The Time Saving Tools & Apps Every Small Business Owner Needs

The Time Saving Tools & Apps Every Small Business Owner Needs

When you’re a kid, it can feel like time is stretched out, never-ending, slow like honey. Especially when you’re grounded or waiting for school to end. But as adults, we don’t have that problem. Time just flies. That’s especially true for business owners, who have the herculean task of getting three days worth of work done in a single 24 hour period.

It would be a lot cooler if we were here to share a time-slowing or stopping secret with you — and if we did, this post would probably go viral — but we’re realists. We know we can’t alter our reality or yours, but we can certainly make use of time-saving tools, tactics, and apps to make it seem like we’re slowing and stretching time. And that’s good enough for us.

So what are some of the best time-saving tools, tactics, and apps for business owners?

Managing your business & your customer data

Running a business is never easy, but with the right CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, it can be easier. Tools like Housecall Pro and Jobber allow you to easily manage your team, send quotes, schedule, send invoices, and get paid. Both also sync with Quickbooks, saving you the extra step of adding the numbers after a job is done. If you’re ready to save hundreds of hours and free up some time, you need a good CRM, so check these guys out.

Keeping your eyes on the numbers

Every growing business needs accounting software that will grow with it. That’s where Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and other similar tools come in. Easily track income and expenses, send estimates, send invoices and accept payments, organize receipts, manage bills, track time, and more. If you’ve been living spreadsheet to spreadsheet, save yourself time and headache by switching to accounting software. Plans are affordable and there’s something for every business, regardless of size.

Managing company files, data, and SOPs, while using a professional company email address

GSuite is Google’s solution to data and storage management, but it also allows you to create multiple “@yourcompany.com” email addresses so any customer-facing employees can send professional looking emails to customers (for example, you@yourcompany.com or sales@yourcompany.com). You can also create group mailing lists, manage mobile devices (even erase data), and store important company documents that your team needs access to on the go.

Communicating with your team

Communication only gets harder with each employee added, but with the right tools, team communication can be simplified. Need to alert your whole team to a change or issue or create specific groups? Even if you’re out on the job and don’t have time to take off your gloves and type it all up, there are ways to get the message out there to everyone you need to communicate with. For text-based communication, there are apps like Slack and GroupMe, and for voice-based communication with the option for text, try Voxer. All three allow you to share photos and videos and communicate with groups or individuals, but Voxer and GroupMe also allow you to share your location, which is a bonus for service area businesses.

Managing HR & benefits

Everyone knows HR can be a real headache, and the more employees you have, the harder things get. But with GoCo, an all-in-one HR platform, it’s easy to manage payroll, time off, benefits, etc. You’ll have all of your employee information in one place, and there’s even a built-in compliance component so you know your butt is covered.

Managing team and personal tasks, lists, and projects

No one wants to micromanage, but every business owner wants to know what’s getting done, when, and by whom. That’s where project management platforms like Trello, Wunderlist, Teamwork, and Monday come in. Trello allows you to create boards, lists, and cards, and is great for visualizing where you are in a process and what’s next. Wunderlist is great for creating and assigning lists and tasks, and setting reminders for yourself or others. You can also add due dates, comments, and tags. With Teamwork, you can create projects, assign and check off tasks, comment, and view workflow by individual, due date, and project. You can also set it up so that email notifications go out to the responsible individual every time a task is assigned to them. Monday is similar, but what makes this great is that you can view things six different ways, so no matter how you prefer to conceptualize projects in your mind, Monday can accommodate.

The best news? All of these platforms are accessible from your phone, desktop, or tablet, so no matter where you are, you can see what’s going on and what needs to be done.

Managing your time

Need to buckle down and spend some time in the office? Wondering how long your day-to-day tasks take? While some of the tools we’ve already listed have time-tracking features, if you’re looking for a tool that does that and that alone, try Pomodoro Tracker, Tomato Timers, Toggl, or TomatoTimer. All of these apps are based on the Pomodoro Technique for productivity, and break down work into intervals with short breaks. Great for hunkering down, focusing, and getting higher-quality work done. Plus, they help you get an idea of how long each task takes, so you can better plan and schedule in the future.

Managing social posts

A lot of business owners hate the social media aspect of business management, but you’ve got to be where people are looking and engage with your customers and potential customers. That means you need to be regularly posting on the social media channels that make sense for your business.

But figuring out what you’re going to post on social and making sure it gets scheduled and posted doesn’t have to be super time-consuming. Tools like Canva make it easy to create graphics and find photos for social posts, and Hootsuite and Buffer make scheduling, posting, and analyzing performance/engagement simple and fast. So if you’ve been overwhelmed trying to manage social media in-house, rest assured, there’s help.

