I am sure you’ve heard it before…

“I’ve been talking with several other companies and they are telling me they can do the same thing for half the price.”

My question is…

“Can they really?”

No matter what industry you are a part of the same rules apply. There are companies out there that get it and companies that don’t. When I think back to the beginning days of Mindscape and compare it to the current time there are vast differences. We  have improved our skills, added more talented staff, increased our product offerings, and most importantly added years of experience to our intellectual capital.

Web development can be approached in many different ways and there are multiple ways to solve the same problem.  The more experience a company has, typically translates into a more efficient solution which takes into account all the potential hurdles and issues which could arise down the road. The only way these companies get to the point where they can overcome the hurdles and arrive at an efficient solution is from making mistakes early on and correcting them.  Some companies just never learn and in the long run just go away.

Experience and delivering past positive results has a tremendous amount of value.  It can save you hours and hours of frustration and more importantly many lost customers.

The question you ask yourself shouldn’t be “How little can it possibly cost me to get this done?”

Let’s look at it for a moment.  You are looking to maximize your online potential and revenue with your website.  Do you truly think that the “low bid” is the best answer?  Do you seriously think that $5,000 is going to provide you with a solution that is going to bring millions to your bottom line?

The money you’ll make by choosing a company with an excellent track record and PROVABLE results will be much greater than the money you will potentially lose by being a “test case” for a company that “says” they can give you exactly what you are looking for at a much lower cost.

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Many companies simply put a website online giving information they believe is important and expect it to create revenue for them.  The old saying, “build it and they will come” isn’t true on the Internet.  Sure, there are some companies which have created products that have caught on in a huge way and have become overnight successes on the Internet but, these really weren’t “overnight” successes.  These companies took the time to do things the correct way.

There are specific ingredients required to have a successful online presence.

INGREDIENT ONE

Understand your buyers so you know what problems they are looking to solve and speak to them in the language they speak and understand.

  • If you knew your clients were primarily Spanish speaking you wouldn’t build a website which was written in English would you? It is imperative to take the time to understand exactly who your buyers are, how they prefer to consume information, what problems they are looking to solve, and how they talk.  Never assume your visitors are familiar with all the “industry jargon” and acronyms you hear from day to day.  If your visitors can’t easily digest the information you are presenting to them on your website, they will quickly click on the back button and visit the next site on the list.  Think about the times you’ve met a salesperson that you had a lot in common with and you seemed to be on the same page.  I am sure you’ve found it much easier to open your checkbook and buy what they were selling.  The web is an excellent way to do exactly that.  If your visitors can easily understand what you are saying and feel as if you completely understand their issues, they’ll feel confident that you can deliver the solution.

INGREDIENT TWO
A professional presence which accurately matches your offline brand.

  • Consistency is key!  When someone is looking at your offline marketing materials and happens upon your website, you want them to immediately know they are at the right spot.  Also, a professional appearance will assist you in gaining instant credibility with your visitor.  Especially if this is the first exposure they have to your company. If your website has a poor visual appearance and looks cluttered your visitors will possibly think the same of your company. I am not saying it is important to have all the bells and whistles and flashy movement on your site, in fact, that can simply overwhelm your visitors.  It is better to have a simple, clean website which presents your information in a professional manner.

INGREDIENT THREE

Easy navigation so your visitor can easily find what they are looking for.

  • How many times have you arrived at a store where you know exactly what it is you are looking for but can’t find it? When you’ve found yourself in this position you simply locate an employee to point it out to you.  Sometimes it can be difficult to find someone, but you’ve already taken the time to go to that particular store and the chances of you leaving before making an attempt to locate your item is significantly lower.  On the web it is much too easy to hit the back button on the browser and arrive at another store within seconds.  This can be a frightening thought unless you pay attention and keep it in mind when having your site developed.

INGREDIENT FOUR

Give your visitors a way to convert themselves into a prospect, lead, or sale.

  • Having a site telling your visitors all about your company, products, and how you can help them solve their problems is great unless you don’t give them an opportunity to let you know they want what you have.  Don’t put yourself in a position where you’ve filled them in and then count on them to pick up the phone and call you, or locate the “contact us” link to send you an email.  It is important to have calls to action strategically located throughout the site.  The easier you make it for your visitors to tell you what they want and need, the higher your conversion rate will be.  Your website can be an excellent way to allow your visitor to get 90% of their questions answered and if you make it easy enough, they can easily tell you exactly what they want.  I don’t know about you, but if I talk to prospects where I only have to do 10% of the sales effort, I am a happy guy.

