Blog

May 30

What Does Online Success Mean for Your Business?

Posted by Jaclyn Schmitz on Friday, May 30, 2014

Websites… It’s not IF you have one… It’s what VALUE does it bring?

Having a business website is no longer an option.  Most all businesses have accepted the fact that you need an online presence.  Whether word of mouth, offline advertising or a web search, prospects will search for your company no matter what industry or type of work, and what comes up (or doesn’t) is critical.

While the late adopters are just finally getting on board with some form of a website… Many companies are now expecting more from their website… What business pains can my website help me address?

A brochure site, with a location, phone number, and what you are about can be addressed through a free site, Yelp or any online directory.  Today, people expect ROI from their marketing efforts and expenses.

This means different things for different businesses or industries.  Here are a few samples of how small businesses have used their website as a marketing or operating tool, and seen a return on their website investment.

Goal: Increase Leads Online

Company: Roofing and Remodeling Company

After 2 recent websites, over $6K in online advertising, and not a single inquiry online, our client was concerned if he’d ever see online success.  After providing him a credible looking website, with best practice SEO and URL structure as well as conversion opportunities to Request A Quote online, he had 1 inquiry the day he went live, and 5 additional inquiries within the first week.  All leads are not only captured in a database within his website that he can now manage, but he can leverage that same database, segment and market to those contacts ongoing through email marketing. 

Goal: Create Automated Process to Work Smarter

Company: Confectionary / Bakery

A young couple started their bakery with enough business to stay busy and a few vendor fairs, but was not hitting their true potential due to running the business operations.  They had a current website, but wanted to update the brand, the visual appeal, but most importantly they wanted to start taking orders and cake reservations online, reducing the manual tasks of orders, reservations, and payments over the phone.  We were able to provide them a website solution that would help them improve their overall sales and operational processes, from an online managed calendar and booking capability for cake reservations, to online payments and full ordering, capabilities, including the ability to upload images and inspiration for the cake designs.  Within 3 months, they had a 300% surge in traffic, and have grown so much they’ve taken their in-home bakery to a dedicated shop.

Goal: Revamp Website Design with Mobile-Specific Experience

Company: Real Estate Broker

With a once brochure site that merely provided basic contact information, the Real Estate broker knew he needed an online tool that could not only provide his clients the listing information and additional resources, but also needed a system that could attract new Agents with loyalty campaigns and education seminars.  All these requirements for his website were just as critical to be accessed on a mobile device, but with a unique layout where the usability and experience are ideal for the user.  We accomplished this through responsive design, so users on the go could still access his listings, and seminar information, or if a prospect drove by his sign, they would have a quick way to contact him or learn more about him as an Agent. 

Online Success is in Reach... And Affordable

With the advancements in technology, you can have a professionally designed website that's affordable and works for you... Not just an expense on your tax sheet.  If your goal the second half of this year is to grow your business and start marketing online, ensure you have the correct website to help convert your online marketing initiatives.  Learn more about the  SMBfuel Difference and how you can achieve online success for your business.

Feb 06

Mind Maps for Small Business Owners

Posted by Cesar Keller on Thursday, February 06, 2014



Entrepreneurs thrive on seizing the next opportunity. Launching new products, better service offerings or creating new workflows are important types of responsibilities for small business owners. As we settle into 2014, many of us have great plans that need execution. And the goal of this blog post is to change the way you take notes and keep to do lists. Linear lists are great for getting groceries or packing for a trip. However, when it comes to planning for your business or new ideas, the technique simply falls short. A mind map is a diagram used to visually outline information. Mind mapping is a great exercise that maps out your thoughts in a natural way.

Why Mind Maps Work?

So why can’t I just continue making lists and do what I’ve always done? Because it isn’t an effective way to plan and it doesn’t flow with how your brain naturally thinks. This conflict leaves a lot of people stranded and confused.

