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By John Budnik, Founder of the Budnik Group
This book is for informational purposes only. It does not provide legal or business advice, and should not be relied on as such. Neither the authors nor the publisher guarantee or warrant that the information in this book is accurate, complete, or up-to-date, or will produce certain financial results. This information is general in nature and may not apply to particular factual or legal circumstances. Laws and procedures change from state to state and county to county, and are subject to differing interpretations. This book is not intended to substitute for obtaining legal advice from competent, independent legal counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. If you want legal advice, please consult a lawyer. This book is not a substitute for sound business and legal judgment, and you should not act upon any of the information in this book without first confirming that the suggestions, processes, documents, and information in this book are appropriate for your situation.
2008 by John Budnik Published by Budnik Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The text of this publication, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher.
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Do you know what people are saying about you online? You should. Nearly 90% of consumers research products and services online. They want to know whom they can trust and who has the best products and services. An invaluable asset in this global—and increasingly cyber— market place is your business’ reputation. Within this ever-changing market, your business is confronted with the expectations of highly educated consumers who demand efficient services and quality goods. And as you well know, if you fail to meet the consumer’s expectations, your business can quickly gain an unfavorable reputation. However, if you understand and exceed their expectations, your business will gain momentum generated by its reputation. You are just a few short steps away from having a better reputation and higher profits. Each lesson is designed so that you can implement these ideas right away. At the end of each this book, there are checklists which you can follow to make sure you don’t miss a single step. Creating a great reputation online is important for everyone. Even if you don’t own your own business or have your own practice, you can still use these principles to take control of your own career. Apply these principles to a recreational activity you share with your target audience. This helps you build a closer bond with people who can help you launch your own business or practice without interfering with policies that govern your position. Having that direct contact also help you avoid having your career sunk by a rival. Finally, I just want to thank everyone who saw the value in this book and helped me put it together. Thank you to my friends who inspired me to write this and who read endless drafts helping me avoid making too many mistakes. I’m sure that there are still a few mistakes left that will have to be corrected in future editions. This mistakes are entirely my fault and are in no way a reflection on the tireless help of my friends. I hope you find this book as valuable as they have.
Lesson #1 | An Introduction to Online Research
Your reputation is the way your target market views their relationship with you. Everything comes back to having a good relationship with your target market. Good relationships are based on active listening. The key to building a strong relationship with your target market is to listen to how they perceive their relationship with you. People still consume far more information using traditional media than they do on the Internet. Traditional media will remain the dominant mode for broadcasting your message. However, the Internet allows consumers to communicate in ways weren’t available before. Consumer’s now write product reviews, host discussions, write emails, create blogs, and build relationships with other people who share their passions, hopes, fears and frustrations. The Internet also gives you the tools you need to listen to your target market and build relationships with them in ways that weren’t available to you before now. How do you find out what people are saying about you? For most people reading this, it might seem obvious that you just go to Google or another search engine and search for your name. If you don’t look yourself up on a search engine regularly, you should. Most people who come to your office or business do. However, that’s not enough anymore. If you simply enter your information into a search engine, you are missing out on the most important results. Search engines optimize “official” websites and push forums and blogs toward the bottom of the results. This means that when people do a standard search, your website should be at the top of their results. If your website is not at the top of the results page, there are some simple techniques you can use to improve your search engine ranking. However, your main concern is what your target market thinks about you. You need to use more specific key words to hear what people are saying about you. You need to understand how your target market sees you from their perspective. This includes how they view themselves, your industry, your products or services, your geographic area and your competition.