INGREDIENT FIVE

Take the time and make the effort to get the word out to your potential buyers so they can find you.

  • The Internet is an incredible communication medium.  There are over 650,000,000 searches conducted on the Internet every single day.  The people conducting these searches are telling you EXACTLY what they are looking for and you have an opportunity to serve them up with the perfect answer.  Obviously you’ll need to know what they are looking for and what these issues are before they type it in.  The beauty of the Internet is this information can be found easily!  With so much search volume being conducted, you can get an extremely accurate idea of how many visitors you can expect to get based on the individual search terms you are focusing on.  An excellent opportunity exists amongst all businesses to stake their claim and dramatically increase their online business.  83% of all small to midsize businesses aren’t spending any time or money on search engine marketing.  It is incredibly easy to become one of the top 20% by simply doing something.  If you have a solid website as your foundation which is easy to navigate and makes it very easy for your visitors to tell you they are interested, all you need to do is drive the traffic there and expose as many visitors as you can.  They are telling you what they want; now simply show them you have the answer. Unlike traditional advertising you can get free traffic by building your website pages correctly so the search engines find your site and information relevant.  If you do choose to participate in pay per click campaigns you only pay when someone visits your website.  What a novel concept…paying ONLY for results!  If you approach your website project properly you’ll find you can create incredibly targeted traffic and your conversion rate will soar.

INGREDIENT SIX

Take the time to create a plan for your online presence.

  • Successful companies take the time to establish a business plan so they have a step by step roadmap for their business activities.  They have clearly defined goals so they can measure their level of success and make decisions based on their success in reaching these goals. Your online presence should be no different! Determine exactly what you want to accomplish with your online presence. The most effective process for setting your goals is to determine how much revenue you’d like your website to produce for you.  It is very important to set a very specific number.  Once you’ve determined this goal, figure out what each buyer will represent dollar wise.  It is easy to determine your average annual customer value by taking your total sales volume and dividing it by the number of customers you’ve billed over the past 12 months.  Once you’ve figured out this number you’ll know exactly how many customers you’ll need to gain over the next 12 months to hit your goal.  Sounds simple huh?  It is!  The problem is a high percentage of companies don’t take the time to do this simple exercise.  Companies typically just pull a number out of the air and have no idea of what it will take to hit it.  Don’t be one of those companies!

One of my previous blog entry titles was “Accelerate your growth by working less.”  I am sure if you’ve taken the time to read that entry you’ll understand the thought process behind the statement.  The reason I believe this to be true is by working less you give yourself the mental break necessary to stay fresh which leads to a much better ability to stay focused on your objectives.

We work with companies every day in developing strategies to increase their online revenue.  The beauty about the Internet is anyone who takes the time to set a clear objective, has the ability to stay focused, and takes consistent action towards the pursuit of those objectives WILL SUCCEED!  This sounds very simple and obviously  isn’t just limited  to Internet based businesses.  The beauty of the Internet is it is very simple to establish a baseline in the beginning of your efforts and easily track your progress.  In “the old days” you were limited in the ways you could measure your progress and the lack of these available metrics made it easy to get frustrated and abandon your plan.  The Internet provides the metrics to, in some cases, track your progress hourly!

Companies are quickly realizing this and it is my belief that the Internet is only going to explode as more and more companies rush to the Internet to stake their claim!  Since this is the time of the year for New Year’s Resolutions … make the commitment to maintain a laser like focus on your objectives and take consistent action towards obtaining those objectives.  When you look up at the end of the year you will be extremely glad you did!

Alright, I have to be the first to admit I am not the happiest person in the world when sales people come knocking on my door. Sometimes I feel like a hippocrate since I have been selling in one form or another for the past 20 years, but when I stop and think about my attitude towards the “door knockers” I see it pretty clear.

The times in my career when I’ve felt the best about selling is when I took the time necessary to fully understand my potential client’s business and determined exactly what they wanted to accomplish … and then figured out a solution! There is no reward in working hard to spit out all the correct sales closing techniques only to convince someone why they should spend money with you. There is no reward in pressuring someone into finally saying “ok, ok, ok … I’ll give you my business.” You may say, “There most certainly is a reward … you get a commission for getting a yes.” Let me repeat … THERE IS NO REWARD IN SELLING!

