GUEST BLOG: Make Your Business’ Web Site Engaging, Intuitive and Professional

This guest blog about business web site design is the first in a series of informative posts presented by The Web Guys — a web design and digital marketing agency located in Carmel.

As the world becomes increasingly more digitized, a business web site is no longer optional. When looking for information, the average consumer’s first impulse is to head for Google — not the Yellow Pages. In the article “B2B’s Digital Evolution” on Google Think Insights, the author asserts:

New research from CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council shows that potential business customers are increasingly using digital channels to form opinions about major purchases. Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete. The challenge for marketers is to be present in these channels at all times with content that educates buyers and helps guide commercial decisions.

It’s important to realize, though, that not just any old web site will do. A well designed web site will have a higher conversion rate than one with a “one size fits all” approach, especially for younger, design-savvy visitors. Bad design shouldn’t happen to good companies, but all too often a business owner or manager will quickly slap up a sub par web site, bypassing the professional business, content and marketing expertise needed to drive traffic to the site and increase sales.

Web design companies know that in order to be truly effective, business web sites need to meet these three criteria: they must be engaging, intuitive and professional.

Every web site relies on visitor engagement to flourish; after all, it only takes a click of a button to leave a disappointing web site and look for greener pastures. Each company approaches engagement differently — some focusing on graphics while others rely on attention-grabbing content. The best sites usually are a combination of both of these elements.

Getting a visitor’s attention is one thing, but keeping it is quite another. A web site with navigation that takes more than five seconds to understand will confuse and irritate potential clients. Visitors should see a clear, intuitive path through the site. Avoid the trap of “Mystery Meat Navigation” – links that say “Click Here!” without any indication of where they lead. Consistent, clear labeling with call-to-action buttons that direct customers to get quotes, make purchases and contact businesses should stand out on every page.

Even an engaging, intuitive site can fall flat, however, if its design looks unprofessional to users. Consumers approach the Web expecting businesses to have professional, informative websites — not throwbacks to the 1990s. If you’re still relying on flashing animations, ticker tapes scrolling by and black text on lime green backgrounds to catch attention, a face-lift is long overdue.

When hiring a Web design agency to create a web site, business owners should research available options. Find an agency with experience, and ask detailed questions about the design process before committing to a partnership. For Indianapolis and Indiana business owners, working with a local company like The Web Guys enables them to provide optimal content paired with SEO services to reach their target markets.

First impressions are everything — and an unprofessional, confusing site will send potential customers running to the competition. Creating an engaging web site only requires a modest investment of time and resources but will generate traffic and new customers for years to come.

Next month, look forward to learning about the importance of having proper web site visibility on Google, Yahoo! and Bing!

Going the Mega-Region Route for Economic Development

Richard Florida — he of The Rise of the Creative Class fame — is writing about economic development in a recent post at The Atlantic Cities. But we’re not talking about counties teaming up for business attraction and retention purposes.

Florida says satellite images of the globe at night were used to identify the world’s 40 “mega regions,” defined as a contiguous lighted area with more than one major city or metropolitan area that produced more than $100 billion in economic output.

In North America, this means 12 mega regions that account for 243 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and Canada. The combined population is 230 million people (215 million from the U.S., which account for 70% of our population).

The Chi-Pitts region, which includes Indianapolis, has a $2.3 trillion economic output that would make it the world’s seventh largest.

Here is a quick rundown on the 12 creatively-named regions, from largest to smallest:

•Bos-Wash stretches from Boston through New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore to Washington, D.C., a total of 500 miles. It is home to 18 percent of the U.S. population – 56.5 million people. The region generates $3.75 trillion in economic output, meaning that, if Bos-Wash were a separate country, it would be the fourth largest economy in the world, behind only the U.S., China, and Japan and ahead of Germany.

•Chi-Pitts extends north and west from Pittsburgh through Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Minneapolis, taking in more than 50 metros in all. Home to 41.8 million individuals, this mega-region’s economy is just a bit smaller than the United Kingdom’s, about the same size as Brazil’s and bigger than all of Russia’s.

