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Do That Sales Thing: Sell More!

Sales cartoon

This cartoon came out a Friday afternoon sales meeting where our inside sales staff was getting a scolding about a particularly dismal week. We were informed that not only would we likely not see any bonuses, but that the manager’s children would now have a terrible Christmas.

I’m not kidding.

We attempted to defend ourselves and offered some possible solutions for the next week. All were dismissed out of hand and when we asked for advice we were instructed to “Just sell more! Sell! More!”

I’m pretty sure I did the above cartoon the following morning.

* * * * *

Mark Anderson, professional cartoonistAbout the Author: Mark Anderson’s cartoons appear in publications including The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review. Anderson is the creator of the popular cartoon website, Andertoons.com, where he licenses his cartoons for presentations, newsletters and other projects. He blogs at Andertoons blog.

From Small Business Trends

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Online Scheduling Review: Shiftboard Keeps Schedules Up to Date

Shiftboard is an online scheduling system for small to medium-sized companies and organizations.  You use it to schedule worker shifts. That worker could be a paid employee or a volunteer. Like many of our reviews, Shiftboard is a software-as-a-service application. No download or install required.

For another recent review, I suggested you go straight to the testimonials page. I suggest the same with Shiftboard Case Studies. I consider this information first because it tells the story from a customer’s perspective.

Yes, they are often marketing-speak.  But the good thing in a real case study is the customer has to approve it, so you don’t often get spam-type comments. Customers put their reputation on the line when they agree to a case study, so they carry more weight in my book. From healthcare staffing to international film festivals, 25 users to 10,000-plus end users, there was a good range of examples.

The company gave me a Web demo last week for this review. Full disclosure: I was an early angel investor (note: very small) in this company, but that is not how Small Business Trends selected them to be reviewed.

How many open shifts do I have for next week?

Online scheduling is different from calendaring.  It is driven by critical business rules:

  • How many positions are required to be scheduled at a given time?
  • Who has seniority and gets first dibs on a particular shift?
  • What happens when someone cancels?
  • Is the worker trained for this situation?
  • Which workers are approaching the overtime limit?
  • And similar questions.

One of the things that stood out in this demo was the reporting. You can create a forward-looking forecast of who is working and when, thus giving a snapshot into what your scheduling, costs, and labor needs are for the week (or any time period). It also could look back, of course, and see similar info, by shift, by team, by location, by worker. The report section is a series of seven drop down menus (in the example company I was in) plus the date range selection tool making it clear what is available for a report. Then it gave me the ability to summarize by team, by account, by role. If you’ve ever tried to keep a staff schedule up-to-date in a spreadsheet, and then pull it together into some sort of meeting report, you know immediately what I mean.

Online Scheduling Reporting by Shiftboard

The only downside in the reporting module that I noticed was that I couldn’t create a complex custom report and save it to re-run it later. I could select from a wide range of existing reports about specific shifts, about people, about an account (if you are a staffing agency, the client where you have staff is an example of an account), but I couldn’t create a custom one. According to Shiftboard, enabling complex combination reporting is a fall 2009 priority.

Since I’m writing about downsides, the other one is they do not offer a free trial. Even so, it is a pretty affordable system starting at $50/month (for up to 25 active users) on a month-to-month commitment, so you can cancel at any time.

From an employee perspective, Shiftboard is an empowering system. Workers can see their schedule, any time, anywhere. They can self-select shifts that you make available. Some companies only assign shifts, but you can, as the scheduling manager allow a worker to select from open shifts directly. As a worker, I can release a shift and it instantly shows up as available for someone else to pick up (again, if that’s allowed by your settings). Talk about a scheduler’s dream. This could cut my workload in half, as a business owner, and free me up for more selling or other important tasks.

As a manager, your first impression might be, “Whoa, I don’t want my workers to have that much control.” But, think about it for just a moment: How much of your day do you spend trying to figure out who is working where and when? One of the beauties of a truly robust scheduling system is you can assign everyone’s schedule or you can let workers pick up shifts or some mix of the two (as they like, with certain criteria set by you). Shiftboard does any of these easily.

Online Scheduling Week View Screenshot by Shiftboard

Red is open, green is assigned (as in red, stop, pay attention…).  At a glance, you can see which shifts are full and which need attention. They also had an hourly view, which I really liked, because I could scan down the shifts and see if I had proper coverage for my busiest times of the day. They told me they built this module for call center scheduling and event management companies (think sports stadiums, professional events, or political events) where you have hourly workers like inbound tech support workers, or bartenders at a catered event.

Online Scheduling Hourly View by Shiftboard

What Shiftboard Does – and Does Not Do

Shiftboard is not a calendar. Calendaring is a shared system that often relies on email updates you pass back and forth to keep the calendar item synchronized (like Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook). It almost always demands time consuming interaction between you and the other party.

