Category

Strategy

"Strategy 101 is about choices: You can't be all things to all people."

The woeful art of data collection is tedious, time-consuming, and not necessarily fruitful. For every strategist out there, data really is the name of the game. It comes in all shapes and sizes, different formats and forms, analytics, reports, whitepapers, press releases, and on it goes till there’s too many to name. Compiling data is a hard pursuit for information analysts and data specialists, so what’s the average agency team member to do when they find themselves drowning in a sea of data? Paddle back to shore…as quickly as possible.

I’ve always felt like strategists are a rare breed. They have to think about their clients, their client’s’ users, the competition, the market trends, social trends, industry influencers, disruptors, shifts and more. Then, hopefully, get in front of it all and find that one tidbit of information that will lead to a successful client interaction. Hard, yes? YES!!

To find the insight that leads to an opportunity to capitalize on objectives before the next wave or trend hits is really hard to do. Then the cycle starts all over again.

Capturing the data landscape

From a strategy standpoint, there are 3 questions you’ll need to answer:

  1. What data will be useful to both the short and long-term objective?
  2. What data can actually be collected?
  3. What categorization will make the data more manageable?

Or you can look at it like this:

  1. Identify and establish
  2. Collect and aggregate
  3. Sift and categorize

The collection process has become a huge problem, hence the recent shift into machine learning, artificial intelligence, and algorithms to help categorize or cluster lumps of information. Businesses, organizations, and (specifically) strategists are suffocating beneath it all. And if you have the money to invest in AI – by all means – do! But many of us do not, and don’t even really know how it could help (don’t worry – I’ll write a post on that too!).

If you go even deeper into the data collection world, there are a multitude of techniques and tactics including exploratory data analysis, descriptive statistics, lambda architecture, data cleansing, data transforming, data modeling, and mining. WOAH!!! Hold up – here’s the reality: there’s a simpler way to identify, collect, and sift the data that won’t leave you submerged in a pool of data delirium.

Identify…

The first step in the data collection process is to identify what’s important. Obviously, this is going to be dependent on the problem you’re trying to solve, but there are usually some universal things that we need to know and I’ll list them out here.

 The usual stuff…

  • Users – Who are they? What do they need? Where are they? How do they normally interact with your client? Why are they continuing to interact with your client? What’s the value your client provides them with?
  • Competition – What are they doing that’s different than your client? Who are their users? How have they positioned themselves? What can we learn from them?
  • Market – I always find this to be a tricky one. This is mostly about industry trends and what’s happening in the market. Is there something going on in the political landscape that may disrupt what we’re trying to do? Economically, how sound is the product/tool/resource your client is trying to offer? Are others offering it at a lower price? Is demand being driven up by an exclusive offer? You get the point.

These are the big three! Other information you may want to know about could be emerging technology or the best in business for that particular industry. Think about the problem before you go looking for the data. If you don’t, then you will, literally, be drowning in it.

Collect…

The next step is actually getting your hands on the data. But what is the easiest way to collect the data that we need? Great question….and I’ll just be honest – I don’t have any great answers for you! If you aren’t a developer and don’t know how to write algorithms or scripts that will easily aggregate or pull in data for you…then you’re at the mercy of the tools that are out there.

  • Google Analytics: This is a phenomenal tool. It really can get you a lot of the data you require, especially when it comes to the users of a particular website. It’ll give you insight into who your users are (or who your client’s users are), where they hangout online, etc. However, it won’t give you answers to questions like “what’s the value they get from your client?” You can take guesses at this, but you’ll never actually know unless you ask the user.
  • RSS Feed Readers: There are a number of Feed Readers out there that will aggregate blogs and other feeds for you all in one place. Just google “Best RSS feed readers” and you’ll find something. I pull in a lot of competitor and best in biz blogs so I can keep a pulse on what others in the same industry are doing.
  • Social Media: This one’s pretty obvious, no? I have several Twitter accounts because I’m following different verticals in each one and staying up-to-date on what’s going on in the social (and real) world. You’d be surprised at how many things hit social first before anything else.
  • Client Databases: This could be their CRM, Marketing Automation Platform, or Membership Portal, where they have information on their users already. Which could be helpful in understanding their audiences demographically as well as their behavior.
  • Watson Analytics: Now, I’ve just started to play around with this interface (see below) and it’s pretty intense. What I’ve sussed out so far is that this platform allows you to import pretty much any type of data (weather patterns, Twitter hashtags, CRM contacts, OneDrive, etc.) or information that’s readily available. It mixes in what Watson already knows (which, apparently is a lot) and lets you ask it questions. For example: Which content should we use to target a specific customer segment for the month of May? It spits you out an answer. I haven’t fully understood it yet, and make no mistake when I do, a blog post is coming!

Watson Analytics Dashboard

Collecting data is kind of the easy part, there are systems in place for aggregating the data. The hard part is making sense of it all and we do that by categorizing it appropriately.

Sift…and sift….and sift some more…

Ok, you have all the information, but there’s just sooooo much of it! What’s the easiest way to sift through the information and categorize it to make it more manageable? Well…there are a few ways to do this. Before I get into it, I want to quickly talk about tools for categorization. I tend to gravitate towards using Trello Boards to separate certain information and link off to different platforms. You can use Google Docs, an Excel spreadsheet, whatever works for you!

  1. Categorize around your problem or initiative:
    • If you’re trying to get information and use it for a certain workshop, then look at your agenda for that workshop. What are talking points? If you want to talk about users, make sure you’ve categorized all the information you have on the users appropriately. I would start a Google doc and put in all relevant links to users in one place. That way you can link off in your workshop to check the data quickly. Maybe it’s to a certain Twitter account where you can review all recent tweets in an industry.
    • If you have information on the market, put all relevant links (or content/data/info) in the same doc so you can pull it up in your workshop. I find this way to be efficient, especially working with clients who have no idea what information they need or where to find it. You can also share Google docs to collaborate with them, or at least give them insight into what you’ve been compiling.
  2. Categorize around your client or account:
    • You can also categorize your information around a specific client. Let’s say you work with the GizmoSoftware company and they build software for design/development teams. What data would be useful to them (and you) so that they’re kept up-to-date with what’s going on in their industry, with their users, and their competitors?

I built a website called TheWebward (wrote a post about it here) where I pull in over 150 RSS feeds, 100 different social channels including Twitter feeds, FB feeds, and FB groups. And I also have an Article Library where I’ve categorized important posts, articles, and whitepapers so I can gain access to them at any point I need. The website is housed with information that’s important to me and helps me do my everyday job. I also push information to certain content types (“buyers”) that help me accommodate my clients in a much easier way. If you can do something like this, great! Read my post, it’s kind of like a how-to in using WordPress to help you manage the information you need.

Remember a few years ago when everyone was saying “content is king” – well, now data is king. And data is content, analytics, information on anything and everything. And there’s so much of it out there. So, identify what’s important to you (or the problem), collect the data that can be collected, and categorize it according to your initiative or client.

In the meantime, collect the data that’s important to you as a human being. Pull in things you find interesting and learn about them. You can never have enough data, but you can most certainly have too much of the wrong data.

The guys over at Google Ventures are pretty smart! They unveiled their process of design sprints in a book aptly named Sprint. The full title succinctly describes its benefits —  How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days. I read this book over last summer, it’s an easy read and remarkably insightful. Design sprints actually do help you solve big problems and test new ideas.

It’s not enough to just have a process anymore. Everyone, every agency, every firm has a process that’s guaranteed to be better than all the others because it’s “integrated.” In order to rise above the competition and have your clients really connect with their users, you need to get insight from…who else…the users. But in order to do that in a really efficient way, you can’t build out the website or mobile app first. So… you prototype.

The Theory…

Here’s the theory: when working with any company or business, you can solve really big problems in one week by getting together in a room with the right people, the right tools, and the right challenge and performing exercises like design-thinking, rationality, empathy, creativity, prototyping, and testing.

Now, in the words of John Maeda, design-thinking is just another phrase for business execs to feel good about doing design stuff. LOL! But I think there is something to getting in a room with your clients and doing these different exercises to uncover the answers to some really hard questions when it comes to your digital properties.

I’m going to walk you through an abbreviated checklist (or cheat sheet). It’s changed a little to mimic a process that I’ve used in the past and I’ll go over pre-sprint activities, the sprint itself, and post-sprint wrap-up.

Remember: you need the right team, the right tools, and the right challenge

  1. The Team:
    • Agency Side – it’s usually two designers, a strategist, and a project or account manager.
    • Client Side – at least one decision-maker. Someone who has the authority to call the shots relating to your challenge.
  2. The Tools
    • Conference room, post-its (lots of them), colored circle stickers, whiteboards and/or canvas paper, markers.
  3. The Challenge
    • Usually something that’s super expensive, like your client wants to spend $500k on a mobile app that has no users yet (challenge: to see if it’s even viable in the market). Or maybe your internal team is stuck on a big project and needs to get some creativity flowing.

Let’s begin…

Pre-Sprint Activities

You’ll need to do some research and collection before you go in and do the sprint with your client. The first thing you’ll want to do is an intake sheet. An intake sheet is simply a “worksheet” that gathers information on your client.

Some things you’ll want to know are obvious, like, client overview. Company name, number of employees, etc. But then you’ll want to know major markets, regional hubs, who are their competitors, what are the long-term business objectives and/or vision. Something like this:

Client Intake Sheet

You’ll also need to do some research on your client’s competitors so you know what they’re doing. Look at their websites or mobile apps and make note of what’s cool, what’s not cool, certain functionality or features, etc.

