Monday, 31 October 2011

Cloud Computing Means No Excuses

Something I hear all the time when talking to people just getting started out in online or offline marketing is that they can't do X, Y or Z because they don't have suitable software. 

They either can't make simple changes to graphics or .psd files because they don't have Photoshop, or they can't even consider creating videos because they don't have any video editing software on their computer. 

The fact is, it's easier than ever nowadays to complete basic tasks (and even some pretty advanced tasks) with the use of the latest cloud-based computing software. Cloud of course is referring to the idea that the software that you're using is not based on your computer, but instead stored 'in the cloud', or basically on another computer somewhere else in the world. All you're doing is using the software. 

The cons of cloud-based computing? You're going to need to upload everything you want to use. This isn't so bad for images or even audio, but video can make this tricky depending on your internet connection. When I've used online video editing software, I've tried to keep the size of my uploads to less than 200Mb, and find that I can usually start an upload and have it ready to go in about 30 mins. I have a couple of computers that I use for work anyway, so I usually just upload on one and carry on working on another. 

It also means that in some cases, the software isn't as feature packed as you might like, and certainly not as feature-rich as the versions you buy and install on your computer, but when you consider that most of these cloud-based services are free, and don't require an install, it's a small sacrifice. 

The pros of cloud-based computing are the ease of access, as they're almost always free and don't require an install on your computer. The most they're going to require is that you register for the service. It's also running off of someone else's computer, so provided you've got a decent internet connection and at least a reasonably powerful laptop or computer, you will be able to run the various programmes with no problems at all. 

So without further ado, here's my 'toolkit' of cloud based computing services that I often dip into.  


Google Docs - The kind of online, cloud-based documents. Some might argue that there is competition from some of the other well-known document software companies (Apple for instance have now made it easy to share iWork documents in the cloud) but Google is, if not the only, then certainly the best solution for actually creating, storing and sharing documents entirely in the cloud. 

For nothing more than your email address in return (you're going to need a Google account to access Google Docs) you get access to the full suite of document editing software, including a Word Processor, a Spreadsheet tool, a PowerPoint-esque presentation tool as well as a Drawing package for making illustrations. Google also tend to add new software to the suite whenever something becomes relevant, and although the programmes haven't seen any kind of drastic change over the years, they do get updated whenever Google see fit. 

Clearly taking inspiration from the big players in the industry, the software is very similar to the software that you already know and use, with the main difference being the fact that you don't have to save (the software auto-saves for you) and the fact that some of the things you're used to being spoilt for choice over (fonts in a Word Processor for example) are a bit lacking here. 

But for something that's free, you really can't knock it. You can access and edit the documents from any web based computer including Chromebooks, tablets and even smartphones, so the idea of rocking up at a cafe, connecting to the Wi Fi and getting a lot of really productive work done is a real reality. 

You can export to all of the expected formats including straight to PDF, which is a nice feature that most software have these days but it's always nice to see. Definitely worth the small investment of signing up for a Google Docs account. 

Photo Editing: 

You've got a couple of options here, but for me the one I keep coming back to is Pixlr. Pixlr is, in a word, superb, and for someone who likes to do basic website editing and amending it has the potential to save you a fortune by stopping you from bying the latest Photoshop or equivalent. 

The software supports .psd files, which is almost a great selling point by itself, as it allows you to open and edit images that have previously been edited or saved in the Photoshop format. Got a website template sat on your computer with .psd files you can't do anything with? If you open them in Pixlr you can, and can edit them, tweak them and export them out to your heart's content. 

Pixlr also works with layers, and has a whole host of some of the more advanced image-editing functions you would associate with Photoshop or Gimp. It takes a bit of learning, and I'd actually advise you to check out some of the tutorials featured online and on YouTube to get you up to speed with the software, but for the kind of basic image manipulation you're going to need to do for your online or offline marketing business, Pixlr gives you just about everything you need!

Video Editing: 

JayCut - Visitors to the site will have noticed that since being acquired by RIM, JayCut haven't been offering the ability to edit videos through their classive video editing software. 

Except they have - Click here

For whatever reason, you can still access and use the video editing demo if you go straight to the link. OK so it may not have quite as many of the advanced features as the full (and I've no doubt, soon to be expensive) version, but it offers more than enough to get you going. Use a free screen capture tool such as Cam Studio and you're good to go. 

