You have questions. We have answers!

BizPharmacy discusses common business problems that we hear about in our consulting work. After thinking about the symptoms, we offer a prognosis and then recommend some “tech” medication to help solve the problem at hand.  Of course, not all business problems require a tech solution but we have found in many cases, some simple, easy to use Web trends can go along way to help if not entirely resolve.  The trick is separating the hype from reality and also being aware that sometimes the less expensive “generic” tools are just as good as the more expensive “name brands”.

We are pleased to announce that the most popular business publication in British Columbia,  ”Business in Vancouver, has been publishing our column since January 2011. Subscribe to “Business in Vancouver” to enjoy our column on a regular monthly basis, but also to plug into British Columbia’s business community.

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How to Run a Successful e-mail Marketing Campaign?

Symptom

“I feel that I could use e-mail marketing more effectively to market our products, but I’m afraid that this might be considered “spamming”. What is the proper way of doing an e-mail marketing campaign? What does an effective e-mail marketing strategy entail?   What are the best tools and how much will it cost?

Recommended Medications

Ivan:
In our “small business pharmacy shop”, Cyri and myself call this symptom “e-mail paralysis”. In reality, e-mail marketing can not only be very cost efficient, but also extremely targeted, customizable, and measurable. Yet, quite a few organizations do not use the potential of e-mail marketing at all.  For some reason most people today tend to give too much time and attention to social media, while neglecting the power of a good “old fashioned” e-mail.

Cyri: Exactly. While social media is a great branding tool to help us create desired image and interest (“pull” factor), an e-mail is still the ultimate sales tool helping you sell (“push”) your products.  You want to leverage social media to draw people to your website, from there you want your website visitors to sign up for your e-mail newsletter to further engage and ultimately lead to a sale.  Social media, especially social media ads, if not part of a bigger marketing strategy can have very low ROI.  General Motors recent cancelling of its $10 million Facebook ad budget may very well be a sign of things to come.

Ivan: Think of a social media as your online PR, while e-mail marketing is your online sales force and customer relationship management power horse.

Cyri:  E-mail marketing can do lots of marketing tasks that normally walk the customer through the so-called AIDA communication process from Attention, to Interest, Desire and, finally, Action. Use e-mail to inform, educate, persuade, remind or to ask for an order!

Ivan: Here are the ten secrets to successful e-mail marketing:

1)  Consider e-mail marketing as an essential part of your overall marketing strategy. Develop an e-mail marketing blueprint or strategy. Answer questions such as what your e-mail marketing objectives are,  how you will collect e-mail addresses, who you will e-mail to and how often, what type of content/message you are going to send, what technology platform you will  use, and who in your organization will be responsible for managing your e-mail marketing campaigns.

2) Set goals for your e-mail marketing strategy so that at the end of the month or year you can track your progress.  For example, maybe your goal is to get 50 people per month to sign up for your e-mail newsletter or have ten people per month from your e-mail list buy a product or service from you.

3)   Start growing your database of existing and potential customers. Use every single opportunity (including a sign-up on your own website) to collect e-mails and get permission to send e-mail messages.

4) Make sure that you comply with anti-spam regulations of the countries where you are doing your e-marketing business.  Check Canadian regulation at www.fightspam.ca.  Make sure to consult a legal expert or web professional before starting your campaign. Note that many countries now have consumer opt-in approach, which stipulates that businesses must get consent prior to sending commercial email or have a pre-existing business relationship with a consumer.  Do not forget to provide (and act on!) an unsubscribe option. Remember to provide your physical business address at the end of your e-mail.

5) Create your own standard e-newsletter. Make it visually appealing. Give it an attractive name. Add value by providing various tips, insights, facts or news about your products or industry. Educate your customers, build relationships and trust, and yes, always remind them to try your products. Send your e-newsletter on a regular basis!

6) Do not forget to make your subject line as informative and appealing as possible. The subject line is probably the most important part of an email! Subject lines help the reader in identifying the email, and also entice the reader to open it. Be consistent in order to build familiarity and trust.

7) While using your own e-mail program (e.g. Outlook) can serve the needs of small to medium size businesses at the beginning, we would strongly recommend using Web e-mail marketing services such as www.ConstantContact.com, www.iContact.com, www.aWeber.com, or www.MailChimp.com.  These solutions can help you with creating an e-newsletter template, growing your contact lists, sending hundreds of e-mails and tracking your e-mail campaigns. Using a reputable email service can also significantly increase your percentage of emails that make it through anti-spam filters.  It’s important to carefully pick an email service provider and then stick with it!  Every time you switch providers you need to re-ask your subscribers to opt-in which usually leads to huge attrition rates.

8)  Personalize your e-mail campaigns. Make sure to offer personal greeting and to customize your e-mails to various customer groups.

9) Finally, provide a call for action in each e-mail campaign, be it to sign up for more services, get something for free, or to purchase your products.

10) Celebrate when you have achieved your goals!  Maybe have a promotion where your thousandth subscriber gets a prize.  This announces to the world that your business is succeeding; helps encourage new subscribers to come on board and will make you feel good when you see yourself meeting your goals.

Future Management of Condition

Cyri: In order to improve in the future, make sure to TEST almost all elements of your e-mail marketing campaigns such as the subject line, visual template of your e-mail, the message itself, or incentives. Optimize your e-mail campaigns on a continuous basis by tracking open rates, click-throughs, bounces and transaction conversions. In one of our next columns we be writing about A/B testing, a great method for ensuring your are continuously improving your campaigns.

Generic Name & Alternative Medicine

Cyri: Just e-mail marketing!  Note that e-mail marketing is part of CRM (customer relationship management) and one type of database or direct marketing.   Web email services have given the e-mail marketing sector a facelift and made it easier than ever to benefit from the fundamental concepts of customer relationships.

Cost:

Ivan:  With AWeber, you can send unlimited emails to up to 500 subscribers for $19 (first month is only a $1!). When you get to the 10,000 to 25,000 subscriber threshold, the cost is $130 per month. MailChimp is $10 per month for up to 500 subscribers and $150 per month for the 10,000 to 25,000 threshold.  They also have a “pay as you go” approach for $0.01 to $0.03 per email depending on volume.  iContact has a free 30-day trial and then it’s $14 per month for 500 subscribers.  They also offer a free plan for less than 100 subscribers, a great way to get started or might even be sufficient for a small business.