If all you want to do is allow your customers to see your schedule and book appointments with you, check out Timedriver.com or Bookfresh.com (formerly called HourTown). These systems allow you to make your calendar available on the web and notify you (via email or SMS) when someone books an appointment. There are literally dozens of calendaring applications that sync to your Outlook or Google calendars.

End Users do not Need Training

When CEO Rob Eleveld gave me the demo, he said, “end users do not need training.”  I rolled my eyes, not realizing that little expression would get under his skin. Most of Shiftboard’s customers have distributed workforces that don’t come into central offices. The “no training except self-help on the site” is a critical requirement they obviously spent a lot of time refining. He paused the demo and shared some real-life examples.

Mollen Immunization Clinics had 1,500 nurses self-scheduling in 11 states last fall to provide flu shots, and none of the end users received training. This year Mollen is rolling out nationally with more than 5 times the nurses, and obviously they cannot provide training. Event management is another large segment Shiftboard serves and he named 15 customers on the West Coast that don’t provide any training to end-users. These included large organizations like the Los Angeles and Seattle International Film Festivals and a well known music festival, Bumbershoot, all of which have 800-1500 workers. I cried uncle at that point and asked him to get back to showing me the software.

Back in the application, from what I could see, simplicity for end users means reducing what they see to the bare minimum. In one screen, I could see the three things I would care most about as a worker: select/accept a shift, view/print the calendar, and update some basic contact information. Okay, so the “no training” part seems realistic to me now.

Who Shiftboard is Best For

Shiftboard is best for companies employing 10 workers and up, with distributed workforces (i.e., they don’t work in a central office).

The kinds of businesses that use it include call centers, per diem staffing companies, event management, catering & hospitality, courier & taxi services, security services, moving & warehousing, and non-profits working with volunteers.

Finally, if you want to take some of the load off your scheduling manager or yourself as the owner, Shiftboard can let workers self-schedule online.

Learn more about online scheduling by Shiftboard.

From Small Business Trends

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Competitive Link Research with the Linkscape Index

Posted by Nick Gerner

Just before the SEOmoz PRO Seminar, over the weekend, we updated the Linkscape index.  This is great timing because we’re also unveiling (to PRO members only, sorry free members) the prototype for a new tool!  We’re calling it our competitive link finder, powered by Linkscape.  But Tom Schmitz was good enough to explain things in a blog post some weeks back.

But before I dive into the new tool, as is traditional, some numbers:

  • URLs: 39 billion
  • Root Domains: 55 million
  • Subdomains: 208 million
  • Links: 443 billion

The sharp members of our audience will recognize that this index is, in fact, smaller than our last.  Our index size is varying from update to update as we tune quality vs coverage.  And this creates some issues around historical tracking.  Believe me, we are working on the issue, stay tuned for more information around this scenario.

More interesting is an Index Quality Study we finished just before this update.  From that study two things are immediately interesting to me.

Linkscape Index Coverage vs Yahoo! Site Explorer

First, we estimate that between 60 and 70% of what Y!SE might give you (including no follows, duplicate links) are in our index today (the small one, remember?).  Moreover, we estimate that nearly 50% of what Y!SE will give you, we could too, but we filter out as duplicates, nofollows, or otherwise less important than other data we’ve got in our top 3000 links.

Next we’ve gotten a lot of feedback about how mozRank matches intuitive understanding.  Sure it’s a 10 point scale, similar to Google Toolbar PageRank, but often people are finding it’s off from what they’re expecting.  This is because of the data we’ve been optimizing our index for:

Linkscape Index Focus on high PageRank pages

In the past we’ve been concentrating on a more or less random sample of pages users might care about (the red bars).  As it turns out, you guys care a lot more about important pages and want mozRank to be focused at describing the authority of these pages (the blue bars).  So we’ve dramatically shifted the focus of mozRank toward these pages.  Hopefully you should get a better experience out of mozRank and mozTrust for these high authority pages and sites.

We have more data for partners and power users.  PM me if you’re interested.

Finally, here’s the new competitive link tool. (I know you guys already took a peek at it!)  The idea is to identify authoritative sites and communities you could get links from, but don’t already.

Linkscape Competitive Link Research Tool

What we do is take your site, and up to five related sites (maybe competitors).  From those we find all the links the related sites have, and find the common ones.  From that we create a check-list.  These are the big important sites your industry is engaging with, but you aren’t.

Of course, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to get some of these endorsements too.  I mean, you’ve got great content, products, tools, and services.  Users want that stuff.  Google, et al. want to deliver those search results.

So go check out your latest updated data, our new tool, and stay tuned for a Linkscape FAQ adapted from my PRO training slides.  That’s a little something for those of you who couldn’t make it to the seminar :)

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Project Management for SEO

Posted by Lucy Langdon

Coming up with the right SEO answer is just one part of improving your website’s performance online. The strategy you devise then needs implementation and, more often than not, project management. The purpose of this post is to share what I (and a few others) have learned about managing SEO strategies over the years. There isn’t much hardcore SEO though- I suggest you take a look at this if you want some of that!


