Category Archives: Peter DeHaan

Your Company’s Future May Be Online

Peter DeHaan recomends that every business have a websiteBy Peter DeHaan

I have long been a proponent of the necessity for companies to have websites. In fact, I view a website as a veritable requirement for success in today’s market.

Organizations lacking a website are quickly viewed as second-rate providers and not worth the consideration of first-rate prospects. With the current concerns over attracting new customers, now is the time for site-less companies to embrace the Internet as a means of marketing and validation.

I know there are still organizations out there that have not yet fully embraced the internet revolution. Sadly, I hear from them on a somewhat regular basis. In addition, a few business owners and managers still say they don’t have an email address. Lastly are those who do not have a website or who state that “it’s not up yet.”

How can these companies serve customers, market to prospects, and stay in business? If you are one of these organizations, take action today to embrace the Internet before it is too late, with your business paying the price.

Website Basics

Although it can cost thousands of dollars to have a whiz-bang, high-tech, professional-looking Website designed, there are less costly options. After all, we don’t all drive a Mercedes-Benz—sometimes a Chevy will do. You can make an inexpensive website yourself for under $100. The goal is for it to not look cheap. Most hosting companies offer do-it-yourself website templates that you—yes, you—can customize to provide a basic, yet professional-looking site. However, there are a few beginner mistakes that you will want to avoid: It doesn't matter if you are a beginner in this area, have experience, or are a veteran, there are always more opportunities waiting in the rapidly growing realm of cyberspace. Click To Tweet

  • Stay away from line art graphics or any artwork that looks like it was homemade.
  • If you need to resize a graphic, be sure to keep it proportional. Otherwise, it will distort, either being stretched or squished.
  • Take time to proofread the text, verify spelling, use correct grammar, and employ commonly accepted punctuation. Have others double- and triple-check your work.
  • Don’t go crazy with different fonts. Use one or two at the most.
  • Avoid uppercase text; people will feel like you’re screaming at them. (The one possible exception might be listing your company name at the top of the page.)
  • You might be tempted to insert a page counter or some other nifty gadget. Resist that urge. Just because those features are available doesn’t mean you should use them.
  • Although not available with predesigned Website templates, you might think you need to have a flashy animation on your home page. Don’t go there; the only ones who will be impressed will be you and the person who designs it. Everyone else will be irritated, and the search companies will dismiss you.
  • Don’t piggyback off someone else’s domain name; get your own. This can be inexpensively obtained from your hosting company. While you’re at it, set up an email account using that domain name. Post that email address on your Website. If need be, you can have this new address forwarded to an existing email account.

Search Engine Optimization

Now that you have a functioning website (which avoids all the beginner errors), you want people to find it. Aside from telling everyone you meet and listing it on every piece of literature and stationery that you have, you need search engines to notice and appreciate your website. This is Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Although this is more of an art form than an exact science (since the search engine companies closely guard their methodologies), here’s some generally agreed upon SEO basics:

  • Each page of your site needs a title tag, and each page’s title should be different.
  • Each page also needs a description tag; again each one should be different from the other pages.
  • Add reasonable and accurate keywords. Although most experts say Google ignores them, some search engines will use them, so it’s a good idea. Again, they should not be the same for each page.
  • Although some people still value reciprocal linking (that is, “I’ll link to your site if you link to mine”), the conventional wisdom is that in most cases this no longer helps and may actually hurt your visibility with the search engines.
  • Most of the companies that guarantee you top search engine placement for a fee, fail to deliver or can’t do so for the long-term. There are experts who can do this, but they are in a minority and their skill is often hard to substantiate.

Search Engine Marketing

If you want people finding your site and contacting you, the next step to consider might be Search Engine Marketing (SEM). This is when you sign up with Internet advertising companies such as Google, Yahoo, or a host of others. Basically, you tell them how much you are willing to pay each time a person clicks on your ad, and they place your ad on Websites where potential prospects frequent. If you go this route, proceed slowly and carefully until you have a good understanding of how this works. I have heard stories of novices spending hundreds of dollars in a couple of hours with not much to show for it. A key thing to remember is that just because they clicked on a link that points to your Website does not mean they will become a customer—or even contact you.

Given the current concerns over the economy and finding new business, organizations need to do everything they can to help them succeed. The Internet is a cost-effective and increasingly popular method. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner in this area, have experience, or are a veteran, there are always more opportunities waiting in the rapidly growing realm of cyberspace.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Social Media: Opportunity or Distraction?