•Char-lanta, which is home to 22 million people, takes in 45 metros, including Atlanta, Georgia; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Birmingham, Alabama. With more than a trillion in economic output, its economy is bigger that South Korea’s, placing it among the world’s 15 largest economies.

•So-Cal runs from L.A. through San Diego and spills into Tijuana, Mexico, accounting for 21.8 million people and more than one trillion in economic output.

•So-Flo includes Miami, Orlando and Tampa and is home to 15 million people. It produces more than $750 billion in economic output, making it about the same size as the Netherlands or Turkey.

•Nor-Cal includes San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and 14 other metros surrounding San Francisco Bay. It has a population of 13 million people and produces more than $900 billion in output, roughly the same as Indonesia and more than Turkey.

•Tor-Buff-Chester stretches north from Buffalo and Rochester, taking in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal in Canada. It has an estimated population of more than 16 million (several smaller Canadian metros are not included in this tally). It generates output of nearly $600 billion, more than Sweden.

•Dal-Austin encompasses Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, Texas. Its population is just under 12 million. It produces more than $700 billion in economic output, more than Sweden or oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

•Hou-Orleans, the great energy-producing belt that stretches from Houston through Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans, is home to more than 10 million people. It produces more than $750 billion in economic output, about the same as the Netherlands.  (Some researchers have suggested combining Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Austin into a single “Texas Triangle.” This mega would include 20 million people, and its $1.5 trillion economy would be comparable to Australia’s and just a bit smaller than India’s or Canada’s.)

•The Cascadia mega-region, which stretches up from Portland, Oregon through Seattle and into Vancouver, Canada, is home to nearly 10 million people. It generates economic output of about $600 billion, comparable to Switzerland

•Phoenix-Tucson is home to more than 5 million people and generates economic output of more than $250 billion, just slightly less than Hong Kong.

•Denver-Boulder has 4.2 million people and $256 billion in economic output, more than Finland, Greece or Ireland. If it were a nation, it would  rank among the world’s 50 largest economies.

Beer Market: Hoosier Beer Climate Continues Upswing

Business Insider recently posted a list of what’s been designated as the 20 best beers in the world. Check it out and see which one’s you’ve had — and need to try.

We’re also happy to say that Munster-based Three Floyds Brewing has two on the list. In fact, the top two beers in the world are mentioned in an anecdote from Indiana: One Pint at a Time author Douglas Wissing in an article I wrote for BizVoice last year about Indiana brewing, “Taste of Success: Local Craft Brewers Building an Industry.”

For more on the state of the industry in Indiana, see this Inside INdiana Business interview and accompanying article with Sun King Brewing founder Clay Robinson and Barnaby Struve of Three Floyds Brewing.

Throwback Thursday: Land of the Free, Home of a Few “Scoundrels”

Historically, America has been a remarkable nation, filled with bright, innovative and incredibly noble people.

But we’ve had our share of bad apples. No place is perfect, after all. The Huffington Post recently posted “10 of the Biggest Scoundrels in American History.” Here are a few folks from the past you wouldn’t want anywhere near you or your business.

Daniel Drew – Wall Street Pirate
From the 1840s to the 1870s, Daniel Drew was one of America’s most ruthless financiers—a man who believed that speculating on Wall Street without insider knowledge was like “buying cows by candlelight.” During the Civil War, he scalped the public in collusion with New York’s infamous Boss Tweed. Drew made a chunk of his fortune by manipulating New York & Erie Railroad stock, but his association with swindlers Jay Gould and Jim Fisk cost him dearly. Once worth $13 million ($194 million today), old “Uncle Daniel” died with an estate of $148.22.

Hetty Green – Tax-dodging Miser
In the late nineteenth century, investor Hetty Green lived like a wretched pauper, despite having become the first woman to earn a fortune on Wall Street. The multimillionaire was so miserly that she once dressed her son in rags in an attempt to obtain free medical treatment. To avoid establishing a permanent residence and having to pay state taxes, she moved from one flophouse to another in New York and New Jersey. Her brazen tax dodging helped spur the passage of a federal income tax in 1894 and a federal estate tax passed two months after her death in 1916.

