Monthly Archives: November 2013

How Professionals Can Get Started With A WordPress Blog

Media puzzle

Of course professionals need a blog

This is not the post (or place) to delve into whether you need a website or a blog. Or whether you need a content strategy. In this post we assume you have decided to get a blog, get a domain name (e.g. www.firmname.com.au) and hosting.

Well and good, but how do you do you start? How does an untrained professional – lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – know where to begin? Mao wrote that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Hopefully our journey will be a lot shorter and get off to a more substantial start.

You first have to decide which blogging platform you will use. My very strong preference is to use WordPress as your blogging platform. Of course there are other choices, including:

  • Blogger (owned by Google) – very quick setup, drag and drop editing, easy to use.
  • Tumblr – interesting fusion between a blog a Twitter-like feed. Now owned by Yahoo.

WordPress is a popular open source blogging platform (it’s actually much more, a full content management system). That means its code is freely available and anyone can build add-ons to it. You can set up a WordPress blog on their own server (there is no charge for this) at WordPress.com. This is a big mistake and there will likely come a time when you will want to upgrade – so don’t do this if you have any intentions to create serious ongoing content. Instead use the WordPress.org platform, which you can download and install  for free. Many services will combine the domain registration, hosting and WordPress installation.

For hosting I use VentraIP. I have no business affiliation with them, but my experience over four years has been consistently excellent, and they respond to queries efficiently. I like the fact that their servers are domestically based, though many well known Australian bloggers swear by overseas providers. Do some research, make up your own mind.

Themes

WordPress gives you a basic structure for your blog – a “Theme” builds on that basic structure, like accessorising a piece of clothing to create a different look. In other words, a Theme is a skin for your blog. However, the basic structure of a WordPress blog is the same for everyone. Happily for us, WordPress is kind enough to make the code for that structure freely available, so programmers can create “skins” to overlay it. This is achieved by incorporating “templates” into the WordPress structure. Some of these Themes are free, some are not, and there are plenty of good examples in both camps. Every designer, free or not, offers a gallery to preview the themes.

DIY or consultant?

There is no doubt that it is easier to pay someone to build a website, and they will handle all of the above. If you merely want to start a blog – a place for you to build an archive of articles for clients and prospective clients to search – including some basic contact information, then you can DIY, but you should do some research first to get a feel for what lies ahead. There are many books that cover the basics of WordPress

If you want a website – Home and About Us pages, some resources, information sheets and a blog – then unless you have the time to research the issue thoroughly, it is better to consult a web designer. Which one? I have been through this exercise, and also built a website largely on my own, and in truth I found the process with the web designer fairly exhausting. If I had a preference, I would build a website myself just as a learning exercise and then shop around for a designer. Why? Because I would know  lot better what to expect and what to ask for. Obviously this is unwieldy and will only work for a few professionals, probably the ones that have an interest in online tools (by the way, it’s quite an interesting challenge and for me a lot of fun because I did it with my son). For myself, I enjoyed the challenge and I needed the skills as part of a joint venture that required a very steep learning curve.

Where do I begin to DIY?

I would read, and then read some more. There are hundreds of good books that cover WordPress – I would recommend an eBook so you can read on your computer while you follow the steps and set it up. WordPress For Dummies will do the job, in fact it will explain a lot more than you need to know.

The worst that can happen is that you don’t like the results and call in a designer to handle the job. Again, it will only be a minority of professionals that have the time or inclination to tackle this. From my experience, it helps to have a tech savvy child!

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What Suburban Professionals Can Learn From Local Businesses

Suburban Professionals

We are and aren’t the same

There are many marketing aspects of local business that translate nicely to smaller suburban professionals (lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals). Some don’t match up as well. To the extent that there is a disjuncture, it is largely due to the ethical and regulatory structures and rules that underpin (at least in Australia) the provision of professional services. It throws up some tricky dilemmas.

Nevertheless there are plenty of worthwhile intersections as well, and the worst reason a local professional chooses to ignore them is because of a misplaced sense of elitism or a mistaken belief that they are “not in business”. Professionals have been very slow off the mark to take advantage of social media, and content marketing in particular, so they can learn a lot from the experiences of fellow enterprises that have already embarked on this path. Remember, this is not about the Coca-Colas of the world – this is about local marketing for local needs.

