business

Why Your Customer Can’t Be Everyone

More fun posters here: http://www.boredpanda.com/sharp-suits-worst-client-comment-posters/

More fun posters here: http://www.boredpanda.com/sharp-suits-worst-client-comment-posters/

When I ask business owners who their typical customer is, about half of them say ‘everyone’.

Really?

So then I try another question. “Who is your best customer?” and I start pressing for details, like income, interests, age, and other details, it turns out that they usually have a relatively clear idea.

What’s the problem with thinking of everyone as your customer? It seems pretty harmless… but could actually lead to a lot of heartache.

Pleasing all people pleases no one.

Have you ever tried to design a website for a 25 year old and an 65 year old at the same time?

People want different things… and whether you are producing a rack card or a website, you need to create something that is going to attract your ideal customer.  You are communicating to customers in writing, images, video, and more… and different styles tend to attract different kinds of people.

Below are two online dating websites. Neither excludes people by age and for comparison’s sake, I blurred the names on both in case that swayed you:

datingsite2

datingsite1

Now neither of these sites actually discriminates on age… but some subtle design, text, technology, and photo decisions lead you to think (depending on who you are) you are in the right place or the wrong place.

So in subtle ways, you are targeting some people to somewhat purposeful exclusion of others. If you actually tried to design a website that appealed to all people, it would be super generic looking… and actually appeal to no one. (The site closest to this? Facebook but really if you look at it, it’s the information your friends disclose, not Facebook, that makes that site work well for you.)

Attracting people who don’t want to buy wastes your time and resources.

Think of these things (which may or may not have happened to you in the recent past):

The time you spend talking on the phone to that person who called about buying insert-item-you’re-selling-here but can’t actually afford it.
The money you spend on that broadly targeted Facebook ad that sent two clicks to your website and zero sales.

What do these two things have in common?

In both instances you have reached someone, but in both cases you have mainly reached someone who isn’t interested.

Think you can turn them around with your smile and cheery speech? Most people have decided within 5 seconds whether they like you or not so good luck with that.

The time or money you spent broadly targeting a large group could be reduced in reaching a smaller, more specific group.

Here’s an example from my Facebook profile (in case you don’t know me, I’m a straight, engaged female who is social media consultant with a bachelors degree). Which one makes me roll my eyes more?

twoadsforsocialmediaconsultant

I actually might want to get a masters degree so I get that… but attracting a man for a lasting relationship? I think I’m set!

The social media education company is not wasting their time on me but the ‘Enchant Him’ program clearly did. (Yes I totally clicked, if I would have waited until the end, I would have found the secrets to making a man mine forever… oh well!)

Knowing who your people are allows you to do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

Who’s our ideal audience? Middle aged, middle class white women with bachelor’s degrees who are decision makers at a small business or non-profit in coastal Maine.



Now does everyone we work with fit that stereotype? Of course not. But this majority of people tend to attend our workshops, subscribe to our email newsletters, come in for consulting, and serve as our liaisons with their company/non-profit on our larger projects.

In general, they are most likely as a group, to be on Pinterest and Facebook, less likely to be on Twitter and Google+.  In case you don’t believe me, some graphs from Alexa.com (by the way, there is more than this available- fascinating website!):

pinterestdatafemalealexa

facebookfemalecorrelationalexa

OK so are you ready to see what the largest social referrers are on our website (NetworkedBlogs by the way is a Facebook app)?

oursocialreferrals

I know, mind blown right?

But seriously, if you know your people, you know not only how to spend your time marketing but this information can help make all kinds of other decisions for you. So knowing who your people are helps you spend more time on the right things, and less time on the wrong ones.

Now I hope when someone asks you who your target customer is, you don’t say everyone… because not only is it not true but it’s costing you money.

What My Father Taught (And Didn’t) Teach Me About Business

This is my dad before my sister's wedding. I was going to post this picture of him making a stupid face I took right before this but I want you to see that he's kind of handsome.

This is my dad before my sister’s wedding. I was going to post this picture of him making a stupid face I took right before this but I want you to see that he’s kind of handsome.

