• 53% Of Internet Searches Are Locally Motivated

    If you're reading this, I am assuming you're not one of the many business who still think it's O.K. to ignore the internet. If you are (or aren't), check this out: Microsoft said that 53% of searches in Bing (their search engine) have local intent. And Google said their figure is 33%. Either way, a ton of people may be trying to find you.

    With that said, here's a tiny checklist of what you need to have up-to-date this coming year to be found online:

    1. Current / Updated Website: Most of the search engines give special attention to websites that have fresh content. This can be done by blogging, linking up with social media sites, or by simply making sure everything is current and correct on the site.

    2. Claimed Business / Organization: There are a bunch of places where you need to mark your territory or be prepared to be overlooked. Google Maps, FourSquare, and Facebook are all major players in having people find you. I can't tell you how many business have incorrect info or are not current when being searched for.

    3. Socialized: Be available on at least one social media site, whether it be Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook -- people expect to find you there, so be there.

    By the way...if you need help, just ask. (Shameless plug, I know.)

    Here's to a super happy new year!

  • Small town web presence - Google Alerts

    Many local business owners have been ill-informed to the notion that it takes too much time to manage their presence on the web...and they’re right...if they don’t have the right tools. One of the most essential utilities available to everyone for free is Google Alerts.

    Google Alerts lets you type in keywords (i.e. your business’ name) and will email you when those words are found in Internet news, blogs, videos, real time, discussions, and mentions on the web. There are a series of filter options, but ultimately, is straightforward and easy to use. There is no reason why you should go without this any longer. 

    Google Alerts Tutorial:

    1. Go to: google.com/alerts

    2. Enter your search terms. (Uses quotation marks around exact phrases.)

    3. Click the "Preview results".

    4. Adjust the settings.

    Type: What web sources do you want them to pull from?

    How Often: Chose the time frame that works best for you.

    Volume: Do you want Google to filter out some of the findings?

    Email: Enter the email you’d like the report sent to.

    5. Click "Create Alert" button.

    This will take you less than 3 minutes to set up and will help you monitor what’s being said about your business (good and bad) on the web.

  • How to help in small towns - community education

    Last week, I taught my first community education class in over ten years, "Facebook for Beginners", to a lovely group of senior citizens who were interested in this website they heard so much about. An hour and a half was all it took to set up an account, adjust privacy settings, learn the essentials, and to ultimately figure out if it was something they’d use. Nothing life changing, but none-the-less, necessary and worthwhile.

    If you care about your community, you should care about education. Young and old, and everyone in between, can benefit from a well-rounded educational system. But it takes good teachers to make it all happen. That’s where you come in. Do you have any skills, hobbies, knowledge, specialties, or general comprehension you could share? I bet you do. So once you motivate yourself to teach a class, here’s the next steps you're gonna want to take.

    Steps to creating a community education class:

    1. Ask good questions - Contact your local C.E. office and ask them about what classes they have requests for that aren’t currently filled or if there is a lack of instructors in current regular courses. Find out what resources they have available if you do teach a class (computers, classroom, copy machine, etc.). Also, be upfront when it comes to compensation, and find out what the going rate is. Don’t under-ask, cover every aspect you’re unsure about. And if you're town doesn't have a community education program, check with some of your neighboring towns.

    2. Know your subject - You don’t have to know everything about your topic, but be sure to know enough to teach it. I highly doubt you’ll cover the entire scope of astronomy in an hour, but if you’re teaching a stargazing class, you need know the basics...and a little more. Look online to see if someone else has taught this subject and use their experiences to help better yours. If the time comes where you’re asked a question you don’t know, simply reply, “I’m not 100% sure of the answer...let me find out and get back to you.” Then get back to that person. 

    3. Specialize the class - Be as specific as possible about what you’re going to cover. It will help you in creating your curriculum and in the drafting of your outline. It will also help weed out people who already know parts of what you’re going to cover and will make them feel better about paying for something they actually want to learn. If your subject has different levels, try offering a variety of classes that appeal to different abilities. (i.e. Computer classes require certain skills before using certain programs. Teach the basic skills class then a specialized program class down the road.)

    4. Keep it simple - It’s better to have extra time for answering questions and practicing skills than it is to cram tons of info into their heads which falls out later when they get home. You’re biggest fear should be waisting the students’ time by not equipping them to use what they learned out in the real world. Outline your lesson(s) and then refine, refine, refine. When it comes down to class time, those main points are the only thing you’re required to cover. Everything else will be a bonus!

    5. Think workshop - I keep referring to community ed classes when I should be calling them workshops. A classroom seems sterile and ridged whereas a workshop is pictured as active and fun. “Getting your hands dirty” should be the motto of every class you teach. People don’t just want instruction, they also want practice and experience. Be sure to let them tinker and make mistakes with whatever you’re doing. Even if you think your topic is boring and as-is, look for ways to interject activities. Your students will be more inclined to recommend you if they find the class fun.

    6. Evaluate and repeat - Most community education programs have forms for both the instructor and the student to fill out. But if they don’t, make up a quick sheet where you can get some honest feedback. If there are comment trends, take note and adjust for next time. And why not ask a friend or mentor to sit in on the session just to give you feedback? It can only help you become better. Also, be sure to teach on a regular basis. You’re doing a very good work by teaching. Keep it up and encourage others to do the same.

    Please share your experiences and strategies with community education below. We can educate each other in the process. Cheers!

  • Small town photography dreamers

    More often than not, I have conversations with people who live in small towns who want to live their dreams but don’t think they can because of their location. One profession always seems to be at the top of the list though -- photography. Here’s a dozen different ideas to start living the dream today!

