Beware – You Can Create A Whole New Person on the Internet

As more people lose jobs or income, more and more scams–or less than honest opportunities– are appearing on the internet.  As a professional writer, who personally knows a lot of other writers, let me say that you should NEVER believe everything you read.  As someone once said, “Don’t believe most of what you read, and only half of what you see!”

Talented writers, professional motivational speakers, and website entrepreneurs can be very creative.  They can even create a whole new person and make you believe that they exist.  Unfortunately, anyone can say anything on the internet as long as it doesn’t lible someone else.

What does this have to do with gift business owners who are Creative Gift Entrepreneurs?  A lot!

How many times have you received emails telling you how wonderful a particular product or service is and how great the person behind it is?  We all have at one time or another.  Most of us regularly receive emails offering to put us on page one of the search engines if we only hire them to optimize our website.  Or how about the minister wanting to buy large quantities of a particular gift if you’ll only let him know how to pay you?  There are many scams– and the internet is a gold mine for scammers and those who are less than honest.

Innocence or Deceit — Which is it?

A person, who wants to impress potential customers,  can even create a whole different personality and resume for themselves in order to lure you into their web of deceit.  Sometimes it’s very innocent as in the example of the gift basket entrepreneur who has created a “twin” to handle the marketing aspect of his business or the business owner who has created an “assistant” to handle the customer service and email responses.  There’s nothing wrong with either of these creations.

But other times, it’s not so innocent, particularly if the person is trying to take your money for a product or service that doesn’t exist.  The statement “Buyer Beware” is very true of any internet website or email wanting to sell you something.

How to Protect Yourself?

How can you protect yourself?  It can be difficult as folks, who do this, are truly creative entrepreneurs.  Their background and experience and even testimonials can sound so convincing that any of us can be easily fooled.  But, unless you are personally familiar with a particular person, product, or service, ask someone that may be more familiar with what you are considering.  Does their resume include speaking and writing experience?  If so, ask for references and check them out.  Do they include testimonials?  If so, ask for names and phone numbers and check them to see if they actually exist.  Even then, a reference may be a “friend in on the kill.”

If it is a website, check the domain name and see when it was first registered.  You can do that easily at whois.com or any other website where you can buy domain names.  If it is brand new, I would be a little suspicious.  It could be legitimate or it could be someone out to make a fast buck before disappearing.

If it is an opportunity or product related to your own industry, it’s easy enough to ask others who are familiar with the industry what they know about a particular person, product, or service.

But, as I said, anyone can say anything or even create a whole new persona on the web.  I could tell you that I’ve published ten books about the gift basket industry and they’ve each sold over a million copies.  That would be a lie but you would have to do some research to discover that it is untrue.  I could tell you that I’ve been a speaker at The Basket Connection Convention in Orlando and again in Atlanta and that I was a regular staff writer for our trade magazine, Rave Reviews, since it began.  That would all be true and could be checked out with anyone who is familiar with our industry.

So, if you are considering spending money for a product or service that you are unfamiliar with, check it out.  It could be the best thing since sliced bread or it could be someone anxious to take your money in exchange for little or nothing.

Creating niches with your gift website

One of the best things that you can do with your website is to develop your content around keywords and phrases that are generic gifts such as “Flagstaff Gift Baskets.

“But my competition is doing the very same thing,” you may say.

That’s true, but that shouldn’t stop you.  Just take it a step further and expand on those generic niches.

There are many niches you can create that people will actually be searching the web for.  “But I don’t have any niches,” you say.  “I sell gift baskets.”

Yes, you do have niches.  And, each of these is a niche that can provide opportunities to create very focused content, with key phrases your competition isn’t targeting.  How about:

  • Flagstaff gourmet gift baskets
  • Flagstaff apartment gifts
  • Northern Arizona University care packages
  • Flagstaff Medical Center Get Well Gift Baskets

If you look at traffic statistics for a gift website that receives high traffic, you’ll be surprised at the search phrases that brings in that traffic.  These phrases are called “the long tail” of seach.

