Today I received a notice from Facebook that I haven’t posted anything on one of my pages for 20 days, it was a gentle reminder that in a world which is daily blizzard of digital content I’m letting the side down. Fine, I’ll write something but I can’t help but feeling I’m falling into the trap of mums who speak loudly in playgrounds at their children, in what is a rather clumsy way of letting people know they’re good parents. We all know sniffing your friends shoe, who’s just stepped in dog poo, isn’t a great idea, but hey, they broadcast it to let you know they’re taking care of business. Dog’s business.
So, here I am taking care of business, but to be frank what with The Budget, Trump, Sutton UTD playing Arsenal, and Barcelona becoming a footballing Phoenix rising from The Champion’s League flames…there hasn’t been anything to say. And so I find myself in the position of an awful lot of people who feel like that have to make their digital mark, and yet haven’t got any real insight or news to give us. And that brings me to digital marketing and the enormous terra byte per millisecond crap that is punted in all directions about how to market yourself in a digital space. They are quite incredible posts – they continue uninterrupted for maybe 1000 words and offer absolutely nothing. Nothing about digital. Nothing about life. And nothing about how they can live with themselves.
Type in Top Ten Digital marketing Tips and you’ll get people ranking on the first page for suggesting to make your site work on all devices. That’s a bit like saying don’t forget to take the lid off your pen. I think everyone is across the mobile thingy by now – my site works on mobile, my plumber’s site works on mobile. I need to know how to get more people than him to it. Then there’s another guy writing about how not to forget Landing Pages. Really? First Impressions? Wow, hang on I’ll write that down. But the one I love the most is the suggestion to write ‘long-lasting content’ so that people will be more likely to interact with it overtime. What? Until I read that I was simply going to waffle on about what happened to me today, and the impact of the National Insurance hike.
Real insightful guidance’s impossible to come by because so many people are talking and nobody is listening, but there’s an exception that and it’s Moz. They didn’t pay me to write that – let’s face it: it would have been ridiculous if they had; I don’t want a link, and me writing it here is going to do very little. But they are constant source of intelligent debate and information, their blog and Whiteboard Fridays should be staples of everyone’s digital diet, but the best bit for me is Rand Fishkin. That guy must be super busy but he’s replied to my speculative emails unfashionably promptly, and almost certainly for no other reason than he loves what he does.
Most others are all writing for the sake of writing. There’s an art to writing on websites and that’s to have loads of words on the page and say absolutely nothing of interest. I know. I just did it.
The internet is undoubtedly a great resource when it comes to finding Russian ladies who are single and interested in marrying somebody much older with a face several divisions below their own. Quite why all these beauties who were once hidden behind the Iron Curtain are now perfectly happy to come and live in Swindon with a self employed kitchen fitter, remains debatable, but it really does underline the power of the internet when it comes to selling an idea, and more importantly helping someone to bat well above their average.
Running a digital business has indeed allowed me to sell my services to all four corners of the Earth and for that I’m incredibly grateful. It obviously goes with the territory that weekly I have to fend off calls from a guy on the Sub Continent who wants to reinstall my Microsoft Account using my ATM bank PIN number, and invitations from people who mainly have consonants in their names, to get me on Page One of Google. But this last group does point to a much larger problem for somebody like me. Yes, the same strengths and beauty of the digital world that for me make it today’s punk rock – people changing their world from their bedrooms – also make it incredibly easy for completely unqualified, delusional and in some cases criminal individuals to ply their wares…and bat well above THEIR average.
To put it another way: there are thousands of people out there in my position who need expert help with developing, design, marketing and SEO, and we are all at the mercy of anyone who knows how to sell and market themselves above and beyond the actually mechanics of what their purporting to be expert in. You have to add into this heady mix that nobody is cheap and reassuringly expensive can simply prove to be bloody extortionate. I was recently given a quote from a Conversion Optimisation Specialist who said he would be available for a minimum 3 month hire at $15,000 per month…and that was the starting price.
