change and usher in a new modus operandi for the new year.

Gretchen Ardizzone

For me wrapping up the year means planning to start the next on the right foot…literally. As Nathaniel mentioned, I’m a runner. This time of year I reflect on the races I ran, the goals I set, challenges experienced, accomplishments made and what it took to get there. And then, I plan to do it all over again. Setting new goals, searching for new courses, and establishing my training. To keep myself organized I even use an excel sheet to track the whole process.

Sometimes by the end of the year, you’re exhausted and all you want to do is decompress (or hang up your running shoes), but getting organized is a great way to successfully start out the new year with a clear focus. For digital marketing one of the best tools I recommend is an editorial content calendar. It can be helpful to plan article and blog post topics, campaigns, ebooks, as well as scheduling social media content. This also relieves the stress of knowing who is doing what and when. You can assign who is writing the content when you plan to publish, and where you plan to distribute. There are a variety of resources you can use like WordPress Calendar or CoSchedule, or even managing through Google Docs or downloading a free excel template can make the process easy. Browse around and see what works best for you!

Marsh Williams

The end of the year is always a special time for me. I really look forward to it for a number of reasons. First, it’s more time to spend with my family and friends which is a very precious thing. Secondly, it’s a time to be thankful, reflect and rest.

Regardless of how any given year goes, there is always so much to be thankful for; people met, lessons learned, successes, and even my failures. Stepping back and looking at things in perspective is a great exercise, a great time to reflect on what happened, what surprised me and what I’d like to change going forward.

Lastly, the end of the year is a time to rest. A time to get ready for the new year ahead, and a time to set work aside for other priorities. We’ve embraced this at Shout Out to the point where we are closed for the full week between Christmas and the New Year.

I hope you have time to rest also and get ready for the incredible things to come on 2014.

 

photo credit: allerleirau
modified by Shout Out Studio

An old radio

Technology that died to make way for new

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Innovation is fueled by taking existing products and making them better. It’s about knowing what the customer needs before they know they need it. Companies like Apple have thrived for years by making the next iteration for products already in the market. But for a new product to be created often times, one had to pave the way. So today, we give thanks to the technology that died to make way for new:

Luke Pierce

I was eight when we got Prodigy. It was my family’s first foray, as it was many others, into the Internet. For those of you who don’t remember, Prodigy was a subscription service that offered access to things like news, shopping, weather, and games via a dial-up connection. It also added a web browsing service shortly down the road, however it was very limited. At the time, I don’t think I realized the potential of something like this. It was simply something that my dad seemed excited about as well as an excuse for me to play computer games. However looking back on it now, I realize how important Prodigy was, not just for me, but for thousands of kids my age. It served as a primer to the real Internet. Prodigy served as the foundation for the expectation I now have the ability to access information about anything I want at any given moment. With the rise of the internet browser, it didn’t take long for Prodigy to die.

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Identify Your Story

Identify Your Story

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In earlier posts, we’ve referred to storytelling as a key component of marketing, regardless of the distribution medium. Most companies know they have a story of some kind but it’s not always easy to tell it in clear concise terms.

We recently discovered this for ourselves in redoing our company About page. In asking everyone to write a short bio for the new page the general response was as if we have asked people to eat a bowl of boiled okra, and for those of you wondering, that’s not a good thing. To a person, everyone said they hated writing about themselves and didn’t know what to say, so we changed it up. We wrote everyone’s name on strips of paper and took turns drawing them out of a hat. So the net effect is that everyone got to tell someone else’s story. And you know what, it turned out pretty well. The profiles really captured the essence of each person and there was peace in the read more

Movie Quotes to Market By

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We all love movies, but what we love even more are those memorable one-liners that you hear repeated time and time again. Earlier this week as we were reciting some of the favorites (of course with our best celebrity impression), we thought why not turn this into a useful exercise. So for this week’s Free-for-all Friday, we’ve selected our favorite movie quotes and what that means for marketing. Here are some Movie Quotes to Market By…

Luke Pierce

“You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.” – The Princess Bride
There is nothing more annoying than seeing slogans, ads and propaganda that is chock-full of trendy buzzwords that A) don’t apply to the message and B) have to be defined before you can understand the message. Trust me there are enough words in the English language that are available to help craft your message and get your point across. Use plain speak everyone understands.

“Damn! We’re in a tight spot.” – O’ Brother Where Art Thou?
You know why you’re in a tight spot? It’s because you are approaching marketing as a last resort. There are too many companies out there that read more

Money

Marketing Your Value

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“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Einstein

The technical term of value is the benefits a customer receives from buying your good or service. Here’s the hard part, folks: Value is in the eye of the beholder… so one person could hold your company value to a different standard than others. The question you should ask is who should value your value:

1. Yourself:

You have to establish a great value within yourself and what you do well. Without true value marketers can’t communicate benefits to the customer very well – at least, we hope not. A huge challenge to a marketer is to connect that true value to the customer.

2. Consumers:

One important thing to remember when you are marketing your value is to market with consumers – not to them. See the problem is marketers have to make sure that your consumer appreciates the value of your product/service. Marketers who understand that know that their company value will be more successful if they build relationships between the product/service and the consumer.

3. Competitors:

How do you go about creating a valued advantage over your competitors? Like we said, you first have to find the value in what you do really well. Second, you have to find value in what your competitors don’t have value in… say what?? Basically, you have to hold what you do to a standard that your consumers will acknowledge and therefore create brand equity in their minds – that is the value you hold over your competition.

Photo Credit: Unhindered by Talent

Image of iMac desktop for "Building Your First Website"

If Your First Website Sucks, it’s Probably Not Your Fault

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We just took over a client’s first website that was a fiasco. The site was done in WordPress but everything, I mean everything, including all of the copy, was put into the site with images. That means, from the viewpoint of search engines, there was literally no searchable content on the site. In addition, the site had no web analytics, search engines were blocked in WordPress, there was no sitemap, etc., etc.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time we’ve seen this. We’ve been involved in several projects where a client’s initial site was poorly executed with many of the essential basics overlooked or just flat left out. It makes me nuts!

People pay good money, which is a start-up is precious, and end up with a website that sucks. How does this happen?

Usually, it’s the client’s first-ever effort at creating a website, which means they are not yet educated buyers of these services. This is not a shot at anyone, it’s just a fact. Imagine if someone asked you to buy a 747 for the first time. You’ve never done it before so you don’t know what you don’t know. Some people describe this state as unconsciously incompetent. How can you possibly make a good buying decision without someone helping you who knows the process? read more

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How to Work Smart and Hard

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Work Smart and Hard – Imagine what you could accomplish

I always remember the saying, “work smart, not hard.” My granddad used to tell me that despite the hard work he put in – long hours as a steelworker. I wore the “work smart, not hard” mantra like a cape all through school and it worked out pretty well.

Except for in math class. We won’t talk about math class.

As I got older though and began to pay attention to the leaders I respected and how their efforts related to the things I wanted to accomplish I thought back on the “work smart, not hard” philosophy. But instead of trying to figure out new and better ways to implement that strategy I thought, “imagine what could I accomplish if I do both.”

Now, in the midst of growing a young company, working smart and working hard is a must for meeting goals. Technology makes it pretty easy to work smart. Focus, inspiration, self-awareness and self-discipline make it easier to work hard. Here are some thoughts on both. read more

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