If you’re developing an SEO strategy for a website, you need to make sure you have some objectives in place. A simple, ‘increase traffic’ or ‘rank better’ is not specific enough but, having said that, creating goals that are so specific they exclude any recognition of improvement across the board are similarly limiting.

Applied to SEO
You’re an in-house SEO for a website that sells cheese online. Your overall goal is to increase conversions on your site. Your strategy goals are threefold:

  • reduce bounce rate by about x%
  • increase the number of new visitors by about x%
  • increase conversation rate by about x%

It’s a painfully obvious thing to say, but having aims in place like this will really increase your chances of creating a successful strategy; everything that goes into it has to have a motivation. Recommending a Twitter account? Is that because you think it’ll increase the number of new visitors by x% or because you quite like Twittering? By giving every task you outline a definite purpose, you’ll reduce the risk of wasting time on tactics that don’t work.

Getting everyone on board

These goals and objectives need to be developed in partnership with whoever you’re creating the strategy for, whether that’s a client or your boss. It really helps if you can demonstrate to this person why you’ve chosen these goals and, once you’ve come up with the strategy, how you’re going to achieve them. One of the main reasons for this is that you’ll probably need their help at some point along the way.

Applied to SEO
SEO isn’t rocket science but if your client’s/boss’s expertise lies elsewhere then it’s really worth making sure they understand what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it. Make sure someone (and it can be you) really believes in the strategy and can champion it to whoever needs convincing. It’s important that this person can communicate the overall idea as well as go into the specifics. We’ve found powerpoint, graphs and the odd screenshot of a ‘moz tool helps with this. (My post about using ‘moz tools in the sales process talks a bit about this).

In terms of implementation, if you can show (preferably with diagrams) how changing that title tag or contacting that partner site is crucial to the strategy then you’ve won half the battle.

Develop Indicators

If you’re putting together a strategy that’s going to last for more than a week or two, you want to be able to check up on it along the way. One of the characteristics of a ‘holistic strategy’ could well be that it won’t start showing results until you’re quite a way in (eg. if you start by making a load of techy changes to the website that will only affect rankings once you start linkbuilding), so you need to come up with a way to show the plan is working before it actually is! Sound challenging? It is, but it’s definitely worth it.

Applied to SEO
“Leading indicators and signature analytics” are the buzz words of the moment. The idea is to think of the stuff you can spot that indicates something is working. For example, if your overall objective is to improve the performance of a certain few search terms and you decide that one of the ways to do that is to increase domain diversity, then your leading indicator is simply to monitor the number of domains linking to you. If your aim is to improve the longtail traffic to your site, then your signature analytics could be to monitor the number of 3 or more word keyphrases that are driving traffic to your site.

Delegate tasks

Once your strategy, goals and indicators are set up, it’s time to start delegating some tasks! Personally, I love this bit, but I know lots of people find it hard to handover tasks that are intrinsic to the success of a strategy. Unless you personally have infinite time and resources, the project will probably suffer if you try and do everything yourself.

Applied to SEO
A nice spreadsheet with a list of tasks, due dates and who’s responsible for what will do wonders here. Whatever works though, just make sure everyone’s up to date and ready to go.


No matter how convincing and attractive a strategy might look, it really won’t work unless it’s actionable and then actioned. As long as all your tasks are created, handed out and acted upon from day one you can’t fail. If only it was that easy….

Applied to SEO
In reality, fitting your SEO strategy in alongside all the other challenges that the website you’re working for faces can be really difficult. How can you decide between a bug fix or a new widget for your limited dev resource? This is where an ability to prioritize comes in very handy. There will be actions within your strategy that are more important and time-sensitive than others but spotting which they are is hard; you often have to make calls on the potential benefit of future actions. Your strategy must be grounded on solid SEO concepts that you can see working on other sites. If it is, then you should have no problem making a call on the potential benefit of one action over another.


Regular catch ups with whoever the strategy is for are essential throughout the project. People forget things, the market changes, stuff doesn’t work… this all needs to be discussed and accounted for. If your goals need to be tweaked half way through a strategy, for whatever reason, you need to be able to adapt quickly. It’s also important to tweak the expected results and leading indicators accordingly. A regular review is also a really good time to check that all those tasks you delegated are being completed in the best possible way.

Applied to SEO
How you go about these reviews obviously varies hugely from case to case but put something in the diary and keep to it! I’ve found it’s worth keeping this kind of catch up quite formal- sort out an agenda and try and stick to it. These catch ups are also an excellent opportunity to help keep you on track. Most folk would rather be building a Twitter network than digging through a list of niche directories to spot any missed opportunities. A good catch up that lets you check off what’s been done and what still needs doing will remind you which actions will actually make your strategy work.

