Your business’ brand may be your most important sales tool. Brand awareness refers to how well customers, and the public in general, remember your business and relate to it positively or negatively. In this article, I’ll share numerous brand awareness strategies and how they can be implemented with your website.
In my guide to search engine optimization with WordPress, I discussed the importance of backlinks in Google rankings. Backlinks are driven by the power of your brand. More generally, your brand keeps you top of mind and encourages repeat business. In many cases, companies piggyback on the brand power of larger ones, such as those who sell products through a well known retailer, or are featured by a popular media channel. First, let’s look at the underlying rule of brand awareness.
Know, Like, Trust
I covered this rule in my Instagram marketing article, but it pays review it again. The “Know, Like, Trust” rule is the foundation of building a brand and generating sales. The public needs to first know who you and your business are through advertising and/or word of mouth. Next, they need to have a favorable opinion of you. Lastly, they need to be certain your business will meet their needs.
The brand awareness strategies I’ll share fall under distinct categories, but they can happen at more than one of the “Know, Like, Trust” steps. This is because marketing is a continuous job, and you’ll be simultaneously communicating to leads at different stages in the funnel.
1. Be Shareable
Word of mouth is the oldest marketing strategy of all, but technology gives us new ways of carrying it out. In the early days of Facebook, it was simple to share news articles, promotions, and events. These days, Facebook’s newsfeed seems to restrict everything except memes from being shared, all so businesses pay money for advertising. Luckily, there are still workarounds such as posting to groups, tagging friends in posts, and sharing links through direct messaging.
People need a reason to spread the word about you. You can post valuable blog content, have a great deal, or offer them a bonus if they tell their friends. Affiliate marketing is the practice of offering content creators a sales commission of products. Bloggers, Podcasters, and YouTubers include links to sites where visitors can buy something. If you follow that marketer’s link to the sales page, the marketer will earn a percentage of the sale. It’s something I take part in for digital products I trust. If you build an e-commerce website in WordPress, or sell downloads or memberships, there are affiliate marketing plugins that integrate with your sales apps.
One of the most basic ways people can share your brand is to include social sharing links in your blog articles. Facebook may be the biggest player in social media, but it’s far from the only one. You may be a member of Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, Minds, or YouTube, to name just a few. When readers follow the links from those networks to your page, you should include calls-to-action to join an email list, contact your business, or go to your sales page.
Advertising is perhaps the most proactive brand strategy, and it’s one we all know about. Is it worthwhile in the Internet Age? I would say the value of traditional advertising is gradually decreasing. Older forms of media like t.v., radio, and print are losing ground with young people, and people who spend time online have less and less patience with ads. Ads are usually seen as the price of using free platforms. Tech companies who rely on ads for revenue play tug-of-war with ad-blocker apps, with each side trying to outsmart the other’s programming. Content creators like YouTubers and news organizations are earning less money from ads, so they’re less likely to include them.
It sounds bad for paid advertising, but that’s only if you define it as commercials, pop-ups, and space in the newspaper. The smart brands adapt to the changing culture. Online, it’s acceptable for companies to sponsor content creators, such as influencers, and pay them to pitch for them inside their posts. Influencers don’t even need to be worldwide celebrities, they just need to be respected inside their communities. Integrity goes a long way, and audiences hate sellouts, so the value of your product needs to be clearly articulated by your influencers.
If you run a local business and don’t mind driving around to get the word out, you can drop off small print materials. These include business cards, fliers, and brochures. They can be pinned to community bulletin boards, taped to lampposts, and placed inside waiting rooms- the idea is to be seen where people are already looking for information, or trying to pass the time. Your print items should grab people’s attention, then direct them to your website for more information. Your site should be mobile-friendly so they can look you up right away.
3. Give Value Up Front
This category of strategies is not up for debate; it is where you fulfill the “Like” and “Trust” steps. There are abundant real world examples of businesses that succeed by freely offering value before transactions. They prove ahead of time they are pro-consumer, and their audiences choose to purchase out of appreciation.
A common example of up front value in the digital space is the “freemium” business model. This is common with mobile apps, software as a service, and WordPress plugins. An application will have a free version that someone can try out and get comfortable with, then they’ll be enticed to purchase upgrades over time. The outrageously popular online game Fortnite is free to play, but its developers make money by selling in-game costumes for players’ characters. Fortnite focuses on its multiplayer game experience, and players express themselves through the paid costumes.
In the WordPress space, the best example of the freemium model is the runaway success of Elementor. Elementor is a page builder plugin that lets a user design a website any way they want. Its free version is the most feature-rich on the market, giving it great publicity. When the paid version eventually arrived, users saw it was extra-advanced.
For service businesses, a tried-and-true method of up front value is a blog. This is where you demonstrate knowledge in your field. You can also record videos or podcasts. When you educate people in a respectful manner, they’ll remember your brand. This can work in retail as well. Hy-Vee, the largest grocery store chain in my home state, publishes free magazines with recipes and lifestyle articles. It’s also common for Hy-Vee stores to have registered dietitians on staff, who host in-store tours and classes on healthy eating.
In these days when Facebook throttles the organic reach of businesses, the most reliable way to engage your audience is through email. To build an email subscriber list, it’s customary to offer a free gift, called a “lead magnet,” in exchange for people’s contact information. It’s best if a lead magnet is a digital product like a short ebook or PDF full of information. It can also be a discount, a free trial, or a video presentation. Your lead magnet is a rare instance when paid advertising is relevant; advertise your free offer, link to the landing/squeeze page, and continue the relationship-building outside of social media and Google.
You should continue giving value up front with your emails. These can be links to your latest blog posts, but they can also be shorter pieces or links to other people’s articles. The unofficial email marketing etiquette is to send 3 emails with useful content, and have every 4th email be a sales pitch.
4. Build A Community
Email marketing is one surefire way to engage your followers, but forming a community or group of customers has the added benefit of letting them give you feedback. You can form a Facebook group and promote it through your blogs, videos, ads, and/or emails. If you prefer to do it away from the social media giant, you can try LinkedIn, Reddit, or add a forum to your own website. In WordPress, the plugin to use is BBPress.
If you would like to make a local group that meets in person, a great resource is Meetup.com. Book a space to meet, and announce your get-together on Meetup ahead of time. You can have round table discussions with like-minded individuals, or host classes based on your expertise. This is similar to the Hy-Vee dietitians’ events.
When people feel they’re included in your community, they’ll appreciate your business more. This is a great venue to provide customer service and address their concerns. This is also a ready-made focus group that will help tailor your marketing message and bring in more clients.
5. Have A Brand Personality
Mainly, by having a brand personality, your business is relatable to human beings. Large companies rely on mascots or executive leaders to represent them, and smaller businesses define their personalities through a closer-knit team. There’s a widespread political stance that corporations aren’t people, but we should remember that corporations are made of people trying to get by. It helps that in a free market economy, there are multiple companies with diverse value sets, so employees and customers can get behind the ones they agree with individually.
Investopedia lists 5 main types of brand personalities: Excitement, Sincerity, Ruggedness, Competence, and Sophistication (Investopedia: “Brand Personality”). Different personalities are suitable for different industries. As a marketing consultant for other businesses, I hope to align with the sincerity and competence categories.
The Balance Small Business has a guide to defining brand identity, with 9 questions to ask yourself (“9 Steps To Developing A Brand Identity”). They deal with your target market and company values. You should also consider what emotions you evoke in people.
6. Tell A Story
Today, most people know the informative power of stories. Brand storytelling is just what it sounds like- telling tales that reflect your brand personality, values, and product offerings. There are many types of stories to use in your marketing, and they tie together nicely with the other brand awareness strategies discussed here.
The Huffington Post gives us 4 real world examples of brand storytelling and the reasons they work (read, “4 Fantastic Examples of Brand Storytelling.”) The first is High Brew Coffee, and how the founder was inspired to start his company after touring the Caribbean, as told on its website. This gives us a look at brand personality. Next is BeardBrand, which started as a blog and YouTube channel about men’s grooming products, and inspired its own line. Here, the business grew its community of viewers and responded to their requests.