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorFor some, the mere mention of social media produces a crooked smile and lights up their eyes. To them, it’s the preferred way to communicate; they would be lost without it.

Others groan and roll their eyes at the mention of social media. Some give it a resigned yawn, quickly tuning out the discussion or leaving the room. Still others are desperately trying to figure it out, while some don’t understand the fuss, and more than a few simply don’t care. What is all the fuss? Why should you care? The reality is that we should all care, because the future of your business may be at stake.

For businesses social media allows you to promote your business, reach out to prospects, connect with clients, and recruit and support staff. Regarding this, there are two major considerations.

First, if your competitor provides customer service via social media, can you afford not to?

Second, if the businesses that tap your labor pool use social media to find new hires, shouldn’t you do the same? These social media opportunities have been amply covered by others. However, before rushing into social media, consider the time it will take and personnel who will be involvedDon't ignore social media—the future of your business may depend on it. Click To Tweet

Email: Email is both a prelude and an entry point to social media. Succinctly, everything you currently do with phone calls, you need to apply to email. Answer email, screen email, route email, add value to email, prioritize email, and escalate email.

Chat: Having the option to engage in text chat is an increasing expectation on consumer websites. You can do the same things with it that you currently do for the phone number that is listed there: answer questions, assist with site navigation, and keep visitors from abandoning their shopping cart.

Facebook: Making a Facebook page is easy. However, to be of use, relevant content needs to be posted and, more importantly, the people who “like” you deserve interaction. When customer service issues surface on Facebook, they need to be quickly addressed. Similarly, if an inquiry materializes, it warrants a speedy response—just be sure to follow social media etiquette; doing sales wrongly in social media can be a painful and damaging experience.

Blogging: Most blogs allow comments to be made, but to protect against spam, comments are often manually screened and approved. Additionally, a response to the comment is sometimes called for and a dialogue can take place, be it within the blog’s comment section or via email.

Twitter: Although Twitter is a broadcast medium, sometimes a tweet may warrant a personal response. Don’t forget to check your Twitter feed and then follow through.

Media Alerts: There are services that scan cyberspace for mentions of a word or phrase, such as a company’s name, a trademark, or an individual’s name. Although helpful, this information generally needs to be filtered. For example, one of the magazines that I publish is Connections Magazine. There are scores of magazines with “connections” in the title, so my media alert for “connections magazine” contains numerous false matches.

Other Ideas: These are just a few ideas. As you investigate social media, you will assuredly come up with more. Consider LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube.

If any of these seem worthwhile to you, then please check them out—otherwise, feel free to pass. Just don’t completely ignore social media—the future of your business may depend on it.

Final Thoughts: In pondering the question posed in this article’s title, social media is both an opportunity and a distraction. I’ve been on LinkedIn the longest, and I welcome those who want to become part of my network and occasionally send out similar requests to others, but I’ve yet to actually use it for something practical.

Next, after hearing horror stories of the time-consuming and even addictive nature of Facebook, I long resisted it, only acquiescing to it in the past year. Though Facebook held an initial intrigue, the criticism of it being a time-waster quickly proved true. I haven’t “checked” Facebook in days; I now use it primarily to communicate with friends who won’t respond to an email or phone call.

In answering the question of who will perform all these backend and follow-up activities, know that many, if not all of them, can be outsourced. For example, some contact centers specialize in providing email processing services and text chat services to their clients. Many of them can also address these other social media response issues as well.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Giving Back to Your Community

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

Working in any business is challenging and demanding work. Owning and running one is even harder. Daily activity seems, all too often, to consist of reacting to the urgency of the moment. There is little time to plan and few opportunities to look beyond the confines of the company walls. Yet looking beyond is exactly what you need to do. Seeking ways to give back to your community may be precisely the action you should pursue. Some organizations have done so—with profound results.

Why Give? There are many reasons why it is wise and appropriate for a business to give back to its community. Aside from principled reasons, the practical justification is that it is good for business. Community involvement expands networking opportunities, increases corporate standing, and generates goodwill. From an employee standpoint, it builds team camaraderie as staffers serve together and pursue common non-work related goals, increases employer esteem, and provides a connection outside the workplace. These, then, have an indirect effect of improving employee job satisfaction and thereby decreasing turnover. Last, as employees see a different side to their employer, respect can increase and better understanding nurtured. With all these benefits, what company wouldn’t want to promote and pursue a philanthropic effort?