There are a great many more search terms that you can use to create a niche.  Then create content that is focused on these niche  words and phrases and optimize the page for both visitors and search engines.  There will be far less competition, and you’ll do much better in the search engines.  You don’t need to write a novel on these topics.  Five hundred words or so is usually adequate.  The text, combined with photos of what you can create for these niches, can make a very effective search engine magnet.

Your site can develop several niches, each as a major page with sub-pages for each title and phrase.  Why compete for the major words when you’re able to get first page search positions for the lesser-used key phrases?

If you have more information than you feel comfortable putting on one page, link to sub-pages that expand on even more focused niches.

By spending time on this one part of your website, you can go a long ways towards beating your competition.

 

It All Goes Back Into The Box

Ken Blanchard, author of “The One Minute Manager and other business books,”  told the story about the little boy who really wanted to beat his grandmother at Monopoly.  He studied.  He practiced.  He learned.   Until one day, he beat her at the game and told her, “Finally!  I beat you.”

She smiled as she picked up the pieces and put them back into the monopoly box.

She then told the child, “Yes, you did.  But let me tell you another lesson that I’ve learned about playing the game of life.  You can work hard, study, practice and become whatever kind of person you want to me.  But when the game of life is over, it all goes back into the box.  The only thing that’s left behind is what you’ve created or done for others.”

I’ve heard the phrase “You have to give to get,” and have also heard results of how people have been blessed as a direct result of what they have given to others.

But I have a different philosophy.  I don’t think you have to give to get.  I think you give, not because of what you will receive in return, but because your giving is from the heart.

There’s a country-western song that tells the tale about a young man who stopped to help an elderly lady stopped on the highway with a problem with her car.  The young man was broke but instead of taking payment for his help, he told the lady to “Pass it On!”  The song goes on to tell of a waitress, who was pregnant, tired, and discouraged.  An elderly lady left a $100 tip.  That night the waitress laid in bed beside the young man who had helped the elderly woman with her car and told him about the woman who had left the $100 tip.  And the song ends with the magical words of “Just Pass It On.”

I am a business coach for a County Business Empowerment Class in my community.  Last week, a local entrepreneur, who has become very successful, spoke about how he started his business hoping to make lots of money.  He said that he was in the business for the money–not just because it enables him to live well and do things he’s always wanted to do–but because he can use that money to help others as well.  I remember the author of “Everything I needed to Know About Life I learned in Kindergarden” say basically the same thing.

Successful entrepreneurs have to be interested in money if they hope to be successful.  You can’t just forget the financial parts of a business and operate it any way you feel like.  How you treat your customers, your investors, and even your vendors go a long way towards determining how financially successful you will be.

There are, of course, those like Ken Lay of Enron fame and Mr Matoff of Ponzi scheme fame, who cheat others to make their millions and then use it to live like kings.  Then there are those entrepreneurs who achieve their business goals while practicing the principal of “Pass It On!”

When the game of life is all over, and it all goes back into the box, the Ken Lays and Matoffs of the world will leave behind people who have been hurt or destroyed.

The “Pass It On” entrepreneurs will leave a legacy that may not even be known by most but will be appreciated and remembered by those they helped.

We are in the midst of changes in the world.  Changes bring opportunities.  What will you do with them?  Share your comments!

The Face in the Mirror or What Did You Learn Today?

Look at yourself if you want success

three-bearsRemember that girl called Goldilocks?
And how she broke into the house of the Three Bears?
And how she ate their porridge, sat in their chairs, and slept on their beds?
All while the three bears felt that their little home in the forest was safe and secure while they went into the woods for a picnic that day.

Well, that’s what has happened to many business owners.
Something has eaten your porridge, rocked in your  chairs, and rustled those
sheets while it slept in your bed — all while you felt you were secure enough that you could relax and go into the woods for a picnic while your business took care of itself.

And suddenly you arrived home to find the doors unlocked, the bed unmade, and the porridge all gone.  “Woe is me!” you moan, as you wring your hands.  “What is a hard working business person to do?”