And also look into your client’s users. Who are they, what do they do, where do they hang out online, etc. This pre-sprint phase is pretty intensive. There’s a decent amount of upfront work that needs to be done. But then we get into the fun part…sprint week!

Sprint Week

Every day working hours will be from 10am to 5pm with a one hour lunch at 1pm. So, 6 hours a day – that’s how much you’ll work with the client. But you’ll find that the internal team is working much longer especially on the day you prototype.

Day 1: Understand


day one

  • Team Intros & Agenda
  • Client Talks (Vision, Functionality, Future State)
  • Innovation Talks / Expert Talks
  • “How Might We”

Day 2: Explore


day two

  • Morning Review
  • Personas: Day in the Life
  • Raw Ideas / Big Ideas
  • Crazy Eights / Solution Sketches

Day 3: Focus


day three

  • Museum Art / Dot Voting
  • Disucssion / Decision
  • Wireframes / Storyboards

Day 4: Prototype


day four

  • “Just Enough” Mentality
  • Prototype Tools
  • Divide and Conquer
  • Prototype

Day 5: Present


day five

  • Finish the prototypes
  • Present to the client
  • Wrap up / Next steps

Once the sprint is finished, it’s time to test and survey your users, which brings us to Post Sprint Week

Post-Sprint Week

You’ll need to fill out a survey (I use Google forms, super easy) and set the stage for the users. The prototypes won’t be totally functional, so let the users know that! You will usually do some baseline questions to get a gauge of your users, and asking them about who they are demographically never hurts. Then you’ll want to ask the same questions about each prototype, but it’s really helpful to send half of your participants Prototype 1 then Prototype 2, in that order. Then the other half of the participants send Prototype 2 first, then Prototype 1. Many times users will latch on to the first prototype they see, so this technique helps mitigate that risk.

Once the surveys are finished, you can start grouping themes (which is a whole other blog post – I’ll write soon!). And you’ve got real feedback from users and this helps your clients decide whehter or not to move forward with a project or mobile build before it drains all their resources for it.

 

Watching the tides turn in the digital age is as quick as the ocean currents. These microscopic movements that all feed into a bigger pool are advancing technology at an unprecedented rate. In fact, 58% of corporate execs say it will develop at an increasingly rapid rate over the next 5 years. Check out Accenture’s 2016 trend report. With all that in mind, what’s your agency’s plan to keep up-to-date with all this new technology. What’s your agency’s plan to take advantage of the opportunities they can bring? Let me show you how I got started.

Living in the Age of Information

We live in the age of information. It’s almost too much because it’s coming at us from every single direction. Accenture, Hewlett Packard, Deloitte, and more are all putting out new reports, trends, and surveys. You can find these reports just by searching “2016 tech trend reports” 0r some variation of that. To give you a little tip that I use, I will always append “pdf” to my search queries in order to find reports that you otherwise might not be able to. It amazes me how many PDFs are out there right now. After searching, you’ll need to categorize. Now I have a folder in my Google Drive that breaks down into more folders comprised of only PDFs. I categorize them as such:

  • Industries: health, travel, nonprofit, media, B2B, Agency, Consulting. These could be different for you
    • Market Intelligence: you can find these reports by searching “market intelligence ‘your industry here’ pdf” I separate these by year
    • Trend Reports: pretty self-explanatory; usually having to do with some sort of survey
    • Misc. Whitepapers: Because these are always fun to read and have, you can use them as sales collateral when talking to a prospective buyer, and even client.

Once you’ve compiled a number of relevant reports, now it’s time to start reading them. Now, with all the PDFs I have it would take, literally, close to 6 months to read (I’m a slow reader), don’t read them. Skim them, graze them, pluck them, don’t peruse them.

Mining for Information

There is obviously a reason why we have headers and titles and large print. When you are skimming over these PDFs, just look for the headlines, quotes, sidebars with numbers in them. Pick off the statistical data and write it down some place else. You’ll eventually use this information to mine for opportunities. If there’s a headline that interests you and it’s followed by 5 paragraphs, read those paragraphs. I’ll always use a speed reading technique by Tim Ferris that has increased my words-per-minute by 25%. Or check out tips on how to read faster. But remember, you still need to comprehend what you’re reading for it to be valuable in mining for opportunities.

As you continue to gather information, you need to start categorizing it so it’s digestible for your client. I separate my information into a few areas:

  1. Market Intelligence:
    • Usually in the form of surveys, I’ll state what has significantly changed in a sector or industry. For instance, the Agency of Record (AOR) lasts less than 3 years according to Agency Spotter’s 2016 Report. And the average project-based fees for agencies have increased. Now, put the cost of living aside, this tells me that brands and companies are seeking out agencies that fit their specific projects, not necessarily their ongoing needs.
  2. Disruptors & Influencers:
    • Who is making a big splash right now in tech or what technology is outpacing all the rest.
  3. Competitors & Users:
    • What is the competition doing, what are your client’s users doing
  4. New Trends, Technology, and Terms:
    • Things that are trending. New technology that your client might be able to leverage. New terms that people in the industry are using.

All this info will eventually lead into Insights & Opportunities.

Finding…and mining insights

An insight is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing. Wow!! Intense, right? Yup, it sure is. So, here’s essentially what I mean when I say strategy in context. Out of all the information you’ve gathered, it won’t make a bit of difference unless you understand who you’re gathering it for. I’ll give you an example. I work with health and wellness clients, nonprofit, media, agencies, and more. The info that I gather have something to do with these sectors and markets. But insights are relevant only when you understand who you’re gathering that information for. Which brings me to intake sheets.

Intake sheets are information about your client. You’ll want to gather info on them. Keep a record of the following:

  • Client: contact info; organizational structure.
  • Company overview: what do they do, what are their values, etc.?
  • Products/Services: what do they provide?
  • Major Markets: where are they doing business, what countries?
  • Value: what’s their value proposition?
  • Strengths/Weaknesses: what do they do better than anyone else; where could they improve?
  • Account/Project Objectives: what are the things they want to accomplish, major goals?
  • Competitors: keep a list of at least their top 3 competitors, I would even list the best in business in their industry.
  • Users: user personas are a huge part of this insight gathering, I’ll post more on personas in another one of my Strategy in Context posts.
  • Partners: who is your client partnering with in the market? Are they complimentary?

As time goes on you’ll pick up the idiosyncrasies that make your client who they are. You’ll learn things about their culture that will provide more insight into them as an organization. Hence, providing more insight into how you can mine for opportunities.

Mining for the non-opportunity

I want to clarify that mining for opportunities is not trying to find just any project you think your client wouldn’t mind doing. It’s adding real value to their organization. In order to do that, you have to look at all the possibilities. And as a sidenote, it sometimes means you may not be providing the solution.

Let’s say you are working with a nonprofit and they are in the process of building out a donation platform for their donors. This platform is something that you helped design on the front-end, but the back-end was built by another firm. Essentially, this platform almost works like a banking platform. Donors can store their money and make donations to the organization or cause of their choosing. And let’s say the other firm is having a difficult time securing the platform. Well, if you kept up-to-date on the latest trends, you could give them an insight into what people are talking about right now in the security space. Which is Blockchain.

Today’s financial institutes operate on a central ledger where money is passed from one entity to another. The ledger is monitored and kept by one authority, leaving it susceptible to attack and corruption. Blockchain is a transactional database that decentralizes the ledger and allows for complete transactional security, it’s also lower in cost. You’d probably have to refer the nonprofit to a blockchain expert, but the value you’ve given them is high.

Mining for the real opportunity

To mine for the real opportunity depends on your client’s goal, their users’ needs, and where they sit on the spectrum of innovation. If they are at the lower end of the innovation spectrum, there’s probably a lot of opportunities to mine for. If they’re more toward the middle, it starts to get a little harder. Brands and organizations that don’t keep up with the latest trends and technology are they ones who have the most options. The ones who are at the top, are the ones who are paving the way for everyone else, and the options narrow.

Let’s say you’re working with that same nonprofit and their goal is to get as many donors as they can using this platform. If you knew that the retention rate of first-year donors was only 29% or that roughly 50% of donors do not renew their gifts the following year, what would you do with that information? You’d dig in….why are donors not renewing their gifts? Then you’d probably find out that donors like to feel connected. They like to see the impact that their donations have on communities and the lives they’re helping. Well…what opportunity can we find there?

My suggestion would be to offer to build a website that connects donors with donees. But also shares the stories donees have because of getting donations. It could be anonymous, but having a platform that could show where a donor’s donation is going and in what way it’s helping the donee could be really cool. People are attached to stories, we love them. Build a website that tells the story of donee’s or add a section to an existing site. There are a lot of possibilities in that one particular insight. Get creative!

Mining is a continual thing

In closing I’ll say this. Mining for opportunities is a continual thing. You’ll be getting new information as time goes on, you’ll be learning more and more about the needs of your client as the months/years pass. Always be adding value. That’s the best way to mine for opportunities. If you can show your client that you offer these insights and valuable opportunities, you’ll be seen as a strategic partner and an invaluable one at that.

Today is an auspicious occasion! It marks the first of my Strategy in Context series. As well as my first try at micro-blogging. I have a lot of information on topics like strategy, research, account management, user experience, and more. I’d like to get that information to the public as quick as possible while still posting good, quality content.  Now, I’ll most likely expand on this series in an eventual strategy whitepaper.

I was recently at a tech conference asking people for strategy resources. One person firmly told me that “no one’s going to give me their strategy resources (or process for that matter) because that’s how agencies make the big bucks.” So, okay… that makes sense to me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t give away my strategy resources.