These prices and promotions often change so best to check the email services directly when you’re ready to get started.

Precautions / Warnings

Ivan: Avoid inundating your customers’ Inbox with your e-mail messages.  Otherwise, they will either unsubscribe or stop paying attention to your messages. Sending your e-newsletter once a week or a few times a month only is probably the best approach. Make sure that every single message that you send is worth your customers’ time.

Cyri & Ivan’s Medication Rating:

*****

Cyri Jones teaches at BCIT and Capilano University and is the founder of ZENPortfolios.ca. He blogs at 24posts.com. Ivan Surjanovic is a marketing faculty at Capilano University and CEO of iPower Lab. He blogs at whereispuck.comwww.twitter.com/whereispuck, and at bizpharmacy.com.

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Technology Prescriptions for “Plugin Confusion Syndrome”

or:
How to select the best WordPress plugins?


Symptom

“Our company just set up a WordPress-based website. We heard great things about the WordPress platform but it doesn’t quite do what we need right “out of the box” though.  We went to the WordPress plugin repository to find some good plugins to enhance our website but there are almost 20,000 plugins to choose from!  We need help picking out the right ones. We hear that installing too many plugins can clog your websites’ arteries”

Recommended Medications

Cyri:
Every once in a while a tech medication comes out that really transforms the landscape. WordPress definitely fits into this category.  WordPress began as a blogging tool but has since evolved into a popular content management system that can be used to develop all kinds of websites. According to Pingdom (www.pingdom.com), almost half of the top 100 websites are using WordPress. Automattic, the company behind the hosted version of WordPress.com (wordpress.com), reports there are 70 million websites using WordPress – double that from only a year ago. Usage stats by W3Techs (www.w3techs.com) indicate that 54% of all websites whose content management system can be identified are using WordPress representing 16% of all websites.

Ivan:   There are two main options for using WordPress, sign-up for a free site on WordPress.com (www.wordpress.com) or download the latest, open source and free WordPress software (www.wordpress.org) and install on your own web host. To get the most customization, this latter self-hosted approach is best.

Cyri: You can customize your WordPress site by changing themes that impact the design of your site and by installing plugins – programs that allow custom functionality without impacting the core WordPress code. The amazing thing about WordPress is that almost no two installs are the same – almost everyone has a unique mixture of installed plugins. Here are our top ten recommendations – they may not be the right medication for all symptoms, but they really have helped a lot of our patients.

Top 10 recommendations:

  1. WP Super Cache (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-super-cache/) – As you start adding more plugins and content on your website and as you get more visitors you will usually notice a drop in performance.  This plugin generates “static” HTML files from your dynamic (database driven) WordPress site and serves these faster-to-load files to visitors.
  2. Jetpack by WordPress.com (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/jetpack/) – this one is actually a bundle of features that in the past you would have to get as individual plugins. It “supercharges your self-hosted” WordPress site to give you the “awesome cloud power of WordPress.com”.  Translation: you can use on your self-hosted WordPress site, popular WordPress.com features like WordPress.com Stats, WP.me URL shortener, Gravatar, tweet display, embed YouTube and other videos, email subscriptions, After the Deadline grammar and spell check.
  3. Google Analyticator (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/google-analyticator/) – This plugin “adds the necessary JavaScript code to enable Google Analytics logging on any WordPress blog” so you don’t need to manually start editing template code on your website.  It also includes “widgets” you can display on your admin dashboard to display your web traffic summary.
  4. All in One SEO Pack (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/all-in-one-seo-pack/) – With more than ten million downloads, this is one of the top ten most download WordPress plugins – it helps you automatically optimize your WordPress site for search engines.
  5. BuddyPress (buddypress.org/) – Want to create your own “Facebook” for your organization?  This sophisticated plugin features blogs, extended profiles, discussion forums, private messaging, friend connections and activity streams.  You can even add in more than 400 BuddyPress plugins to the main framework extending things even further (buddypress.org/extend/plugins/). You can see this in action at eraccommons.ca/, a site K-12 teachers across British Columbia use to connect and collaborate.
  6. GD Star Ratings (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/gd-star-rating/) – this is great for websites where you want to rate postings or other content.   This one was recently used for a provincial K-12 website reviewing and rating mobile apps for education (eraccommons.ca/mobileapps/). The plugin is free although support costs $169 for the base license and $109 per year annual fee.
  7. Akismet (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/akismet/) – This plugin helps you fight spam comments so you don’t spend all your time deleting comments that tell you “great blog post” with a link back to “buymyjunk.com”. Akismet is free for personal use, $5 for single, non-personal sites. Enterprise licenses can get pricey for sites with a lot of traffic.
  8. WP-Touch (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wptouch/) – This is the most popular mobile plugin for WordPress. It improves the browsing of your site for mobile users using devices like iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, and Blackberry. It’s developed by local WordPress gurus, Dale Mugford and Duane Storey of Brave New Code (bravenewcode.com/). It has a free, light version. Pro versions range from $49 to $199.
  9. Gravity Forms (www.gravityforms.com) – This is an amazing plugin that simplifies the creation of all types of Web forms, from simple contact forms to advanced surveys, registration and even payment forms. Gravity forms ranges from $39 per year for Personal edition and $99 US for Business. One year of updates and support is included.
  10. WP-Manage (www.managewp.com) – this last one is great for organizations that have multiple WordPress websites.  It’s really the “Cadillac” for managing multiple WordPress sites – it can save you a lot of time automating repeated tasks like keeping your plugins up-to-date on multiple sites. Manage WP ranges from $6.30 per month to manage 10 websites all the way up to $297 per month to manage up to 250 websites.

Note: All prices listed are in $US, the typical currency listed for WordPress plugins. You can see almost 20,000 free plugins on the WordPress Plugin Repository (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/)

Future Management of Condition

Cyri: Make sure you keep your plugins updated. Also, don’t go “plugin-in crazy” and try to install every “cool” plugin you find.  Before you know it you will have a slow site or worse, a “white-screen of death” broken website (when plugins “conflict”).

