Category Archives: Business

Is it okay to highlight how a website looked before I worked on it?

I’ve got one question for you, web designer pro: is it a dick move for a freelance web designer to point out how a site looked before they started working on it?

Here’s the context of the question. I’m a partner in a small design shop. We’re just getting our business off the rails (we’ve got clients and no live website for our business!), and we’d like to write case studies about our clients on the website to be. In one instance we’d like to show before and after screenshots of the site they hired us to redesign, along with text describing what we did.

The idea for having before and after screenshots of our clients’ websites came from plastic surgeon’s websites. They show before and after photos of their clients, so why can’t I?

I’d appreciate your feedback on this question. I have no sense whether it’s a dick move or not.

Photograph by Elizabeth Runder and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

3 Methods to a 47 Percent Email List Open Rate

Last week my friend and client Steve, from Amherst Wines & Spirits, told me that his previous monthly email newsletter open rate was 47%. If you need some context, for a retail brick and mortar business, an open rate like that just doesn’t happen (MailChimp open rates by industry). But I knew he didn’t misread the analytic report because when I started working with Steve, right out of the gate, his open rate was also a leader in his business sector, fluctuating between 20 and 30 percent. I knew most businesses would kill for even that email open rate.

Steve was complementary to me for bringing his open rate even higher, but he was clearly doing an effective job before I showed up (though he didn’t know it because he managed his email list by hand, in his regular email program).

Here’s what Steve does to get astronomical email open rates, along with some lessons this may teach us all.

Steve pre-qualifies his email list subscribers. Nearly every person that subscribes to his monthly newsletter has been into his store and bought something. And most of those email newsletter subscribers are also subscribers to his printed newsletter, mailed at the beginning of each month (the email newsletter is sent in the middle of the month). This means the number of subscribers to both of the lists climbs slowly, but the new subscribers have proven they want his messages.

Steve has a small business. He’s the only full time employee, so it’s likely that he’s personally spoken with every person that’s signed up for his print and email newsletters. Also, he’s tasted every single wine and spirit in the store, so when you ask for a recommendation, he has one specifically matched to your needs. Recently I asked Steve for a two bottles of wine, less than $11 each, that tasted more like vegetables than a jar of jam, and if they had screw tops I wouldn’t mind. A couple of minutes later he had two recommendations (both of which have been wonderful).

Given that context, it’s clear that Steve’s email list subscribers want the information he sends each month. Here are lessons Steve’s experience can teach us:

  1. Don’t worry about the number of subscribers to your list, because if none of them open your emails, what’s the point of a big number? Being more concerned with who’s on the email list should be the priority; those are the people that want to read your messages.
  2. Pre-approve your email list subscribers. It doesn’t have to be like Steve in his brick and mortar store. You can make a strong pitch to people who’ve already proven to be customers, and ask them to sign-up for a monthly newsletter. Just because they bought something from you, don’t assume they also want to receive other communication from you. As hot-top marketeer Seth Godin says, ask for permission.
  3. Have a deep knowledge of what you’re trying to sell, then communicate using language that’s familiar to your customers. No, I didn’t make a leap in logic. If you communicate using language that’s familiar to your customers, then like Steve, you need to get to know them. If both you and your customers get to know each other, and treat each other with respect, then it’s a good likelihood they’ll open your emails.

Do you have any interesting email open rate stories? Please leave them in the comments below.

Without Breaking The Bank, Local Businesses Can Drive Customers Using Discounts via Twitter Lists

This is a proposal for an experiment in Western Massachusetts to start our own “Twitter-pon” list. Most small businesses using Groupon don’t fair well, at the end of the day. But there’s a way around it: start a Twitter list of local businesses that offer discounts directly to customers. Here’s the logic and details:

I don’t get Groupon. Or LivingSocial, or whatever the next location-based couponing site is going to be. And there will be others. Because that business has such a low barrier to entry and the profit margins are so high, if you’ve got $50-100k anyone can do it. It’s not brain surgery.

Try Googling “groupon scam” or “groupon ripoff” and read the stories. They’re not hard to find. For consumers it’s mostly a good deal, but they’re not the ones footing the bill for the discount. It’s the local businesses, often small operations themselves, that have to pay for the discount, pay a fee to Groupon, and pay a tax on the whole thing. Restaurants in particular, because the margins are so tight, seem to suffer when they try Groupon. Ponder this: if the economy was humming along, do you think Groupon ever gets off the ground?

