Keep your Small Business Afloat on Vacation

Small Business Hacks for Your Getaway

We work with many small businesses and individual professionals. It can be a real challenge to keep your business running smoothly while you’re sailing away enjoying the summer time. Here are our hottest tips and hacks for taking time off without too much strain on your business.

1) Have (or hire) a wingman.

By far the best strategy to keeping your business running smoothly while you’re gone is to let someone else do it! If you have any employees, don’t hesitate to brief them on the essential functions of your role. Then jet off to your vacation and leave the office behind. No employees? Just you? Consider entrusting (and compensating) another professional if you really want to be able to get away and unplug. Check with your current local business partners in related industries, or even consider hiring a virtual assistant to keep up on communication and relay urgent issues to you.

2) Schedule short check-ins.

Especially for trips longer than a couple days, plan on twenty minutes every few days to check on things. Set a reasonable time limit so you don’t end up behind a glowing laptop instead of enjoying a breathtaking star-studded sky. Make sure you check in advance that your accommodations have reasonable wifi access. Plan on maintaining only the essential business communication remotely.

3) If you communicate, think about how.

It’s happened to everyone. You shoot off a quick text while busy with something else. But then, the person replies with a question or misunderstands your message. You reply. They reply. Suddenly, it’s twenty minutes later and you’ve barely said anything. When you are communicating with the office or clients from vacation, think strategically about your mode of communication. Sometimes a two-minute call can save you 4 emails back and forth. Got a chatty client? Send one clear, well-thought-out email and state that you’re “signing off” at the end.

4) Automate, automate, automate!

One of our best tips is actually great even when you’re not out of the office. Setting up some email automation through your MailChimp account can help you get basic details and tips out to your clients without being directly involved. For example, you can set up a series of educational emails that automatically send themselves out at pre-set intervals after a list signup. You can use this to offer a useful free resource to people sign up for your emails. Is expertise your service? Use this to build credibility and bring people up to speed.

You can also automate your blog posts. Write a few in advance and schedule them to be sent out at specific times and days. You don’t need to stick around to hit the post button. Free yourself up to enjoy your time away.

5) Communicate on the front end.

Everyone needs time away! Communicate clearly with clients and employees when you will and won’t be in touch. Don’t be afraid to unplug! True emergencies are probably less common than you think. When you take time for yourself and rest, you return refreshed and work better. Set up an out of office message on your email and phone. In your email, include how and where to direct emergency requests. Give people an idea of what they can expect for non-emergency requests.

Better yet – use an email alias for your requests. You can use generic emails like sales@ or info@ to direct requests by category – meaning that when vacation comes, you can easily redirect the alias to your aforementioned wingman without having to communicate a new contact.


How do you stay cool and collected, even when you’re away? Leave us your suggestion in the comments below.

3 Flavors of Business Website

Does every business really need a website?

Unequivocally, yes. Even if you feel your business attracts through word-of-mouth only, you need a website to back up the professionalism of your in-person image. That said, how much investment you need to put into your site depends on your business, your marketing plan, your industry, and your stage of business development. For example, a start-up with a lean budget and a new idea should get started with something small, like a landing page for lead capture and market testing. On the other hand, a business looking to rank in search engines for a popular keyword needs a lot more content and tuning.

We can show you what areas of a site are worth spending money on. We also want to help you see which areas can be kept trim to fit your budget. As a small business ourselves, we are aware of the challenges entrepreneurs face in getting a new business off the ground. We will help you recognize areas in which a little extra spending now matters later.

The Online Business Card

In the digital world, your website is the equivalent of your business card, but with much farther reach. Depending on the industry, up to 81% of clients check out a business’ website before purchasing anything from the business. If your business has no website, you are missing out on opportunities to reach new clients that you could never reach by word-of-mouth alone. Even word-of-mouth recommendations are more effective because you make your business easy to find when your clients and prospects go looking for you.

Your website is your chance to make a strong impression that you are a professional business which values quality. Consider this your chance to wear your nice business suit to a job interview with your prospective clients.

This type of site can be simple, but it needs to be done well. Here’s where you can skimp – site size. You don’t need a large site to make a good impression if the small site you have is done well. Here’s where you shouldn’t skimp – good design. Looks aren’t everything, but they do matter for a first impression. If your site is poorly designed or not mobile friendly, you’re likely to send the wrong message.

The Local Business Site

Do you have a local business whose market is in the real, not the online world? Use your site to amplify the reach of your real-world location.