What to Give? There are two primary forms of assistance that can be provided: money and manpower. Most organizations are more in need of volunteer labor than they are of monetary donations. (Although, as nonprofits find volunteers scarcer, they seek the funds to hire the labor that could otherwise be volunteered.)

Let’s start with the manpower aspect. You can provide opportunities for your staff to volunteer. They can go in groups. It is easier to go somewhere new or try something different if it is done with a friend. Plus, there is the bonus of being able to serve together; this has its own rewards. Generally, these opportunities should occur outside regular working hours. Some businesses have a provision to take time off without pay; a few even offer paid time off when volunteering. These, however, are rare, costly to the company, and generally not needed. Setting up a simple means to allow employees to know about and pursue volunteer opportunities takes little time and incurs little cost to the company.Community involvement expands networking opportunities, increases corporate standing, and generates goodwill. Click To Tweet

For many people it is easier to write a check than it is to volunteer. The same is true for businesses. If a corporate financial donation is not feasible, don’t worry about it. Having you and your staff involved is generally more important anyway. If making a financial contribution is feasible, one consideration is setting up a matching fund. This is when companies budget monies to match the donations of their employees. The employee makes the donation, submits the receipt, and the company makes a matching contribution. This, too, is quite easy to set up. Payroll deductions for charities are also an option, but more costly and time-consuming to implement. Of course, there is also the option for the business to make a direct contribution.

Where to Give? Needs exist all around your community. Find out what is already going on. Consider after school programs, food pantries, clothes closets, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens. Call your nearest school and ask how you can help. Opportunities might include “adopt-a-classroom,” reading programs, tutoring, providing back-to-school supplies, or helping with GED classes. If you have a college nearby, check with the service organizations on campus and see how you can support them. A side benefit of working with college students is that you will be interacting with potential job candidates. Just make sure that employee prospecting doesn’t become the reason for getting involved.

Who to Give To? By now, your mind is likely spinning with ideas. So many needs, so many opportunities, so much to do. It can quickly become overwhelming. Being overwhelmed leads to discouragement, which leads to inaction. The key to prevent this from occurring is to whittle down the list, identify one organization that is a good fit, and focus on how you can help them.

Start by asking your employees to make recommendations. They will tend to suggest groups which they already support with their time or money. Although only a small percentage of your staff will currently be involved with any organization, it is a great place to start. They already have a connection and an affiliation; they can acclimate others as they step forward to volunteer. You will also have some staffers who have esteem for a particular organization, but have not yet taken that first step towards involvement. Those recommendations are also worth considering. Again, their predilection towards that organization will help move things forward.

Before you make a final selection, perform a “due diligence” just as you would for an important business purchase or partnership. For nonprofits find out how long they have been in your community; check out their annual reports; ask what percentage of donations goes to overhead; see if the Better Business Bureau has a file on them or what the Chamber of Commerce may know. If things look good meet with the executive director, ask to attend a board meeting, and seek an easy way to test if you are a good fit for each other.

Regardless of the size of your business, pick just one organization to support—at least initially. It is far better to make a significant and sustained effort towards one group, then to be thinly spread to many different organizations, which will result in frustration and ineffectiveness. Once you have successfully proven your company can support one organization, then you may consider a second one, but proceed slowly and carefully. Remember that for many companies, especially smaller ones, focusing on one group is ideal.

How to Give? Once you select a group to work with and identified an initial area of service, it is time for tangible action. Ideally, company leaders should be in this first wave of volunteering, setting the example, and inspiring others to follow. As previously mentioned, it is easier to go as a group, especially for the first few times. Hopefully, there are already one or more employees who have practical volunteer experience with the organization. Let them take a lead role, comfortably easing others in and showing how things are done. In no time, everyone will be serving with practiced confidence. Then they can repeat the process with others.

It is important to remember that no matter how great the need or how rewarding the work, only a percentage of employees will take part. Also, their degree of involvement will vary greatly. This is expected, so accept it. Just make sure no one feels obligated to get involved, and remind them that volunteering is, in fact, voluntary. After all, you don’t want to serve with someone who is negative or resentful; the goal is to have fun and find fulfillment as you volunteer. Leave the naysayers at the office.

When to Give? Now! Not next month, not next year; now.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

Realizing Positive Outcomes

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

As a publisher of trade magazines, I travel to conventions and industry shows. Before that, as a consultant, I traveled to my clients’ offices. Therefore, it may surprise you that I don’t like to travel, especially to fly—unpredictable, impersonal, and a loss of control.