Samuel Dickstein – Congressman/Spy
In the years prior to and during World War II, New York congressman Samuel Dickstein kept watch on the subversive efforts of Nazi supporters in the U.S. He also bolstered his income from 1937 to 1940 as a bumbling Soviet spy. Code-named “Crook” because of his persistent demands for money, Dickstein fed his handlers newspaper articles and public government reports—“rubbish,” the Russians called it. Dickstein’s congressional endeavors led to the creation of the House Un-American Activities Committee, an investigative body that would trample individual rights.

Don Lapre – Infomercial Huckster
Starting in the early 1990s, shrieking pitchman Don Lapre made and lost fortunes peddling questionable self-help products on late-night TV. His biggest profits came from selling add-on services to those who set up 1-900 numbers or websites through his company. His empire came tumbling down in 2011 when he was indicted for fraud over his Greatest Vitamin in the World business, charges that led to his suicide. Selling online distributorships for $35, along with endless marketing products, Lapre had raked in $52 million in three years but paid out a pittance in commissions.

Charisma: Here’s How They Do It

A recent Inc. magazine posting explored the difference between a person who is likable and one who has great charisma. It offers the following top 5 behaviors to expand on if you prefer to be in the latter category:

  1. Charismatic people exude joy. The first thing you notice about charismatic people is the spark of life. Whether they are saviors or troublemakers, they have a strong passion that triggers powerful emotions in those around them. Even in anger, they make people feel happy to join a cause. They show obvious pleasure in experiences, and they invite others to share in the experience they are having. Enhance your charisma by sharing your passions with those around you and helping their passions flourish.
  2. Charismatic people inspire confidence. It seems that charismatic people have the world in their control. Their personal self-worth and confidence appear strong, even when they’re not. They have faith in their abilities, their knowledge, and their worth. They also know the line between confidence and narcissism. They don’t disparage or dismiss the people around them. Enhance your charisma by dampening your insecurities in favor of celebrating your strengths. Share your confidence with others so they feel stronger in your presence.
  3. Charismatic people share conviction. The times that charismatic people stand out the most is when they are driving a movement. Charismatic people believe in something powerfully and share that belief with others. Their conviction and consistent actions influence others to follow. Dedicated followers add exponentially to the energy that oozes from a charismatic leader. Apathy will kill charisma and momentum. Enhance your charisma by being diligent and committed. Inspire others by helping them engage in a common cause.
  4. Charismatic people are great storytellers. People don’t follow someone simply because they are told to do so. Moving someone to action requires context and motivation. Stories are the most effective way to get to the emotional core to break inertia. Charismatic people have a talent for spinning a yarn that connects deeply and relates directly to the action that needs to occur. Their voice, inflection, and manner are easy to listen to and pleasant. They have the ability to express drama and intrigue so people want to hear more. Enhance your charisma by learning to craft and tell meaningful, emotional stories. Practice the arts of humor, metaphor, and symbolism so you can entertain while you inform.
  5. Charismatic people connect empathetically. It has been said that when Bill Clinton speaks to you, he makes you feel that you are the only person on the planet. This is a talent of charismatic people. They genuinely and instinctively focus their eyes, ears, and soul on your being, not theirs. They make you laugh, they make you feel heard, they make you feel special or fascinated or safe or interesting. It isn’t the same feeling in every case. But people connect and stay, because they are having strong, positive emotions in the presence of someone truly charismatic. Enhance your charisma by focusing all of your energy and attention on the person in front of you. Shut down your inner voice and connect so you can see, hear, and feel the energy and information he or she is sharing.

‘How It’s Made’ Looking for Indiana Stories

The Discovery Channel television show “How It’s Made” is seen by an international audience (180-plus countries) of more than 100 million viewers per week. The producers of the long-running show (it started in 1999) are looking for some truly unique Indiana production processes.

A word of caution: After all those years, the show has “covered a lot of processes.” What they are seeking are “cool processes to show how things are made.” Here is some additional guidance:

  • Items should have enough process to fill a segment that lasts four-and-a-half minutes
  • No visuals air without the consent of the participating company
  • There is no financial contribution or direct reward for appearing on the show
  • Check out a segment to better determine if your process might work in the show’s format

To discuss the possibility of being featured on “How It’s Made,” contact Tom Bauer at (514) 288-3388 (ext. 229) or tbauer@productionsmaj.com.

