May 30

Most business owners write a business plan and then “shelve” it for the next 360 days. Come late December, they pick it up, dust it off and tweak it for the new year.

An effective business plan is one that lives and breathes, and therefore is constantly reviewed. Don’t wait until December or January. Do it in May, or August or October. Plan to review it once a month or once a quarter.

What you put into is what you’ll get out of it holds true for your business plan. Put more into it by reviewing and tweaking it more often throughout the year.

And keep this in mind: Reviewing your plan is not for the business plan itself; it’s to benefit your business.

(By the way, the same goes for your web site…).

May 28

It seems business, if not life, is a lot about managing expectations. I’ve been going to school on this topic with clients, employees and vendors. Here are five tips that I’ve learned to better manage expectations:

1) Know what you want. In order to set an expectation, you have to know what the expectation is in the first place. Define in your head first what it is what you want. If you haven’t taken the time to really know what it is you want, then the person can’t possibly meet an unknown expectation.

2) Communicate (explicitly) what you want. Be explicit. I’ve found myself asking for a task to be completed by an employee and lo’ and behold, that task doesn’t get completed. Why? I didn’t detail out what the task was. I was too general. Be explicit and specific.

3) Set a deadline. It seems mean or something to set a deadline. I’ve learned, if there’s not a deadline, then it will get done when it gets done-and that’s a long time.

4) Get an agreement. Expectations must be understood. It’s crucial to go back over what is expected and very deliberately agree with both parties what the expectations are.

5) Write it down. It’s hard to (literally) manage your expectations when you don’t write them down. You may ask 10 things of 10 different people, but you can only keep track of a couple of those items in your head, so it’s inevitable your expectations won’t be met. At the time of the agreement, write down the expectation and the due date so you can dutifully follow-up and keep track.

May 23

One of the most important part of a web site’s digital strategy is the use of an electronic newsletter (Merge often refers to as an eletter).

This isn’t brain science, but it’s a recommendation I’ve seen prospects becoming less receptive to and quite frankly, I’ve noticed that I get less newsletters from my personal network.


Newsletters are hard to do. They’re time consuming, and you have to think about the content to put a good one out. Some of our most successful clients use a newsletter, and here are 3 advantages that they reap from sending out their newsletter:

(1) Top of mind. A newsletter sent on a regular basis (at least quarterly), at its root, serves simply as a reminder for “hey, we’re still out here.” Simple but powerful-you rise to the top of your customer’s and prospect’s mind for that all important mind share.

(2) Brand Extension. The consistently sent newsletter is a simple way to get another brand-touch out to your audience, helping you solidify your differentiation and value proposition.

3. Drive Traffic, Increase Conversions. Your newsletter will have links (of course) back to your web site. If you have compelling content, the user will click through to your web site, where your web site is then optimized to for conversion.

These are just a few of the advantages. Merge highly recommends you incorporate a newsletter campaign as part of your overall digital strategy, even though it will be an investment (mostly of time). I’ll have future posts with more advantages and the overall process for creating a successful newsletter campaign.

May 21

Yesterday I received the first “recession excuse” not to move forward on a project.

Wouldn’t a recession be the best time to invest in your marketing? It’s the same strategy of a successful investor in the stock market takes: buy when everybody else is getting out.

Here are 5 reasons why investing in your digital or traditional marketing during a recession makes sense:

1. Grab market share. Your competitors are most likely with the masses and are holding off. You aren’t. You’re aggressively marketing and therefore gobbling up market share.

2. Build Internal Confidence. When you move boldly forward in a recession, your employees will have confidence in you and the company.

3. Be the only voice. As your competitors slash their marketing budget, you rise to the top as the only voice in the market and you build not only market share, but mind share. “Awareness” is no longer a problem.

4. Get it while it’s cheap. Supply and demand, baby. Pay-per-click and other demand-priced advertising will get cheaper and cheaper as the demand recedes. Jump in and get more bang for your buck!

5. Claim your stake in the search engines. Your competition will become weaker in the search engines due to them cutting back on creating new content for their web site and the like. You of course will continue to plow ahead, and you’ll move up the ranks in the search engines.

If there’s a recession going on, don’t hold back and take advantage of it! If there’s not a recession going on, you’ll be very happy you didn’t place your marketing on pause.

May 17

Greenville, SC, our beloved home and World Headquarters for Merge, ranked 4th on the top 100 cities to relocate to by the web site

Read more about why Greenville was selected.

Congratulations Greenville!

May 14

Merge recently moved offices and I was in need of purchasing a new desk. Looking at the options, nothing really excited me…but in the back of my mind, I remember seeing a stand-up desk somewhere, and that really intrigued me.

So I searched and found and discovered I could get a custom built stand-up desk (made out of solid, real wood) less expensive than what I could get a cheaper laminate desk for.

The only question I had to ask myself is, “Do I really want to stand up all day?”

There was only one way to find out: start using a stand-up desk. The only problem is I didn’t want to plunk down more than $1k if I in fact didn’t like it. So I went to Lowe’s and bought a temporary solution, a workbench ($79). My friend, Rush Wilson from across the street, saw my temporary stand-up desk stacked on books (in my effort to get the height right) and brought over some bed-risers in their stead (brilliant). Now, I think I have the height about right (my desk comes up to-well, right below my belt line).

The most common question I get asked is, “How could you stand up all day?” My reply is that people in retail do it all the time, waiters, cooks or anyone in hospitality does it all day long, so why can’t an office worker? The truth of the matter is this though: If I had to stand up all day long at my desk, I probably wouldn’t do it. I figured in my business I’m in meetings at least half my day and so I’m sitting at least half the day. So the maximum time I’ll have in any given day is probably 4 hours. The second solution to this question is that I have a bar stool (Linens-n-Things, $39) that I can rest on if I’m doing something prolonged. I’ve found I’ve used it for long phone calls, if I’m going through a bunch of paperwork or if I’ve just been standing in one spot for over 45 minutes or so.