Next in HuffPo’s article is the popular Blue Apron. On Blue Apron’s website is a page about their mission statement, and they relate the complicated food supply chain from farmers to markets in the modern day. They want to make it simpler and more economical, thereby inspiring their customers who share their values. The last company mentioned in the article is WeddingWire. WeddingWire is a hub for wedding supply vendors, planners, and venue booking. They feature a blog with behind the scenes stories, showing the human side of the business.
Storytelling can go towards giving up front value through information. Testimonials by existing customers make great stories, too; you can ask your community for them, which will have even more power than your own.
A great brand depends on more than a logo and a slogan. It’s not cut-and-dried, and there’s no single formula that will work for everyone. But like the wind, your business’ brand can move the world around it with surprising power. I hope this overview inspired you. If you’d like personalized help with your Internet marketing, go to my Services page through the link below.
Good WordPress SEO starts with good hosting. A web host is any company or network that runs servers, which are computers that your website exists on. A good host will make your site load fast for your visitors, which is a key ranking factor. I personally recommend the hosting company SiteGround, and I have friends who have good experience with InMotion. You can sign up for SiteGround hosting through this affiliate link: Get SiteGround
“SSL” stands for “secure socket layer” and such a certificate encrypts your visitors’ data, protecting it from hackers. This is crucial if you’re collecting email addresses, or credit card info through your online store. Today, web browsers will tell you if a site is secured by an SSL with a padlock icon in the URL box.
Fortunately, SiteGround partners with a non-profit group called Let’s Encrypt to provide free SSL certificates. Let’s Encrypt is available through most other hosts as well. When you have an account with a web host, you can access the control panel page, find the Let’s Encrypt link, and assign an SSL to your site.
After you get your hosting account, you can install WordPress either by clicking the “QuickInstall” link and selecting WordPress as the builder, or there may be a dedicated WordPress link in the control panel. Because WordPress is so ubiquitous among bloggers, web designers, and businesses, most mainstream hosting companies make it easy to set up.
When WordPress is installed on your site, you need a theme and page builder plugin to design the appearance. My favorite themes are Astra, GeneratePress, and Divi. Divi is a paid theme that you buy from Elegant Themes, and has its own proprietary page builder system. Astra and GeneratePress are freely available in the WordPress theme repository, although they have paid versions with advanced features. Astra and GeneratePress let you use any page builder plugin, and I recommend either Beaver Builder or Elementor.
Astra has a handy feature called Astra Starter Sites that lets you upload pre-made websites that utilize Beaver Builder and Elementor. Divi has a massive collection of layout packs that you can upload. The great thing about the pre-made templates in these themes is that they’re completely customizable. You can delete, resize, re-color, and rearrange sections of pages through these builders.
The 2 most important considerations for a theme, in SEO terms, are loading speed and whether it’s mobile friendly. Divi, GeneratePress, and Astra have been tested by many bloggers and web designers, and are trusted for their loading times. These themes and builders use responsive web design, meaning the objects on pages resize and rearrange to fit the screens of mobile devices. This makes them suitable for desktops, tablets, and smartphones.
When you log into WordPress, you’ll enter the Dashboard and see the menu items on the left side. Under “Settings,” there are 2 important sections, “Reading” and “Permalinks.” On the Reading page, make sure the box by “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is not checked. In Permalinks, select the option “Post Name.” This makes the url of your sub pages and posts include the page and post names, which the search engines prefer to display in search results.
SEO Plugin: Rank Math
Your site needs an SEO plugin. Plugins are applications that extend the functionality of your WordPress site, and there are a few popular and up-and-coming plugins that aid you in search. For many years, Yoast has been the industry standard SEO plugin, but I recommend an exciting new one called Rank Math. Rank Math has probably the most complete feature set in SEO for FREE! Its paid version is still in development as of this writing.
In the left side menu, go to “Plugins,” and click the sub menu “Add New.” You can look up Rank Math in the WordPress Repository and install it on your site. Rank Math will ask you to create a profile on its own developer’s site, then enable you to use its “Setup Wizard.” The first step in the Wizard ist to enter in your site’s name, logo, and other identifiers. I’ll go over the next Setup Wizard steps in the following sections.
Google Search Console
Rank Math will prompt you to create a Google Search Console profile if you don’t have one already. Google Search Console is a Google service that guides you in improving your site’s searchability. In your Google Search Console profile, click on “Add Property” and type in your site’s domain or url. Google Search Console has its own setup sequence that’s cut and dried, and you’ll eventually verify ownership of your site. Rank Math will give you a line of code to paste into Search Console, then Google and your site will match up.
An XML sitemap is a file that you submit to search engines, that tells the engines which pages and posts you want to be found. Rank Math will generate a sitemap for you after you select the settings. You can copy the link code to the sitemap file, and submit it to Google in the Search Console.
The next step in Rank Math Setup is “SEO Tweaks.” It’s fine to keep the default setting, but read the descriptions under each setting to understand what they do. Next is the “Ready” step, from which you can return to your normal WordPress Dashboard, but you can continue on to the “Advanced Options.” The 404 and Redirect steps are related, and you can set it up so Rank Math notifies you when external links to your site are broken. You can have those broken links sent to new pages in the future.
The final Setup Wizard page, titled “Miscellaneous,” includes a very important feature called Rich Snippets. Here you can enable rich snippets on different pages, blog posts, products, and more. Snippets are data about your page structured in a way to easily display in Google Search Results. They’re free in Rank Math, which is a huge reason I want you to use this plugin.
After the Miscellaneous page, you’ll go back to the WordPress dashboard. You can go back to the Rank Math setup wizard any time and make changes.
When you’re writing blog articles and content for your pages (using your chosen theme and page builder,) you need to include words and terms that web surfers are looking for. There are a few free tools that will let you see how many searches different keywords launch, and their levels of competition. There is Google’s own Keyword Planner tool. I’ve been using a browser extension called Keywords Everywhere that shows the same data on Google’s own search results pages. There is also Ubersuggest, developed by SEO and marketing guru Neil Patel and available on his website.
Conducting keyword research will give you ideas for your next blog article, and show you what your competitors are doing well with. You should examine the top ranking pages under different keywords and find gaps in their information- gaps you can fill and rank for yourself! You can go on YouTube and listen to Neil Patel’s advice for finding content ideas with Ubersuggest.
On Page SEO
When Rank Math is installed on your website, a special section appears at the bottom of your page and post editing screens. There are 4 tabs in the Rank Math section, “General,” “Advanced,” “Rich Snippet,” and “Social.”
Under the General tab, you can edit the way your Google Search Result will look. It should say things you think your clients will find relevant. Below the Search Result editor, you can enter the keywords you want the page to rank for. Rank Math lets you use multiple keywords for free, while other SEO plugins save this for their premium versions. Below the keywords box, there are boxes with suggestions to make your page’s or post’s content better. These are helpful if you’re new to writing optimized content, but don’t stress out and try to get a perfect rating. It’s more important to write naturally in a way regular humans can relate to.
Under the Advanced tab, you can check boxes for “robots meta tag” values. These are factors that the search engines “crawl” and know to rank your site for. To keep it simple, check only “Index” box, because the other boxes restrict what Google can crawl. Below the robots meta tags, you can set the “canonical url.” If you have more than one page or website with identical content, this is where you tell Google that this page is what you want to be found. Below this, is the “redirect” section. If you ever change a page’s url, Google or other websites with links to the old url would get an error page. You need to redirect old links to your new url, and you set that url here.
Under the Rich Snippets tag, you can create the snippets for that page. A rich snippet is a markup that makes your content easier to index by the search engines, as well as display relevant data in search results. Rank Math gives us a handy form that makes these snippets and is easy to fill out.
The Social tab is where you set how your page links appear in Facebook and Twitter posts. This makes them easier to share and more enticing to click on.
There’s a debate whether you should allow a comments section in your blog posts. Comments are a sign of audience engagement, which Google favors. Unfortunately, the section is an easy target for spammers. There are so many sketchy marketers, hackers, and bots posting junk that some bloggers don’t bother to curate them, and turn the comments section off. If you do allow comments, use the Akismet plugin. Akismet will automatically curate comments based on your settings. Either use Akismet or don’t allow comments; the risks and rewards are balanced, so no one would judge you on your choice.