Ivan: Another important consideration is support.  Plugins in the WordPress plugin repository have online forum support to varying degrees.  Popular plugins often have dedicated support forums on the plugin authors’ websites.

Cyri: Don’t forget the local WordPress Meetup Group (www.meetup.com/Vancouver-WordPress-Meetup-Group) led by local WordPress gurus and enthusiasts Morten Rand-Hendriksen, Vanessa Chu and Gwyn Pritchett. This group offers high quality, usually free, sessions on all kinds of WordPress topics.

Ivan: Also, make sure you only use “reputable” plugins.  You want a plugin that you know is written by an excellent developer and that will be maintained over time.

Alternative Medicine

Cyri: Another way to customize your WordPress site is through themes but that will be covered in a future column!  There are also other content management systems like Drupal (drupal.org/) and Joomla (www.joomla.org/) that offer similar functionality to WordPress.

Cost:

Ivan:  The pricing of our recommended WordPress medication is affordable, especially when compared to the cost of developing your own WordPress custom plugins. The first five on our “top 10” list are completely free.  The next five are fee-based.

Precautions / Warnings

Cyri: Watch out! The WordPress “5-minute install” can soon become a “5-month” install if you try to add too much customization. Sometimes the plugins don’t “play well” with each other and can slow down your website’s performance.  Quality is better than quantity when it comes to getting the right plugin medication!

Cyri & Ivan’s Medication Rating:

*****

Cyri Jones teaches at BCIT and Capilano University and is the founder of ZENPortfolios.ca. He blogs at 24posts.com. Ivan Surjanovic is a marketing faculty at Capilano University and CEO of iPower Lab. He blogs at whereispuck.comwww.twitter.com/whereispuck, and at bizpharmacy.com.

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Technology Prescriptions for “Regular Website Health Checkup”

or:
How to conduct website analytics?

Symptom

“I am afraid I don’t have enough information about my website performance! How visible is my website among thousands of other competitors’ websites? How many people visit my site? Who visits my site? When? Why? What do my site’s visitors do on my website? What percentage of the site’s visitors gets converted to my customers? What ads are drawing the most traffic to my site?  How many other sites link to my website? Most importantly, what is my online marketing return on investment? Finally, who am I?  (Just kidding)”

Recommended Medications

Ivan:
Wow. It looks like you are well due for “a regular website health checkup.” Fortunately, there are lots of tools that can help you discover how good your website performance is. The good news about the Internet is that it provides plenty of opportunities to track, analyze and improve your online performance, which is the whole idea behind the concept of “website analytics.”

Cyri:   Exactly.  We used to spend a lot of money to gain insights about our customers, and their preferences or behavior, and now most of this information is absolutely free. No wonder Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, once said that “The Internet will transform advertising because of its trackability, not its beauty.”

Ivan: Here are some options for your website analytics. Firstly, we would like to recommend setting up proper website traffic analytics. While there are many online and software solutions for website traffic analysis, such as Webstat (www.webstat.com) or AWStats (awstats.sourceforge.net), we would like to recommend one of the most widely used: Google Analytics. To set up Google Analytics on your site, you need to follow this four-step process: (1) visit Google.com/analytics, (2) open an account there, (3) copy your own unique short code provided by Google, and then (4) have your designer insert the code into your site’s HTML pages which you want tracked, usually the home, or “index,” page. You can also do this quite easily if you have access to your website files and can upload edited versions using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) tool… (you don’t need to be a computer nerd). Start viewing your results!

Cyri: Google Analytics is an amazing tool. It will enable you to analyze lots of data, such as how many people visit your site and when, who is visiting your site (e.g. from what regions or countries), what pages they visit most, what their most common path / click stream on your site is, what phrases they use to find you, etc. You can also link your Google Analytics with your Google AdWords account in order to be able to track the effectiveness of your ads (note: AdWords is Google’s own pay-per-click advertising program described in one of our previous columns). With this tool, you will be able to track conversion rates, i.e. what percentage of your pay-per-clicks turned into your goals (e.g. a sale, filling in a form, etc.).
Ivan: … You probably remember a famous quote by John Wanamaker from more than one hundred years ago: “I know that half of my advertising dollars are wasted… I just don’t know which half.” Well, on the Internet, it looks like this is actually no longer true!

Cyri: Yes. In order to learn what ads convert best, you can use Google AdWord’s conversion tracking and ad click trough rates. A click through rate of about 2% is generally considered to be quite successful (this means that while your ad was shown a hundred times, two people actually clicked on it). To compare the click through rates (effectiveness of different ads), you can use an A/B split test such as: http://loweryourbidprice.com/splittest/. Run the two ad stats through this test, choose the winning ad, replace the loser with a new ad, and repeat the testing process until you maximize the effectiveness of all your ads.

In addition to Google AdWords and Split Test, you can also track a website’s search engine rank or “website visibility.” For this purpose, you may want to use services such as Webposition (http://www.webposition.com). These types of tools help you monitor your online rank, the number of inbound links to your site, and they can also provide you with a “Page Critic” in order to improve your pages.

Ivan: … Finally, and most importantly, you want to know if your website or online advertising produces a positive financial result. For this purpose, feel free to download this free calculator on my blog: whereispuck.com/2011/10/21/search-engine-marketing-calculator/. We also recommend fabulous calculators provided by ClickZ at http://www.clickz.com/stats. They will even help you decide how much it pays to invest in your website, or what your average online customer acquisition cost is.

Future Management of Condition

Cyri: We recommend doing at least regular monthly and annual web health checkups. The more often, the better. Outsourcing your online advertising / web analytics to an e-marketing professional might be a good idea, but make sure to define your monthly reporting expectations before you start.

Generic Name & Alternative Medicine

Cyri: Web Analytics would be a generic term for all these tools. There are quite a few alternative tools not mentioned in this article. One of them probably deserves a special attention: Google’s Webmaster Tools (www.google.com/webmasters/tools/). This tool will help you bring additional powerful insights regarding your site’s overall health.

Cost:

Ivan:  Most of these tools are completely free. Webposition.com (the search engine rank reporting tool) starts at $29.00 per month, but you can try it for free for 30 days.
Precautions / Warnings

Ivan: Regular checkups are a valuable tool in maintaining good online health… regular tests can help you find problems before they start!