Managing trip details and hotel arrangements for conventions, expos, and that dream vacay

The devil’s in the details, and whether you’re trying to keep track of your own travel arrangements or the arrangements of several people from your team, it’s easy to miss something, lose something, and get overwhelmed. Take the stress out of things by using a tool like Tripit. Simply forward all of your booked arrangements to plans@tripit.com and receive a master itinerary that’s accessible from any device. The pro version even allows you to receive real-time flight alerts, locate alternate flights, find out if a better seat is available, get fare refund notifications, share plans, and track rewards. Forget about printing all the details and fumbling through your bag to find the information you need. Keep it all together with Tripit.

Managing your knowledge and growth

As a business owner, it can be hard to find the time to invest in learning and growing as an individual and a leader on top of everything else. And it can also be hard to ask your team to invest in growth when they already have packed schedules. But thanks to podcasts and apps like Audible, it’s easy to learn and grow on the go.

Driving to or from a job? Sitting in traffic? You and your team can make use of this otherwise wasted time by listening to an audiobook or podcast and adding to your knowledge. Now, there are no more excuses for why you didn’t finish that business book. You can even pay for Audible memberships for employees as incentives!

Managing follow-ups and open estimates

While CRMs like Housecall Pro and Jobber can help you send invoices and quotes, you still have to manually take care of the follow-up. That means either setting aside time every week to go through the stack of open estimates, make calls, and send emails, or just hoping that anyone who’s interested will eventually call to schedule. Neither is a very good option, and you could end up leaving some big money on the table if you’re doing things that way.

Closing Commander is a system that automatically follows up with every customer you add up to 7 times, and makes it easy to track opens, responses, and won bids all in one dashboard. The best part? All emails come from and go to your business email address, so nothing looks automated or spammy, and you won’t miss a single message. Save time, close more estimates, and know the follow-up is getting done.

Now Go Forth & Save Time

Well, that about wraps it up! We could, of course, make this list longer, but this is all about time-savings, so why would we? Thanks for sticking it out with us, and let us know in the comments what your favorite time-saving tools and tactics are!

SEO: When To Hire & When To Do It Yourself

SEO: When To Hire & When To Do It Yourself

SEO, or search-engine-optimization, is brilliantly simple or surprisingly complex, depending on who you ask. Some people make sweeping promises and guarantee dreamy results, while others won’t make promises at all.

So what’s the deal, who’s right? And who should you trust your SEO to? Should you do it yourself in-house or hire an individual or company to do it for you? To find out, let’s look at what SEO is at its most basic, and what it takes to really do it right.

What Is SEO & Why Is It Important?

What is SEO? SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” and in a sentence, it’s the work that goes into making sure your website and brand will show up in search engine results.

There are a few reasons why SEO should matter to you.

  • Even with Google Local Service Ads, Google Ads, and other paid search options, organic search still garners the most clicks, which means that’s still where people are looking. Without an optimized website, you won’t have much of a chance of showing up in organic search (outside of directory sites).
  • SEO helps establish your business as a credible, trustworthy entity. The more Google trusts your site, the more confident it will be in showing it to those searching for the services or products you offer.
  • A well-optimized website will always provide a better user experience. When searchers find your website to be fast-loading, attractive, useful, easy to navigate, and helpful, Google takes notice, and over time, rewards you for that in search.
  • The world wide web is a BIG place with so much to sift through. Local SEO can help those near you who are looking for the services or products you offer find you faster and with less effort, which means more business for you. If finding your business online is like finding a needle in a haystack, who’s going to bother?

In other words, SEO can help or hurt your business.

Ok, so SEO matters. But is it something you have to outsource or is it something you can do yourself?

Doing SEO Yourself: What’s Involved & What Are The Biggest Considerations & Challenges?

If you’re considering doing your SEO yourself in-house, keep in mind that time is going to be the biggest challenge. Unfortunately, SEO isn’t a once and done thing; it’s something that requires ongoing attention and ongoing effort. There are monthly, bi-monthly, and sometimes daily tasks that need to be done — and on top of the work, you need to stay up-to-date on any Google, Yelp, Bing, etc. changes to algorithms and rules.

Not only will you need to know when the changes occurred, but you’ll need to fully understand what those changes mean for you and if/how they’ll impact your business. This usually means a lot of reading, so you’ll want to subscribe to daily newsletters from search engine digests, and possibly spend hours watching Google hangouts with John Mueller.

