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The Top 10 Ultimate Customer Support Tools

You work hard to get leads and customers in the door. It’s disappointing when a poor customer experience erases all that hard work and causes you to lose valuable business.

The challenges of providing outstanding customer service are many. And as a small business owner, chances are it’s overwhelming to keep track of and respond to customer inquiries in a timely, accurate and delightful way.

But as a small business owner, you know that customer support is important. You’re in good company.  According to Tom Byun, GM of Small Business at LivePerson, a recent survey reports that customer service is the number one priority of small business owners.

There is no shortage of tools out there to try and help you streamline and manage your customer support workflow. That’s a good thing. But it can be pretty difficult to know just where to turn and what will work best for you. Who has time to sort through all the options?

Thankfully we do. Below are 10 solutions that you can put to use in quick work—and that will make you work a lot quicker (and efficiently). Any of them can be used on their own, or in conjunction with each other. Ultimately it’s about determining what approach will work best for you and sticking with it.

The result will be happier customers and happier bottom lines for you.

1. Freshdesk (all-in-one) 

top 10 customer support tools small business infusionsoft

Freshdesk is a cloud-based customer support platform that was founded with the mission of enabling companies of all sizes to provide great customer service.”

Features include, ticketing, team inbox, service level agreements, analytics and mobile apps.

Pricing: Free intro plan and 30-day free trial available.

 2. Twitter (do-it-yourself)

top 10 customer support tools small business infusionsoft

Whether you are not yet ready to invest in full-scale customer service software, or you would like to expand the reach of your customer service efforts, Twitter offers your customers a simple and accessible way to communicate with your brand in real time.  Many brands large and small use Twitter to create a better customer experience.

Pricing: Free

3. Liveperson (Chat) 

top 10 customer support tools small business infusionsoft

Take customer connection to a whole new level:  LiveEngage identifies those more likely to need a chat and sends them a personalized invitation. Others who just need a quick and easy answer, for example, will see different types of engagements — such as banners, panels, toasters, etc. — to help them in the right direction.”

Features include multiple language support, an analytics dashboard and the ability to update and optimize on the fly.

Pricing: Free intro plan available, pricing starting at $10/month for multiple logins.

4. Helpjuice (knowledge base) 

top 10 customer support tools small business infusionsoft

“Get fewer support emails & more happy customers. Helpjuice is easy-to-use knowledge base software that guarantees 50 percent less support emails and more happy customers.”

Features: External knowledge base for customers and internal knowledge base for your team, fast and intelligent search and completely customizable, advanced analytics.

Pricing: 14-day trial, with plans beginning at $199/month

5. Keeping (Gmail-based support)

top 10 customer support tools small business infusionsoft

By transforming your Gmail account into a helpdesk, Keeping  “lets your team collaborate and save time while helping you deliver better customer support. No need to use a traditional help desk. Instead add customer support functionalities directly to your mailbox.”

Features: Collaborative emails, automatic answers for repetitive questions, customer support tracking and reporting, internal notes and assignments.

Pricing: Free 14-day trial, plans beginning at $15/month

6. Zingle (text-based) 

top 10 customer support tools small business infusionsoft

Zingle is based on the idea that since “everyone texts, your business should too”.  

Texting is popular because it’s fast and easy. Zingle helps customers access products or services without extra hassle and get faster responses – all improving customer satisfaction.

Features: Service tracking, custom messages and response times, date and time stamped confirmations.

Pricing: Plans start at $39/month

7. Survey Monkey (customer satisfaction survey) 

top 10 customer support tools small business infusionsoft

“Get the feedback you need to keep your customers happy. From measuring satisfaction to capturing your Net Promoter Score, online surveys help you understand what you’re doing well  – and what you’re need to improve.”

Surveys create an easy and interactive way to improve service and get critical feedback from the people who matter most – your customers.

Features: Survey templates, custom logo and branding, advanced logic, mobile app, data analysis and target market surveys.

Pricing: Free intro plan available, standard plans begin at $19/month

8. Muut (Community Forums)

top 10 customer support tools small business infusionsoft

Commenting and forums are embedded right on your site improve user engagement, garner more return visitors and foster a greater sense of community.

Muut enables you to add commenting to your blog, online store and picture gallery, start a support channel on a dedicated page, while the forum aggregates all of the discussion. “

Features: Embeddable forums and commenting, single system aggregation, custom integration, mobile responsive and Google Analytics integration.