Things to bear in mind

Quick wins vs. diminishing returns – Implementing an SEO strategy often involves picking off the low-hanging fruit first. For example, if there are problems with the indexing of the site you’re working for and your improvement of the navigation fixes these problems and suddenly allows new pages to rank, you’re going to look pretty good in month one. However, this kind of quick win approach can’t last forever; you should think about whether your client or boss will understand this. Two things will help with this:

  • Work the concept of diminishing returns into your strategy as a positive thing- ie. make sure your boss or client understands that, although the value you’ll be adding month on month will be worth the investment, the value you add in the first few months might well blow them away.
  • A strategy is a cumulative project so make sure you always look at the progress the site has made from the day you started, not just from the previous catch up.

Know your resources – As I mentioned above. an SEO strategy with no actions is terrible- as bad as a kitten in a box with no videophone on standby to capture the magic. However, an actionable strategy with no-one to actually do the work is so much worse. (If anyone can work out how to bring in Schrodinger here I think that would be great. Something along the lines off ‘if an actionable strategy has no-one to action it, is it a strategy at all?). Know thy minions and what they are capable of and remember, if the rules change half way through the game, then you should rethink what a ‘win’ will look like.


Before I sign off, last week Will ran a popular conference call about how we use SEOmoz tools at Distilled. A recording of the call and the notes are now available online. If you would like to hear about future calls (and get future recordings) you can sign up on that page too. There was particular enthusiasm for one about advanced Excel (especially PivotTables) – watch out for that coming soon.

(My thanks to Tom and Will Critchlow and Stephen Tallamy for their advice about Project Management for SEO)
(Thanks to modenadude for the image).

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SEO Training Series – First Day Wrap up

Posted by jennita

We just wrapped up the first day of our Pro Training Series 2009, and what a day it was! I think most people would agree with me when I say that the speaker line-up was absolutely amazing! Every single one of them brought their A-game and provided attendees with wickedly awesome information. I know, I know I’m a little biased eh? But I’ve seriously been in awe all day long, watching some of the best presentations I’ve ever seen.

Throughout the day I’ve had my eye on the Twitter stream, responding, retweeting and keeping people up to date one what’s coming next. Almost every single tweet has been positive except for the fact that it’s freezing in here (but really, what conference isn’t cold?? I freeze at every single conference I go to). As with SES San Jose, I’ve put together a compilation of all the amazing information that attendees have been coming away with and tweeting.

The sessions and tweets are listed in descending order, in other words: select * from session order by session.time desc. Also you may be wondering where the Q & A session is… I felt it needed a post of it’s own, so stay tuned!

(Please excuse my horrible images, I had to use my cell phone.)

Good Vs. Great: Why Some Startups Make the Leap and Others Don’t

Dharmesh Shah

Dharmesh Shah - Startups at SEOmoz training

this was the best “startup” presentation I’ve ever seen… congratz @dharmesh and @seomoz

we (SEOs) are web ninjas and maniacal about data – said @dharmesh xD #seomoz

@dharmesh “successful entrepreneurs try things and fail very rapidly” iterate CONSTANTLY #seomoz

@dharmesh has our attention at #seomoz. talkin’ startups.

if you aren’t completely embarrassed by your new product,you waited too long – @dharmesh #seomoz

an entrepreneur’s goal is to take their awful idea and make it suck progressively less over time, says @dharmesh at #seomoz

“You will have many chances to screw things up.” #seomoz

Financial Risk: 100% of $20 million VS 10% of $200 million (by @dharmesh) #seomoz

@dharmesh the best feedback 4 startups is when people start paying you money. The second best feedback is when they STOP paying you. #seomoz

@dharmesh “Write a blog, not a business plan”. #seomoz

Listening to a great presentation from @dharmesh about building a successful tech startup @ #seomoz. “Recruit superheros in the making”

From @dharmesh, the best startups grab the customers that are sitting on the sidelines and not yet in the game to sell to. #seomoz

The Pacman Chunk of the Piechart: Getting Links

Tom Critchlow

Tom Critchlow - Link Building at SEOmoz<br /> training

#SEOmoz Seminar. Tom Critchlow covers link bldg w/your Unique Selling Proposition… + pic of Rand as Dr Evil.