I’ve reviewed hundreds of books and tapes and attended many seminars, and always seem to get the most excited when I find someone that gives a new technique on setting goals. I am sure all of us think we have goals, but how many of us truly do? How many of us begin each day working toward a clear, tangible reward by taking action steps which will surely help us arrive there.

I get excited when I meet with a company that has a true idea of what they want to accomplish. When I am presented with this goal, I enjoy nothing more than sitting down with them and putting our heads together to come up with a solution. I obviously could never know their business as well as they do, and conversely, they can’t possibly know my business as well as I do. This combination can be powerful if the two of us approach it with the goal of not only defining the end result they would like, but also by defining an action plan to get us there. If this is the approach taken, there is no selling! The two companies simply combine the existing knowledge from their own points of view, and determine a strong solution!

To all you “door knockers” out there…

Take the time to find out what I want to accomplish and use your expertise to show me how to arrive there with your product or service. I am sure there are many people out there that feel the same as I do and I’d love to hear from you!

I have been studying goal setting for years. I find it amazing how easy it is to set a goal, break down the actions required into daily tasks, and then making sure I do the required actions. The other amazing thing is … although it is so easy, it is even easier NOT to do it!

I made a firm decision earlier this year to take a full day and put serious thought into what my goals would be for the remainder of this year. I included goals for my health, family, career, my finances, and also Mindscape. Once I determined what those goals were going to be, I chose one task I would complete each day which would move me in the direction of attaining each specific goal.

This exercise was different than any time I had done it in the past. I approached this day with enthusiasm and put a tremendous amount of thought into each segment of my life and how I would like to improve in each area. I quickly realized that if you are ready, and approach a decision with complete passion, the excitement you experience is unbelievable. While I was coming up with these goals and working on finishing up the last of the action plan, I felt as if I had started a new chapter of my life.

I won’t bore you with the individual goals I set for each segment of my life, nor the specific progress I’ve made. I am proud to say I have hit 80% of the targets I set that day though, and I will share with you what I believe was the difference between this and the many other times I went through the same exercise. I placed my focus on getting better every day in every segment of my life. Once I had this focus it was easy for me to set measurable goals, and with a little thought, I was able to develop an action plan.

Every person going through a goal setting exercise will experience the uncomfortable feeling of breaking old habit patterns. Once this happens it’s much easier to go about your day the same way you did in the past. Whenever these feelings of settling for mediocrity crept in, I would remind myself of my desire to improve in all segments of my life, and asked myself, “Is this going to help me accomplish my goal?” If the answer was “no,” I’d immediately change course and take the less comfortable path.

You can do the same with your company. At Mindscape We have a meeting each and every week with the different departments. Our goal is to discuss the state of each department, identify areas of need, and assign tasks to help improve each area within the company. I get most excited because I know Mindscape is going to be a better, stronger company every single week. I know this because each of us is working in a focused direction to make sure this is going to happen!

I don’t think it is ok to settle for less than the best. The only question is how good can the best be? I am excited to try to figure that one out! 🙂

I just returned from a nice long four day weekend. Nope, it wasn’t a holiday that you weren’t aware or. It wasn’t a planned vacation either. In fact, I have a four day weekend twice every month at Mindscape! You are probably thinking … “Must be nice to own a company and get to schedule a bunch of time off.” I’d love to say, “heck yeah, ownership does have it’s privledges,” but I can’t. EVERY team member gets a four day weekend and they absolutely love it!

It seems the norm in business is to milk more and more billable hours from each employee by increasing efficiencies, utilizing technology, and dropping huge numbers to the bottom line. At Mindscape we have a different view of things. Yes we definitely utilize technology to increase our efficiencies, but we don’t take those savings and use them to penalize the people that helped develop the processes, by milking even more billable time from them. We actually reward them for their innovative ideas and give them incentive to come up with more efficient processes.

I guess I should back up a bit and let you know how we came to this point. My business partner (Paul Ferrier) and I were finding ourselves chasing our tails working more and more hours each week to grow the company. We often found ourselves so consumed by working “in the business” that we couldn’t find any time to work “on the business” except if we burned the midnight oil. I often had discussions with Paul telling me how he had worked until 5:00am only to wake up and arrive at work by 8:00am the same morning.