Mind maps allow you to organize information exactly how your brain thinks. For those of you that care or are curious, this means thinking in a radiant rather than linear manner. You literally “map” out your thoughts. But instead of creating a list, you use associations. Furthermore, it allows for connections and triggers that stimulate further ideas. The stimulation of further ideas allows for better structure. So let’s examine the effectiveness and benefits:

• Matches the way your brain thinks (radial versus linear)
• Connects the dots through associations
• Creates information with better structure
• Stimulates further ideas

And finally, creating mindmaps isn’t something you need to take a class on. It is simply another way for planning and taking notes. Research shows that the brain likes to work on the basis of association and connecting the dots between ideas. You should try it today!

So how do I start a mind map today?

This is pretty simple. Let’s start with a simple description. A mind map is basically a diagram that connects information around a central subject. You start by making a circle and writing your main idea inside that circle. Then you start connecting different associated sub topics around your main concept. See the example below:

How we do it?

We’ve been using mindmeister.com. It’s a simple online application that is amazing. For $15 a month, we can mind map all kinds of things. We use it for planning our client websites, planning product updates, defining process, and much more. You can even sign up for a basic account that is free. Test it out yourself and be prepared to be amazed at how easy it is. The main reason we use Mindmeister is for the collaboration aspects as well as accessing our mind maps from anywhere. Whether it is a computer, laptop, tablet or phone – we literally can access our mindmaps from anywhere.

Summary

In conclusion, mindmaps are just a better way to take notes and plan for important things. It matches the way you think, it allows you to create natural connections between many ideas through associations, it stimulates more ideas, and most importantly it’s really easy.

If you are a small business owner with the entrepreneur spirit, try mind mapping some of your new plans and execute that vision in 2014!

Jan 23

Web Design Trends for 2014

Posted by Cesar Keller on Thursday, January 23, 2014



How will your website stand-up to the expectations of your visitors this year? It’s important to understand web usability, design trends, and best practices to ensure your online user experience leads to conversions and sales opportunities. Although every business is different, small business owners need to be aware of these trends to determine what is critical for their business needs. Most importantly, if you have ignored your website in the last couple of years, technology and mobile expectations have influenced the website industry so much, it might be time for a re-design.

We’ve reviewed projections of trends from 2013 leading into 2014, and after various posts and documentation from popular technology sites, here is what we’ve learned.

General information on web design trends

According to The Next Web, various trends from 2013 are still applicable. The most common statement across various authors is that the general trend is that web design is becoming more aesthetically minimalistic. It is all about simplification, mostly because companies want their brand to be interacted with across as many devices as possible. New web devices come with smaller screens and that means re-thinking how websites react to such resolutions and prime real estate.

Here are some of the topics reviewed:

  • Exotic Fonts
  • Flat Design
  • Simpler Color Palettes
  • Responsive Design / Mobile Web
  • Long Scrolling Sites
  • Web Video
  • Large Hero Images
  • Manipulated Imagery

Exotic Fonts

Gone are the days of sticking to web safe fonts. Print designers have lived in a world where typography makes such a difference – it opens up possibilities in expression. Conveying your brand through exotic fonts that strengthen the communication is becoming a standard in websites.

Flat Design

The online world revolves around creating and maintaining fresh new content. Flat design provides a simpler and more cost effective way for small businesses to keep up with this ever churning of assets. After all, we don’t all have a team of talented graphic designers ready to produce stellar composited and layered graphics. It takes too long and costs too much. Therefore, flat is in. The look is clean and professional, and more cost-effective to produce long-term. Let’s face it; we’ve seen this happen over the years with logos, now it’s happening with websites. Not a surprise.

Simpler Color Palettes

Color palettes used in the most progressive websites are narrowing their accent color choices to 2 or 3 tops. This trend also goes hand in hand with the simplification of web. It’s an extension of minimalism and the trend of flat design. After all, less is more when designed well.