If Only I Had Done It This Way …

SCORE is in business to help small businesses start, grow and achieve success. A recent posting on its site from the president of RoadMap Marketing shared regrets — or I wish I had done this differently — of several entrepreneurs.

Do any of these apply to you or sound familiar?

  1. “I wish I had not been so cheap. I should have invested in strong infrastructure like having my accounting set up properly and a decent website. I wasted too much time trying to cobble it together myself. And the result? My image did not look professional and my books had to be completely cleaned up later.”
  2. “I was unclear on my unique value proposition.  By being ‘all things to all people’, how could I communicate value? That meant my marketing was wishy-washy and ineffective. And without being clear on who was my best customer, I picked up many poorly defined projects where I lost money.”
  3. “I should have focused first on my sales pipeline. It took me too long to realize that the only way to meet my revenue goals was to work the numbers – number of clients, means 5 times as many proposals which means 10 times as many touches with potential prospects each month. When I finally focused on these raw facts, I started making money.”
  4. “My prices were too low. I tried to compete against more established players on price which just undercut my brand and service value. I failed to track my time – much less account for it in my profit calculations. When I finally looked at profitability by product, service and even customer, I was able to focus on areas where I could grow.”
  5. “I wish I had sought out a mentor.  I could have greatly benefited from someone with experience and some success – especially in my industry. An early mentor could have focused my efforts and held me accountable.”

Sen. Coats Visits Chamber Office, Introduces Bill to Help Businesses

Senator Dan Coats was in the Indiana Chamber of Commerce office today promoting the bill he introduced — the Sound Regulation Act of 2014, to help Hoosier job creators. The bill would require every federal agency to engage in an extensive cost-benefit analysis to determine the actual cost, in dollars, of regulations under each agency’s jurisdiction.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the cost of complying with federal regulations exceeds $1.75 trillion every year, which amounts to more than $10,500 per American worker. Meanwhile, the number of pages in the Code of Federal Regulations has expanded from 71,224 in 1975 to 174,545 in 2012.

The aim of the bill is to reduce over regulation on American businesses — an effort the Chamber supports.

Here’s more on the bill from Sen. Coats’ web site.

Throwback Thursday: 75 Years Since Bremen Castings Opened its Doors

You know a company is tied to its community when the community is in its own name. We’re proud to call Bremen Castings Inc. an Indiana Chamber member, and sincerely congratulate this Northern Indiana company for its milestone this month in celebrating 75 years in business.

We featured this innovative company in BizVoice magazine last year, so check out the article. And being a social media person, I enjoy seeing how Bremen Castings honors its employees in its social media feeds. A thoughtful way to include staff in the company’s messaging. Be sure to get BCI’s updates on Twitter and Facebook.

And a release from the company offers more on its anniversary:

The iron industry has been around for generations but over the years, the face of foundries has shifted away from small, family-run businesses to large corporations.  Bremen Castings Inc. (BCI) in Bremen, Indiana, is not one of them.

The family-owned foundry will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in March and James (JB) Brown, President of Bremen Castings, credits the longevity and success of the company to its forward thinking business model, streamlined day-to-day operations, and above all, having each employee feel as though they are a member of the Bremen family.

“It is crucial for everyone to be a team member and an active citizen within our communities so we strive to cast each employee into a valuable and responsible individual,” says Brown.  “We have a set of core values that we want everyone to have and appreciate.”

Originally named, Bremen Gray Iron foundry (the name was changed to Bremen Castings Inc. in 1972), the company was established on March 17, 1939 by Ellis Brown, Charles W. Kling and Harold Heckamen with an initial investment of $10,000.  Some of the first customers included Bendix Corporation, Clark Equipment, and Ford Motor Company.

Since its inception, Bremen Castings has grown from an 800 square foot building to its current 125,000 square feet with more additions planned for the future.  The company has continued to stay at the forefront of the foundry industry, having won numerous awards for its safety, technology and environment-friendly manufacturing.  Today, Bremen is still privately owned and operated by the Brown family.