I am a homebody, perfectly content to stay within the comfort of my home—my castle—which is also my office. It’s not that I am people adverse, because with the telephone, email, and text, I am always available. It’s simply that I enjoy being home and anything else, including travel, pales with the comfort of home sweet home.

Like any traveler, I have many stories.

A Private Flight: One time, awaiting a connecting flight in Detroit and anxious to return home, I sat at the sparsely occupied gate, immersed in my crossword puzzle. Suddenly, an announcement interrupted my focus, “Now boarding all rows, all passengers for flight 3512 for Kalamazoo; this is the final boarding.” Strange, I mused; I had apparently tuned out all the previous announcements.

Grateful that I heard this one, I walked alone to the gate and handed the agent my ticket. “We wondered if you were here,” she smiled. Perplexed at such a strange comment, I smiled back and inanely replied, “Yes, I am here,” and proceeded through the doorway. The door shut behind me.

Walking down the empty jet way, I stepped onto the plane; the flight attendant informed me that I was the only passenger. She asked if I would be needing beverage service. I thanked her and joked that she could take the night off.

Later, as I deplaned in Kalamazoo, I inquired if this thing happened very often. “Occasionally,” she replied. “Once the plane was empty. But we have to fly anyway, because it needs to be in Kalamazoo for an early flight the next day.” So, for the price of a commercial ticket, I had a private flight with a personal flight attendant. To realize a positive outcome: have a plan, be realistic, and make the most of it. Click To Tweet

The Captian’s Final Flight: Another time, while anxiously waiting for my flight to Chicago—where I had a tight 40 minutes connection—there was an announcement of a delay: 30 minutes, then an hour, then more. Finally, two hours past the scheduled departure, we had boarded and were ready to taxi.

Then an unusual announcement has made. This was to be the captain’s final flight for the airline, as he was retiring after 22 years of service. To celebrate, several members of his family were on the plane with him. As was tradition in these cases, we would taxi past two fire trucks, which would spray a canopy of water over and on the plane. As we proceeded, parallel to the terminal, I noticed the windows lined with airline personnel, waving their goodbyes. Soon, passengers irrepressibly began waving back.

Then came another surprise announcement, “Because this is the captain’s final flight, ground control has given us priority clearance for departure; we are next in-line for take-off.” Never before had I witnessed such a speedy departure. The runway even pointed us towards Chicago.

In seemingly no time, there was another announcement, “We have enjoyed a strong tail wind and we are getting ready to land in Chicago. Because this is the captain’s final flight, air traffic control has given us priority clearance to land.” Again it was a straight shot to the runway and we quickly landed.

Then a third unexpected announcement was made. “Because this is our captain’s final flight, ground control has given us priority to taxi to our gate.” Could it be, I wondered as I glanced at my watch. My connecting flight left on time—and I was on it!

Taking a Taxi Instead: For my final story, I was traveling with two co-workers. We were headed home, again connecting in Chicago. It was winter and we landed only to learn that our flight home, the last one of the day, was cancelled due to weather.

As the more savvy travelers snapped up all the rental cars, we sought other options; alas, the only one was to spend the night in Chicago and fly home the next day. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I anticipated sleeping in my own bed that night and anything else would be second-rate.

Plus one of my associates was ill and the other was beginning her vacation the next morning with an early fight out for a cruise. If we delayed until the next day, she would miss her departing flight and part of the cruise. There were no more flights, no buses, and no rental cars.

We were 150 miles from home. It was a desperate time. Outside, a city employee was orchestrating cab rides. “What would be the possibility of getting a cabbie to take us to Kalamazoo, Michigan?” I inquired. “We really need to get home tonight,” I desperately added.

Glancing at our discouraged and tired faces, she responded positively, “Let me find you a good ride.” After putting local fares in the next five cabs, a nice new cab, with a competent looking driver, pulled up. “This is your cab,” she smiled, with a grand wave towards our coach. She had a preliminary discussion with the now bewildered cabbie. Once I assured him that I could provide directions, we were off. Four hours later he dropped us off at the Kalamazoo airport. I paid the 380 dollars fare and we each headed home. Later the airline refunded our unused tickets, so the net cost of our 150 mile cab ride was only 30 dollars.

