What is Google Local and how can it help your business?

So what is it be local? And local to who? Depends where you are. With more people on the move than at probably any other time, Google Local just made being a local business better than ever.

Google Local really does put your business on the map, in a very real sense. Be you a sole trader auto mechanic, or a family-owned chain store with city-wide shops and stores, Google Local can help get your business found. Here’s how to make the most of Google Local.

What is Google Local?

Most people know of Google Maps, especially their excellent app’ for the iPhone. Google Local takes Maps and makes a place for business, offering people like you and me the chance to add details about our businesses, like opening times, the payment methods we accept, as well as the services we offer.

Say you’re looking for a plumber. Google knows roughly where you are and will find all of the plumbers close to where you are. If they have a listing on Google Local, you’ll have the option to view more details about them.

Put simply, Google Local highlights your business for everyone to see when they’re searching in your area.

How can Google Local help your business?

Google Local has come a long way in the past year. Now more tightly integrated with Maps than ever before, there’s plenty of reasons to get your business on the map.

Coupons — special offers, deals and discounts

You can now add coupons to your listing, which people can print, cut out and bring to your shop, store or restaurant to qualify for the offer the coupon relates to. This is ideal if you’re looking to clear stock, or to just drum up some extra trade.

Reviews — what customers think about your business

As the web becomes an ever more social place to be, customer reviews are playing a major role in the trust people place in the businesses they use. If someone writes a damning review of your business, that might not be the end of the world if it’s just one against ten others that are filled with glowing praise.

People rely heavily on the say-so of others, for things like consumer goods and especially food. And because things are much more open and publicly available than ever before, the emphasis has to be on quality.

So if you have happy customers or clients who you feel are willing to say something nice about your business, get them to write a review on your Google Local listing.

Photos — if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

Do you own a plush bar and restaurant, or maybe your offices are a uniquely styled building? Then there’s a good chance you have some professional photography. They say a picture paints a thousand words. Google Local lets you add up to 10 photos, which will enhance your listing no end.

Google Local now also integrates with Street View. So if Google have been down your street, taking panoramic photos of your place of business, that’s something else for your potential customers and clients to consider.

Statistics — see how someone found you

Having a Google Local listing is one thing, but if you can see what words people are typing into Google, that brought them to your listing, that’s valuable marketing information. Google Local offers exactly this facility. In addition, you’ll see how many people searched using which words and when, and when they clicked onto your website.

Posts — mention up-coming events and special offers

Having coupons for special offers is one thing, but promoting them is something else. Google Local lets you post a quick message (limited to 160 characters) about your offer or event, which appears in your listing.

The mobile web makes every business local

Imagine you’re out in a town or city you’re unfamiliar with. You’re with a bunch of friends and you’ve all agreed on Italian food. But where? If you’ve got an iPhone, Google will take “Italian restaurant” and find the ones closest to you. It’s that simple.

Having a complete listing on Google Local, filled with positive reviews and gorgeous photography, may be the difference between a party of 3-5 people spending money with you (plus tips), or spending their evening and their money with your competitors instead. Worst of all, you probably won’t even know why.

If you’d like to know more about Google Local, or would like to add a listing for your business, why not give me a call on 07815 568 732, or contact Wayne right away?


Is it possible to run a paperless business?

Ten years ago, going paperless would have been desirable but almost impossible. Now, the idea of running a paperless office is just about doable. I should know, I’ve been trying for long enough. Here’s my experiences and some handy tips to help you make your business paperless, too.

I hate filling out forms. I may have an allergy to paperwork. So much so, I often go to extraordinary lengths to avoid paperwork myself.

I rarely work hard. I work smart instead. You may find me toiling over something for a while, only to discover that over time, I’ve made a saving in some way. So I’m always on the look-out for novel ways of doing boring things faster and more efficiently. Going paperless falls slap bang into this area, but it’s not been easy.

Why go paperless?

But that’s not the only reason I wish to go paperless; email is much quicker and simpler alternative to sending a letter. And then there’s the green argument, which is entirely justified, too. Even though I’ve been working towards going paperless for years, the reality is much different to the imagined.