I grew up in a small business family and, for that reason, I never wanted to own my own.

This income helped me graduate college without any debt. We had a swimming pool. To the people in my small town, we were living the life.

You might wonder why I wouldn’t want the same lifestyle for myself.

First of all, I watched my dad work. A lot.

My dad was at his business six days a week (they were, and still are, closed on Sundays), 5:30 am to 5:30 pm. He went in during off hours to read his mail or otherwise catch up on the kind of things he was interrupted doing all day.

And when I say he worked a lot, I don’t just mean making money. He donated materials, money, and time to a lot of local causes. (I heard a lot more about this after he died. Everything from him being a blood donor at the hospital (he had a rare blood type) to buying an elderly woman a dog.)

Second of all, I knew I didn’t have the interest and passion for hardware required to run a hardware store.

When I told my father I didn’t have the interest, he and I made a pact jokingly that we would never work for each other because we knew we’d drive each other crazy. But in reality, I know we both didn’t see me ever running a business.

I will say right off that I never knew my dad in the business sense. But from my visiting the store, watching my dad work on things at home, occasionally helping out, and otherwise observing all this for 18 years, I did learn some things about running a business from my father.

It’s not at all glamorous. 

If you want a glamorous job, work for someone else at sail out of work at 5 pm every day on the nose. There is nothing glamorous about calling customers who owe you money, scheduling people to work, or about the 80% of business ownership most people don’t see.

This is why I firmly believe if you want to own a business, you should work in the kind of business you want to own at least six months and see what it’s really like.

You are a public person.

I could tell this bugged my dad sometimes. We’d go out to dinner and the waitress would ask when her garage door was coming in. That’s why when you see me out socially, I shut down the work talk pretty quick. Because I actually want to enjoy going places still.

By the same token, I can’t get belligerently drunk, scream at people, or otherwise misbehave in public. Who I am outside my own home reflects on my business, for better or for worse. So I have to watch it.

People are ridiculous so you need to protect yourself.

Someone will trip on your stairs and sue you for example. While most people would probably think it’s overkill, I have done everything by the book for this very reason. I have a lawyer, I have insurance, I have backups, I have a cooperation protecting my personal property. If I hear of something I should have, I get it.

I probably have less money because of this but I haven’t attracted anything bad to happen to me yet either. Note the word yet.

Some people won’t like you, probably for really dumb reasons.

When I first got to Bar Harbor, a local woman decided she didn’t like me (she thought I was incompetent based on a question I answered but apparently didn’t understand). She proceeded to berate me all over town.

I am sure my dad had my share of this in our small hometown. While people tell me what a great man he is, I know at least one person who didn’t like him and told me (the feeling was mutual, dude). No one in the public eye can universally be liked.

You won’t like it everyday.

There are whole days I don’t like my job. And I created it, which makes me feel especially dumb. The only reason I know this is normal is from talking to my parents about it.

Be suspicious of the internet.

My father didn’t like computers much (except his MSNBC page) but he as always suspicious a little if something was only online.

I credit this suspicion I have in me with not having fallen for any internet scams for weird services, paying electronic invoices to companies I have no relationship with, and other nonsense. If I can’t look into it offline, it’s probably not legit.

It’s important to force balance in your life.

When I was about 12, my dad resigned from every board and committee he was on. And I noticed he was around a lot more.  I’m not sure if him and my mom talked or it this was all him but I did notice the change (and effort) for him to not check up on work stuff when he was home.

I had a similar epiphany when I realized I was missing things that were important to me. So now, even though it makes Monday almost painful, I take weekends off entirely. I can always make more money but I can’t ever go back in time to my friend’s birthday party. I also have stricter email (and other information checking) practices than most people in my industry in part of this forced balance.

Two things my dad didn’t teach me were:

How not to take things personally. Apparently despite acting like he couldn’t care less whether you liked him or not, my dad really did care and some people saw him as kind of a pushover for it. I honestly don’t care most of the time whether people like me or not. This is part genetics, part hard work to cultivate in particular these last few years with Tao Te Ching-esqe detachment exercises (which practically killed my personal life until I learned to shut this on and off- this is why if you meet me in a personal setting I seem ‘different’ than if you meet me in a business one).

