Dec 31

December 31, 2007. Absolutely nothing different from today other than the fact that tomorrow we flip the year to 2008. But so much hinges on this last day. It is the last day for most corporations’ years. For some individuals, it’s a day to reflect over the last year and set New Year’s resolutions for the upcoming.

The power of 12/31 is this: it puts a stake in the ground as a means to measure the past 364 days.

It’s the power of measuring. It provides the individual or company a consistent timeframe to size themselves up. It answers the questions: How are we doing and what do we need to be doing differently?

Most people or organizations that go through this each year gets a significant benefit from the exercise. So why not shorten the timeframe and therefore get the benefit more often?

Consider shortening your timeframe to a monthly or quarterly review and ask yourself the timeframe questions. Make adjustments throughout the year instead of just once at the end of the year.

And why you’re at it, schedule your web site for a monthly review. How did you do? How many visitors and what was your conversion rate versus previous months? What do you need to change to your web site to make sure it performs better for the next quarter?

May 2008 prove to be a great year because you’ve measured and adjusted on 12/31. And instead of waiting another year before your next review, I hope you have some of the best months or quarters you’ve ever had because you choose to review more often in 2008.

Dec 29

This Christmas I had the chance to spend some time with people a little older than myself, and I was able to witness them interact with technology.

First, my dad was trying to order me a present from Nike’s web site. After a couple of attempts he threw his hands in the air. I finished the transaction for him.

My mother-in-law, bless her heart, gets over 90 pieces of spam per day. I installed Cloudmark on her machine and she now gets almost zero spam. While fixing her spam problem, I also corrected her view preferences in Outlook, removed the useless, expired, annoying, virus-like Norton “anti-virus” software and during that time, helped her open a tab delimited file in Excel. All tasks she had no chance of completing herself.

I often wonder: How does the normal Joe, like my parents or in-laws stand a chance in this technological age? Web sites, computers and common gadgets have to be so unbelievably annoying to the non-technical person.

My prediction (and I’ve made it before): Companies, like Apple and 37signals, who are determined to offer products that are great and SIMPLE, are going to win. Stop adding features to your products and invest instead in usability. The simpler the better.

And, oh-this goes for web sites as well!

Dec 20

It’s that time of year again, to give the gift of goat. The gift of what? Yes, the gift of goat.

Greenville’s Charles and Gillaine Warne have a mission, as part of a joint effort of Christ Church Episcopal and the Greenville Rotary Club, to raise the awareness of the plight of the Haitian people-one of the poorest people in the world.

[Quick Side Note: Charles was kidnapped on one of his trips to Haiti in November of 2006. He was released the day after.]

Haitians suffer from a 2/3 unemployment rate and are sustained on less than $1 per day. To put it in perspective for Americans, the Warnes draw our attention to this fact:

-If a Haitian family has a goat-yes, a goat-they are RICH.

A goat costs $150, and through the efforts of the Warnes and the organizations involved with the mission, you can give the gift of a goat-or the gift of tremendous prosperity-for less than, dare I say, the cost of your Starbucks Latte per day?

Get into the Christmas spirit and make a Haitian family’s year. Feel good about gifting them a goat this year.

Dec 17

This weekend, Merge engaged Rob Ketterer of Visionworks Consulting. Rob is the former world-brand manager for Coca-Cola, and the founder of Visionworks, a team building and strategic consulting firm.

Team Merge met for about four hours on Saturday, and came away with some great clarity and direction for Merge in 2008. It was amazing to get the perspective from someone who not only does this professionally, but from a trusted third party. We have been so deep in the woods, Rob simply provided us the ability to take a couple of steps back, and uncover the vision that was already there.

A wise man once said: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” As Rob and I were on a run Saturday morning, we noted that this holds true whether you’re talking about your business, your personal life or spiritually. When you have a clear vision, life is so enjoyable. Without it, life becomes purposeless meandering. I know, I’ve been there.

What’s your vision?

Dec 13

Merge is located in Greenville, SC-a secondary market for the likes of web traffic services like MSN Live, or Google Map’s Traffic feature.

