Archives for September 2010

10 Things Your Computer Can Do For You Automatically

Did you know you can reclaim hours of your time by just short-cutting or automating even the simplest actions you repeat every day, week, month or year? A while back, I invested in a small software that helps me type, launches programs and create simple macros. I didn’t use it to its full potential, most of the time I used it to help me auto-type HTML code, PHP code snippets, WordPress code, repetitive emails, email addresses, website URLs, my bio etc.

One day, I was setting up new texts and realized the software had a little calculator. It told me I had executed over 8,300 commands with it and that added up to about 20 hours saved. Wow.

Alright, it is not an exact figure but it still amazes me how much time those little tasks take up. You may not think launching a program takes more than 10 seconds. But if you are getting forgetful like me and have a gazillion programs installed, sometimes I forget the name of the program by the time I open the launcher! Sometimes, I just can’t find the program. So something that should take 10 seconds can end up taking 5 minutes.

I also love the fact I don’t have to type out URLs in full. Including email addresses. RoboForm is installed and it completes web forms for me but that’s not always applicable sometimes you may have a special page you send people to regularly via email, social networks, articles or just anywhere. The beauty about this all is, the more of these small things you can automate, the more time you’ll save.

Ready to start shaving little chunks of time? Here’s a list of things you can automate right away.

  • Backup-of course you knew that.
  • Back up your website. Yes, you can certainly set up your computer to retrieve your backups and download while you sleep.
  • Rename a bunch of files. Sometimes you have tons of files that need changing of file names. You can set up your system to tell it what file name pattern to use and it’ll do it all for you even at hyper speed, much faster than you can do it.
  • Post to your blog. Found some reprint articles you want to be up on your site? Set your computer to copy and paste for you.
  • Type your emails. Great for customer support. Program common responses and have your computer automatically typing for you.
  • Keyword harvesting. Keyword research is essential for online marketing but it is a thankless, boring job. Program a macro to let it copy and grab the keywords for you.
  • Web design. You can program macros to remember code snippets for you like Adsense code for example.
  • Set the computer to Tweet or update your social networks at intervals for you.
  • Submit articles for you.
  • Resize images in bulk.

As you may realize, your computer may or may not be equipped to create such macros for you. Some macro software require more work and a learning curve. I began with something simple called DirectAccess. It may not be able to do some of the more complicated stuff listed here like posting to the blog but it is easy to grasp and the one thing that helped me get started shaving off minutes and later hours over time.

How Solo Entrepreneurs Consume eBooks

While writing a post about ePub which is digital book format recently, I wondered how my peers like their eBooks. In online marketing, eBooks and eReports have existed for the longest time and they are almost always delivered in PDF format. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. PDF adoption rate is very high so it only makes sense to use a format most people will be able to read – or face a customer service nightmare. But in the more recent years with the proliferation of e-readers like the Kindle, Nook and now iPad, how many read their PDF’s using these devices?

So I sent the question out to my social network and was actually quite surprised by the response, which goes to show you should always find out from your audience. That’s another story altogether. For now, here’s what my peeps told me in response to the question,

Curious… do you read your PDF info-ebooks on phone, other mobile devices, on computer or do you print them?

@SmallBizMuse All three depending on the ebook. I print if I want to highlight/make notes. I load them onto my ipod to read on the go.

@Tsoniki Computer or print I have a lot printed out…but also a lot on the computer still. I’ve never tried reading on the BB.

@ToddBullivant Computer mostly, unless there’s an epub version available, then I read that on my e-reader.

@Merchant911 I almost always print e-books if more than a page or two.

@latarahamying I print them!

@401kExpert The good ones I print out and then hole-punch them. The rest I read on the computer.

Me? I print them too. I’ve tried reading them on a mobile device but PDF’s just don’t do too well on my devices and they have to be converted. That extra steps makes me very reluctant. Although I must say I devour fiction books on the mobile device. Love them. Business books are almost always printed.

What about you?

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10 Branding Cracks To Avoid

A brand by its nature has to be strong and stable. Owners of the brand have to be ever diligent to ensure its authenticity. Stake holders have an enormous impact on this stability. Stresses from the marketplace place a hefty strain on it. Lets have a look at some of the cracks that can form that if left unaddressed can result in brand collapse.

The Inconsistency Crack:

Take a look at all of your collateral materials. Are they consistent in brand image and message? Are all of the brand logos the same? Are all the colors part of your overall brand palette? Inconsistency cracks will cost you money.

The Authenticity Crack:

You say you are service oriented, – in reality you don’t deliver. This is a crack that will soon be a chasm. Authenticity cracks can disgust a customer faster than almost any other type of crack. If you want to destroy your hard-earned reputation, allow this one to fester and grow. To patch this crack, you’ve got to walk the walk.