Cyri & Ivan’s Medication Rating:

*****

Cyri Jones teaches at BCIT and Capilano University and is the founder of ZENPortfolios.ca. He blogs at 24posts.com. Ivan Surjanovic is a marketing faculty at Capilano University and CEO of iPower Lab. He blogs at whereispuck.comwww.twitter.com/whereispuck, and at bizpharmacy.com.

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Technology Prescriptions for “Entrepreneurship Disease”

or:
How can accelerators help your startup grow?


Symptom

A lot of the tools we have discussed in this column are for established businesses, small or large. There is a particular disease that we have not yet warned you about.  It’s a chronic condition that requires special attention and intervention to reduce business mortality. Symptoms include sparkly eyes, disassociation with reality, stubbornness, and may even include memory lapses of basic normal functions like eating and sleeping. It’s time for a frank talk about entrepreneurship disease.

Recommended Medications

Ivan:
This is a disease that both of this column’s authors have some first-hand experience with. Be careful, while it may have a great deal of its origins in your genes, entrepreneurship disease can start innocently enough, seeing the opportunity of castles in the sky when others around you see none.  However, before you know it, you could easily find yourself deep in the belly of the beast, toiling away for 16-hour days, forgetting about all your other responsibilities, the life you had before you caught the bug.
Cyri:  Luckily, there is hope and good local support networks.  At a recent Vancouver Enterprise Forum (www.vef.org) event sponsored in part by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council in Canada (NSERC), representatives from a number of local clinics highlighted their particular treatment methods. Brent Holliday of Capital West Partners did a great job of moderating the session, helping those with entrepreneurship disease and their loved ones select the best treatment program for them.

Here are some local treatment options:

Grow Lab (www.growlab.ca/):  No, this isn’t the usual kind of Vancouver grow lab.  This is for people that need an intense intervention, a four-month treatment program.  The first three months are held in Vancouver where in the words of Founder and Principal Jason Bailey you are kept “locked up”, mentored, and driven to “get on with it”.  The inspiration in fact for this column came from Bailey who exclaimed to the VEF crowd that Grow Labs was looking for folks with sparkles in their eyes, deeply infused with “the entrepreneurship disease”. All others need not apply.  For the final month, you will be shipped to San Francisco, where you will have a chance to meet people with the most intense cases of the disease and the venture capitalist dealers who back them on Sand Hill Road (aka Silicon Valley).

instituteB (instituteb.com/): This is a specialized institute that treats people that have the unique and interesting delusion that they can change the world for the better while making substantial money.  Although they are “purveyors of unreasonable business”, they are in big demand. Their clinic is currently full, indicating this is a more common disease than you might expect.  They will still continue to take on socially conscious sparkly eyes in the near future. They may just soon be the dominant model.

Entrepreneurship@UBC: (www.entrepreneurship.ubc.ca/). This is another specialized institute that really only wants to treat you if your symptoms first started while attending UBC or shortly after graduation. They have a seed fund that can help teams of students fund their sparkly-eyed affliction, with an investment board chaired by none other than Haig Farris, one of Canada’s pioneering experts on the entrepreneurial condition.

Venture Labs: (ventureconnection.sfu.ca): This is Simon Fraser University’s treatment centre that focuses on SFU students and recent alumni.  They are experimenting with spreading an entrepreneurship virus throughout SFU, turning it into a cultural phenomenon. They may also accept non-SFU outsiders.

Alacrity Foundation (http://alacrityfoundation.com/canada): Associated with the University of Victoria, this accelerator treats business and engineering students and grads that want to start companies. Participants can get a Masters of Applied Science while under treatment.

Peter Thomson Centre for Venture Development: (www.bcit.ca/business/venture/): Helping entrepreneurs since 1986, you can even get help online, no questions asked, via their Virtual Business Hub. Your friends and family don’t even need to know you have the condition.

ARLO (www.bcit.ca/appliedresearch/): This is newer kid on the block focuses on connecting industry with BCIT students and faculty, helping commercialize applied research and early-stage technologies.

Wavefront (www.wavefrontac.com/): Are your thumbs evolving into power fingers? Do you bring your phone with you to bed? Are you dreaming up mobile apps in the middle of conversations with your significant other?  You have a special form of the disease called mobile addiction syndrome.  Don’t worry, there is hope.  Wavefront is a government and industry sponsored treatment program for those that are truly mobile addicted and have the delusional belief their app will make it to the Top 10.

Angel Networks: There are also local angel networks like VANTEC (vantec.ca), led by another legendary entrepreneurship specialist, Mike Volker or the Vancouver Angel Forum (www.angelforum.org) led by seasoned veteran Bob Chaworth-Musters. They have the experience to help folks with an early-stage case before it gets too expensive to manage.

Future Management of Condition

Ivan: Once you get through the early “accelerator” and “angelic” stages of entrepreneurship disease, you may need to find more powerful and deep-pocketed “VC” supporters to get you to the next phase of the disease, full commercialization and scalability.  It’s not uncommon for this treatment phase to cost tens of millions of dollars or more.

Generic Name & Alternative Medicine

Cyri: These clinics used to be called incubators but they were so warm and cozy that no one wanted to leave and actually crack their shell into the marketplace. Now it’s all about overcoming your entrepreneurship disease as quickly as possible.  It’s less costly for everyone involved. If you’re going to fail, better do it fast.

Cost:

Ivan: How much are these treatment programs going to cost me?  They sound intense, no doubt a big bill attached?  I’m not sure if I can afford the medication.

Cyri: Considering their effectiveness, the treatments are cheaper than you think.  Grow Labs will actually pay you to enter their program – not a whole lot but at least enough to live in an “eight square foot apartment” and eat Ramen noodles. But if you haven’t raised millions of dollars in support of your addiction within four months, you’re back on the street.  Most clinics will want a small piece of your flesh (i.e. equity).

Precautions / Warnings

Ivan: Entrepreneurship disease leads to only two outcomes, immense fame and fortune (extremely rare) or the much more common outcome, bankruptcy and failure — losing your spouse, house, friends and family (especially if they gave you “love money” to support your addiction) and most psychologically damaging, your reputation.  You gave it your all and yet you still failed.  Having good treatment at one of the local clinics mentioned above can mean the difference between success and business failure. For the sparkly eyed out there — and you know who you are – isn’t it time you got professional help?

