Why You Need a Proofreader

Image by adactio.
Image by adactio

Mistakes happen. We’ve all been in a situation where we carelessly overlooked something and it’s caused an embarrassing situation. While most of these faux pas happen in our personal lives, from time to time it affects business. This morning we received a Change of Legal Name letter for a business we’ve worked with in the past. It’s a nicely written letter on beautiful new letterhead with a funky new logo. The problem with the letter is two-fold:

  1. They don’t state anywhere in the letter what the previous name of the business is. Although we’ve now figured it out, it took more than three people to narrow it down.
  2. There’s a typo in the URL in the big bolded area where they list their contact information.

Yikes. If you’re sending out a notice like this, you want to make sure it goes out without a hitch and people aren’t left scratching their heads trying to figure out who you are. This letter probably should have been passed around a bit before it left the building.

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SEO Building Blocks: Meta Tags

meta-logo-1

When optimizing your website for search engines, there are many tools at your disposal. There’s no such thing as a quick SEO fix, but one oft-overlooked element is the utilization of meta tags. Let’s take a look at what they are and how they can help you.

What are Meta Tags?

Meta tags are usually inserted in the <head> section of your website’s html code. They are used by search engines to help determine your ranking. Within these tags you can enter descriptions and keywords, which can help the spiders or bots understand the purpose of your website.

To see the meta tags of a web page you’re viewing on, click on “View” at the top of your browser, which brings down a drop menu, then click “Source” or “Page Source.” This shows you the html code of the website.
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Back to School… for Small Business?

schoolFor every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Chances are, if you’re really strong in one part of your small business, there’s another area you’re having some trouble with.

According to Entrepreneur.com, these “trouble spots” are causing an increasing number of entrepreneurs to expand their horizons – by going back to school.

While you might not want to invest time and money into an MBA – it’s definitely challenging while running your own business – you can still have a positive impact on your business’ bottom line by taking less daunting, more affordable workshops.

So what kind of things might be worth hitting the books for?
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Mompreneur Series: Meet Sarah Kaplan

sarahkaplanIntroducing the Mompreneur Series! Every month we’ll be profiling CityMax.com entrepreneurs that manage that perfect balance of running a small business and being a full-time mother.

Mompreneur: Sarah Kaplan – EvyMama.com

Sarah is the owner of EvyMama.com – “Toronto’s only Breastfeeding Boutique.” Her business specializes in fashionable maternity wear that makes new and soon-to-be moms look great. Founded in 2007, her store won an award last year for “Best Lingerie Store” in town.

I caught up with Sarah to find out her story:

“When I started nursing my daughter, it was very hard to find clothing for nursing moms. Toronto has a very high breastfeeding rate, but no one was serving mothers. Baby shops sell plenty of baby gear but nothing more than nursing bras – nothing cute at all – and nothing for the postpartum mother.

I had the idea with my first child and it took me a couple years to organize. Then I started when my second child was 5 months old. My husband and I carefully chose our neighborhood (one with the highest birth rate in the country) and bought a broken down convenience store, renovated it, and moved in upstairs.

The store has a nursing lounge in the back, and lots of women in the neighborhood will stop by to change their baby’s diaper. They relax on our back patio garden and we serve tea. Plenty of moms will come to take a break and leave with a purchase.

We usually have three people working at all times – my staff are all mothers, who will either bring their children to work in a sling, or they work short shifts to accommodate their parenting.

I was drawn to CityMax.com to build our website because it’s very affordable and user-friendly – the ability to add and remove products easily was crucial. Also being web-based my employees can work on the site from anywhere.

For the future, we will be opening another store in the East End (another baby boom area) this year. I’m going to keep growing the business until it won’t grow – maybe another store every 2 years?”

How I drive traffic to my website:

  • Organic Search
  • Our blog
  • Twitter/Facebook
  • Links from our suppliers
  • Trade shows

Tips:

Hiring
“Don’t be afraid to hire people, especially when your business is based on customer service. Being short staffed can cost you sales. Also don’t be afraid of hiring people who are smarter than you!”

Customer Service
“We pay attention to the details, like holding the door for our customers and serving tea. The store has a cooler with hot and cold drinks, and our staff really knows the product. These little things make the difference, and it’s how a boutique can beat the big box stores.

For online orders, we send our customers a few extra identical products close to their order size, to make sure they find the right size and solve fitting issues. We bill them for the extras and refund the product they return.”

Sarah has built EvyMama.com into quite a community and her business has hit some major milestones. Congratulations on all of your success Sarah, we’re proud to call you a CityMaxer!!

If you’d like to be featured in the Mompreneur Series, send a short description of yourself and your business to Patrick (at) citymax (dot) com.

How to Fit Tough Keywords into Your Small Business Website

puzzleWhen you’re trying to optimize your small business website for keywords, you sometimes end up with phrases that just don’t fit in to the flow of the page.

Strange word combinations, odd plurality and missing articles can make writing for exact keyword phrases a pretty difficult task, but it doesn’t have to be impossible – you just need to start thinking of it like a puzzle.