It’s out of our budget

No it’s not, as long as you are prepared to allocate time instead of money. A very cursory grasp of what’s happening down at Google will tell you that all those budget heavy website services – search engine optimisation, very fancy web design and the like – are not where local marketing delivers the best use of a scarce marketing budget. For one thing, getting to the first page of Google may not be your best strategy in terms of money spent on marketing. For suburban firms, your website may be primarily a source of communication with clients and the best online source of the word of mouth that has always been the friend of suburban professional firms.

More important, local professional firms should strategically leverage their resources where they have the major competitive advantage over the bigger players, especially downtown firms. What is that advantage? The word of mouth that is generated by the way you deal with clients. Your website should be an extension of that. And how do you deliver on that opportunity? Through the provision of vital, informative and well-written content. That’s content that you write to be put on your website that best showcases the unique service opportunity presented by your firm.

Content is the whole of your firm

It’s not just about the written words, it’s also a function of leveraging the firm as an holistic enterprise that contributes to the word of mouth that can be generated by well fashioned online content. Many professional firms define what they do in terms of their services rather than the benefit that clients derives from that service. So what benefits do you offer to small business in your area? What can they expect from a competent local professional whose services and locality intersects with their needs – easy access, friendly service or whatever. Ask yourself, “in what ways can we add and extend value to our clients and prospective clients that leverages the smaller size and location of our firm?

This is precisely where you are able find competitive strategies to tackle the marketing budgets of the bigger players, and this can be most readily achieved through the provision of well-constructed online content which you can write yourself. That’s time and some learning – not money.

 

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Social Media For Reluctant Professionals

Socila media for professionals

How did we get here?

Professionals are the worst predictors of technology. It’s understandable. We go to university, we study what is put in front of us, there is little original research that takes place as an undergraduate, and for the most part we don’t care to venture beyond the boundaries of our specialised expertise. Business people are far more likely to look beyond the horizon, it’s where their fortunes lie.

Business is inherently entrepreneurial – professions are more the reiteration of a hard-earned expertise. Business people will often be interested in technology that offers the opportunity to expand their customer base, professionals love technology for its straightforward contribution to the office bottom line.Word processing? Great. Automated billing? Wonderful.

That doesn’t mean that there are no entrepreneurial professionals – there are, and some are stunningly original thinkers – but on the whole we prefer to follow in the well worn tracks of others, especially those who are our “seniors”. Perhaps that’s why entrepreneurial activity rewards all ages, while successful professionals climb sturdy and durable ladders.

Professionals don’t like branding

Yes, professionals like to have a strong brand, but disavow the shenanigans that are often associated with “branding”. But as Technorati founder David Sifry explains:

The people formerly known as your audience, or the people formerly known as consumers, are now participants in the process of building your brand.

That goes equally for professionals as any other business. In fact it’s already happened. But this is complicated, because plenty of professionals, especially those from smaller firms (and that’s the vast majority), don’t see themselves in “business” with an “audience” or a “brand”. It’s not just a generational problem, although that is part of it, but is more an aspect of a skewed elitism in which professionals prefer to see themselves as apart from the business herd. Well, if that’s the truth, then sometime in the near future many professionals are going to wander so far from the herd that they will disappear altogether.

What is social media anyway?

Social media is an umbrella term that includes blogs, social networking programs such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and professional networks like LinkedIn. Some might argue with this classification, but abstract debates are unhelpful in the real world of professionals. Just look for an online activity that’s interactive (though it doesn’t have to be), allows for collaboration between users and content providers, and promotes the ongoing delivery of information to others. This description happily encompasses hundreds of internet applications, but you only need to learn the basics of a few to begin your online adventure.

That’s the “what” – the “what it does” is summed up by Scott Monty, the head of social marketing at the Ford Motor Company:

Social media humanizes…creating a bond within and between employees and customers and helps to improve our reputation by putting our message in the hands of the people who are most likely to be trusted.

Are you one of those professionals who thinks this is hooey? I’ll make a deal with you. Read a solid explanation of the business case – yes, business – then see what you think. You may discover that in part you have a problem with the high-tech gurus of social media, not the medium itself, and so you ignore what is relevant in the message. I agree with this, by the way. As I write in my online bio:

As a result of a joint venture with a multinational service provider, a product to be delivered on the internet, I found myself sitting at conference tables opposite (mostly) twenty-something IT consultants who knew plenty about social media but little about the real world needs of our ultimate customer.