Long Form Content: The Longer the Post, the Better
When you write blog articles, the ideal length is between 1200 and 3000 words. Search Engine Journal says, “Average content length for Page 1 results is around 1,900 words, according to a 2016 study. That’s a lot longer than the 200- or 500-word blog posts most writers or webmasters think is ideal.” The point is that the article should be full of resources and valuable information. My free ebook, “Be True, Cut Through,” tells you how to write a sufficiently long article in a timely manner.
Headings (not to be confused with website headers) are text formats that are bolder and larger than regular text, that act as titles for sections of text, and have special value for search engines. Headings help organize your blog posts and pages, which is good for search engines and vision impaired visitors who use screen reader apps to listen to text.
Heading text have 6 levels of strength, Heading 1 being the most powerful and Heading 6 being the least. You can assign heading levels in WordPress by highlighting the text and selecting the level in the WordPress editor. Page builders have text modules where you can set headings, too.
Heading 1 should be used only once per page or post, as the main title of that page. The other levels are for groups of paragraphs covering a subtopic. Think of them similar to outline subjects, with certain topics placed under other overall topics.
It helps to include your keywords in some of the headings. Rank Math will suggest this, but again, it’s more important that your text reads naturally to humans.
Eliminate Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is when your website’s content is copied elsewhere, on your site or someone else’s. This is a big problem for search engines since they don’t know which copy of the content to rank. It’s also a sign of plagiarism, unless the original source is given credit and linked.
Some duplicate content within your own site is acceptable. This is when you display excerpts of your blog posts on other pages. The team at Yoast wrote a helpful article for finding duplicate content: Yoast- “What is Duplicate Content?”
Backlinks are links from other sites to yours. This is a huge factor in search rankings because it’s a sign of your site’s authority. Backlinks aren’t something you can create yourself because other people have to bestow them. Getting backlinks has more to do with building relationships than anything technical. This is where your brand and reputation come into play. Read my guide to building brand awareness here.
There are strategies for earning backlinks. They include guest posting on other websites; forming networks with related businesses and sharing audiences; utilizing journalism websites like Help A Reporter Out, offering tips to reporters and bloggers (they should give you credit as a source). You can find more strategies in my ebook Be True, Cut Through.
Internal links are links between pages and posts within your own website, and they help Google crawl your site better. Again, we turn to Neil Patel for advice.
Patel’s first rule is to have a lot of content. He says not to worry about an organized hierarchy of pages like other experts recommend, just link pages and articles that logically relate to each other. Second, links should be in the form of “anchor text.” This is just text that plainly describes where the link goes to. Remember your blind visitors and make it easy for them to know through their page reader apps.
Third, don’t include a lot of links to your homepage, “Contact” page, or any top tier page that’s included in your top menu. The menu links should be enough. DO link to other blog posts or less-visited pages. These are called deep links. Neil’s fourth rule is to use links that are natural and provide value to the reader. This is related to the 1st rule. The point here is to keep visitors engaged and on your site.
Fifth, links should be between related pages. It makes no sense to link between a post about credit cards and a post about vintage guitars, unless you’re telling readers how to buy vintage guitars. The sixth rule is to use “follow” links. Follow links are ones that search engines can read. You can set links as no follow if the page content is meant to be exclusive. In general though, follow links help Google crawl your site. The seventh and final rule Patel gives us is to use a reasonable number of internal links. There’s no set rule to how many are enough or too much- just make it useful to the visitor.
As I said in the last section, follow and no follow links signal whether search engines can crawl between pages. In the past, SEO pros and webmasters would make links to other sites no follow. This was a competitive tactic to keep the engines focused on one’s own site. Today, sources like Search Engine Land say no follow external links are just selfish and hurt your site’s SEO. The idea should be to allow the free flow of visitor traffic and Google’s tracking.
Read More Links
“Read More” links are commonly buttons linking to a full blog post or a page dedicated to one topic. These are another example of internal links and will help your rankings. These aren’t mentioned in Neil Patel’s article, but enough people ask about them to make them worth a mention.
Improve Page Load Time
If your web pages take more than 2 seconds to load, visitors are tempted to leave. This is a bad sign to Google. There are ways to improve your site’s load time. The main factor, which I’ve already mentioned, is your host. See my recommendations above. The next most important thing is the size of your images. Image files can be compressed with plugins like WP Smush. I also like the free website TinyPNG.com.
Images are another attack vector for gaining search traffic. Google Image Search is its own category, and if you have a gallery of your business space, portfolio, or pictures of your recent events, you should optimize them.
WordPress includes a section in its Dashboard menu called “Library.” This is where you can upload images (which are compressed, I hope) and assign data to them. You should fill out the boxes on the right side of each image file in the Library screen. Give your images names, captions, tags, and descriptions. Descriptions are a big help to our vision impaired friends, because those are what their screen readers will speak out when the mouse arrow is hovered over images.
If your website has malware, Google will blacklist it, so let’s go over WordPress security. This is a major topic all on its own, so I’ll focus on the most important steps in this article. I already told you about SSL certificates, but here are some more common sense measures.
The first safeguard to your WordPress site is protecting your Dashboard login info. When you first install WordPress through your hosting service, you need to select a username and password that is complex. SiteGround does a good job telling you whether a password is strong. The most common hacking technique of WordPress sites is “brute force” attacks. This is where bots automatically fill your login with random words and phrases, trying to guess your login.
The three most popular WordPress security plugins, in my estimation, are Sucuri, WordFence, and IThemes. I personally use IThemes, but the other two are great as well. These plugins can limit the number of login attempts allowed. You can also get plugins to enable two-factor authentication, security questions, and Captcha.
The next main security measure is to update your WordPress theme and plugins regularly. Whenever you log into your Dashboard, check the upper left area for any update notifications. Hackers can find exploits in older versions of your WordPress assets and sneak in through them. The developers of your themes and plugins, and WordPress itself, very often make security patches to prevent this. Updating WordPress is easy- just go to the Updates page and click the button. If you have a Managed WordPress hosting service, this can be done for you automatically. If you have a continuing relationship with your web designer, he or she can do this as part of their ongoing maintenance.
Third, you should have a backup system. If your site is ever hacked, you can have your web host delete it, then restore it with a backup from before the infection. Most hosting companies offer a backup service, but it’s wise to have a separate system as well. You should get the plugin UpDraftPlus and connect it to a 3rd party storage service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Amazon’s cloud service.
SEO for local business has special requirements in addition to everything I already mentioned.
This is short for, Name, Address, and Phone Number. These should be included in either the header or footer sections of your website. The point is to make this information available on every page of your site. It’s good to add a code to your phone number so visitors can dial it by tapping on it on their smartphones.
Google My Business:
This is one of the most powerful tools in local SEO you can use. If you already have a Gmail account, go to google.com/business and sign in. You’ll need to claim your business and web address, complete the profile with your business name, address, phone number, business hours, photos, business logo, and so on. Complete as many fields in the profile as are relevant. You’ll need to request a verification postcard to arrive in your snail mail to verify you are the owner or admin of this business.
Google My Business will make your business eligible to appear in the Map Pack, which appears in the search results page for businesses in your area. It enables customers and clients to post reviews. Reviews are a huge factor in your rankings in the map pack and search results in general, so offer great service and ask your previous clients for positive comments. Your business’ physical location is especially important in local search for visitors using their mobile devices. Google will likely rank you higher if you’re closer to that searcher’s phone.
As you can see, there’s a lot to do when making your WordPress site search engine ready. I wrote this as a guide to beginners and business owners who work in other industries besides web marketing. I’ve provided several resources through links and affiliate offers. If you would like more personalized assistance, check out my Services page at the link below, then reach out to me. I’m based in Iowa but open to anyone in the United States.
The news broke late in April that Instagram is likely hiding the public “Like” count from posts. The plan is being tested in Canada, in which only users can see how many Instagram likes a post earns from followers. It’s causing an uproar among popular influencers and the companies who sponsor them. This leads us to a discussion of what genuine engagement looks like, and the importance of social proof in business and sales.
What We Know So Far
This article by Later.com summarizes what is known about the program so far. If you’re an Instagram user, you will be able to see how many likes your posts receive, but your followers won’t. Even then, you’ll need to click an additional link under your post to see your likes total.