Pricing: Free intro plan, premium plans starting at $16/month

9. Google Voice (voicemail) 

top 10 customer support tools small business infusionsoft

“Google Voice gives you one number for all your phones, voicemail as easy as email, free U.S. long distance and low rates on international calls”  

For a small business owner on the go, the ability to effectively manage communications is vital to keeping customers happy. Google’s free service allows a small business without a full customer support team or fancy software keep customer calls under control and manage notifications, accessibility and response.

Features: Search and prioritize calls, use different rules and greetings for different contacts, share calls with your team, specify where and when to receive calls and receive email notifications of calls and text messages.

Pricing: Free

10. Basecamp (Project Management) 

“Basecamp keeps people on same page so no matter what your role is, everyone works toward a common goal: finishing a project together.”

Basecamp is a project management system and at first glance it may not seem to have much to do with customer support. However, with a little outside-of-the-box thinking the software can be used to create to-do lists with clients for finalizing deliverables, ongoing maintenance, logging bugs or ongoing conversations and progress check-ins.

Features: Team and clients collaboration, consolidated communication, due dates, keyword filters, project catch up and file download.

Pricing: 60-day free trial, $20 – $150/month

No matter what tools you ultimately use, there is both art and science to great customer support.  Check out these posts to learn more and keep your customers so happy they come back for more.

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Let This Flowchart Tell You If Your Business Needs a Blog

A blog can be a valuable part of your content strategy that can generate leads and grow your bottom line. But is it time for your business to start a blog? Use this handy flowchart to assess whether it’s the best way for you to leverage content right now, and whether it’s worth your time, energy and money.

infusionsoft do you really need a blog flowchart theora kvitka

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5 Plugins That Make WordPress Magical

Have you ever thought that maybe your WordPress site could be doing a little more? Or that there was a certain capability you wish it had? Here are five top plugins for your small business to make WordPress a bit more magical.

1. Yoast

Google sends free traffic to websites all the time. It’s the largest search engine in the world, so getting your content listed on Google, Bing and Yahoo is crucial for your content to get found.

 

Using this plugin is one of the easiest and most effective ways you can optimize your content for search engine friendliness. They have a gazillion free built-in features that absolutely rock. If you want you can upgrade to the paid version when you feel it’s necessary.

If you don’t have this plugin installed on your WordPress site – go get it now.

2. iThemes Security

Securing your WordPress site can be a complicated task if you’re not a technical expert.

 

Thankfully iThemes Security makes it easy for anyone to easily secure and protect their WordPress site from hackers.

 

This tool shows you areas that are vulnerable for a cyber attack, and they allow you to easily “fix it.”

 

It also gives you the ability to turn on Facebook and Google type security features such as using your phone as a second authorization point.

 

It does come with a price tag, but it’s worth the investment now rather than waiting till after your site’s been hacked.

 

You should seriously consider using this tool for your site.

 

3. SumoMe

This plugin will instantly replace 10+ plugins by itself (and it easily connects with Infusionsoft!).

 

It carries a heavy arsenal of features that will make your life soooo much easier.

 

The plugin includes tools like:

 

  • Heat maps for tracking visitors
  • List building tools
  • Sharing tools
  • Content analytics
  • And a lot more

 

There’s a free version and an upgraded paid version of the plugin. The free version has a many useful features alone and if you’re running a more sophisticated WordPress site then consider upgrading to the paid version.

Visit SumoMe.com to learn more.

4. UpdraftPlus Backup

You get the notification, “Please update your WordPress site to the latest version” when you first login to your site.

 

Without thinking about it you hit the update button, and that’s when things get strange.

 

The new update broke something on your site and now you have to scramble to get it fixed and if you’re not a professional web developer you now have to hire someone to fix it for you.

 

Es no bueno.

 

Using UpdraftPlus to regularly backup your WordPress site is a step in the right direction.

 

The plugin does have a price tag associated with it, but if you are trusting a company with your site data stay away from “free” backup tools, because they can have hidden code, unmanaged code that can break your site and a whole slew of problems.

It’s best to pay for a reliable backup service that you can trust.

 

5. The Events Calendar

If you run events whether local, global, live or virtual you need an events calendar your visitors can easily interact with.

This plugin has a variety of features in both the free and paid versions.

 

If you run a church, band, restaurant, school, university or any type of events company then this is a must-have for easily publishing and managing an events calendar on your site.

You can learn more about all the features here.

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How to Delegate Like a Boss

Back when you started your business, it was just you. But now that you’ve got a team of people to do the things you used to do, now you’ve got to learn how to be, well, a boss. How on earth do you do that?

Lynn Perkins, CEO of UrbanSitter, sat down with us to give us her tips and experience on delegating like a boss and how to scale a small business.