The Personality Crack:

Like the authenticity crack, the personality crack refers to the brand personality accurately reflecting the tone of the brand. If the Apple personality were to take on the personality of the PC, it would no longer resonate with its target audience. The relationship you share with customers, reflect the personality they have come to admire and embrace. Throwing this in disarray, forms a personality crack.

The Confidence Crack:

In branding, you must be ever diligent in pushing it forward. Letting the economy happen TO you, is allowing the confidence crack to weaken you. The tough times are the true test of your brand. Adhering to your brand values and pushing yourself forward fixes this type of crack. Ignoring it will take you down FAST!

The Learning Crack:

If you want to see this to go from a hairline crack to to a full blown canyon, stop looking for ways to grow your skill-set. Be curious, always be open-minded. The first time you heard the phrase, “social media” did you check into it to see if it held some value for you? Avoiding this crack means that you have to be tireless in your R&D.

The Culture Crack:

Does your brand image truly reflect the culture of your audience. If say, your logo looks as if it were designed for the 1970’s, then it’s time you had it updated to reflect the culture of today. If your image is supposed to look mature (in years) then you are being true to your audience. Contrary to your culture is the culture crack.

The Positioning Crack:

You’ve held a leadership position for years but the competition has copied it and broken it down. It’s time you had a re-look at it. Positioning cracks form when it no longer differentiates you from your competition. Positioning cracks have a demoralizing effect on your sales staff.

The Stress Crack:

You know that there’s problem, but you either choose to ignore it or at the very least try your hand at coming to terms with it. This is the time to look for outside assistance. For a few dollars you can benefit from a wide range of experience QUICKLY. Stress cracks can knock you off your feet if you’re not careful. Depending on your management structure, having you under the weather turns control over to the stress crack.

The Rumor Crack:

Every organization has to communicate with its stakeholders. Rumor cracks form when you allow heresy to inform. Rumor is rarely, if ever true. When these cracks grow they make it difficult to lure fresh talent to your firm. These cracks also reduce the value of your company if you are looking to sell. Rumor cracks form a perception of failure regarding your brand. Rumor cracks are the dark side of business.

The This’ll Never Work Crack:

Procrastination is the seed of the “this’ll never work crack.” If your brand is a true entrepreneurial brand, you are accustomed to risk. This crack works its way into your mind and works to keep you from ceasing opportunity. Doubt is the hairline version of this particular crack. It works to break you down and pass the concept to a competitor.

Once thing about cracks is that they are not isolated in their existence. They work to grow and join up at some point. It is at this point that they are at their strongest. It is the point of no-return as a groups of cracks ultimately cause the brand to crumble and fail.

It’s time to pick up that mortar board and start filling those cracks. The longer you wait the bigger they get.

How Often Should You Switch Your Site’s Design?

At a web conference today, someone asked me that very question. It is such an excellent question because years ago when the Internet was young, it wasn’t all that easy to change your design without some technical skills. These days, changing a design is as simple as uploading and selecting the theme. Yes, you may still need a little bit of tech work to tweak it but it’s much easier. As a result, I’ve seen people change web site design like they change clothes. To me, that is a problem and here’s why.

Chameleon by Ross Dismore

Let’s forget the branding part of the equation for a moment and talk about usability. Have you ever been to the store to find out they moved the bread aisle? Now you are forced to wander all through the store to find what you need. It is frustrating. While this may be a tactic in retail to get you to stay longer in the store, online, people just click away. Many of us know building traffic is not that easy anymore. You work very hard and in some cases, spend gobs of money to buy that traffic, getting people to come and return to your site. So don’t confuse them every time they turn around.

I prefer to make moderate changes that can still make the site look fresh, new and updated. Things like tweaking a few colors, making background changes, updating the buttons, removing blocks that are not effective, adding interactive tools like a ratings option if it is a store. Tweaking the copy to make it clearer where people stumble most often. The underlying structure is rarely changed. Meaning sidebars are still where they are, login links and buttons still in the same place, contact and support links don’t get moved and so on and forth.

Does that mean you shouldn’t change your site’s design? Not at all. The only thing I’m saying is, don’t make complete changes too often. Overhauls are good and should be done within reasonable time frame. Or if a site changes hands, sometimes an update is a good thing. For example, TechBasedMarketing has had the same design for over 2 years. It is time for a change. This time, I hope to standardize the structure on all our company’s sites including this blog, so there is more uniformity and people can jump from one site to another in the network without getting completely disoriented.