  1. Your site can drive traffic to your brick-and-mortar location by providing the essential information to help visitors decide to call or stop by. While phone books used to be the main resource where customers found a business, they are nearly extinct now. Register your site in the online realm directories – Yelp, Google My Business, and Angie’s List, for example.
  2. Customers can compare businesses in seconds from the comfort of home. Consider how you stack up to your competitors’ sites. It is essential for this first impression to be competitive.
  3. Your lights might be off but your business doesn’t have to be.  A website never sleeps. It can attract interest even when your business isn’t open.
  4. Be where your customers are. 70% of US Households now use the internet when shopping locally for products and services according to LocalVox

Again, with this situation, it’s OK to start small, if you need to limit your investment. But don’t the skimp on platform. Go with a quality WordPress-based site now and save yourself the headaches later. Choosing a DIY site-builder at this stage of business is guaranteed to cause issues – like finding out that you can’t add a key new feature into your site: scheduling system, store, or payment processing.

The Marketing Platform Site

Maybe you’re a little more established, and you’ve got a marketing plan and budget. Here you need a website as a public forum to prove that you are the best in your field. A polished site with quality content can become a quotable source for an individual or media outlet looking for information. Creating shareable content presented in a professional manner can help turn your current clients into marketing agents. Need to rank on Google? This is the kind of site you want – content robust, thoughtful user experience, good calls-to-action.

This type of site has a long-term plan to show potential clients that you are a knowledgeable, trustworthy professional, winning their business is much easier. Also, when you get attention or awards through media such as Angie’s List, Better Business Bureau, or even local news sites you need a website to funnel new clients directly to your business. Those venues have already done the most difficult part of recruiting new clients: identifying potential customers. It is essential to build the bridge that turns interested customers into happy clients.

A critical investment for this type of site is a blog: your pedestal for having an extended conversation with your online audience. Like the smaller site types, good infrastructure and design are also a given. Finally, you want to make sure that the site has the right start for performance – quality, scalable hosting. Imagine a day when your content goes viral and make a plan that allows your site to flex its resources to avoid a crash.

These are 3 of the most common business sites we see. We work with business owners to help guide them to understand where and how to invest in their online presence. Want to learn more? Contact us today to learn about our packages and custom offerings.

Marketing plan mistakes you can avoid, and how.

Effective sales and marketing plan has both short AND long-term strategies in place. Short-term marketing efforts can help give your business the infusions of cash it needs to run. But to be truly successful, you also need to start sowing the seeds of your long-term marketing plan.  A quality website is a key part of that long term plan. Here are some of the top mistakes we see when it comes to your long-term marketing strategy.

#1 | “What longterm marketing plan?”

Seems fairly obvious that we should all have one, right? But we’re humans and we often make decisions that aren’t based on logic. Why yes, I will have that third doughnut. No, it’s fine. I can start my exercise plan tomorrow. Usually, these decisions aren’t intentioned. We plan to be strategic someday. But we don’t sit down and make that strategic plan. And that lack of plan can be ultimately fatal for our marketing efforts.

“The world is becoming more inbound. It’s growing more authentic, less interruptive.”

Hubspot’s State of Inbound, 2016

Think about it from your own experience. Why did you make your last major purchase? Was it because someone called you during dinner and finally convinced you that today was the day you needed to buy that thing? Or was it brand loyalty? Was it that you’d been looking for a while, and you were finally ready?

The landscape of reaching your customer is always changing. But one of the biggest changes in a decade is the rise of inbound marketing. Moving from a mentality of cold calling and paid advertising to an approach where you develop a position of expertise to attract an audience. Then you stay in touch with that audience. Then you’ve already got their loyalty by the time they are ready to buy.

We build the website foundation for your inbound marketing efforts. In that process, we help you clarify your vision – whether that’s drilling down on your target audience or clarifying the way you communicate your product message.

#2 | Efforts without strategy

“I have been doing things for well over a year and I haven’t seen any return. Marketing must be a waste of time/money/both.”  

Making an effort without putting a strategy behind it is arguably just as bad as making no effort. Your time is valuable.

From the get-go, we ask questions to start honing your strategy. We put data tracking in place to help you learn more about how that strategy is working on your site. We help you analyze that data to identify the right fit for your specific situation.

#3 | Making big efforts instead of small, consistent ones.

This is an easy trap to fall into. Everyone starts January with high expectations, right? But consistency is what helps you stay in front of your customers, so you’re ready when they are.