Good points on how small brands can beat big brands – by @tomcritchlow at #seomoz seminar

good point by @tomcritchlow – “identify successfull strategies” – you can begin by using SEOmoz Top Pages tool! #seomoz

Competitor Analysis: There are basic links in each niche Get them all. Reverse Engineer your competitors! #seomoz

Great Phrase “Competitors are people who rank” by @tomcritchlow #seomoz

Good tip by @tomcritchlow – Investigate the links to sites already listed in niche directories #seomoz

Just realized Will and Tom Critchlow are not the same person. Thought Will reverse aged somehow since last year. #seomoz

@tomcritchlow is killing it with linkbuilding tips… love the idea of broadening link sources across niches #seomoz

@tomcritchlow is blowing my mind with all fast tips he is giving at #seomoz seminar

Use Google’s Content Network to find companies open to linking back to you. Great tip from @tomcritchlow #seomoz

Linkbuilding Requires Resource: Business Development Managers, Community Managers, Developers #seomoz

uma das melhores palestras de seo que eu já vi. Estratégias avançadas de lkb em inglês britanico e em 45min hehehe #seo, #seomoz

Sustain Verticality for 3 Rounds

David Mihm – Local Search

David Mihm - Local Search at SEOmoz Training

Google local business center (LBC) best to approve listing manually to maximize Google’s trust. By David Mihm at #seomoz.

@davidmihm & Google Local. Check out his incredible Local Ranking Factors for the complete details: http://bit.ly/HQPPF #seomoz

you should use microformats to improve your local search rankings – by @davidmihm #seomoz

Location Page Optimization Tips-> Submit your location page for each location as your LBC Url, use geographic kwd in Titles #seomoz

Per @davidmihm Link out from your contact page to main citation sources and YouTube videos to increase rankings & reviews. #seomoz

David Mihm e Matt Brown falando sobre busca local e universal search: ambos falam da importância dos microformats. #seo, #seomoz

Matt Brown – Image & News Search

Matt Brown - Image Search at SEOmoz training
Ack! twitter glitch… no tweets coming through. Matt’s giving us awesome information! Tips for optimizing news – which is easier than image optimization. How do you get image search to turn into money?

  • Alt attribute is the highest ranking factor.
  • Keyword in the filename
  • Differentiate alt text – don’t want all the pictures on a page with the same alt text
Arrrgh. Twitter down right in the middle of the #seomoz conference.

Optimizing your image alt tags can help your search engine rankings #seomoz (via @matthewjbrown)

News search mistakes to avoid: registration walls, changing URLs, changing headlines to update story, bad relateds #seomoz

Make SEO Tools Work for You

Nick Gerner – Linkscape and other SEOmoz tools

Nick Gerner - Linkscape at SEOmoz Training

At the #seomoz seminar. @gerner totally rocks. He’s one smart freakin’ dude.

Woot! @gerner talks about the value of #seomoz Q & A and how to find answers to questions already answered plus get specific answers

You Want to Be here ->mR = mT! #seomoz

@dannydover citou o bit.ly como ferramenta para monitorar links de competidores… #seomoz

Tools from Across the Web

Danny Dover
Danny Dover - SEO Tools

@dannydover presenting @seomoz ‘how to make seo reporting sexy’ obviously step one is to grow KILLER facial hair #mozinar

Add a “+” to the end of any bit.ly link to get almost real time analytics. “Sweeeeeet!” #seomoz

SEOs need to better understand the web developer world to improve overall campaigns from @DannyDover at #seomoz

First you Get the Keywords, Then you Get the Money

Ken Jurina

Ken Jurina - Keyword Research

Enquisite mentioned as tool for long-tail keyword research. It’s a good anlaytics tool. Worth checking out. #SEOmoz #mozinar

Use Google Insights, Trends, and AdWords tool & IceRocket, ScoutLabs and Twitter to find low-competition keywords #seomoz

Usando O Google Keyword Tool, Volume alto de busca, e pouca competicao, eh hora de atacar! #seomoz

SEO is Nothing without Content

Structurally Sound: SEO for Site Architecture

Rand Fishkin - Begins the SEOmoz training

Jeremy Dearringer
@Rand at @seomoz training “Links, Links, Links!” http://yfrog.com/4zqa7j

SEOmoz Pro Training Seminar Word of the Day: “automagically”

Se o nofollow esta funcionando em seu site, para que remove-los? #seomoz

At SEOmoz training – let your privacy policy get crawled – don’t block in robots.txt, use rel=”noindex, follow” instead.

SEOMOZ Rand Fishkin notes that for content-driven sites, sharing is your most important call-to-action. make is a priority in your design

How to earn links to UGC -Make it Easy to Share -Reward Links with Trackbacks -Make Sharing functions a Call To Action #seomoz

SEOmoz 2009 Tips & Tricks Seminar Kicks Off http://bit.ly/9wP6L #seomoz

See you all tomorrow for more great tips, tricks and information!

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SEOmoz’s Biennial Ranking Factors 2009 Released

Posted by randfish

I’m thrilled to announce that after months of hard work, SEOmoz’s biennial Search Engine Ranking Factors is finally launching. Every two years, we survey 100 of the industry’s top SEO minds. In 2009, 72 SEOs participated in the data gathering process, answering survey questions that consumed hours of time. The resulting document is an amazing aggregation of data about how search engines rank documents and, at least in my opinion, should be read by anyone serious about practicing search engine optimization.