The most painful part of JayCut is actually uploading the files to the server in the first place, especially if you're not lucky enough to have a lightning fast Internet connection. But once uploaded, it's a simple case of drag and drop to shift your various video files around, sync them up with audio, clip out the bits you don't like, add text over the top and create really slick transitions. Once finished, you can export the videos to various different formats depending on what you plan on doing with them, and it really is the cheapest and possibly easiest method for creating super-slick videos. 

Audio Editing: Mynda Audio Editor from Aviary

This is a great tool for people who want a quick and simple way to edit audio on the fly. This was originally designed for people who want to do some pretty advanced editing, specifically musical editing, so for the kind of work that you or I would need to do, this is more than enough. You can combine multiple tracks, trim up your audio and even add effects. You'll need to create an account before you export anything, but the last time I checked it was free to do so. 

These are by no means the best or the only options out there, they're just the ones that I use quite often to make life easier. I've bought the more expensive software before in the past, and through computer upgrades/failures etc, I've actually found myself buying and download software less and less, relying more on these great little cloud based services instead. They're convenient, they're free (and I really don't mind registering or looking at some ads to keep them free) and for the kind of work that I need to do, they get the job done. 

Give cloud-based computing a try!

Time Management Pt.2 - Relating To Your Business

In the first of my Time Management posts, I talked about what time management is and how it's vital that you understand the concept of the value of time. In this post, I want to look at how everything we discussed in the first post then related to you and your business, whether that business is consulting for offline clients, or marketing information (or really any business for that matter - whilst the specifics may be slightly different, the fundamentals are all the same). 

We looked in the last post at the four quarters, and the way in which they help us to assign a value to the different time that we use every day. Let's think about how those four quarters relate to our business. 

Realistically, the only quarter that changes much at all is Quarter 2, the 'Need to' category. Q1 is the same - We still need to eat properly, sleep, exercise and stay healthy. Q3 will stay the same as we want to spend time in our day doing what we enjoy (as much of Q3 as is possible really) and Q4 is still as relevant as ever - It's only Q2 that we really need to focus on. 

In our business, we need to be constantly focusing on Q2, and establishing how best to use that time. 

When we spoke in the first part of this training about the breakdown of your day into four quarters, we spoke about the idea that you must always think of the four quarters as part of a circle, one that can't get any bigger. A day consists of 24 hours, so it's up to you how you assign your time to the four different quarters. 

With that in mind, we as business owners must ensure that whatever we do on a daily basis has a direct impact on our income, as this is ultimately what is going to allow us to enjoy more of Q3, and have the money to spend on things like vacations and experiences (I'm not going to get into the whole 'money doesn't buy you happiness' debate here, let's just assume that as entrepreneurs we're all trying to make a better living for ourselves). 

So the first thing to do is to work out how much time you WANT to spend working on Q2 - Or in other words, how much time do you want to spend working on your business? If you're full time, that might be 8 - 10 hours (or maybe less). If you're part time, it could be 30 minutes per day, or an hour, or 2 hours. This part is up to you. But you need to assign some time, and that time is going to come out of your circle. 

(It's worth pointing out at this stage that if you are working at this part time, there's nothing wrong with having 5 sections to your circle, with one representing your day job and another representing your part time business. The principles of time management are still the same)

Now you should have a figure. Let's say for argument's sake it's 3 hours. This is the time that you're going to devote to improving your business, putting more money in your pocket and ultimately making you more time and money to enjoy on Q3. 

So how are you going to use it?

This is the next step, understanding how to make the most of that time. Because the second you put a value on your time, you start to realise that it's actually pretty precious, and that wasting it is going to cost you in all of the other areas of your life. 

And in the next post, we'll talk about using lists to maximise your effectiveness, and outsourcing.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Holding Your Price

One of my subscribers emailed me the other day with a question I get asked all the time. 

"Mark, I've got a potential lead who's interested in my SEO service, but they think my pricing is too high. How much money should I be prepared to discount?"

This is a great question, because it's something that we're instinctively inclined to do incorrectly. 

Human nature and evolution has built us up to generally avoid conflict. It's all linked to the 'fight or flight' response that I'm sure you've heard doctors and scientists talk about many times before. When faced with a situation where we feel confronted or in danger, we make a sub-conscious decision to either stay and fight, or run away, and our body physically prepares us to do that. 

It's the build up of adrenalin that you feel when you trip and almost fall over, or when someone does something that makes you feel uncomfortable. And in a strange way, the same mechanism often kicks in when you're in a sales negotiation conversation, especially if you're the kind of person who doesn't enjoy negotiating. 

The instinct is to 'flight' - to back down and allow the customer whatever kind of discount they want. 

