Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How you're remembered after you leave the room

At a recent Ladies Who Launch event, I was chatting away with a couple of fellow attendees about What I Do (you know, like I do), and we got to the subject of business cards and logos, which is one of my pet subjects here at the zen kitchen. As we got to chatting about the importance of having a logo that effectively represents you and your business, I said "after all, your business card is how people remember you when you leave the room."

I got a great reaction to that testament (including notes that I should trademark it), but I can't help thinking: is this true? I think it is, but I have to qualify it a bit.

Your logo, business card and associated materials are part of your professional "package," so to speak. Working together, they create the image that you present to the world, whether or not you're physically in the room. While networking is certainly an important way to build your business (it's certainly done wonders for the zen kitchen's numbers), if you've ever been to a networking event, you know that you can meet a LOT of people in one night. You're not going to remember them all. So really, your business card is going to be what folks remember about you after that night is over, along with maybe a couple of quick thoughts depending on what you talked about. It's an invitation to learn more about you, to keep in touch - and your website is a way for them to learn still more about your business after they've gotten home that night.

So what does your business card say about you?

When Blogging Goes Bad

One of my close friends has just gotten into deep trouble at work. The reason? His MySpace blog, in which he shared information that was a LITTLE too personal, and a LITTLE too not-happy-with-work. One of his colleagues apparently forwarded a not-so-complementary post to one of his bosses, and well - you know how it goes.

As more folks take up the torch and start documenting their lives online, employers are starting to take notice, and more people are getting into trouble at work over things that they say or do in their online lives. As far back as 2005, ABC News posted a story about just this type of thing.

It sucks, yes, but it can be prevented, with a bit of foresight.

For one thing, it's really not a good idea to insult your clients, coworkers or company in a blog post - especially if you're in a high-profile position. Even if you don't name names, it's just not a good idea. In a world that gets smaller by the minute, you never know who you know who knows the person you're talking about.

Also, it's a good idea to monitor who gets to read your writing. In the case of a blogging software like MySpace or LiveJournal, you can actually set blog posts so that only specific people can read them. This isn't foolproof (I believe they can still come up in Google searches), but it helps make sure that some of the saucier (or less professional) bits of you don't get through to folks that you don't want reading it.

Lastly, ask yourself before you write: who am I writing this for? How would I feel if my boss/mother/person I'm talking about read this? If it's not something you'd want someone that close to you to read, don't put it online. Personally, I suggest having both an online and a paper journal, or just sticking to the paper journal.

While these notes are definitely more geared towards personal blogs, a lot of it holds true in business blogging as well - if you're afraid of person X coming across a post you made in your business blog, it's a good idea not to post it. This is another reason why I recommend having an informal "blog content plan" when you start your business blog - if you have an idea of what types of things that you want to share with people, it's not only easier to write, it's easier to figure out things that won't be a good fit for the blog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The trouble with Templates

If you're a business owner on a tight budget, pre-designed web templates might look like a great answer for you. And there are a ton of them out there, ranging in price from free to $500+. In addition, there are plenty of companies that let you build "custom websites" without having to hire a pro designer, at relatively inexpensive rates. Pretty great deal, right?

Well, it can be. But more often than not, templates are not your friend, for several reasons:
They're not as "customizable" as you think, especially if you don't know HTML already. Sure, there are some things you can do, but for the most part, you're stuck with what you get... and as your business grows, this lack of flexibility becomes even more annoying, not to mention bad for business.
Support is often insufficient or non-existent. Some companies that provide what's often billed as "website solutions" do provide a high level of service, features, etc. for the price you pay, and can be a good option if you really don't have the cash to spend right now - but most of the lowest-cost options offered through these services are still a Do-It-Yourself situation, which gets frustrating quick if you haven't done this before.
It takes time away from activities that you're already good at, and takes you away from growing your business. When you went into business for yourself, was it because you wanted to learn HTML, SEO or logo design? Unless your business is graphic or web design, the answer is most likely no. Forcing yourself into a situation where you are doing all of the marketing, logo design, etc. for your business not only takes your valuable time away from your business, it forces you to do a lot more work with a lot less results than if you had found the right designer to partner with on your materials.
It sends the wrong message to your customers. Let's face it - you're a professional, and want to be viewed as such. When you do your own website, it shows.