Phone Books, Craigslist, and Twitter

I think about those things a lot, phone books, Craigslist, and Twitter. They’re all different communication tools, but they do have one critical thing in common: they’re communication from individual people that’s aggregated into a whole new thing. What gives the phone book value is not that my friend’s phone number is inside, it’s that nearly everyone has a number inside.

The same can be said for both Craigslist and Twitter: when all the individual communication points are combined, it gives more value to each, in addition to the bunch of posts or tweets (easier to live in a city than an island by yourself).

But there’s a problem, especially with Twitter: while communication can be aggregated by following someone, sometimes that’s both too much and not enough. It’s too much because I don’t want all the communication from someone that has an interesting tweet once a month. BUT I do want that one tweet because it’s a local business and they’ve got a great discount on dry cleaning. See the problem?

The Power of @WMApons, Twitter Lists and #wmapon

There are sites that aggregate discount offer tweets from big businesses (two, here and here), but there’s not a site or tool that slices the number of businesses down even further, creating a group of businesses based on geography that offer discounts or coupons via tweets. Maybe it’s out there, but I haven’t found such a targeted group.

This might blow up in my face, but here’s the idea. I’ve created a new Twitter account called Western Mass Discounts (@WMApons) and along with that a list of the same name. Why do both? People don’t want to muck up their main Twitter feed by following a 100 different local businesses, BUT I think they would follow list of pure local business discounts.

Think of the @WMApons list as a mall full of businesses offering deals. People go to the mall because they’re in the buying mood, and that’s why people would look at the @WMApons list: because they know local business are offering deals there. Remember, living on an island is hard. Better to be in the city or mall where the commerce is happening.

How To Join @WMApons

Making this idea hum like a finely tuned engine is going to possibly require local businesses that want to join @WMApons to create another Twitter account dedicated to ONLY your discount or coupon offers. Why? Because, remember, people want deals. That’s what you want to give them. If you foul-up the list with general tweets about how great business was today, then the perceived value of the list is diminished. The more valuable the list, the greater the number of followers, and the number of potential customers increases. Pretty cool, yeah?

That’s the idea, anyhow. If you have questions or suggestions for tweaks on this experiment, let me know in the comments below. Otherwise, if you’re a local business go follow @WMApons and if you’re a person looking for deals, follow the @WMApons/wmapons list.

Of course, like the phone book, Craigslist, and Twitter, the more people who use @WMApons, the more valuable it becomes.

Photo by eschipul and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Getting wine to flow on the Web — working with Amherst Wines

I’ve been working with Steve Freedman, owner of Amherst Wines & Spirits, for more than a year now. Some of the things we’ve accomplished are create a new Web site (using the content management system, TypoLight), set-up an email list using Mailchimp, and offer Web communication consultation.

Helping people learn new Web technologies to communicate with their customers or audience is satisfying, especially when it’s someone like Steve who’s interested in expanding his skills. I asked Steve to answer a few questions about our work  together.

Hi, Steve. First, can you describe a bit about how Amherst Wine & Spirits was (or was not) using the Web for business, a year ago?

There was a static web site, basically just a “home page” which introduced the store. I could not put anything else on it.

We’ve been working together for a year now. What do think have been the most useful technological advances you’ve made?

The web site is a much more useful source of information than in the past. The mid-month email is terrific, resulting in more sales while also being measurable in terms of viewing. You set me up with terrific (and free) software to make this happen.

For me, one of the most satisfying aspects of working with you has been teaching you to do Web communication yourself. I get a kick out of walking into the store and hearing you tell me about the latest task you complete without a problem, whether it be updating the Web site or sending out the email newsletter. Can you describe a little bit about this experience from your perspective?

Computer stuff does not come easily to me. You have been patient in teaching me how to dramatically improve my electronic newsletter as well as uploading content to my web site. It has not been without incident – sometimes I trip up – but now I can usually do all the things I consider important by myself. I’m most comfortable when I do not need to depend on someone else to do my web stuff for me, and you have helped to get me there.

So, Steve, in terms of Web communication with your customers, do you have anything new planned for the new year? Can you share any plans Amherst Wines might have?

My next project will be uploading graphic material – photos and wine labels I can get from the web – to my web site and online newsletter.