Responsive Design / Mobile Web

Is your website responsive? Does it adapt to providing a great, yet simplified experience for users visiting your website from tablets and smart phones? If your answer is no, it might be time for you to begin planning the next version of your website. The market confirms that mobile device usage is only going to increase over time. Therefore, rules about scrolling and simple one-column layouts are becoming best practice. Gone are the days of above the fold.

Long Scrolling Websites

Long scrolling websites, especially for device specific layouts, are becoming more popular. Why? Because people are getting more accustomed to consuming information through simpler design layouts. Websites are now using design techniques such as increased font sizes, increased white space and one-column layouts that are easily supported across various browsers due to small web devices. If you are still stuck on caring about things above the fold, then you will die like the dinosaurs. Creating an easier and simpler experience across all devices and browsers is better for user conversion.

Web Video

Who has time to read all the great copy that you are writing for SEO purposes? It’s important to provide the detailed information for users looking to dive deeper, but how do you quickly capture interest or break down a complex explanation? People are turning to web videos at various levels. Produce the perfect script that everyone understands so you can repeat this communication to a large audience with little effort. And did you know… search engines love video too? Actually, video can help your content rank a lot faster than traditional copy. Engagement is the new standard, and brands are choosing to communicate with their customers through video where appropriate. Attention spans are only getting shorter.

Large Hero Images

A trend, borrowed from the print world, to keep communications simple is the usage of larger hero images, grabbing people’s attention with minimal content. The goal is simplification on the homepage as the new attention-grabber. It also means companies have to be more strategic in the short burst of copy available in the prime real estate.

Manipulated Imagery

In 2014, you will see images that have built in effects to drive interest and coincide better with chosen color pallets and typography. The composition of well-selected fonts, simple content, and custom effects within images will create a custom look and feel that will leave a lasting impression. Whether it’s color overlays, blurs like “bokeh”, or Instagram-like filters, manipulation of imagery will set a new standard in web design.

In summary, these are some of the top priority trends for web design in 2014. Learn more about these best practices and review against your website. How many of them have you followed? Or is your online brand and presence needing that facelift more than you thought? If you have any questions about your design, our web design experts at SMBfuel are here to help.

Make the web beautiful, start with your website and then influence others!

Jan 09

Productivity Starts with Organization

Posted by Cesar Keller on Thursday, January 09, 2014

Getting Organized

It’s the time of year for new starts, re-organization, and highly driven spirits. It’s time to seize the moment and capitalize on your hard work and investments from 2013. But before you go full speed ahead, do you have the tools to keep your efforts organized?

As a small business owner, one of the things we all hope to accomplish in January is organization. Entrepreneurs always have something in the mix. Are you getting ready to create a new business plan, deploy a new product or service? Success starts with organizing the details ahead of time.

There are a bunch of to-do lists in the market, they are a dime a dozen. One tool that has helped our agency track various production tasks is Trello. You can find all the details at trello.com. However, here is our take on this amazing online tool:

  • The cloud-based tool is free, simple and intuitive
  • Meets varying needs with flexible options on how you want to be organized
  • Ideal for both individual organization and as a collaborative tool

Trello = Simple and Intuitive

The basics of Trello are broken down into “Boards” and “Cards”. Boards are basically categories that you define. For example Work Items, Personal Items, Projects, etc. How you define your boards is totally up to you; this is why Trello is so flexible and adapts to the way your mind organizes your world.

“Cards” is the next level, essentially equal to sub categories or projects within a board. What make these cards special are the unique characteristics of how information is organized. Cards have a front side and a backside. The front side keeps information at a high level like:

  • Name of task
  • Due date for task
  • Latest Activity Indicator

The backside of the card is simply where all the details live. You can easily manage information to track progress and see what the next steps are to get things accomplished. Samples for some of the details can be:

  • Task description
  • Checklist(s)
  • File Attachments
  • Due dates
  • Access to collaborators

This separation of high level information and critical details is so important, so not to get bogged down in the details, when needing to manage varying priorities. Additionally, capturing all the necessary details to ensure critical tasks are completed is important as well, but at a different level, and mostly when you are in your tactical mindset.