Research as many specific terms as you can using a variety of search techniques. The general search engine is important, but more specific search engines have become popular. Websites that you wouldn’t consider search engines have integrated that function with their general services. A website like Mapquest which at one time just gave you directions now shows you where to find a variety of products and services. They will even show you where the nearest drycleaner or pediatrician’s office is to your kid’s soccer practice. Other areas you want to search are blogs, forums, news articles and anywhere your target market goes for information. Often these customer reviews rank companies by both location and user rating. If people have a poor opinion of you, you get pushed down in the rankings, even if you are closer to the customer. If you aren’t actively managing your reputation online, it’s easy to turn away potential patients, clients or customers without even knowing it. Whoever you are, you can’t please everyone. With the Internet, negative comments travel faster than ever. The Internet also makes it easier to find out if you have a bad reputation. Before, one unhappy customer would just tell her friends and the bad press wouldn’t go any further. Now unhappy customers are telling their friends on their blogs. Their friends are linking to these blog entries and adding their own comments. Pretty soon, the whole online world knows about your mistake. While the Internet helps you manage expectations and avoid making some mistakes, you will still upset some people. The real power of the Internet is that you can learn when you have upset someone and react quickly. Often, you can resolve a disagreement before it spreads. If you handle the situation well, you can often convert negative comments into positive ones. Even if you can’t make that one person happy, you can convince other people to use your services if they see you making a good faith effort to correct your mistakes or provide additional information about that unique circumstance.
Lesson #2 | Overcoming a Bad First Impression
When people research you online, they are already starting to make up their mind about how they view you. If they decide to visit you in person or talk to you on the phone, they are simply confirming the expectations they created based on their online research. Whether you like it or not, your relationship with your audience starts online.
The purpose of creating a strategy is to think through the process of making someone your friend, starting with their first impressions. In the previous section I showed you how to researched how you discover what their first impression is of you. Now that you know what people see first, let’s think through how you can move beyond first impressions to create a real relationship with your target market. You need to know what your target market thinks about you and your business. For every one person who complains, there are nine people who will simply stop working with you without telling you why. The person who published the negative information did you a favor and is giving you the opportunity to correct their perceptions. When appropriate, work with the people who published this information to create a strategy to correct these negative perceptions. Avoid telling your audience that they’re wrong. Try to understand how their opinion was formed. Try to find out what websites they visited and who they talked to. Use that information to build a better business. The secret is to reach potential customers online while they are making their decision. Help your target market make their decision with objective and informative material. This helps you correct misconceptions before a potential customer comes to see you and makes you an expert in the eyes of your target market. Tip: What happens if you’re not the best writer in the world or just don’t have the time? Hire someone. Many advertising agencies have writers who will write copy for you. You might find that it is cheaper to hire a freelance writer yourself. You can find very good freelance writers at eLance.com. Many of these freelance writers have industry expertise and can help you create compelling copy that is specific to your business.
Lesson #3 | Creating a Good First Impression
Remember, starting a relationship online is very similar to creating a friendship in person. Think about how you meet most of your friends. If you think about it, the secret to starting any relationship with someone you don’t know is to connect with that person through a mutual contact or through a common interest.
Finding Mutual Contacts
Connecting with your target market through mutual contacts should already be part of your sales process. This category includes: word of
mouth referrals, joint promotions with complementary businesses, celebrity endorsements and testimonials. You can use the same techniques online, where you will find they are even more powerful. One of the major reasons people research companies online is they want to know that they can trust you. One of the ways they know they can trust you is social proof. This means that what had been part of your sales pitch offline is now part of their market research. Since people are specifically looking for this information as part of their market research, it makes these marketing techniques that even more powerful online than they are in traditional media. There is a downside to the fact that people are looking for social references for you online. The downside is that they are still looking for that information even if you don’t provide it. When they come across a negative review, it is that much more powerful. Remember that many of the search engines rank you by user rating. By creating a good first impression using referrals, testimonials, celebrity endorsements and business partnerships, you make it easier for people to find you, create a good first impression and neutralize negative reviews.