Cyri & Ivan’s Medication Rating:

***** (not for everyone)

Cyri Jones teaches entrepreneurship, project management and IT at BCIT and Capilano University and is the founder of ZENPortfolios.ca, an e-portfolio, social networking and group collaboration tool. He blogs at 24posts.com. Ivan Surjanovic is in Capilano University’s Marketing Faculty and CEO of iPower Lab. He blogs about new business and technology trends at whereispuck.com. All Cyri and Ivan’s previous columns published in Business in Vancouver can also be found on bizpharmacy.com.

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Technology Prescriptions for “Blurred Strategic Vision”

or:
How to Do an Online Survey

Symptom

I don’t have enough information about my customers or my employees. How satisfied are they? How do they perceive my company? What is really important to them? Are they likely to switch to competitors? How likely are they to recommend my company? I feel that this lack of information may be preventing me from making the right strategic decision. Is there a web “remedy”?

Recommended Medications

Ivan:
Sounds like you have a mild case of Blurred Business Vision. More than 90% of companies now resort to various forms of marketing research projects in order to treat or prevent this condition. There are many different research methods that can help you improve your vision:   some of them have already been described in our previous columns in Business in Vancouver (check out www.bizpharmacy.com). We we will focus today on one particularly powerful tool: online surveys.

Cyri:  Online surveys can save you money! A business associate told me they used to literally pay tens of thousands of dollars for various marketing or HR research projects, until they realized they can do a lot of the research by using various free or low cost web tools. I use online surveys almost daily to collect data from students and also for business interventions. My three favorites are Quia (www.quia.com/web), Google Forms (www.google.com/google-d-s/forms/), and a powerful WordPress plug-in, Gravity Forms (www.gravityforms.com)

Ivan:   Online surveys are an important part of my medicine cabinet too! I find they are especially good for managing marketing and human resources. In fact, SurveyMonkey.com, one of the leading online providers of survey tools, offers many ready-to-use questionnaire templates such as “360-degree Employee Evaluation”, “Employee Satisfaction”, “Product Feedback”, “Customer Feedback”, “Management Performance”, “Team Performance”, “Product Research”, “Market Research”, “Hotel Feedback”, “Media Usage”, “Demographics Research”, etc.

Cyri:  To help us get some direction on our own BizPharmacy column in “Business in Vancouver”, we have actually just created a feedback survey! In order to show differences among different survey tools, we have put the same questionnaire on four platforms. Here is the link: bizpharmacy.com/survey/.
Creating a questionnaire is simple. You can decide to use any of the existing survey templates, or you can start from scratch by creating your own questions. You don’t need a training course, the tools have great user interfaces so you can learn as you go.  With most tools, you can export your collected survey data to a “CSV file” that you can open in MS Excel, familiar territory for many business people.

Future Management of Condition

Ivan: Through SurveyMonkey.com you can decide to collect data via web link, email, Twitter, Facebook, or by embedding it on your site or blog. You can send the surveys to your own database, or decide to have SurveyMonkey send your survey to your target audience ($3 per completed questionnaire).
Generic Name & Alternative Medicine

Cyri: The generic name is “survey” or “online survey” or even just “form”.  Some are designed specifically for surveys; others are more generic forms that can be used to collect data in any context.
Cost:

Ivan: The basic plan offered by SurveyMonkey.com is free, and it includes questionnaires consisting of up to ten questions and a sample size of maximum one hundred respondents. For business use, you will probably need the Select Plan ($19.00 per month), Gold ($29.00 per month) or Platinum Plan ($69 per month). The Select Plan gives you unlimited number of questions and responses, plus very important features of data download, filtering and cross tabulation.

Cyri: I know the paid-tools have their place but I find for many survey tasks, the free tools like Google Forms work just fine!  I also don’t like the idea how some paid online survey tools charge by how many respondents you have.  I want free medication for the masses! Nevertheless, sometimes it’s worth paying a bit more to get a premium pill.  Gravity Forms is $39 for individual use and $99 for business use and you can create an unlimited number of forms.  Quia is $49 US per year.

Precautions / Warnings

Ivan: Online surveys can be successfully used as an exploratory type of research – whenever we need to shed more light on certain issue, better understand a problem, generate new creative ideas, or decide on direction for future research. However, if we want to make our online survey more conclusive (and our business vision better!), it is important to ensure that your sample is representative, random, and large enough to provide acceptable confidence interval / margin of error. One way to determine your needed sample size is by using the survey sample calculator tools, such as the one offered by Survey System (www.surveysystem.com/sscalc.htm). This way you can make inferences about the entire population or your target group, not just the respondents you surveyed.

Cyri & Ivan’s Medication Rating:

*****

Cyri Jones teaches entrepreneurship, project management and IT at BCIT and Capilano University and is the founder of ZENPortfolios.ca, an e-portfolio and group collaboration tool. He blogs at 24posts.com. Ivan Surjanovic is in Capilano University’s Marketing Faculty and CEO of iPower Lab. He blogs about new business and technology trends at whereispuck.com. All Cyri and Ivan’s previous columns published in Business in Vancouver can also be found on bizpharmacy.com.

Posted in Marketing Research, Personal Productivity Tools | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Technology Prescriptions for “Website Rigor Mortis”

or:
How to give new life to your website?

Symptom
Our website looked really good… back in 2001.  Now it feels pretty much dead, in the final stages of its life.  Money is tight and I don’t have a huge budget but I really need a new website.

Recommended Medications
Ivan: Sounds like you have a case of Website Rigor Mortis (WRM), not as uncommon as you may think.  A lot of organizations built their websites back in early days of the Web and haven’t touched them since. It’s important to know if the medication someone suggests is the right one for you.  How do you know you are not paying $5000 for website medication when all you need is a $200 pill?  Or maybe it’s not time to be cheap — your website really needs a $50,000 hospital stay?

Cyri: I find a lot of patients I talk to don’t even know where to begin.  Here are the typical steps in getting help for WRM.