I found it impossible to trust anyone to start with and so did what so many one man bands do – I tried to learn everything myself and soon I had a pretty good grip on analytics, Adwords, site design, a little SEO and basic link building. That’s fine for a while but it’s not sustainable, and certainly not if you’re determined to grow the business. Everyone should have a good grounding the basics but the expertise in your field and market knowledge should be committed to finding new ways to grow, not wondering how to improve site speed.
So where do you go to find it? Well, type in what you’re looking for and you’ll be bombarded with so called expert knowledge, but at some point you’re just going to have to go for it. I have to admit I did try with some UK based agencies for developing and marketing and they were eye wateringly expensive and with absolutely nothing to support their very robust agency fees. Having testimonials on your site in quote marks with the date beside it means absolutely nothing, particularly if they’ve offered to rinse you for £10k. In the end I was lucky enough to be able to work with somebody I knew personally who’d set up an agency called Aira, and having that personal connection made all the difference. I knew I could trust them and it’s working well…it was then I discovered they were also a Google Partner. These are agencies that Google trains and rates when it comes to their own tools such as Adwords and Analytics. A lot of these agencies will also cover design, SEO and Video production so it’s a great way to build a relationship with an organisation around something you know they’re rated at such as Adwords, and then go from there.
For me, finding someone to help run the site was less straightforward and I was beginning to lose hope when I finally decided to explore Upwork. I was sceptical at first because any experience I’d had of these talent aggregation sites wasn’t that great, but I really liked the way the reviews and the payments worked and so I gave it a go. The result has been pretty amazing. After having a brief and fraught working relationship with a UK based guy that thought he’d become my business partner, I teamed up with a young Romanian guy whom I asked to fix a few outstanding issues with the site. Within hours it was done, not only that he was always contactable, answered by return and was brimming with good ideas. Well, our working relationship has gone for strength to strength, to the point where we speak most weeks and I hope to see him in London in a few weeks time for a beer. He works hard and does a great job for a fair price, and you really can;t ask for any more than that.
I think I’ve been really lucky but things could be so much easier if there was a properly affiliated and ratified rating system for people you’re paying handsomely to help with your business. One false move from a developer or dodgy link builder and your livelihood can disappear overnight. I thought there must be something the Digital Powerhouses can do to assist this but then just recently I took my father to the hospital and discovered that in the UK there isn’t even a certified and rafted register of private clinical consultants. So if we haven’t got around to registering and vetting who can tout their medical knowledge for cash, what chance do we have in the digital world?
This week, after waiting a full ten years for Facebook to prove itself and iron out any teething issues, I finally joined the social networking site. This was in no way due to a sudden realisation that I’d been depriving myself of close friends’ skiing pictures for a decade, but everything to do with the fact that I think I’d like to use it for my business. Writing wedding speeches presents itself with some unique problems when it comes to promoting yourself through social media, and that’s mainly the fact that nobody wants anyone else to know they’ve used you. That’s the main reason I decided to ignore the platform, and it was a very convenient position to take, because it meant that I didn’t have to divert any time or resources to maintaining a presence.
But those days are over, I know that if I’m to keep growing my business then more people are going to have to discover it, and the best way to achieve that is social media. So, there I find myself at the bottom of a very tall social media ladder with zero attention to what I’m doing and no clue as to how to make a stir. I’ve decided that in order to attract people to my brand and what I’m doing I would run a weekly film about the funny things I come across whilst I’m going about my work, which I’ve been doing for a few months now, with the idea that people would share it, more visitors would come to the site and link to it, and therefore I would strengthen my organic position.
But then came the problem of which social media network to use and how to use it. I came quickly came to the conclusion that not only was there already a billion decibels of social noise out there, but that trying to join in and get me a slice was going to become a full time job. I might be a newcomer to the scene but I do understand how it works…I just don’t understand if it does really work. And to explain my situation I’ve listed the platforms and how I see them for my business.
