For many small businesses, a website is one of the very first things that makes their business seem "real."  In fact, for the increasing number of small businesses that don't have a physical storefront, their website serves as their primary first point of contact for new business.  Even if you have a physical location, more and more potential customers will engage with your business online, before they ever do in person.


Here are 5 common ways small businesses screw up their website, and how to avoid them:

1. Not having a website

If you're not online, you don't exist to your potential clients.  A website is probably your most important engagement point with a potential customer, short of a face to face to conversation.  Even then, you can bet your potential customers are checking out your website before they ever have a conversation with you. 

By the way, a Facebook page isn't a website.  There's a lot of reasons why Facebook isn't an adequate substitute for a website.  For example, consumers tend to view Facebook pages as far less formal, and the impression of a company with only a Facebook page, is far less professional than one with a well designed website.  And if you needed any other reason, then consider whether or not you really want access to your online presence to be at the mercy of anyone else (i.e.: Facebook).

2. Not Making It Easy For People To Contact You

When customers come to your website, there's a few things they're looking for.  They want to know who you are, what you do, and probably most importantly - how they can get in contact with you.  Make it easy for your customers, and potential customers, to reach you, by including a contact page with your email, phone number, etc.  A lot of companies use contact forms, which is fine, but you'd be surprised how much more accessible you seem when you include your email address and/or a phone number (especially a phone number!).

3. Not Keeping it Current

There's nothing worse than a website that's completely out of date.  If the most current entry in your list of "events," is 4 months old, you're sending a message that you don't really care much about anyone who comes to the page.  Make sure your contact info is current (see #2), and if you are a retail establishment, make sure your website includes your current hours of operation.  Think like a consumer, and make sure that any of the information they may be trying to find on your site is not only available, but up to date. 

4. Missing The Mark

Your website should serve a purpose.  For most companies, the purpose is to be a tool to guide potential customers into a relationship with your business.  Think about the things that matter to them, and ignore pretty much everything else.  Resist the temptation to include features, pages and information that exist simply because it's "cool," to you.  

You are not your customer.  You already understand your product, or your company, or whatever.  Don't use language that makes sense to insiders, unless your website is only for insiders.  Carefully consider every page, graphic, link, and text on your site, and be ruthless about making sure it is geared towards your target. 

5. Designing It Yourself

Unless you're a web designer, it's probably a really bad idea to design your own website.  Sure, it's easy - there are literally hundreds of inexpensive options to build websites - but that doesn't mean it's a good idea for your business.  If your website is really the starting point for the vast majority of your customers, it's probably worth investing some time, energy, and money is getting it done right.  

Find a partner that can help you evaluate the message you want to communicate, and help you craft a design that represents - and reinforces your brand.  There's a saying, "you can pay now, or you can pay later."  You can pay a designer now, or you can pay in the hit to your brand, and business later.  Focus on what you do best, and find someone who can help you share that with your target market.


Your turn - what do you think?  Leave a comment below and let me know what every website MUST have (and what to avoid). 


There's a cute little coffee-house/cafe that I recently visited on one of my trips.  It's the kind of place, that when you walk in, everything about it says "authentic, indie, gourmet espresso house." They serve fair-trade coffee, artisan sandwiches and gelato.  



There's a case with fresh-baked pastries, and it smelled like, well - gourmet coffee.  Behind the counter are a few barista's that look exactly like what you expect, and from the decor, to the menu, to the signs in the windows, everything about this place screamed "indie-boutique coffee house."  That is, until one of the women behind the counter started talking to a customer.  

"What's the difference between Gelato and Ice Cream?" a young lady asked her.

"I don't know, I used to work at Dairy Queen, and they're all sweet, cold, and creamy to me." She replied.

(sound of authentic, cool, hip vibe crashing to the floor.)

Whoa, wait a minute. Did that just really happen? Imagine walking into an Apple store, and a customer asking "what's the difference between this MacBook Air, and the stuff made by Dell?" 

"I don't know, they all have buttons, a power supply and a keyboard." replies the soon-to-be former Apple Store Employee.


Of course, this isn't really about Gelato.  Except, that if you've invested a ton of energy, time, and resources in positioning your little storefront as an authentic "indie, gourmet espresso cafe," it might be nice if the woman behind the counter doesn't start her explanation of Gelato with the the words "Dairy Queen."