I’d like to address any nay-sayers about publishing digital strategy process, tactics, and/or resources. I come from the open source world where information is shared and the community benefits from that. This is my attempt to give back.  I am more worried about people saturating the internet by building shitty things people don’t need, than I am about someone stealing my strategy process, theories, and thoughts. Plus, I want to spark discussion, so let’s begin.

Strategy in Context

I’m sure everyone is familiar with context-aware design, yeah? It’s when a device (like a smartphone) changes based on the environment in which it’s placed. Our smartphones can make recommendations based on location or auto-adjust the contrast on a bright day. Strategy in context is similar in the sense that we (as strategists) need to take into consideration our environments. And hopefully act accordingly.

Implementing a strategy process can be a daunting practice.

  • A) it’s not a linear process
  • B) it changes at every turn based on new information.

So, how do you conquer a client, project, or product when you aren’t sure how to proceed? You take a step back…and look at things from a holistic standpoint; from a bird’s eye view.

A Bird’s Eye View of Strategy

In order to understand strategy, there is one truth you have to realize: true strategy is continual, it’s not an end-game and never will be. The digital strategy that works for you today, might not be the one that works for you tomorrow, let alone a year from now. And this is why strategists are commodities, because it’s a job that never ends in the web and mobile space.

Holistically speaking, digital strategy is dependent on all its players. It is so entangled with other strategies that looking at it any other way would be a disservice to both you and your client.

The elements of strategy:

  1. The People: your client, their users, the competition, influencers, disruptors
  2. The Assets: things like their culture, their brand, their website, their digital assets are blanketed under this term
  3. The Operations: your client’s business model, their product or service
  4. The Frameworks: from your client’s organizational structure to the technical systems being leveraged.
  5. The Intelligence: the market, the trends, the innovation happening, the economic and political landscapes
  6. The Tactics: different from ‘operations’ – tactics are used to carry out strategies
  7. The Outcomes: the goals, the objectives, the accomplishments, the results

Contingent on each of these elements, strategy will have different meanings depending on its context. It’s too much to take in in a micro-blog post, so as the Strategy in Context series continues, I’ll drill into each one of these areas to give insight into breaking down your strategy process.

The Information Spectrum

At any given moment, there are hundreds of tiny shifts going on in the digital world. Developments that are slowly (or quickly) moving in from the fringes toward the mainstream. A fantastic trend report by Future Today Institute highlights innovation that is making it’s way toward being the established norm. Innovation is often talked about, but overlooked when it comes to strategy positioning.

In order to understand the information spectrum, you first have to understand all the new technologies, trends, and innovation taking place right now. But there are flaws in that thinking as one new technology supplants another. So, first thing you need to do — start building an information database. For all you strategists out there, you need some type of system where you can gather information and access it easily. I’ve built myself TheWebward.com – I call it my morning business review, but it’s really an information database.

You can try RSS aggregators like Digg Reader or create your own. But keeping up-to-date with the technology landscape is your first lesson in strategy. Did you know Baidu is leading the way in conversational interfaces? Or that Blockchain can help fight cyberattacks? Do you know what Blockchain is?

Lost in the Strategy Sky

As you begin your journey into strategy, you may feel lost at times. It happens to everyone and that’s okay. But if you’re lost and can’t find answers, look to other industries. One thing that’s helped me tremendously in developing my strategy process is turning to other sectors that have had strategists for decades. The military, politics, and the intelligence community all have resources on strategy out there that you can research. Then take their core principles and apply them to the digital space. Again, I’ll go into this more in upcoming posts, but I feel like this isn’t really a micro-blog post anymore!

Ok, more to come on Strategy in Context.

I want to talk about strategy, but first, some science. Quantum Entanglement is one of the most perplexing phenomena in quantum mechanics.  It occurs when groups of particles interact in such a way that the state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others. Now, if you remember your physics lesson, a particle is the smallest quantity of matter.  There are macroscopic particles, microscopic particles, and subatomic particles. And simply put, entanglement means that understanding one single particle improves our knowledge of the second one. This is a dead ringer for strategy. The concept that I’m calling strategy entanglement is based on the notion that single strategies should not be described independently of themselves, but rather holistically.  Content strategy and web strategy are both a part of your business strategy.  Independent strategies improve our knowledge of the strategy as a whole.

The Volatile Strategy Particle

What does it takes to be a strategist? I hear people say a “strategist” is just another word for salesperson or that it largely has to do with the planning phase of a project, or it’s just a title that mostly describe people who like to speak their minds!  I don’t necessarily refute those comments because I do think sales (and planning) should both be strategic, and I love to speak my mind, but strategy is this elusive creature that I would like to shed some light on in this post. Strategy is a discipline, and unfortunately, it is not linear. It deviates, it interrupts, it changes with new information, fluctuating data, and further research.

You could say strategy comes in waves and is almost particle-like. There are macro-strategies and micro-strategies, and subatomic strategies (OK, that last one’s a stretch). But to articulate your business strategy you need to look at every part of your business. It can include digital, brand, web, mobile, social media, content, products, and more. Not to mention the marketplace, your competitors, your customers, and your partners. Strategy entanglement image

This image illustrates strategy entanglement and it’s not complete. There are more pieces to this puzzle depending on your business and the industry in which you compete.

Types of Strategy in the Digital Space

There are a few different disciplines, but they all feed into the big strategy which is your business.

  1. Brand Strategy: A plan for the development of a successful brand to improve its reputation and connect with its customers. This is tied to your business, social media, content, and more.
  2. Digital Strategy: A plan for maximizing benefits through digital and technology-driven initiatives. Tied to your business and can incorporate digital products, mobile, web, and other strategies.
  3. UX/Design Strategy: An approach to determine what to build/design, what the user experience should be and why. Oftentimes using data and research to inform decision-making. Heavily incorporated into business strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  4. Content Strategy: Refers to the creation, planning, delivery, and management of appropriate, useful, usable, and user-centered content. Connected to your business, social media, web/mobile strategy.
  5. Social Media Strategy: An approach to garner more engagement on a brand’s social channels. Usually through good content. Entangled with content strategy and web/mobile strategy.
  6. Web/Mobile Strategy: Long-term iterative process of defining the direction of a web/mobile site/app to reach business goals and users’ goals. Entangled with business strategy and more.

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about! Your business strategy are all of these strategies put together and then some.

Strategically Strategizing over Strategy

So, which one do you choose? Where do you start? How do you know when you’re doing strategy? All good questions. To me, strategy should be this omnipresent itch that never goes away, and everyone should be scratching at it. Let me clarify — strategy is not a free-for-all, but it is a team effort. Your designer and developer should be strategically thinking about which color palette to use, or which tools will make this CMS more usable for the client. As a strategist you’re responsible for the bigger picture.

When you sit down to map out your strategy plan, there’s a process I use in getting the information I need. I’ll outline it in the next section. But you need to remember this: As the process continues each piece of information will impact the next and so on. So, this process is really just an outline or map for putting all the pieces together.

A Strategic Overview

  1. Client:
    • Intake – putting together a client intake sheet is a critical first step. Document the company overview and details, requirements, goals, objectives, and other pertinent information on paper.
    • Assessment – this can include SWOT analysis, analytics review, social listening, PEST analysis, brand assessment, etc. The more you get, the longer it’ll take to sort, but the decision making will be based on better information.
  2. Research:
    • You can perform organizational research on your client’s company (e.g. – interview stakeholders). You can do user research (e.g. – send a survey to customers, field observations). Or quantitative (measurable and objective) and qualitative (observational and subjective).
    • Look at your client’s marketplace and competitors.
  3. Users:
    • We’ve done some research on them, checked your client’s analytics, it’s time to create personas. Get an idea (and make sure everyone’s on the same page) of who you are trying to target.
    • You can create an empathy map, or do experience mapping.

The pulse of the digital landscape

In addition to putting all the information together on your clients and their environments, I’ll also have digital intelligence reports. Now, I want to expand on this further in my next post, but that might take a couple of weeks, so here’s an overview.

My digital intelligence reports focus on the heartbeat or the pulse of the technological landscape. Meaning that in order to stay at the fore-front, you have to know what’s going on at the fore-front. I’ll target 3 key areas in my DIR’s, they are:

  • Intelligence: what’s hot right now in the tech space
  • Disruptors: what and/or who is disrupting the landscape that’s outpacing all the rest
  • Influencers: what companies are influencing or shaping the tech environment

This keeps me up-to-date with the digital pulse, but it also sparks innovation and creativity when engaging with new clients.

Correlating the information

The end result of the above outlines will be lots and lots of documentation. You’re going to have documents on your client, their market, their competitors and their users as well as the digital landscape. Which, is what we want. This information will inform not only the direction of the initiative, but it can help with your client’s business, content, social media strategies and more.

Let’s say your client who is in the health & wellness space talks about being a thought-leader in that sector. You would have to know that the fore-front of the health space right now is CogTech, IoT and connected devices/platforms. They’re experimenting with “ownables” not “wearables” anymore. Implantable tracking technologies could very well be the next evolution in healthcare. Being able to relay that info back to your client to help with innovation as well as ideas for the future puts you beyond just a tactical partner.

The reality is is that research about the tech landscape will give you a baseline for engaging with your client. You can see where they fit on the innovation scale and help them get further. Understanding who they are and what they want to do will give direction for digital initiatives. Understanding their users will help you connect their goals and objectives with users’ needs. It’s one big web of entanglement.

