Growing up, Amber Schaub often heard her mother use the term “ruffle butts” to describe the style of diaper covers that she now sells online.
But the first-time entrepreneur doesn’t only code her website with the keywords “ruffle butts” to help consumers find her company’s website from a search engine like Google or Bing. She also marks phrases such as “frilly diapers” and “baby bloomers” as keywords. And she includes them in her product descriptions.
The reason: Her target customers—consumers and retail stores nationwide—refer to the diaper covers in different ways.
“We try to focus on our niche instead of going after generic keywords like ‘infant clothing’ or ‘newborn gifts,’ ” says the 32-year-old, who tapped her savings to launch RuffleButts.com in late 2007. The Charlotte, N.C., business is now profitable, has about a dozen employees and last year posted sales of $2.5 million, she adds.
For many entrepreneurs, the ability to be found online by consumers or other businesses is critical for success. But when just starting out, paying to advertise a company website may be too costly. As an alternative, experts recommend using free methods to attract visitors.
For instance, you can improve a site’s visibility in search-engine results, a process known as search-engine optimization, or SEO, by tagging specific terms as so-called keywords in the coding of a website. And you can work to secure referrals in the form of links from other sites.
Keep in mind that the job may require some trial and error. You may find that some keywords are more effective at driving traffic than others. What’s more, terms that are popular for describing a product or service can go out of style over time.
“You test [your strategy] out, get feedback and you modify,” says Bala Iyer, an associate professor of information technology at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.
While participating in craft fairs, Danielle Spurge of Boston says she listens to how shoppers talk about the handmade necklaces she sells to identify the terms people would most likely enter in an online search. She also asks friends and family how they would go about searching the Web for the kind of charms she sells online.
In addition, Ms. Spurge says she adjusts the keyword tags for her website based on fashion trends. For example, after recently reading a magazine article about neon-colored items being hot, she marked search terms like “neon necklaces” as keywords since she sells necklaces with neon colors.
“I’ll change things probably once or twice a week,” says Ms. Spurge, 24, who started her business, called the Merriweather Council, after graduating from college in 2010. It became profitable within six months, she adds.
Be patient. It can take several months for a new website to show up high in search engines’ results pages, says Eli Goodman, an analyst for Internet research firm ComScore. Search engines will rank a website based on a host of metrics, including the number of other websites that link to it and the popularity of those sites, in order to provide users with the most relevant results possible, he says.
Don’t try to game search engines, such as by tagging your site with keywords that are popular but have nothing to do with your business. Your rankings could suffer as a result, warns Mr. Goodman.
Search engines aren’t the only way to attract visitors to your website. Ari Taube, founder of Mini Pops, a wholesale snack-food business in Stoughton, Mass., says about 40% of his site’s traffic comes from the business’s Facebook and Twitter pages as well as from websites and blogs about cooking and food trends.
The 36-year-old knows because he uses Google Analytics, one of several free online tools for analyzing Web traffic. Others include Direct.ComScore.com, SiteMeter.com and GetClicky.com.
Mr. Taube started Mini Pops after getting laid off from a financial-planner job in mid-2008. The business became profitable earlier this year and today has four part-time employees, he says.
In February, Mr. Taube sent samples of his product—an air-popped sorghum grain similar to popcorn—to a food writer and TV personality in California, known as Hungry Girl. Soon after, a mention of his business landed in Hungry Girl’s e-newsletter with a link to his website. Mr. Taube says his site saw 10,000 visitors the day the blurb ran, up from the 125 or so visitors it normally receives per day.
“It’s very difficult for someone to just stumble on your website,” he says, “but when you have other people linking to you, who themselves have a following, that’s how you get new visitors.”
The Internet. Black hole of information or a fine-tuned content-sharing machine?
Surely, this debate will never be settled, but with more and more social media outlets giving users the chance to post and share content, we’re curious: What happens to a post after you put it out into the universe?
As an exercise for our July issue, we’re asking you, our online audience, to help us find out. Take a look at the infographics below with different views on the lifecycle of a social media post, then share it with your audiences. Then use the comments below, our Facebook page, a Tweet, or an email to let us know where you shared the post, so we can chart its course.
From Facebook to Digg and Reddit to Pinterest, from StumbleUpon to LinkedIn to your own blog, feel free to use any and all social media platforms you’re comfortable with, and please encourage sharing among your followers, too! We’re looking forward to seeing where your influence travels throughout the social media world, and can’t wait to share it with you.
SOCIAL MEDIA LIFECYCLES
We found these great infographics, and dozens of others at www.panorama.net.
have wrote about this is the past, but it’s worth mentioning again because it’s so critical to the success of your business. Excellent customer service starts from within. Keeping your team happy is the golden rule to keeping your customers happy. A well trained staff makes for a great customer experience. You could have the best sales team in the world, bringing in 20 new customers a month, but if the back door is open you will never be able to build a solid business.
The thing about a great customer experience is finding the right people to get the job done. The business owner is more than likely not the best candidate for the job. You might have the best intentions but you just may not deliver the best experience. For instance, I know what I want my customers experience to be, but I have a hard time executing it. So I went out and put the right people in place to deliver that experience.