Companies spend a lot of money putting up a front of Marketing.  As small business owners, we do the same thing.  We spend money, time, energy and resources on things like our logo, our website, a storefront and print ads.  And then the phone rings, or the email comes in, or someone walks in to your location.  Ask yourself a question - will the experience they have on the inside, match with everything you've done on the outside?

Your brand is only as good as it's lowest common denominator.  

If your brand is about high-touch, boutique-level service, will that be the experience a client has if you take 4 days to return an email?  If your brand is about fun, high-energy, bubbly personality, will that be the experience a client has if the person answering the phone is having a bad morning?

That's the difference between inside marketing and outside marketing.  Outside marketing is things like advertising, logo, website, print and online advertising, word of mouth referrals, etc.  Inside marketing is things like: the way you answer the phone, the way you reply to emails, your follow up time, the way people are greeted in your office or store, and even the way your staff are dressed.

Edit: As I finished typing this, the "lowest common denominator" barista (yes, I'm really calling her that), has taken a seat at a table with guest who apparently works at a nearby shop.  In earshot of at least a half dozen of us guests, while drinking a mug of her own hot chocolate, she keeps talking about how much she can't wait to "lock the doors, and get out of here."  

Bottom line: maybe spend a little time thinking about your inside marketing, because - if you don't nail that - none of your outside marketing will matter anyway.


"Brand" is more than just a buzzword.  It's a pretty common conversation among small business, to talk about branding, or rebranding.  But what does that really mean?  The reality is that most people don't really understand branding, especially for their business.   And managing a brand has gotten even more difficult now that social media creates a 24/7 stream of brand awareness. First, there are a lot of things that your "brand" isn't. 


It's not your logo. 

It's not your website. 

It's not your business card. 

It's not your photographic style. 

It's not your color scheme. 

Then again, it's all of those things - but not because of the reason you think.  Your brand isn't about what you say about your business (which is what all of those are for), your brand is about what you do, and the impact that has on people. 

In reality, your brand is "the way people feel about you and your business."  It's the perception they have, and the emotions connected, to all of those moving parts - and more.  Sometimes, those elements can help influence the experience your clients (or potential clients), have with your organization.  Often they help recall an emotional connection that already exists with a brand, but they - on their own - are not your brand.  The question becomes "how do I make sure my brand represents actually represents my values, and what I want my customer to experience." 

So what's the point?  Make sure the details (website, logo, etc), match the big picture (experience you want your clients to have) - but don't forget that branding is as much about creating the experience as it is about creating a logo, or website, or whatever.  If the promise doesn't match the experience, your customers won't believe anything else you have to say.  This matters because if you think that what your marketing really needs is a new website, or new logo, you might be surprised to find out that those things only reflect a brand - they don't define it.

Start by defining what your brand is... then create the details that help people connect with that.  Otherwise, it's all just a waste of time.  In fact, every time you make a decision about a logo, or color scheme, or whatever - that isn't founded on the promise you want your brand to stand for, you compromise the overall integrity of your brand.  

What do you think?  How do you translate your brand promise, into a customer experience in your business?


Does your business need a re-brand?  While the answer depends on a lot of factors, the bottom line is, probably not.  That's probably not the right answer, coming from a firm that specializes in helping companies develop their brand, but most of the time - it's true.


There are a lot of really bad reasons to “rebrand,” like wanting a new logo, or website. While those may be pieces of the outcome, they should never be what drives a brand makeover.  Instead, start by taking a look at two things: 1) what is the brand experience I’m trying to create for my audience and 2) what is their actual experience with my brand. When there’s a disconnect (i.e.: a company finds that the brand no longer resonates with the ideal client), it could be time to look at re-crafting the message from the ground up.

Here are 5 questions to ask when considering a re-brand:

1. What will it cost me?

I'm not talking about money.  Sure, hiring a professional to help you develop your brand will cost you money, but that's definitely not your first concern.  Much more important is what will a rebrand cost you in terms of equity with your existing clients.  Your brand is basically the way people feel about you and your company.  Your brand identity are all of the pieces that help communicate, and reflect those feelings through your marketing.  When you "re-brand," you change the identity - and often the feelings that are attached.  That may be your goal, but remember - you will likely lose most of the positive value your brand has built.