The mother of all networks currently celebrating its tenth birthday. This seems to me to be the ultimate digital manifestation of inviting your friends around in the 70’s to have a look at your holiday snaps from Tenerife. The problem with promoting a business on FB is that I can only really do that through having a personal page first and then inviting those people to like my business page, which all seems a bit like taking something you’ve drawn at home into school and asking the teacher what she thinks of it. I understand that Facebook likes are currency but everyone really knows that it’s simply case of digital back scratching and that if Network Southeast Rail page has Facebook likes then just what is life all about? On the plus side it’s incredibly cheap to promote your business on here to a very specific audience. However, do I post my videos directly on to here on tweet them on to Facebook? It keeps asking me to link to Instagram, but that would just be the videos I’ve put on Youtube. Help.
The largest search engine outside of Google, but this doesn’t make anything easier for me. Since the advent of celebrity Vloggers like Zoella, everyone now wants you to watch the films they shot in their house, and make them a millionaire without ever having to get out of their pyjamas. With so much content on the platform vying for attention is a full time job, and I feel like I’m going around in circles when it encourages me to share the film I’ve just posted on to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Hang on a minute, isn’t that just more people who aren’t going to watch it, because I simply don’t have the time to build even more digital relationships? Help.
This one really confuses me, and by the look of its media profile recently, it’s also confusing a lot of other people too. There is so much noise, naval gazing and speculation on Twitter that making any kind of impact seems a complete impossibility. By far the most infuriating cog in this machine is the bit where you have to pretend to like or be interested in something somebody else said, and then like it or retweet it. This is usually a self serving game of charades designed to get you more followers – I mean just when are you supposed to go through all these millions of Tweets and see what they’re all about? I have a family, I don’t want to spend my spare time checking out the view from your city break hotel. Twitter is usually where I go through the rigmarole of posting the Youtube videos that I’ve already sent to Facebook…and the ones I’m thinking about sending to Instagram..and Pinterest. Help.
Pictures and videos – it’s as simple as that. But it’s not is it? Because I’ve already sent these bloody films to Youtube, and then to Facebook and then on to Twitter. If you go to my Instagram account you’ll just see all the stuff I’ve hoiked around elsewhere in a slightly different grid pattern. Does this mean I’m supposed to make different content for different platforms? Should I give up sleeping? There was a guy at University who thought he’d discovered the secret of life, and that was: you didn’t need to sleep. They wheeled him off one day and he was never seen again.
A digital cork board where you can stick the pictures and videos that mean something to you. You guessed it, it’s here that I pin exactly the same old stuff I’ve stuck everywhere else, and I’m now running out of ideas of how to describe my video in a reasonably funny and engaging way. They’ve pinned it – great, but does that actually mean vey much unless they have a boat load of followers? I know! I’ll promote my Pinterest page by tweeting it to my Facebook followers. Actually, I’ll just get my service revolver and go into my study.
The thing is – if I haven’t got the time to go through stuff, then who has? Most guys I write for are at the very busiest times of their working lives and they go Route One to Google to solve their problems. I don’t doubt that there are whole swathes of the world out there sifting through films and other content relevant to them, but is it worth the time and effort I have to invest in order to find the people who may be interested in my business? Well, I really don’t know. I’m now juggling the equation of whether it makes financial sense to employ someone to run all my social media needs. Will I get a return on my money? Will strengthening my organic presence with a social media footprint result in more brand awareness and therefore more sales?
I still have no clear idea but to be honest after working in television for so long and being told what to say by people who are creatively and intellectually stunted, making my own dodgy films and posting them is absolutely brilliant.
In a few short months I will be celebrating three years of running my very own business, and what makes that an even more significant achievement is that the business is digital. Four years ago I wouldn’t have had a clue how to start a digital business – neither the inclination, nor courage or resources to even begin to think about an internet based operation, but now all the things that scared me like analytics, building a site, Adwords and online marketing speak, are all second nature. And by resources I mean online help and support that you can trust, learn from and use to improve your business everyday…and one that you won’t have to remortgage your house to use.
