10 Reasons Small Businesses Need a WordPress Website

Having spent over five hours writing Web content changes into a Word doc in order to send to the client’s Web designer, I realized that WordPress is one of those “best kept secrets” that businesses need to know.

Many people know of WordPress as being a blogging platform, but few realize you can use it for your company Website as well. I’ve come up with 10 reasons why small business owners and marketers should consider a WordPress Website.

1. It’s easy to make changes — Typos, SEO tweaks, copy changes, all are easy to do. Just open a page, make a change, and you’re done. No more sending Word docs to designers or trying to do it yourself using complex programs such as Dreamweaver.

2. You can find a plugin for just about anything — Want breadcrumb navigation? There’s a plugin for that. Want to allow people to view your most popular blog posts or retweet them? You can find plugins for those functions as well.

3. You can incorporate your blog — Instead of maintaining two sites, you can add your blog to your Website and in the process, send all that really lovely traffic to one site. Woot!

4. You can incorporate your newsletter — One thing I struggled with for a long time is newsletter html redundancy. Not only did I have to produce code for the Constant Contact interface (xhmtl, to be exact) but I had to produce html code for the Website in order to archive each issue. It was a total pain in the butt and cost money, too.

Thanks to WordPress, I can now easily add each issue to my site and in the process, my newsletter archive page is updated automatically. Even better, people can now leave comments on each issue versus having to email me.

5. You can make SEO tweaks on the fly — Using the All in One SEO Pack plugin, it’s really easy to develop Title and meta tags, plus the plugin tells you the character count of each. Previous to WordPress, I had to write my Title and meta tags in Word and then use the “word count” feature to determine the character count.

When you want to make minor changes to a tag, you open the page and make them. Presto, you’re done.

6. It’s easy to add new pages — Once you have your Website template in place, it’s super easy to make new pages and post them to to your site — an important consideration now that we’re all content creators / publishers.

7. It’s easy to add video — As Matt Cutts of Google stated, the search engine is looking to see if sites now incorporate video. WordPress makes is very easy to add video clips.

8. Your site is smart-phone friendly — WordPress sites render really well on iPhones, Android and other smart phone devices.

9. You save time — Instead of back and forth, back and forth between multiple people over email, you can create a page in WordPress and have people view it and/or edit it in “Draft” mode.

10. You save money — You can make lots of simple changes on your own in a quarter of the time. (For more advance changes, I do call on my WordPress designer. I also use him for help with plugins as some of them can get a little tricky.)

Can you think of other reasons why small business owners and marketers need a WordPress-enabled Website?

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How Social Is Too Social?

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Imagine walking up to an ATM — you insert your card and begin to check your balance before you put in the amount of cash you want to withdraw from the machine. As you do this, a small crowd of people begins to form around you peering over your shoulder. Some are friends, some family, some are casual acquaintances and some you don’t even know. Uncomfortable situation? Absolutely. While ATMs are in public settings, they are meant to be private interactions. If someone — even someone you know began to involve themselves with your financial activity you would get annoyed.

While this scenario is extreme, it seems to suggest that maybe not everything is better with friends, despite the fact this seems to be the approach, so far, of social networking services. Over the past few weeks the technology world made big steps forward in making your world even more "social." Google Buzz was introduced and caused a firestorm of mixed reactions as it automatically connected people to their e-mail contacts publicly, without asking permission. Buzz also socializes other services, such as Reader, so others can follow what what you read. In short, it takes your experience with Google products and turns it into another social ecosystem to manage. Shortly after, Microsoft (disclaimer: an Edelman client) introduced Outlook Social Connector which will connect Outlook with existing platforms such as Linked In.

While both efforts are different in their approach (Google Buzz could be viewed as a competitor to Facebook and Twitter while Outlook Social Connector looks to extend Outlook’s capabilities), they signify a larger trend that points toward the "socialization" of our activities. And this is an important trend. Some things are indeed made better when social. For example, one of my favorite networks is Slideshare, which "socializes" presentations and documents. I believe that this service and others like it are chipping away at "information hoarding" and breaking down some of the taboos about intellectual property. It’s disruption, but disruption that can be beneficial to both businesses and individuals.