2. What's my story?

Probably the most important consideration in creating a brand, is deciding who you are, and how you want to talk about who you are.  Your ideal customers will be drawn to the story of your company or organization, and how you communicate that is really important.  I suggest that you write out the things you want people to know (and feel) about your company, and then refine that into a story you can repeat over, and over, and over.  Eventually it turns into a mantra, and you can start to piece together an identity.

3. Who is My Ideal Client?

Just as important as what you want to say, is who are you talking to?  Clearly define the ideal target customer for your business or product.  Often, the tendency is to create marketing that "casts a wide net," hoping to get as many fish as possible.  That might be okay if you cater to the masses, but many small businesses (especially service-based businesses) find they get a much stronger return on their marketing when they focus on building a brand around a specific ideal client.

4. How can I best connect with my market?

Once you've clarified your ideal client, take a hard look at every aspect of the brand experience, from the overall marketing message, to the details like website, print materials, communication policies, and more – and evaluate how to craft each piece in a way that creates a connection with that client.  Set aside your assumptions about marketing, and instead start with a blank sheet - crafting a plan that reinforces the brand experience you are trying to create. 

5. Can I Support My Brand?

Bottom line, do you have the structure in place to support your branding efforts.  Will your customers have the experience you promise, and can you sustain that over the long haul?  Is your staff trained to deliver the experience?  It makes no difference how pretty your website is, if every time someone enters your business, they encounter someone that couldn't care less about your customers.   Be sure that you've created a system to "make your brand real," so that the experience matches the promise.

What about you?  What are some of the things you recommend businesses consider when thinking about a "rebrand?"


When I talk to small business owners, I often hear the same questions: "should I redesign my website?" "we're thinking about rebranding, what do you think?" or "do I need a new logo?"  It's not that uncommon for small businesses to be changing their marketing materials on a regular basis - but is it helpful?



First, your logo isn't your brand.  Your brand is the way people feel about you and your business.  Your logo simply represents that experience.  Changing your logo doesn't change your brand.  In fact, it can often simply confuse it.  

Your brand is the sum of the experiences that a consumer has with your company.  It's based on the interactions they have with you, the quality of the product you deliver, and the way you make them feel.  The logo simply helps reflect the impression.  It's true that a poorly designed logo can certainly cast doubt on your brand promise, but...

Believe it or not, often a "bad" logo is better than a "new" logo.  When you change your logo, you cash in any equity you might have had.  Even if you don't love your logo, chances are your clients (and potential clients) hardly notice it - until you change it.  

One of the disadvantges of working for yourself is that you don't have to check off with anyone before making changes to things like your logo.  The end result is that creative business owners like to tinker and tweak away at things like websites, logos, business cards, and color schemes.  This prevents you from building consistency in your overall brand experience, and consistency is the most important key to building your brand promise.

In reality, there are only two good reasons to change your logo - to escape negative brand sentiment, or to reflect a major change in your business.  If you're making a major change, it can make sense to incorporate new brand collateral in that process, as you work with a professional brand consultant or designer.  If you've changed your focus (or found your focus) a "re-branding" can help clarify the story you're telling your ideal client, and reframe your marketing.

On the other hand, if your business has a high amount of negative brand sentiment, a new logo won't fix your problem - but it might help give you a fresh start when introduced along with changes to your business (see reason above).  If you don't fix the problem, there's no negative sentiment that can be fixed by changing your logo.

So, why are you getting a new logo again?  What do you think - I'd love to read your thoughts below:


Let’s be honest - sometimes our jobs would be great if we didn’t have to ever deal with people. Don’t kid yourself, you know that you find yourself dreaming about never having to deal with another crazy customer, or a completely unreasonable client. This "small business" thing would be pure bliss if you could simply do your own thing, and never have to deal with, you know, people.


Yes, that sounds pretty wonderful sometimes.  Of course, let’s not forget that those very same “people,” are our customers - and they are the one’s who pay us to do this thing that we love to do. Let’s not forget that.  Let’s not forget that there are people out there, who are willing to part with their own hard-earned money, and invite us in  They place value on what we create for them, and they’re willing to pay us.  Sure, sometimes we wish they valued it a little more, or were willing to pay a little more, but let’s not forget that without them, we’re all finding day jobs. 