Finding Common Interests
Connecting with your target market through common interests is a little more difficult, but it is worth the effort. Sharing mutual contacts simply makes you acquaintances. It can help you build initial trust, but doesn’t lead to long term lasting relationships. However, the fact that you and your target market share mutual contacts is a good place to start when looking for common interests. When looking for common interests, you have to be genuine and sincere. People can spot a fake from a mile away. Trying to be someone you’re not is one of the quickest ways to kill a budding relationship. Start by making a list of what interests you, what you are passionate about, and what aspects of your biography others might connect with. It can be helpful to work with people who share your principles but come from a variety of backgrounds so that you can attract a diverse client base. The next step in your self evaluation is to look at the people you spend time with. List the people you work with or who use your services that you really connect with. Try to describe why you connect with them and what you have in common. List the people you admire and what you
admire about them. Once you have made your lists, you have a pretty good idea of areas of interest that you can connect with other people. The next step is to start building connections with people using these areas of interest. Where do you find people who share your interests? Do you remember our “Secrets of Researching Your Reputation Online”? You can use those same techniques to find blogs, websites, forums, newsletters and other online communities of people who share your interests. You can also ask your friends to refer you to websites they use. When you find a community that shares your interests, become a resource within that community. Share your insights and connect them with other information you find online. Try to tie these individual interests to your professional interests. This could mean getting your company to throw an event or have a special promotion just for people who share your personal interests. This helps you create a personal connection, build community and create good will with your market.
Lesson #4 | Managing Good First Impressions
The secret to growing a relationship once you have made a good first impression is to go slow. Having people who share your interests or are enthusiastic about your product or service is exciting and they are a valuable resource. However, you don’t want to kill a budding relationship by being to pushy. Relationships take time to develop. The secret to building a good relationship is to actively listen to the other person. Ask questions. Find our what they like about your products or services and enhance those features. Find out what they dislike about your products and services and do what you can to mitigate or eliminate the features they don’t like. When you come across positive information, find ways to reward the people who published this information. Get testimonials you can show to others in your target market. Enhance the features they like. Find out what they don’t like and what you can do to change. Encourage them to join survey groups. Test out new products, services or up-sells on them. These are your fans. Cultivate them. Get personal. As your relationship develops, learn what people who rely on you hope for, what they fear, and what their personal and professional goals are. Talk to them about ways you might be able to help them achieve their goals and overcome their fears.
Over time, simply being there for your contacts and listening to them can create powerful bonds that no competitor can break. It can also lead to new business opportunities that you never imagined. As your relationships grow and you start adapting your services to better meet their needs, new and complimentary products and services will emerge. They will suggest new markets you might want to go into and your profits will soar.
Lesson #5 | Creating an Online Database
The secret to implementing your strategy online is use tools that are cost effective, professional and which allow you to capture customer information. Even with friends and family, it’s tough to remember important information about them. I know that I need to put reminders in two or three places just to remember birthdays and anniversaries. It’s no different with your target market. Use the same tools you use to communicate with your friends and family to build relationships with your market. Tools you might already use in your personal relationships include email, an address book, a calendar for remembering important dates, and a blog or online diary. An online database is essentially your address book and calendar rolled into one and stored online. A database helps you build deeper relationships and measure the results of your efforts both online and in person. It helps you keep track of dates that are important to your market including birthdays, anniversaries, and deadlines. In addition, having an online database helps you remember your contacts interests. This not only helps you connect better with someone when they come to visit you in person. This also helps you create targeted promotions for specific demographics and track spending habits of groups and individuals. How do you get people into your database? One way is to manually enter in everyone’s information. This is slow and tedious. One of the benefits of the internet is that it allows you to automate the relationship building process. You can get people to enter their information into your database online by having them sign up for events on your website, creating special promotions that requires them to enter their information or give away free materials that are only available to people who sign up. The forms on your website or blog can go directly into your database so that you
can track their interests and spending habits without having to enter this information yourself. The two tools I use for building my own database are Central Desktop and Plaxo. Central Desktop provides easy to use forms that you can connect directly with your website. You create the forms you want and they give you the HTML that you put on your website. When people go to your website and fill out a form, their information goes directly into your Central Desktop database. Your team can then use this information to follow this person as your relationship develops with them, you can assign specific managers who meet that person’s specific needs or geographic location, you can track projects as they develop and make sure that you meet the deadlines you set. Central Desktop is also compatible with Salesforce.com so that information visitors input goes directly into your Customer Relationship Management software. If you don’t use Salesforce.com, you can export this information into a spreadsheet which you can import into the tracking software you already use. Plaxo is a software that lets you track important dates. It reminds me of birthdays and anniversaries and lets me send cards directly to a client’s email address, letting them know that I am thinking about them. Plaxo just helps me be more consistent in my online communications, which is the secret to developing trusting relationships online. The only issue is that you have to upload the information manually. While many people are afraid of having their personal information abused or receiving junk emails, they are still want to be known. Collecting customer information helps you target your efforts better, so you only provide them with the information they need when they need it. Just don’t abuse your visitors trust by selling their information to mass marketing companies. However, all of the software I use and recommend does not allow the buying or selling of personal information. As you get to know your visitors better, continue to update your database. This helps you avoid asking for redundant information, understand your visitors’ needs better, and make sure the information you have is current.