A Great Productivity Tool

SMBfuel is a web agency that believes that online success is within everyone’s reach. However, it comes to those that work for it. We believe in creating online business strategies that require several moving parts. Taking control and managing items, not just for our business, but each of our clients’ projects and initiatives requires planning, execution and an accountability trail. Completing all these tasks in an organized way is imperative. Whether it is individually or team collaboration, an online tool like Trello can make a huge difference.

Sharing what we use – Trello Works!

Staying abreast of new tools is a part of working smarter, not harder. Finding productive tools that don’t add frustration and new stress is a welcomed resource.

The SMBfuel team strives to educate our customers and empower them to achieve their goals. , Trello is one resource we believe can help organize like-minded small business owners looking for a simple and cost effective solution.

If you have used Trello, or try it after reading this blog, share your thoughts with us. We appreciate the feedback.

Here’s to a great jump start in 2014!!!

Nov 27

Happy Thanksgiving

Posted by Jaclyn Schmitz on Wednesday, November 27, 2013



Thanksgiving…. It’s a time of reflection and thankfulness for all that we’ve accomplished, gained, and overcome.

As business owners, this time of gratitude is unique… Here are a few things we are thankful for this year.

  • For understanding families
  • For achieved dreams
  • For great clients
  • For amazing employees
  • For trusted advisors and mentors
  • For success
  • For friends who help advocate
  • For wisdom
  • For recognized opportunity

…And for the Internet, which makes our business possible.

From SMBfuel to you and your families, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, and thank each one of you for helping us achieve our success this year!

We will be celebrating the Holiday with friends and family, and our office will be closed on Thanksgiving Day and Friday, November 29.

Nov 19

Customer Engagement via Content

Posted by Cesar Keller on Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Content here, content there, and content everywhere. In our world today, information is accessible 24/7. Making informed decisions is the new game played by individuals and businesses alike. However, this means that content is more important than ever. From videos to audio, and blog posts to white papers, how we choose to engage a customer or prospect matters. Last week, I was privileged to present information on these topics through e4e (Experts for Entrepreneurs // learn more at e4ecommunity.com). I am proud to participate as a partner of e4e. e4e partners represent a premier community of entrepreneurs, committed to helping small business owners succeed and live their dream.

The title of my presentation was “How to craft a message that engages your ideal customer”. As I prepared my presentation, I kept thinking about how important it is to understand your customer. After all, how can you craft a message that is engaging, when you don’t understand the audience receiving the information? This blog post summarizes the topics of that presentation.

The presentation covered three main topics:

  • Brand Personas
  • Persuasion Techniques
  • Writing in Customer Perspective

Brand Personas

A brand persona is a fictitious profile, written in plain text, that represents a logical customer type. It is meant to assist you by having empathy for your types of ideal customers. Although different people buy products and services from you, they might have different reasons and needs for their interaction with your brand. The written description of your profile types (“brand personas”) should contain a very important list of attributes. These attributes are easily and simply described as pain points.

What are the pain points that your ideal customers have? It is one of the most important questions to ask. Listing these paint points will easily position solutions and benefits that your products and services offer. And this is where you begin to connect the dots. Brand = relationship. Creating brand personas begins to connect paint points (practical needs) with solutions (your offerings). And when planned appropriately, this perspective allows marketers the ability to create amazing and engaging content. Our presentation takeaway for this section is that Brand Personas can help you for planning content.

Persuasion Techniques

Marketing professionals understand the power of influence and what it means for people to feel comfortable in making decisions or taking actions. The seven persuasion techniques we covered included:

  • Reciprocation (if you help me, I feel like helping you)
  • Commitment (once you take a stance, you defend that stance)
  • Social Proof (going with the flow, trends around you)
  • Authority (we believe and follow what experts tell us)
  • Scarcity (running out, I want it)
  • Framing (influencing decisions by framing prices)
  • Salience (taking action based on what is immediately relevant)

Although most people don’t know what these persuasion techniques are called, it was amazing to see how quickly the audience picked up on these techniques through examples. A part of our session was dedicated to describing a situation and allowing the audience to categorize what technique was being used. Every sample described was quickly answered with the correct technique.