They don’t know much about your clients, either.

So I understand every part of your anxieties. Really. My best advice is to undertake some reading and then do what professionals do best, assess the situation in the light of objective research. You may be surprised where it takes you.

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Professionals – Don’t Invite Blog Comments Without Thought

Commenting on blogs by professionals It’s a professional thing

Service professionals – lawyers, accountants, superannuation providers and advisors, insurance and finance professionals – are not like everyone else. Not better, just different. Why? Because we have concerns about interaction with our clients that are not always relevant to other service providers. For instance, a hotel proprietor can make voluble claims and guarantees about the professionalism of their staff and their superlative guest amenities, but at the end of the day, this will be subjectively judged by guests. And those assessments will differ wildly. If proof were needed just look at Tripadvisor.

Guarantees of service, claims about results, and the sort of PR embellishments that  are taken for granted in some service industries are imprudent for many professionals. Although many service industries are regulated, the regulation (at least in Australia) of legal, accounting and finance professionals is stringent. You cannot assert an expertise you do not have, nor can you raise expectations you cannot fulfill. You have at all times an overriding duty of care to your clients.

A website for professional firms is a good thing

Many commercial enterprises define what they do in terms of their products or services rather than by the benefit that the client derives from those products and services. Paul Sloane, the author of The Innovative Leader, reminds us that companies who believed they were in the horse-drawn carriage business were quickly wiped out by automobiles. Why? Because they failed to see the nature of their real business – transportation. Or companies that thought they were in the ice supply business – but were really in food and drink storage business – and so were eliminated by refrigerators. Or companies that thought they were in the CD business but were really in the music supply business – and so were replaced by digital downloads. Or companies that thought they were in the typewriter business but were really in the communications business – and so were steamrolled by the word processor.

Service professionals who do not recognise that they are in the business of communicating with their clients – and that means (at minimum nowadays) an information-rich website – will go the way of all other industries that failed to see the reality of overwhelming change in their business environments. And social media has bred generations of clients (not just the young ones!) who expect to be offered the opportunity to communicate with you online. As I have previously argued, many first impressions now take place online.

So you would think that every service professional should not only have a website with an accumulating inventory of content, but also the means for readers to have a conversation on the back of that content. In other words, a way for readers to offer and share comments.

Yes, but professionals are different

And herein lies the rub, because professionals are in fact different. Whereas professionals can often be accused of a staid inability to move with the times, especially in communication technologies, in this instance there is a case for caution.

If you want to build an online community, then the solicitation of readers’ comments is a valid strategy. If, on the other hand, your goal is to provide a place for clients and potential clients to have a window into your firm’s culture and expertise, then a more holistic strategy should apply.

Comments will not build a professional online content strategy. That can only be done with ongoing content provision, which you have to develop. Since the aim of your content marketing strategy is to get potential clients to pick up the phone or perhaps have them in for a free first interview, you do not need to develop that relationship online. Instead the best use of your website is to prepare the ground for a one on one communication.

Moreover, a professional firm’s website comments section requires rigorous moderation. Every professional understands the opportunity for defamation and inappropriateness with regard to sensitive professional issues, especially if the comments reveal private information. If you are prepared to undertake these intermediary tasks with the energy and seriousness they deserve, then still have a good think about it first, and get some advice. Make sure you know what you are doing.

As a professional you don’t need to take advantage of every opportunity afforded by the internet. Instead you need to use what is offered to the best advantage of your firm and your clients. That’s the criteria that matters.

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Smart Professionals Know To Make A Start

Professionls make a start in social media

There’s this old Jewish joke…

I remember an incident from my youth, funny that I haven’t thought about it for years (I’m now in my fifties). I was in our family car, my father behind the wheel, a friend of his in the passenger seat, me in the back. I was about nine at the time, and in the way of all children (at least in those days pre smart phones and iPods) I paid particular attention to the conversation taking place. It was how we eavesdropped on the adult world we craved to enter.

We passed a small office building with a large “For Sale” sign out the front. The friend said to my father, “you see that building, Sam?” My father nodded. “I could have bought it for a song ten years ago, now it’s worth a fortune.” My father considered this for a moment. “So why don’t you buy it now? It’s obviously a good investment.” The friend replied in a shocked voice, “Now? No. now it’s too late.”