While I very rarely send a letter to anyone these days, I still get lots of written correspondence, especially from government agencies, like Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, as well as Customs & Excise. Then there’s the junk mail, which is annoying to say the least.

3 reasons to go paperless in the office

To a greater and lesser extent, I have to make concessions, sacrifices and some extra effort to keep the paperwork to a minimum. And here’s three reasons why you should try running a paperless office:

  1. In your own small way, you’ll be helping the environment. So if you’re a big company and you manage to make the transition to electronic communications and document management, you’ll be making an even greater impact.
  2. Save valuable storage space. I have clients who dedicate entire rooms to filing cabinets and storage boxes. Imagine being able to recover all that space and use it for something more worthwhile.
  3. Going paperless also means going electronic, which means things should be much easier to store and find. I emphasize the word “should” because unless you have a good idea of how you want to store your company data, you’re just as likely to lose a file on your computer as you are a letter on your desk! So unless you have the right processes in place, you won’t feel the full force of the savings a paperless office can offer.

What kind of things can you do electronically?

There’s no point going paperless if you’re not aware of the very things where going paperless will have the greatest impact on your business. So here’s a few places where going electronic will pay dividends over time.

So here’s some ideas, with suggestions for alternative ways of doing things, depending on what the idea is and what it involves.

Internet banking

My internet banking offers a wealth of options for managing my business finances. I can view my account, see next day payments, settle invoices, transfer money between my various accounts, as well as view all of my previous bank statements and much more besides.

I’m in the process of adding my accountants to my internet banking account so they can handle all of my finances, keeping my involvement to a minimum. There are also other savings to be had here, such as less time spent traveling to and from their offices, as well is the calls between the two of us as we try to track down that one lost bank statement.

Submitting your VAT and filing your company accounts

You can now file your VAT on-line. I’ve now authorized my accountants so now I don’t even have to sign anything. And once they get access to my internet banking, I doubt I’ll have any involvement at all.

It’s been possible to file company accounts to Companies House for some years. Slowly but surely, the various government agencies are getting their act together and moving onto the internet.

Manage your projects and time sheets

I wrote my own software some time ago to help me manage my projects and to keep track of my work time. But in the end, I ran out of time to add the kind of features that I needed. In the end, it was cheaper to buy a 3rd party application than spend my time updating my own.

So I bought Daylite and Billings. I’m a Mac, not a PC. So unless you own a Mac, Daylite and Billings are no good for you. However, there are tons of alternatives out there.

Daylite is CRM (Customer Relationship Management) package with some solid project management tools thrown in. I use Daylite to manage all of my client projects, emails and events, and more. Billings in a time tracking and invoicing tool.

They’re both from the same company, which means they work quite closely together, so I can shunt tasks or entire projects into Billings from Daylite.

Here are alternatives to Daylite and Billings for PCs, and here’s some earlier thoughts of mine on project management.

Make notes of meetings and telephone conversations

When I make calls, I often make notes of what was discussed, especially if it’s a lengthy call to (or from) a client. Daylite is great here because it has a calendar built right in. So all I do is double-click on the approximate time in the day cell of the calendar and up pops an event window. All I need to do is add in what was said, by whom, when and for how long for. I bypass paper all together.

Send and receive emails with PDFs, not letters or faxes

So once I’ve completed a project and the client is happy, I send an email containing a copy of the invoice as a PDF file. Billings gives me the option to print the invoice, or save it as a PDF. As a backup, I save all of the PDFs to a special folder, so I have copies available.

This is applicable to anything, really. If you use a Mac, you can “print” any document as a PDF from the print window, which is a huge bonus. Again, make sure you have a good storage policy in place so you know precisely where your documents are.

You can even send and receive electronic faxes. I’ve been using You’re Always Connected for years. You get a number to use for either voicemail or faxes. Now, all of my faxes come through as emails with the fax attached as a PDF. So if the fax is from a client, I just move it to the client folder in my mail client. Simple.

