Two More New Clients and Some Thoughts on Networking With Your Customers

Wow! Really gotta update the portfolio this week. Idea Ladder has just signed two new clients, one a landing page project for a southeast electric vehicle distributor (Current Electric Vehicles) and another huge and exciting project bringing a new anti-aging skin care line to market. Many thanks to Rob Marandino, CMO extraordinaire, for bringing us into the latter project and, as always, thanks to Ron Wilkins for sending the CEV work our way.

Which leads me to this week’s post on — you guessed it — the value of networking.

Or perhaps, better said, the value of the referral.

Or, best yet, the extended value of a happy customer.

It might surprise you to learn that, although we’re a marketing firm, we don’t actually do much of the kind of marketing we do for our clients. No PPC, no PR, no email blasts or lead generation.

The Idea Ladder website is optimized for natural search, definitely. But nearly 100% of our business comes from referrals. Or via client contacts who’ve moved on to other positions with other companies and called on us to be a part of their new team.

If I really had to, I could probably create a diagram showing that all of Idea Ladder’s business to date springs from about three original sources.

So let’s think about what that means to you.

If every customer you already have sends you three more referrals, and of those three referrals, only one becomes a new customer, how many customers do you have?

Twice as many customers, right?

The math is easy. Getting those three referrals? Perhaps not so much.

But if you think of retaining customers in the same way you think of relating to friends and family, you’ll be a lot closer to achieving it than you think.

So let’s talk about all the ways you can start to generate those referrals for your business, no matter what business you’re in:

1. Do not alienate, disregard, offend or otherwise piss off an existing customer. Take their calls, respond to complaints, deliver products when you say you will, don’t overcharge them, and every now and then give them something extra. A coupon, a discount, a free sample or a gift. If they can share these goodies easily with a friend, so much the better.

2. Create a personal relationship with every customer. Give them an account on your website and greet them by name when they visit. Learn about their families. Do they have kids? Pets? Do they like what they’ve bought from you? Are they happy with your service? Are they willing to rate these on your website or send you a testimonial? Are they on Facebook? Twitter? If they follow you, follow them back, and pay attention to what they say.

3. Stay in touch. Remember birthdays. Drop an email. Call occasionally, just to check in. But please don’t forward dumb jokes via email or otherwise fill inboxes with useless garbage.

4. Answer questions posted on Facebook or private messages on Twitter, and answer them as a person – not as a faceless corporate persona.

5. Help your customers in any way you can, but don’t give unsolicited advice. Automatic opt-ins for newsletters and offers is a big no-no. Providing a clear roadmap to all the content and products on your website is a big YES. Monitoring analytics and updating the site to make finding things easier is also a big YES.

I’d love to hear your ideas about networking with your customers … comment here!

New Year’s Resolution Redux

Looking at the elapsed time between my last post and this one, clearly I am in need of a blogging resolution. Having posted in May about how companies create blogs and then don’t post to them, I have committed the same sin myself.

Add to that the fact that I just finished watching a dedicated, if slightly neurotic, Amy Adams blog for a year about cooking in “Julie and Julia,” I am well convinced that my New Year’s Resolution should involve a commitment to post regularly here. (This also helps me avoid dieting, which is a plus.)

In my defense, last summer Idea Ladder picked up two amazing new clients — iHealthSpot (www.iHealthSpot.com) and Action Online (www.ActionOnline.com) — and they’re keeping us very busy! As an ongoing consultant to these up-and-coming companies, we’ve helped streamline their web production processes, generated new business and cut production costs. In our work with iHealthSpot, we’ve helped create somewhere near 75 websites for medical and dental practices in the last 6 months — each one custom designed and written, and built on a DotNetNuke platform.

Idea Ladder also renewed its ongoing relationship with the Great Bridal Expo (www.GreatBridalExpo.com), taking on not only management of their email campaigns, but working with them to develop relationships with premier online partners in the wedding industry, including TheKnot.com, WeddingWire.com and OurWeddingDay.com. In addition, we are also managing natural and paid search for the Great Bridal Expo, as well as creating a robust social network for them — over 3,000 Facebook fans and counting — plus Twitter and a blog.

We continue also to work with Devix Corporation, designing user interfaces and graphics for their eCommerce clients. Recent projects include http://www.BootBarn.com and http://www.CTAInc.com (neither redesign is live yet, but look for comps in our updated portfolio soon!)