As you probably already know, Google and other big players aren’t always transparent about what they’re doing or why, so it’s also a good idea to spend some time reading about what other people in the industry are noticing and predicting, so you’re not completely taken by surprise when big changes hit, new features pop up, or old favorites disappear.

Having other eyes on the landscape can be really helpful, especially when you’re doing it yourself. After all, you only have so many hours in the day!

You’ll also likely need to invest in tools to help and to save you some time. There are all kinds of tools out there, like keyword research tools and rank trackers, some paid, some free. We’ll share some tools with you as they relate to the tasks we’re tackling below.

First Things First

Before you can really dive into some of the ongoing SEO work, you have to start with the basics: a website. If you don’t have a website, you don’t have anything to really show up in search results, aside from listings and citations on niche sites and directory sites.

We recommend starting with a website before creating listings and citations, because you’ll want to include your website URL on the listing sites/directory sites, and if you don’t have a website yet, you’ll have to go back in and add that later. Start by creating a well-optimized, mobile-friendly website, and save yourself a step.

Alright, on to some website basics. Your website needs to:

  • Be well-designed, user-friendly, and easy to navigate.
  • Look good on mobile, desktop, and tablet devices.
  • Include your services, phone number, address (if applicable), and the location you’re optimizing for.
  • Include internal links that make navigating the site easy and show Google what pages are most important.
  • Have high-quality, optimized images.
  • Have optimized headings, title tags, and meta descriptions.
  • Include relevant Schema markup.
  • Include content that contains the keywords you want to rank for and is informative and helpful.

Content Tips:

When writing your website, be sure to avoid what’s known as “thin” content or “duplicate” content.  

  • Duplicate content is content that’s unoriginal. You may have taken it from another website or publication or from another page on your own website.
  • Thin content is content that doesn’t really say anything worthwhile and isn’t worthy of a page on your website. If you only have one or two sentences on a page, that’s probably going to be marked as “thin” content.

Make sure the content on every single page of your website is unique and that every single page provides value and serves a purpose. While there aren’t direct “penalties” for duplicate or thin content, both can negatively impact your rankings because of how Google handles them.

For example, with duplicate content, Google will try to determine what the original source is (or what URL has the most authority), and will show that one in search results, but not all the others. The reason for this is that the algorithm doesn’t want to show the same results multiple times. So if you’ve taken content from a bigger, more authoritative site, that site will show up in search, not yours. And if you’ve taken content from one of your other site pages, only one of those pages will likely show up in search for that query.

If your website content is deemed “thin,” Google will know your site isn’t likely to provide much value or be what searchers are looking for, and won’t show it as a top search result. Likewise, you’ll have a lower chance of showing up for specific keywords, because you’ll have so little content and keywords on your site.

Speaking of content and keywords, how do you identify what keywords to include on your site and what content you need? Well, listening to your customers and how they talk about their needs as they relate to your services is a good place to start. You can also use tools.

  • When it comes to keyword research, one of our favorite free tools is Answer the Public, but there are also others, like the Google Keyword Planner and SEMrush.
  • For content analysis, you can use Google Search Console or Google Analytics to look at page metrics. Are pages underperforming? You may need to add some more content or optimize the content you have.
  • When looking for questions to answer in the content of your website, take advantage of autocomplete. If you don’t have a tool like Rank Tracker, which shows you autocomplete keyword results for big players like Google, Bing, and Amazon, you can always do it the old fashioned (free) way. Just open up your browser, go to Google, Bing, Amazon, etc., type in a keyword, and see what pops up.

Google-Autofill-Why-Is-My-Fireplace

  • One great thing about Google is that they also have a PAA  “People also ask” section, which allows you to easily identify questions related to your search query, so you can answer those questions in your content as well.PAA - Google-People-Also-Ask-Screenshot

Some other great places to look for questions to answer in your content are:

  • Quora, Reddit, and forums/threads
  • YouTube
  • Blogs
  • FB groups

Once you have your website live and optimized, and you’re sure it’s properly indexed and crawl-able, you’ll want to create citations for your company across the web. Essentially what that means is that you want to make sure that your company name, address, and phone number (NAP) are listed on industry specific sites, directory sites (like Yelp), and other relevant places where customers might be searching. You’ll also want to create, claim, and optimize your Google My Business listing.

Tip: Make sure that you’re consistent every time you add your NAP, because consistency helps build Google’s confidence in the accuracy of your information. The more confident they are, the more likely they’ll be to put that information in front of searchers.

Ongoing Tasks To Schedule

If you’ve made it this far, way to go! But remember, SEO doesn’t end with creating a website and adding your NAP where relevant. It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it thing. Your website and NAP are only part of the equation, and there’s still work to be done.