Buy ebooks rather than a printed books

Thinking of buying a book to learn something new? Many publishers are now offering electronic alternatives which you can buy on-line and download right there. In many cases, not only are they cheaper, they often include bonus tools and other extras. If you really, really must, you can make a hard copy — and if you really, really, really must print a copy:

  1. make the type size as small as possible, without it being unreadable;
  2. make the margins as wide as possible, without loosing anything;
  3. if your printer supports it, do a duplex and print both sides, and if not, do it by hand.

Use your iPhone as an ad hoc route planner / alternative to maps

Going to a meeting for the first time? Planning on using Google Maps to plot your route and then print it out? If you have an iPhone, use the Maps app’ and then use it just like a GPS for your car.

You get all of the benefits of Google Maps, such as a turn-by-turn route planning, and it even shows you when you’re in motion, moving along the road.

A better workflow

Sadly, there isn’t one application that will scoop everything up and make all of your paperwork suddenly vanish. You need to commit to a slightly different way of doing things. I’m not going to fool you into thinking this is simple because it isn’t. You need to sit down and workout your workflow and make it more efficient. If you have a team, then it’s a team effort.

As an example, I wrote a web application for a client, which took their system of pen, paper and Excel and transformed it into an app’ called To Book which automates and manages almost all of the hotel room booking process, from initial request to confirmation of reservation. Here’s some ideas for making your company workflow paperless:

  • There’s no getting away from the fact that at some point, you’ll still be using paper. So when you do (be it a print out, or a doodle), use the clean side for making quick notes, and then when you’re done, recycle it.
  • Having the right software is paramount, especially when it comes to notation. You need to be able to launch that app’ fast and make notes quickly, especially when someone calls you on the phone. So make shortcuts to those applications and ensure you can export your notes into something else, like your CRM software.
  • When it comes to software designed to deal with customer data, for example, try to standardize across the business, so everyone is using the same tools for things like notation, calendars, office productivity etc. This way, it’s much easier to synchronize and share your data.

Here’s an article of mine (as a PDF, funnily enough) discussing ways of making your workflow more efficient.

Use web-based office productivity software

Here I’m thinking of Google Docs, but now Microsoft are getting in on the act with Microsoft Docs. You can create and share spreadsheets, presentations and text documents with clients and colleagues wherever and whenever. Also, you can sort and store your documents in colour-coded, named folders, which will help make managing you digital assets that bit easier.

And then there’s Google Wave, too. Wave is a word processor with some added smarts. Several people can type into the same document at the same time, which has some truly amazing side benefits, especially for brainstorming. Also, there’s a visual revision history tool, so you can skip backwards and forwards through the different changes that everyone has made, should you (or anyone else) make a mistake or wish to go off in a different direction.

Here’s some ideas of mine on how to make the most of Google Wave.

Use document management software

Chances are, you’ve got thousands of documents that you can’t just send of to be recycled. Besides, you may still need them. So what do you do? You need a document management system. Essentially, a document management system contains the scanned versions of all your printed materials.

This does depend on the kind of document management software you’d be using, but the process typically involves some kind of OCR, which stands for Optical Character Recognition. Which means? Once scanned, you can search your documents as if they were word processed files. In fact, that’s exactly what they become.

So that room filled with shoulder-high filing cabinets can be squeezed into a modestly sized external hard drive, with room left to spare.

Thoughts from the community

Fujitsu Scansnap scanner, industrial shredder, eFax, Instapaper on iPhone. Paperless office sorted.” — Sally Church of Icarus Consultants.

“I find using Evernote removes the hassle of paper notes. Plus, it also allows you to keep notes sync’d across devices.” — Simon Barker, owner of Zath, the tech & games blog.

“A good place to start going paperless is invoicing — much easier and cheaper to produce and send out PDFs instead of printed forms.” — Brian Heys, freelance software tester.

“Scan your signature, paste it into your documents and email back contracts. Sign up for electronic billing wherever possible. Tick the ‘don’t pass on my details to third parties’ box at all times. Always choose email / text / phone as preferred contact method and not postal mail. Sign up for something like EchoSign so that you can get e-signatures. think before you print, usually you just don’t need to. Cancel newspaper subscriptions, and read news on-line, or get a subscription to Factiva / Lexis Nexis for comprehensive electronic access to the news.” — Emily Cagle, communications consultant.