I’ve read posts on the gift basket bulletin boards both from people starting a business and from those who have been in business for years.  They ask, “What can we do to rescue our businesses in this economy?  What techniques are working for the rest of you. ”

“Tell me, Tell me quick so that I can do it do,” they seem to say.

Businesses are closing daily while others are in dire need of  resuscitation.  But you’re looking for the wrong Goldilocks.

  • It’s not the economy.  People are still spending money on “feel good” gifts.
  • It’s not the lack of customers.  They’re still there, waiting to buy.
  • It’s not the industry.  As a whole, it is as strong as ever and will remain whole even if your business doesn’t.

The answer is easy.  Take a few moments, step into your bathroom, and look into the mirror.  You’ll see the answer staring you in the face.  Ask that person that you see looking back at you, “Are you taking advantage of every resource out there to keep your business growing and thriving in today’s world?”

Then step back, think a few moments, and listen to the answer swirling around in your head.

I believe that the strength and the backbone of any industry, including the gift and gift basket industry, rests with the educational offerings, resources, and information shared with each other.  The world is changing.  The gift industry is changing.  That’s not news.  It has been changing from the time it first began.  There are always new ways to attract customers, new technology to embrace, new ways to keep our customers coming back, and new ways to motivate employees.  There are always new products, new techniques, and new resources.

So let me ask you the question:  What did you learn today?  What resource did you take advantage of? What new technique did you try?  What idea did you put into practice?

And don’t say, “How can I do that?  There aren’t any resources!  I’m all alone.”

It’s not a question of a lack of resources.  There are numerous Facebook groups available for your use — all frequented by many experienced in this industry that can help guide you through the maze. Most, like our GiftBasketNetwork group  are free.   The others either require a subscription to our national trade magazine or a membership in a gift basket directory, or a membership fee to use the board.  The advantage that the private boards have over the free open-to-the-public boards is that those with knowledge to share are more willing to share if they show what they are sharing isn’t going to show up in the search engines.

Are you taking advantage of the other resources?  GiftBusinessInsider, a monthly digital publication for the gift basket  industry, isn’t free.  GiftBasketNetwork is the leading directory, for the least cost and the most benefits, for driving traffic to your website.

You can operate your business on a shoestring but you can’t grow it without spending some money on important resources.

Are you learning everything you can about changes in the industry and in technology?

Some of you are while others are stretched out on the grass sleeping away the afternoon while Goldilocks trashes your house.

So look in that mirror and place the responsibility, for making sure that your business continues to grow and thrive, where it belongs.

Today, and at the end of each day, ask the face that is staring back at you, “What did you learn today?”

Is Internet Progress Overrated?

computer-userHas progress on the internet taken us to a better place?  Has it helped us grow our business?  Are all the new-fangled opportunities for “social networking”, videos, and streaming javascript worth the time and effort involved in using them?

I’d say “yes” and “no”.  The internet has provided us the opportunity to operate a business model that can compete with the big corporate giants that are able to outspend and outemploy more than we ever could.  The internet allows us to expand outside our local market and sell to people all over the country–or even around the world, if that is our goal.  Yes, the internet has definitely helped us grow our businesses.

Social networking and all the other new-fangled ideas, such as blinking pictures, videos, podcasts, flash pages, streaming javascript (which allows us to have constantly changing photos or text on our site) are another story however.  They’re cool! They’re neat!  They’re fun! But do they really increase traffic and sales conversions?

My answer is a resounding NO!  That is why, even though we have the knowledge and capability to do so, we don’t incorporate most of these new techniques in the websites that we own and seriously want to convert.  And the reason is simple.  These are gimmicks that are intended to make a website look “professional”, “up-to-date” and “cool” .  But, in reality, except for the “under 30 age crowd” (which are only a very small minority of my customers), most customers dislike them.  And, unless they are incorporated very carefully by someone who understands search engine spiders very well, most search engines dislike them even more.