  1. Self-medicate or get some outside help?  If you don’t have experience with website development and you have specialized needs, then it’s best to contract this piece out.  If you needed surgery, would you really want to “wing it” and try the do-it-yourself approach?  On the other hand, if you have straightforward needs, you could save a lot of money by going with one of the free, hosted tools like WordPress.com (www.wordpress.com), Wix (www.wix.com) , Weebly (www.weebly.com), Snap Pages (www.snappages.com), or Google Sites (sites.google.com). The downside is your site may end up looking like the millions of other websites that have used this same “template” approach.

If you contract out, the cost for this website medication can really vary! You will hear of the sites created by a friend’s 10-year old kid in their basement for $500 but this can be a risky approach.  Do you really want someone who is just learning themselves building your website? Unless you are on an extremely tight budget, it’s best to do the proper steps to get a website that will be effective and long lasting.

Meet with at least three web developers, share your basic website needs with them, and get them to provide you with quotations for building and maintaining your planned website.  It’s not uncommon to have the price tag for a “typical” small business website range from $750 to $75,000!  Usually a basic website will be in the $2500 to $5000 range but costs can increase exponentially if you go beyond the typical content-focused website with a blog and contact form and basic design.

2. Don’t just go with the lowest price quotation.  Make sure you have looked at websites the developer has built for other clients and ask to talk to some of them about how things went.

3. Make sure you understand the basic website development process:

a)      Contract with website developer — Who is holding the risk? Is it a fixed price contract?  Is it hourly?  Ideally, you want to make it hourly but with a fixed price ceiling… it’s possible to come in under budget (but usually it will come in at the ceiling price).  For sites that are well-defined, fixed price contracts are okay but where there is a lot of ambiguity with your needs, most developers would want to at least start with an hourly contract. Expect to pay 25% to 50% of the project cost upfront and the remainder upon completion.

b)      Start with needs assessment and “information architecture (IA)” — What kind of content and services do you need for your website and how to best present the right content at the right time to the end users in a user-friendly, intuitive way?

c)       Create website mock-ups — These mock-ups are just images of your planned site using a tool like Photoshop and are intended to get the web developer and the client on the same page before going to the more time consuming coding stage.  Any changes after signing off on the mock-ups will usually be difficult and costly.

d)      Turn mockups into code — The developer will then turn the mock-ups into HTML/CSS code to create the actual webpages. Most sites today are dynamic where the content is stored in a database so content can be easily updated. Most developers will use a content management system (CMS) such as the open source WordPress (www.wordpress.org) or Drupal (www.drupal.org) as a foundation for your site.

e)      Test the site — Ensure it is working as intended before signing off.

4. Maintenance — Make sure you have a plan in place for regular maintenance and updates so the site doesn’t fall again into WRM.

Prognosis
Ivan: Remember, your website should be your online anchor so don’t underfund it. It’s great to be on social media but ultimately you want to encourage your customers and prospects to engage more closely with you on your website.

Future Management of This Condition

Cyri: Technology changes fast.  Instead of re-developing your website once a decade, consider hiring your web developer on an ongoing basis for updates.  They can make sure your site is working well, with proper back-up, security, and can also suggest improvements. Allocate at least an additional 10-20% of your website development budget annually for this kind of support.

Cost:

Ivan: The most difficult part of getting a new website is finding the right web developer at a price that is reasonable for the scope of the work.  Hourly rates range from as little as $20 per hour for a beginner to as much as $250 per hour for a world-class specialist.  The average wage for a WordPress developer according to a recent WordPress.com survey is about $50 per hour.

Precautions / Warnings

Cyri: You can easily pay double or triple what you should have for a new website, if you don’t follow the tips above!  Your “good deal” may turn into a bad deal when you discover you have to re-do your website because the person you hired wasn’t experienced.  Be really careful of developers that want to build a standard website from “scratch” instead of building upon an existing content management system (CMS) like WordPress.  This will almost always cost a lot more and you will be at the mercy of that developer when it comes to updates and making changes.  Good developers will set your site up so you can make most of the content changes easily yourself.

Cyri & Ivan’s Medication Rating:

*****

Cyri Jones teaches entrepreneurship, project management and IT at BCIT and Capilano University and is the founder of ZENPortfolios.ca, an e-portfolio and group collaboration tool. He blogs at 24posts.com. Ivan Surjanovic is in Capilano University’s Marketing Faculty and CEO of iPower Lab. He blogs about new business and technology trends at whereispuck.com. All Cyri and Ivan’s previous columns published in Business in Vancouver can also be found on bizpharmacy.com.

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Technology Prescriptions for “Website Sales Deficit Disorder (WSDD)”

or:
How to advertise your business on Google


Symptom
I have read your articles in previous issues of Business in Vancouver on website visibility and search engine optimization. However, it looked to me that suggested strategies produce results primarily in the long run… Also, they don’t give me full control over my marketing.  The problem is, my company doesn’t have any time to waste. We need more business now!

Recommended Medications
Ivan: Sounds like you have an acute case of Website Sales Deficit Disorder (WSDD). Many businesses’ websites suffer from the same condition. The key is to know which medicine to take. In this particular example, the best and the fastest result can be accomplished with Google’s powerful keyword advertising program, AdWords (adwords.google.com).

Cyri: Keyword advertising program is any type of advertising that triggers ads based on keywords entered into Google or other search engines. You no doubt have already seen these “Sponsored Ads” that appear on top or on the right of search results on Google. These are paid ads where the advertisers only get charged when someone clicks on their ads. This is why this type of advertising is also called “pay per click” advertising or PPC.

Ivan: Many people try AdWords program and give up too early as they couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Here are some tips and strategies in order to get most from Google’s advertising program so you don’t miss out on this powerful medicine.