What I’ve Learned about Travel

Although there were other stories I could have shared—remember I don’t like to fly—I picked these for a reason. Each one is positive: a private flight, a priority trip, and an accommodating cabbie. These represent the perspective I attempt to adopt when I fly. I call it travel mode. To successfully travel, I need to be in travel mode. There are three aspects to it:

Have a plan: If you don’t have a plan to occupy the idle time when you fly, you will be bored and irritable. My plan starts with magazines to read. I don’t take ones I want to keep, as each one gets thrown away when it is finished, making my load a little lighter. Magazines are for sitting in gates, standing in line, and before take off. Naturally, there are crossword puzzles in the in-flight magazines to occupy the actual flight. Movies, another favorite pastime, are a welcome offering on longer flights. Plus there is the added benefit of the more objectionable material being edited out of the film. Finally, there are the rewards I give myself at each hub airport: food; frozen yogurt or popcorn are much anticipated treats. My plan beneficially fills my travel time.

Be realistic: I used to have the expectation that an airline schedule was an accurate representation of what would happen. The fact that airlines begin padding their schedules to boast a higher on-time arrival, did little to erase my frequent disappointment. Then I realized that a more reasonable attitude was to assume the plane would be late and to rejoice with an on-time or early arrival. Here’s why. Let’s say a trip has two flights there and two flights back. If one flight is late, do your remember the three that were on time? No, you dwell on the one that was late. Now look at it mathematically. Assume that each flight has an on-time arrival of 70 percent. That means that for the two flights to get to your destination, you only have a 49 percent chance that both flights will be on time. To include your return flights, you only have a 24 percent chance of all four planes being on time. And if you have three flights (two hubs) in each direction, your odds of all six being on time drop to 11 percent. With proper and realistic expectations, your chances of being disappointed are greatly reduced. This isn’t optimism versus pessimism; it’s realism.

Make the most of it: Is business travel something to be endured or an experience to be relished? If your perspective is one of tolerance, then you will gravitate towards the negative. If your perspective is one of adventure (I’m not quite there yet), then you will remember the positive—like I have done with my three stories. And there are many more. You meet people by chance whom you will never see again, yet a lasting impression is made. A simple kindness to another traveler uplifts one’s spirit. Even spending time to check out the airport architecture or infrastructure is not without its rewards.

I have just shared my prescription for travel, the perspective I need for a successful trip. However, this can be applied to any task or endeavor to realize a positive outcome: have a plan, be realistic, and make the most of it.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

So, You’re Being Acquired

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

Most employees fear the changes wrought by acquisition.

I have never been “acquired,” but I have been on the other side—about a dozen times, buying small and medium-sized companies and integrating them into a larger operation.

The almost universal response to an acquisition announcement is trepidation and panic. Staff, especially front-line staff, expect the worst. Even those who dislike their present company or owner protest loudly at the prospect of a new employer. Increased pay, expanded benefits, and promises of job security do little to quell their swelling apprehension. Theirs is a fear of the unknown. You cannot control much of what happens to you, but you can control your response to it. Click To Tweet

If you work for a company that is being acquired, the possible strategies and resulting outcomes are limited and predictable. The buyer could be looking for a working, functional facility, but not the staff . Conversely the focus could be on the customers, but not the staff or facility. In these cases, the facts are soon readily apparent and your future employment status is known, albeit not desirable.

However, in most cases, the purchaser wants the entire operation: the staff, the facility, and the customers. Happily, jobs are secure and the future is promising. Yes, changes will occur, but astute employees will anticipate and welcome these as requisite adjustments for a better future. It is those who oppose or reject the new owner’s directives who run a legitimate risk of unemployment.

If you work for a subsidiary or division and your parent company is acquired, the possible outcomes are more complex. The intent could be let the new acquisition continue to operate as is, in a hands-off, independent manner.

However, some of the other prospects are not so encouraging. There could likely be a desire to cut costs, which unfortunately means that some positions or even departments could be eliminated. Sometimes, the goal is to sell off parts of the company to other buyers. (Analysts anticipated that News Corporation would sell off many of Dow Jones’s small regional papers.) At the most extreme, the entire company can be dismantled and sold piecemeal—then employees need to endure a second acquisition.

For those who acquire companies, never forget the human element. You are dealing with peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Honestly communicate as much as you can, as quickly as you can. Backup your positive pronouncements with tangible supporting action. And if the news is bad, treat people with dignity and respect, doing all you can to facilitate their movement into a new job or career.

For those who are being acquired, remember that though you cannot control much of what happens to you, but you can control your response to it. Be realistic and update your resume so it is ready if needed, but don’t prematurely jump ship. Instead, choose to have a positive attitude about the situation, support the new management, and prove yourself to be a valuable asset. You could end up pleasantly surprised by the result.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.