How to deal with it when people don’t pay you. I remember my dad and I were at a bar once and he leaned over to me and said “That guy owes me $10,000.” Then he walked over and bought him a beer. This ‘turn the other cheek’ attitude is admirable but it didn’t teach me how to stand up for myself in these kind of situations. Thankfully I’ve gotten some practice doing this and only get better at it.

So while I never in a million years thought I’d have my own business, I have learned a lot watching my dad and mom run one.

And while my business might never give me a backyard pool, I do hope it gives me other things I saw it give my family: a sense of community, a desire of always improving, and something that’ll live on after I am gone in all the best ways.

Today’s anniversary of my father’s passing makes me think of him and every year I am challenged not to remember him but to remember something about him I can document for myself in the future. Thanks for reading this year’s entry. 🙂

Wordcamp Boston 2013

wordcamp2013It’s not often I get to see my friend Matt in real life. We work together virtually on almost a daily basis and I consider him one of my best friends…  he just happens to live over six hours away.

So when he told me about Wordcamp and that it was 1) in Boston and pretty close for all of us and 2) that he was going, Alice and I went down to check it out.

There were around 400 people at the conference from all over the place so I didn’t expect to know anyone. Of course I am in line for sandwiches behind a guy I haven’t seen since college who now is working on a cool Wordpress plugin and I run into Tracy who I’ve only seen online yet lives in Maine.

In other words, I actually knew people! I mean, we were in Boston (very closeby) not Istanbul but still, small world.

The biggest takeaway for me? The need for fast websites. My favorite talk of the conference was by Chris Ferdinandi called ‘Wicked Fast Wordpress’ on this very topic.

As we try to make websites more interactive, interesting, and responsive to design, us website designers/developers have invariably slowed down how fast they load. If 70% of people will not wait more than 3 seconds for a website to load before moving on, that’s something we need to pay attention to. (I’ll do a whole blog post on this sometime soon I am sure.)

Year after year, website security is always a concern. No matter what the software, there is no such thing as a 100% safe website. But Sam Hotchkiss’ presentation about security was complete and a favorite of Matt and Alice (I was in another room watching a different presentation… the good news is that link goes to a video where you can watch his talk!)

And finally, there was more talk about responsive design: how to do it well, deal with issues unique to that process. If you want to know a bit more about it, click on this post we have about dealing with mobile users on your website. 

All and all, it was a great weekend where we not only got to learn new things from some very smart people but have lots of bonding time, mainly over food. We’ll be back next year I’m sure but hopefully be getting to see Matt before then.

How We Figured Out Our Hourly Rate

calculatinganhourlywage

People have asked me in the past, “So how do you come up with a rate of $75/hour?”

What I love is when they make this leap: “Wow, you make $75/hour?!? You must be rich!”

If I actually made $75/hour for every hour I worked in a week, that would be lovely wouldn’t it? And technically, I would be rich (though hopefully you’d love me anyway).

For those starting out in a service related business trying to figure out prices or those wondering where the heck we got our hourly rate number, here is the logic and the math which will work for you whether you design websites or walk dogs:

Factor 1: The Concept Of Billable Hours

While I wish someone would pay me to watch reality television while wearing my pajamas and eating Lucky Charms, it is not the case. I have to actually do something to get paid. (And if you are sitting at your job getting paid to have your butt in a chair right now and read this blog, please appreciate that!)

The single most important thing I took away from the one business class I’ve ever taken was the concept of billable hours.

Billable hours happen when you are actually doing work. For me updating or fixing someone’s website, writing up the social media posts or newsletter, or doing some other thing people pay us to do.

What are non-billable hours? Writing this blog. Spending an hour on the phone with GoDaddy trying to get them to change the contact email on your domain. Writing emails telling you about the progress of your project. Filing the 150 pictures you just emailed me digitally so we can access it later. Networking the printer. Cleaning the office bathroom. Writing proposals for prospective work. Invoicing. Answering peoples’ questions about the invoices. Organizing workshops.