So what are some tasks you’ll need to make time for on a bi-monthly or monthly basis if you do SEO in-house? While this list is by no means comprehensive, it’s a good start:

Check your GMB (Google My Business) profile for any updates, improvements, or changes.

Your GMB profile is what shows up on the right hand side of search results when someone searches for your business in Google. Here’s what our GMB profile looks like in search results:

Spark-Marketer-Google-My-Business-Profile-Screenshot

What kind of changes could you expect to see to your GMB profile? Recently, there was a bug that allowed competitors to go in and change the open date of a business to a date in the future. By doing this, these individuals effectively had the business’s GMB listing completely removed from search results.

If you aren’t regularly checking on your GMB listing, you might not even realize that your GMB listing is missing, because Google doesn’t send notifications of these changes. And that could potentially mean A LOT of lost business.

Do rank checks and look for any changes.

Rankings aren’t everything, but you do need to know where/if you’re showing up in search results. It’s important to do this on a regular basis because rankings can change.

Did you suddenly drop from position 2 to position 11 in organic search results? It’s time to do some investigative work. What’s changed? Was it something on your website or was it something Google or a competitor did? What do you need to do to see your rankings improve? It may take some time to figure out the answer to this, but it’s well worth it! And while you’re investigating, remember that rankings can vary depending on the location of the searcher, as well as other factors, so don’t think it’s something that’s always the same for everyone.

Tool tip: You can track your rankings by searching for your business in Google using incognito mode. You may also want to invest in SEO tools from BrightLocal, which allow you to track rankings, audit citations, and do a whole host of other necessary tasks.

Do analytics checks.

Who’s coming to your site? How are they finding you? Have there been any recent spikes or drops in traffic? What caused it?

A big drop in traffic could be caused by a number of different things. When you notice big changes, it’s important to take the time to dig deep and figure out what’s behind the drop. Knowing will allow you to react faster and make any changes you need to make before there’s a significant impact on your business.

But analytics checks don’t just alert you to bad news! Did you have a big spike in traffic after posting a new blog post? Great! Now you know what types of content and topics are bringing you the most traffic, so you can create more content like that. But if you never take the time to look at the analytics, you’ll never know these things!

Tool tip: Google Analytics is a great tool to use for this task.

Check & update plugins.

If you have plugins on your website, like Yoast (a social plugin), you’ll need to regularly check them for any updates, issues, or improvements. Too many plugins/outdated plugins can slow down your site and cause issues, so it’s important that this be a routine check. The best way to do this is to log in to your website. WordPress and other platforms like it will normally alert you if updates are needed.

Do backlink checks.

Backlinks are links that are coming to your site from another website, and these can have a positive or negative impact on your rankings. High-quality links can improve your authority and give you a bit of a rankings boost, but not all links are good links to have. If you’re being linked to by spammy sites, those low-quality links may do you more harm than good. You’ll want to have any questionably links removed so Google doesn’t think you’re crap, just because the sites linking to you are.

Tool tip: For backlink checks, there are helpful tools out there like Majestic, Search Console, and SEO Spyglass.

Do page speed checks.

When a website takes longer than 3 seconds to load, most of us just hit the convenient back arrow and find a different website that won’t waste our time. Does that mean your website needs to be lightning fast? Probably not, because most aren’t. But you do need to make sure it’s not unbearably slow.

It doesn’t matter how great your website is if no one stays long enough to see it. So perform regular page speed checks. If your site takes too long to load, you may need to optimize your images, get rid of some plugins, or otherwise lighten the load.

Tool tip: To keep an eye on page speed, use the Google Page Speed Insight Tool or webpagetest.org.

Create & schedule blog posts.

Blog posts are a great way to educate your customers, answer their questions, and improve your chances of showing up in search results for the topics surrounding your product or service. Why? Because it increases the keywords you rank for. But, like everything else, creating and scheduling blog posts takes time.

There are differing opinions on how frequently you should post on your website’s blog, but the most important thing to remember is to be consistent. If you can post once a month consistently, then do that. If you can post more frequently, do that. Just make sure your blog posts are valuable and not just thin-content that Google will quickly identify as pointless.

And, once you’ve published your new blog post, make sure to promote it a little. For example, you may want to share it on your company’s Facebook page or LinkedIn page to get it out in front of your audience.

Tool tip: Tools like HooteSuite and Buffer can make it easy to share your new blog posts to your social media profiles.

Check and respond to reviews.

Just about everyone in every age group is looking at your reviews to see what others are saying and how you’re responding. So you need to keep a close eye on your Google, Yelp, and Facebook reviews.