Here are a few suggestions for fitting in those challenging keywords:

1.    Break them up
Although punctuation means a lot to me and you, search engines aren’t that fussy about it. If you’re having trouble fitting the words of a keyword phrase in one sentence, break it up into two separate sentences.

Keyword phrase: San Francisco Real Estate

Looking for a new home in San Francisco? Real Estate can be hard to come by without enlisting the help of an expert.

2.    Use bulleted lists
Not only can bulleted lists be used to simplify information for your visitor, but they can also help you use keywords less awkwardly.

Keyword Phrase: Dog Training Articles

Looking for more information? See the following:

  • “Max’s Guide to Dog TrainingArticles about teaching your dog the basics.
  • “Penelope’s Puppies: All about dog trainingArticles for owners of puppies under the age of 6 months.
  • “Jane and her Litter” Everything you need to know about dog training.

Articles can help you get a lot of the information you need as a new dog owner.

3.    Quotes
Some keywords just can’t sound natural when written from the third person perspective. In that case, try including them in a quote.

Keyword Phrase: Make my own wine

See what our customers have to say about our services!

“I wanted to make my own wine, but didn’t want to spend a fortune. Grapestompers was affordable AND my wine is fantastic!”

Fitting keywords into your small business website is often a challenge, and these are just a few ways you can do it. Try to be creative and flexible without sacrificing readability – it’s important to remember that your visitor is just as important as the search engines, so be careful not to ruin their experience for the sake of fitting in your keywords.

[image by liza31337]

Northern Voice 2010 Wrap-up

image001This weekend the CityMax.com small business website builder team hit Canada’s largest social media and blogging conference six years running, Northern Voice (#nv10). There, we learned all about the changing face of media, how to shape our online voice, guerilla marketing and more. We brought along our @OfficeChicken to ruffle a few feathers, but he turned out to be a total ‘chick magnet’ (click here for more pics).

For those of you who couldn’t make it, renowned Vancouver blogger and social media expert Miss 604 documented both Day 1 and Day 2. Noted local academic Raul Pacheco-Vega (aka Hummingbird604) also live blogged a few of the sessions in great detail – including Googler Chris Messina’s keynote speech and Alexandra Samuel’s excellent talk on “Coping with Social Media.”

All in all it was an excellent weekend of learning and connecting! What’s the best conference you’ve been to lately and why?

Website of the Month: Call to Doody

calltodoody1“If you have a dog that poops, we have a person that scoops!”

Nathalie Bland has always been passionate about dogs. Three years ago, she read a Readers’ Digest article about “the top 10 disgusting jobs that people will pay others to do.” Inspired by what she read and fed up with her corporate job, Nathalie quit and decided to open her business: Call To Doody.

The Houston-based company frees dog owners from their worst chore: poop scooping. The business serves anybody with a dog and a yard, as well as parks and apartment complexes.  Promoting clean yards at an inexpensive price, Nathalie’s small business has grown in just two and a half years to 7 employees and 3 trucks.

Nathalie spoke about the role her website plays in her business: “I had never really done anything online before, other than email. I didn’t want to pay someone hundreds of dollars to update my website, and not even have control over it. So I did a 10 day free trial with CityMax.com and within a couple hours, knew I could handle it. You guys made it so easy, and whenever I have a question your support staff responds promptly and works with me until I get it.”

Nathalie is enjoying her newfound independence: “I can’t wait for Monday morning anymore. I get up every day and get to work with like-minded people and be passionate about what I do. There are long days, but when you do something you’re interested in, it’s not really work. Whenever we go to a dog owner’s house they are always so happy to see us – it frees up their spare time for the things that they want to do!”

In 2009, the business experienced 52% growth, and Call To Doody is now looking to expand into the Dallas and San Antonio markets. Nathalie shares a few words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs: “If you have an idea, listen to yourself – not others. If I had listened to everyone else I’d still be wearing my suit and heels, traveling four days a week.”

Search Engine Optimization (Homepreneur Website Makeover: Part 1)

2010-02-01-marcoandheatherbarberini21Are you running a small business website? Last week, we entertained our 2009 Homepreneur of the Year winners, Marco and Heather Barberini of OvernightPetTags.com, wining and dining them with an all-expenses-paid trip to Vancouver while providing them some small business tips to help grow their already successful small business website.

This post – the first of three in a series — will share with you some of the same tips that we shared with them. Hopefully, you can use these tips and our website builder to grow your business!

Small Business SEO

Marco and Heather had a great start and had some concepts already ranking quite well. As part of a makeover of their website, I did some keyword research around ranking higher for concepts that would lead to sales. Most of the conversation focused on what I like to call the “Magic Triangle of SEO”. This Magic Triangle includes a keyword rich Title Tag, a keyword relevant H1, and anchor text for offsite links that utilize the same keywords that are found within the Title Tag and H1.

The logic behind this triangle is that your Title Tag is you describing what the page is about, your H1 is about what you are telling your website visitors what the page is about, and an offsite link is third-party validation that your page is truly about what you are describing.