Summing up strategy entanglement

It’s never going to be easy. Strategy entanglement is the only way to truly see the bigger picture. When working with clients it’s almost always about making the business better. Whether that’s through a new website, more engaging content, selling more products, or social initiatives, it all feeds into the business. But that is dependent on all the smaller strategies. And some of the micro strategies can be dependent on each other. Your social media strategy depends on your content strategy, which depends on your business strategy.

To make this easier for people, I am in the process of creating a PDF document called Strategy in Context. It will outline the delayering of strategy. If you think about the complexity of strategy entanglement, it’s almost too much to fathom. So, I’m creating a document that will break down each piece of what I wrote about in this post. But remember, it won’t be linear. Strategy is not a linear process, even though many people think it can be. It’s about consuming the information and making the appropriate decision at each milestone and everywhere in between.

Strategy is an omnipresent itch, and everyone should be scratching at it.

This is a long read; approximately 15 minutes.

Proposals are really hard to categorize, right? Are they a formality, or are they a gateway to your solution? I tend to lean more toward the latter, but I know others who loathe the proposal writing process. I love it! It’s a challenge in and of itself. And it’s your agency’s moment to outshine all the others. Even if you do have the deal in the bag, it’ll reinforce a client’s decision to go with you. Writing good web proposals is an art form. Proposals can be text heavy Google docs or visually stunning Keynote proposals. They can make or break a deal. They can get an organization to pay twice as much money, sometimes triple. This post is a presentation I gave last fall on The Formula for Custom Proposal Writing. This is also a follow-up to my earlier post on The Needs of Web Proposal Writing.

Proposal writing is not the same templated solution to every single web challenge, they should be different every time. And I’m not just talking about the content, I’m also talking about the presentation and design. Obviously, brand your proposal with your brand, but tailor your proposal to the individual or organization who’s receiving it. Give them a good user experience, something that caters to the authority and their needs.

Now, I understand that proposals can be considered the holy grail of an agency. I’ve worked for a few and being in the agency realm you come across other proposals, so everything I’m about to show you in this post is white-labeled (or my personal logo) and should not be associated with any of my previous agencies.  What I’m going to outline is the formula for custom proposal writing. The content should be your own, and it should focus on the prospect and their business.

Let’s Begin

Custom proposals do a few things for you. They make you look more professional, help you stand out from your competitors, and possibly land you bigger clients and higher dollar deals. I get asked all the time whether you should write a text-heavy proposal or a visual-based proposal. Personally, I like visual-based proposals, but think of your user, who will be reading this proposal? Then make a decision.

I believe that proposals should capture and showcase success. You need your recipient to be able to visualize their project succeeding. They need to be able to read that proposal and have confidence that you not only understand their challenge, but you also have the right solution or approach. Proposals are your opportunity to communicate the value your solution will have. It’s also an opportunity to mitigate against any risk that may be on the horizon. In a proposal, you want to focus on the value that a successful engagement and solution would bring to your client’s business.

First…the fluff stuff goes at the end…

Before I get into the formula for proposals, I’d like to take a minute to talk about the things I call “fluff” — and I’m not talking about the white, sugary, fluffy Fluff, I love the stuff (no rhyme intended!). No, I’m talking about the fluff stuff you as a writer want to throw in your proposals because you think it’ll beef it up a little. You know what I’m talking about too — the ‘about us’ section, the ‘case study’ section, the ‘client testimonial’ section, the ‘leadership’ section, it’s all fluff, and it’s not something most prospects really care about. This is the reality – if you’re writing a proposal for someone, there’s a really great chance that they already like your work… and know about you… and have heard from some of your other clients… and understand that you have a solid leadership team. What they want is the solution to their

This is the reality – if you’re writing a proposal for someone, there’s a really great chance that they already like your work… and know about you… and have heard from some of your other clients… and understand that you have a solid leadership team. What they want is the solution to their problem or the approach you’re going to take to solve it.

What I do in most proposals is put all that ‘fluff stuff’ at the end, in some sort of an appendix. That way if the prospect is super curious and they send the proposal up the chain, it’ll be there just in case anyone needs it.

I’m going to assume that you have all the information you need to write a solid proposal. You’ve talked with your prospect several times, you’ve asked the right questions, you know what the challenge is, you’ve somewhat scoped the project, and you have an idea of what the solution is.

The Formula for Custom Proposal Writing…

*Sidenote: I’d like to preface this by saying, this is the way I write proposals, and it’s been effective for me. It doesn’t mean that other types of proposal writing styles won’t work, they most certainly will. All I’m trying to do is share the knowledge that I’ve gained over these last few years to help others in their proposal writing evolution. I hope you get something from this.

Proposals should have a good user experience, focus on the content then the presentation, and nothing should be set in stone. If you need to take out a proposal section, do it. If you need to throw in a different section, have at it. This is a flexible guideline.

Cover Slide

Be professional and use a cover slide. It can be an image of your staff at work. It can blend two logos (yours and the clients) together, it can be a picture of a wireframe. I personally like skylines. Just put a cover slide so the first page your prospect sees is not the table of contents.

Cover slide

Table of Contents

Make sure to put a Table of Contents to give your prospect a summary of the sections and insight into what’s to come. Here’s my Table of Contents (and essentially the Formula!):

  1. The Intro
  2. Research Analysis
  3. The Rundown
  4. Scope of Work
  5. Ideas
  6. Timeline & Investment
  7. Appendix:
    • About Us
    • Case Studies
    • The Kicker
    • Info Page
Section One: The Intro

The intro needs to be short, articulate, and authentic. Short, articulate, authentic. It should really convey 5 things:

  1. Excitement: Be jazzed to be involved! “We’re thrilled to be a part of this engagement…”
  2. Experience: Showcase your expertise “Our agency has been doing this for years with industry company and sector business…”
  3. Recognition: Recognize who you are doing business with and why they’re so great. “Your company leads the way..”
  4. Acknowledgment: Admit that there is a problem… but then…
  5. Assurance: Reassure your prospect that you can fix it.

Put heart into the intro, personality. It needs to convey these 5 things and in a single page, see below.

Intro

 

I also think a way to stand out is to tailor design to the individual company. Let’s say you’re working with a newspaper, I would put together a proposal that looked like a newspaper:

 

Newspaper web proposal

Obviously, this is lorem ipsum text, but something like this can make you stand out even more. It can also make a connection with your prospect that links your work to their company and industry subliminally paving the way for you to win a deal.


Section Two: Research Analysis

Many agencies leave this section out of a proposal, but I think it’s powerful. Show that you understand their problem by knowing their industry, competitors, and business. Take some time to really explore and understand their challenge. Challenges come from different areas. Companies have certain problems that plague that particular industry.

Example: Higher Education — Higher Ed has a number of challenges just being a university or college. First, they’re usually decentralized, so ownership can create issues and different departments tend to compete with each other. They also have a number of users that they need to cater to, right? There are the older alumni who aren’t necessarily comfortable being online. There’s the faculty and staff, who can range a great deal. Then there’s the students and prospective students who live their lives online, and expect super personalized experiences online. So, imagine you’re writing a proposal for an Ivy League Institution. Would they want to know that you understand all the challenges they face as an Ivy League school? Or at least some of them? For sure!! So how do you do that?

You research. Look at their competitors’ websites, what are they doing right, what are they doing wrong? What are the best in the business doing? Convey that in this section. I always put nice imagery of sites that I looked at and snippets of text that demonstrate we have a handle on their industry’s digital realm.

Exploring competitor's mobile sites for web proposals

You can do this in different ways, but I usually explain that I took some time to explore the current landscape, their competitors, and themselves. Obviously, you’re also looking at their website, feel free to point out what they are doing well, and areas they can improve.


Competitor's websites proposal writing

Now you can call this section whatever you want, ‘researching current environment’, ‘exploring the landscape’, etc. Or you can get super creative and tailor it to the individual company by putting in titles that are custom to their business. Like if you are putting together a proposal for a Travel blog, you could call this section “Exploring Adventurous Places.” If you were working with a newspaper, you could call this section “Uncovering a Real Story.” Or something like that, you get the drift! What it needs to do, is let your prospect know that you actually have a grip on what they are going through. That you are walking in their shoes! That you understand their environment, and they can see you as a really good fit to partner with on this upcoming project of theirs.

discovering new and adventurous places web proposal


 

Section Three: The Rundown

This section is called different things. Some people call this the Executive Summary, others call it The Approach section. Internally, I like calling it The Rundown. Why? Simple—this is where you give your prospect the rundown. Now, when I write the proposal, I’ll usually call it a summation, or synopsis, or approach, totally depends. But my rundowns consist of a few things. One, we have a proven approach or methodology that works. Two, we understand their objectives and need to regurgitate them back to the prospect while also connecting them to possible outcomes (more on that to come!). Three, we have a great working style that the prospect (soon-to-be-client) will integrate with very nicely and can work with their ever-crazy schedule.

The Approach and/or Methodology is your process. The process that helps your clients succeed. The one that’s been refined over time, and the one that will make this project successful. You don’t need to go into a lot of depth here because your process will be a part of the scope of work section that’s coming up and we’ll dive a little deeper into the process then. You can do something as simple as the FDD (Feature Driven Development) Overview created by Jeff Deluca seen here:

FDD Overview - proposal writing


Or you can do something like this:


 


The point is, you just want to give them an overview. You want them to understand how the process works and why they’ll benefit from it.

For the objectives, you’ll want to quickly let the prospect know that you’ve heard their concerns, wants, needs, and you’re prepared to help. I usually do an output vs. outcome (the brainchild of Chris Murray, my previous CEO) type of comparison. Map features to objectives. Example: We want to have an email newsletter to show our biggest readers we really care about them. Or. We want to have innovative social media shares and like buttons to increase social engagement and awareness. These are outputs and outcomes. The output is the feature (or deliverable) and the outcome is the objective. When you can compare these two things and connect them for your prospect, it’s a sure fire way to let them know they’ve been heard.