Just because it looks consistent on the outside doesn’t mean it has to be consistent on the inside. Especially if you are a small business, it can be a struggle to do something on a regular basis. We can help set up automation and schedules on your site. What looks like regular TLC is actually a single, focused effort that set you up for months to come. Or we can apply regular content TLC to your site for you. We offer blog management content that’s engaging and original.

#4 | Expecting results without time or effort

Lots of people expect that one minute they’re launching their site, and the next minute the lead harvest is rolling in! Or, they plant that site, and never do anything to it ever again and – voila, it’s producing something useful. No. In the real world, if you do that, you’re growing compost & disappointment. That’s it.

Mistaking your website for a short term strategy means that you’re definitely going to get discouraged and give up before you see results.

We help you set realistic site expectations & goals, based on experience working with a variety of business owners. We can save you time and money by steering you away from ineffective or misleading promotion strategies.

#5 | Not diversifying

“The only marketing that works is (word of mouth/networking groups/pay-per-click/etc.)”

It doesn’t feel like a mistake. You’re probably partially right. But how many people do you know that are still saying: the only marketing that works is the Town Crier? Or even: placing a newspaper ad? Especially when it comes to your long-term strategy, it’s important not to put all your eggs in one basket. These strategies take time, and it only takes one disruptive event to render some strategies completely useless.

When we build a site, we invest in quality infrastructure. We don’t cut corners where you’ll never know any better. We consider marketing strategy, digital strategy, business goals, design, and technology infrastructure. So that when the time comes to change directions, your site is ready to handle that.

Feeling lost? Marketing isn’t your thing anyway? Contact us today. We can help you lay the foundation for your future success.

Design your website to grow your business.

This past Saturday, we were live on 740 AM KVOR on the show Our Town Stars. Did you miss it? You can listen to the podcast here.

We design your website to help earn you new and repeat business. What’s the secret sauce? There are 5 important elements to a successful website, but the main premise is this: think of your website as if it were a sales employee in your business.

use-your-website-to-grow-business

Set goals for your site

A savvy business owner would not hire an employee and then give them nothing to do, or even unclear objectives. The best managers give clear, achievable goals for employees, and the same should be set for your new site. Determine 2-3 very specific goals for your website, and then make those goals clear throughout.

Design your website to be scanned.

We love to read. But our experience with the online realm tells us that the online reading experience is much more about effective scanning than dense reading. So design your website to help your site visitor quickly absorb information by:

  • Using lists and/or infographics to quickly call out key details.
  • Using call-to-action bars, sliders, or sidebars to emphasize your site conversion goals.
  • Valuing page space in descending order: Top Left, Top Right, Bottom Left, Bottom Right. Put critical information closer to the top left.
  • Making a page for every service. This will help site visitors quickly find key information about your business, whether humans or search engine bots.

Great sales employees understand how to efficiently connect customers with the product or service that best fits. Similarly, good design in your website helps it actively guide your site visitors to find what they need as quickly as possible.

Design your website for business growth.

Give your website the resources it needs.

The best and most dedicated sales employee can only do as well as resources allow. While a website could be expected to handle several hundred customers at once, even sites have limits based on your hosting. Give your site the hosting resources it needs. Don’t put a video-heavy site on budget hosting. We work with a local partner, 9th Node Networks, to match each site we design to that just-right level of hosting resources.

Create an ongoing development plan.

Even an excellent salesperson benefits from long-term development. Put a plan in place to keep your website evolving. Not only does this help with search engine ranking, but it also helps you keep an ongoing conversation with your audience and stay in touch with existing customers. Good results do not happen overnight – not with people, not with websites. Give your site time to start working for you, and if need be…

Evaluate and adapt.

Over the course of time, adapt your website for what is working and not. Make sure you have site analytics so you can see traffic patterns on your site. See where you lose visitors on your conversion pages and adapt according to what the data tells you. Fire your website if it doesn’t do its job. Hire additional websites, like custom landing pages. Stay in regular touch with your analytics system so that you understand how best to change your site to respond to how customers interact.

Key Takeaways

Don’t treat your website like a giant online brochure. Treat it like your newest sales employee. Train your site to be effective in representing your business and earning you new and repeat business by following these five steps: set goals, use design effectively, provide adequate resources, make a longterm plan, and evaluate and adapt.