It doesn’t require a huge leap to realize that the happier, and more satisfied our clients are, the more likely our business is to be profitable and sustainable.  So many times, the relationship between you and your customers get to the point where you’re simply trying to “survive,” never mind thrive.  If that’s you, you’re not alone -  we’ve all been there. 

But that certainly doesn’t have to be the sum of our customer relationships.  Instead, how might your business be different, if each time you interacted with a customer, you asked yourself, "what can I do today to create a win for this person?”  “What can I do to give this customer an experience that adds value to their life, in a meaningful way?”  I think it’s possible, and it’s actually not that difficult.  In fact, here are 5 things you can probably start doing right now, to create a win for your customer.

1. Give Them Clear Expectations
Most of the failure in customer relationships come from a failure to create meaningful expectations.  I’ve written about this many times, and I think it’s one of the most important aspects of any relationship.  I also think it’s one of the easiest ways to create a win.  By helping your customer understand exactly what they should expect, you eliminate the anxiety, and uncertainty that they experience when they don’t have a context from which to understand what you’re going to do for them.  Your primary customer relationship task is to give your client peace of mind by walking them through what it means to do business with you.  

When you fail to create expectations, people create them on their own - whether they are reasonable or not.  The problem is, even if they’re unreasonable, when you fail to meet them, you’ve failed.  Instead, create a win by educating your customer with clear, informative expectations.

2. Make It Easy For Them
I have 3 rules.  Make it easy for customers to contact you, make it easy for them to get information they need, and make it easy for them to give you money.  Do those three things, and you’ll make it super easy to create a win.  Sometimes we get caught up over complicating things like forcing people to sit down with you at a meeting before we’re willing to share even basic pricing information.  Or we force them into contacting us through an online form with questions and check boxes that have nothing to do with their question.  Instead, focus on how you make it easy for the customer.  

Sometimes this might make it a little more work for you - but you are, after all, the one getting paid.  Instead of hiding your phone number, or email address, and requiring everyone to contact you through a form, make it easy for people to contact you the way they prefer.  I hate talking on the phone.  I HATE IT.  That doesn’t mean I won’t share my phone number with a customer or potential customer.  I still have the choice of not answering if it’s not convenient for me, but I’m not so rich that I’m willing to write off the entire population of people as customers, who want to use the telephone to reach me.  Which leads me to...

3. Solve Their Problem First
So many times we get focused on our side of the relationship.  It’s easy to get frustrated when customers seem to keep asking for more, and more, and more.  It’s easy for us to get defensive, and find ourselves more and more entrenched in our own perspective.  Instead, focus on understanding, and solving their problem first.  This doesn’t mean giving in to unreasonable demands.  It means, understand what the real problem is, and figuring out how to solve that.  

Most often, when a customer wins, they return the favor.  It’s not a zero sum game - when you figure out the REAL problem, you can solve that.  When you do that, more often than not, it results in a win for you as well.  But even if it doesn’t, it’s still your job to solve their problem.  You got paid - that sometimes has to be enough of a win for you. The key is to remind yourself that this is business (not personal), and you were hired to solve a problem.  Do that, and you create a huge win.

4. Do The Unexpected
As important as it is to do what you say you’re going to do, the reality is, you don’t actually get any points for that.  Of course, it’s your job, and kind of your human obligation, to keep your word, no one really gets excited when they buy a plane ticket from point A to point B, and the airline simply manages to get them from point A to point B.  Sure, it’s good that the plane didn’t crash, or the flight didn’t get cancelled, but it’s not all that remarkable.  They just did what they promised. 

On the other hand, people notice when you DON’T do what you say you’re going to do.  That’s not good.  Twitter, Facebook, and about 70% of the internet as a whole, is filled with people talking about the experiences they’ve had with a person, company, product or brand, that didn’t do what it promised.

Instead, do more.  Do something that you didn’t promise.  Create a WOW experience for your customer because you did something beyond what they expected.  There’s probably a million ways you can incorporate this into your customer relationships.  I know a photographer that creates a small album for every client as a gift.  Totally unexpected, and the clients LOVE it.  I know other businesses that send gifts for various occasions (holidays, birthdays, anniversary) for each of their customers.  They make it a part of their workflow, but it’s totally an extra, unexpected, part of the experience for the customer.  