Now I'm not going to get into too much sales psychology here, as this subject could easily (and often does) fill up entire books. But I will say this - Dropping your price too quickly is one of the most damaging things you can do for your business. 

If I offer you something for £200, and you tell me it's too expensive, and I then drop my price to £150, does that suggest that the product was worth £200 in the first place?

No - It suggests that I was 'chancing my arm', in the hope that you would pay it. It suggests that the product was over-priced. And that makes me look like someone who's not to be trusted, and someone who charges too much for their products!

Now with a physical, tangible product, this is actually quite straight forward, because we tend to be more willing to attach a minimum value to something tangible. A car for example, might be worth $2000. I might ask for $2500 when I try and sell it, but if I get offered $1500, I won't sell it. Why? Because it's less than what I've deemed the car to be worth, and therefore not enough money for me to accept. 

With non-tangible products, like an SEO service, we're faced with the problem that the customer believes we can charge whatever we like, and therefore thinks that any price we charge is going to be too high. 

The customer will almost always assume that you're asking price is too much (even if they think it's a bargain!)

So the first thing to remember when being asked to drop your price is this - Don't!

Certainly not at first. 

If you drop your price at the first request, you're de-valuing your service, and you can't ever come back from that. The second you start talking about £150, it's impossible to work your way back to £200. 

So stand your ground! The price is what you quoted, because you've carefully worked out a price that's both fair to you (you are a business after all) whilst still within the reach of the kind of businesses you want to target and good value for money. 

Ask the client why they feel it's too much to spend. Because unless the client is just trying their luck (they almost always are), there's a distinct possibility that your sales pitch isn't up to scratch. 

Because let's face it, if it was, you'd have made the sale! So it may be time to remind the client of the benefits of your service. 

At this stage, most prospects will make a decision. If they were genuinely interested in buying from you in the first place, they will usually just accept that the price is what it is and do the deal with you. 

But if they don't, and the prospect still wants to knock your price down further, you have two options. 

You can stand firm on your price again, selling the benefits and explaining why it's worth your asking price, or you can take a small amount of money off. And when I say small, I mean SMALL! 

Charging £250 for your consultancy services? Offer the client £5 off MAXIMUM. 

Because what happens if you drop to £200? The client realises that you can afford to knock a big old lump off of the price, and will push you further. 

The client might laugh at the notion of knocking such a small amount off, but just stay confident. Why should you drop 1/5 of the price off? Would THEY do that with THEIR products or services? No - Stay firm on your price!

It's much better to knock small chunks off at a time, as you're more likely to defend your price and walk away with a deal that works for you. Plus it takes a LOT longer to go from £250 to £200 in £5 chunks than it does in £50 chunks! 

But here's the kicker. If the client wants a discount, even £5, what are they going to do for you?

You've just taken money off of your product, money out of your pocket - What are you going to get back? 

What's in it for you? This is a negotiation after all, not a 'stock clearance sale'! 

Here's what I recommend. For every £5 off, I want a lead from that client. They know other people in their niche, and they have friends and family in their circles who have their own businesses - I want those names and numbers! 

So if I knock £20 off of my price, that's 4 names and contact details that I can speak to with regard to my business. I can send them an email or give them a call and explain that I'm currently working with 'so and so', and they told me that it would be a good idea to give that new lead a call. 

Now of course there's no guarantee that any of these will convert, but if I can even get my details in front of these people, and use the name of the friend/acquaintance who gave me their details, there's a good chance that I can work with at least one of them. 

Which would be well worth the £20! 

There's lots of options when it comes to holding your price, but it's one of the most important lessons you can possibly learn in this business. Just because you sell a 'service' doesn't mean that you should let people destroy the value of that service! 

Be strong - Hold your price - Make more money! 

Facebook & Amazon Combine For Viral Dollars

I haven't bought an info product from the forum for a while, and this promised so much that I had my doubts - But it really delivers. Check out my video review. 

Friday, 28 October 2011

Time Management Pt.1

There's not much you can be absolutely certain of in life. Death is one thing, and taxes is another. The fact that time will continue to tick away constantly is another, and that's the subject of this post. 

From Donald Trump to an unemployed, penniless person, the one thing we all have in common is that we're here now, and for a limited amount of time. And with the exception of those unfortunate enough to terminally unwell, none of us know for certain how long we have available to us. So making the most of the time we have is vital, not only in a business sense, but also in a life-sense in general. 

Of course, the whole point of this blog, email newsletter and the subsequent products I've created is to educate you on running your own SEO & Information Marketing business, so we'll focus on that area here (but remember you can apply this logic to everything that you do). 