When negative reviews come in, you need to respond to them, and try to take those conversations offline so you can make things right. When positive reviews come in, you need to respond to those, too, and let your customers know you appreciate their business and the time they took to leave you a review. You should be set up to get notifications when a review is left, so this shouldn’t be as tricky to stay on top of as some other ongoing tasks may be.

That’s not everything, but if you can do all that, you’ll be doing alright. But what if you don’t have the time or resources to commit to doing SEO yourself?

Hiring Someone To Do Your SEO: What To Consider, What To Look For & What To Avoid

Ok, so maybe you’re leaning towards hiring someone. First things first: should you hire a company or a person?

Well, remember all the time and effort that can be required on an ongoing basis. Ask yourself, “Is that something one person can handle, especially if they have other clients?” Sometimes it’s better to go with a company because they have more eyes on the landscape, more tools, and more time and resources to dedicate to your SEO success. But that doesn’t mean all companies are a good choice.

Some will assign you an account manager who has more than 100 clients and can’t possibly give you much attention. In that case, how is hiring a company any better for you than hiring an individual? Well, it’s not. So take the time to consider the time involved and the client load of the individual or company account manager before making a decision.

What else should you do when vetting an SEO vendor?

Ask them questions.

You may feel like you don’t have the technical knowledge to really ask the right questions, but there are some simple ones that should help you determine if the SEO vendor you’re looking at is up to snuff.

  1. One question you’ll definitely want to ask is if a mobile-friendly website is important. If they say “No,” keep looking. It’s 2019 and more than half of all searches are done on mobile devices. If an SEO vendor doesn’t think having a mobile-friendly website that performs well is important, they don’t know what they’re talking about.
  2. If the company will be creating a website for you and buying a domain name on your behalf, ask them if you’ll have full ownership of that site and the domain name, even if your relationship with them ends. The last thing you want is to lose your website and your domain just because you decide that the SEO company that built your website isn’t a good long-term fit.
  3. Another question to ask is what they do for their customers. They should be able to provide you with something more than general statements. Any SEO worth their weight has actionable items and tasks they perform on behalf of their clients in order to really move the needle. If you ask and they can’t really answer you or don’t make any sense, they’re probably not the company for you.

Psst. Steer clear of any companies making promises or guarantees about results or time frames. They’re lying to you. And definitely avoid anyone who buys reviews or links.

Do some research.

When looking for an SEO vendor, take some time to vet them the way your customers vet you.

  • Look at their website. Is it HTTPS? The move from HTTP to HTTPS has been an important message from Google for years, so if an SEO vendor you’re looking at hasn’t made the move, they’re not on their A game. Look for someone else.
  • Take a look at their reviews. A company will always put themselves in the best light, but if you want an idea of what they’re really like to work with, look at what others are saying. Head to Google or Facebook and see what you can find. What are recurrent themes? Do people praise their communication? Do people warn against working with them because they lock them into contracts that are nearly impossible to get out of? Sift through the reviews and see what you can find.
  • Are they local? By local, we don’t mean near you, we mean in the country you work in. Why does locality matter? Because you need your SEO team to be there when you need them, and if they’re 12 hours ahead of you, that could be a problem. But don’t get so obsessed with locality that you’ll only hire someone in your city. There may be companies that are an hour ahead or an hour behind you, but will provide you with far better service than the ones nearest your business.
  • Are they quoting a significantly lower price than everyone else? Price will always be a factor when you’re outsourcing work, because you only have so much money to dedicate to things like SEO. But for the sake of your business, don’t go out and find the cheapest company you can find. You usually get what you pay for. If someone is quoting far less than everyone else, there’s usually a good reason.

And lastly, trust your gut.

Your SEO vendor should be a partner that really helps you achieve your business goals faster and with greater ease. But working with the wrong company can be incredibly frustrating, costly, and wasteful. Take some time to feel it out and get to know them a little. If what they’re saying sounds too good to be true, they seem sleazy, or you just get a bad feeling about working with them, keep looking. In this case, you’re better off waiting for the right fit than hiring the wrong one.

Are we a match made in heaven? Check out our reviews and schedule a call with Chris. He’s a nice guy and he won’t try to convince you we’re right for you if we’re not.

5 Tips For Coming Up With Blog Post Topics When You’re All Out Of Ideas

5 Tips For Coming Up With Blog Post Topics When You’re All Out Of Ideas

If you’re like a lot of other business owners, you know that blogging can be good for business, but you hate trying to come up with topics. Trust me, I know the feeling. Sometimes, it feels like there’s nothing else to talk about. After all, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” right?