Whatever it might look like for you, find something a little extra you can do to create a win for each client.  Maybe it’s as simple as sending a handwritten thank you note to each client - which brings us to maybe the most important win...

5. Be Genuinely Thankful
Remember where we started.  Your customers are the lifeblood of your business.  Without them, you’re just a guy or gal with a dream (and a lot of bills to pay).  Express your thankfulness often.  I’m a big fan of the handwritten thank you note.  It’s such a simple act, but it communicates so much to the recipient.  Everyone loves getting REAL mail (not junk mail, or email, or whatever), but a letter, hand-addressed, with a stamp and everything.  Everyone loves opening the envelope to find a note inside, that was written with a pen, on real paper, by a real person.  

You’d be amazed how far such a simple gesture can go to creating a huge win with your customers.  You’d be surprised how much value you can add to someone’s life by being genuinely grateful for them.  They’ve added value to your life, and then returning the favor is as simple as a thank you note, this might be the easiest win of all.  By the way, it’s such a big win because, as easy as it is, almost no one really does this one well.  You create a win because you bothered to show up at all. 

What about you - how are you creating a win for your customers?


We all know that advertising can be expensive, and many small businesses cut their marketing budgets first because of tight budgets.  Especially as you are trying to grow your business, it's important to keep your brand front and center.  



You want to be intentional about making sure that your brand stays at the front of your customer's mind, even though you may not have a huge budget.  Social media is undoubtedly one of the most effective and affordable ways to engage your customers, but it’s not the only way. Here are a few other strategies that can help you build your brand, without going broke:

1. Marketing 24-7 You should be marketing all the time — wherever you are.  You only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention so it is wise to come up with a killer elevator pitch. Use your pitch to create business opportunities, anywhere and everywhere.

2. Networking. There's a saying that building a brand requires either a lot of money, a lot of time, or a lot of luck.  Networking definitely falls into the "requires a lot of time," but I’m a huge fan.  For many businesses, there's no better way to build a business than to get out there and get to know people.  A strong network is one of the greatest assets any business can have.

3. Build Relationships It is a lot less expensive to keep a customer than it is to get a new one. It is crucial to establish strong relationships with your customers. Building strong relationships with your customers means they are more likely to refer you to their network.  The more you focus on creating exceptional experiences for your existing customers, the more they will want to return the favor - and talk about that experience with others. 

4. Co-Marketing.  Chances are, there are other businesses in your community, that offer different types of products and services to the same types of customers your business serves.  Often, you can create a win-win situation by developing a strategic co-marketing partnership by providing each other access to each others customers.  When the products or services are a natural fit, this can provide a great opportunity to increase your brand awareness. 

5. Get Involved Sponsor local events or get involved in charity efforts. Get to know your ideal customer and think about how and where they spend their time and then search for opportunities to get in front of them. These easy and inexpensive marketing strategies will help you engage your customers, build relationships, and keep your brand top-of-mind. 

What do you think?  What are some ways you have found to build your brand, without spending a lot of money?  Leave a comment below!


I was speaking at a conference a few weeks ago, and just before I was ready to take the platform to give my talk, I was going over a few things with the host and tech people.  As we were having our relatively important conversation (at least at that moment), a perfectly nice young guy walked up to me, and over the top of the person I was talking with, said: "I was hoping I'd find you here, I was wondering if you could look over my marketing materials and give me some feedback."



I thought to myself "this guy is asking me for a favor, and he's doing it while I'm in the middle of something else... seriously?"  That's not exactly what I said out loud, but it's exactly what I was thinking.   You know who does that?  Children.

I have 3 children under the age of 6, and I'm pretty familiar with having my conversations interrupted by them.  It's rare that my wife and I are able to have much of a conversation while they are around, without one of them interrupting.  It isn't that I don't care about what my kids have to say - it's just that interrupting someone isn't the best way to get their attention and earn their affection.  I'm sure that whatever they want to ask me is really important to them, but at that moment - let's be honest - it's mostly just irritating.

Amazingly, that's exactly what companies spend billions of dollars doing every year.  They pay a ton of money, to try and show up where their customer is, and interrupt whatever it was they were doing (watching a tv show, listening to the radio, reading a newspaper, visiting a website) with their message.  Clearly, this "interruption advertising," as Seth Godin calls it, isn't going anywhere.  But you have to ask yourself whether there might not be a better way to earn people's attention.