Lesson #6 | Using Email Effectively
The secret to using email effectively is to remember that you are building friendships. Think about how you use email with your friends. You send
them information that you think they can use, you send them things that will make them laugh, you invite them to events, and you make plans with them. You don’t clog their email with how great you are or how low your prices are. By providing useful information, things that make them laugh or invitations to interesting events, they will share your email with friends. Those friends will want to join your list and your list of contacts will grow. Everyone who forwards your email is referring you to a friend. Those referrals build trust and good will. How do you make sure that you are sending useful information? The secret to sending useful information is to keep your emails focused and particular demographics. This means having people ask to receive newsletters that meet their specific interest. The key is to create multiple opt-in pages depending on their interest. An opt-in page is a place where visitors to your website sign up to receive emails from you. Your general email might get sent four times a year, while a more specific email could get sent once a month. If they are really interested in a topic or you are planning a big event, they might sign up to receive emails weekly or even daily. Use common sense. What topics need to be updated weekly, monthly or quarterly? Think about how you interact with your own friends. Who do you talk to a couple times a year? Who do you talk to more frequently? Why? Use the same principles when talking to your market. Don’t bombard people with information that’s useless to them, but give them the information they need when they need it. There are a few companies which provide professional email services at a reasonable price. I use Constant Contact and Aweber. Aweber is better for segregating my contact lists so that people only get the information they’re looking for. However, Constant Contact has more professional looking templates and they’re easier to use. Both offer free trials. Try them out and decide which works best for you.
Lesson #7 | Using Blogs Effectively
A blog (or Web log) is basically an online diary. It helps you keep people updated about your activities and fun things you find online. It lets you respond to events more quickly and build community. If you don’t already have a blog, they’re pretty easy to set up. Blogger and Wordpress
are both free and easy to use. Their templates look professional and it’s pretty easy to manage your traffic using them. There are two secrets to effective blogging. The first is that you should always be in dialogue with other people. Your blog entries should be in response to other blogs, relevant news articles, forums, events, and other similar content. This creates community, attracts people who engage that content, and builds credibility. The four benefits of creating a dialogue are creating community around your product or service, getting free content from other providers, getting a higher ranking on search engines, and leveraging the reputation of more established people or groups. How does this work? By connecting people to other groups and other sources of information, they are coming into contact with other people who share their interests. This contact helps builds community. You are then seen as someone who is part of a broader community, which builds trust with your audience. By linking to other content providers and commenting on their content, it saves you from having to constantly create your own content. You can find an interesting article online, link to it, explain in a paragraph why it caught your attention and there’s your entry for the day. Linking to other content providers also helps you leverage their contact lists, pushing your content up higher on search engines. As people look for similar content, your blog entries will appear in search engines. When people click on your blog for more information, this increases the number of visitors to your blog and increases your ranking. You also leverage credibility of the content providers you link to. Your name will become associated with high quality information providers. While it’s not a direct endorsement, linking to people with good reputations also creates a link in the mind of the audience. At some point, if you are consistently driving traffic to news sources, you will catch their attention. They will see that a large number of links are coming from you. This traffic drives their ad revenue and their rankings. This can lead to building a good rapport with these content providers and could lead to an endorsement of your product or service. Don’t count on this potential benefit, but it is a nice bonus if it happens. The second secret is that the information you provide should be valuable. We covered this a little bit in the section on email, so I won’t go into it too much here. I just want to remind you that people primarily go online
for information. The information they find helps them make up their minds about what actions they take. Don’t waste your audience’s time with information that isn’t relevant to their situation. They will quickly turn you off and shut you out of the sales process. If you give away valuable information, they will assume that what you are selling is even more valuable, you will establish credibility and when they come into your place of business, getting them to take your advice will be much easier.