“It’s just too late for me…”

You hear this from mature professionals all the time. “I’m too old to get involved in all this social media stuff. Maybe ten years ago, when I was younger, but it’s too late to change the way I run things.”

This reflects the sad truth that there is precious little information out there for mature professionals that is intelligible, written in plain English, and succinct enough to justify the vast investment in time to track it all down. Like dating someone who is alluring but speaks a different language, the prospect is enticing but the missteps along the way can send you sprinting in the opposite direction. This is magnified when professionals are mature practitioners. It’s not that they are “set in their ways”. After all, they attend professional training, and if shown a better way of conducting their business, they will readily change their practice. Like it or not, lawyers have to change with the law, accountants have to alter their advice according to the tax codes, superannuation professionals must move with the superannuation laws. But social media? No thanks, no way.

It’s a conundrum.

For mature professionals, social media has burst onto the scene with the speed of a bullet train, and really that’s all you see, a flash of unfocused images as it streaks by, leaving you stranded on a remote platform. And you’re only 52, for heaven’s sake, you expect to work in your profession for at least another ten years! Look around, that platform is crowded with fellow professionals, and surprisingly, some of them work in firms a lot larger than yours.

As for me…

I was in my fifties when I got involved in a joint venture that meant I had to learn a lot about websites, social media and other aspects of online life that were largely foreign to my experience. As I wrote:

As a result of a joint venture with a multinational service provider, a product to be delivered on the internet, I found myself sitting at conference tables opposite (mostly) twenty-something IT consultants who knew plenty about the internet but little about the real world needs of our professional clients. In the end the venture became unworkable, but along the way I learnt a lot about blogging, WordPress, social media and search engine optimisation (SEO).

Everything I’ve learned and put into practice is a result of that learning. Yes, I had been involved in some online writing, but the rest, including Twitter and LinkedIn and most of all website content design, all was learned because I had to.

Mature professionals have to as well, because that’s where your profession is going in your last ten or twenty years on the job. You don’t need to learn nearly as much as I did, and there are many helpful guides out there, but bottom line, we’re all in danger of being left behind.

What’s really needed is to first look at your website content. That will do it for now. You don’t have to be extraordinary, you just need to make ordinary use of the extraordinary opportunity afforded by the internet. But most of all you need to make a start. Making that start is the most immediate task, for the moment no greater ambition is needed, and after that the learning curve will quickly flatten to a manageable incline. At that point you can decide whether to invest more resources. For now the best way to learn is to digest the basics, as we present in our MatureMedia Guides, and then get on with it.

Make a start.

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Google Has No Clothes Part Six – End Of The Road

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Google changes and what they mean for you

Just create great content!

Google’s response to the thousands of objections to its algorithm changes has been the same for a while now – stop complaining and just create great content. Google will help new clients find you if you create ongoing original and useful content, which is well within the reach of most professionals. If you want to know how to do it, check out our free eBooks on blogging for professionals, writing blogs in plain English, and the 20 rules for creating a great blog post. It seems a daunting task but it’s really not, but please get in touch if you require assistance.

Mature professionals and smaller professional firms know all about the rules of content (you may not realise this, but you do!) It’s encompassed in the way they explain arcane concepts to their clients. As a lawyer I used to do a lot of appearance work in courts. Often clients would tell me that they did not comprehend a lot of the interaction between the lawyers or the lawyers and the Judge, in fact they often felt like spectators, not participants. But they never said that about my interactions with them when we were in my office or on the phone. The vast majority of professionals are already expert at explaining complicated (or proprietary) issues in plain English, and this is the essence of good content marketing as well.

Take a Buddhist approach

Like it or not, these changes to Google and search engines will continue. This is easier to take if you are apply the basic Buddhist precept that everything changes all the time, or you are particularly sanguine when it comes to change. For the rest of us, we have to accept that we are now are entering the age of the search engine conversation, instead of (what has been till now) more circumscribed queries. In other words, Google wants to read and decipher natural language. It also wants to read what is on your clients’ minds.

But again this is good news for the mature professional or smaller professional firms because Google is trying to do what you already know, predict the intentions of its users when they search for a professional service. You deal with those client intentions every day. The professional content that will be king in the future is the content that addresses the real needs of real clients. Can you articulate those needs? Of course you can, and thankfully you can do it with less emphasis on all the technical search engine professional manipulation that used to be important but is now sinking into the sunset where it belongs.