And just this month, we’ve entered into a relationship with leading Amazon retailer ProMax Supply, to launch their new commerce website, Finnegan Pin. Our work with Finnegan Pin started with a Devix design and has evolved into an ongoing relationship in which we consult on eCommerce strategies and provide ongoing design and development support. We’re looking forward to launching the Finnegan Pin site soon!

So we’ve been busy here at Idea Ladder. But that’s no excuse. The blog must go on, and go on it shall.

At least once a week this year — I’m committed.

Thanks for reading!

Leigh

Blog is the new black.

This blog, kindly hosted by WordPress, was built and customized in about 3 hours–about as long as it takes to find a great pair of shoes at the mall. A little tweaking of a design template’s style sheet, a few added links here and there, and voila — a blog! WordPress makes it easy and convenient for just about anyone to create a robust content website where they can share their thoughts and opinions, get feedback from customers, and yes, even sell products if they want to.

In fact, it’s become so trendy to have a blog that if your company doesn’t have one, your website looks like it’s wearing last season’s Jimmy Choos to this season’s Fashion Week cocktail party.

I may even be dating myself by writing a justification of blogging at this late date. That’s how pervasive the technology is. But when I look at many, many websites, especially small to mid-size businesses, I don’t see all that many blogs. And often the ones I do see have a slightly neglected appearance, like their owner started off strong and then just gave up. So I feel the need to talk about it, especially since I’m just now getting around to putting mine up today. I may eat my words, ’cause this isn’t as easy as it seems, I can tell you that already!

Just as there are great reasons to own this season’s Jimmy’s, there are plenty of great reasons to have a blog: improved search engine visibility, more interaction with customers and a convenient space to communicate with them. Plus, you’ll have an easy-to-update place to post company news and special offers — typically without help from a webmaster or other technical genius.

So why do some companies still resist it? Why am I — who knows this stuff backwards and forwards — just now doing the deed?

I’ve heard several reasons from my clients, and most of them make sense to me as a business owner myself.

The most common one is, “How will I be able to maintain it?”

It’s true, successful blogging does require continued posting and new content. And the content should be well-written and should convey your company’s brand personality to the fullest and provide some kind of service to your customers. So if you want a blog, you’re gonna need a writer. Or you’re going to have to become one yourself.

But think about how much you have to say about your company! And think about how great it feels to talk about what you’re doing with other people, and how much you stand to benefit from it.

The effort is minimal compared to the possible returns.

Plus, you can also hire a relatively inexpensive copywriting or even an intern to write your copy for you, based on bullet points you provide, or even from a phone conversation you have with them.

Another common reason why companies don’t have blogs is that they fear the “live” feedback from their customers. They’re afraid of what people will say about them if given the opportunity. This is completely understandable, especially given the negative press around blogs a few years ago: employees fired for what they blog about, companies crucified by bloggers and later by the mainstream media.

Businesses, mine included, labor under the assumption that we are in charge of public dialog about our companies. But we are not and never have been. And that is why corporate participation in social media — blogging, Facebook, Twitter, forums — is so vital to a company’s well-being. It allows us to participate in the dialog in a way that’s transparent to our customers. We can post to our blogs representing our company. We can answer a challenge to our customer service publicly and prove our willingness to correct the problem. We can speak as one person to another with our customers, instead of as a distant corporate entity.

Not only can we do it, but these days we have to do it. Customers don’t just appreciate it. They expect it.

Which leads me to a couple final points about blogging.

If you do post a blog to your site — and I hope you will — do not ever, and I mean ever, post comments to your own blog posing as a customer. No matter how sly we think we are, we are not sly enough, and they will know.

Similarly, never, ever, ever slam your competitor’s products in a third-party blog or social media application, especially if you’re pretending to be a disgruntled customer. They will also know. And they might just have more money than you have to spend on retribution. Trust me, I’ve seen this happen, and it’s not pretty.

To get started on your blog, head over to WordPress and open anĀ  account. It’s easy to do, and it’s free. Which is a lot less expensive than a new pair of Jimmy Choo’s.

Welcome to Idea Ladder’s Online Marketing and Web Design blog…

Hello friends!

Thanks for visiting the new Idea Ladder Online Marketing and Web Design blog. Look for us to post, well, ideas. About things like, well, online marketing and web design! Plus, get updates on our latest projects and advice and information that will help you market your business better — even in today’s tough economy. I’m off to customize this blog for a few hours, but hope to check back in shortly with a new post!

Best,

Leigh

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