Mark Zuckerberg himself, CEO of Instagram’s parent company Facebook, has said he wants users to post authentic content without dwelling on the number of likes, which are inauthentic and draw users into a competition; “We want people to be less interested in how many likes a post gets, and focus more on connecting with other people.”
The biggest block of users affected by this change, from a business standpoint, are the “influencers.” Influencers are the ones who build huge followings, then land sponsorships from companies to recommend their products. Almost everyone agrees that the Like count on posts are easy to fake, and don’t fully reflect what followers really feel about them. However, they’re the easiest metric to measure.
The Later.com article goes on to say:
“In 2019, brands care more about reach and engagement rate than they do followers, so without the ability to publicly view an influencer’s likes (aka their engagement), it could make it harder to gauge how engaged their community is. Suddenly, a good influencer media kit is now deemed essential.
“Lia Haberman, formerly VP Audience Development at Livestrong, notes that hidden likes could result in a spending shift away from influencer marketing and towards paid advertising on Instagram. ‘This will likely increase the amount of ads as brands look for more exposure and make it difficult for anyone but established influencers to get a foot-hold.’”
In my previous article about Instagram marketing, I emphasized that paid advertising and sponsorships are only beneficial to large companies, and that small businesses and the self-employed are better off using organic reach. I also cautioned, referencing some experts, not to “buy” followers or likes, because such metrics aren’t real and will disappear once you stop paying the companies providing them.
Indeed, when I search for “Instagram likes” in Google, over half of the first page results are for those sketchy firms selling likes. Instagram and Facebook have long wanted to crack down on the practice, and the new change is probably the way they do it.
Reactions from users other than influencers are very positive. Social media has long been blamed for self-esteem problems. From a CNN article: “‘Likes are powerful because they are immediate feedback,’ said Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University. ‘In a way, likes give you the same kind of hit like a gambler gets at a slot machine.'”
Comparison, envy, and insincerity are facts of life on Instagram. Although its content is overwhelmingly positive compared to Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy to feel inadequate looking at someone else’s beautifully presented feed. It’s easy to forget that everyone cherry-picks the best parts of their day, and their best selfies, to share on the network. The rest their everyday lives may be filled with struggle and heartbreak.
Also, without the pressure to compete for likes, users will be free to post more authentic and creative posts. I first heard the news about the hidden likes from YouTuber Roberto Blake. Blake feels that followers’ comments are a much better indicator of a post’s influence. There is much more information in comments than in likes. Influencers can still share their profile analytics with brand sponsors, so they needn’t worry too much about their careers.
Blake also says removing public likes will make it easier for smaller users to break out. Often, if users see that a post has a huge number of likes already, it will gain even more through a bandwagon mentality. It’s too easy for a lucky few influencers to dominate the platform. This opens up a discussion about social proof that I’ll get to later.
“Likes” On Other Platforms
Blake goes on to suggest that YouTube get rid of its own likes display in key sections of its site. When visitors see that a video has a large number of likes and views from the homepage, they judge it to be quality content before actually viewing it. It’s a lazy way to search for content, and punishes newer, smaller channels trying to break out in the same way it happens on Instagram.
Let’s go over likes, as well as reviews on other social media platforms and online marketplaces. As a WordPress user, I see reviews all the time when I’m looking for a new plugin to use. Plugins are made by 3rd party developers and are available in the WordPress Repository. They add functionality to the sites I make for myself and clients.
Plugins in the Repository have scores, written reviews, and numbers showing how many times they’ve already been downloaded. I confess, I’ve sometimes chosen one plugin over another because more people use it, but it’s beneficial to look at the scores and read what other people say about them. Some plugins become runaway hits thanks to word of mouth and the social proof shown in the repository display.
Amazon works in much the same way. It allows for customers to write reviews of products. It’s good marketing to convince initial users to write favorable reviews, which encourages more people to buy that product and tell Amazon’s algorithm to feature higher in the search results, or even the homepage.
How Social Proof Helps Your Business
When you launch a product or service, you need an initial marketing push, then you need early customers and reviewers to say nice things about it. Since the start of 2019, I’ve studied why certain companies become huge while most others struggle. I’ve learned that the successful ones create a feedback loop of satisfied customers, good reviews, increased trust in the brand, more satisfied customers, and on and on.
What Businesses Should Do
With Instagram hiding the public likes from its feed, marketplaces should now reconsider what kind social proof is presented. Whether on Amazon or in YouTube, it doesn’t always benefit the customer to see what’s popular. A product or article should meet customers’ individual needs. I feel Google Search is better at finding relevant content for users. And content is the key. Going back to Roberto Blake’s preference for user comments, we can learn much more about creation from the audience’s words than a binary response such as like or dislike.
User reviews tell us the “how” and “why” of business’ benefits. If you’re having a website built for your small business or your digital product, get some testimonials from previous clients, or ask them to review you on Google or Facebook. There are WordPress plugins that let visitors write reviews right on your own site, or import them from other platforms.
Fighting The 80/20 Rule
There is a lot of talk about income inequality and what to do about it. Political commentators fret over how to increase opportunity for everyone besides the “1%.” The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, says that 80% of wealth is held by 20% of people. That 20% are the ones who stumble on just the right feedback loop to grow their customer base. I don’t agree with wealth redistribution because it’s code for communism, but I do feel that regular folks need a better chance at prosperity. Without the strict number value of likes, and more focus on qualitative comments, we can promote individualism and diversity in the marketplace.
The best Instagram marketing strategy is to think of it as part of a larger sales funnel. Use Instagram (or any other social network) to build an audience and brand, then periodically refer followers to another web page to collect leads.
Whether you make money as a paid influencer, an affiliate marketer, or by promoting your company, your Instagram marketing usually needs to link to an outside website. Instagram is most useful for marketing products, but service businesses can also use it by sharing information, showing off expertise, and building audience trust. Here are 3 steps for marketing on Instagram
1: Link to a Landing Page in Your Bio
Even though you need to link to an outside page, Instagram is link-averse compared to other social networks. You can’t link inside a post, although you can type a url and hope viewers take the time to type it in their browsers. Instagram Stories allow for links, but Stories are only available temporarily. Therefore, it’s best to have a landing page link in your profile bio.
This page can be any number of things. I recommend that it has an email opt-in with a lead magnet. A lead magnet a free information product, discount code, or some other affordable offer that entices a visitor to enter his or her email address in return. You can then continue to engage with them through email marketing.
Another type of page can be the sales page, where you directly invite the visitor to buy your product, a sponsor’s product, or sign up for a sales call. I’ll discuss when to promote your sales page later, but keep in mind it has to be for something you want to sell over and over for weeks or months at a time. It would be tedious resetting your bio’s link if you want to promote multiple pages in a short time frame.
2: Build Your Audience Organically
If you’re a small business or self-employed individual, it’s better to grow your following organically than pay for ads or use Instagram Promotion. Paid ads are only worthwhile if you market for a large enterprise company. These organizations have the money to spend, and sell at such a scale that they can experiment and find the return-on-investment sweet spot. Many bloggers and YouTubers report that when they try paid Instagram Promotion, they only earn single to double digit new followers, which they could have easily brought on for free.
Lau starts with an often overlooked idea, optimizing your profile name for search. If you include your profession or title in your profile name, it’s more likely you’ll be found when users search for it as a topic.
Next, Lau teaches us about content creation, where she stresses the “Know, Like, Trust” rule. Whatever you post on Instagram, you should first make people aware of you, then be entertaining enough that they enjoy your posts, then be useful enough they trust what you say. You can do keyword research to see what topics are trending, then create visuals encapulating those ideas (learn the art of the meme!) You need to find out what your target audience cares about, and deliver.
Don’t skimp on the captions. Lau treats them as miniature blogs. Think of your pictures as billboards to capture users’ attention, then engage them with a caption where you share ideas in text. Treat captions like you would Facebook posts. Lau likes to show some vulnerability so followers can relate to her.
Here are some rules when using hashtags. Mix the sizes, meaning use some that have giant numbers of hits, as well as smaller niche ones. In fact, niche hashtags should make up 80% of your total. Also, don’t use the same hashtags over and over, since Instagram would think these are spam. Lau likes to use 4 or 5 groups of hashtags, saved in a memo or text app on her phone, that she can rotate.