 

How Drip Marketing Works for You

drip-marketing-campaign

Drip marketing is a great tool in the arsenal of the small business owner. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, your time is at a premium. You want to grow your business. You understand the need to reach out to customers and cultivate lead relationships. If only you could find more hours in the day, you’d do more. Let’s take a look at how clever automation can help you get some time back, so you can stay focused on your business.

What is Drip Marketing?

Drip marketing is a style of marketing to and nurturing prospective leads for your business through automation. Email marketing is the most popular choice for drip campaigns, because it is affordable and easy to automate. Use it in a targeted marketing campaign to accomplish a specific goal for your business.

How does it work?

As we mentioned in the last post, we believe you should start with strategy. Start simple. Identify one specific goal to emphasize for your business. Determine where incoming leads are most likely to appear for that goal. Set up a way to capture those leads as email address contacts, and then set up a mailing list to check in with those leads on a specific schedule.

Let’s see a drip marketing campaign in action.

Consider a beauty salon, headed into spring and summer. It’s wedding season, and the business owner wants to increase the number of bridal parties who book beauty sessions at the salon.

Step One: Capture Leads

She creates a landing page, designed to attract prospective brides to the salon. She starts an ad campaign for the page to drive traffic. The page clearly lists the great packages she offers for bridal parties. At the end of  the page, there’s a form where interested parties can sign up to be entered into a drawing for a free day of pampering for the bride and free beauty tips to help make the big day a success.

Step Two: Nurture Leads

A bride-to-be signs up for the list, because who doesn’t love free beauty tips? She immediately gets an email thanking her for her interest and confirming her sign up to the list, because who doesn’t love double-opt in?

Three days later, she gets her first informational email: How to use eyeliner for your eye shape. The great tips demonstrate that this beauty salon is knowledgeable and offers the right solution for each client. In the email is a special offer for a pre-wedding facial, to help create beautiful, glowing skin as a base for great makeup.

A week later, she gets another inbox gem offering 5 strategies for a worry-free wedding day beauty prep. Brides are juggling a lot to make sure their day goes off without a hitch. This email demonstrates that the salon owner has the expertise to help reduce that stress, and offers a discount for hair appointments booked for the entire bridal party.

The next week, she’ll get another email. But only if she’s opened and engaged with at least two of the first three. The salon owner doesn’t want to spam even informational emails to uninterested customers. If the bride hasn’t opened prior emails, she won’t get another email for two weeks, and it will be a form letter from the salon owner to offer a personal thank you for connecting with the beauty salon, and she hopes the bride has found the tips helpful. It will have a link back to prior emails.

Step Three: Profit

Drip marketing is a great way to kickstart and cultivate your lead relationships with a minimum of effort from the salon owner. But there’s no substitute for real, genuine, human interaction. A great drip marketing campaign can help the owner know where to spend her time, collecting and then pre-qualifying email leads based on interest and engagement. Then, she can follow up directly and personally with only the most engaged customers to help close the sale.

Kiss your scattershot marketing goodbye.

Too often, small business owners make sincere efforts to market their businesses any way to any one. Often, this translates to spending valuable time pursuing leads that don’t pan out. If you know your market and your business, we can help you pair a great landing page with an equally effective email marketing campaign to help you make the most of your marketing time and money. Let a good drip marketing campaign be the sweet attraction for your services, and then spend your time where it matters most.

Eat Through Your Creative Blocks

In this series of posts, we’re exploring ways around the different types of blocks to your creative work, whether they are physical, mental, or emotional. In this post, we’ll dive into some ways to get around, or take advantage of fatigue, poor health, or otherwise physical states of being.

Know your Enemy

When you embark on a creative project or task, it’s important to understand what you need out of the moment. Are you suffering from creative block, where you can’t seem to come up with new ideas? Or, are you having a hard time executing those ideas, perhaps instead suffering from lack of productivity. If you’re producing something creative, did it occur to you that these blocks could be distinct? Do you have a timeline that allows you to separate them?

A recent study at Albion college points to evidence that you might actually be more creative when you’re tired. Sound amazing? Consider that fatigue acts as a dampener for your rational brain and its ability to hone in on specific information. You might not focus well. You might get a lot of stray thoughts marching through the middle of your attempts at work. Killer for staying on task. But when it comes to generating out-of-the-box ideas, your brain needs a party of thoughts – the more the merrier. Feeling underslept? Don’t seize the blanket. Seize the moment and make time to generate ideas for future creative work.

creative-brain This is your brain. This is your brain on creativity.