The web is great, because we still have options. Enter SCDOT’s traffic cameras for Greenville, SC. They have 15 minute delay photos of key highways.

Combine iGoogle’s web site and the ability to create a page with the content you want, and viola, I have my own personal traffic reporting site, whenever I want it:

Simply looking at this before I call it a day tells me if 385 is clear for smooth sailing or if I need to take an alternative route home.

Isn’t the web great?

Dec 12

“If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”

Have you ever been guilty of violating this principal? One of the differences between successful companies and those that fail is execution. Successful companies don’t wait for the perfect condition. They act. They don’t pursue perfection; they pursue excellence. Perfection is a myth, and a costly myth to worship, because it can never be obtained. The perfect conditions will never come, and so companies wait. And they wait. “Going to roll that product out next week,” (while their competition has already rolled it out-maybe in not so “perfect” of conditions).

Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect, and don’t try to achieve perfection. They are both figments of your imagination. Strive for excellence, but avoid perfection at all costs, or it will end up costing you dearly.

Dec 11

Today I had lunch with John McCain…and 250 of my closest friends, at The Rotary Club of Greenville.

Senator McCain’s platform was interesting. In his address, he had three bullet points:

-Veteran Health Care (due to the audience?)
-Dependence on foreign oil [yawn]
-Maintaining the course in Iraq (of course)

He touched on the following during the Q&A, on the (quotes are paraphrased):

-Economy: “Worst thing to do is raise taxes…fix the tax code. The current tax code discourages investments and savings.”
-Immigration: “The American people are skeptical of government (11% approval rating of Congress). We need to secure the borders first, address the 12 million illegals second.”
-Power: “Unleash America’s entrepreneurial spirit to solve our dependence on foreign oil…nuclear power…it’s a matter of psychology, not technology.”
-Education: “Vouchers and Charter schools.”

One gentlemen brought up a great question, that McCain skirted:

Gentleman: “We’ve heard all of these promises before-I’ve heard them for 20 - 30 years now. If the President and Congress can’t work together, then how are you going to be able to deliver on these promises?”

McCain: “We have made progress…since 9/11…radical, fundamental islamics…”


Senator McCain started off very warm, personable (cracking jokes and introducing his 95 year old mother) and relaxed. He’s done this before of course. I don’t know…I don’t have a strong political opinion or agenda, but I didn’t leave the lunch impressed.

Thanks for coming to Greenville, Senator. I guess I’m going to keep searching, and Google Ron Paul.

Dec 11

On my drive into work, I saw a great sign, like this one I found on the web:

The reason I think this is great is because of the call-to-action. “Google” of course is now a verb, so “Google Ron Paul” is a call-to-action. Why is this so slick? It creates intrigue. It provides a sure fire answer: if you Google Ron Paul, you’ll know who he is and what he stands for.

Think about calls-to-action on your web site. How compelling are the following?

-Contact Us
-Click here
-Learn more

-Get your question answered
-Increase your sales
-Get more traffic

Think compelling. Ask people to act. Google Ron Paul. Brilliant.

Dec 09

As Merge is wrapping up 2007, I’m planning for 2008, and looking at lessons learned from the last twelve months.

This weekend I analyzed my sales efforts for 2007, and I noted the following:

For companies that I had established an average or better rapport with the decision maker, I was 318% more probable to successfully make the sale. I also noted that I did not lose one sale where I didn’t have an average rapport or better.

Hmm. I think that’s a key observation. Application: Spend a lot more time developing rapport before jumping into a quote. It’s a waste of time otherwise. I’ll be 318% more effective if the relationship is there first. So I’ll be working harder on those relationships. It’s much more fun and rewarding anyway.

Before you sign-off and say, “nice lesson,” there are some things to consider how your web site can help you in the rapport building process.

Take the typical web site: it’s static, factual, and has little ability to build rapport to help the sale’s process. Consider these options to develop rapport with your prospects through your web site:

-Newsletter: Consistently sending a newsletter every month will continually put yourself in front of your prospect.

-Blog: Be transparent, let your personality show, and provide value. Do this a couple of times per week.