To be an effective delegator takes a lot of open communication, and you’re going to have to put your ego aside and learn how to let someone else take the reins, which is perhaps the hardest part of being the boss.

Check out Lynn’s tips in the video below:

Not up for a video right now? Check out our summary below:

infusionsoft how small business can manage customers support ultimate guide maximizing value of leads

This week’s question was from Greg:

Now that I’ve hired a couple of teams and a few dozen people at my company, I find I’m still having trouble letting go of all the responsibilities and day to day tasks that I used to handle. I don’t want to be a micro-manager and I want to be able to work on my business at a higher level but it’s hard to let go. How can I be a good and effective delegator?

Lynn Perkins, CEO of UrbanSitter, gave her advice in transitioning from working in your business to working on your business, and she advised with starting small. Start by delegating tasks that can be separated down into smaller components so that you can start to build trust for the people that are working for you and also, they can start to learn your work style and what’s expected.

Be very candid with the person you’re delegating to and say, “Listen, this is the first time we’re working on something like this together. Why don’t we start this one small?” Start by telling what you want the end result to be. Make sure you’re really clear in communicating with them and letting them know what you hope the outcome is. That way, they know what their expectations are and break the problem or project into different components and agree to check in with him after the first component.

And you should expect mistakes the first time, so be patient and go through the project together, to show encouragement and to make sure you’re checking in and giving good feedback. That will help build a relationship.

To know who the best people to delegate to are, look at your team and their strengths and weaknesses . Not only the roles that they’re in today but the things you’ll be asking them to do in the future. That’s how you retain employees and you get them to become better in their careers. Then pick a task that you’re delegating that matches that person’s strength.

Making sure that you find people who are exhibiting communication skills and are able to surface up questions when they have them. That way you know that you’re going to get feedback from them if they get stuck along the way.

If a project didn’t come out the way you were expecting, you have to take a step back and say, “Okay, all of the work that’s being done in this company is not going to come back the way I would have done it and you know what? That’s actually a good thing. I should be hiring people who are owning areas where they have more expertise and better knowledge than I do. Or I’m delegating with people who have the bandwidth to actually learn to do something in a way that I haven’t.”

Lynn shared an anecdote of her own to illustrate the point:

When I hired the woman who runs our operations and finance, she did a great job getting up to speed for me. Later she came back to me with the quarterly report and said, “I know this is going to look different than how you’ve done it in the past but I think this is actually where we would need to take it.” There was a piece of me that initially was a little bit offended. Like “Oh shoot, I didn’t do it the best way.” But then I had recognize that given the resources we had at the time, I did the best I could and I brought the right person in. You have to put your ego aside. 

If someone brings work to you that’s clearly done in a way that isn’t correct, then you do need to have that conversation with them and say, “Let me show you some templates of what I’ve used in the past,” or, “I was hoping that I would also see this additional piece from you.” Support them and show them and it’s okay that you to make a mistake. Then tell them how you’d like to see it done next time and give them another chance.

To be a good delegator, you need to recognize what you’re delegating. Are you delegating something that’s right for that person’s skill set? The worst thing you could do would be to set someone up for failure by giving him something outside his skill set or not providing the right tools.

It’s really tempting to give people the things that you least want to do. But you need to ask yourself, “Is this something that the company has either seen me do or would feel that I was capable of doing?” You want to show that you’re giving people interesting projects.

Pick recurring or incremental projects and work with the person you chose so they see your work style, then next time give them a little bit more. By the time they’re on project number three, they’re running the show.

And when it comes to training your new reports, make sure that you’re not delegating when your workload is so chaotic that you can’t give them ample time for training. Think of training as mutual training – you’re each learning how to work together, what each of you can handle and how long things take.

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3 Areas Where SEO Is More Essential Than Ever

While some might still hold the perception that SEOs are the ugly ducklings of marketers, the truth is that most successful SEO campaigns incorporate all aspects of marketing, which requires teamwork and the sharing of resources.

Small businesses face a myriad of challenges, and time is a resource in which small businesses are particularly poor, thus efficiency is of paramount importance. As a result, my third piece of SEO advice for small businesses (and larger ones) is to ensure that SEO shares resources with all other marketing facets. In fact, all marketing teams should be working together to create effective campaigns that are cohesive across multiple platforms!

Here are some actionable resource-sharing tips for a more successful SEO campaign:

Website design and SEO

Your website is the keystone of all your digital marketing. It is your conversion tool, the platform to which your campaigns will drive traffic. So make sure that it excels. Aside from needing a website that converts visitors into customers in order to validate an SEO campaign, website structure (discussed in part two of this series) plays an important role in targeting multiple search terms and reducing negative ranking factors such as a high bounce rate.