As author Joe Pulizzi  notes:

So if you want to be found in search engines today, it’s almost impossible to game the system (sometimes called “black hat search engine optimization”) without a solid content marketing strategy.

Yes, SEO is still crucial for the larger players who can afford it, but for smaller professional firms it’s time to place your reliance on your substantial  communication skills. More and more service professionals – lawyers, accountants, superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – will know about content marketing because it will soon enough (to be blunt) be the dominant marketing game in town.

How will it end

An excellent article in socialmediatoday makes this salient point:

So, what does this mean for businesses? Nothing has really changed. The same advice we’ve been giving for years is still as relevant as always: always put the user first…Another thing worth mentioning is that because Google has become really good at understanding what a piece of content is about, there’s no need to stuff a bunch of keywords and synonyms on a page. Remember: the user comes first. Build a great resource for your users and Google will reward you for it.

You may know the story of the sign that adorned the wall of the so-called War Room in the campaign headquarters of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential run against then incumbent George H. W. Bush. At one time following the Gulf War, with stratospheric approval ratings, Bush was considered unbeatable. Clinton’s chief strategist James Carville hung a sign to keep the campaign team on message – “It’s the economy, stupid”. His motive was not to remind the team it lacked intelligence, in fact they were the best and the brightest, he placed it there as a reminder of the obvious.

Sometimes, in our professional lives, we too need to remind ourselves of what is right before our eyes. For your website, it’s the content.

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Google Has No Clothes Part Five

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Gogle search changes

Standing on our own professional feet

Here’s my response to the Google move away from technical SEO towards a content-oriented search – it’s good news for smaller professional firms and mature professionals. All it does is place the emphasis where it belongs, in the deep wellspring of your own expertise – your highly honed ability to communicate with clients. It elevates word of mouth, and word of mouth is where you have the opportunity to shine. Not only can you continue to leverage that advantage with well written website content, but Google is now running right alongside boosting those efforts!

Maybe, just maybe, it’s a long-overdue switch to a new form of user insight that may prove to be far more useful than keywords. Elise Gould

An intelligent search engine

The movement away from keyword analysis is also a move from a “dumb” search environment to a smart one – think your old Nokia compared to your iPhone or Android. This is a move towards a search engine culture where Google looks to discern the intent of the searcher.

“Context” is also now a factor – where are you located? On what type of device? What are your local issues? This emphasis on intent and context underlies a lot of what Hummingbird seeks to accomplish. This is search that is more relational, sometimes called the semantic web. Think of Google as wanting to conduct a conversation with searchers – in other words, search is becoming more conversational:

In an article in the Guardian, Google’s CEO Larry Page said that they are trying to reduce every possible friction between the user, their thoughts, and the information they want to find (Josh Smith).

It is also an acknowledgement that the search environment has changed. Where once searchers typed one or two word search queries, they now ask questions, or use the search box to narrow their own ideas of what they want. Isn’t that what you do, too? So clearly you need to be able to discern your reader’s intent and write for that. That’s great, because that is precisely what professionals already do. How many times has someone walked into your office unsure of what they really need? After a short time together, how often have you explained to a client that they need something other than what they imagined? We might call this your “intent research”. You help them discern their intent, it’s the essence of a good client interview.

The downside for professionals

The bad news? The attraction of SEO was always that it was a technical fix. You could pay someone to do it for you, which usually meant a few keywords and a lot of dubious links. Those avenues are now largely closed. Though a content strategy is therefore paramount, and content marketing is at the fore, it is not the quick technical fix that SEO companies previously offered.

Those who let themselves be defined by Google can now be seen scrambling to redefine themselves. “Inbound marketers” is one term being used a lot. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, although you’d be hard pressed to call it Search Engine Optimization. It’s PR. It’s marketing. It’s content production. The side effect of such activity might be a high ranking in the search engines (wink, wink). It’s like Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is……(SEO Book).

I think this is a good thing, because it forces professionals to answer the questions that turn their minds to the best way to communicate with clients in the age of the internet – what is your ideal client profile; what makes your firm unique; what exactly is our business?

As well, it coalesces nicely with the relational aspects of marketing for professionals. We are selling our services, not a physical product like a car or a dishwasher, and the changes to Google appear to make the process more human.

In Part Six we’ll finish our series with a glance towards thge future. .

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Google Has No Clothes Part Four

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You