    1. Connect with local photographers. Almost every town has a photo studio or a person who everyone knows is a photographer. Seek out these individuals for an internship/part-time job or just to pick their brain. Even if you’re not interested in working for that person, it’s always beneficial to let them know of your interest...which leads to #2 in the list.
    2. Network, network, network. Try finding freelance photography artists to collaborate with. Work hard at these relationships as they will lead to great assignments and jobs down the road. And when talking with your network fellows, do your best to be a giver, not always a taker. Learn how to write good comments on blogs, be willing to help out on a project, and connect them with others when appropriate.
    3. Carry your camera everywhere. This is one of the greatest tips of all time for developing your craft. If you Goggle “carry your camera everywhere”, you’ll find a bunch of great essays giving you ample reason to do this. Also, I had the privilege of being photographed by Reader’s Digest for an upcoming issue and the photographer told me he did this and helped him see the world differently. I have a hunch it will do the same for you.
    4. Volunteer your talent with a charity. I spent 2010 traveling through the 48 contiguous United States doing volunteer/service work and learned a ton about volunteer organizations. One of the many things I learned was the severe need for good photographers to give of their talents to good charities. Figure out what cause you’re passionate about and then go do some good with your camera.
    5. Take advantage of online education. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take a class or two, or go to college for an art degree, but don’t limit yourself to the traditional means of learning. I have two handfuls of friends who started their own studios without ever setting foot in classroom, they simply were self taught. Surround yourself with successful artists online...there are plenty of them to attach yourself to. iTunes U, TEDtalks, Smashing Magazine, Pixiq, PhotoTuts Plus, eHow, and Digital Photography School are all great places to start.
    6. Set up a Flickr account. Actually, you can use whatever online photo sharing site you feel most comfortable with, just make sure you set one up. Flickr happens to be the largest one on the web, which gives it some advantages over the others: sharing options, copyright settings, and implementation into other websites. (Click here for A Newbie's Guide to Flickr.)
    7. Submit everywhere. You might not get paid for your work now, but you might down the road. The old adage of “you miss 100% of the shots never taken” couldn’t be more true. Submission quick list: yearbook, newspapers, magazines, websites, tv stations, contests, fairs, chamber of commerce, businesses/organizations, etc. All of these forementioned places are constantly looking for good pics, and coming from a small town, you might have the niche they want.
    8. Host an exhibit. If you’ve got enough--great--otherwise pool together some of the local talent. Check with your local library/museum to see if they’d be willing to let you set up shop for a month. Even if it’s not exclusively yours, getting exhibit experience is worth the effort of having a couple of pieces up. You can also consider setting up a smaller exhibit at farmer’s markets or festivals for a very small price.
    9. Partner with local businesses. Head downtown and introduce yourself to a few businesses with storefront windows and ask them if they’d be interested in having your work be featured in their workspace. Dental offices, hospitals, and coffee shops are a great places to check with if they want to display local art.
    10. Become the expert. I’ve always been told that anyone can become an expert if they read three books on the subject...and have a feeling their is a lot of truth to that. Once you know even the basics, go out and teach that to others. Great outlets in your area include community education courses and after school programs. Considering being a photo mentor or coach to someone younger or just starting out.
    11. Create a press pass. The need for photo journalists in your community is probably great. Why not tell the stories of your town by using pictures? Check out this TEDtalk with David Griffin (photo director at National Geographic) about how photography connects us, if you need the inspiration.
    12. Don’t forget fun. Do what makes you happy and be sure to share it with others. If you love taking pictures, spend as much of your energy as possible taking pictures...but don’t ever lose the fun element. If you’re enjoying it, not much else matters.

    Care to add a suggestion? Do so below. Also, I’ve put a couple of helpful links below to motivate you even more to go after your photography dreams...even if you’re in a small town.

    http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/22/the-ultimate-photography-round-up/
    http://www.pixiq.com/article/photo-sites


  • Front door: what should and shouldn't be there

    Unless you own a business that has an iconic front door (i.e. Gothic church style, submarine portal, barn entry, etc.), you need to be more concerned about what goes on that open, blank canvas, greeting all those who enter, than your probably are. Here’s the basics:

    Business basics. Name, address, phone number, and website address are essential. You don’t have to cover every inch of space, but you do need something letting people know they’re at the right place. Also, if there is a multitude of doors leading into your place, consider directing patrons to a certain door to funnel the experience each customer will have.

    Branding marks. This could be anything from a logo to a tag-line used in all your promotions. Consistency is key and putting something on the door to reinforce your image is always a good idea. You can also set the stage for what customers can expect opening those door by using putting a fun phrase like “entering happiness...”, or something even cooler.

    Hours of operation. Keep this as simple as possible. If you have odd hours which change constantly, I advise not making them the focus of the door, but have a switchable board to gives the day/week’s hours. You can also inform clients to check the website with the most up-to-date times.

    Social media connections. One of the most neglected uses of the front door is displaying your business’ online affiliations through the different social media sites. Simply adding the Facebook “like” button to your front door will drive traffic to your online conversation and can turn into a more dedicated group of followers. Be sure to use location driven sites like Foursuare, Gowalla, or SCVNGR to let people know you reward loyalty. They are simple to set up and can give you the winning edge over other similar businesses in town.

    Awards and affiliations. If your town has a best of award or a super active chamber of commerce, considered finding room on the door. Always remember that it’s what happens inside the business that matters most, not an award or affiliation that will keep people coming back. Get rid of all acclamations that are over a year old unless it’s nationally recognized, purely unique, or sequential.

    Take every advantage of first impressions by having your front door be clean, well-organized, and helpful to the people who keep you in business. Any other suggestions or tips you’ve found to be beneficial in your business or organization connected to the front door?

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