However, when it comes to implementing strategy for customers to take action and get one step closer to a sale, it is surprising that many business owners forget how much these principles can help. Our presentation take away was that understanding these simple persuasion techniques can help you with strategy and how/when to deliver your message.

Writing content without understanding what action you want taken leads to wasted efforts. Try mapping out the actions you want your prospects and customers to take. Think about the persuasion technique that would work best. And then write content that will attract your audience. Your conversion opportunities will increase.

Writing in Customer Perspective

The last topic presented was remembering to produce content in why I refer to as customer perspective. Many business owners will ramble on about their accolades, experience and story. And as much as that is a part of talking about your products and services, the simple fact is that consumers just don’t care. Your story, as good as you think it is, doesn’t matter. People have pain and struggle with things in life. The red flag that stands out to them is when you vividly describe how you solve their problems.

Having the ability to accurately and simply describe how you have exclusive know-how on solving pain points is what you are after. The best example and writing exercise I have come across is answering two questions while remembering to address pain points. The first sentence is answering why certain people hire you or buy your product. The second sentence is answering how you are unique and how you go about solving the pain points. Actively mentioning struggles, obstacles, and challenges only strengthens your position.

An example of this exercise for SMBfuel would look something like this…

Small business owners hire us to design their websites because they typically struggle with their online image, managing web content, and generating online leads or sales. They work with us even if they have an existing website or small budgets. Our unique design process, online tools and vast experience get results and allow our customers to achieve online success.

“Small business owners” can easily be replaced with a more targeted brand persona. But the pain points, objections and how you uniquely solve problems remain the same for this exercise. This tactic is simple yet effective.

In summary, sit down and think like your customer. As professionals and experts of our own offerings, it can be too easy to forget what our customer’s experience. Building your brand means strengthening your relationship with your customers. Before writing any marketing material, think about the actions you want people to take. Think about proven persuasion techniques and how they might be useful. And finally, write in customer perspective. Write about what matters most to your customer. Solve their pain. Tell them how you know how to do it better than anyone else, because you understand their problems the best. It’s three simple topics that can yield great results.

Nov 13

What has your website done for you lately?

Posted by Jaclyn Schmitz on Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Many times, business owners see a website as merely an expense, something they have to "put up" to be seen or found online… just in case. It gets set-up once, and then forgot about.  We believe a website should be an extension of your business, and a part of your marketing plan. Your website can be an online tool that helps grow your business… but you have to have the right tools and understanding to make this possible. It's not complicated, it just takes looking at your website differently. To build a solid online presence with ROI (Return On Investment), we recommend considering these four core principles:

1. Website Credibility

Everyone knows that you have one chance to make an impression.  That impression is long lasting and memorable… so it better count.  Consumers are getting smarter everyday with online information at their fingertips more than ever before.  Sometimes, the first and only touch point between your prospects and your business is your website.  If you don’t “look the part”, you’ve lost an opportunity without knowing it.   Here are important website credibility considerations:

  • Brand identity including logo, color, and typography
  • Simple and intuitive navigation structure
  • Clean graphics, illustrations, and photography
  • Space awareness and visual organization of content
  • Considerations for design across browsers and devices

2. Website Management

Websites live and die by fresh content.  Publishing consistently good content is everyone’s challenge.  The baseline goal is to have a system that allows you to easily add, edit, or remove content at anytime from anywhere.  More importantly, it is the ability to complete these kinds of website management tasks without technical experience.  You don’t need to be or have the experience of web designers or web developers to manage your website with the right solution.  It's important to look to websites that include a Content Management System that makes this possible.  