But not everything should be social, as some Google users have found out. Liza Sperling who works for Scout Labs, a social media monitoring company recently tweeted: "Help, suddenly tons of strangers following my GReader! I used to love GReader, until Buzz killed it." She’s not alone. Scores of people have expressed frustration with finding and disabling some of the social features, which resulted in an apology from Google over privacy issues.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t a technological issue. It’s an anthropological one. Businesses that are looking to benefit from social technologies are going to need better and more intimate understandings of the people and cultures of those they hope will leverage their services.

The good news is that that while a counter-trend may be brewing that points toward "social overload" — companies that are agile like Google (and Facebook and others) can help us figure our threshold for how much we want to share and who benefits from it. The current hypothesis that everything is better with "friends" is being tested before our eyes. Each market in different parts of the globe may respond to this hypothesis differently. But the truth that’s becoming easier to see is that some things aren’t meant to be social (think e-mail and one to one messaging). Understanding this thinking will probably make the social web even better. As social technologies progress, valuable and meaningful engagementswill become more important than just connecting with friends.

The Hardest Part Of Social Media

Some people can’t handle how much content there is out there. Others are scared to open up because of what people might say about their products and services. Then there are those who simply think all of this Social Media stuff is just a fad.

There are a million excuses as to why companies don’t engage in these online channels, and the line starts behind the ROI (Return On Investment). In the end, every argument in the world is not going to change the fact that consumers have never been more connected to information and to one another, and that’s not going to change. The platforms may evolve. We may all become more mobile with our digital usage, but the technology is going to keep getting faster and easier to use. Regardless of us not being able to keep pace with the changes from a business perspective, even those who are highly engaged rarely talk about what is, ultimately, the hardest part of Social Media…

The commitment.

Many businesses get attracted by the latest shiny object (from Blogging and Podcasting to iPhone apps and Twitter), but fail to realize the commitment – in time, effort and output – that makes for successful programs and initiatives. To this day, many clients are looking for ways to use Social Media to "add 50,000 people to our database in the next four month" or "lead the conversation about our brand in the next year." There is no pixie dust and there is no magic formula.

Hard work alone is not even enough.

You can work hard, you can post often, you follow everyone who is following you, you can use all of the Social Media monitoring tools out there, you can upload the coolest videos and you can keep on rattling off activities to add to this list, but all will fail unless you (and the team backing you up) are truly committed to creating, engaging and being a part of these very real interactions for a very long time to come.

The truth is there may not be a finish line.

The question should not be: "when do you find the time for all of us this stuff?"because if you truly are committed to being successful, you will always find the time for the things that are important to you (and your success). The commitment is not easy. There are days when you will question why you ever ventured down this road in the first place, and then there will be days when you’ll be smiling at the amazing opportunities that have come your way, while your competitors are still asking the same question that opened up this last paragraph.

If you’re going to do any of this stuff, please take the time to really focus on what your commitment is going to be, and how dedicated you will be to staying the course for the long haul.

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Personal Branding Is Not An Option – It’s Crucial To Success

More layoffs. Giving back bonuses. Fewer work days to save the company from firing people. Doing the job of the three people that were let go in your department. Not hiring the five people you were thinking about hiring. Trying to find a job in this climate…

Whether you are an employee in a big, medium or small business, or an entrepreneur, or about to enter the workforce, never has it been more important to understand the power of having, maintaining and developing a strong personal brand. Never before has there been more ways for you to connect and build your personal brand through digital channels.

Never has a simple search on Google been able to tell us more about a person, who they are, what they do, and why they matter.

What does Google say about you?

If brands matter more than ever (and they do, just ask Apple, Starbucks andTwitter), then the ability for individuals to build a personal brand has never been more important. Maybe the idea of "branding yourself" seems ridiculous. It’s not. It’s a subject that famed management guru and author of the best-selling business book, In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters, first tackled in 1997 for an article in Fast Company magazine titled, The Brand Called You.

"Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. … You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike,Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop… To start thinking like your own favourite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times."

Peters gave us the beginning of an insight: like big corporate brands, all of the people we connect with have some kind of similar emotions and thoughts when they think about us as people. That mental tattoo that our personas and reputations create in their mind’s eye is the essence of our personal brand.

But Peters wrote this in a world where individuals were limited by how they could spread their personal brands Рthe Internet was just taking its commercial shape in 1997. Now, in a world of Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, our personal brands are resonating 24-hours-a-day, and the content we put in there and link to says more about who we are, as individuals than any one-page resum̩ ever could.

There’s a small caution.

People working on their personal brand sometimes seem a little snake-oil salesy-like. They would state that they were working on their personal brand in a way that made it look like they were trying too hard. They were the same kind of people who manoeuvred through the local chamber of commerce event dumping business cards in any available and open hand No need to be that person.

The amazing thing about developing your personal brand online in social networks and by blogging, is that you can hone in on connecting with those that have shared values and similar interests.

One of the best places to get started is a search engine. Start looking for blogs in your industry, and start following some of the more notable people on Twitter. After you get a feel for the type of content people are publishing, you can dip you toes into the personal branding waters by leaving comments on those blogs or spaces. You can even go neck deep and start your own blog to demonstrate your own, unique, perspective.

Personal branding and the new media space creates a unique and mutually beneficial relationship. Anyone can express who they are to the world. And, if you’re not sure what you have to say that is unique and different, just remember the immortal words of Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette andVancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Montreal Gazette – Personal branding is not merely an option – it’s crucial to success.

Vancouver Sun – The importance of your personal brand.

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How To Build Your Digital Footprint In 8 Easy Steps

"Where do I start?" More often than not, that is the first question many business professionals have when it comes to dipping their toes into the digital channels. They simply have no idea how to begin… and then what to do after that.

Here are 8 easy steps to build your Digital Footprint:

1. Create a strategy. Far too often, people will hop on to Facebook with no set plan other than, "trying it out." There’s nothing wrong with trying out any of the many digital channels, but it doesn’t take long to jot down what you want to accomplish (and, more importantly, why you want to accomplish it) first – before filling out any online social networking profiles. If you uncover the strategy after you have already started, you may wind up having a couple of online profiles and spaces that really don’t match your strategy. If someone comes by and sees those initial forays (that you have since abandoned), it might not be the ideal first digital impression of you.

2. Choose the type of content channels and online social networks that match your strategy. All too often we see people on Twitter who would be that much more interesting if they were Blogging. There are people doing things with text that might be better suited for creating images. It’s best to focus on creating and publishing the type of content you are most comfortable with, and that you would enjoy creating the most. The amazing thing about these channels is that anyone can publish. The sad thing is, that some people forget that it’s not just text. You can create audio, video and images as well (and many combinations).

3. Digital Footprint Audit. There are tons of free tools that enable you to listen and see what is being said about you, your company, your products and services. Google News Alerts, Technorati, Twitter Search, and even doing some quick, generic searches on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft can give you the overall temperature of who is saying what. In order to best manage these many tools, you should consider grabbing all of these feeds and unifying them in one singular space. Something like Google Reader or Netvibes is a great place to start.

4. Follow First. Without question, there is somebody (probably many people) already out there using all of these channels. From videos on YouTube to Blogs and Podcasts. Find out who your industry considers to be the top "voices" in the many online channels. Subscribe to their content in your reader and make it a point to read, listen and watch the content at some point everyday. By following those that are already respected, you will be better positioned to see where you can add your voice – both in their environments and on your own.

5. Add your voice. In a world where everyone can (and should) publish their thoughts, you might find it more interesting to either become a frequent commentator on the more popular spaces, or offer to become a contributor to some of the many multi-authored places online (this includes things like industry association Blogs or trade-specific publications). By adding your voice in places that are highly trafficked you can build your presence (and Google Juice) without the stress of maintaining your own. Places like The Huffington Post are prime example of non-industry specific online outlets that are highly trafficked, highly indexed by the search engines and will give you incredible visibility to new people.