Lesson #8 | How These Tools Work Together
The main challenge is coordinating these various systems. When you are able to get them working together seamlessly, you can easily optimize your online presence without wasting time or money. If you don’t have a strategy for coordinating these systems, you can very easily waste both time and money, taking away valuable resources from more important areas of your business. Each business is different and you have to find out what works for your business. Finding a system that works for you will take time and patience. Your website should be the anchor of your online presence. You don’t want to change it too frequently. It should state your mission, your main products, who you are and how to contact you. You should also have ways to gather visitor information and automatically enter it into your database. You can do this by linking your “contact us” or “events” page to your Central Desktop database. You should also encourage people to sign up for your email newsletter on your website. There should also be a place for people to sign up for your newsletter, events or to contact you by creating special incentives. When clients enter their information, they are often directed to a “thank you” page. On this page, you can add special offers that appeal to your target market. It might be a special discount or a free eBook or MP3, depending on your industry. Your database is what drives sales. Central Desktop is connected with Salesforce.com, one of the most popular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs. Once people are entered into your CRM module, it is easy to track them, assign sales people to them, find out how much they spend and target your efforts to their needs. Everything you do should be geared toward capturing customer information in your database.
Your blog and email newsletter are two powerful ways to get people to enter their information into your database. You should use them as essentially one tool. Have visitors sign up on your website to receive newsletters on specific topics that interest them. As you write blog entries, send out emails to people interested in those topics informing them about that this valuable information has been posted on your blog and provide links directing them to those entries.
Lesson #9 | Maintaining a Good Reputation
The secret to maintaining a good reputation online is to listen to your audience, build strong relationships and be consistent. I can’t emphasize these three principles enough. I think we’ve covered the first two principles pretty thoroughly. Consistency is the final key. Keep researching your reputation online consistently. I recommend that you check your reputation once a week. That way you can react quickly, if there are negative comments. You don’t want to wait two months and have four pages of negative comments be on the top of your search results. Also, be consistent in your message to your audience. We didn’t cover this much before, but every email you send out says something about who you are. Try to make that part of your overall persona. When you reveal something new, make sure that it fits with what you already told them about yourself. The secret to being consistent in your persona is to first know yourself. Make sure what your saying about yourself is in fact true to who you are. Then be deliberate in what you reveal about yourself. Remember, when you are building a friendship, you don’t reveal your deepest thoughts and secrets first. You first connect with them over common friends and interests. Let the relationship build before you reveal other facets of your personality. Finally, be consistent in your delivery. There is no one right system. Try out a few methods for communicating your message. Once you find a system that works for you, use it again and again. If people expect an email from you every Tuesday, make sure you send an email every Tuesday. Even if you don’t make explicit promises, you create implied expectations in how you deliver your message. While it’s important to consistently deliver on your explicit promises, it’s just as important to consistently deliver on the expectations you implicitly create.
Before reading this book, you may have known that you needed to improve your online presence but have not known what to do. This system gives you a new way of relating to your audience. After reading this book, I hope you feel empowered to take control of your reputation online. Once you get comfortable using these tools to improve your online reputation, you will realize that you can use these tools to develop better relationships in every aspect of your business. You can use these tools to expand your line of products and services, develop new markets, create online events and develop special promotions. When you see beyond your own doors, the possibilities are endless. Remember that your audience wants to help you. They benefit by telling you what they want. They may want expanded services, or a pricing structure that better fits their needs. Don’t be offended if your audience asks for change. This is an opportunity for you to grow. Small changes in your business can lead to big results.