-Podcast: Your chance to be a radio star. By publishing at least monthly, you get the rare opportunity to speak directly to your prospect. Your credibility will go through the roof. Think of your competitors who are doing podcasts. Exactly.

Look at your last year’s sales. Think about increasing those sales about 300%. What will it take? By simply publishing a newsletter, a blog and/or a podcast. If you do one of them, you’ll not only close more sales, but you’ll also have more prospects. If you do all three, you’ll leave your competition in the dust.

Dec 07

We all know about marketing plans…it’s the end of the year, so you might be doing one now.

What about your web marketing plan? Have you thought about it? With the web becoming businesses main marketing tool, a plan might be a good idea.

If you haven’t done one, here are twelve very easily implemented and practical ideas that you might find useful. Just implement one per month, and you’ll be on your way to web strategy success:

January: Decide what your web site needs to accomplish.
Your web site should help you achieve your business goals. So what are your business goals? (If you don’t know, you might want to define them for goodness sake). Okay, what does your site need to do to help you with your business goals? (i.e. if you want to do $1M in sales, and you average $50,000 per sale, you need 20 sales. Let’s say you want the site to help generate 50% of all leads. You close about 20% of your leads. Your site needs to generate 100 leads per year, or about 8 leads per month). How many visitors do you need to generate 8 leads per month? With a conversion rate of say 3%, you would need about 275 visitors per month. Now that’s knowing what your site needs to accomplish!

February: Clean up your calls-to-action.
Most likely you’re using lame calls-to-action like “Contact Us” or “Learn More” or the dreaded “Click here.” Stop it. Change these into compelling calls-to-action so you actually get users to act.

March: Sign-up for Google .
You might not use this for three months, but start tracking your stats now so you can use them later. Do this. Measuring is key.

April: Set-up your Google Adwords.
After you create an account, create a campaign. If you’re a local company, restrict your campaign to your local area or state. Lastly, create 3-4 advertisements, so you can go back later and find out which ad is performing the best.

May: Review your competitors’ web sites.
This is an easy one. But review your competitors’ web sites and at least know what they are doing. If you have the bandwidth, implement one or two things that they may be doing to remain competitive and improve your site.

June: Keyword review.
Review your web site’s keywords. Hint: Look at the Title (of the browser), your meta tags (do a right click, view source), check out our headings and lastly, roll over your images and check out your Alt tags (the little yellow box that pops up). How are you doing? Not so well? Correct these with the appropriate keywords. Now.

July: Review your adword advertisements.
Okay, it’s been three months since you set up your adwords. Now it’s time to see how they are performing. In the campaign manager, review conversion rate of the ads. If you created 3-4, you may be surprised what one or two ads are leading the field. Pause the non-performers. If you want, create a couple more to further analyze at a later date.

August: Look at your Google .
You’re going to find a wealth of information in here. Let’s focus on one statistic, your bounce rate. If you see a bounce rate on your index page (home page) in excess of 25%, you will need to fix your index page. This means of all your users that access the site through your home page, they don’t go anywhere else and then leave your site. Nothing grabbed them. Review your site and change your home page to encourage users to take the next step.

September: Create an email signature.
What does this have to do with your site? Traffic. You probably send multiple emails out per day-as such, you’re losing valuable advertising space. At least have a link to your web site in your email signature.

October: Start thinking about a blog or a newsletter.
If people want to buy your products and/or services, then they are looking for more information before they make that leap of faith before purchasing. Use Constant Contact to do at least a quarterly newsletter, or use WordPress to blog a couple of times per week. Yes, it will take time, but you’ll find the benefits outweigh the cost of the time to create the content.

November: Change your content.
Okay, it’s been almost a year. Have you changed anything on your site? Update your news section, change up your home page a little. Add a blog or newsletter sign-up subscription form (above). Change something.

December: Review your stats again.
Yep, I can’t emphasize this enough. You’ve been measuring your web stats for close to a year now. Measure the following: Unique Visits, number of form submissions (if contact us is the goal), and calculate your conversion rate. Congratulations, you now have benchmarks for the next year. Now change your site so you can beat the current year benchmarks, next year.