  1. RESEARCH YOUR COMPETITION: Type in various search phrases on Google and see who is showing up for various phrases. What phrases (keywords) is your competition using?
  2. RESEARCH KEYWORDS: Once you sign up for your advertising account at adwords.google.com, you need to choose the most important keywords for your business. As mentioned before in this column, use Google’s own keyword popularity tool:
    http://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal and see what phrases people use most often when searching for your products or services.
  3. USE TARGETED APPROACH WHEN SELECTING KEYWORDS:  Note that the most popular phrases are usually the most expensive. The key rule here is to use a targeted approach. If you are, for example, in pest control business, “pest”, or “pest control” phrase might be too generic, and as a result too expensive. Try “commercial pest control”, “bird control”, or “bed bugs control” instead.
  4. ADJUST CAMPAIGN SETTINGS.  If you are serving customers mostly locally, make sure to specify the location of your business in the campaign settings. This will ensure that you don’t waste money on clicks coming from non-prospects. Also, make sure to specify your maximum cost per click (CPC) and to limit your campaign daily budget. Start with small cost per click (e.g. $0.20-$1.00), and with small daily budget (e.g. $5-$50) during the test period.
  5. “GRANULATE” YOUR CAMPAIGNYou will notice that you can create many different campaigns with Adwords; you can have separate campaigns for each company, strategic business unit, or for different countries. Similarly, you should also create many ads and ad groups within each campaign. Each ad group should be extremely targeted. Using the pest control business as an example, one ad should be particularly designed for phrase “bed bugs control”, the other ad should be designed for “bird control”, and the third for “industrial pest control”.
  6. CHOOSE THE RIGHT KEYWORD MATCH. There are three types of keywords matches: EXACT, PHRASE and BROAD matches. The type of match will determine whether or not your ad will show when someone enters phrase that is similar to your chosen phrase. We recommend a more cautious approach especially in the beginning: use mostly EXACT match and sometimes PHRASE match. Avoid using BROAD match in the beginning as it may increase your cost.
  7. CREATE POWERFUL ADSAgain, the same “targeted” approach apples when putting together your ad.  The key is again to be very focused, very specific… That said, if you choose keywords “bed bugs control”, then the title of your ad and most of the text should include the same phrase. Of course, don’t forget to include your key sales message or product benefit in the text of your ad.

Prognosis
Cyri: Like with any type of advertising, there is no absolute guarantee that this will work for your product or service or for your industry. The good news is, however, that if you make your campaign work, your marketing is almost on “auto pilot”: you have just created an automated marketing system of generating leads!

Future Management of This Condition
Ivan: Make sure to check your campaign (number of clicks, cost per click, daily budget) very regularly, be it once a day, once a week, once a day or even more often. Plan anywhere from a few minutes to one hour or more depending on your budget.

Generic Name & Alternative Medicine
Cyri: The generic name is keyword advertising or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. A similar solution is also offered by Yahoo!/Microsoft: try https://adcenter.microsoft.com/

Cost:
Ivan: Here is more good news…  This type of advertising does not require huge marketing budgets.  As a matter of fact, many small and medium size businesses advertise on Google with budgets smaller than few hundred dollars a month and get a good return on investment.  It’s important to find out the point where more AdWords spending doesn’t lead to many additional sales and stop there or experiment with other campaign approaches.

Precautions / Warnings
Cyri: Be patient with keyword advertising:  it takes time to fine tune your campaign. Your first days or weeks of campaign might not be too successful, but remember to test your campaign with a small budget and fine tune your ads, cost per click and budget.

Cyri & Ivan’s Medication Rating:

*****

Cyri Jones teaches entrepreneurship, project management and IT at BCIT and Capilano University and is the founder of ZENPortfolios.ca, an e-portfolio and group collaboration tool. He blogs at 24posts.com. Ivan Surjanovic is in Capilano University’s Marketing Faculty and CEO of iPower Lab. He blogs about new business and technology trends at whereispuck.com. All Cyri and Ivan’s previous columns published in Business in Vancouver can also be found on bizpharmacy.com.

Posted in Internet Marketing, Internet Marketing, Promotions | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Technology Prescriptions for “Search Engine Ignorius”

or:

Seven Tips for Optimizing your Website for Search Engines


Symptom

I have read your article in previous issues of Business in Vancouver on improving the website visibility. You have mentioned medications like Search Engine Optimization (SEO), website linking or advertising on Google. You particularly recommended to “talk to your doctor about SEO”. Can you give us more practical tips on how to conduct SEO (search engine optimization) in order to appear higher in search results?

Recommended Medications

Ivan:
You certainly want to avoid  the not-so-pleasant  case of  “search engine ignorius”. Apply the golden rule here again: if you want the search engines to pay more attention to you, you need to pay more attention to them! You need to be more “search engine friendly”.  In other words offer search engines as much help as possible; help them understand who you are and what exactly you do in a matter of seconds!

Cyri: Let us share with you the seven most important tips that will help you improve your relationship with Google as well as with other key search engines.  We realize this is just the beginning, but we believe that the 80-20 rule applies here as well: 20% of SEO activities may bring you as much as 80% of results.

Ivan: Yes, but before we start, let’s remember that you first need to know what  your most important phrases (keywords) are, or what  you want to optimize your website for. Go to Google’s own keyword popularity tool:  http://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal and see what  phrases people use most often. For example, if you are selling promotional products, you will notice that the phrase “personalized promotional products” has been searched  more often than the “branded promotional products”: the first term has been searched 8100 times, while the second one “only” 1300 times last month.

Cyri: The keyword research takes a bit of time, but this is for sure the critical decision. Ideally, you need to choose a different phrase for each page of your site. When choosing your phrases, listen to  Google’s keyword tool, but also use your common sense and make sure that the phrase matches the real content of your site.

Ivan: Now that you have made your phrase/keyword decisions, you need to optimize one page at a time  by following the seven SEO tips (you may need your web designer to help you with the implementation):

1. Make sure that the URL (address) of your page includes the selected keyword. So if you are optimizing the products page of your web site,we recommend the URL like this: www.mycompany.com/personalized-promotional-products, instead of URL consisting of just: www.mycompany.com/products.

2. Make sure to add the title of each page page (“Title tag”) to include the selected keyword. In our case the Title tag should be something like “Personalized Promotional Products by My Company”.

3. Make sure that the headings / subheadings on your page reflects a similar approach: include your keywords to help search engines quickly figure out what your page is about.

4. Make sure that the content (copy) of the page includes at least several occurrences of your selected phrase

5. Whenever possible, include the selected phrase in your image title

6. Make sure to include  your selected phrase in both your keyword meta tag and description meta tag. While keyword meta tag just lists all relevant phrases for the page (e.g. “personalized promotional products”, “Vancouver”, “premium personalized promotional products”), description meta tag is a short description of your business that will also show in search results next to your web address  ( e.g. “We provide premium personalized promotional products with 100% satisfaction guarantee since … “).