Ranking Factors Version 3

The document contains five important sections:

  • The Overview – offering the most high level view of the ranking elements
  • Ranking Factors – the raw data, showing the importance and level of consensus for each factor; this year also includes a set of opinions on how geo-targeting across countries is perceived.
  • Link Building – this year, we’ve also added a section asking our SEO participants which methods they find most effective for link acquisition. I think this data is tremendously valuable and interesting for anyone seeking to engage in link building campaigns.
  • Additional SEO Data – we asked a few specific questions around SEO to gauge the opinions of the experts; lots of cool stuff in here, too
  • Contributors – a list of those who participated in the survey and details about who they are and where you can find them on the web

My great thanks goes out to Timmy & Sam here at SEOmoz, who helped create this year’s document and to all of the generous participants from across the SEO world. Practitioners in more than a dozen countries around the world, all of whom have extremely busy schedules, gave up their time to help those learning SEO get a better view of the subject – please join me in thanking them.

If you’ve got questions, feedback or want to bring up interesting topics, feel free to do so in the comments on this post.

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The New Marketer’s Toolbox

The New Marketer’s Toolbox

This content from: Duct Tape Marketing

toolsMore than once those that follow what I do have asked me how I seem to get so much done in a day. I have to admit that I get a lot of help from the man behind the curtain and from you my readers and subscribers. That’s the part that many don’t see, but the rich set of, often free, tools out there now make it much easier to run your business and increase your productivity.

I use a power set of tools throughout the day to write, collaborate, bookmark, filter, find and conduct commerce. Here is my current list of favorites, although like so much on the Internet, some of these could change in the blink of an eye.

Google Alerts – Free service from Google allows you to conduct customer searches for your brand, competitors, industry mentions, and journalists and have any mention of these terms online sent to your email inbox on a daily or as it happens basis. Key tool for monitoring your reputation in real time but it can also serve as a great client relationship building tool as well.

Central Desktop – I use this tool to collaborate with providers and clients alike. The set of features and flexibility from this tool is incredible. I was a hard core Basecamp fan, and still am, but Central Desktop just does so much more. You can manage projects, teams and schedules, but my favorite use is the built in WYSIWYG wiki editor. I use this to build web based operations manuals and document processes for my team.

Google Reader – I subscribe to and scan and read about 100 blogs and think you should too. I get some great ideas, hear about the next new thing, and find tools like I ‘ve listed here by adhering to this practice. Google Reader puts them all in one place and is very mobile browser friendly so I can jump on the site and read a few blogs any time I’m standing in line.

TweetDeck - This desktop application makes it very easy to keep up with what I want to follow on twitter. I create searches for key terms and form groups of people I want to follow closely. The tool also allows you to RT, tweet, DM, follow and unfollow directly from the interface. A mobile app is available as well.

Firefox – Firefox is, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, simply a browser, but it’s so much more due to the fact that you can extend its functionality through plug-ins and add-ons. I use it subscribe, blog, bookmark, filter and aggregate much of what I find online all day. I use it to help with web design, SEO and competitive analysis.

Flickr -In addition to optimizing and sharing images online I use the Creative Commons Licensing of images on Flickr to grab great photos for my daily blog posts. (I wrote about how to use Flickr for blog images here)

Snapz Pro X – This $29 software sits in the background and allows me to do screen grabs and video screencasts with the push of a few keys. There are free programs that can do some of this but the added editing and file format options of this program make it worth the money. I’m always adding screenshots in my blog posts and PowerPoint presentations.

Adium – I’m a pretty big fan of IM for internal office use as well as to use with my key collaborators. Adium is nice as it allows me to communicate with people using IM no matter if they are on Yahoo, AOL, Skype, or GTalk.

ScreenFlow Pro – Another paid program but this is simply the easiest, yet feature rich, video screen capture program I have ever used. I use it to turn many of my web and offline presentations into short movies to share on YouTube.

su.pr - This is a my tool of choice for much of my tweeting. When I use su.pr to post a tweet with a link it shortens the link bu also sets up a rich set of tracking so that I can view how many view, retweets and mentions the tweet received. In addition, because the tool is part of the StumbleUpon network it gives me the opportunity to receive or send traffic from this network to the pages I link to.

Email Center Pro – This tool allows me to create mailboxes for departments of information, such as sales, service, media requests, etc. and then, if I choose, assign emails to those addresses to various internal and external resources to address. I can create responses to many common questions and allow anyone to interact from that department. In addition, I can see the entire archive of any of the discussion threads that might occur in any conversation from a dashboard. Great customer service tool.

Jott – This tool allows me to use my phone to “jott” a message that is transcribed and sent to my email. I use this all of the time when I am driving along and am hit with a thought for a blog post. Additionally, you can set-up groups and contacts on Jott so you can send anyone you set-up emails via your voice messages. You can post appointments to Google Calendar and, if you speak very slowly and use simple words, post tweets.