Powering through Productivity Blocks

So you’ve taken advantage of what seemed like your worst working time to do some creative idea-generating. Great! Now you just need to move on to doing something about those ideas. Here are some tips for getting from sluggish to finished task or product:

  • Your brain is not a mystical wellspring of thought inside your cranium. It’s a muscle, and it’s part of the larger, self-equalizing system in your body. Feed it accordingly. There’s no way to tell your body to direct your healthy lunch to fuel your brain and your chip-and-soda-snack-fiasco to power your appendix instead. Try to give your body a diet that avoids the drastic ups and downs of carb or sugar loading.
  • Learn your body rhythms. In a small journal, take a day and write down your energy level, hunger, focus, and mood each hour. Get a generalized idea of what your best times are, and if you can, plan your your creative and your productive work for the appropriate times.
  • What’s that you say? Too late for the above? Okay, sure. Here are some quick-fix ideas.
    • Take a 20 minute nap (and don’t forget to set a timer).
    • Have a cup of coffee or tea. Better yet, have a large glass of ice water.
    • Do 5-10 minutes of stretching or exercise.  A great way to incorporate both is to try a Sun Salutation yoga series.
  • Still feeling the blergh, but need to get a move on? Help yourself work at a lower level. Set small milestones to limp along the process. “And now I’m going to choose my topic. And now I’m going to list 3 elements about my topic (or choose color, style, and tool). And now I’m going to add detail to the first element.”
  • Check your environment. Is your music a nice background or a rocking distraction? Is your space in a high-traffic area? Is it too cluttered? Chair too comfortable? Not comfortable enough?  Don’t ignore the small annoyances if they take fewer than 5 minutes to fix.

What methods do you use to power through creative block?

Building with Creative Blocks

Here at Design Break Studios, we never suffer from creative block. Every time we sit down to do our work, it is as if a quiet hush falls over the land. The inspiration fairies come out to play, and from our collaborations, works of pure genius are born.

Sound fantastic, right? That’s because it is…a fantasy. We get creative block as often as you do, maybe even more, given the number of opportunities to get creative block when one’s field is creative by nature. For us, each day can mean the challenge of an unfamiliar subject matter, a different style of design, or different project constraints to consider.

We find that the key to defeating creative block is less about avoidance and more about resilience. So, you find yourself staring at a blank screen or piece of paper, unsure where to head next? In this post, we look at some of the causes of creative block to help you get you over the hump and on to creating.

 

 

Know your Enemy

Fortunately for us, creative block is not an unstoppable force of nature. It typically stems from one or more sources, which can be identified and addressed.  Perhaps you don’t know much about your subject. Maybe you don’t feel like you have a compelling angle. Perhaps you’re concerned that you won’t be able to come up with something that meets your standards.  Are you stressed or overworked? Even the twin devils of procrastination and distraction play a role in stopping up the creative flow.

Before you get discouraged by creative block and decide to try again later, ask yourself what it is that is preventing you from moving forward. Often, it’s a simple enough obstacle to remove. Possibly, your block won’t dissolve with time. Then, you find yourself unnecessarily stressed because you waited for inspiration to strike, instead of tackling your block when you had more time.

We feel that creative blocks typically fall into one of three categories: physical, mental, or emotional.  In the next few posts, we look at each type and offer some practical long and short-term tips for overcoming them.

Take the Challenge: You, Yes, You

Calling all bloggers, artists, business owners, managers and team leaders, teachers, and thought-leaders-in-training! This next bit is for you. Stretch your creative muscles with us.

 

santas-new-ride

Travel a new way.

 

For the month of December, we will be exploring the various kinds of creative blocks and some ideas to overcome them. Then, to help kick your new year off correctly, we will be hosting a 30-day challenge to help boost your creative skills. Each day we will post a creativity exercise to help you explore solutions to your own personal hurdles.

We’ll keep them open-ended and varied, so that you could apply the challenges to a broad range of issues, from writers block to design blahs to overcoming a business strategy snag. We’ll do our best to keep them brief: things that can be accomplished in less than half an hour, while still giving you a meaningful boost in the right direction. We’ll make them interactive; we believe that you can inspire us, too!

There will be prizes! Each week, there will be a prize winner, randomly selected from the comments on the week’s posts. The prizes will be announced each week, so stay tuned to figure out the week’s loot!

How to see the challenge posts and participate:

Like us on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.
Sign up for our mailing list.

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