7. Make sure to link your website from other websites. This is extremely important. For that purpose, you may decide to build reciprocal links with other related sites, or you can submit your website address to various business directories.  While there are many free business directories on the Internet (you can find them by searching for “free business directories”), one of the most valuable directory is certainly Yahoo’s directory (http://dir.yahoo.com/). Placing your link in Yahoo!’s directory costs US $299 per year but we believe it is worth it for most businesses.

Prognosis

Cyri: In most cases, these steps should be enough to help you overcome the “search engine ignorius”. You may want to track your rank before and after.

Future Management of This Condition

Ivan: To improve your chances for success, you may need to use more focused i.e. more specialized approach. In other words, your phrase can be even more targeted. For example, adding the geographic location is highly recommended for local businesses. So your phrase may actually be “personalized promotional products Vancouver”. Also, adding more content (with selected keywords) and more links will normally result in improved search engine rank unless there is some other underlying problem with your site. In any scenario, you may need to talk to your web designer or search engine specialist to make sure you implement the above recommendations in the most effective way.

Cost: Check with your website designer or with your search engine specialist. The cost will depend mostly on the scope of the project, your objectives and the condition of your current site. In most scenarios, the SEO cost may range anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 but for more complicated cases, it could cost more.


Precautions / Warnings

Cyri: Please allow at least 4-8 weeks for this medicine to take effect. This isn’t a 24-hour treatment!

Cyri & Ivan’s Medication Rating:

****

Cyri Jones teaches entrepreneurship, project management and IT at BCIT and Capilano University and is the founder of ZENPortfolios.ca, an e-portfolio and online group collaboration tool. He blogs at 24posts.com. Ivan Surjanovic is in Capilano University’s Marketing Faculty and CEO of iPower Lab. He blogs about new business and technology trends at whereispuck.com. All Cyri and Ivan’s previous columns published in Business in Vancouver can also be found on bizpharmacy.com.

Posted in Internet Marketing, Internet Marketing, Web Analytics, search marketing, search marketing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Technology Prescriptions to Stay Organized

Symptom

This new cloud computing and “app culture” is exciting but I’m finding it even more difficult than ever to stay organized and on top of things.  In the past, I just had my personal planner in “good old-fashioned paper” and my desktop and laptop computer for working on files and it worked pretty well.  Now, there is the addition of Web apps, a smart phone, and tablet devices like the iPad… the list keeps growing!  How do I stay organized across these multiple platforms?

Recommended Medications
Ivan:
This is a typical case of “disorganizitus” and “platform nonintegratephobia”.  I am seeing a lot more cases of this, some really serious ones where the patient has had a complete information breakdown, losing their entire data when syncing their iPhone.  In other cases I have seen a hard drive crash lead to hospitalization after realizing how many years of work had just been lost.

Some even live under constant anxiety and panic attacks even before there has been a meltdown.  Just the thought of losing their beloved Android or Blackberry or worried that they forgot to write down an important appointment on one of their multiple calendars is enough to send the stress levels over the roof.

Luckily there are some excellent medications that will keep this dangerous condition at bay.  The two I would recommend starting off with are Evernote (www.evernote.com), and Instapaper (www.instapaper.com).

Cyri: Evernote is my personal favorite.  Their slogan “remember everything” is a good description.  You can very easily add in all your tasks, notes, and even take pictures of meeting notes and business cards.  Evernote makes it simple to tag up your information so it’s easy to access and search.  The best part is that you can sync it so that you can use just as easily from a computer, smart phone or other device.

Ivan: I like how it’s easy to record ideas from your head and capture in Evernote.  It’s also very cool how you can search on words that are stored within images, like business cards you have taken a picture of or whiteboard notes.  You just have to make sure you don’t forget to write the note in Evernote!

Cyri: I heard an excellent presentation on time management by Greg Campeau (www.campeaulearning.com) at a recent Vancouver event. He said there are four essentials you need to have accessible at all times to stay organized: 1) a calendar, 2) a place to write notes, 3) contacts database, and 4) project lists – a “laundry list” where you can write down any projects or tasks that enter your mind and a “priority list” where you transfer over the projects you plan on actually doing.  Having a smart phone gives you these components wherever you are.

Evernote enables integration between your computers and your phone so you don’t need multiple lists, calendars, contacts databases and notes.   It really does simplify your life!

Ivan: I like Instapaper, the “save and read later” app.  I’m constantly needing to surf the Web for research projects I’m working on but when I find something good, I don’t often have time to read the article right away.  With Instapaper, I get a “read later” button I can add to my browsers.  When I click on this, Instapaper saves to a format that can be read anywhere, on my computer, paper if I want to print it out, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, or the Kindle.

Prognosis
Ivan: These medications should help you overcome disorganizitus.  Commit to the tools for at least one month to see true transformation.  If you pick the right tools and are disciplined to use consistently, you will find you have more of the most valuable and irreplaceable thing… time!

Future Management of This Condition

Cyri: We just gave you some of the initial tools to get organized.  There are some other important aspects of this condition that we will cover in the near future such as cross-platform back-up and work collaboration services.

Cost: Instapaper is free to get started and has a premium subscription option.  Evernote also has a free option and a premium subscription option at $5 per month or $45 per year, a great value.

Generic Name & Alternative Medicine

Ivan: The generic name is really just “personal organization”. Alternative medicines include: Pinboard (www.pinboard.in), Microsoft OneNote (office.microsoft.com/en-ca/onenote), and Springpad (www.springpadit.com).


Precautions / Warnings

Cyri: Try out a few tools and then stick to one main one and possibly a few more for specialized tasks.

Cyri & Ivan’s Medication Rating:

****

Cyri Jones teaches entrepreneurship, project management and IT at BCIT and Capilano University and is the co-founder of ZedPress.com, a social network for learning. He blogs at 24posts.com. Ivan Surjanovic is in Capilano University’s Marketing Faculty and CEO of iPower Lab. He blogs about new business and technology trends at whereispuck.com. All Cyri and Ivan’s previous columns published in Business in Vancouver can also be found on bizpharmacy.com.

Posted in Office Productivity, Personal Productivity Tools, Project Management | Tagged , | Leave a comment