Finally you must engage with the community. This is a lot of work, but it’s where you show you’re a real human person. You can do this by responding to their comments on your posts, commenting on their posts, and direct messaging followers who consistently engage with you. In fact, direct messaging is another opportunity to link to your sales page, which I’ll discuss in the next section.
3: Post Your Sales Pitches Sparingly
As I said before, Instagram is only the beginning of your sales funnel. Your job here is building trust and relationships. Only a small percentage of your audience will convert into clients. This is especially true given Instagram’s algorithm, in that not everyone sees every post you share. Instagram marketing should be treated similar to blogging and as a long term effort.
This doesn’t mean you can’t link to your landing page often, if that landing page is for building your email list. You’ll have a much easier time selling to your email subscribers, because if they’ve made the effort to click your bio link and enter their addresses, they’re more engaged. It’s easier to link to sales pages, with multiple offers, in an email than in Instagram.
The point is, Instagram should only rarely be the platform you make a sales pitch. With email marketing, the common rule is to send 3 emails with content, then link to a sales page on the 4th. With Instagram, I would wait at least twice as long.
I mentioned direct messaging your followers, and this is a long game as well. I know I hate DM’s from people I’ve only connected with a day ago, asking me to hire them. Oddly, they all want to make websites for me when that’s MY profession! When you DM someone, you should start by asking questions about their industry and what troubles them. I’m reminded of high-ticket sales master Dan Lok, who says deals are made by listening, not talking. Again, you need to learn what other people care about so you can sell them solutions.
In my book “Be True, Cut Through: Practical Digital Marketing For Small Businesses,” I take a dim view of social media giants Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is still the king of social media, but it’s user base is shrinking, and Mark Zuckerberg is pinning his hopes on his other network, Instagram. Instagram is the choice of young adults and kids, but I’ve met business owners who have older audiences on it. Instagram has over a billion users now, and it’s a more positive environment free of Facebook’s political acrimony. It’s a great platform for entrepreneurship.
That said, you shouldn’t rely solely on it to grow your business. Its users are still subject to ever-changing terms of service and algorithm updates, so it’s beneficial to have your own website. I go over the cost of making a website here (Can We Afford It: Small Business Website Costs), and how to pay for it in this article (Website Cost: Small Business Financing). Come back for more web design and marketing knowledge!
Small business financing is any source of money, besides revenue, that covers start-up costs and emergencies. This article discusses financing solutions in relation to paying for a business website. Business loans are the traditional form of small business capital, but new options have arisen in recent years that weren’t widely available before. These are consumer financing, lines of credit, and business credit cards.
In my last post I broke down website cost, then briefly mentioned PayPal Credit as a way to pay for it. PayPal Credit deserves more attention, as do other companies that financially support small businesses.
I need to thank my fellow web developer James Welbes, owner of Cedar Rapids Web Design, for the idea of financing web design projects. He partnered with Cedar River Finance, a service local to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and mentioned it to me months ago. Cedar River Finance deals in “consumer financing,” which enables businesses that sell high-price items to customers. The founders of Cedar River, according to its website, got their start working for the local Smulekoff’s Furniture. If you’re a web designer or agency, or small business in an area other than Cedar Rapids, you should first type “consumer financing” into Google to find a service local to your area.
United Consumer Financial Services defines consumer financing as, “…when a business offers financing to their customers with help from a professional finance company. This allows the consumer to pay for a good or service they couldn’t pay for up front in cash or credit card. Consumer finance is helpful for both businesses and consumers.” https://www.ucfs.net/consumer-finance-benefits/
Next, I should give credit to the web design service WebStix, because it’s through them I discovered PayPal Credit. WebStix comes up in a Google search for website financing, and they list PayPal, OnDeck, and behalf.com as potential sources of funding.
PayPal Credit is a nationwide consumer financing service made possible through a partnership with Synchrony Bank. If you have a PayPal account, you can log into the website and read its FAQ. You can apply for PayPal Credit by simply entering your date of birth and social security number, and accepting the PayPal Credit terms. Eligibility is determined within seconds. Purchases and made through the service can be paid in installments, and there is no interest for the first 6 months. The annual percentage rate (APR) is 26.24% as of 2019, but this can be avoided by making monthly payments by their due dates.
PayPal Credit is very handy if you want to run an e-commerce business. Since it’s an online service, you can enable it through partnered apps including WooCommerce and Shopify. You can make it available in checkout. If you run a service-based business, like auto repair, cleaning, consulting, and so on, you can send digital invoices through PayPal and enable PayPal Credit in them. This is what I have started doing for my web design work, and I encourage my fellow freelancers to check it out. This way they can earn decent fees for their labor.
Business loans are an age-old option for financing made by banks and credit unions. The terms of loans are very strict, especially since the Great Recession, after financial giants were rocked by bad loans in real estate. Mark Cuban has famously said, “Only morons start a business on a loan.” They require detailed business plans, personal guarantees and collateral, and piles of paperwork. They are “equity financing” according to this article by Inc.com, which means your property and livelihood are on the hook. The article makes the case for “debt financing,” which most of the options in this post fall under.
If you choose to pursue a business loan, then your business website should be part of the business plan submitted to the lender. It would work best if you consulted a web developer or agency beforehand, and agree on a project fee. Given the risk of “scope creep,” when changes to a website are requested that aren’t mentioned in the original contract, I prefer you follow one of the more flexible financing options listed in this post.
Business Line Of Credit
A business line of credit allows one to borrow up to a given amount, and pay the money back on your own schedule, similar to paying with a credit card. This method, as well as consumer financing, are more relaxed than business loans. They can be tapped if you have unexpected expenses and need funding within a few days.
This article by Nerdwallet tells us about many popular companies offering lines of credit and how they work. They usually require a decent credit score and for your business to be in operation for a set number of months. They also charge higher interest than business loans. If you’ve been in business for a considerable time already, and need to update your web presence, a business line of credit is a fine way to go.
Nerdwallet starts with three companies that extend credit to up to $100,000. Fundbox is the easiest service to apply for, as your business needs to operate for only 3 months and has no minimum credit score requirement. StreetShares has low interest rates, but you must be in business for a full year. OnDeck offers funding within 24 hours of application, and requires a credit score of 600 or more.
Kabbage requires a credit score of at least 560, at least $50,000 in annual revenue, and a full year in operation. BlueVine has lower interest, but requires a credit score of 600. Kabbage and BlueVine offer funding up to $200,000. Nerdwallet’s article does a great job explaining the subject and I urge you to read it.
Business Credit Cards
The Nerdwallet article then discusses business credit cards. These are another type of line of credit, but have more features. “A business line of credit provides a higher credit limit, may be secured by collateral and provides actual cash to your bank account when you make a draw. You can get cash through a business credit card, but you’ll be charged fees and a higher APR to do so. Other common fees for business credit cards include annual fees and late-payment fees.”
Business credit cards are available through all the major credit card companies, and are simply another line of products they offer. If you have an existing credit card for personal use, you may call your company and ask for one for your business.
This article even tells us of cards you can obtain if your credit score has taken a hit. It goes over “secured” cards, which require a cash deposit as collateral. In effect, you’re borrowing against your own money rather than a bank’s. By paying off your balance every month and avoiding interest, you’ll build your credit score enough so you can obtain a regular “unsecured” card or line of credit.
If your credit score is sufficient, an unsecured business credit card will give you great leverage in funding your costs, including a quality website. If your credit is lacking, careful planning is needed, since you already require money up front to back your credit card. If you want a website to market your business and drive sales, be clear with your web developer about what you need, and take heed of his or her recommendations. You can’t afford scope creep in this situation.
If choosing a financing option seems overwhelming, let me recommend a company called Fundera. I discovered them while researching this post. Fundera is a financial advisor service dedicated to small business financing. When you visit their website, you can shop for business loans, business credit cards, read through their knowledge base, and book personal consultations. It’s gratifying to see a company focused on America’s small businesses and helping them thrive. As a freelancer and former employee of a major yellow pages publisher, I know the importance of small businesses and startups as the driver of job creation, and balance against the power of giant corporations. In the Internet Age, there’s no shortage of resources for the independent entrepreneur.