But there are some tried and true ways to get inspiration and come up with topics when you feel like the well has dried up. Here are some of my personal favorites:

#1 Listen to your customers.

One of the very best ways to come up with blog post topics is to listen to your customers. What are they saying? What do they ask about, again and again? What issues are they dealing with?

Here at Spark Marketer, we have a weekly chat where we share what our clients have been asking about or talking about, as well as any issues that have come up throughout the week.

Every topic and issue gets added to a spreadsheet that we can all access, add to, and pull from, which is great because it reveals themes and provides insight to those of us who don’t get to have regular conversations with clients.

Knowing what our clients are dealing with, asking about, and talking about, enables me to write (hopefully) helpful content that’s relevant to what they’re going through. So, yes, it’s altruistic. But, the bonus is, it provides me with a wealth of blog post ideas. It’s how I came up with this one!

Don’t ignore the wealth of ideas in the conversations you have with your customers. After all, they’re the very people you should be writing for!

#2 Use Google autofill & “people also ask.”

Google makes it kind of easy for you to “listen in” using autofill and “people also ask” in search results. All you have to do is start typing in a word or sentence, say, “Why is my fireplace,” for example, and see what autofill comes up with. There, you’ll find out how people are finishing that sentence and just what people are asking.

When you type a question into Google and press enter, you’ll also notice that Google shows a few related questions in the search results, under the title “People also ask.” This is great for finding related topics to write about or other questions to answer within that same blog post. It’s like a free look inside the minds of those searching for topics, services, and products you deal with. Creepy, but helpful.

#3 Check out Answer the Public.

Answer the Public is a pretty great tool that allows you to type a keyword or topic into a search bar and come out on the other side with a whole host of related questions people are asking on the web. It’s a great way of expanding your ideas when all you have in mind is a general topic or keyword. Plus, the guy on the home page is pretty entertaining, in a judgmental kind of way.

Here’s an example of how the questions are organized. The results below are for the keyword “fireplace.” Check it out.

#4 Spy on Quora.

If you can get past the fact that people ask some of the dumbest questions possible on Quora, you’ll find that it’s sometimes a good way to see what good questions are being asked about a particular topic. It’s also a great way to see what kinds of answers people are getting, so you know what misinformation and misconceptions to address in your blog posts. You can choose topics that interest you and Quora will send you emails when related questions are asked, or you can just go to Quora and start looking around. But brace yourself. Like I said, some of the questions are ludicrous, and you’ll spend a few minutes just wondering how these people have made it this far in life.

#5 Keep your eyes and ears open.

A lot of times, topics will come to mind and inspiration will strike in the strangest of places, so keep your eyes and ears open. If you’re a local service business, as painful as it can be sometimes, watch the local news. Are there reports of consumer fraud in your industry? Maybe you need to do a post on what to look for when hiring a company that provides the services you offer. Are there certain products you use to do your job that provide a better value for the homeowner? Maybe it’s time to showcase those in a blog post. Maintain a curious mind, keep your eyes and ears open, and you’ll come up with ideas. The more accustomed you get to thinking outside the box, the easier it will be to find inspiration.

Well, I hope you find these helpful. Now that I’ve shared some of my favorites, I’d love to know how you come up with blog post ideas. Let me know in the comments!

The Secret To A Better Website

In my time here at Spark Marketer, I’ve written website content for over 100 chimney sweeps. In other words, if there were an award for “most chimney-related websites written,” I’d quietly (okay, okay, and proudly) accept it.

You may think that writing a website for the same type of company only gets easier with time and experience, and while that is true to some extent, it also gets harder.

Woman-With-Messy-Hair-Thinking-Next-To-Typewriter

Me, only prettier and with messier hair.

Why is that?

Well, I’m always trying to find new ways to write about the very same things: chimneys and all the maintenance, repair, and restoration services that go along with them. And the truth is — I’m usually working with the same exact information, nothing more.

But who cares? If you know the topic, writing the site should be easy, right? Yes, and no.

I’ve sat in on CSIA certification trainings and classes. I’ve spent so much time on chimney product websites that ads for chimney caps show up on every one of my personal devices. I’ve spent more time secretly judging people who fire up their fireplaces without scheduling an annual inspection than I’d like to admit. But none of that knowledge helps me when it comes to making your business stand out. To do that, I need information that only you can provide.

Trust me, I have more dictionaries, thesauruses, and creativity fostering books in my office than I have fingers. But fancier adjectives don’t make for higher on-site conversions: interesting stories and customized information do. And in order to communicate your interesting and unique story and really show your customers who you are as a company, I need your help.

