Book Review: “Badass Your Brand” by Pia Silva, a Guide for Entrepreneurs

Badass Your Brand: The Impatient Entrepreneur’s Guide For Turning Expertise Into Profit, by Pia Silva, is a how-to book directed at small businesses and freelancers. Specifically, these businesses sell services and want to secure clients without networking and pitching proposals that never work out. The case studies feature Silva herself, plus business owners in her circle including financial advisors, photographers, consultants, and a physical therapist.

The book easily caught my eye through its sponsored ad in my Facebook News Feed. As a freelancer, I constantly get targeted content wanting to onboard me in some membership website or online course, so I can learn to earn my own living doing what I love. I’m not against those business models; in fact I’m building such a website for one of my favorite recurring clients. However, the promotions for these programs all look the same after several months. Silva’s pitch connected, however because all she’s selling is a book I could download for about $10.00 from Amazon. It was different.

And that’s the point of Silva’s approach. Her book tells the story how she and her husband turned around their graphic design and branding business, from being $40,000 in debt, to making six figures, within months. They did it by making themselves their own brand, and standing against aspects of their industry they knew were detrimental. Then, they offered their strategies to friends and clients who were struggling, and helped them achieve success on their own terms.

The book is only six chapters long, plus the introduction and epilogue, and I read it all in one evening. Writing this review a day later, I can reflect that Silva’s approach is standard in each case study, but easily personalized. It’s like variations on a theme, in which an artist paints multiple works of the same subject, but does it differently each time. Chapter Four lays out the formula, including four “angles” an entrepreneur can fulfill. It’s best to work all four, but you can get by with at least two, and you can choose which two or three suit you best. They are, 1: determining your target market, or niche, who are your most rewarding and profitable clients; 2: developing your “brand personality,” so you can stand out from the crowd and compete; 3: offering a “lead product,” which is your service, clearly defined up front, that you can sell for a flat, affordable rate; and 4: the “bull’s eye product,” which is a deluxe version of the lead product that you would want to upsell.

The reasoning behind each of these angles is given in Chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. It appears odd, writing this review, that the nitty-gritty of the instructions are given in the middle of the book. However, when you read the book, it fits nicely with Pia’s personal narrative. Storytelling is a time-honored method of persuasion and teaching. You get the sense that in the first half, Pia and her husband Steve are learning lessons, they implement them in Chapter 4, and the later chapters validate those lessons. She emphasizes in the epilogue that she and Steve are hacking through the proverbial jungle with the rest of us, and the path they discovered saved them and their self-employed friends.

I feel I have a good grasp on my own Angles 1 and 2, but I’m excited to try out Angles 3 and 4. Before discovering this book, a fellow web designer suggested my own offerings were too vague, and vulnerable to fruitless negotiating and project proposals. I was slightly suspicious then, but I see his point now after reading Badass Your Brand. I could probably offer two or three tiers of products.

Badass Your Brand is a low-risk purchase at less than $10.00 on the Kindle, or $15.99 for a hard copy. Pia Silva is an authority; she’s not only a personal success story, but she’s a public speaker and regular contributor to Forbes. Not all companies will directly benefit from it. It’s explicitly anti-corporate, and there’s a passage in which she had to turn down a client because it was an e-commerce website, which wasn’t her and Steve’s specialty. Still, an intuitive business owner might adapt the four angles into something that works.

Purchase Badass Your Brand on Amazon: Buy

Review: WP E Signature by ApproveMe

wordpress, wp e signature, approveme, contract, legal, compliant, business, signature

WP E Signature, by ApproveMe, is a high-end, paid WordPress plug-in that allows users to create personalized, legally binding contracts that can be signed electronically with a computer mouse or touch screen. It’s the first application of its kind that I’m aware of, and can be either an excellent time-saver, or a costly burden. The app isn’t for everyone. There’s an immense learning curve to using it, and the price can be prohibitive. But when properly installed, it’s powerful, and can save a business money over time.