Website cost for small businesses is not constant in all situations. In this article I will explain the budget of a professional web design project. The most important considerations are, external expenses, how much time it takes to build and maintain the site, how to use the site to market your business, and what problems the website can solve. I will also mention a financing solution for my clients.
Small Business Website Design: Your Best Marketing Tool
It behooves you to work with developers who speak your language and understand your culture, right down to the local level. Your website is your main marketing tool in the Digital Age, and you don’t want it to appear out of touch to your customers. A quality developer is also a consultant. He or she ought to have meaningful conversations with you in order to meet your business’ needs. There are ready-made templates available out there, but these are the starting points that the developer would modify like a tailor fitting a suit. For this reason, project costs vary between clients.
Some developers charge an hourly rate, and others charge a set project fee- half to be paid up front, and half upon completion. There are expenses like the price of third party apps, domains, and hosting. A developer may subcontract part of the project to other freelancers who have different specialties; similarly, if you hire an agency, it has to pay the salaries of its employees. The project cost may simply come down to covering the developer’s living expenses for the month. Let’s go over these factors in detail, then I’ll mention how we can cover the cost if you choose to hire me!
Domain: Your domain is essentially your web address. It is the identifier of your site for anyone who wants to locate it and see it. Domain registrars like GoDaddy and Namecheap typically charge about $10 to $15 per year for domains, unless they’ve already been claimed. There are “domain flippers” out there who buy the rights to domains they think will be valuable in the future, then sell them at significant markups. I have a potential client who can’t secure the domain he wants because a flipper is charging over $2000 for it! When naming your business, you should go to one of those registrars and make sure it isn’t taken. Most web hosting companies also sell domains, and I’ll talk about them next.
Hosting: A web host is where your site lives on the Internet. Think of your domain as an address, and the hosting server as a plot of land. Private servers are expensive enough, so it’s easier to subscribe to a hosting company. GoDaddy is a host, although I personally recommend SiteGround, InMotion, or most managed WordPress hosts. The site you’re looking at now is hosted on SiteGround for about $5 per month. I paid for one year’s worth of hosting up front and renew it annually. Managed WordPress hosting companies offer additional maintenance services and may charge approximately $15 to $30 monthly. If you get your domain through your web host, it can be very convenient, but sometimes it pays to have your host and domain sold separately; if you ever become dissatisfied with the service of one company it would be easier to switch to someone else than if both domain and hosting were tied to the same corporation.
Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Certificate: This is a must in current year. An SSL encrypts the personal data of your visitors, which is obviously important if they buy from your site with a credit card. All the major web browsers mark whether your site has an SSL in the url box- look for “https:” and a padlock symbol before the web address. This means a website is secure. Google even prefers SSL-equipped sites in its search rankings.
SSL’s can cost over $100, but a smart developer will get you one for much cheaper, even free. SiteGround partners with the nonprofit organization Let’s Encrypt to offer free SSL’s to their customers. The company CloudFlare offers them for free in order to entice visitors to buy its other services.
WordPress: WordPress is a free content management system and open-source platform that makes website creation more efficient for developers. Any modern web host worth its price will enable the installation of WordPress with just the click of a button. What makes WordPress so appealing to developers like me is its open market of 3rd party themes and plugins. They’re made by software creators around the world. Themes control the appearance of a WordPress site, while plugins are apps that perform different tasks. Most themes and plugins follow the “freemium” business model, in that there are free versions available to download from the WordPress repository, but they have paid versions with deluxe add-ons. Web developers who build with WordPress commonly add these costs to your bill, or they own developer licenses which allow them to use their favorite tools for multiple clients. If you hire me, I’ll likely use the Astra or Divi theme, to name a couple.
Website Design Services
From the time you sign the contract to the time when the new site goes live, your web developer is charging you for his or her work. Like I said earlier they may bill you hourly or a lump sum. This will be the bulk of the project cost, so talk to the contractor during the initial interview and manage your expectations. Everyone hates “scope creep,” when things need to be added or changed that weren’t part of the original contract. It’s more work for the developer and more costly to you. Ironically, it’s more cost effective for the developer to charge you a large amount going in. This is because the developer will have more freedom to make adjustments while keeping the time frame reasonable. If he or she undercharges initially and you decide to change the plan afterward, the previous agreement will go completely out the window, the project will drag on, and tacked on hours will cost you more. It’s a strange psychological quirk, but it has happened to me before and it hurts working relationships.
Images: Web designers sometimes make artwork, but it’s better to entrust that work to a dedicated graphic designer. Same with photos and photographers. You may have already hired a designer to make your company logo when you formed your business. A web developer/designer should take cues from that logo to assign other colors and text fonts to the website. If you run a brick and mortar business and need to display your products, hire a professional photographer. Designers and photographers will supply you or the web developer digital images to upload to the website. The developer may subcontract these professionals or give them referrals.
Content: I happen to be better-than-average writer (if I do say so myself), so I can include content writing with my web design fees. However a lot of developers hand this job off to specialists like they do with images. Content is the most important marketing tool your business has, and I can’t over-emphasize it. It’s tied tightly to search engine optimization and social media marketing. It must be relevant to what your customers need, and easy to understand. Most content writers charge by the number of words they write or the number of pages.
I often say that the work of making a website is never truly done. After the site goes live, it will be fine for a while, but it must be maintained, and it will require ongoing marketing. A website means nothing if it doesn’t have traffic. SEO and Social Media marketing each cost between $200 to $1000 per month.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO is always evolving, and making the first page of Google results is a constant battle. There are WordPress plugins that make the job easier, but someone needs to monitor trending keywords, tweak the content, and follow the latest technical happenings. As I said before, content writing is tied to SEO. Blogging is probably the most certain ways to rank for a topic. The marketing guru Miles Beckler encourages the “90 Day Challenge,” in which a business posts one blog, YouTube video, or podcast a day. After 90 days, you’re sure to be found. Recently, Beckler modified the challenge to a more manageable 2, 3, or 4 posts per week for 90 weeks. The point of all this is Google and YouTube take notice of consistency, and once you get in the habit of regular posts relevant to your business, you will be rewarded.
Social Media: I’m not as bullish about social media as I was in past years, given Facebook’s data selling scandals and Twitter’s toxic politics. I’m even a little jaded with Instagram, because it’s owned by Facebook and content moves at the pleasure of its algorithm. However, there are still a few benefits to these platforms in the form of paid ads and shareable events. Your social media marketing can be done in house or by a contractor, but all of it should direct visitors to your own website where you can engage them on your terms.
Maintenance: If your website is built with WordPress and hosted on a managed WordPress server, maintenance services are likely included with your monthly bill. If you hire an outside freelancer to manage your site, it would probably cost between $79 and $300 per month, depending on their list of tasks.
Pay-Per-Click Advertising: You can advertise your business on Google, YouTube, and different social networks. You don’t necessarily pay for ad space on these networks so much as you bid for it. You can create an ad in Google’s system that will appear on other websites or on YouTube videos, then say how much you’re willing to spend in a set time frame. Same with ads and sponsored posts on social media. You’ll never pay more than that amount, but that amount will be compared to other businesses’ ads with the same keywords.
Paying For Web Design
I enable financing for my web design services through PayPal Credit. I signed up for a PayPal business account months earlier, but discovered the credit service just recently. I send invoices through PayPal with the option to pay through credit, then clients can buy my services and pay later. They will be prompted to enter their date of birth, Social Security Number, and accept the Terms of Service. Eligibility will be determined within seconds. More information is available on PayPal’s website: https://www.paypal.com/us/smarthelp/article/how-can-i-get-paypal-credit-faq3254.
This is exciting news not just if you need a website, but for your own customers. In my next post, I’ll discuss financing options including PayPal and others.
Attention Corridor restaurant owners, managers, and website admins!
On November 5, 2018, I’m hosting an online workshop for building or updating your restaurant’s website. With the purchase of a ticket, you’ll get an invitation to a Google Hangouts session. In it, I’ll introduce you to WordPress and guide you through creating your very own website using this globally popular software. WordPress is the choice of professional web designers and small businesses because it’s versatile, open-source, and has applications for anything you want to accomplish online.