Output and outcome

Now you can do this any way you want. This can be the section of the proposal that’s directly addressing your prospect. You can do this in letter form if that’s easier for you. I always think less is more in this section, but I know others who disagree.

Working style should give the prospect a quick glimpse into the project flow but not in relation to the process, but the relationship. How will your new client work with you? Why would they like it? The way I do this is by putting one page (or slide) and showing some fun picture of the team. Then breaking down how communication will work while the project progresses. You can break it down on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. You can talk about the tools you’ll use to help with communication. Believe or not, a big fear I’ve seen people have is the communication workflow. Putting together a few pages on this can really ease their minds.

Working style section of a proposal

 

Again, keep this section short, maybe 4-5 pages if you’re using imagery. 2-3, if it’s all text.

Section Four: Scope of Work

Now we get into the meat of things. This is the solution laid out, or the process in more detail. Most web projects follow a similar trajectory that starts with some type of discovery or strategy session. You can make this text-heavy, or you can illustrate it with images. I prefer the latter (again, less is more), but what you’ll want to do is outline the project overview, the task list, and the deliverables. What’s going to take place, what deliverables do you foresee, and what assumptions (if any) are there? I’m not going to go too much into this section, because for each agency, although similar, will have different scopes. The scope of work is what you did in the sales process so you should have this information.

Part 1: Strategy: Discovery, Stakeholder Interviews, Company Survey, etc.

Part 2: Design: Information Architecture, Wireframes, Mockups, User Experience Testing, etc.

Part 3: Technical: Building the platform, Systems Integrations, Iterations, etc.

Part 4: Ongoing: Continued Strategy, Enhancements, Maintenance, etc.

Certainly, this will look different if you’re an SEO agency or marketing agency, or any web agency because every project is different. This is your own. This is your solution. What I want to say about this section is this: The scope of work should detail the engagement, the project overview, the task list, and the deliverables. This is the section where you talk about actions (Discovery will include 5 stakeholder interviews, complete content assessment of materials, definition of user personas, etc.) and it should also outline deliverables (the deliverable from our discovery session will be a strategic findings document outlining user stories to drive the development process, design and creative objectives, etc.) You may also need to put in parameters (or assumptions) that mitigate any risk (based on the current information architecture we envision having to create and design up to 10 unique page templates).

The other thing that I need to stress here is making sure to connect the scope of work with the benefit your prospect’s business will receive from it.

Example — Scope of Work: Design

  • Information Architecture testing – We will create a new information architecture for the platform and leverage IA testing tools to test the navigational structure. We envision doing 2 rounds of user tests to get to a refined navigation for your site. This will ensure that the terminology used will be the most optimal for an intuitive navigation enabling your users to move through the site with complete confidence and accuracy.

You never sell the technical aspects to a project, you sell the benefits. Or I should say you communicate them effectively.

The scope of work can be a tricky section to get right. This section can end up being rather long too, so I suggest only adding in the essentials here. Often times, I will give a couple options in the scope of work section. I’ll do that for a few reasons, but the biggest one is because people like options. And when you give the prospect options, they’ll compare the options to themselves, not other agency’s solutions. Of course, if you work very closely with your prospect and understand all of their needs, then just write one scope of work.

Again, the prospect needs to know what you’ll be doing, what you’ll be giving them, how it will affect their business, and also that deliverables are not limitless (well…unless there’s a limitless budget!).

Section Five: Ideas

I always like throwing in an ideas section. You can also turn this section into an initial mockups section, but that’s only if you work with a huge team and have time/money to spend on initial mockups. But putting in an ideas section will do a couple things. One, it’ll show the prospect that you’re thinking about the bigger picture (and it shows investment). And two, you may find an opportunity to add in an extra feature and make more money.

You can either put together something as simple as a list of ideas

List of ideas proposal


Or it can be more visually stunning.


Interactive map for ideas on web proposals


Again, an ideas page should show real thought, so put some real thought into the ideas that you suggest. This can be really helpful in closing new business, and it helps a prospect visualize the possibilities.

Section Six: Timeline & Investment

This is pretty straight forward. I’ll outline the timeline like this:

Timeline overview

Or do something similar, graphs are always a good way to show the timeline. But after this slide, I’ll go into a much more granular view of the project timeline. I’ll put certain milestones like design sign-off, gray site launch, user acceptance testing, and more.

I’ll break out investment to match the scope of work section. So, if I have a Discovery & Strategy section in the scope of work, that will correlate to a number in the investment.

Investment


And as we all know, the investment is usually the last thing on the proposal.

Appendix

Remember what I was talking about earlier—the fluff stuff—well…this is where your appendix should go right after the investment. I always add something special in my appendix. This is what I’ll usually have:

  • About us: this will give the history of your agency, why you’re in business, values the agency portrays, leadership team, etc.
  • Case Studies: this is obvious, use ones that are similar to the project that you’re going to be doing for this new client. Or show case studies that have companies in your prospect’s industry.
  • The Kicker: what’s the kicker, you ask? Well, the kicker can be anything. It usually involves some type of web/digital best practice or best of breed process. It all depends on what the prospect is concerned with in conversations. If the prospect is really concerned about SEO, put in a few pages on SEO best practices (there’s plenty of resources out there — MOZ). If your prospect is worried about content, put together a few resources to generate content ideas.  You get the drift. This shows that you listened to what they were saying, and you went out of your way to lift some of their burden and help them out.
  • Info Page: this one should be obvious too, but if not, make sure to put in a quick recap of being a good fit for this engagement and thank them. Along with all your contact info. I always say “it was a pleasure getting to know your team, we’re super thrilled…”
Some Ending Thoughts

People usually write proposals in two ways — either with text-heavy documents or more visual slides. I tend to lean toward using visuals over text. It’s not to say that either way is better. Whatever works for you is better. But I’ve written 25 page super text-heavy documents and 150 page visually stunning proposals with imagery, icons, etc. I find that people usually like short spurts of information. So, I put my slides together (I almost always use Keynote to create proposals, even though it’s horrible for collaboration, I’m hoping that’ll change soon!) and don’t have much text on a page. The overall proposal will be a lot longer page-wise, but the reading experience is much quicker and they’ll go through slides fast. Which can be fun if the page that you’re viewing is interesting to the viewer. Remember when you’re writing proposals to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. Would you enjoy reading this proposal if you were your prospect?

A quick recap on the formula for writing good web proposals…

  1. The Intro:
    • Knowledge and heart — be short, articulate, and authentic. Set the stage!
  2. Research Analysis:
    • Walk in your prospect’s shoes. Understand their challenge by understanding their business, industry, and competitors.
  3. The Rundown:
    • Referred to as the summary, approach, objective, whatever! This section should outline your approach/methodology, prospect’s objectives (outputs vs. outcomes), working style.
  4. Scope of Work:
    • The different steps to succeed at this project. Project overview, task list, and deliverables. And any assumptions. What you’ll be doing, what you’ll be giving your new client, how it will affect their business, and what parameters are in place?
  5. Ideas:
    • Show the prospect that you’re invested and thinking about the bigger picture. Possibly more opportunities for a bigger engagement.
  6. Timeline & Investment:
    • Timeline overview and granular look. Scope of work steps and their associated costs.
  7. Appendix:
    • About Us: Agency history, culture, values, etc.
    • Case Studies: similar in industry or scope.
    • The Kicker: web/digital knowledge that the prospect is concerned with and can benefit from.
    • Info Page: We’re an awesome fit, thanks for everything, look forward to continuing discussions. Here’s our info.

Ok – hope that helps! Any thoughts, just let me know.

We see this word a lot: value  —  but what exactly does it mean? What is it? How do we measure it? How do we determine whether or not it’s something we provide? These are all good questions and in the agency world, value is what separates us, it’s what links us, and it’s what drives conversations and interactions with clients and partners alike. But how do we truly define it? Value has a few definitions, so let’s start there (courtesy of Google):

val·ue : /ˈvalyo͞o/

noun

  1. the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
    • “your support is of great value”

But it can also be used as a verb!

verb

  1. consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial; have a high opinion of.
    • “she had come to value her privacy and independence”

As we can see, value is something that’s a little ambiguous, right? If you look at the first sentence that uses the word value, you can see what the value is – “your support is of great value” – the value is your support. “She had come to value her privacy and independence” – the value in this sentence is a little trickier, it’s her privacy and independence, but it’s also linked to the noun “her” – so I’d like to define value in this way:

Value measures the worth of something, but is dependent on the measurer’s desires, fears, opinions and considerations.

We all know value is worth something, but my value will be different from your value. Your value will be different from their value, and so goes the succession. This is so because value is fueled by desire from the one who views the value.

“Value sits on a foundation of action while being built by intelligence, insight, and observation.”

The hard part is answering the ‘why’ of value. Why is “your support” of great value? And why does she value her “privacy and independence?” If you look at it from more of a cognitive stance, you’ll see that the answer of ‘why’ is dependent upon the ‘who’ and the ‘what’. It’s that desire that compels a client to buy, it’s that fear that can mean the difference between success and failure, and it’s a line that’s very thin and almost impossible to distinguish when value is at the forefront of every conversation and people’s desires/fears aren’t necessarily apparent.

Action is the foundation of value. What we do and what we say adds value (or takes it away). Our actions reverberate. Action progresses the sale, it can also stall a sale. But it is action that is at the root of all value. Without it, we cannot provide value.