A website should also showcase the great content that an SEO team will be creating. If you are building a new website or redesigning your current site, it is essential to involve the SEO team. Without this input you may find that a new website does not have the necessary structure or other SEO considerations, which in turn can result in additional costs to rectify these issues or reduced impact of the work that your SEO team is engaged in.

Social media and SEO

The web is dominated by social networking sites. Coupled with push notifications, social media permeates both our personal and business lives, and social media marketing can be leveraged to have a positive impact on SEO:

  • Creating awesome content is great, but if a tree falls in the woods with no one around, does it make a sound? Social media should be utilised to push your content to the masses and social advertising used to increase the reach of your content.
  • Link earning is where your website’s content is so mind blowing that people will link to it without having to be asked. Want to increase the chances of this happening with the content you have painstakingly created? See the aforementioned tree.
  • Target specific individuals or key influencers through social to turbo charge the effectiveness of your content.
  • Google is keeping their cards close to their chest as to the extent to which social metrics affect a website’s search ranking. Regardless, utilising SEO resources on social will result in more specific and engaged traffic to your site, which will pay dividends for your conversion rate.

PR and SEO

There is a very thin and blurred line separating PR and proactive link building. High quality, relevant links are a fundamental factor for a website’s success on Google, as more than 99 percent of all top 50 Google results have at least one external link that points to the website. As a result, it is critical that your SEO team and PR team work together. Effective communication between teams will ensure that PR efforts complement the SEO strategy:

  • The SEO team can pass on high profile websites that they have identified to the PR team to target.
  • SEO and PR teams should agree on any targeted websites so as to avoid irrelevant sites and establish high priority sites for link building or link earning campaigns.
  • Use social media to help increase the reach of any successful PR efforts.
  • Make sure that your PR team is gaining a backlink from features and linking to the most relevant page on your website, not just the homepage.

Whilst other marketing efforts may not have a direct influence on SEO, they can certainly contribute indirectly. For example, take outdoor marketing. A creative outdoor marketing campaign should be linked with online efforts so that users engage with the brand across multiple platforms. Furthermore, email marketing should increase the exposure of online content created by social media and SEO teams. It is through this type of collaboration that both small and large companies can create not only more efficient resourcing but also more effective marketing campaigns.

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10 Surefire Tips to Get Your Email List to Love You

Think back to your first date with your significant other (or the one you just had last week). First dates are pretty nerve-wracking – the skepticism, the hope, the butterflies or utter lack thereof. How do you think that date would have gone if you’d proposed – or been proposed to – on the first date? It probably would have been your last date.

Dynamics are much the same with email marketing. By now you’ve done enough list building and email marketing to know that there’s no magic potion you can take to make your email list engaged. Just like dating, getting the sort of engagement you want takes work, commitment and respect.

Beyoncé wouldn’t want you to put a ring on it on the first date, and the recipients on your email list probably don’t want you asking them to buy on the first email they receive from you. It’s an email-by-email – or date-by-date – process.

While engagement takes a lot of work, there are a lot of things you can do for your list that don’t require a proverbial trip to Tiffany’s and two months’ salary. So here are the top 10 ways to create an engaged email list that loves you – just as you are.

1. Have way for people to join your list

It might sound obvious, but capture mechanisms are far too often overlooked. Your website needs to have a visible, easy way for visitors to subscribe. Because people can’t be on your list if they can’t join your list.

2. Deliver content based on expectations

If visitors to your site sign up expecting to subscribe to your blog, send them your blog updates, not marketing campaigns. When people give you their email address, it’s your responsibility to use it responsibly – not for any purpose you want. There’s an element of trust when people give you their information, and showing them that you respect their privacy and desires will win you their trust, and trust is the first step to engagement.

Plus, if people start getting emails from you that they didn’t subscribe to, your chances of being flagged as spam – or even reported – go way up.

3. Check your frequency

When it comes to respecting desires, email frequency plays a huge role. If at all possible, have a way that subscribers can set their preferences on how often they want an email from you, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly. Maybe you want your significant other to call every day, or maybe twice a week is fine; it’s all about allowing your counterparts to communicate what they want – and to respect that.

If you don’t have or can’t get (for now) that capability, you need to seriously ponder what the right number of emails is per week. Numbers back up that fewer emails actually gets you more engagement. Most people don’t like daily emails – unless they already know they’re specifically signing up for a daily digest. So make sure the frequency is clear – and then stick to it.