I’m amazed at how much I move around throughout the day, whether it’s to talk with Team Merge, go to the bathroom (TMI?) or refill my coffee cup.

Here are some purported benefits of a stand-up desk:

-Helps back pain (I have none, so n/a, but perhaps will prevent?)
-Helps posture (I’m a chronic sloucher when sitting-or standing for that matter-I notice I have better posture when at the stand-up desk)
-More energy (I concur and have experienced such)
-Clearer thinking (I think this is in line with more energy)
-Better on the phone (more aggressive, on your toes-literally)
-More engaged and prone to less procrastination, surfing the web, etc. (yes, I’ve seen improvements here too)
-Can Relax (when you stand you’re brain says you’re working, when you sit (now) you’re brain says relax)

Some Drawback’s I’ve noticed

-My feet are sore (after about 10 days of doing this-supposedly you get over it and people have recommended the gel mats retailers use)
-Phone. I have a credenza behind me where my phone is, so I have to go back and forth to my computer to dial numbers. Sort of annoying. When I get the bigger stand-up desk, hopefully everything can live there.
-Guests. Talking to people who come into your office is a little awkward as there’s no where for them to sit, and if they did, you’re still standing. I am thinking about getting other stools for guests. I also will have a small conference table in my office to address this, but not everybody has such room.
-Weird. It’s just unusual so when people come into my office and see a stand-up desk they can’t help but think what is wrong with me.
-Accessing (paper) files. Bending down to the filing cabinet is not as easy or ergonomic I’m sure as when sitting.
-Non-level. Merge lives in a 100+ year old building and the floor to my office slopes quite a bit. I notice I shift my feet often due to this slope.

The pros thus far have outweighed the cons. I’ll probably be placing my order soon for my desk. I need to play with the height a little more to make sure I get that right. But so far, the stand-up desk experiment is a success. I highly recommend it if you’re considering-but do the cheap trial version (total about $100) before buying the real deal.

Here’s a great discussion from about stand-up desks.

May 12

This morning, Merge’s client, Visionworks, sent out a great newsletter: Passion and Performance, identifying the two have a HIGH correlation.

I highly recommend you subscribe. Visionworks sends out their newsletter on a monthly basis, and it’s one of the best executed newsletters I’ve seen and it offers a tremendous amount of value.

Go read it.

May 09

PULSE had its bi-monthly Leadership Seminar at the West End Community Center, with a panel discussing the topic: “Leadership Lessons Learned from Running a Business.”

The Panel was moderated by Merus Refreshments CEO, Steve Baily. Panelists were:

-Steve Hoffman, Skyline Exhibits and Design
-Jason Freeman, J. Freeman & Associates
-Stacy Coulter, Spa at West End

Some great quotes/nuggets:

“If you love doing what your doing, you’ll never work another day in your life.”

“Who’s a control freak? To grow [your company], you have to let go and delegate.”
-Stacy Coulter

“You can’t be a leader if nobody’s going to follow you.”
-Steve Hoffman

One of the biggest take aways from the day was the idea of “You, Inc.”-or running your own personal company within your company. From an employer’s perspective, this translates into empowering your employees to take ownership in their area of the business. Stacy Coulter mentioned before she started Spa at West End, that her prior employer challenged her to be in charge of “Stacy, Inc.” She saw everything differently then. She owned what she was doing and that made all of the difference in the world.

PULSE had over 80 participants in attendance.

May 07

RFP’s, who invented these? Purchasing agents I guess. In their defense, there certainly can be good RFPs and bad RFPs. The problem is, most of these RFPs fall into the bad category. For instance, this is a line from an RFP Merge recently received:

“We desire updated navigation menus, using such tools as Java, and Active-X controls.”

The only people who use Java and Active-X controls for their web site are people who don’t know what they’re doing. Most RFPs we receive dictate to us what technology to use, how to do it, etc. Why don’t RFPers tell us what the problem is, and Request a Proposal as to how the problem will be solved (instead of telling us how to solve it)?

Well, anyway, there is much room for improvement with RFPs. The whole idea of “we’re going to make you do a ton of work that you’ll likely not get and if you do get it you won’t make a profit” to get a vendor seems quite strange to me. A contest for the Worst Tech RFP in Atlanta just concluded. View the results, they’re humorous.

May 01

A web site’s main role for most companies is to market. Small to medium sized business want to get the phone ringing, get people in the door, etc.

Be careful of what you ask for.

Merge went on a small shopping-spree last night for our new office. I diligently found, online, all of the equipment that we needed to buy. The stores’ web site got me in the door.

First stop: Staples. The printer that I had found on their web site was out-of-stock. “And the other stores won’t have it either as we all carry the same thing.” What?! Then why was it advertised on your site? Frustrating, okay, but I can adapt.

Next stop: Lowes. After waiting 10 minutes for an “associate” to come to the appliance center, the refrigerator we had identified was…out of stock. I quote, “Yeah, we run really thin here. Most things are out-of-stock these days. We’re under inventoried.” I had him check another item that I printed off from the web site, “Out of stock.” I asked about a stool they had advertised on their web site. “Oh, we don’t have those either. Lowes got out of the furniture business awhile back.” Then why do you advertise them on your web site?!

Staples and Lowes just trained me: “Don’t trust our web site; don’t trust us. We’ll just put every product we can think of on it, and we probably WON’T have it in the store.”

If your web site is so effective it gets people in the door and then you can’t deliver, your web site is actually hurting you instead of helping you. So be careful what you ask for and make sure you can deliver on the promise your web site is making.