While action is the foundation of value; intelligence, insight, and observation are the materials you need to build it.

Short Story

I was on the phone with a nice woman from one of the big organizations in the Research Triangle in North Carolina. I asked her to give me a high-level lay of the land (what’s the current situation and what are you looking to do?). She gives me some background on her role and her company, then reveals that she’d like to create and build a WordPress site where her sales team members can come to find more resources on the products that her company was selling.

It was a great conversation, but I asked one question that made her pause and really think about her situation, and the question was simple – it was “why?” What is your major goal and why do you want to accomplish it? Now, everyone knows to ask these questions, but not everyone on the other end of that line might know the answer, or be totally truthful. She did know the answer and was truthful, the answer she gave was simple too – “I want my sales people to have the right information in order to sell more products….and it’ll make me look good.” And there’s the value (for her) or what I like to call the value gratification.

The value gratification is the major accomplishment and its ability to fulfill the desires one has, it’s the way the people involved with the project feel after it’s finished. In this case, it’s the value of having a more cohesive and effective sales team, which will essentially sell more products and make her look good in front of the bosses. That achievement will not only make the client happy, but it hits those hidden goals as well, which if you can uncover, will just give you more value as a salesperson.

The action was the phone call, observation and insight led to the question, and intelligence is what you do with that information. The question showed value in her mind because when she went looking for a partner to build this WordPress site the desire to look good was already there. She just needed to find someone who cared about it enough to ask about it. The question just disclosed the ‘why’ — we know the value is her cohesive sales team selling more products, but why does she want to do that. Well for all the normal reasons someone would want to do it, but also because it’ll make her look like a rockstar at her company and that’s the gratification or desire behind the value, which can be much more potent than the value itself.

Fear overcoming value…or the absence of value

Now this was one example of action, and an easy one because she gave up that valuable tidbit about her hidden goal. Let’s take an example from one of my old freelance days when I didn’t really know what I was doing or how desire plays a role in uncovering real value.

I was just learning how to code and still doing construction when I met one of the homeowners that we were building for. We got to talking and she uncovered that she’s big into photography. She sells her photos at craft fairs and she’s looking to do a website where she can sell her photos, but she didn’t know of a web designer/developer. In walks me! Naive little ole’ me! I say “I can do that! And I’ll give you a really great deal!” So she leapt at the offer to have me build her a website where she could sell her photos.

All was going well, I put up a really slick Divi themed WordPress website, integrated the WordPress Photo Seller Plugin that helped with photo management, watermarks, and taking online payments through PayPal. I was super happy with the site! But then my client saw the website, she thought it looked really awesome too, but….she didn’t know how she felt about having her photos online, she was afraid people would steal them. I tried to explain as best I could that the watermark was a good attempt at foiling malicious users from taking her photos, but ultimately that’s the chance that you take putting your stuff out there. She wasn’t satisfied with that answer and the website never got launched and I never saw any money. She saw the value in having a website where she could sell her photos, but she also saw the absence of value through the thought of people stealing her photos. Had I probed enough, and asked the right questions through action and observation, I could’ve saved myself from hours of site-building, but hey, lesson learned!

That client’s desire was to make money through selling her photos, but not at the risk of losing any. Which is a hard desire to bring to light. Looking back, the way I could’ve done it was by asking her about her photos, what did she like about them, what did they mean to her? It most likely would’ve uncovered her fears about people stealing her photos, and if I had done that, I could’ve recommended a more secure option like selling her images on CanStock Photo or Fotolia. Which would’ve given her more value, and quelled her fears.

But again, lesson learned!

Linking value to people and their emotions

Value is inherent to people’s desires and/or fears. Both of which can be difficult to get out of people. Many times desires are selfish, and people don’t necessarily want to talk about them. Many times fears are silly and people don’t necessarily want to talk about them. But if you can link the desire someone has to the value you’re providing, your close rate should go up. If you can extinguish a person’s fear by showing them that having the value is better than the absence of it, you should win more deals.

Business people, especially, are known for keeping their emotions in check, but it’s those emotions that will give you clues to a person’s hidden goals. From the moment you get on the phone with someone, listen to those emotions. When they talk to you about the project, how do they sound? Are they frantic, are they calm, do they sound miserable or super ecstatic? When they email you about the project, what’s the tone? Is it short and to the point, do they ramble on about it? When you meet them in person, gauge their body language. Do they seem comfortable, are they attentive, or laid back?

Observation is a huge building block in understanding the desire behind value. When you’re around people tune in to their channels. Make insightful observations on what you see, hear, and feel. And continue to ask questions. If someone looks worried, say something like “Hey Tom, you look like you’re a little worried about this project, what concerns do you have?” People secretly want to tell you their desires, they just don’t want to be judged because of it. So, right from the very beginning when you first meet with someone you need to make them feel at ease. You do that by expressing empathy, giving respect, and making genuine connections.

How do you measure value?

If you remember my definition of value, it’s dependent on the person who’s doing the measuring and what their desires and/or fears are. So, with that in mind, you first have to know the “who” — who is your buyer? Obviously individuals will have their own idiosyncrasies, but you can make some overall assumptions about certain types of buyers. And I’m sure you know that figuring out your audience or who you’re trying to sell to is of uber importance. The technology buyer, let’s assume they like quality. And let’s assume that the marketing buyer likes results. Well, that gives you a starting point and you can pivot your observations off of your assumptions to make intelligent assessments.

Then you need to know the “what” — what is the challenge, what is the project, what are the major goals, what is the platform? All these questions will help uncover what you’re doing so you can start figuring out your tactical approach. Things like should I recommend WordPress or Drupal, how long do I think the project will take, who will I need for this project. And also your strategic approach. Things like what’s the best solution for this, what’s the most innovative solution for this?

Throughout this entire process of helping your client or prospect find the right solution, you need to be strategically searching for the “why” — why do they truly want to do this? Is it something their boss said they had to do and they’d rather not be involved, or is this something they’re truly jazzed about, if so, why are they super jazzed about it? The why can uncover hidden goals for you to better position your solution and agency. The why can truly connect you to your client and make you a lifelong advisor. Knowing and understanding the why can separate you from the competition and link you to your client and new business. The why weighs the most.

Every time I tell someone what I do, they always reply with the same question — “what exactly is that?” What they’re asking is — what is business development? It’s sales, right? Or it’s about growing a business, right? Well…if you think about it, business development has many different faces. Numerous flocks of people think that biz dev is simply sales. It is not, I assure you. Sales is a part of it, but…not everything! Now if you scour the internet and Google “what is business development” – you’re bound to get different answers on every result you click on.

When you work for a services firm, business development is a process. Now I touch on services agencies because I believe building strategies for business development working for a web services company is different than web products. Why? Because products, often times, are tangible. Not in the sense that you can pick it up and touch it, but there’s a known feature that usually solves a client’s problem. Web services are intangible, and it’s challenging, at times, to get a client to see the value as you would a web product. Therefore, the process of developing business is slightly different.

The business development process is a continual cycle…

Biz dev needs to be cared for, looked after…you can’t wing your business development. Business development is not just sales, it consists of the following:

  1. Service or offering — what do you provide? How do you articulate this? This is why you are in business.
  2. Marketing — letting the world know that you have this service or offering.
  3. Sales — selling your offer and building your client list, as well as expanding on your current client accounts.
  4. Client advocacy & management — being there for your client and delivering what you promised you’d deliver. This helps retain clients and you can use that to your advantage to get more clients. Happy clients make for great references!
  5. Partnerships — teaming up with other firms that are complimentary to yours, not in direct competition.
  6. Networking — going to events, meeting industry people, building a network.
  7. Getting feedback — from your clients, from the prospects that you didn’t close, from your team and yourself.

This is an on-going process, and one that you’ll cycle through and tweak as time goes on, but let’s hop into it and talk about the many faces of business development.

Articulating your offer…

Why would a prospect want your service over another agency’s service? Let’s face it, there are thousands of web agencies out there that probably do exactly what you do. So, how do you differentiate? This is where business development starts. Articulating your offer is the first thing that needs to be done, it is the basis for which we build our business development plan. Now, the offer can (and probably will) 3d stick figure articulating the offerchange as time goes on, but fine-tuning what you already have is the quickest route to success.

Focus is the name of the game. Customers and prospects want an agency that has a deep understanding of one or a few things. Strategy, Web Design, Web Development. If you look at the agencies that have been in business for a while and are thriving (not just surviving), you’ll see that they have focus in one or two areas and companies specifically seek them out to do business with.

Articulating your offer is no easy feat, and for every agency out there, it’s going to be different. What makes you unique? Are they your services, do you have a deep and narrow focus in one area that beats out your competition? Maybe it’s your values? Your crew? Or maybe it’s a vertical that you know inside and out. Whatever it is, you need your audience to have only one response to it — “That’s what you do? I’d love to know more about that.” — Every time you tell someone what you do, you want them to be intrigued enough to ask you questions about it. This gets the conversation going.

I know, this is a tall order, but that’s why you have a team. Get their input, ask them how they articulate what they do. You can also look at the marketplace and how your competition is articulating their offer. My previous agency Oomph “crafts digital experiences with passion and purpose.” 10up, a WordPress digital agency, “makes content management easy, maybe even fun.” The agency my sister works for, Liberty Concepts, they are “building engaged communities and influencing conversations taking place online.” Now, these probably don’t get everyone they reach to say “really, tell me more…” but they do speak to their specific audience. And remember, your offer-articulation will change as time goes on as businesses and markets shift.