For Marco and Heather this resulted in:

Homepage Title Tag: “Pet Tags | Pet ID Tags – Personalized Pet Tags for Dogs and Cats from OvernightPetTags.com
Homepage H1: “Pet Tags for $4.95.  Order your Pet ID Tag today!”
Offsite SEO/Anchor Text: Focus on link-building via blogs, Veterinarians, animal rescue centers with the “Pet Tag” and “Pet ID Tag” keywords as anchor text

A few other super-simple changes we made to their home page include:

  • Added ALT text to all images that had some of the keywords included (e.g., “Order Your Pet Tags Now” rather than simply “Order Now”)
  • Changed the text order to read “Pet Tags – $4.95, Free Shipping Special” rather than “Free Shipping Special: Pet Tags – $4.95”. This better emphasizes the core messaging. Before, the site was ranking well for “Free Pet Tags”, something that Marco and Heather were not offering. A quick snapshot of the Google Cache indicated that “Free” was the first word that Google was seeing. Now, they should see “Pet Tags”.
  • Interlinking to internal pages using on-page keywords (e.g., hyperlink “pet tags” to the catalog featuring the pet tags that they had for sale)

We made these edits together and gave the Barberinis some takeaways for more work. So far, these minor changes have already paid big dividends. Ranking for 5 of the 12 keywords being targeted have already increased significantly. The table below shows some of the top keywords and their change in rank after only 3 days:

small-business-seo-ranking

Hopefully, your small business website can experience the same success. Sometimes all it takes are a few tweaks and you can be well on your way to better search ranking.

How to Build an Army of Brand Loyalists

Build an Army of Brand Loyalists - Jonathan KayGuest Post – Jonathan Kay is the Ambassador of Buzz at Grasshopper, a provider of virtual phone systems. He is extremely passionate about helping / meeting new entrepreneurs and always excited to learn about their unique journey. Find Jonathan on Twitter @GrasshopperBuzz or via email at jkay(at)grasshopper.com.

Having now lived through over a year of my first recession, I have learned a lot. Mistakes and tough times always seem to lead to opportunities and takeaways. The last year or two really taught me the importance of the customer, and the emphasis that needs to be placed on them. With entrepreneurs and small businesses looking for any way possible to save money, “Customer Acquisition Cost” has become an increasingly important metric. It’s simple… the less money it costs you to acquire a customer, the larger the profit margin.

This leads me to a real passion of mine: Brand Loyalists.

A brand loyalist isn’t just a happy user of your product/service: they yell from the roof tops about you, helping to market and sell your product! With all the social media channels available now, there are more and more people telling you what they need, and asking for advice. Having an Army of Brand Champions out there provides a powerful and unbiased sale that is impossible to reproduce. More so, real brand loyalists will spend the time to give you constructive, uncensored feedback. This will only help make your product/service stronger, and increase customer satisfaction in the long run.

Ok. So now you know how important brand loyalists are; the harsh reality is they are difficult to achieve. And, a simple discount or promotion code just won’t cut it. I have been fortunate early in my career to work with a handful of really successful and genuine entrepreneurs. This firsthand experience has helped me develop a certain level of expertise in this area, and below are some helpful tips I have learned along the way:

1. Add Value First
When a customer engages your brand and purchases your product/service they don’t expect you to add value above and beyond what they paid for. This creates an opportunity to WOW your customer and really exceed their expectations. Small efforts make a difference: engage new customers on Twitter and thank them, start discussions about your product, and if you or a colleague is traveling why not reach out to a few local customers and take them out to dinner or drinks. By engaging your customer right away you will make a connection they will never forget.

2. Listen. Then Listen Some More
Have you ever tried flat out asking your customers what they want? What they need? Simple…yes, but trust me it works. Why not just pick up the phone and ask them? It is important to remember that your customers drive the direction of your business. At Grasshopper, all managers call 5 new customers ever week. We ask how the setup process went, what we could be doing better, what we are missing, and how we could help? Listening is a powerful tool. By making people feel actively involved (not through boring surveys) in shaping important features/practices, you will build incredible brand loyalty.

3. Make a Human Connection
It’s important to let your customers know that you are more than just a brand – you are actually real people too. Make an effort from to have less formal conversations. A great example of this is our co-founder David Hauser (@dh). You will find him doing anything from thanking customers to talking about his Iron Man training.

4. Promote Your Customers
People never forget when you make a connection, or open a door for them. Make an effort to be constantly reaching out to your customer base, learn about them and their businesses. The more you know about your customers, the more likely you will be able to set them up with other customers who might be able to help each other out. That is a memorable connection. Here at Grasshopper we have gone as far as to set up a formal program: Tell Us Your Story. This gives our entrepreneurs an opportunity to tell us what makes them unique, and how they are changing the world. Not only do we promote them to the media, but now we also have real stories and examples of entrepreneurs living their passion. Actively trying to help your customers businesses grow is a definite way to create a brand loyalist.

5. Build a Culture of Responsibility
You need to empower your employees to help your customers (and not just your support team). There is no reason everyone should not be concerned with how your customers feel about your product/service. Make an effort to always follow up after resolving a customer issue, this will make people feel heard, appreciated, and create a loyalist for life.