The hardest part about deciding to start a digital business, or convert some part of your existing business to digital, is suddenly finding yourself at the mercy of a lot of self certified experts in everything from SEO to website design. An awful lot of people will only be too happy to take your money, usually in the form of a monthly retainer, and in return attempt to build and/or market your business, and there’s no telling until it’s too late just how much they do, or indeed do not know about their chosen profession.
Every week I receive dozens of emails offering me expert support and Page 1 residency, always from somebody with a private email address and a family name that contains a suspicious number of consonants. Of course I’m wise to this but if you’re just starting out any approach might seem like a welcome bit of support and plenty have gone down a quick fix route and found themselves relieved of large sums of cash and on the blackfoot with search engines.
Well, I got lucky, and the great thing is that means you can get lucky. And the lucky bit was Google’s Digital Garage, because here I managed to find everything I needed to know about how to start, run and build a digital business and the great thing is – it’s all free!
There were tutorials, videos, forums and a whole heap of advice and support that can not only get you started but see you well on your way. For me it was just what I needed because I didn’t have a huge start up fund, every penny was important, but more than that I knew I could trust it because it was all coming from Google itself.
It takes commitment, hard work and application to put it all into practice but there really isn’t another way to build a successful commercial enterprise, and anyone not prepared to roll their sleeves up should rally think again.
Being digital, running a digital business and getting to grips with the ever changing landscape is so much part of my working life it seemed like a pretty natural idea for it’s trials and tribulations to form some part of my blog. Every week I’ll aim to either share some part of my story building All Speeches or discuss the issues I’m currently grappling with.
But to kick off with here are the top five things that took All Speeches Great and Small, from an idea to something that paid the bills.
Passion – if you’re not passionate about what you’re attempting to build a business from, then you’re making life very difficult for yourself. Whether your selling a product or a service, a start up digital business will involve working most hours, most days, and if you don’t love what you do, then it’s going to become a Titanic struggle. I always loved writing, I always loved making people laugh, so writing Best Man Speeches, was what I was born to do. If you’re having to coax yourself to the computer to go through analytics, Adwords and Ranking tools before you start the working day, then you’re in the wrong job.
Talent – passion his great, and passion will see you through a lot but if you haven’t got a good dollop of talent to make the wheel thing go, then you’re never going to be able to convince anyone to buy your product or service. I always believed in what I could write – it had been borne out on televisions and in public speaking many times, so I knew I could compete with anyone out there. If you have a talent in a particular area, then combine it with the passion and you’ve got an unstoppable formula.
Back to School – I have spent the last 3 years learning, almost daily. There are two great upsides to having a start up digital business where you run every aspect – it means you know exactly how everything works and allows you to make instant alterations should anything go awry, and it also allows you to save on shelling out for so called expert help. I made the decision to learn all I could about Analytics, Adwords, Search and the back end of my site so that I could make educated decisions and now that it’s grown bigger I completely understand what I’m asking others to do and how long it should take them. Unless you get stuck in at the grass roots for a bit, you’re going to leave yourself exposed in the future.
Evolving – in order to make progress your site, thoughts and ambition has to constantly evolve. I have never once looked at my website, or my ads, or my analytics and thought ‘yep, that’ll do.” I’m always looking at ways to improve every page, every post and provide a better service. If you’re not constantly looking forward, then what you’re offering and the way you’re offering it will rapidly tarnish. When you start a digital business your site probably won’t have that many pages, so at least once a week you need to look at the pages, look at the analytics data and see if there anything that can be done to improve your conversion rates.
Use Data – data and analytics are your best friend. It can instantly tell you where people are coming form, what they’re looking at, how long for, and when they’re leaving. All you have to do is link all this together and make some informed decisions about your site, what you’re offering and what your pricing policy is. At the start the volume of stats can be a little daunting but I started by using just a few key factors such as time on page, bounce rate and average number of pages to learn the process and then went from there. Getting to grips with the analytics made me instantly more commercially savvy overnight.
So there are my very basic thoughts on what initially allowed All Speeches to launch and grow. It has been a lot of hard work and a few sleepless nights, and I’ve loved pretty much every minute.