Marketing to the world…(or maybe just your users)

Marketing is the next crucial step and one, for a long time, that went overlooked in the business world. Sales was always the front runner, but ever since the dawn of the inbound versus outbound debate, marketing has got its fair shake. Of course, the reality is — is that sales and marketing are two very different disciplines and two very different mindsets. But they do work together, not in opposition like the long cold war it has been of the late (late) 20th century.

Marketing can either aid or handicap your sales team. You can have sales-focused marketing, it behaves as a function to grab those potential customers who are considering whether or not to buy. If you look at an entire client cycle from initial contact to the final launch of a project, you have a progression that goes something like this:

  1. Project idea
  2. Need to research firms (and pick the right one)
  3. Narrow the list of potential agencies to work with (the short-list)
  4. Get a proposal and presentation
  5. Negotiate contracts and sign
  6. Kickoff the project
  7. Delivery of the project (completed)
  8. Evaluate the end product
  9. Then start it all over again if there’s another project (which there will always be)

So, with all that in mind and looking at it from the shoes of your customer, what are the things your customer needs from an information standpoint to make solid decisions? What questions will they have? And at each of these stages, what are your customers thinking about?

Customer’s thought-process
  1. Project idea — This is going to be a lot of fun or this is not going to be a lot of fun, either way, how do I get this project started? I need to find a web agency. Where do I look?
  2. Need to research firms (and pick the right one) — what firms have what I’m looking for? Who do they work with, what do they specialize in? What verticals do they work in?
  3. Narrow the list of potential agencies to work with (the short-list) — which agencies impressed me the most? What case studies would I like to show my boss? Which firm do I get a good vibe from? Have they done really awesome work? Do they have good references?
  4. Get a proposal and presentation — how hard will this process be? What will I need to get them, what will they want from me? Will their proposal/presentation address my challenge?
  5. Negotiate contracts and sign — ugh, contracts! I know they’re necessary, need to get sign-off.
  6. Kickoff the project — what should I expect? Who will they need from my team? What information do I need to put together?
  7. Delivery of the project (completed) — will this go smoothly? Will there be any unforeseen obstacles? Will we get along with everyone, will I like what they build and design for us?
  8. Evaluate the end product — is this what I expected? Do I feel we got our money’s worth?
  9. Then start it all over again if there’s another project (which there will always be) – the last project went awesome, can’t wait to do it again. Or, the last project was awful, I don’t want to go through this process again.

Answering questions like these will help your sales team close more business. Now, obviously, marketing isn’t all sales-oriented. Marketing is also about brand reputation (which…will ultimately help with sales) that gets people to like you. And these are people that you may not even do business with, but they could become brand fans. And brand fans can be really good for business. They can advocate for your agency or a project you worked on that was super cool. Marketing can always reach a much wider audience than sales, you can use social media channels, automation and other technologies to get your value and brand out to the rest of the world. And remember, people and companies that are interested in buying from you will always research you first online and make assumptions and judgments without even speaking to you first — and that’s why marketing is uber important!

Sales — the cowboys of the business world…

I’ve written a few posts on sales and I’m sure to write more because sales its own special snowflake…and there’s a lot to it. Sales is demanding, very demanding. And if you’re not careful in business development, sales can eat up the majority of your time, because let’s face it — it’s the driver of more revenue. So what should we be focusing on in sales? Good question!

First, you need to look at the marketplace, what choices are out there that a prospect could potential make, what solutions are available to sell? Then you need to get serious about targeting your ideal client, who are they and what position do they hold, what types of companies/organizations do they work for? What problems or pain points can you solve for your customers? Who are your competitors and how might you lose to them?

Then the next step is establishing a sales process or refining the one you have now. You can be a sales cowboy, but even cowboys have a code. Don’t go out there and play things by ear, or ride the bullwanted: sales cowboy until you fall off. Get yourself focused on funneling prospects through a process that progresses the sale. Now, you may be progressing the sale to a ”no” but that’s ok. Rejection happens, but you have a process in place to make progress. The process won’t guarantee that you’ll close business, but it will guarantee that you get the “no’s” out of the way quicker, and get a better understanding of how your getting the “yes’s”

Look at how the sales process naturally goes, something like this:

  1. Lead generation / Prospecting
  2. Qualifying
  3. Scoping
  4. Proposals / Presentations
  5. Negotiations
  6. Contract signing / Closing

What are the things that you need to do in each of these stages in order to progress to the next one? What’s the requirement of each stage, what is the purpose of each stage, which team member will be a part of each stage, and what resources will I use for each stage? I have a table that outlines all these things, see below:

The stages of the buying process and their essentials

Having something outlined like this will help you on a couple different levels. The first one is obvious, it follows the stages of the buying process. When you have a legitimate lead and you know they are going to buy (maybe not from you, but hopefully), then you can progress the sale by getting the prospect to hit the requirement for each stage. The second level is that prospects will come to you at different stages of the buying cycle. They may be dealing with another agency and then something went wrong. Maybe there was a conflict of interest and they went searching for a new agency and found you. But, that prospect has already been though the qualifying stage with another agency and wants to hop right into scoping. Well, you just need to know if they meet the requirement to hop on in to scoping. Use this table as a guide or make your own so you don’t have to think about the next step, you can concentrate on your prospect.

Customer satisfaction and delivering on your promise…

During the sales process, the sales cowboy always makes promises. Make sure those are communicated properly to the project team. If a client is expecting one thing, and the project team doesn’t deliver on it, then that makes for an unhappy client and bad word of mouth. Which, in the world of small business, goes a long way!

Good communication and continuing to build client intimacy and advocacy will have a drastic affect on your customer base. Clients want to feel like they are the only client, so when your account managers or project managers connect with the client, there needs to be cohesion from the sales team. The sales people have been dealing with these customers and then once a sale is made, they hand the customer off to the project team. Make sure there’s continuity there that usually comes in the form of a project handoff meeting between the sales team, PM, and the new client.

But as a business development person, you’ll want to check back in with the client to make sure things are running smoothly, that the client is getting value out of the process and project, and you need to look for more opportunities. Relationships are a huge part of agency business. Don’t be afraid to leverage those relationships, even if that means getting a case study out of it. At the most, you can get more business through other projects within that customer’s company, or good referrals for other organizations that might have a project in mind. When you’re in the midst of a project, the focus is on delivering great work, but you still can’t neglect finding opportunities, or being oblivious to them.

Navigating the world of good partnerships…

There are different types of partnerships out there; formal ones, informal ones, referral partnerships, hand-shake partnerships, ones that have contracts and ones that don’t. The only thing I’d really like to touch on with partnerships is this: In today’s business world and with the ever-growing list of customer needs — partnerships help with being able to give a client a full experience.

Your agency is really good at a few things, right? Like web strategy and design. Another firm specializes in custom web development and the templates you design need to be developed with custom code. That makes for a decent partnership. Where the waters can get muddied is in ownership. Who owns the client? How will meetings be handled? This is all something that you’ll have to work out with the other 3d stick figure partnerships putting puzzle pieces togetheragency to see what the best experience is for the customer. Maybe the customer only wants to deal with one entity. If that’s the case, you can communicate things through from your partner agency.

Partnerships are also good to reach a wider audience for leads. This is why you’ll see many hosting providers like WP Engine, Pantheon, Acquia, etc. have many partners. In essence, they all help each other out. Now, a lot of these bigger hosting companies require that you pay a certain amount of money each year to be a partner. That’s not right for every agency, but it may be right for you, it all depends on revenue, growth, and the ROI you think you’ll get from being a preferred partner.

As a biz dev person, you need to seek out, research, and evaluate different partnerships. Partnerships should add to your business and your partner’s business, they should be mutually beneficial. If they aren’t, then it really isn’t a partnership.

Network…don’t business develop with business development

Networking has been around for a very long time, but they didn’t always call it networking. It’s been called schmoozing, rubbing elbows, social climbing, mingling, and many other names. But networking plays a big role in business development. It’s meeting people, it’s being seen, it’s playing the game.

But there are a few things I want to point out about networking. The first is that it isn’t about the company, it’s about the individual. As a business development professional you attend events to network, but you need to network wisely. When I first started out, I was the guy that would hand out my business card to everyone, and that just doesn’t work. Nobody wants to talk to the guy who wants to talk to everyone.

And when I first started out, I didn’t have much of a network. I only had my friends, and that’s where I started. I asked them to connect me with someone they knew who was in my line of work that I could get advice from. People love giving advice, so go talk to people. Listen to people. When you go to an event, go there to meet one or two people, but make solid connections. Learn what they do, have good networkingconversations, have impactful conversations. Make impactful impressions by making strong connections.

The other thing I want to touch on is the trap of networking. Don’t go out there and attend every event that you can, you’ll get burned out on that, quickly. The thing you’ll notice as you start to go to more networking events is that there are soooo many business development professionals at these events. And most are there because they want to sell something. Pick out the events that are focused on a certain vertical, like say your agency works in the healthcare field. Search for healthcare/digital events — I know you can find plenty. And pick the ones that have an expert speaker in that particular industry. There are usually a lot of industry (remember, healthcare) people there that can either connect you to the right people in there company or are the right people. But you don’t go there to sell them anything. There’s nothing people dislike more than being at an industry event to learn something and a salesman walks up to them to try and earn their business, it’s a turn-off. So, when you’re at these events, listen to what the speakers are saying, learn about the subject, and tell your prospect (or whoever you meet) that you are there because you have an interest in the subject matter. Have organic conversations, don’t push a solution down someone’s throat at an event, it hardly ever works.