I discovered WP E Signature while searching for a solution for a client who needed an electronic version of their standard contract. They have hundreds of customers per week, and were buried under paper forms. Electronic signature apps for the iPad or Android tablets commonly require a monthly fee. Within their budget, I was able to set up a WordPress page on cheap hosting and install the plug-in.

The plug-in is available on the developer’s website, www.approveme.me. You can purchase the license for either the Pro or Business package. These offers are very different from what I first saw only a few weeks ago, so ApproveMe may still be adapting their business model. The Pro License costs $97, can be installed on 3 websites, and includes the Basic add-on list. The Business License costs $250, although sales and special offers are available. It can be used on an unlimited number of sites and utilizes the Basic and Advanced add-on collections. The Business License may be suitable for a WordPress web designer who makes many websites and can install the plug-in for businesses as part of their projects.

There are tutorials on YouTube narrated by Kevin, ApproveMe’s soft-spoken lead programmer. They also have a speedy support team. If you own the license, you can log into ApproveMe’s website and send them a question. In my experience, they respond on the same business day with an email. This is important because of the previously mentioned learning curve and complexity of the plug-in.

That complexity may be a consequence of needing to be legally binding and compliant with government regulations. Other plug-ins that feature signature add-ons don’t really focus on signatures- they’re bundles based on contact forms, invoices, or something else. WP E Signature’s selling point is that its signatures will hold up in a court of law.

When the plug-in is installed onto your WordPress site, there will be options in the backend Dashboard to create New Documents. Similar to a WordPress Post or Page editor, you can type up your contract and save it on WordPress’s database. It can be emailed to your potential client or viewed on a designated page of your site.

The Pro License includes the Basic Add-ons, which number 3: Custom Signer Fields, Document Activity Notifications, and Save As PDF. Custom Signer Fields are items like check boxes and date calendars that can be inserted anywhere on a contract. Document Activity Notifications will alert you when your client views the contract on their device. Save As PDF lets you download a signed contract from your website’s backend onto your computer for personal storage.

There are 13 Add-Ons in the Advanced Package, available with the Business License. The ones I think are most important are Stand Alone Documents, Document Templates and Unlimited Sender Roles. Stand Alone Documents are those that are automated and can be used repeatedly. If a business has many clients who need to sign a standard contract, this is useful. Document Templates are similar, but it seems they are emailed to customers while Stand Alone Documents reside on a WordPress page. I utilized the Stand Alone Documents for my client. Unlimited Sender Roles is key if there are multiple administrators of your WordPress site. They would likely be the web designer and the business owner, and anyone on the business’s staff the owner assigns. Other Advanced Add-Ons include the ability to add your logo and branding to a document, syncing with Dropbox, and signing reminders, in case your client is dragging their feet.

You would need to do pretty brisk business to justify WP E Signature’s price tag. On top of that, if you aren’t comfortable with web design, you would need to pay a designer or staff member to install the plug-in. Luckily for me, my clients were well established and my hourly rate was acceptable to them. Considering how much paper and ink they go through, this plug-in will pay for itself. Early stage companies and start-ups wouldn’t get much use if they’re still building their customer base. Starting out, they may be better off with paper contracts or iOS signature apps.

Hopefully, ApproveMe will streamline this plug-in to make it easier to use and more affordable. I think what they offer is crucial, and I’m surprised more developers haven’t joined in the effort. Competition would be great for this category. Early adopters are needed to support ApproveMe’s work while they perfect the product. There are growing entrepreneurial and freelancing movements. The future of the economy depends on them being protected in their business dealings. WP E Signature is rough around the edges, but promising.

The Cost of a Website, 2016

Here’s a good article. “How Much Should A Website Cost in 2016?”

An important point concerning modern web design tools like Wix:

However, it does pay to spend the money to have a professional company create or redesign your website. While free tools can be useful, you are more likely to get a better, more reliable website if you pay to hire a professional web design company. Websites built on free tools often lack a unique identity because free templates usually only allow a certain extent of customization. Websites using those tools may have no brand identity or may have trouble attracting traffic. When it comes to web page cost, cheaper isn’t always better. But what is a reasonable cost for what your website needs?