3. Generating Leads from your Website

Brochure websites are a “thing of the past” for most growing businesses depending on your industry. To compete in today’s online market, you need a website that allows for filtered in-bound leads. Business owners that make it their goal to work on ways to build inbound marketing opportunities will prevail.  Once your website starts to gain visibility, the next step is thinking about conversions. These are opportunities to interact with visitors to your website.  Think of your website as an operational tool.  It should work as a filter for qualified leads.  There are differences between suspects, prospects and customers and it is important to build a sales pipeline that considers these groups differently.  Establishing a clear protocol on what exactly happens when people visit your website is critical.  Defining a conversion strategy can help you build a prospect and customer database right through your website.  If you plan to have a website that generates business leads, you might want to consider the following:

  • Email Marketing Strategy and Tactics
  • Creating a professional HTML Email Template
  • Establishing Critical Paths and Calls to Action
  • Thinking about Web Forms, Validation, and Workflow Notifications
  • Starting to use a CRM, Customer Relationship Management System

4. Generating Sales from your Website

If your current website is only considered a marketing expense with no proven opportunities to help you with marketing and sales, you may want to look into a web platform that enables you to get a greater return on your investment.  There are many ways a website can help with sales and it doesn’t always mean e-commerce.  Lean on systems and technology that can help establish a follow-up process that leads to offline sales as well.  If you do want to conduct online sales, it can be beneficial and achieved in different ways:

  • An online e-commerce store that sells tangible or digital goods
  • An online membership with re-curing billing (memberships/clubs)
  • A web form that is programmed to accept donations or gifts
  •  Or simply invoicing and receiving online payments for services rendered

If you are looking for ways to grow your business, consider looking into your website. After all, your website is a critical marketing investment.  Finding a website solution you can leverage for operational efficiencies, sales and marketing initiatives will increase your conversions both online and offline.

Take a minute to self score your website against these 4 principles:

SMB_Website_Scoring_System

Nov 06

Welcome to SMBfuel

Posted by Jaclyn Schmitz on Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Hello World!

I’d like to take a moment to introduce ourselves. We are SMBfuel, a website design and development agency dedicated to small to medium-sized businesses.

What’s in the Name?

SMB - That’s you! The small to medium-sized sector. Our services have been created around you, your needs, your budget, your timeframe. Our process has be honed and streamlined to provide you great services with options. It’s not a “one size fits all approach”.

“fuel” - That’s what we provide you! Not literally, of course… Our website packages provide the fundamental strategies and resources to “fuel” your business’s success. Once we complete your website with you, think of us like a personal trainer. Your website, designed and built with your goals in mind, is now the tool to your online growth. We will guide you along the way as part of your 18 month Roadmap to Success with how to videos, written resources, education, web knowledge, strategies, and consulting. Our goal is to truly see you succeed!

This business model morphed out of our custom agency, where we identified a huge gap in the market. Our custom websites and services were just too costly for small businesses, but the value and solutions where exactly what these people needed most to achieve online success.

On the other end of the spectrum, small businesses and start-ups were trying the DIY method, but had no experience on how to write for the web, how to establish goals, how to execute web strategies, why businesses succeed online, and what really goes into a successful website.

What is Online Success?

Commonly asked, the best way to describe online success is by stating what its not. Achieving online success is beyond just having a website, often referred to as a brochure site. You need a website that offers critical paths, conversion opportunities, an online escort to you for your interested prospect. Online success means having a clear picture of how your customers and prospects interact with you, your website and the information. It’s developing informational email campaigns, loyalty campaigns, landing pages around timely promotions. Your website should ultimately feed you quality, warm, and informed prospects to close the deal. You are only one person (or a small team), leverage operational efficiencies and technology to help bring in business and close the deal.

Small Businesses… It’s your time to Shine

And so today, we proudly announce SMBfuel, offering small to medium-sized businesses flexible website packages that leverage the same technologies and equally beneficial solutions of the large custom agency projects, but at a fraction of the cost.

Please take a moment to learn more about the SMBfuel difference. We look forward to providing ongoing valuable resources to help grow your business.

Cheers to new beginnings… and a path of success for us all.