As you see, for most people the non-billable hours are not only necessary but they take up a majority of work time. Sadly these are not something you can make your clients pay for (though if one of you wanted to pay me to clean our fridge it would probably happen more often.)

My goal is to have 10 billable hours a week and for Alice to have 5. And as the business gets more established and I can spend more time doing work (instead of asking for it), this number should go up. But when you are starting out, billable hours are usually very low.

One month, when I was just starting out, I had 4 billable hours. For the entire month. Gulp. (Hint: Have savings for these sort of things.)

So when you figure out your hourly rate, think about realistically how many hours of paid work you expect to get then divide that into your living expenses:

$1500 for one month living expenses / 10 hours of expected billable hours in a month = $150/hour

Factor 2: Market Rate

Now I know multiple other people who live in San Francisco, New York, and Boston respectively who all charge $150/hour for the same work I do. So why do I charge $75?

In addition to looking at the average salary of what people in my profession make, I also have to look at what people in the area I plan to serve are willing to pay. Where I live, I know a high end carpenter who charges $75/hour and a plumber that charges $90/hour. They are both incredibly busy and have a reputation for being great. While they aren’t in my profession, looking at other professionals in my geographic area gives me an idea of what individuals and businesses in my area pay for services.

I guess by ‘market rate’ I mean you need to look at not only what range is acceptable in your profession but also what the economic reality is for your customers. My city counterparts can make more money because a) where they live is more expensive so they have higher costs and b) the people who live there are willing to pay more money. At some point I will probably raise my hourly rate but for now, I’m comfortable with this.

Factor 3: Pacing Your Projects

Much of your work isn’t going to be hourly work but project work. So instead of ‘fix this problem on my website that you said will take you two hours’, it’ll be ‘design my website please.’

Knowing how long it’ll take you to do a project will not only keep you sane, it’ll also help you price the projects you do.

So with us I know:

1) We can launch 1 website/month while doing our normal hourly stuff that sporadically comes in.

2) With having an intern helping part time in the summer, we can handle maintaining social media accounts for 10 businesses during the peak season in our area (May-October).

Keeping the right amount of projects spaced out also means we don’t have to rely so heavily on billable hours which can be sporadic.

As you do your work, whether it’s cutting hair or building greenhouses, you’ll figure out what you can handle in a month in terms of regular and non-regular work which will give you an even better idea of what you should charge.

Whatever you do, don’t set your rate too low at first. It is very easy to lower prices but very hard to raise them.

So set that hourly rate carefully… because it’ll be a part of your business life daily. And when people question your rate, you’ll be ready with a thoughtful and very business savvy answer.

Three Reasons Why ‘Free Domain Name’ Works

whyadomainisfreeAs part of SquareSpace’s marketing pitch, they give away a free domain.

I find this interesting because, since they continue to advertise it, it must be working.

But allow me to let you in on a little secret.

This really isn’t a big deal. Actually it’s genius of them. Here’s why:

‘Free’ is an excellent psychological term. 

I don’t need to tell you this. We all like to feel like we are getting something for free. Am I right?

Domains cost less than $10 so giving away one to a customer that’ll give you at least ten times that is no big deal. 

When you buy a domain as a consumer, you can pay anywhere from $12/year (Enom price) to $35ish/year (Network Solutions). You’ll pay this to renew your domain name too. You can chose to renew your domain for one, two, five, any number of years. But when it’s time to renew, you’ll have to pay again to be able to keep using the domain name.

Now a company is not ever going to sell you something for less than they paid for it. That would be silly. (Note from Matt Baya: Unless this product is considered a ‘loss leader’, which is a below-price product designed to get you in a store and ideally buying more other products.)

An additional cost that consumers don’t have is also at play. To be a domain reseller, you need to pay a few hundred dollars a year. In other words, the reseller needs to make $300-$400 to keep being able to be a reseller.



A company like SquareSpace (a reseller) pays a little less than $10/domain. So if they sold it to you for $12, they’d make about $2 on you. If they sell it for $35, they make $25 on you. Once you pay back your reseller fees (and at $2/domain, it might take you awhile to get to $300), you are making money on this proposition.