The next couple of posts are going to focus on the importance of managing your time effectively, and will show you how you some real methods (not fluffy theory) that you can use to get the most from your time. 

Fundamentally, I teach this to people by getting them to first of all understand that time can be broken down into four quarters of a circle, with each one representing a different 'type' of time. I tend to break them down like this; 

Quarter 1 - Time spent doing what must be done to keep you functioning (Affects all 4 quarters)
Quarter 2 - Time spent doing what you need to do in order to achieve quarter 3
Quarter 3 - Time spent doing what you enjoy doing
Quarter 4 - Wasted time

Now this may sound simplistic, but you can actually break everything that you do with your time up and slot them into those categories. Let's look at each one in a bit more detail; 

Quarter 1 - This is probably the most straightforward of the four pieces, as this is everything that you must do in order to, in a broader time management sense, stay alive. Breathing, eating, sleeping, drinking water etc. Without these core requirements, your body would stop working and you would die, so a certain amount of time must be dedicated every day to performing these tasks. If you plan your working day on the principal that you have 24 hours in which to work every day, you will die of dehydration, or starvation, or exhaustion, or a combination of all of them. It's as simple as that. Failure to factor this quarter in your daily routine means you would, eventually, run out of time altogether, and therefore have no time for any of the remaining 3 quarters. So any 'life' plan that we create for time management must include time for these things. 

If we stop and look at this in a bit more detail, we can then see that the amount of time that we dedicate to each of these things is also important. If we allow ourselves 4 hours a night of sleep, there's a good chance that we will become tired when we try to focus on Q2 (work). This means that we won't make as much money, and therefore might struggle to do the things we would like to do in Q3, and would end up spending too much time on Q4. 

The point I'm trying to make here is about assigning a value to your time, because it's only when you truly value your time that you can actually start to manage it. How can you manage something when you have no idea how valuable it is?

Quarter 2 - This is all about the time you spend working toward a lifestyle that you enjoy. Now you may be fortunate enough to have enough money in the bank that you actually don't need to do much at all for this quarter, in which case you can re-assign the time to the other quarters (I would recommend 1 and 3!). But for most of us, we have to allow a fair portion of our time to this. This could be working a day job, or working on your own business, but either way it's time that you must spend in order to be able to enjoy as much of Quarter 3 as you possibly can. 

Quarter 3 - This is anything that you like doing. For some people this might be a sport or hobby, for some people this may simply be spending time with your family or friends, but every lifestyle plan must factor this in there somewhere. This is the stuff that, without sounding too corny, enriches your soul and makes you the person you are, so time spent here is not wasted time at all, but time that makes you a better person. But of course, you can only devote a lot of time to this quarter if you devote enough time to the previous two. 

Quarter 4 - This is time that's wasted, plain and simple. Anything that you do that can't fit into any of the other three quarters must go in here. This might include things that you have little control over, such as sitting in a traffic jam (which is often linked to Q2, as you may be going to work) or waiting in a doctor's waiting room (which may be linked to Q1, as it would be something you must do to stay alive), but often it's things that we have full control over. Sitting on Twitter or Facebook when we should be working for example, or messing about on your phone instead of getting something useful done. 

The key to this post is to start to understand that everything that you do fits into one of those 4 categories, and it's up to you to decide which one fits where. Playing a videogame might to some for example, fit into Q4. But if you're a videogame fanatic, it might be something that relaxes you and gives you pleasure, and would therefore fit into Q3 (especially if it's something you do with a friend). It's up to you to interpret this the way you see fit. But the important thing is that you start to assign 'value' to your time. 

The other vital thing to understand here is that, and let's say for argument's sake we imagine these four quarters as being a part of a circle, that circle cannot be any bigger. If it's representing a day, it's 24 hours. No bigger. If it's representing a week, it's 7 days. So with this in mind, we start to understand that the time we spend on any of the quarters has a direct correlation to the amount of time we can spend on the other quarters. If we sleep for 8 hours, that only leaves 16 hours to dedicate to Q2, 3 and 4. If we then waste 5 hours watching television, that only leaves us with 11 hours to work or spend doing something we enjoy. If we work a 10 hour day, we only have 1 hour left to spend with family (or doing whatever it is you enjoy). 

You get the idea. 

Once you start to assign value to your time, and you start to recognise how everything we've just spoken about is linked, you start to think more about how you utilise your time. Every successful entrepreneur I know for example has someone come and clean their house for them (a couple even have a chef come and cook for them). Is this because they're too lazy to do this themselves? No, because by their very nature they are 'go-getters'. But they've assigned a value to time spent cleaning the house or cooking food. They know it has to be done (because it fits into our quarters above), but they would rather pay someone to remove that from their time-plan, allowing them to spend more time focussing on Quarter 2 and Quarter 3. 