Many users of the web are technically-challenged.  That’s true of even many of our gift basket company owners.  They don’t understand all this new-fangled stuff and prefer to avoid it.  But it’s all too easy for a webmaster, who enjoys adding this type of glitz to a shopping website, to convince you that it’s the thing to have if you want to be “up-to-date”.  But what is much more important is how does it help you convert visitors to buyers?  Does it make more money for you?

If used correctly and you have the time to spend on it, social media  has its place and can help to a degree.  Social media doesn’t yet come close to competing with search or email in terms of effectiveness. But marketers are still asking themselves whether that is because social media is ineffective or simply because, despite the hype, a huge percentage of people online aren’t actively or regularly engaged with social media sites and channels. 

By social media, I’m referring to Facebook, My Space, Linked In, Twitter and the many others out there.  These social networking sites can be used to promote your business.  I use them for that purpose.  But they are just a tool and are not nearly as effective as other means of driving traffic to your website.  There are ways to automatically post your blog posts on your Facebook wall and as a Twitter.  But you have to understand how they work and how best to use them.  And learning that takes more of those precious minutes.

Forums and Blogging are two other forms of social networking that can be very effective.

How much time do you have to spend on all these sites?  When I asked the members of my Gift Basket Network what their biggest problem was, the most frequent answer was “Not enough time in the day to do everything that needed to be done for their business”.  Add to “not enough time” such activities as posting “I’m going to my son’s ballgame tonight” on your wall on Facebook or “Today is a beautiful day.  Just don’t have time to enjoy it” as a Twitter post and what do you have?  Not more traffic to your website, that’s for sure.  You’ve just deducted precious minutes from those hours that were already filled with your “have to do” list. 

Blogging, posting on related blogs, and posting in forums can help build your business…once again, only if used correctly.  A blog, that is built specifically to drive traffic and is properly optimized, is a fast, effective, and efficient way to communicate with your customers and prospects  — just as I am communicating with you.  It can make you “real” to those customers and help them to get to know you as a person.  It can also be used to sell products if done right.  But you need to know the techniques necessary to do it.  Posting on blogs, that are related to your website and have good search engine visibility, can help your own website’s seach engine optimization by providing valuable links to your site.  And you don’t have to have any technical savvy to do that.

Forums that are related to your industry can’t be beat for effective communication with others in the industry.  In the gift basket industry, there are a number of them that you can participate in.  You need to be selective and use those that are used by others who have information to share.  But, as with anything, you must give in order to receive.  Just signing into a forum, reading what others have shared, and signing out is not enough.  You need to contribute as well if you hope to receive that info you must have when the time comes and you’re desperate for an anwer to a question.

Post Foods ran a Shredded Wheat ad recently that asked this very question about progress and answered the question with:
 
” Honestly, what thanks do we owe progress?  We’re up to our necks in landfill, down to the wire on resources, and climate change is out to get us — or at best leave us with a nsasty sunburn.  Historically, civilizations are destroyed by progress.  Just ask the Pharaohs…”

And, just as the ad went on to say, “That’s why at Post Shredded Wheat, we put the “no” in innovation”, we, as owners of Gift Basket Network have also said “no”.

I created Gift Basket Network about six years ago.  One person (me).  One ingredient (professional gift basket company owners that wanted more traffic to their websites).  One website.  It was simple to navigate.  No add-ons or plug-ins.  Heck, it was even built in basic html and optimized following the severe requirements of the search engines.  We didn’t give it a fancy name or a lot of glitz.   Our market was not the gift basket company owner.  Our market, at that time and still is, the potential customer who is ready and willing to buy a gift or gift basket and is just looking for a place to do it.

We market to the gift basket company owners in other ways.  One of these was in the form of Gift Retailers Network after we had clearly established Gift Basket Network  one of the top gift basket directories on the web.  This blog that you are reading right now is another way that we market to you.  It is our way of demonstrating to you that combining the tried-and-true methods of internet marketing with a few carefully selected “social networking” methods is using progress to build your business. 

Does it work? History has proven it to be true so far.  But time will tell.