 

Website Checklist Part 3

xiphos web marketing, web design, website, checklist, features, security, contact form, footer

I’ve listed the features and qualities a professional website should have in 2016. Here, I wrap it up.

Contact Option: There needs to be contact information on your site- this isn’t optional. The whole point of the Internet is communication, and if your site does what you want it to, your customers will want to reach you. It’s standard to have post your address, phone number, email address, and social media links. An email address can be substituted with a contact form; forms are linked directly to your email client.

It’s common to have a separate “Contact” page, but there’s a trend to post the info on homepages or in footer areas. Contact can be part of your Call To Action, so experiment with ways to grab visitors’ attention.

Footer: Footers are the areas at the bottom of web pages. It’s easy for a designer to forget them, but they are very important in securing an audience and/or market. When visitors are interested in a website, they naturally scroll down to read more. The footer area is where the page concludes, and it’s like the climax of a story. You can insert your call to action and contact information here. Since footers are uniform to the whole site, it pays to include content you want to repeat. Repetition is a useful strategy in marketing.

xiphos web marketing, re advantage capital, footer, blog,  website, checklist

Security: It’s frightening how many hackers and cyber-criminals exist in the world, and how persistent they are. However, some basic preventive measures can secure your website from malevolent forces. The following tips are for WordPress sites.

Regular Automatic Backups– A decent web hosting service should offer this as a matter of course. In case your site is hacked, you can scrap it, then easily rebuild it from the most recent backup.

Update Themes and Plugins/Delete Unused Themes and Plugins– Hackers can get into old versions of WordPress software and insert malware. Update your apps regularly to beat them to the punch. Also, delete any software you don’t use anymore.

Clean and Optimize Your Database– WordPress manages databases behind the scenes so you don’t have to. You can download a plugin to handle this work.

Security Plugins– There are great WordPress security plugins. My source for these security tips recommends iThemes Security, CloudFlare, and Sucuri.

Sources:

WP Apprentice, 5 WordPress Maintenance & Security Tips

WebTegrity, 8 Must Haves for Your Home Page

Website Checklist Part 2

Website Checklist, Digital, Marketing, Xiphos

Continuing my checklist of recommended website features.

Google, Search, SEO, Website Checklist, Xiphos Web MarktetingSearch Engine Optimized: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is almost an industry all its own. A professional web design service may concentrate on building sites and refer clients to a dedicated SEO expert. It takes constant work to manage a site so it has the right code, tags, content, and links so it shows up at the top of search rankings. It also takes several months for the work to get results, so you have to take the long view. There are dozens of tools, both free and premium, that an SEO professional can take advantage of. If you’re a WordPress aficionado, like me, the first and last name in SEO is Yoast. It’s a plugin app that coaches you in writing good content and tags, and does the work of submitting your pages to the search engines for consideration. Its developers are always studying the cutting edge, ins-and-outs, and strategies of Google.

Analytics Tools: A web analytics tool is software that tracks the traffic on your site. Usually, it’s a line of programming that you can copy and paste into your site’s code. Analytics packages will tell you where your visitors are coming from, which of your pages they visit most often and for how long, how many of your visitors follow your Call To Action, and so on. Here’s a list of Top Web Analytics Tools. Google Analytics is the leader for its price tag (free), its ease of use, toolbox, and network of support. But there are plenty of worthy contenders for the top spot; it’s good to have alternatives to keep the top dog honest or that have niche features that no one else offers.

Social Media Links: Not only should you have your own site, you should have pages/profiles on your favorite social networks. It’s standard to have a Facebook business page. A Twitter profile lets you reach a large audience of fans. LinkedIn is good for Business 2 Business interaction. If you sell products, you can post them on Pinterest.