I’m not just talking to you in this workshop, though. I want to find out from you what would most benefit your business. Do you need more sales of a particular item? Do you want to reach a wider audience? Would you like more traffic at certain times of the week?
Improving your online presence will go a long way towards your goals, but hiring a professional web designer is outside most restaurants’ budgets. I should know, I’ve talked to plenty food service professionals trying to win their business. That’s why I’m hosting this project. A website design project can cost thousands of dollars.
The workshop will begin at 9:00 AM Central Time. I’m limiting it to 15 clients. That will allow everyone in attendance to work out the best strategy to not just revamp their sites, but to market them. This is a pilot program. Participants who pay the $99 ticket fee will not just get new web marketing plans, but free membership in the online course I’m developing. The resources I create with your input will be available as long as my own website stays active, so let’s make something great!
Let’s look at a 6-step process in how to get clients from an accomplished professional. David A. Fields is the author of The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients, as well as a coach who directly helps real-life consultants snag high-paying gigs. His book details the strategy he and his team have developed over the years.
I originally intended to review 3 books in this post, the other two being The Sell by reality T.V. star Fredrik Eklund, and The Only Negotiating Guide You’ll Ever Need by Peter B. Stark and Jane Flaherty. These resources are fun to read, but Eklund’s book is all over the place, with lots of good tips but no overarching strategy. Meanwhile, Stark and Flaherty’s work amounts to 127 pages saying one thing: don’t be a shark, strike deals that are mutually beneficial to you and your customer.
David Fields, however, gives us a much more coherent roadmap. The other 2 books offer ideas in support of his advice (and I’ll mention them throughout this review,) but Fields’ book is where you should go for a solid plan. So let’s start.
Step 1: Think Right-Side Up
The first principle Fields gives us, which he returns to throughout his book, is building the mindset where your prospective clients’ needs come before your own. Clients don’t really hire professionals because the professionals are super great at what they do; they hire them because they solve a problem and are suited to the clients’ own circumstances. Everything from a professional’s marketing, outreach, and value proposition should be oriented toward the client.
Oddly enough, “right-side up thinking” and putting other people before yourself is a confidence booster. Fields observes that lack of confidence comes from focusing on ourselves and seeing our faults up close. When you focus on others, though, your personal shortcomings are less of an issue. And when you’re confident, that’s when your sales efforts are successful.
Step 2: Maximize Impact
Fields says “hunting” for clients is the wrong way to go about it. To find clients is more like fishing- you go where the business is, cast your line, and let clients come to you.
To figure out where to fish, you need to determine your niche. You need to learn which businesses or demographics are most lucrative, find out what their biggest, most pressing problems are, and come up with the right solution. This comes from research in which you ask people what problems they’ve spent money on to fix. Don’t fear your competition, because they’re in niches that are already booming with business. As a professional or consultant, again, you aren’t selling yourself as much as you’re selling solutions, so worry more about delivering. “Most clients don’t want a breakthrough approach. They want a reliable solution,” says one illustration in this section. Selling services is not like selling consumer products!
Once you identify the right clients, problem, and solution, you need a statement or phrase “that succinctly, precisely describes your target and the issue you address.” Fields calls this statement the “Fishing Line,” in keeping with his analogy. It’s not an elevator pitch, because the work of winning clients goes far longer after delivering it. But you can use the fishing line in your networking to get clients’ attention. It should mention the narrowly defined problem and the solution without boring the prospect with the process or reasoning. All that comes later during the relationship-building phases.
Step 3: Build Visibility
Referrals and word-of-mouth are fine up to a point, but marketing is the key to a sustainable career. You should build up your impact in Step 2 before this step so that your marketing efforts will be meaningful. Here, we have some supporting arguments from Fredrik Eklund, who built his real estate career with warm-hearted customer service and a splashy reality show on cable.
Fields is more conservative in his approach, but no less bold. His “Five Marketing Musts” are writing, public speaking, trade associations, digital presence, and networking. You should utilize at least 2 of these, and do them consistently. This goes along with the Familiarity Principle, which I wrote about in this post. Writing can be done on your blog or guest articles on popular sites. Books are great for visibility. Speaking can be done at association meetings or events you host yourself. Trade Associations are your market to landing speaking gigs or building your writing audience. Digital presence includes your website (check out my YouTube channel for a handy guide to building a site with WordPress here,) blog, social media, podcasts, and webinars. Don’t be shy about paid advertising, either. Google Adwords is a great platform for it.
Step 4: Connect, Connect, Connect
This step is all about building relationships. The saying goes, your network is your net worth. The best source for new relationships is your existing ones. The next best is your marketing, as long as you’re consistent and keep yourself top-of-mind with your target audience. Again, read about the Familiarity Principle. Always remember to put your prospects’ needs first and maintain your relevant solutions.
When building relationships, don’t ask your existing clients for a sale, just introductions. Ask if they know anyone interesting, or high-ranking in their organization. Always follow up. The best advice I got from Eklund’s book is to keep a calendar and follow it faithfully. You should mark down dates and to-do lists in which you regularly say “hi” to your contacts, and ask how things are going. It’s not nagging as long as you put them first! You can send them emails, call them on the phone, send handwritten mail if you’re really affectionate, and visit them in person. By putting them first, you’ll be more confident and likable, and you should routinely give them value like sharing industry news, books, apps, etc. Be a sounding board for their concerns.
After weeks of nurturing your relationships, you’ll determine the right time to sell your services. Fields gives us a phrase called “the Turn,” which I’ve mentioned in an earlier post. It goes something like, “Would you be open to a separate conversation where we talk about your business, and explore whether my firm can help you achieve your goals?” This wording bridges the gap between social communication and transactional communication. It gives your prospect a choice in switching to a business relationship while staying natural.
Step 5: Become the Obvious Choice
Convincing your prospect to hire you depends on you understanding them and their problems, and making sure they know it. The chapters in this Step are full of scripts of a fictional negotiation. But first, Fields tells us the 6 Pillars of Consulting Success. They are “Know,” “Like,” “Trust,” “Need,” “Want,” and “Value.” Trust is the most important of all, and it’s built in the previous Steps.
After you win prospects’ trust and give them The Turn, you’ll have the “Context Discussion.” You’ll cover 6 topics, which are the clients’ Situation, Desired Outcomes, Indicators of the Project’s Success, Perceived Risks and Concerns, Value, and Parameters. Value and Parameters come at the end, and this is where you’ll determine how much to charge for the project. But don’t give price yet, that comes in Step 6. You want the decision maker to agree to the context you determine in this conversation so there are no unpleasant shocks.
Step 6: Propose, Negotiate & Close
This is where I could have talked about Stark and Flaherty’s book, but if you follow the preparations outlined by Fields, negotiating is a lot easier at this point. “Closing isn’t something you do. Closing is the result of everything you’ve already done.” The Context Discussion in Step 5 is the cornerstone of closing deals, where you confirm with the prospect what they’re dealing with and the results you will deliver. You should write a “Context Document” detailing these things before writing a proposal. This can’t be rushed. It will take several drafts of the Context Document before you can set the proposal.
When you do write the proposal, don’t focus on why you’re so great. Instead, reassure the prospect that you’ll achieve their goal. Focus on their outcomes rather than your tasks, reassure them, and offer choices. The choices are when you can introduce money to the discussion. Give the prospect 2 or 3 packages at different prices. The prospect’s reactions to the different fees will help narrow down the right cost. It’s actually in the client’s interest for you to charge a large fee. It gives you the flexibility to work in changing parameters without you having to nag them for more billable hours.
Field’s book is available on Amazon. If you download the Kindle version, you’ll have access to his bonus material, including practice scripts and access to his website.
You can also download my book, Be True, Cut Through at the link below. It’s a short guide to content marketing through blogs, email, SEO, and more. It’s free as a PDF if you sign up for my emails. I want you to have as much digital marketing comprehension as I can muster!
Building familiarity is a powerful marketing strategy. Its aim is to earn trust with potential customers, although it takes time to pay off. Other sales gurus may call it persistence, but that suggests aggression and pushiness. Familiarity is gentler; it politely reminds your prospects, “yes, I’m here,” and primes them for a transaction at the proper time.
I developed the familiarity principle after many years of visiting the same businesses and becoming a regular. I would recognize other regular patrons. Eventually, we would introduce ourselves. I even came to do business with a few of them.