SimpleNote – Every morning I make a to-do list based on what I want to get done that day. I’ve been doing this for years and it keeps me productive. I started using note pads but now I use SimpleNote on my laptop because it is simple (duh) and it syncs to an online page and my phone so I can have access to my daily list no matter where and how I choose to access it.

WordPress – There are many ways to create web sites and blogs but I just love WordPress. In addition to being one of the simplest ways to create and manage all your web pages and content, the developer community that creates add-ons, themes and tutorials is hard to beat. I encourage most businesses to use it for their entire site, it’s that good.

Google Analytics – Tracking traffic, trends, searches and conversions is a necessary and basic marketing tactic if you want to grow your business. Google’s free analytics package is a no brainer and can give you so much feedback you’ll wonder how you lived without it. Take the time to read and understand everything it can do and you will get even more. Combine it with Site Optimizer and you can begin to do the slightly more sophisticated A/B split testing and find out how to really fine tune your web site.

InfusionSoft – I use Infusionsoft to run the CRM, ecommerce, email marketing and affiliate tracking aspects of my business. There are individual tools that do each of these functions quite well (In fact I also use ACT!, SwiftPage and Vertical Response), but Infusionsoft is the one tool that brings all of the functions under one roof. It’s not for everyone, but it is a nice tool that keeps getting better.

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Getting Loud With Your SMB Web Site

amplifying SMB messagesPeople use social media for a lot of things. Personally, I use it to be as loud as I possibly can. I know that probably sounds bad, but think about it: I want to use all the tools available to me so that I can be ME as loud as I can, everywhere I can.

Doing so helps me filter out unqualified leads and attracts the people who are most likely to be interested in what I do, the services I provide and how I do business. Essentially, it enables me to find my audience. If you want to find your audience, you need to get loud. And even more than that, you need to help them get loud about you.

Getting loud on the Web requires two things:

  1. Identifying “the talkers” in your space.
  2. Making it easy for them to talk and get loud about you.

Finding the Talkers

There’s a hierarchy in online communities and you need to respect that. As wrong as it sounds, you don’t always want to treat people equally. You want to find your loudest, most committed members and give them extra love and care. Why? Because these are the people who are going to spread your word. Most of your community is probably pretty passive. They’ll buy your product on occasion, they’ll read your blog (but won’t comment) and they’ll take you in very quietly. The talkers, however, are going to be loud about you if you’re smart enough to reach out to them. They’re going to comment on all your posts. They’re going to tweet your links. They’re going to mention your product on their blog. They’re gonna stand up for you. And they’re going to tell their friends about you. You want to identify this group and then hold them close.

If buzz isn’t growing about your company, it’s probably because you haven’t identified and reached out to these folks yet. Figure out which people in your niche you want talking about you, and then constantly go out of your way for them. It’s going to put you on their radar and before you know it, they’ll be singing your praises.

Giving Them Something To Talk About

Once you find your group of loyalists, you need to make sure you’re giving them something to talk about, both literally and figuratively. Find ways to always leave them with something.

  • If you want them to blog about your company, make it easy to share your logo.
  • If you want them to talk about you when they leave your store, give them something physical to hold on to – a piece of swag, a coupon, a free product, etc.
  • If you want them to tweet your article, put that button right in their face.
  • If you want them to submit your article to social media sites, make it easy for them to do that.
  • If you want them to share your articles, put the option to Email to a Friend right in their eyesight.

Give them something to hold on to and a way to share you with their friends. Provide them with the tools to spread how awesome you are. Because they’ll do it. And by giving them something to hold on to, you place yourself in their top of mind and give them a reason to tell their friends about you.

A lot of small businesses are afraid to get loud online. They think they’ll turn their customers off or that they’re best to focus on quietly improving their site. Being loud means added exposure. Don’t be afraid to get loud online. Figure out who you want to be talking about you and then make sure you give them ample ways to do that. After all, it’s better to be loud than invisible.

From Small Business Trends

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When Governments Kick Small Businesses to the Curb

Supplies SuppliesA month ago their small business was humming along. Today, Carl and BJ Streko, husband and wife owners of Supplies-Supplies Inc., are faced with the crisis of their business lives. They are worried about their business surviving – due to one decision by the State of New Jersey.

Their business is one of 17 small suppliers of office products to state and local governmental agencies, schools, libraries and other public institutions.  Yet, without so much as a ‘thank you but we’ve decided not to renew your contract,’ the state has awarded all the office supply business to a single company – a very large corporation.

Now here’s where it gets interesting:  there was no competitive bidding process that Supplies Supplies Inc was notified of to participate in.  Even though Supplies-Supplies has had a state contract since 1984, they started hearing rumors that the state was not going to renew, but to date have never received official notice of nonrenewal.  Then on August 17, 2009 the State of New Jersey issued a press release (PDF) announcing the new arrangement.

