Miles Burke

Thoughts on startups, small business, marketing & more.

Tag: Tribune (Page 2 of 5)

Reply to Your Emails!

Flowers at Bali Hai, Broome

I recently sent an email to about eight different companies looking for accommodation for a holiday I plan to take in a few months. They all have web sites, they all published email addresses, and you know how many replied within 24 hours? Two.

Using this very simple market research, 75% of these companies took longer than 24 hours to respond. Two more replied within the following 48 hours, and it took nearly a week for another to reply.

Three of the original eight still have yet to reply three weeks later. Maybe they’re full during the time I was enquiring about, but I seriously doubt if they’ll ever reply, even if I were to change the dates.

Look at your own habits; when you’re busy or in the ideal situation of having a full schedule of projects, do you reply to enquiries or ignore them? Have you wondered whether the enquiry about a few hours work this week could be the catalyst for your largest project yet?

I’m continually amazed at businesses who advertise email as a way of making contact, only to fall short of reciprocating. We do our best in my business to always respond within 24 hours during the working week — and we’ve been known to reply on weekends. Even a polite “I’m sorry I’m unable to take this project on at the moment” is far nicer than just ignoring the enquirer. I know I’d book elsewhere before approaching again those who failed to return my enquiry the first time around.

Measure your own business email replies — do you respond in a timely manner?

This post first appeared as part of Issue 442 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

Seven Tips to Make Debtors Pay

Bindoon Tidy Town

Recently, we’ve been talking about increasing sales, reinforcing branding, reducing costs, and other ways to survive a rough economic year. Another very important strategy to keep the cash flowing is debt collection.

Debt collection can literally make or break your business. Failing to follow up with debtors regularly could make you end up with zero in the bank. It’s a fact that the older a debt becomes, the harder it is to collect.

It’s vital that you create a process for dealing with debtors and stick with it. The more you enforce this, the quicker clients learn to stay within your terms of trade.

Here are seven tips to avoid the debtor drama:

Tip 1: Accept plenty of payment methods
Five years ago, just about all of my clients paid by cheque. Now, cheques would account for just 5% of our receivables. The majority of our clients pay by direct bank transfer, which is better for us: the money is available quicker, and there’s less risk of a bounced cheque.

We also have some clients who pay by credit card. Sure, we take a small hit on the fees, yet we find many clients are keen to pay by credit cards to solve their own short-term cashflow issues. Speak to your bank or find a payment gateway for safe credit card transactions.

The more payment methods you offer debtors, the less excuses they have to neglect paying.

Tip 2: Ask for a deposit up-front
I’ve always asked for a minimum 40% of the project total as a deposit before starting work on a project, and rarely does a client complain. Asking for a deposit up-front means that you’re establishing the client is serious and can pay their bills. If they’re unable to pay the deposit, how will they pay for the rest of the project?

Tip 3: Spell out terms clearly and regularly
Be sure to include your payment terms within your proposals, and that the due date is clearly marked on all invoices. I know a person who even sends meeting requests as calendar reminders to their clients when they send the invoices.

Be very clear with due dates — make the date as large and as bold as the total on your invoice.

Tip 4: Follow up immediately
The day after your invoice was due is the best time to send a polite, yet firm, email enquiring when they expect to pay, and if there’s any issue. Include a copy of the invoice as an attachment, and let them know you’ll call in a few days time if you don’t hear from them.

Set the tone carefully though; you want to sound helpful and genuinely concerned they may have misplaced the invoice, rather than threatening or angry.

A week later, if the payment is still yet to be received, call and ask them when they expect to pay. This way, you’re forcing the client to declare a date, which they’ll be less likely to break. Follow up with an email, confirming the date you expect to receive the payment.

Tip 5: Increase the pressure
Close the cycle. As the debt becomes older, follow up more frequently. Become firmer with each communication, but never become angry or personal. If you host the web site, consider turning their site off until payment is made, or hold back on code or any deliverables that you still have.

Tip 6: Offer repayment schedules
If the client is having genuine trouble paying you, call and discuss a workable payment plan. Of course, it’s preferable to have the entire balance in your bank instead, but it’s still better than receiving none of it. Be sure to put the schedule in writing, and follow up on every payment to ensure it’s adhered to.

Tip 7: Find a good debt collector
If the worst happens, and two months later you’re still without payment, you may want to hand the matter to a debt collection agency. These agencies often take a small percentage of the overall debt if they can collect it, so at least you’ll receive the majority of the debt.

Good luck, and here’s hoping it’ll be unnecessary to resort to any of these tactics!

This post first appeared as part of Issue 440 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

More Low- or No-cost Marketing Strategies

Kowloon Night Markets, Hong Kong

We’ve discussed Facebook, but there are plenty of other affordable, grass roots-style marketing strategies you can implement to build your business during lean times.

Many online marketing strategies boil down to having the time to work on them. They are often free (apart from the time spent), and so it’s a case of setting aside a block of time every week to work on them.

Here are just a handful of free or low-cost ideas to help reach existing clients and attract new prospects:

Create video tutorials or talks and post them on video-sharing sites. Most of you will have seen the great Will It Blend? video series — they reach out to millions of viewers for a tenth of the cost of a television advertisement.