While away on vacation(a vacation he badly needed), Paul read an article from a brilliant guy who seemingly found the answer! He eloquently related how he had recently switched from working seven days a week to a schedule of Monday through Thursday. He actually lengthened his days during the time he worked, but spent the additional time off with his family and friends. The most important piece of the article was him pointing out how when he was on his death bed, he couldn’t see himself saying, “I wish I would have worked a little more on this or that project,” or “I wish I could have spent more time in the office.”

I believe this type of “awakening” will happen to almost every hard working business person. I also believe when it does, it will typically be too late to correct it. We were determined NOT to find ourselves in the same position. Like with everything else, we also wanted to make sure our team members had the same benefits and lack of regrets. We took out a pad of paper and sketched out the possible scenarios. We found a few very surprising things.

Increased Focus Time

When looking at a typical 8am – 5pm day we found these interesting facts. Typically the first 20 – 30 minutes were spent chit chatting with co-workers and finding out what happened the previous night. Once this ended, each person typically checked email and could possibly get routed to different fires for the next 30 minutes to an hour. This would keep us consumed until approximately 9:30am which was when the focus could begin on the normal billable projects. If by some miracle nothing popped up, the team member would have two uninterrupted hours until lunch time. Once lunch happened and we returned to the office it was 12:30pm and another “ramp up” period with email checking would carry us over until around 1:30. Now another miraculous segment of the day with zero interruptions and we had a whopping 4 hours of uninterrupted time. That would take into consideration that we didn’t receive any email which would be constantly distracting us by the endless “ding” of the email notification.

Once we looked at our typical day, we were actually quite surprised how we ever got anything done! I am quite sure any business owner would find him self in a similar situation if they took the time to analyze their operations. We looked at the possibility of taking our current work day of 8am-5pm and expanding it to 7am-6pm. Previously we required each team member to complete a minimum of six billable hours each day. We believed that everybody needed a minimum of two hours each day to handle email, and other non-billable work and that was fine with us. When we looked at expanding the day we realized this number of two hours to handle non-billable items would still hold true. If that were the case … each team member would be completing 32 billable hours a week instead of 30! This was surprising and very exciting.

When looking deeper into the expansion we also realized the ramp up time would negatively impact our schedule less by allowing us two additional focus hours each day. We were quickly realizing by working less … we could complete more by giving our team more time to focus on their income producing tasks. This made the switch an easy choice.

Client Focus

“Oops … what’s going to happen if a client needs something on Friday and we aren’t there?” This question popped up and forced us to be creative with the scheduling. We didn’t want our clients to think we were slackers or all of a sudden adopted an attitude that it was all about us and our comfort. We determined it would be best if we didn’t all take a three day weekend every week. We figured if we split up the team and flip flopped the weekly schedule, we could each have a four day weekend twice each month. This was MUCH better and everybody loved it. Paul and I decided it was a great move for the guys, but since we owned the company we’d  work all five days each week to assure everything went well.

Great Summer Weather = Jealousy

The feedback from the team was amazing! It seemed as though every business owner I was talking with was asking me NOT to tell their employees since they would be jealous. The guys were constantly telling us how long their weekend seemed. They also made strange statements like, “I was actually happy to be coming back to work.” WOW!!! We were experiencing an incredibly beautiful summer, and we had a company full of happy team members whose families were very grateful to be enjoying the summer with them. Then the jealousy crept in. The strange thing is the jealousy came from Paul and me! We decided it was unfair for everyone to get a four day weekend twice a month, except us. We then decided to make the same move. 🙂

Incredible Life

Paul and I will both testify that we have just experienced the most incredible summer we’ve had since we were kids. Cutting back the amount of days we spend focusing on building the business, and giving ourselves more days to focus on our friends and families was the answer. Instead of focusing on work, who the next client was going to be, or how the bills were going to be paid, we got to focus on enjoying life! And what an incredible life it is!

Increased Energy and Excitement

The new schedule added an incredible amount of energy and excitement within Mindscape. Every day it seems as if team members are knocking on my door with another idea that could assist us in making our jobs easier and more efficient. We have implemented a great deal of these ideas right on the spot, and watched our efficiency soar through the roof. We have grown from a company of six team members to twelve in less than five months and it is all a result of working less!