It’s a challenge to deliver excellent customer service, so here are 7 things that will help guide the way
1) Answer your phone
If you find that you are out in the field and don’t have someone back at the office to answer the phone, then have your lines forwarded to your cell phone. Better yet find a GREAT answering service to answer the phone for you and take appointments. When someone is calling a plumber they want to talk to a real person, having an answering machine pick up, is a recipe for disaster. You are in the emergency business, since 8 of 10 businesses don’t return calls, potential customers do not like to leave messages.
2) Deal with complaints
An unhappy customer is just looking for a solution, the customer that takes the time to complain is just looking for a fix. Some angry customers just leave and don’t give you the opportunity to fix the problem. The best way to deal with customer complaints is to drop everything and fix the problem, or schedule a time to fix it. Don’t let the problem linger, lingering problems create negative situations and provide added stress you and the customer don’t need.
3) Shut your mouth and listen
You were given two ears and one mouth for a reason, take the time to listen. Let your customer tell their story and explain their situation. Often we are quick to jump in and talk or worse defend ourselves. Take the time to listen and turn a negative into a positive.
4) Don’t make promises you can’t keep
It’s easy to tell someone you will arrive between 9 and 10, but showing up at 11:15 is a bad thing. Be respectful of peoples time. Don’t make a promise you know you can’t keep. If you say you are going to do something, then make sure it gets done. People judge you on what you say you are going to do. It’s better to under promise and over deliver. With that said, if you say you will be there at 9, be there at 9 not 8:45. You can’t over deliver on time unless someone says “if you can make it here by 8:45 that would help me out a lot”.
5) Be helpful even if you don’t make a buck doing it
You may find that you are out at a job, you just installed a new toilet. Then you notice that the customers faucet is spraying sideways because it needs a washer. Jump in and replace it for free, it takes you a minute and costs nothing. But to the customer it’s huge. When they need a plumber next time, who are they going to call the nickle and dimer or you?
6) Train you staff
Nothing drives me crazier than when I call a company and no one can answer the simplest of questions. Or you explain the entire problem and they transfer you to another person and don’t take the time to explain the situation so you have to tell the whole story again. Train your staff. It engages people to be better and helps your customers.
7) Throw in something extra
I bet you’re saying “oh here we go, give away something free”. NO. Something extra could be a smile and handshake, paper booties over your shoes to keep your clients home clean. We appreciate your business written on your work order. A tip or two how to avoid a problem you are fixing. That little something extra is really big in the customers eyes.
There is a lot of competition in the plumbing industry, but there are very few who do the little things, and it’s the little things that make a difference between a sale or a lost customer.
The softening labor market is taking its toll on the Remodeling Market Index (RMI), which slipped two points to 45 for Q2 2012, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). This downward adjustment comes after the RMI reached 48 twice in 2011, the highest reading since 2006.
The RMI is based on a quarterly survey of NAHB remodelers that asks them to rate current remodeling activity along with indicators of future activity, i.e., calls for bids. An RMI below 50 indicates that more remodelers report market activity is lower (compared to the prior quarter) than those who report higher market activity.
In Q2 2012, the RMI component measuring current market conditions dropped to 46 from 49 in the previous quarter. The RMI component measuring future indicators of remodeling business remained unchanged at 44.
According to David Crowe, chief economist for the NAHB, the overall index dropped a couple of points from the Q1 2012 to Q2 2012 and the first quarter was down one point from a recent peak. “What I take from this is there was a rush in late 2011 an early 2012 from a lot of pent up demand for remodeling and that rush has worn off,” he explains. “We’re still in reasonably good shape and [the index] is still relatively high. I think we’ll still see some decent numbers in remodeling. We just had a little bit of a pause from the exuberance of the last two quarters.”
Looking Ahead to 2013
Unfortunately, all indicators of current market conditions fell: major additions and alterations to 42 (from 44), minor additions and alterations to 47 (from 52) and maintenance and repairs to 50 (from 51).
However, while current market indicators are on the skids, remodelers still have reason to be cautiously optimistic regarding the future: among the detailed RMI components, two important indicators of future activity increased in the second quarter: backlog of jobs was up three points to 46 and amount of work committed for the next three months was up a point to 43.
Crowe advises remodelers to be cautious about the future. “We know there’s a lot of stumbling blocks left in the housing market,” he says. “The overall housing market will still depend heavily on economic growth and I think we will grow out of it.” He added that we are likely to continue to see some modest increases in remodeling activity as well as the overall housing market but it does have the potential “for something to derail it like the European situation, a fiscal cliff, or just general malaise in the overall economy.”—Mark A. Newman, Senior Editor, REMODELING
ABOUT THE RMI: The RMI is based on a quarterly survey of professional remodelers, whose answers to a series of questions were assigned numerical values to calculate two separate indexes. The first index gauges current market conditions and is based on remodelers’ reports of major and minor additions and alterations, plus maintenance work and repairs, on both owner- and renter-occupied dwellings. The second index summarizes indicators of future remodeling activity and is based on remodelers’ responses to questions about calls for bids, amount of work committed for next three months, job backlogs and appointments for proposals.