4. Create valuable, useful content

No one likes a date who drones on and on about himself, like this poor lost soul.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise – the best way to engage your email list is to give them value. That means you aren’t sending out repackaged sales messaging, but instead you’re sending out information that your list will find useful. Good content marketing – nay, goodmarketing – is done on the basis of repeatedly providing value (and proving your worth) before asking for the sale. It’s the pattern of creating value that people will respond to.

It’s the Jay Baer principle; if people get continual value from your emails, they’ll be engaged and you’ll stand out. Think about how many straight sales or promotional email you receive. Now think about how many of them you click through, let alone open. Probably not very many, right?

Now think about the emails you do click through. Our managing editor loves Almighty’s Dark Matter; I’m a fan of the Quartz daily brief. What are they doing that makes you want to engage? That’s what you need to do for your list. You’ll stand out by not being self-serving, and you’ll be rewarded with dramatically higher open and click-thru rates.

5. Use the proper systems to deliver a good experience

This is especially important if you have more than one way for people to subscribe, whether it’s for promotions, your blog, a newsletter or what have you. If you have multiple lists, you must have a way to properly manage them. If your lists aren’t well coordinated, you could unknowingly be spamming your list from a number of different places.

This will cost you more than just being annoying – you may find that your emails are going straight to spam, costing you any chance at engagement. You might also find higher incidences of reporting, which could, in more extreme cases, lead to blacklisting.

So make sure you’re using and all-in-one automated personalized follow-up to reach your different lists.

6. Don’t purchase lists

Just. Don’t. Do it. When you send emails to recipients from a list you purchased, they don’t know who you are. That’s like getting love letters from a stranger – it’s not romantic, it’s creepy, and since those recipients don’t know you, they don’t know that you deliver value, so your open rates will be low, your emails will probably go to spam, you could get reported and honestly, it’s just not the way to go if your goal is engagement and results.

7. Do spring cleaning

This one might be a bit contrary but – get rid of the inactive contacts in your list every six to twelve months.

Yes – give up on the people who aren’t responding. Just as you wouldn’t spend a year texting someone who ghosted you, nor should you be sending email to people who haven’t clicked in ever. So do them – and you – a favor, and proactively unsubscribe them.

Here’s why: if you’re looking for engagement, those contacts are just skewing your data. They’re lowering your engagement rates, and warping your picture of how many people actually engage and what they’re clicking – or not clicking – on.

Knowing what people actually want to engage with will help you create better content.

8. Provide a variety of content experiences

Don’t send the same stuff every time. Think of your emails as an experience and yourself as an experience designer. You wouldn’t want dinner a movie for every date, would you?

So keep things fresh, provide some diversity and surprise your list in positive ways. A great way to do this? Give them something for free. Imagine how happy you’d feel if a company you loved sent you a 50 percent off coupon just because.

For example, our managing editor Jake Johnson received a $50 gift card from Warby Parker just for being a valued customer. He used the gift card and spent another $50 to get new glasses he probably didn’t need. He was so surprised, he even shared on social. Sure this is one anecdote, but since a repeat customer spends 67 percent more than a new one, email freebies are a great way to get and retain repeat customers.

Remember it’s all about a relationship, and expressing appreciation is the best way to maintain and build that relationship.

9. Think mobile first

Your emails absolutely must be formatted to work well on a variety of screen resolutions, because about 50 percent of all emails (depending on the survey) are opened on a mobile device and a responsive design increases click-thrus by almost 15 percent.

Remember that how people consume your content is as important as the content you create, because even if you have a great strategy and killer content, your list won’t be engaged if they have to awkwardly zoom in on your email.

10. Tailor messaging to location and needs

Customize your emails based on where the recipients live. Your email to someone in the UK should be different than your email to someone in California. Because now that content marketing is commonplace, the only way for your emails to stand out is by having truly relevant content.

And now that longtail search – or a three to four word specific search phrase – is how people find what they’re looking for online, very general content is not good for your list engagement. So allowing people to subscribe based on their interests is a surefire way to ensure even better list engagement.

There’s no magic bullet to engaging with your email list so that they love you, but these tips will help you build you relationship with your list so they’re yours for life.

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How to Keep Your Data Secure

Data security is a critical priority for small businesses. And while it can seem overwhelming, complicated and yes, a little scary, it’s absolutely necessary to get and stay on top of data security.

We talked to Brian Burch, VP of marketing at Norton and an expert in data security, to find out what data security measures business owners need to take.

Brian stated that small businesses are increasingly under attack because hackers realize that it’s sometimes easier to attack a small business than it is to attack a Fortune 500 company.

Brian emphasized the need for good security hygiene from all employees, multi-layered security and a need for mobile security as well.

Check out all of Brian’s tips in the video!