So, what types of things should you share with me or whoever will be writing your website? Great question! Here are a few things that should get you started:

  1. The Basics. Let’s start with the basics. Let the writer working on your website know when your business was founded, how long you’ve been in the industry, what certifications your team has, what groups and associations you’re a member of, what products you use, and what services you provide. These are all things that matter to and build authority with your customers, and they’re all things that should be on your website.
  2. The Bios. Without bios, you’re just another faceless company in a sea of chimney sweeps. So please, send me some bios! Not just the bio of the business owner, but the bios of your employees as well. After all, these are the people who will be serving your customers, and they’re the people your customers care most about. They want to know who will be coming into their homes, what kind of people they are, if they have families, etc. Share qualifications, yes, but also share things that aren’t related to work; things that show the humanity of your team and make you relatable and likable to customers and potential customers. People do business with people they like, so give them a reason to like and trust you by properly introducing yourself.
  3. FAQs. A lot of companies simply copy the FAQ pages of other companies, and while looking at others in your industry can provide a good guide, go further than that. Talk with your techs and customer service representatives to find out what questions your customers frequently ask. Then share that information with me. This will allow me to think of ways to provide value on your website and address the hesitations, concerns, and obstacles of your customers before they even call you. If your website is a helpful resource for those searching for the services you offer, you’ll have their trust, and they’ll be more likely to call you when they’re ready to schedule an appointment.
  4. The Details. Let’s say you offer the same 15 services as your top competitors. When a potential customer sees those 15 services on your website and on your biggest competitors’ sites, how will they determine who is the best choice? The best way to win here is to differentiate yourself on your service pages, not just on your About page — and in order to do that, I need to know how you’re different and what’s important to you. By providing me with the details, you’ll equip me to answer the questions your customers may have about how those services are performed or why/when they’re needed. I’ll be better able to address the things that matter to your customers, like cleanliness, punctuality, etc., and communicate that you care about the same things they care about. Tip: If you’re not sure what they care about, check your reviews and the reviews of your competitors. You’ll definitely find some hidden gems there. You can also ask your customers!

Together, We Can Make You Stand Out

Chances are, your competitors have websites, and the more competitive your market, the more crowded the search results will be for someone looking for the services you provide. Make yourself and your website stand out by partnering with your marketing company and providing them with the info they need to really differentiate you and tell your story.

And quick note:  just because I’m using our chimney clients as an example, don’t think this information doesn’t apply to you because you’re in the HVAC/plumbing industry, decorative concrete industry, wildlife control industry, or some other industry! No matter what type of industry you’re in, if you take a little time to give the writer of your website a little extra information, you’ll get a lot more out of your website.

In the words of Jerry Maguire, “Help me, help you.” Not just because you’re paying me to, but because I really want to! I love my job and I love the clients we work with — but knowing and being able to tell your story makes my days a lot more fun, and a lot more meaningful. So, do it for the both of us!

Psst! One last thing, on behalf of designers (my creative siblings) everywhere: Please provide photos of your team, service trucks, work you’ve done, and anything else you can that will make your company stand out. Do you need to hire a professional photographer? Not always. Sometimes all you need is a steady hand, some good lighting, and that camera you keep in your pocket, a.k.a. your smartphone.

6 Easy & Effective Ways To Show Your Employees Appreciation

If you’ve watched any of our Power Business Minute videos or read any of our articles in the past, you know that we strongly believe that your employees make or break your company. They’re the face of your company, an extension of you, and if they’re overworked, under-appreciated, and unhappy in their work, that will come across in their interactions with your clients.

Not only that, but the research shows that the number one reason most American workers leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. Finding good employees is hard enough — wouldn’t you rather keep them once you find them? We thought so. And that starts with appreciation.

March 1st is Employee Appreciation Day, which means now is a good time to sit back, reflect, and assess if and how you make your employees feel appreciated. What can you be doing to make your employees feel appreciated March 1st, and every day of the year?

#1 Buy the team lunch.

The saying is, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” But as a foodie myself, I can confidently say that saying doesn’t just apply to men. After all, who doesn’t like being treated to a delicious and free meal? By treating the team to lunch, you’re saving your employees money, making them feel cared for, filling their bellies, and encouraging fellowship. It’s a win across the board. In fact, the only way this can backfire on you is if some of your employees have special dietary restrictions and you don’t take that into consideration.

For example, if you’re ordering BBQ for the office, you need to make sure you have something tasty for the vegetarians, pescatarians, or vegans in your office (if you have any). Are a lot of your employees riding the Keto wave? Don’t bring in a carb fest as your “reward.” In other words, be thoughtful. It doesn’t have to get complicated, especially not if you know your employees, which brings us to our next tip.