“Forget business cards connect using LinkedIn (simply typing in a public URL).” — Joe Edwards, designer and marketer for Hurricane Marketing.

“Make a list of all the crap publications you get and wipe them out [unsubscribe], all of them!” — Jon-Marc Creaney, architect and designer.

Conclusion

Hopefully, we’ve managed to fill your head with no end of new ideas. But if you’re already running a paperless office, we want to hear your ideas!


Ebook: How to use WordPress to manage your company website

How to use WordPress to manage your company website is my latest ebook, written specifically to help businesses understand the potential of WordPress, as a tool to manage and control their website.

How my ebook will help you get the most from WordPress

“I’ll be taking you through WordPress from a business perspective: what it does, its strengths and weaknesses, how to use it, how to get the most out of it, and how it can genuinely benefit your business. I’ll also be including a guided tour of WordPress, for the total beginners amongst you.”


Here’s just some of the many benefits of understanding how to use WordPress to manage your company website:

  1. Take more control of your website, helping your business save money
  2. Write and publish articles about your products and services in your own time
  3. Share your content on social networks, like Twitter and Facebook
  4. Interact and engage more directly with your customers

My ebook will help you understand and do all those things and more, and includes:

  • An illustrated guide to using WordPress, including how-to videos
  • Examples and links to many of the valuable resources you’ll come to rely on when using WordPress
  • Learn how to optimize your business website or blog for social media
  • WordPress security and privacy (managing email addresses, comment spam and software updates)
  • Video tutorials, to help you with the basics

A business case for WordPress

Like any modern business, having a website is only part of the puzzle. Now, with the web maturing and becoming a deeply social arena, positioning your business as a brand at the heart of a conversation about a product or a service is probably as important than the product / service itself.

So why WordPress?

WordPress is probably the most popular content management system there is, either free or commercial. Thousands of people all around the world write Plugins for it, to extend WordPress and add additional features.

Getting the most from WordPress

It’s also very easy to change the appearance of WordPress, to suite your businesses corporate style. Also, because WordPress makes use of very popular technologies, installing WordPress is, as they say, just five minutes of your time.

If you know of any friends or family members who’re in business and interested in learning more about WordPress, please feel free to tell them about my ebook and send them the link!

All things Octane — This ebook is professionally composed, prepared using Adobe InDesign (a high-end pre-press publishing application), complete with linked indices, graphics and linked references to various other articles of my own, including a collection of short video tutorials on YouTube — yes, I wrote, designed, composed and rendered everything you see in this ebook, including the videos.


Asking clients the right questions

Rarely do you just manage a project in isolation. To some extent, you’re also managing the client. As an added consequence, you’re also managing their expectations. So are their any questions you ought to be asking your client before, during and after a project?

A while ago, I read 14 questions to ask your clients before and after a project, which I encourage you to read if you’re either a freelancer or aspiring project manager, or someone like me, a Jack of all trades. I decided to follow the article up with some insights of my own, gleaned from managing clients, their projects and their expectations.

But first of all, I’d like to add some questions of my own.

What do you need your website to do?

A stupid question? You’d be surprised. In the past, I’ve talked people out of having a website and told them to concentrate on the marketing methods that are proven to work, rather than experimenting with one that most likely won’t earn them a penny or raise their profile.

People still believe that “If we build, they will come” and that is not often the case. Sure, if you’re a hugely popular brand name, or you intend executing a marketing campaign to promote your website, I can help! But if it’s just a brochureware website, made up of few web pages and bunch of images — all of which you’re unlikely to update on a regular basis — there are better ways of marketing your business.

The needs of the client come second to those of their customers. The odd few people don’t like to hear that kind of talk because they have all kids of ideas about what they want, which don’t always align with what their customers need.

Are you sure?

This is an open ended question, applicable in so many ways. But don’t be afraid to ask! So many will shy away from second guessing a client. It’s not a requirement of the client to know exactly what they need. But once we’ve finally figured out what it is they do need, it is incumbent on them to pay for the whole of the journey, not just the getting there. By asking the right questions at the right time, you can avoid a lot of hassle for yourself and your client. Chances are, all of this stuff is new to them, so be their guide.