But if you buy, say, a year of service at $10 a month, SquareSpace gives you a domain for free. So they make $120 and give you $10 of it. Not a big loss to them to give you this small gift. I mean if you had to give a customer something and then you know you’d make ten times that off them, you’d do it right?

They can make sure it stays renewed.

This is probably the most convenient reason to let SquareSpace (or any web host) get the domain for you, whether you pay for it or get it free.

When you register for a domain name, you do so with an email address. Before it’s up for renewal, you’ll get an email letting you know.

But what happens when you ignore it or change email addresses before it gets renewed? You can guess I am sure.

If you don’t renew your domain name, it is assumed you do not want it and suddenly, your domain name is for sale again. Best case scenario: your website is offline while you buy it back for what you paid for it. Worse case scenario: Someone buys it and makes you pay $500 (or more) to get it back. (This happened to someone I know and she had me broker the deal. Painful.)

I keep track of when my clients’ domain names are up for renewal. But some developers don’t so you should know when yours is due. Here’s how you tell.

1) Go to whois.net. Type in your domain name and press go:

whoisnet

 

2) The next screen will have information about your domain name including when it expires:

whoislookupexdate

 

So I need to renew my domain before April 15, 2014.

If a company like SquareSpace has control over your domain, they can make sure it gets renewed. The flip side of this coin is you are relying on them to do this. I usually make clients register for their own domain so they know they own it. That said, I tell them if they are comfortable they should give me access to their domain registry account so if they are off in Tahiti and their domain is expiring, I can get in there and do the renewal.

The free domain? It’s genius. It’s something that doesn’t cost SquareSpace much, it prevents the disaster of an unrenewed domain name, and the customer gets to feel warm and fuzzy about getting free.

Tell you what, if you ever become a client of mine, I’ll give you a free domain…because it’s cheaper than buying you lunch.

A Few Reasons That Didn’t Work

You know that thing you did… the one that didn’t work?

No, I don’t know about it exactly. I just know I have a few things I’ve done that didn’t work and assumed you had at least one too.

So why didn’t your last commercial/coupon/event/blog post/insert-thing-here work?

You took the ‘doing homework’ shortcut by surveying your friends and not your customers.

Whatever you do, don’t ask your friends what they think of your idea. Because they will say your new haircut is awesome, right?

Your website, much like my asymmetrical haircut may have been cool... back in the 90s.

Me in the 1990s. You’re welcome.

Your friends will lie to your face because they love you. Before you pour a lot of time and money into something, you need some unbiased, ideally stranger, opinions. It’ll probably be more involved (re: expensive) than asking your friends over pizza but it’s better than the money you lose chasing a bad idea, right?

(A great way to get some feedback if you are shy is to use paid ads like Facebook or Google to test messages. This is part of what paid ads are for!)

You already tried it before and it didn’t work that time either.

Sometimes we really really want something to work. But it doesn’t.

So think “Is this like that time I…?” And if it is, and if that time things didn’t go so well, there better be a lot more about it that is different than what it has in common with your last mediocre (or terrible) initiative.

You can tell people to pivot over and over... but that couch still won't get up the stairs.

You can tell people to pivot over and over… but that couch still won’t get up the stairs.

You didn’t tell enough people about it.

Let’s say you think email is amazing. Well, your customers are tweeting, Facebooking, pinning, tumbling, blogging, and doing all kinds of other technological and non-technological ‘ings’ to get their information. So the more ways you get the word out and the bigger your audience, the better this is going to go.

noonecametoyourparty-grumpycat

You picked a bad time.

Let’s say you’re OKCupid and part of your coverage area is experiencing devastating floods with thousands of people stranded. Not a good time to say…

okcupidcoloradofloods




 

Sometimes your idea is good but it’s badly timed. If you did all your homework, tried something new, and told a lot of people, this is probably at play.

So truthfully, was your last bad idea one of these things? And do you have a tendency of repeating any of these patterns?

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