As a fellow entrepreneur, I completely understand the desire to keep costs down - when you're first starting out, it's hard to shell out the bucks to have a professional do your stuff. But a good designer does more than just put together your website - they can provide support and encouragement, and help you separate the things that will work well for you from the "great ideas" that, um, aren't so great. So while a template might get you by for a while, it's worth it to make the investment in your business and work with a professional.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A bit of fun for a Friday

My buddy Heather Castles over at the Illustration Castle blog has officially tagged me to list "5 Things About Myself" and encourage others to do the same. So, being in a bit of a silly mood (Decembers at the zen kitchen will do that to me), I submit the following:

1. If there's one thing I've learned in the past 30 days, it's that cinnamon and tomatoes are just about the world's best combination.

2. In my late teens, I was a theatre major. In my early 20's, I was a karaoke diva. In my mid-20's, I was a performance poet. Now, I blog.

3. I made the mistake this year of submitting my work to a ton of books and not keeping track of their names or authors; as a result, I have the distinct feeling that my work is in at least a couple of books I don't know about. Keep an eye out, will you?

4. Although I currently live in Watertown, MA, and I started the zen kitchen in Somerville, MA - I'm actually from Providence RI (born and raised!), and have only lived in MA since just before starting the studio. The reason? I kept getting work in MA, and I was done with the hour+ commutes.

5. My favorite yoga pose is Upward Bow (picture courtesy of Yoga Journal):
upward bow pose, from Yoga Journal
I tend not to do it near a wall, though.

Hmm... Now, not being much of one to "tag" other folks to do this kind of thing, I'd like to invite anyone who reads this to do it, and leave me a comment pointing me to the post. It'll be interesting to see what you come up with!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Can a blog replace a promo site?

Recently, someone on one of my lists had a question. While he knew that it was important to have a website and he'd heard a lot about the SEO goodness and other associated benefits of having a blog, he wanted to know which was more important - the blog or the promo site? Could you just go with a blog instead of a more static promo site and still get the same results?

The answer is a bit complicated, but I'm a firm believer in having both - for a variety of reasons.

Blogs are great for SEO and getting recognition for your business (especially establishing you as an expert in your field, which is marketing gold). The challenge with using blogs instead of a more basic promo site is the fact that a blog, while it can give lots of great information about your field and things you do within it, doesn't accomplish the main goal of a company's website - to outline their offerings and show a potential customer why they should choose them over the competition.

While you can use a blog to provide information that enforces the points made on your company site (as I do with this blog and the zen kitchen's site), the promotional site, to which the customer can turn for basic information about the company, its mission, contact info, etc. is still an important piece of the puzzle that shouldn't be overlooked.

The goal of a promotional site is to make it extremely easy for the customer to get the information they need to know whether they want to work with your company - that means contact info, client case studies/testimonials, a breakdown of what you do and why you do it better than the competition is right there in front of the customer, and extremely easy to find (preferably in the top navigation, which is where the average user will look). Traditional blogs, with their emphasis on throwing all the most recent posts on the first page, make it harder for folks to answer the key question a user will ask when they visit your site: what is this company, and why should I work with them?

Given this, you can use most blog software to create a site that accomplishes both goals, and updating content regularly (for example, posting to the attached blog) will enhance the SEO of the site, as will being active on other blogs and social networks. So, unless you're looking for special advanced functionality (which would require custom programming and can drive costs up), a talented designer can create a site that maintains the structure of a promotional site while having the SEO benefits and (relatively) easy updating of a blog.