Be brave and ask.

Do you have the funds to see this project through?

Don’t be shy! Money is not a rude word. Be up-front and ask the client if they have the funds to meet with the project. Sometimes, the needs of the client exceed the budget and they will probably hope you’re going to come down on price.

It’s essential you have a process in place. If you’re dealing with a project that’s likely to be worth several thousand in web design and development costs, for example, you need to break the project down into smaller, deliverable parts, each of which being billable. This will ease your cash flow and help ease things financially, should the client pull out part way through.

Where do you want to be in 3-5 years time?

I first put this question to a friend of mine, not realizing at the time just a how powerful a motivator that question would be to her. It wasn’t until some time later that she thought about where she’d prefer to be and how that realization simply didn’t match her present direction in life. I change her life with a single ten word question.

You can write up all of the marketing and business plans you like, but just thinking about where you want to be in three or five years time is something totally different. And it’s not until you do this that you begin to appreciate what resources you’ll need access to if you’re going to make your dream come true.

Once you have a clearer thought in mind, the next thing to do is to put together a series of realistic, achievable strategies to help you get there. This isn’t just about having a bigger website, or just getting more clients / customers. This is about building sustainability into everything you do.

And now I’d like to expand on some of the questions in the Design Reviver article.

What is your company’s reputation?

I suspect many companies probably couldn’t answer this question. Many wouldn’t really know how to quantify any kind of sentiment amongst their customers, other than asking them directly, but that’s not quite the same thing.

Of course, reputation is action after the fact. What you really want to be doing is managing your companies brand right from the outset, mitigating some of the problems your reputation may inflicted upon it later on.

So what can you do to measure the value of your reputation? Well, this new social web offers many tools to monitor things like customer perception, for example.

Google Alerts is a free service that allows you to track certain keywords, such as your company name, which will offer some insight into what people may be saying about you.

Then there’s Twitter, which allows you to search for keywords and save the searches, functioning in much the same way as Google Alerts, but within Twitter itself.

What is your target audience?

Sometimes, this kind of question can have unexpected consequences. Be careful how you interpret their answer, because “target” can often be misconstrued as “idea”, and the ideal customer isn’t always the same as the ones they already have. In chasing down the ideal, there’s a danger of neglecting the needs of those they’re currently servicing.

It’s certainly a question that needs to be asked, but any provisions you choose to make, with respect to your website being re-design and / or re-developed, should be done so with an eye towards maintaining the same level of service your current crop of customers and come to expect.

Do you plan on having any revisions and updates done to this project?

This is a question I don’t actually ask in this way. The question arises as a result of establishing the clients broader needs. If it’s web application project, like To Book, then we build a series of plans, covering short-, medium- and long-term needs.

Building a website (and even more so a web application) is like building a house; it’s essential you get the foundations right at the outset. In most cases, I start by planning and then building a framework.

If a framework was a house, it would be the foundations, the wiring, the plumbing and the locks for all of the doors and windows. The actual plans, as well as the building materials are for the developers, like myself, to decide upon and ultimately build on top of the framework.

By establishing all of these things at outset, and by agreeing on what features are to be included and then expected one, two and then three years hence, I can get the foundations of the website in the right shape from the outset.

After all, there’s no point putting the foundations down for a bungalow if the client wants a four story office block in three years time!

Conclusion

Simply accepting a brief from a client is just negligent. You have a duty to ensure their expectations are realistic and achievable, or you’re just creating problems and storing them up for later on. Don’t just say “Yes!” to everything if you don’t agree or think / know there will be problems. If required, say “No.” and propose an alternative.

But above all, be brave and ask questions.


An exercise in building brand, engaging customers and creating a community

Brand. Engagement. Conversation. Community. We hear these words all of the time, but for many, making use of them is time consuming and often drags you into unfamiliar territory. So how do we make the transition from company to brand and beyond?