And yes of course, all this is part of our branding process. People need time to familiarize themselves with your brand and if you keep switching your design you look undecided, fickle, flighty. Not exactly characters that you want your brand to have. While there is a lot more that goes into a brand other than design but humans are visual creatures. Imagery and color play a huge part when people are trying to recall your company. If you take a look at some of the largest brands around – have they changed over the years? Sure. But it’s often not done all at once.

Resource you might be interested in:

A book about Web Usability

What Are QR Codes And Should You Use Them?

See this barcode looking image? That is a QR code. If you have a mobile phone with a QR reader app installed, focus the camera on the screen, it should take you to a special web page 🙂

Don’t have a QR reader app? You can get them free. I’m sure there are plenty of options for all kinds of devices. The one I use comes from i-nigma.

What’s the big deal?

QR codes are big in Japan. Apparently, these are everywhere in the cities there. In the U.S., not so much although I have seen it sparingly. The idea behind using it is to mobile users don’t have to type a long URL to get to your site or any page you want to send them to. I must admit that does make sense. My phone has a QWERTY keyboard and even with that, I absolutely hate entering URLs into the browser. It’s just a pain. So scanning and going to the site absolutely rocks.

Basic ideas for QR codes – put it on your flyers, business cards or any printable material. I think that is neat and since we are in need of new business cards, we will absolutely do that for the next batch.

Beyond that, here’s a list of what some companies have used QR codes for:

  • As part of a contest
  • A scavenger hunt promotion
  • A way to send mobile users to watch a video (promotional, educational or otherwise)
  • A way to get mobile users to sign a petition
  • A way for customers to accumulate rewards

Should you use it?

This will depend a lot on how mobile-tech savvy is your market and also how offline it is. For us, most of our business is online. I don’t see a huge benefit for adding QR codes except perhaps to get people to the mobile version of the site. I think it’s a lot easier for people to just click a link. Even with a pretty savvy group, the adoption of QR readers amongst my site’s audience I suspect is small. Guess I’ll have to test it.

I think there is more reason to use it if the business is largely offline, or to use it on offline materials. I love the idea of using that to accumulate rewards. But it will always fall back on the fundamental problem. Adoption rate. Apparently in Asia, phone manufacturers have the readers built-in so there is no extra work for the user except to launch the reader and snap. But that’s not the case in North America. If you are in Europe, do put in a comment how well this is being adopted in Europe.

That’s not to say I won’t use it. Having one on the business card would likely be a good ice breaker and nicely illustrate (partially) what I do. If I had a physical store, I would use it on my website to link to a map of my store. But until there is higher adoption rate, I’ll probably not spend too much resources on building massive campaigns around it. Being a tech lover, that does make me sad but this is a great reminder. It’s not about the latest tech. It’s about how it will be used and help your audience. If they don’t get it or won’t use it, the newest shiny technology does not have a place in your marketing program.

Resources:

2D Code – an awesome resource to show how others around the world are using them.

Qurify – generate your own QR code, even has a WordPress plugin

You’ve Got A Brand, Now What To Do With It?

If you’re like a lot of companies, you may think great brands can be intentionally made. No matter how hard you may try – you come up with an idea and try to control how the public uses that idea – ultimately your brand will be determined by that audience, NOT YOU. All you can do is deliver or not on the promise of why that idea exists. How well you deliver, influences your brand. That authenticity is what you have control over. How it is perceived is what the public controls, and that perception is YOUR BRAND, like it or not.

A great differentiator is over-delivering on the promise. Make the buyer an advocate of your brand. Position your idea so that it is perceived as the leader in your category. Taking a leadership role and delivering on it is very compelling to a customer. Making their experience more than their expectations and satisfying their appetite for a solution to their needs grows your brand.

A pretty new image can’t cover up a bad brand. Fixing the problem FIRST then delivering on the promise, makes your brand experience compelling. How many of your peers are having slow sales, slow traffic, etc. and they’ve decided to “re-brand”. They believe that a new face will solve the issue. They’ll see when nothing changes.

What are you doing with your brand?

10 Ways To Get Your Documents Signed Digitally

“This is pretty cool”, I thought as we went through this mile long document filled with legalese together with the representative on the phone. Oh, make no mistake. Legal documents do not make my heart skip a beat – not unless some long lost relative bequeaths me a fortune (tough). But what I did find interesting was the system the law firm used to obtain our signatures digitally to seal the deal quickly.

We often have a need to sign NDA’s, Joint Venture agreements and Independent Contractor agreements. This sometimes is a pain because many freelancers don’t have faxes and email is so open and insecure. That experience led me to seek out available options to obtain digital signatures and I’m listing them here so it can help you too.

RightSignature

Docusign

RPost

WebPen

Adobe eSignatures

EchoSign

DocVerify

ContractPal

GoPaperless

eOriginal

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