Would you rather read about data security measures? Check out our summary below!

infusionsoft how small business can manage customers support ultimate guide maximizing value of leads

This week’s question was from Sarah:

My business is about to go from just me to a few employees. My business deals with a lot of vendors as well as customers’ credit card information. How do I make sure that all that information stays private? And how do I protect the business as it grows and make sure that my employees don’t accidentally expose sensitive data? 

Brian Burch, VP of marketing at Norton, began by emphasizing that security is a critical priority for small business and that security must be multi-layered. Being able to protect not just against antiviruses, but also against unwanted intrusion, protect against phishing scams, any sort of threats or malware that could infect you as you browse the internet and deal with even the malicious crypto ransomware that’s out now.

It’s a lot of information to take in, but cyber attacks today are more varied and sophisticated than the hacks of 20 years ago. Brian recommends that small business owners have a written policy that every employee must read and talking to them about passwords (which should really be pass-phrases). As employees come and go, that creates vulnerability. If an employee leaves and the employee might not be happy, you need to go through and change passwords to prevent some malicious attack from an ex-employee or even an insider.

Many small companies use cloud increasingly for a variety of services. The cloud is as secure, if not more secure, than the traditional forms of storing data and working with data inside of a small business environment. Again, it goes back to policy and making sure that the employees annually are trained and that there are written policies that protect. And just making sure that employees have the discipline that maybe an employee at a larger company would have, or that we all tend to adhere to in our personal lives, can help a lot. You’ve got to make sure that each small business employee knows that the company is vulnerable, and could be attacked and that they take necessary precautions. The most used password last year was “123456” and second place was “password.” Creating true, complex passwords or passphrases dramatically increases the degree of difficulty for a criminal syndicate to actually attack your company.

If you use a mobile device for any sort of your business, you need to address mobile security as well, as it’s a popular misconception that mobile is inherently secure. An antiviral protection software can protect against malicious code or a virus, and in a mobile environment, it’s much more difficult to launch malicious code in that way. And on mobile devices, surfing the internet is just as dangerous, clicking on a phishing email can be just as dangerous.

And crypto ransomware can hit a mobile device just as easily as it can a PC. The ransomware idea is that the attacker gets a hold of your system and encrypts the data on it, so that you cannot access it. Hackers often use almost nation-state type encryption, which is almost unbreakable. And there an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure because once the data’s encrypted, it’s very difficult to get it back.

And it’s important just to realize that small businesses are increasingly under attack because criminals realize it’s sometimes easier to attack a small business than it is a Fortune 500 company. And there’s a lot more to be gained than attacking an individual consumer.

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4 Characteristics of Real Dreamers

As the Dream Manager of Infusionsoft, I empower dreamers. Now when I say dreamers, I mean the Elon Musk, Mother Theresa, Steve Jobs kind of dreamer, not the “annoying brother-in-law with the dead end business idea at a family reunion” kind. I mean those who don’t just imagine but those who do.

After working with hundreds of dreamers, I have learned that whether your dream is to ride an elephant in Thailand, to play in the U.S. Open or to have your first million-dollar launch, there are patterns for success.

Here are four principles that the real dreamers share.

1. Articulate your vision 

The Martin Luther King Jr. saw a future that was clear and concrete.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

Our world would be a far different place if Dr. King hadn’t take time to articulate his dream or only said, “I have a dream that some day we’ll be nicer.”  There is power in the precision of his language.  How clear is your entrepreneurial dream? Can you clearly picture your “oasis of freedom and justice” or are your dreams of the more generic variety?

Play along at home: Write a clear picture of a day in the life of your business in one year, three years and five years.  Write your vision in language that inspires you.

2. Turn “coulds” into “wills”

I was coaching a dreamer whose dream was to go to on a vacation to a little know island in the pacific. I asked, “Is this a trip you could go on or is this a trip that you will go on?” She hesitated.  “Wow, that’s a big difference!” She finally declared. Too often, we treat our business goals as things that could happen, not things that will happen.

The difference between “could” and “will” is simply a matter of commitment. How much are you willing to bet that your major business priorities for the year will happen?  $20, $100, $500, $10,000, $100,000? Gandhi, Elon Musk and Mother Theresa were willing to put everything on the line for their dreams. What are you willing to put on the line for yours?

Play along at home: Take a look at your business priorities for the next year. Which of them are “coulds”?  Which of them are “wills”?  Which of them should be “wills”?

3. Take a step into the dark

Any dream worth it’s salt will push us out of our comfort zone and squarely into vulnerability. They invite us out of that which is known and familiar and into the realm of unknown and unfamiliar. To step into the unknown requires courage. Usually, the courage required is not additional bravado; it’s a willingness to be embarrassed or to risk falling on your face.  It’s the four-year-old learning to ride a bike, who struggles and falls 100 times before striking the right balance.