Social, Icons, Website Checklist, Xiphos

Social media lets your site reach a wider audience. I like to think of your website as a hub that branches out into other networks. It should be obvious these days for your site to have links to your social profiles. If you update your site with a new promotion or blog post, you can announce it in your networks.

You shouldn’t depend on just one network. Facebook is the most widely used, but it can control which of your posts are seen by your friends. Facebook makes their money by selling advertising, and their strategy is to target niche audiences. This can be either good or bad depending on your viewpoint. It makes your marketing budget cheap and efficient, but it can also prevent reaching new customers you hadn’t considered before. You can reach separate audiences on the other networks like Twitter. The competing platforms have different business models, so their newsfeeds and bulletin boards work differently. A smart marketing strategist is open to a variety of channels and not afraid to experiment.

Social Proof: Social Proof is outside recommendation of your business. Traditionally, testimonials from existing customers are common, and they’re effective on the web, too. You can have them in a separate section on your homepage or “About” page, or you can place testimonials throughout the site strategically. If your clients have their own websites or social media profiles, it’s a good idea to link to them, with their permission. This way, visitors know you’re not just making things up.

Customers can also rate your business on social media or Yelp. You can share the favorable posts on your site. Some sites have a Facebook or Twitter newsfeed displayed on their pages, directly bringing comments from their profiles.

Stay tuned for Part 3

Sources: WebTegrity, 8 Must Haves for Your Home Page

WP Apprentice, 5 WordPress Maintenance & Security Tips

Website Checklist Part 1

Checklist

Here are a few things I think a business website should be or have in the year 2016.

Fresh Content: For a website to be successful, it needs to be updated regularly. This is a sign to visitors that your business is, in fact, in business. I like making websites with WordPress because it originated as a blogging platform. It has evolved into a “content management system”, which means it’s made to handle updates easily.

Blogging is a way to demonstrate your expertise in your business. You can review tools, educate your clients, and share the latest news in your industry. Sharing is an effective method of generating goodwill with the public. The marketing coach Anita Newton suggests a 4-to-1 ratio of information sharing to selling. This means for every single attempt to sell your services, you should make 4 attempts to inform.

Mobile Friendly: A website should be easy to read on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. You would think this is obvious in 2016, but I’m alarmed at the number of small business websites that are still made just for desktop computers. Touch screens let you “pinch and zoom”, but that’s annoying. In years past, it would be logical to have desktop and mobile versions of a site; the mobile site shows up first on your phone, and there is a link to the “full website”, or desktop version.

A new solution that I love is “responsive design”. This is when the images and text on a page rearrange themselves to adapt to different sizes of browser windows. To see whether a site is responsive, just grab the corner of your desktop browser and re-size the window. Responsive sites re-size automatically on mobile devices. I always choose a responsive design template when I make a new site; that way, I only need to make one site that will work on all screens.

Ease of Navigation: It’s tempting to fill your website with advanced tools and gadgets, as well as elaborate design and wordy text. However, it’s far more important for a visitor to find his or her way around easily. A simple and easy-t0-navigate site can actually take as much work to build as a complex one, because the design needs to be carefully thought out. Your site has only so much of your visitors’ attention before they decide to move on to something else. If it takes too long to find something, or too long to load, you could lose your audience.

Clear Message and Call To Action: This is similar to ease of navigation. You may think writing long and wordy content conveys expertise, but the best language is always efficient language. On the Internet, viewers’ attention spans are different than they would be reading print, so you need to offer content in small pieces. I’m breaking this blog entry into separate installments. Break up your text into manageable, easy-to-organize blocks.

Also, you want a clear Call To Action that stands out from the rest of the page. This is something you want the viewer to do that’s easily measured by your analytics tools. It could be filling out your contact form, downloading your app, applying for your main service, etc. Not only should it stand out from your other content, it should be mentioned repeatedly throughout your site.

More to Come: There are a lot more ideas I want to share. Come back in the coming days for Part 2.

Sources: WebTegrity, 8 Must Haves for Your Home Page

WP Apprentice, 5 WordPress Maintenance & Security Tips