This happens to me most often in coffee shops and bars or nightclubs. I get almost no enjoyment from alcohol, but I like being around other people. They’re more open to socializing at establishments that serve adult beverages. I love coffee, and can tolerate strange and amazing amounts of caffeine. Customers at coffee shops are likely to bring their laptops and headphones and bury themselves in work. However, they still take breaks and will chat up people they know. Sometimes they’re having brunch with friends or business contacts, and will introduce other acquaintances who pass by.
We all know how scary it is to say “hi” to complete strangers. It requires either a profoundly brash personality, or several helpings of liquid courage. Even then, your advances are likely unwelcome by the other person. Networking events and invitational parties are a different environment, and I advocate more confident approaches then.
When you and another person have seen each other three or more times, it’s more acceptable to make contact. This works for the employees of the businesses you’re at, as well. Bartenders are great for making connections, at least when it’s not too busy. Be nice, tip them regularly, and they’ll speak well of you to others. I actually got a bartender to hire me for a project at her day job. We’re getting along great, and I’m excited for her imminent referrals.
In person networking is also a good way to generate traffic to your website. Even today, with so much focus on SEO and social media links, offline marketing like broadcast advertising, print, and business cards can make your site known. I urge you to get business cards that prominently display your site’s URL. In fact, the web address may be all you need on the card, since many people don’t answer phone calls from unrecognized numbers. Get people to your site, and you can show all the marketing content you want.
This is why it’s important to have a personalized website that reflects your business’ unique brand. If you can’t afford a professional designer, at least use a flexible WordPress theme and page builder. With these tools, you can tweak the appearance of your site to your liking.
After the ice is broken, it will take more relationship building with your prospect before you can sell your product or services. You’ll inevitably talk about what line of work you’re in, but you won’t give an “elevator pitch.” You have more time with this person over several days or weeks, so express why you’re passionate about what you do and why it can help other people. When you’re selling, especially professional services, the point should be problems the prospect or general public has and the solution you bring to the table. Don’t even think of it as selling- think of it as helping.
In his book The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients (which I review here,) long-time consultant David A. Fields urges what he calls “right side up thinking.” It means your business really isn’t about you, it’s about your clients. Be focused on finding out people’s problems, what motivates them, and what their goals are.
When you’re building familiarity and trust, your conversations with the prospect will be social and relationship-based. Once you feel it’s time to offer your service to the prospect, Fields gives us a phrase he calls “The Turn.” It goes, “Would you be open to a separate conversation where we talk about your business, and explore whether my firm can help you achieve your goals?” This wording gives the prospect a choice in going into business with you, while focusing on their problems and aspirations.
The Familiarity Principle In Marketing
Now let’s look at familiarity and how it helps in marketing and advertising, focusing on digital marketing. Your website is the central hub of your online effort, but email, social media, and even YouTube are a part of it.
The website should have an email opt-in or contact form. There are plenty of guides to email marketing, but I what want to emphasize is consistency. I personally don’t open every email I get, but it’s strangely comforting to see the same businesses send me messages the same day each week. If I don’t take up one offer, I know there will be more. What prevents me from reporting them as spam is the fact that I voluntarily signed up for their marketing after seeing their helpful webinar or blog article. And they ARE helpful. The difference between spam and legit email marketing is a genuine interest in solving problems. Good emails, though not necessarily long, at least explain their solution and offer proof.
To get prospects to your email opt-in, you need to be found, either on Google, or on social media. Here, the familiarity principle applies to both the visitors of these platforms AND the platforms’ results algorithms.
Let’s look at Facebook. Although I have much less faith in this platform as I did a few months ago (it’s stock is dropping steadily,) it’s a good all-around example of what to do. When you’re making new connections on Facebook, it helps to see whether you have plenty of mutual friends. People hate random friend requests. The more people who can vouch for you, the better. If you know each other online, that’s another icebreaker for when you meet in person eventually.
By now, everyone should know that Facebook’s newsfeed filters friends’ posts so that you don’t see everything everyone is doing. What you do see depends on what you engage with previously. If you post on a regular basis, and engage with other people’s posts consistently, you’ll see each other’s content more often. Although Facebook is geared more toward personal relationships than professional networking, this could actually be advantageous to your business. People’s guards are more or less down, so you can be more open about work and related concerns.
When it’s time to pitch your business or products, that’s when Facebook’s algorithm clamps down. Facebook makes its money from advertising (as well as selling user data- that’s been blown wide open), so you’re expected to pay up.
I mentioned webinars earlier, and I’ve seen them advertised most on Facebook, and a little on Instagram. The point of a webinar is to either sell or build an email list. Like with email marketing, it takes ongoing campaigns for your ads to take hold. David Fields’ right side up thinking is in effect when it comes to the content of your ads, but many people need to warm up to you before they engage. It may take a week or two of seeing your ad every day before they click the link to your webinar (or landing page, or white paper, etc.)
Google is the top dog in search and online advertising. SEO isn’t necessarily the topic of this post, but consistent updates to your website get you noticed. Having a blog, or at least a feed that connects to your social media posts, is essential. Regular posts are what many top internet marketers recommend.
YouTube is a special platform in that it’s both a search engine and a social network. Content creators can make a full time living making videos. They collect ad revenue, get supporters on Patreon, make sponsored content, use affiliate links, or a combination of all these. Therefore, YouTube rewards, you guessed it, consistent uploads. When popular channels share the keys to their success, it is invariably daily or weekly posts. It takes a few weeks or months for their channels to take off.
Business networking is a strange form of work in that you’re not paid for it directly, but everything in your entrepreneurial career depends on it. Think of it as a marketing plan. Keep the familiarity principle in mind, and remember that successful commerce is built on human connection.
GeneratePress Sites is a collection of pre-made demo websites included in the premium version of the GeneratePress theme. Combined with the Elementor plugin, this is a fast and intuitive tool for making a professional site. Earlier this year, I shared a tutorial series on YouTube focusing on the Astra theme and its Astra Sites feature. GeneratePress Sites launched a few short months later, and I’m delighted to see it.
GeneratePress is my personal favorite WordPress theme because its paid version is highly affordable, it’s well-coded and reliable, and its design options in the WordPress Dashboard are thoughtfully laid out and streamlined. As someone who makes websites for both clients and as a hobby, this theme is my go-to.
You can upload GeneratePress from the WordPress dashboard by going to the “Appearance” menu, selecting “Themes,” and searching for it in the repository. The premium upgrades are available as a bundle of plugins on GeneratePress’ website. I’ll include affiliate links in this article. You download GeneratePress Premium to your computer, then upload it in the Plugins area of the dashboard.
A “GeneratePress” option becomes available in the “Appearance” menu. When you go to that page, you can activate any of the premium features you’ve purchased. Above the options is a button labeled “Site Library,” and this is where you access the ready-made websites.
The sites’ layouts are made either with Beaver Builder, Elementor, or “No Page Builder,” which means it was made with GeneratePress’ “Sections” tool. For purposes of this article, I’ll click “Elementor” at the top and select a site made with it.
Hover your mouse over the demo you want, and click the “Details” button. From there, you can follow the steps to download the Elementor page builder plugin, necessary widgets, and layouts associated with the website.
Here, I’ve uploaded a site marketing a mobile app. The next thing to do is change the text and images. This is done in Elementor, so when I view the site, I can go to the top and click “Edit with Elementor.”
Elementor is an immensely popular page builder plugin with abundant options in its free version. Combined with GeneratePress, whose premium version costs only $39.95 per year, it’s a powerful tool for making any type of business website you want.
In the Elementor work environment, you can click on any image, block of text, or module, then modify them in the left-hand editor.
GeneratePress debuted about 2 years ago and was the first well-known theme of its kind. It’s made specifically to work with page builders, and is lightweight and versatile. The Astra and OceanWP themes are its direct competitors. I’ve written extensively about OceanWP and spoken about Astra, and I love both of them. But I keep coming back to GeneratePress for its efficient workflow, so I’m highly encouraged to see it include this feature. Demo content is nothing new for premium WordPress themes, but GeneratePress sites may be the most practical and affordable way of delivering it. The $39.95 license is good for unlimited sites.