When I walk into my gym, scattered on the reception counter is a collection of flyers and printed pamphlets promoting their various events. They’re on cork boards, stuck to walls, they’re announced over the speaker system, displayed on the flat TV screens in the gym, the changing rooms and the bar area — they’re promoting events everywhere throughout the gym.

Brilliant, eh? Well, nearly. To some extent, the strength of the message is being lost on those that are head-down busy like me; you’ve either got time or you haven’t. Promoting internally will have results, but people are increasingly becoming “ad’ blind”, and just don’t even see adverts. What’s needed is an elective process, one that people subscribe to.

Put your business through its paces

Much has been made of Facebook and many people labour under the impression that it’s is just for kids. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Because if it was, Octane wouldn’t be there.

For a business like Octane, community is a more difficult end goal to build because my offering is different. Blah, Blah! Technology has a very healthy Page, currently heading towards 400 fans. People appear to enjoy not only science, technology and social media.

So, my gym. They have a website, which I doubt is doing them an ounce of good. They have all of these great offers, promotions, give-aways, competitions etc, but the uptake isn’t as good as it could be.

Right now, they have all of these members, most of which elected to give up their email addresses when they joined. This being a private gym, membership isn’t exactly cheap — but the service and the facilities are excellent, I hasten to add! I reckon their demographic has a healthy bulge in the 30-35 year old area. I would say it’s not a great leap of speculation to imagine many of that group of people being on Facebook. And we already know they have a disposable income, so that’s a given.

Run a Page on Facebook

So let’s say my gym got themselves a Page on Facebook. What next? People. Specifically their members.

They’d need do a mail merge and ping out emails to all of their members with an announcement for their Page, with a list of features and benefits. The gym looks pro-active and score points for being in the face of their members.

Advice on Facebook — Creating a Landing Page for Twitter, Facebook.

Brand

Next up, they start a structured campaign of posting links to relevant content and internal promotions, such as:

  1. dietary planning;
  2. local sporting events (football, rugby etc);
  3. competitions / give-aways;
  4. up-coming acts at their very own night club and bar;
  5. healthy eating ideas and recipes;
  6. family events and kids sports days…

… offering up some good, sound advice to their members, for almost zero cost — they’ve usually got 3-4 people downstairs handling calls and shuffle paper around, all of whom could easily take on this task.

This is valuable know-how and advice, with experts on hand (those being the gym staff) to field questions, book one-to-one sessions, join classes etc.

In subtle but measurable ways, the perception of the gym shifts from just a company and to a brand — and from a gym to a place to meet people and build on your social life. The members now value what the gym represents and begin to talk.

Advice on branding — 10 personal branding habits of the professionals, Manage personal brand like a porn star.

Engagement

Pages on Facebook include the option to add Discussions, which are forums for people to discuss different topics. From personal experience, these either work or they don’t. But as a gym, they could post on a wide range of topics (protein supplements, types of pre and post work-out stretches, effects of alcohol, etc) and get people talking, asking questions and engaging.

When a curry night or a horse racing day comes up (among many others), they create an event for their Page, which then shows up on peoples front pages. The members then elect to say whether they’re to attend, not to attend, or say they’re not sure.

Over time, the gym can better gauge uptake for an event (what works, what doesn’t, when and why) and get an idea of how many are likely to attend. Plus, since people can share events with friends, they could invite someone as a guest, who might just turn into a member later on.

Conversation

The events go down a storm, as they usually do. The members and staff who were there took loads photos and recorded the odd video of dads dancing on their mobil phone, and later over the course of the following week post said photos and videos to the Page, tagging staff and other members.

People laugh, share comments, “like” photos, reminisce, strike up friendships and start conversations.

Community

Before long, members are organizing nights out, inviting fellow members and friends to fun runs, races, competitions, hiking trips, the list goes on. We’re no longer just members, nor are we just friends — we’re now a community.

Brand. Engagement. Conversation. Community. They’re all right there, for pennies. All without even breaking a sweat. Well almost. Like anything else that’s good in life, it takes time and effort. But if you invest both, then you invest wisely and be a winner.

If you’d like to know more about how social media and internet marketing can help your business, get in touch right now.