6. Start your own, but have a plan. Your overall strategy (step number one) will become your lighthouse. As you fall deeper down the rabbit hole, you’ll always be able to fall back on your strategy to ensure that you are on course, but once you choose to publish your own thoughts on your own platform, you might have an easier time if you create some kind of plan to get started. Think about what goals you want your channel to accomplish, how often you will need to publish, how you will tweak the content as your community grows and what will happen if you were to stop publishing? A plan (even one that includes specific dates for when you should publish content) will help you focus, and it will also get you in the habit of contributing and publishing.

7. Stay active and aware. It’s not just about your space, and it’s not just about following and commenting in the other spaces. It’s about being aware. From Twitter to FriendFeed, there are many new types of publishing platforms being created all of the time. It’s easy to sign-up for all of them and then to forget about them. Some of the channels may not even make any sense to you at the beginning (how many people do you know that still don’t understand what Twitter is, or why anyone would care about that type of content?). It’s also easy to forget about some of the channels that are not mentioned as frequently as the ones that are currently the topic du jour. Be aware of the new and older voices and platforms that are around and the new ones that are coming out.

8. Have fun. One of the primary reasons why people abandon either their own spaces or the ones they used to actively contribute to is because they were no longer having fun with it. It became a job. The trick is to always turn your job into work that you are passionate about. If you start out with the notion that you have to create, comment and participate because it’s your job and that is what is expected of you, it’s going to get ugly fast. There are so many channels out there. Find the ones you really enjoy and create the type of content that gives you the most pleasure. Find your muse.

What are some of the other ways people can dive in and start to explore how to build their own digital footprint?

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Pixelated – Your New Business Conference Starts Now Online

Pixelated is a free full-day online conference with some of the world’s leading speakers on the topic of how business is changing including: Sir Ken Robinson, Seth Godin, Chris Anderson, Avinash Kaushik, Chris Brogan and many more.

It is 100% free and it starts right now.

The idea for this online video conference mash-up was inspired (or stolen) bySix Pixels of Separation friend, Bryan Eisenberg (co-author of Call To Action,Waiting For Your Cat To Bark? and Always Be Testing). On his GrokDotCom Blog, he created OnClick: The Online Marketing Virtual Conference Mashup. Eisenberg collected, gathered and aggregated some of the best presentations he’s uncovered online on the topic of Online Marketing, and then formatted the video viewing as if he were the conference organizer. It’s a full-day (literally) of amazing online video.

Here is Pixelated – Your New Business Virtual Conference. In this full-day online conference, you will get an overview of how business is changing. You’ll hear from educators, marketers, authors, technicians and business leaders. You will be inspired, educated and motivated to think differently about your business and how to grow it… all from the comfort of your own computer.

No travel. No airport line-ups. No hotels. No fees. No hidden fees. Just brilliant insights to spark your imagination and push your business forward.

Pixelated – Your New Business Conference:

Do Schools Kill Creativity?Sir Ken Robinson (19:29):

Seth Godin (48:02):

Avinash KaushikOccam’s Razor (55:55):

Social Media Strategy – From Cowpaths to MastodonsChris Brogan(56:00):

The Mystery BoxJ.J. Abrams – Writer (Lost, Alias, etc…) (18:02):

Clay Shirky (42:12):

David Weinberger – co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto (57:04):

The Secret To Making Money OnlineDavid Heinemeier Hansson37 Signals (31:53):

Garr ReynoldsPresentation Zen (1:11:48):

Chris AndersonWired Magazine (38:48):

Classical Music With Shining EyesBenjamin ZanderThe Art of Possibility(20:43):

What inspired you about Pixelated? Who would you like to see speak at the next Pixelated conference?

Feel free to also discuss your thoughts in the comment section below.

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