#2 Get to know your employees and take interest in their lives.

One thing that will make your employees feel especially appreciated is if you take interest in them and their lives outside of work. Ask about their family, their pets, their hobbies. Yes, it requires some extra effort on your part, but it communicates something to them: that you care about who they are and how they’re doing.

A lot of bosses think of their employees as cogs in a machine, and they make it abundantly clear. They have no interest in getting to know the people doing the work, they just want the work done. How loyal do you think an employee will be to a boss like that? How satisfied do you think they’ll be with their job when they’re viewed as a cog in a machine?

This type of mindset may have worked for managers past, but that’s not the way to build a loyal, happy, and productive team in this day and age. Millennials and Gen Zers won’t put up with it. So if you want to have a business when the older generations age out of the workplace, you need to take interest in the people working for you.

#3 Recognize good work regularly & publicly.

Hard work has its own rewards, but one thing that can make your employees feel appreciated all year long is being recognized for the hard work they do for your company. Some studies report that nearly 70% of employees would work harder if their efforts were better appreciated.

“Global research conducted by the Cicero Group shows that employees receiving strong performance recognition are much more likely to be highly engaged at their job, and as a result, likely to perform at their maximum output and develop innovative ways to improve their company.” Cicero specifically found that “well-recognized employees have more drive and determination, better work relationships, improved personal standing, and stronger connections to their company.” In other words, by recognizing good work regularly and publicly, you can boost the morale, productivity, culture, and loyalty of your team.

Here at Spark Marketer, one way we show appreciation and recognize people for their hard work is through Slack, which we use for internal communication. We have a channel called“#FTW,” which stands for “For The Win.” In this channel, anyone can publicly recognize a “win” or a job well done at any time. There’s no need to wait around for a specific meeting — recognition is given immediately, publicly, and regularly. The recognition in the FTW channel can come from peers and leaders in the company, which trains us all to be more appreciative of each other and to recognize quality work when we see it.

It’s really a win for everyone.

#4 Give gifts and awards for a job well done.

Here at Spark Marketer, we also have monthly meetings, during which we give out awards: the “Do Epic Sh*t” award and the “Not Today, Satan” award. The employee receiving the award is recognized for the work they’ve done, and given a trophy to keep on their desk for the entire month. This award acts as a public symbol and reminder that their work does not go unappreciated or unseen. It’s motivation to continue doing good work, day in and day out.

Trophies aren’t the only options for showing appreciation. You can also give out small gifts, like lottery tickets, gift cards, and of course, time off. Get to know your employees, figure out what would have the most meaning to them, and budget it in. Don’t think of it as “just another expense” that you’d rather not have; keeping your employees happy will have serious ROI, so make it a priority.

#5 Ask for their input.

We’ve all had that one friend who seems to love talking about their problems, but never wants or heeds any advice. Sometimes being in those kinds of friendships can feel like being asked to step into a boat that’s full of holes, without being given the option to first plug the holes. Maybe this allegory is a stretch (my mom says mine usually are), but your employees might be feeling like they’re in a boat filled with holes they know how to plug — if only someone would ask them.

The truth is, when we’re asked for our opinions, it makes us feel valued and, you guessed it, appreciated. How often do you ask for your employees’ opinions and feedback? When they provide it, do you really listen? Consider adding a company-wide suggestion box or having 1-1s or lunch meetings with each of your employees. Hear them out, ask them what they would change or do differently, and find out how they see the company growing.

It may not make sense to implement every suggestion they share with you, but just being asked, being heard, and being considered a valuable member of the team with valuable contributions to make will go a long way towards making your employees feel appreciated and invested in the company. Whether you’re looking to improve every day operations, make big changes, or plan the year ahead, take the time to involve your team.

#6 Get together for company-wide events and celebrations.

Just because we work together, doesn’t mean we necessarily get to spend much quality time with our coworkers. So how can you foster a sense of community and celebrate your employees at the same time? By organizing company-wide events and get-togethers.

Here at Spark Marketer, we fly our remote employees in at Christmas time for a company holiday party. We just hang out, play some games, do some sort of gift-exchange, share food and drinks, and have a grand, ol’ time. There may not be a clear-cut ROI in terms of profit for the company, but it’s worth every penny.

The sense of community, appreciation, and purpose that these types of events foster is one of the biggest drivers for Millennials and Gen Zers, and it reminds them that they’re a part of something bigger than just the tasks they perform from 9-5. It reminds them that they’re part of a team, working towards the same goals, and that together, we can all do some pretty epic sh*t.