Checklists & Worksheets
Checklist # 1
1. Go to your favorite search engine. If you don’t have one, I recommend you use http://www.Google.com. I also like http://www.Ask.com. 2. Search under these terms: Your name The products you offer Your competitors Your location Your company’s name The services you offer Your target demographic * Brainstorm as many keywords as you can that might apply to your business for a more complete view of your market.
3. Search for the above terms in a map function, like Google Maps or Mapquest. Enter the above terms and your general location. 4. Search for the above terms with the term “forum”. Example (Scion forum). 5. Search for the above terms using a blog search. Ask.com and Google both have powerful blog search engines. 6. What did you find? Make a chart with the keywords listed on the left hand side of the page with what your search revealed to the right. 7. Depending on the volume of people you see, repeat this search weekly or monthly. The more people you see, the more frequently you want to research your reputation. The reason for this is that you want to be able to react quickly to comments online. The more people you see, the more opportunities there are for negative or positive comments.
Searched Under Keyword Your Name: *General search *Map search *Blog search *Forum search Your Company: *General search *Map search *Blog search *Forum search Your Products or Services: *General search *Map search *Blog search *Forum search Your Competitors: *General search *Map search *Blog search *Forum search Your Target Audience: *General search *Map search *Blog search *Forum search Other Keywords: Positive Comments Negative Comments Indifferent
1. Review the checklist from chapter #2. about you? Where are they saying it? What are people saying
2. Create a chart showing where you need to overcome a bad reputation, where you have to establish a reputation and where you have a good reputation. 3. If you have a bad reputation, what caused it? Can you correct it? How can you let those you upset know that you corrected the action or why the situation exists in the first place? 4. If you don’t have any presence online, how can you connect with your current contacts online? What interests do you share with them? What interests do they share with the market you want to reach? How can you engage them in those interests online? 5. If you have established a good first impression with your target audience, how can you grow those relationships? What rewards or incentives can you offer? How can you give them your attention? What insights can you share with them? 6. Create a list of actions you can take today to start improving your reputation and strengthening your relationships online today. What will it take to implement them? 7. If you just followed the checklists from Chapters 2 &3, you should be well on your way to creating a better reputation online. Keep following these simple steps every week or month, depending on the schedule you set for yourself.
Positive Comments Who made the comments? Negative Comments Indifferent
Where did they say it?
What actions can you take?
What would be required to take those actions?
How can you let your audience know you have taken those actions? How can you continue your relationship with the people who made the comments?
1. Find a website developer, email newsletter service, blog service and an online database. I use and recommend Network Solutions for your website, Constant Contact or Aweber for your email newsletter, Wordpress for your blog and Central Desktop for your online database. They are affordable and make a good first impression. 2. Follow the directions provided by each service to set up your accounts. 3. Highlight the action steps you listed in your Chapter #3 Checklist. Rewrite them on a separate piece of paper. 4. Identify which communication method works best for you. Think about how you naturally communicate with your own friends online. 5. Write down how you can use the tool you are most comfortable with to take the action steps you identified in your Chapter #3 Checklist. If you can’t use your primary method, identify secondary methods for achieving those goals. 6. Arrange these four services to drive the most traffic to your primary method of communication and capture visitor information. Put a place to sign up for your newsletter on the front page of your website. Set up an “Events” page that lists upcoming events with a sign up form which feeds to your database. Also create a “Free Reports” page which requires visitors to submit their information before they are given access to your free report. Use your blog and newsletter to drive traffic to your website. 7. Identify which actions are one time events and which need to be repeated. Start planning a regular schedule for updating your website, posting to your blog, and sending your email newsletter. The method you are most comfortable using should be the one you use most regularly.
Worksheet for Checklist #3
Action Step Action #1 Blog Entry Email Website Change
Frequency Action #2
Frequency Action #3
Frequency Action #4
Frequency Action #5
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