What is the risk of not being transparent?

Posted November 24th, 2011 by Nathan Skillen with No Comments

Transparent GlobeTransparency is often regarded as a corporate and political buzzword, but what is the real risk of not being transparent as a small business?

Small businesses inherently have a problem of obscurity: they don’t have the marketing power or resources of a larger business and therefore are only able to reach a smaller portion of their target market. Big businesses are regarded as more trustworthy because of their own success, partnerships, more regulation/accountability and a larger presence in the marketplace.

Transparency allows you to appear larger than you may actually be – it is a leverage tool to increase your exposure and appear as a larger, more trustworthy business. Not being transparent puts you further into obscurity, makes it more difficult for people to contact & engage with you, and makes you appear as less trustworthy and less of an expert in your field.

Notice how well regarded experts in your field put themselves out there and are transparent? They speak, write, educate, engage and connect as much as possible – and transparency is key to this. Why would you not do the same?

The Age of the Entrepreneur

Posted November 16th, 2011 by Nathan Skillen with 2 Comments

Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such;  it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you, is expressed in those terms.

Call it Generation Sell.

Whatever you want to call it: The Age of the Entrepreneur, Generation Sell, or The Entrepreneurial Generation — we’re moving towards an economy and society where everyone is in business for themselves. As the quote from The New York Times article Generation Sell says, the ideal social form is now the small business. Entrepreneurship is the new cool.

Even traditional careerists are finding themselves being entrepreneurial, creating a personal brand and often marketing themselves as a small business would. They’re looking for career moves, whether it’s full-time employment (often short-term) or part-time, gig and project work. This shift away from reliable, long-term, full-time employment is partly caused by our economic situation, the democratization of technology and cultural shifts with a greater celebration of entrepreneurial pursuits.

As an entrepreneur yourself, this presents tremendous opportunity. However, we need to re-frame our normal methodology of either being B2B or B2C business, when everyone is both a consumer and their own brand and business.

“If you want to get ahead, said Benjamin Franklin, the original business guru, make yourself pleasing to others.”

With no one a regular consumer any more and everyone in business for themselves, how do you seize these opportunities and thrive? Personal relationships, which have been a mainstay of B2B business development, are now becoming even more significant and necessary for success.

Checkout the infographic below from Young Invincibles about young entrepreneurs in America (similar statistics are likely in Canada):

An Entrepreneurial Generation Infographic

Mystery Shop Your Online First Impression

Posted November 1st, 2011 by Nathan Skillen with 1,305 Comments

Mystery ShopperMystery shopping is a common practice for business around the world, but have you ever thought of mystery shopping yourself or your brand as if you were one of your prospects? How would one of your prospects find more information and “check you out” online? What’s their first impression of you, especially if they find you online?

The first step is to write down where prospects are initially introduced to you. Are they meeting you for the first time in person – at a meetup or networking event? Do they stumble across your website or social media profiles via one of your websites, blogs or online profiles – maybe looking through 2nd degree connections in LinkedIn, a retweet, or a link in a blog? Are you actively marketing and sending people to a website, landing page, blog or other online location?

Once you’ve identified where the most common initial impressions of you & your brand happen to your prospects, you can evaluate what they see and how they navigate from there onto your other websites, profiles, blogs and other locations as part of your complete online brand presence. You should make it easy for them to do so by linking to the rest of your online presence from the sites and profiles that you’ve identified as your most common initial impressions for your prospects, and you can emphasis the places they should visit so you give off the best impression.

Below are some tips for common entry points and how to maximize the opportunity in each:

Offline / In Person: Usually when you meet someone in person, you hand them your business card or a printed promotional material (brochure/flyer). Most people think they should put all of their websites and online profiles on their business cards and promotional material, but it may be best to focus on one or a few as the best online first impression you can give, and then use that site or profile to link to the rest of your online presence so they can continue checking you out from there.

E-mail Referral / Follow up: If you were cc:ed as part of a referral or are following up via email from someone you met in person, you should focus on one link in your e-mail body, and up to 3 maximum in your email signature. The one link in your e-mail body should be where your best online first impression is.

Search Engines: Often people hear of your name or brand from someone and search for you online. You should search for your name and brand(s) on the most popular search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) to see what comes up for the first few results to see what people are clicking on first, and then optimize those websites or profiles to give a great first impression and provide links to the rest of your online presence. You can also use SEO to push specific sites higher up in results for your name and brand.
Note: Some search engines, notably google, will personalize your results so what you see is actually different than what others will see. Checkout this blog post on SEOmoz on how to turn off Google personalized search.

Website: Your website, because you have the most control over the design and content, should be the best online first impression you can give. Directing your prospects to your website when an introduction happens elsewhere is often best. Provide links on your website to your other sites and profiles to make it more convenient for your prospects to see your entire online brand presence.

LinkedIn: If you’re actively connecting and getting introductions on LinkedIn, a robust and well designed LinkedIn profile is your greatest asset. Completing your profile – especially your summary, profile picture, work experience and having many recommendations is invaluable. You can add up to 3 website links to your LinkedIn profile, and mention any others in your summary.

Twitter: Twitter allows you to include 1 website link below your bio, and you can use your bio to link to other twitter profiles of your other brands/companies by mentioning them in your bio with an @ sign before the name. Also use the background of your twitter profile to showcase your brand, including links to the rest of your online presence. You can ask your graphic designer or do it yourself.

How often do you mystery shop / “check out” your online presence from the perspective of a new prospect? Ask some of your friends or colleagues to mystery shop you as a prospect and give you feedback – you may be overlooking some things you never thought of that your prospects are seeing as their first impression of you and your brand.