By their action, the State of New Jersey is substituting one large vendor in place of 17 smaller local businesses.   The National Office Products Alliance, a trade group representing independent office suppliers, cried foul, issuing a statement saying that the “New Jersey Treasury Abandons Small Business.”  A State Assemblyman also criticized the move.

New Jersey law requires competitive bidding on public contracts.  The bidding, if you can call it that, took place outside the state, in Minnesota, a number of years ago.  Sound strange?  It is.

New Jersey is acting under a state law that it says allows them to enter into joint purchasing agreements with other governments. This is one of six such cost-saving cooperatives entered into by New Jersey.

This is the first I’ve heard of such joint cooperative purchasing agreements, and for all I know my state of Ohio may be part of them.  But the whole idea is troubling. Today it’s office supplies.  Tomorrow it could be YOUR industry.  All contracts get handed by one official to a single large entity in each industry – potentially that could be one nationwide contract for all government buyers.  Think about the implications of that for a while.

But Can These Small Businesses Really Compete?

There’s a twist in this story I wasn’t expecting.  Initially when I set up the interview with the owners of Supplies-Supplies Inc., I was afraid this would turn out to be another case of a small business not being able to compete on price against a large company with more buying power.  Regrettable — but a reality in retail today.

But that is not the case, according to the business owners.

When I asked point blank (perhaps with a little skepticism poking through), “Do you really think you can compete on price with that large vendor?” Carl Streko replied: “Yes, we can compete. We have in the past.  We have been up against the big companies and beat their prices.”

“Some time ago we joined a buying group, with 2,000-3000 dealers in the buying group.  We buy wholesale at the same prices as the big companies.  We start off on a level playing field with the big competitors.”

Carl went on, “Another point of interest: there’s another giant office supply company headquartered in Boston.  They originally won the contract for the office supplies back in 2004 as one of the suppliers, but in November backed out of it because they could not make a profit.  We picked up business from them, by competing head to head.”

“But we don’t know what discount is being offered, because we were never given a chance to bid. So how can the state say they are saving money over renewing with existing vendors?”

Adds BJ:  “Seventeen vendors have the state contracts today.  We all have the ability to purchase through 2  wholesalers and also buy direct from manufacturers.  We believe and also have been told by our customers that we have a larger selection of products than Staples.  Therefore, our prices are competitive, our range of products that this type of customer needs is better, our ability to service the customer is without question better.  So who does the State think is really to benefit in this change?”

The reality of owning a small business is that losing big customers, as the state and local agencies are to these 17 suppliers, can be disastrous to the small business.

BJ says:  “It’s very scary.  We will definitely have to eliminate positions to try to stay in business.  It will hurt our company.  All we want is a fair chance to bid head to head.”

Governments: Learn to Walk the Talk

State and local government officials often say:  “We support small businesses.”  Or, “We want to attract small businesses.”

Too bad some of them don’t walk the talk.  Even while they loudly profess their “love” of small businesses, they heap on taxes, regulations and red tape.  They make policy decisions that cost small businesses their profit, or drive them out of business.  Then officials pat themselves on the backs as they issue a press release about some program or other designed to “attract” more businesses to their area.

It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they should just treat the businesses already there a little better.

From Small Business Trends

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Checklist for Trademark and Copyright Issues on Your Website

The following is a checklist of issues and questions for protecting your online presence for your business, from the standpoint of trademarks and copyrights. We will be updating this as our tweetchat event (#smbchat) progresses.

Introductory reading


  • All content (text, images and other forms) is protected from the time of creation
  • Registration is a good idea
  • What to do if someone copies your stuff
  • What is it really worth?
  • What if they just gave you credit?
  • Cease & desist letters, lawsuits, settlements, results
  • Fees and costs

What to do you if you want to copy someone else’s stuff?

  • Can’t you just link to it?
  • Is it in the public domain?
  • What is fair use?
  • What is not fair use?
  • What if you get sued?


Choosing a brand is very complex – you need to check:

  • corporate availability
  • domain name availability
  • trademarkability

What if someone copies your trademark?

  • Are consumers likely to be confused?
  • Cease & desist letters, lawsuits, settlements, results
  • Fees and costs

What if you want to use a brand that is similar to someone else’s?

  • Will consumers be confused?
  • Is there such as thing as trademark fair use?

Resources for practically protecting yourself online

Clip & copy:  http://www.clipandcopy.com/

Google Alerts http://www.google.com/alerts

Manage logins at social networking sites:  http://knowem.com/

Tracer by Tynt:  http://www.tynt.com

Duplichecker (online plagiarism checker)  (checks chunks of content)

Copyscape (online plagiarism checker)  (checks pages)

From Small Business Trends

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