They're not being lazy, they're just managing and valuing their time effectively. 

This is the first fundamental step toward managing your time more effectively and getting more done. Once you understand the actual value of time, you can begin to use it properly. So to finish this post up, try this; For the next couple of days, make a note of how much of your time you spend on each quarter. It's not an exact science, so don't worry about being completely precise, but try to be honest. If you spent an hour doing nothing, write it down and add it to Q4. If you spent time with your kids, partner, friends etc - Chalk that up to Q3. As I said before, this is open to your own interpretation, just go with whatever you think it most suitable. But this will start to make you aware of how much of your day you currently spend doing the things that matter. 

In the next post, we'll apply this way of thinking to your business. 

Speak soon, 

Monday, 17 October 2011

Do You DO Customer Services?

I met a friend of mine for lunch the other day. He's originally from Germany, but has been living here in the UK for about 9 years now. He works for an English company, speaks fluent English, and considers himself almost as English as he is German. 

We got speaking about his initial impressions of the country when he moved over, and I asked him if he remembered much about his first impressions. 

He told me he really liked the people here, and being a bit of an architecture geek he loved seeing some of the beautiful old buildings we have in this country. 

Then he had a sudden 'aha' moment. 

"Actually, the thing that sticks in my mind above everything else was how bad the customer service is over here".

It seemed quite apt actually, as we were eating in a restaurant where we'd been ignored for the first 15 minutes after being sat down, they got his order wrong and completely forgot to bring mine, meaning I had to wait for a fresh meal to be cooked, which I then had to eat after my friend had finished. 

Customer Service is a funny thing, and it got me thinking about what I might like to base my next email newsletter on. The Restaurant industry is of course very different to the Offline Marketing Consultancy Industry, but in a lot of ways they actually have very similar requirements when it comes to customer service. 

And with it being such a huge part of your overall business, I thought it might be worth discussing what you can start doing immediately to improve your customer service. 

1) Two Ears vs. One Mouth - My Gran taught me this one. You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as hard as you talk. Communication skills are important, but so is the ability to listen. In the same way that a customer doesn't want to ask a waiter for something twice, your customers don't want to have to tell you the same thing over again. If you're not the type who remembers things, take notes or record (with the customer's permission) conversations. Anything that will help you keep a track of what's been discussed and deliver on your promises. 

2) Be Punctual - Dealing with things quickly is one of the best and easiest ways to keep customer service levels high. Things go wrong from time-to-time; that's just a part of life. But fixing problems quickly is a sure-fire way to cool your angry customer's down and keep things from escalating. If a customer knows that you're quick to deal with issues, they're much less likely to get upset with things in the future. It's like knowing that a restaurant are willing to take a wrong order back but more importantly, get the correct order back on your table in seconds rather than minutes. 

3) Acknowledge Problems Immediately - This is one of the easiest ways to keep customers happy. If you're away from your office and you receive an email on your phone from an irate customer, and dealing with the issue there and then isn't an option, reply to the email. Explain that you're aware of the problem, you apologise for the inconvenience, and tell them when you plan to deal with the issue. It's like a waiter saying that they need a manager to deal with their complaint, and the manager will be with them in the next 15 minutes. They may not be getting a resolution immediately, but at least they know it's coming. 

4) Set Expectations - In the same way that a restaurant should not advertise fast food if it's going to take 20 minutes to cook, you shouldn't promise things that you can't deliver. Be honest - People respect this far more, and you're less likely to get complaints as people are aware of what they're getting beforehand (so in theory, you only get a complaint if you mess up on your delivery). Set expectations about what you're going to deliver, how you plan on delivering and when you plan to do it by. 

5) Always Over Deliver - I try to over deliver in everything that I do. It doesn't always happen, but if I'm always striving towards it, I'm more likely to make it happen. What about a Takeaway food service that had great food, friendly staff operating the phones, good prices, always delivered within the timeframe it said it would, and even sent a text message when you're driver was heading out so you could warm some plates up? Do you think they'd get become popular when compared with the normal takeaway restaurant? You bet they would! Small things can go a long way and make a big difference, and if you focus on over-delivering in your business, you often find that all the other parts of your business tend to fall in to place. 

What do you think? Have you got any interesting customer service anecdotes? Or can you suggest any other ways to improve relations with you and your clients? Share them in the comments below.