We have a biological propensity to back down from stepping into the unfamiliar. Rely on your visualized future to feed you the bravery you need to step into the dark.

Play along at home: Ask yourself: What is one area in which I am holding back because it may make me look dumb or because I may fail?  What would it take to take the first step into the dark?

4. Ask for help

Dreamers have to enroll others in their dream. No great dream was ever done alone. I’ll tell you a secret: One reason, I’m sharing this post is to enroll you in helping me with one of my dreams (see below) though it kills me to ask.  I have learned that really big dreams require that I enroll those around me.

I had a friend who wanted to learn how to sell million-dollar software packages. In a trade magazine, he read an article from one of the top sellers in the industry. He needed help, so he reached out and asked for a lunch. Surprisingly he got it! Now, he is one of the top sellers in the industry.

Play along at home: What are the three biggest challenges you face in your business? Who can you ask for help? Ask them!

Hope you played along at home because those who don’t slow down to dream are on the speedy path to mediocrity. I am going to go get my dream and you should go get yours too!

 

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How to Make the Most of the Sales Rollercoaster

Sales. That innocent looking little word is likely to twist the gut of any seasoned entrepreneur. Sales isn’t easy; if it were, every company would be large and growing faster.

Think of sales as a roller coaster—for some it’s a horrifying and dizzying experience while others can have the time of their lives. In the end, it all comes down to expectations. Over the last three years we grew our start up agency from nothing to 16 team members and a growing number of great clients. Here are a few things I’ve learned as I’ve developed a stronger stomach for the ups, downs and loop de loops of sales and ideas that may help you learn to enjoy the ride as well.

Start stupid

When we started Belief Agency in 2012, we had landed enough work in the weeks prior to quitting our jobs to make it until the end of the year. We felt great we had three months to get our feet under us and ship some great work. We figured it would take three or four months for the Coca-Cola’s and Nike’s of the world to notice and come knock on our doors. This startup thing was going to be easy.

Meanwhile, back in reality, we waited and no one called with seven-figure project budgets or massive RFPs.

We were hustlers and took on any project that came our way—whether it was building a highly interactive site for the new GI Joe movie for next to no money (it will be good for our resume, we wrongly believed) to building a half dozen websites for small churches.

If we’d had any idea how difficult it would be to form relationships, complete impossibly hard projects on insanely low budgets and earn trust, we likely wouldn’t have started.

In the last year, we’ve turned a huge corner and won an arm-full of awards for the work we’ve done with our clients. If we weren’t stupid at the beginning we probably would have never started.

You’re not going to keep control

I spent a lot of my youth riding mountain bikes very fast off cliffs and on dangerously narrow trails. When you’re doing a sport like this you begin to realize that you’re not actually in control, but you’re confident in your ability to quickly respond to anything that gets thrown at you.

It’s like that with sales – if you’re moving slowly enough that you feel in control, you’re probably not moving fast enough. There’s always the chance you’ll take that bike off a cliff and crash hard, but if you slow down, there’s a 100 percent chance you’ll lose.

To keep your sales moving, you need to be meeting new people, buying coffee, and following up with everyone you’ve met in your whole life. People need to know you, trust you, and like you—each of these things requires hustle.

I can’t count the number of times I scrolled through my LinkedIn account and emailed everyone I respected in business. I made coffee and lunch appointments and asked those people who else I should meet. To this day the majority of our new clients come from someone we have made a personal relationship with.

You NEED a sales funnel

There are very few businesses that have customers consistently lining up to buy. We’ve had seasons with so much work we had no idea how to get it all done, and then just a few months later we looked up from our computers after months of hard work to see that we neglected to keep new prospects coming into our sales funnel.

You NEED to have a well defined sales funnel that you keep in a CRM that you are constantly looking at. You need to keep the flow of new projects coming in.

It’s important to know things like:

  • What is our ratio of leads to new projects?
  • How long does it take on average from first touch to contract signed?
  • What types of projects are we best at landing?
  • What are the areas of our sales funnel that have the most friction? 

The station is coming

The good news is that if you have a great product and if you deliver on your promises the up and down craziness of the sales roller coaster will begin to feel more manageable and you’ll begin to feel the drops well before they come.

Some sales roller coasters last for a year and others last decades, but the important thing is that if you really believe in the business you’re starting that every up and down you go through is one hump closer to the station.

My closing advice is to hold on, do the best you can, and don’t give up too soon—the station may be just around the next bend.