Networking is about consistency, the more you go to industry events, the more you’ll be recognized as someone in that community. And then when prospects at those events have a project they need done, if you’ve left a good impression and made an impactful connection, they’ll remember where they put your business card and give you a call.

Feedback improves the process…

I can’t stress the need to get feedback from your clients. It will really help you improve the process. You’ll also want to try and get feedback from the prospects you lost during the sales cycle, that will help you improve your sales process.

With prospects you lost, think about putting together a quick Google form and sending out a survey that has 5 to 10 questions with input fields. It’s hard enough to get people to give you feedback, let alone someone you didn’t sign as a client, so don’t make it too daunting. But if you ask nicely and tell them it would improve your process, many will comply. Certain questions could be:

  • Did you understand the solution we recommended implementing?
  • Was there any part of the process that confused you?
  • What was your favorite part of the process?
  • What did our competitors do better than us?
  • What was the ultimate deciding factor for choosing / not choosing us?

Remember, you can give these to anyone who went through your sales process to better that particular process.

For clients that you did work for, they’ll go through a different feedback review and it should include sitting down with your client to get feedback. Put aside 30 to 45 minutes, a week or so after the project is all finished and review the project. And just listen to their answers. Certain questions could be:

  • How would you say the overall project flow went?
  • Was there any part of the project process that you didn’t like?
  • Do you feel like everything was communicated to you properly?
  • How would you describe your feeling toward the end product?
  • And many more….

And remember, just listen, don’t offer excuses or argue with them, just listen. Get the feedback to the team and the leadership, and tweak the process if it needs tweaking (which…it always will!).

Then, if appropriate, ask for testimonials or case studies. Ask if you can use them as a reference. I can’t point out the importance of having a number of references on hand. When a biz dev guy is in the middle of selling something and the prospect asks for a reference, it’s nice to be able to pull from a pool of happy clients. And then also, look for future opportunities. Communicate with your clients after the project is finished, check in with them and keep that relationship strong.

Wrapping up business development…

Let’s cycle back to the beginning, what is business development? Well, it’s all of these things — you’ll wear the marketing face, the sales face, networking and partnership face, and the customer advocacy face, all the while trying to articulate your offer just right and getting feedback throughout the process.

If you look up the exact definition of business development, it probably goes something like this:

The process of experiencing growth through acquiring more profitable clients and expanding existing customer accounts.

– which, if you think about it, encompasses many things, many faces. Business development is a discipline and one that should be given the proper time to work for your agency. Believe me, it will take time. The role of business development is a jack of all trades, but still a master of one. Kudos to all the biz dev people out there — the unsung heroes of the business world!

Google only loves you when everyone else does.

I forget who said it, but it’s true, Google takes notice when everyone starts to love you. SEO has been around ever since search engine rank pages (SERPs) have gotten more and more competitive. And as the world wide web continues to scale, I imagine seeing results off of your SEO efforts will become harder and harder to recognize. The reason I’m interested in SEO is because it’s kind of like a game of chess. It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at it or how much you sweet-talk it, good SEO is a long and strategic game. And good SEO implementation always starts with one thing — research. Specifically, keyword research.

Keyword research is the foundation to any good SEO campaign. Now for those of you new to the tech world and SEO, it stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s a methodology of strategies, techniques, and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to your website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results of a SERP. You don’t have to be born of royal blood to have good SEO, you don’t need to be the daughter of a hip-hop mogul; you just need to outsmart the competition.

Search terms to search for…

To start, you’ll want to have a keyword in mind. A keyword that you’ll want your website or your web page/post to rank for. Let’s start with an easy example:

My father blogs about wine at TheWitIsOut.com and he wants to rank for terms like “red wine” and “best wine” — only issue is that these search terms are extremely hard to rank for. Why? Because they are considered ‘head’ terms or terms that are most frequently searched which usually carries with it some steep competition. But head terms can also be ambiguous and not as relevant as other terms. When deciding what keywords you’d like your site to rank for, you want to look at 3 different areas:

  1. Relevance: the keyword needs to accurately reflect the nature of your product, services, or offerings
  2. Volume: the number of searches per month for a particular keyword
  3. Competition: the number of websites or web pages competing for a particular keyword or search term

Ideally, you’d like to find a keyword or search term that has a high number of searches (volume) and a low number of competing websites (competition), and is highly pertinent to your offering (relevance) — if we can just find that keyword, we’ll be all set – LOL!

Tools for searching for search terms…

Although SEO can be a bit of trial and error because search engines (and their algorithms) constantly change, Google does offer some really cool tools to aid in our keyword research. Remember earlier when I talked about head terms and how they are the more frequent terms that are searched. Keywords like ‘red wine,’ ‘car’ and ‘Mac’ – Well, there are also terms called long-tail terms, these are the terms that we’ll be looking at.

Head vs. Long-tail

  • ‘red wine’ —— ‘2003 red wine cabernet’
  • ‘car’ —— ‘2013 Hyundai Accent’
  • ‘Mac’ —— ‘ used Macbook Pro’

Just a few examples – but we can test all these examples for volume and competition with a little tool called the Keyword Planner. Now, you’ll need to sign up for an account with Google Adwords, but don’t fret, you don’t have to spend any money if you don’t want to. The thing that we’re interested in are the tools.

The Keyword Planner will ask you where you’d like to start, and just click on the “search for new keywords” which will pop open a form that looks like this:

Keyword Planner form

Now, if you’ll notice at the top you can enter in certain phrases or keywords. You can also select a product category. Or target a certain region or state or city, and you can change filters to show only closely related keywords or broadly related keywords. Let’s type in ‘red wine’ and see what comes back.

Keyword Planner results for 'red wine' search term

 

As you can see, the average monthly search is about 110k searches. In the graph, we can see that December is the month with the most searches (most likely because of the holiday season) and surprisingly the competition is only at a medium right now, not high! So, that’s interesting. But it does give us a number of other keyword ideas that could potentially help in our SEO efforts.

Keyword Planner keyword research ideas

The Keyword Planner suggests different keywords for us. Look at the first one in the list ‘best red wine’ – this one has got a lot of volume (which is good), but it’s also got a boat ton of competition (which is not so good!). But let’s go down to ‘types of red wine’ – this volume is also pretty high at 12k average monthly searches, but the competition is pretty low. You can download this list into an Excel or Google sheet to get more accurate information. Let’s do that.

Keyword Planner Google Sheet keyword research

As you can see, we get a complete list of recommended search terms and actual numbers to go with their competition, not just a level of high, medium, or low. Now if we look at ‘types of red wine’ we’ll see that the average monthly searches is still at 12k, but the competition is .04 – that’s super low! Super low! So, before you go and use this as your keyword, you have to put yourself in the shoes of your user (or the searcher). Would this search term be good for my dad to use on his blog? I’m not quite sure yet. I always get a little weary when the search term seems relevant and there’s a high number of searches (volume), but the competition is really low. So let’s dive deeper.

My dad blogs about wine; wineries, vintage wine, wine reviews, wine ratings and the like. His ideal visitor is someone who is interested in wine and wants to get good recommendations, but also someone who is just starting to get interested in wine—the novice wine taster. If you put yourself in the shoes of the person searching for ‘types of red wine’ what do you think they are looking for? Probably types of red wine – lol! But the issue is this — we don’t know their intent. Maybe they are searching for types of red wine because they want to buy some, or maybe they just want to learn what types of red wine are out there. If you look at the next search term down ‘benefits of red wine’ – it’s the same thing (high volume, low competition) but my guess is that people searching for that term are concerned about the dietary or health aspects of wine. But still, it could be a good term to try and rank for if you have a wine blog. Either way, I think both of those would be good for my father’s site.

Another tool you can use is Google Trends. Google Trends will show you how often a particular search term is entered and compare it to search volume across various regions of the world and will compare it to different search terms as well. One thing I like to do is singular vs. plural. In the example ‘types of red wine’ we can see if the keyword phrase ‘type of red wine’ is searched more often. Let’s take a look:

Google Trends comparison

As we can see, ‘types of red wine’ are searched more often than ‘type of red wine’ — so I think it’s safe to say that we can go with ‘types of red wine’ as our keyword phrase.

Keyword distribution…

You’ll want to distribute your keywords appropriately across your website and the easiest way to do that is in a spreadsheet. Ugh, not another spreadsheet! Yup! Map out your entire site and list these categories:

  • Pages
  • Keywords
  • URLs
  • Titles (preferably under 65 characters)
  • Meta-descriptions (preferably under 65 characters) – these don’t so much help with SEO anymore, but they will help with your click-thru rate. And being under 65 characters, you can be sure the search engine won’t truncate any of the text that’s viewed to the user
  • H1’s (the biggest header on your page or post)

You can populate a spreadsheet with your existing content, this’ll make it easy to spot duplicates. Search engines want unique and relevant information. Unique and relevant…

Things to remember with keyword research…

Remember, you have to look at the keyword attributes of relevance, volume, and competition. Relevant keywords are much more likely to drive conversions on your site, than ones that are broadly related. Volume is the number of average monthly searches and you can find this using Google Adwords Keyword Planner, as well as the competition, which is the number of other sites trying to rank or compete for the same keyword phrase. You can download the Keyword Planner results to a spreadsheet which give you a much better reflection of the competition in numeric results.

The other thing you need to remember is that SEO is an on-going process. It’s a long and strategic game. So, you need to evaluate your SEO and keyword research continually. The industry changes constantly, the market changes constantly, the competition changes constantly. You need to be able to adapt to the change as well, so evaluate your keywords on a quarterly basis, see if traffic or conversions on your site are going up or down and re-adjust. More to come on the topic of SEO.