Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Online Networking 101: Don't be rude to your market

As many who read this blog know, I'm a pretty avid online networker. I blog, participate in forum and list discussions, and I'm a fair regular on a number of different sites. Have been since I started the zen kitchen back in 2005.

In any networking situation, there's a certain etiquette involved in meeting people and getting them interested enough to keep talking to you. There are also certain ways you can immediately turn people off - I'm sure you've met people who do this, online or off. The only difference between online and in-person etiquette is the structure that things take; in the online world, changes in tone normally suggested in conversation by a change of voice or use of hands isn't available, so users have come up with all sorts of tricks to hint at changes of tone, or emphasis.

Today, I came across an article on Biznik that utilizes two of the most common forms of online emphasis: TEXT IN ALL CAPS and *asterisked* text. Now mind you, the article makes great points. Many websites do focus too much on "me" instead of "you." The use of these online tools of emphasis to bring the point home (although asterisked text is one of my *biggest* online pet peeves) isn't an online sin in and of itself.

In my mind, the issue here is an issue of tone. The tone of the article is already pretty derogatory towards the very people the author is trying to target (he even includes a warning that he fully expects to get hate mail as a result of this article), but when you add the double-punch of asterisked text and all caps being completely overused throughout the article, the whole thing comes across as, well, trying too hard to be controversial and not hard enough to offer something genuinely helpful to the reader.

When these tools are used once or twice in a piece, it can provide needed emphasis; when it's used in this way, it's the online equivalent of getting in someone's face and screaming at them about how stupid they are, veins popping and breath reeking of bad networking event coffee. It's not respecting your audience enough to believe they can *get* what you're writing.

This, of course, is just my take. What are your thoughts?

Monday, April 14, 2008

New Work: Botsford EcoTech Brand/Website

Recently, 5-Trees LLC, a long-time client of the zen kitchen, decided to rebrand as Botsford EcoTech Partners, a move precipitated by founder Krista Botsford's decision to move her practice to Nashua, NH from its Burlington, MA location.

Botsford EcoTech Partners provides private consulting services, educational seminars, and an innovative web-based software solution to help technology companies navigate the ever-changing landscape of global environmental compliance. The brand needed to communicate not only the professionalism and considerable expertise that Botsford brought to the table, but also the approachability and down-to-earth attitude that Krista is known for.

Working with Krista, the zen kitchen created a logo, website and marketing materials (still in development) that focused on a clean, professional, but approachable look. The brand and accompanying website focuses on clean lines, white space, and easy access to key information - a must when communicating with an audience of engineers and top executives.

To visit the new Botsford EcoTech website and see the brand in action, visit BotsfordEcoTech.com.

The excuses we make

Recently at an event, I was chatting with someone in my network about marketing and strategizing. When I mentioned the importance of taking time to strategize and visualize the type of work you'd like to be doing, my conversation partner immediately said, "oh, I just don't have time for that kind of stuff. I know I should do it, but between kids and work and everything else, I'm lucky I have time to breathe!"

So many of us have an excuse list like this for anything that's really good for us. How often have you told yourself you don't have time to get to the gym? Eat right? Send out that marketing e-mail you've been meaning to? Yet, in my experience at least, the moment you move away from the excuses and just do the thing you're putting off, you realize that it wasn't that bad to begin with, and it actually helped you accomplish more.

Just as an example, for the first couple of years I was running the zen kitchen, I went from a daily yoga/meditation practice and regular walks in my neighborhood to making every excuse under the sun why I couldn't work out, citing a packed schedule, a poorly laid-out apartment, all sorts of stuff. As a result, I've gained 40 pounds in the last 2 years, and it was only until the last couple of months that I've been able to turn off the excuses and get to the gym that I started losing weight again. Now I'm down 8 pounds and counting - and I'm still able to get my work done.

Success in anything - whether it's losing weight or growing a business - depends on quieting the excuses. Instead of listing all the reasons why you CAN'T, you have to think about how you CAN. What needs to shift a bit in order to fit in a daily workout? Who do you need to negotiate with to get time to write that business plan, or visualize your ideal client? Who do you need to hire in order to take over the stuff you aren't interested in so you can focus on the fun stuff? How can you find a way to pay for that?

I invite you to take some time this week and think about all the excuses you make for yourself. Where do they come from? What would happen if you just forgot the excuses and did it anyway? You might be surprised at what you get done.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why a great website isn't enough

Recently, someone on one of my lists posed the question: "How many of you get business from your website?" In my mind, this is the wrong question to ask. Rather than posing it this way, what I think you really want to ask is "how do I get people to my website so they can learn about my business?" and "how do I set up my website so that, once people end up on it, they'll be inspired to work with me?"

A website isn't a magic bullet that will make all your business dreams come true; it has to work in concert with all the other things you do to promote yourself. For example, many of my customers (almost all, in fact), have seen my website by the time they hire me, but they don't just randomly happen upon it. They find me through one of my various online communities, or meet me at a networking event, or find this blog. They connect with something I've said on a forum, or taught in a class. That intrigues them to look at my site, and since it's well-built and the work is good, I get business.

But if I didn't do all these different things to promote my site, people wouldn't find it, and I wouldn't get business from it.

If you want to get business from your website, you need to put in the effort to build it well, to create a professional presence with engaging content, and to promote it - otherwise, it just becomes another bit of noise in an already-polluted Internet.