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3 Ways to Pummel the Online Competition

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the first criminal to experience the effects of a stun gun? Imagine you’re a 6’5,” 287 pound outlaw about to take on a 5’7″, slightly overweight local patrolman. You’re pretty confident—but suddenly the police officer calmly pulls out this strange looking thing, points it at you and all of a sudden… Bzzzzzttttt! Before you even know what happened, 50,000 volts of electric current stop you in your tracks! You might call that a great equalizer.

Now, ask yourself this: What if you could stun your bigger competition with a website that’s the equivalent of a “stop you right where you stand” stun gun? That’s the beauty of the internet—you can!

The internet has leveled the business playing field for everyone. Small businesses can appear much larger than they are. Mid-sized companies can look downright huge and, on occasion, industry veterans can do something so foolish they end up coming across as trivial or irrelevant.

I’ve been in the marketing business for about a quarter century; I’ve seen it all, and I’m sure you’ve experienced quite a bit yourself. It’s time your company maximizes and leverages the power of the internet. Today, more than any other time in the past, you have unprecedented opportunities to make your company look bigger, better and stronger than the competition. And you can do this in an arena where people are eliminating your competitors. Here are three ways to leverage the great equalizer we call the internet:

#1. Don’t underestimate the power of design

Because people decide to eliminate you or your competitor online, what they see is a huge factor. Truth is that your website can be designed just as well as any national competitor and often for much less. RULE #1 – Do not hire your nephew unless he is an experienced web designer and understands your business. We can’t tell you how to design a website here but a couple critical keys are: color use, photography, and intuitive design.

  • Color use is simple. Your designer must understand the power of colors and how to use them and how not to. For example, red type vibrates and soft blue backgrounds are calming.
  • Only great photography sells. Poor photography hurts you. Invest in a great photographer for your website images. Although you can occasionally find stock photos that may help, it is rare. You won’t need 50 images – even just five amazing images will really help. Here’s a bonus hint: Try to show people enjoying your product whenever possible rather than just bland pictures of the product. Our mirror neurons kick in when we see people enjoying the product, not when we see the product.
  • Intuitive design is crucial. If a web visitor has to think for more than 3 seconds to make his next move on your website, they are frustrated and you risk being eliminated. Intuitive design understands the visitor’s needs and gets them to the desired destination immediately. We call it “Give the Gorilla the Bananna!” No one wants to frustrate the gorilla.

Just a few decades ago it was nearly impossible for a small business to compete with a national or large regional competitor. Newspaper, print and broadcast ad placement were the primary marketing tools, but back then the big boys wore bigger pants, which meant they had deeper pockets. That type of media buying power made it difficult to compete, even if the smaller company had a better product. Today, a small company with a powerfully designed website can compete successfully with their larger competition.

#2. Local reach is powerful

Do you know that Google actually cares about local businesses? They do! When you set up your Google local page, your local address plays a big role in who finds your company. Now it is possible – although not guaranteed – for your small company to be found in a Google search before the large multinational guy who competes with you but isn’t local.  Here’s how you do it:

  • Start here: Google Local
  • When you fill in your Google local page, do it very thoroughly. Leave no blanks, especially your address specifics.
  • Research and determine which keywords (keywords are one- to five- word phrases that your target audience may type in when looking for you. See a typical Google result for “commercial cleaning Boston, MA.” For instance, if you sell commercial cleaning a few great keywords may be:
    • Commercial cleaning Boston
    • Office cleaning Boston
    • Commercial cleaning services
    • Cleaning company

infusionsoft pummel competition with great website brian flook

#3. Focus on not being eliminated 

Imagine you are your own customer. You know what you are looking for. You know roughly how much you want to spend. You know there are three companies that you are considering. So how do you keep your company off the chopping block of internet urgency?

For instance: In the past, homebuyers shopped for new homes by driving to a builder’s model home, taking the tour, remembering their experience, then moving on to the next builder’s model home. This process of elimination would continue until they made a decision.

Today it is much easier to qualify or eliminate one builder over another, and that’s in large part due to the convenience of the internet. It’s for this precise reason your website is so important!

Humans don’t enjoy choosing –  eliminating is much easier. Since choosing is much harder, the key is to build your website so your customer cannot help but choose you.

Remember, people searching online expect your website to provide everything: colors, prices, choices, locations, phone numbers, emails, photos and more. When they encounter something missing that the competition shows, you are at risk of being eliminated and click! You’re gone.

You have to make certain your website is designed and programmed by someone who really understands just how to leverage the internet to actually make sales. Your website is your most important sales and marketing tool. Invest here and you will see rewards.

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