I’ll share more of the steps we’ve taken to raise our efficiency in upcoming blog entries. The most important message in this entry is this. As a business owner, take your focus on the “bottom line” and change it to “quality of life” for you and your team. Once you sincerely and passionately make this change, the sky will be the limit. You’ll find yourself enjoying your life, your company, and your team. It may sound strange, but it works!

Team vs. Company PART 2

October 18, 2007

I’ve spoken with a few people regarding yesterday’s post and they told me I should have included more on how and why Mindscape has implemented this “team concept” within the company. Through these conversations I see how it could be helpful to explain how we arrived at this point so here goes….

I am a firm believer that that most efficient way to improve is to allow past experiences be the teacher. And if you learn from those lessons, you can succeed much faster and less painfully. When I was only a couple years out of high school I got married and had my first child. I didn’t last too long in college and therefore settled for a job making very little money. I figured working for a few dollars an hour was barely providing me with enough income to keep my family fed and the lights on, so I knew I needed to find something else. The pain of being broke all the time prompted me to look at many different opportunities. I didn’t have a college degree nor any “trade skills” so my options were limited.

After about six months of searching I found a guy that was extremely successful in my eyes and I asked him if he’d teach me to do what he did. He had a distribution company and marketed products throughout the United States. The idea that someone thought enough of me to spend their time teaching me how to improve my financial life was extremely exciting to me! He had only met me a few times yet he was willing to potentially waste his time on someone like me. Wow!

I made the decision to work my hardest and do everything he told me to do so he wouldn’t be wasting his time. Over the course of the next two years I built a network of sales people across the country which were producing over 1/2 million dollars a year in sales. With this experience I realized one of my first lessons in my early business life.

It is much easier and quicker to succeed by being “dumb enough” to follow a proven system, than it is to figure it out on your own.

Shortly after the second year in business the supplier decided we were making too much money and decided to change the commission structure. This reduced our income by close to 70% and devastated the morale within my organization. I spent the majority of the time attempting to keep everyone positive and working so our income didn’t completely evaporate. Soon after this point we found a different supplier and moved on. The original company was out of business in less than a year.

I was amazed at how we all worked so hard and were so devoted to the success of this supplier and they didn’t seem to appreciate it or even recognize it. It was as though the management figured they were the reason the products were flying off the shelves. They got greedy and their egos got the best of them. This was lesson number two.

Never forget who is responsible for your success. Most importantly never let the responsible parties forget how much you appreciate them!

When I started in the Internet world I did so with absolutely zero knowledge of what it took to design a website, or how to write one line of programming code. This may seem like an incredibly stupid thing to do since I didn’t have the ability to do any of the work within the company … and it probably would have been if I didn’t learn this lesson.

I started in this business determined to find the best people I could possibly find and reward them as much as possible for the work they produced. I did this knowing full well THEY ARE THE REASON we would succeed and that I played a very small part in that success. I also made a decision I would never allow my ego to get the best of me and do what the management from the supplier did.

I believe every single person in a company makes a contribution toward the success of a company and any person in a leadership position that loses focus of that FACT will soon be facing failure.

I received a comment on the post yesterday which mentioned how they believed when companies started to implement a “team philosophy” there could potentially be internal competition between the employees. I believe this could be the case if the implementation of this philosophy was simply a gimmick used for motivation. If this philosophy is something the leadership and team members are passionate about and completely “buy in” to, this competition won’t exist.

If you are going to build a team instead of a company and everyone vows to set aside the battle of egos and focus on the success of the organization, which is going to ultimately benefit them financially, and give them an incredible quality of life, these issues won’t exist.

I know this may sound like some “polly anna-ish” fantasy, but it can work! I often want to pinch myself as I feel this reality every day at Mindscape. We have an atmosphere of people coming up with new, exciting ideas almost every day! It isn’t any one person that makes Mindscape successful. It is each and every member of the team and EVERYONE KNOWS IT!

Great ideas and contributions need to be RECOGNIZED to create the energy to come up with the next idea! These ideas don’t just work with companies of our size (11 team members). I met with a company earlier today which has over 110 employees and does over $60,0000,0000 in sales. They have the same culture and the team members leave each night with a smile on their faces ready to come back each day to make another contribution.

I am sure there are many people who feel this is all simply a fantasy and that is fine. Those of you who believe it might be possible and give it a try will be extremely happy you did.