Your customers (and potential customers) are busy people.  They have jobs, and families, and lives.  They spend most of their time thinking about things other than your company and/or product.  Instead of focusing on interrupting your potential customers, here are 3 ways to earn their attention, and turn potential customers into customers for life.

1. Be EXACTLY what your customer is looking for.  This also means don't be anything else.  Don't try to be what everyone is looking for - that doesn't work.  Focus on being just what your customer is looking for.   You can try to be all things to everyone, but you'll end up being nothing to anyone, and your ideal customer won't want anything to do with you. 

When you focus on who you should "be," you create a compelling reason for customers to find you.  When you are the very best solution to their problem, you are able to attract the right type of customers, and those customers tell their friends - who become customers.  This means understanding the value you really bring to a customer, and amplifying that.  It also means resisting the temptation to try and be a little bit of everything.

2. Create value by solving their problem.

The problem with most "interruption marketing," is that it is focused on inserting yourself into the customers life, so that you can talk about yourself.  It's focused on you.  The entire goal is to blitz your customer with enough messages, that when they are in the market for whatever it is that you sell, they think about you.  The problem is, you risk of alienating the very customer you want to serve, because you've intruded on their life without permission.

Instead, focus on how you can create opportunities to solve problems.  An effective way is by creating value through freely shared content.  If you're a hardware store, maybe you offer free DIY classes.  If you're a bank, maybe you provide an educational series of videos about financial planning or managing credit.  Not only do you help your customers solve small problems with no strings attached - generating goodwill - you also position yourself as the expert in your field.  When customers are ready to solve their bigger problems, you're both generous, and the expert.

3. Cultivate affection, not just attention.

You may be able to capture my attention for a moment if you interrupt me, but the cost of my attention is that it's unlikely I'll have any affection for you or your company.  In fact, if you interrupt me, the only thing I'm thinking about is how quickly can I get back to what I was doing.  On the other hand, people don't quickly turn away from those for whom they have real affection.  

Think about creating marketing that builds genuine affection among your audience, instead of simply trying to grab their attention.  One of our clients has a habit of tweeting out a screenshot of their Starbucks app, with money preloaded on the card, and letting their audience have a drink on them.  They spend about $100 each time, but the affection they build among their target goes far beyond that. 



Dowding Industries is a family-owned business.  On the surface, they look like almost any other manufacturing company.   They have factories with stamping presses, lasers, and high tech machining equipment.  As you take a walk on the factory floor, you hear the sounds you'd expect to hear in a stamping or fabrication plant.  Walk through the factory and you hear the presses stamping out parts that end up in final products like giant CAT trucks, or Cummins engines.  


But as you walk through one of the 3 Dowding plants in Eaton Rapids, MI, even more than the sounds, or the smell of diesel, there's something else you can't help but notice.  The people.  

Dowding really is a family. Chris, the CEO, grew up hand-painting depth finders, while watching cartoons on TV.  Her dad, Skip, is the founder, and Chairman of the Board.  Over the last 50 years, they've grown, both as a company, but also as a family, and today, the 200 people they employ are an extension of not just a corporation.  You see, Dowding doesn't just build parts... they're building people.

It turns out, that those people they are building, are really great at building the things their customers need.  Sometimes that looks like creating custom processes to build a part that other suppliers couldn't.  Other times, it means inventing a machine that no one else thought could be built, just to meet a customer's needs.

Dowding came to us to help them create a series of videos that would tell their story.  They noticed that whenever their potential customers visit them at their 3 plants here in Michigan, they almost always won the business.  When people experienced who they are, and walked that factory floor, they almost always won their business.  The challenge was getting their potential customers here to their factories.

We took on their project to create a series of videos that their sales and marketing team could use when they meet potential customers, helping them re-create the "in-person" experience, even far from Eaton Rapids.   Our goal was simple - tell the story. 

Once we had dialed in the tone and message of the videos, we tackled an update of their website, so that the brand story was consistent across all of their digital marketing materials.  We focused on using large images, as well as creating pathways for their story to come through online. 

One of the most important things for businesses to remember, is that you have an ability to engage with your potential customers and share your story, before they ever interact with anyone at your business.  Your website, social media, and digital marketing strategy can help you communicate who you are and what you stand for, in a powerful way, that attracts your ideal clients.