Post screenshots of your work on photo-sharing sites. A good way to show off your design work is to post screen grabs on sites such as Flickr and the like. You can even make your username your business name or URL. Be careful though, of looking as if you’re spamming, as they all have strict terms of use.

Create an email newsletter. If you’ve yet to do so, I recommend creating an email newsletter to distribute to your clients. Crafting good content and adding forward to a friend tools means they are more likely to be read and forwarded to prospective clients.

Try out contextual advertising. Services such as Google Adwords allow for low budget, short-term, pay-per-click advertising, which you can trial and then track the results.

Spend time understanding SEO. Spending time on search engine optimization can dramatically increase your ranking and have a considerable effect on prospects making contact with you.

Then there are offline efforts as well:

Try asking for (and rewarding) referrals. Ask existing clients for leads, and reward them with a bottle of wine or movie tickets. Simple gifts like these make your clients feel appreciated, and helps to maximize your marketing efforts.

Become involved with public speaking. Offer your services to local business and industry groups, or hold your own talk at the office or nearby conference facilities, and invite everyone you know to attend.

Best of luck with the above ideas, and I wish you plenty of success!

This post first appeared as part of Issue 434 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

Using Facebook Pages to Market Your Business

Ladies Markets, Kowloon, Hong Kong

In a recent Tribune, I suggested looking at Facebook Pages as a free marketing medium for your business. Love or hate Facebook, it will be around for a while yet, and it’s very likely that many of your target audience are already on there. So how do you best leverage Facebook for your business?

Facebook have a few tools available for you to use the platform as a marketing medium. Firstly, the more traditional advertising system, where you pay for impressions or actions on text-based and image-based ads. The level of reporting and targeting is advanced; you can build a campaign to target only those who list certain interests (such as small business), or meet specific demographics (females, aged 25-40 in Canada only).

Then, there’s the simple Facebook Share button which can be integrated into your own web site, popular for content-based services.

Then, if you’re up for a challenge, you could use the Facebook API to build your own innovative application that works within Facebook. This does require a certain level of development experience though.

The one I’m focusing on today, however, is Facebook Pages. The Facebook Terms of Use prohibit organizations to have their own profiles, unlike individuals. Your options as an organization are better served with Pages, which are open to anyone to use.

You can create a company page from within your individual profile by clicking on the Advertising link in the footer. By choosing a category, naming the page, and completing a number of fields, your page will be created. You can then share it with others, and they can choose to Become a fan.

As people become fans of your organization’s page, it appears within their News Feed, revealing to the rest of their Facebook colleagues that you have added the page. It then links the page name with your page, driving more people to click on the link and have a look.

This is where your page can win or lose. I suggest that you consider your Facebook page as a micro-site; you should start adding more content to the page, encourage conversation within the discussion board, and ask fans to promote it using the Share feature.

Here are a few examples of how SitePoint Tribune readers are using Facebook Pages as part of their marketing strategy. uses its Facebook Page to share details of events (120 events listed at the time of writing), as well as link their find-a-college program using a large graphic in the center of the page. They have also linked YouTube videos and lively discussion on their Wall and Discussion Board. Janice Henshall from says “With our fan base steadily increasing, we’re hoping that our target demographic (potential college applicants, many who are between 18 and 24 years of age) find it a useful communication tool. Time will tell.”

Chinese nightlife web site, Zhuhai Nights uses their Facebook page as a promotional tool to drive people to their web site. They have many videos (including fan videos) and photos to build rich content within the page.

Mark Clulow from Coos Creations, creators of the site, states “We use the page to generate interest and tell people about events. The most popular feature though, is photo tagging. Tagging people in photos from events we’re involved with lets them know about the site, as well as their friends and family — all in a subtle but effective way. Actually watermarking the photos with Facebook has proven very successful at dragging people over to our site.”

Chicago web design business, Addicott Web has a Facebook page to market their services to a wider audience. Hirsch Fishman from Addicott has a few great ideas on how to better utilize Facebook Pages for web professionals.

“I set up a Facebook page because I wanted to directly market my web design business to everyone I know on Facebook. The vast majority of my clients come through word of mouth, but only a few of these know about my web site. Then there are people where it’s been years since I’ve spoken to them so they’re unaware of what I’m up to now. Posting on the Facebook page allows for these situations — and help fuel the word of mouth and referrals that might come my way.

Overall my goal has to been to create a well-rounded marketing piece for Addicott Web on the Facebook page. As much as my web site serves that purpose, if people don’t visit, then it’s pointless. With so many people on Facebook, it seemed the perfect approach.

What am I doing in particular on my page?

I import my RSS feed to it, so that all blog posts display on Facebook as soon as I post them on my blog.

I’ve been using the photo gallery as my portfolio and in the caption of each web site that I feature, post the complete project details, taken word-for-word from my actual web site.

I’ve asked some past clients to post positive reviews of my work.

I specifically invite new clients to Become a fan of my Facebook page so that they can see all of this information (if they’ve yet to look at my web site).

The most positive aspect of all is that it’s given me a potential service that I can now offer clients as well — creating and consulting on their Facebook presence as a complement to the web site that I’m creating for them. Being able to offer services like this helps me as a professional, as I can offer clients more than just a web site — and that’s the value proposition of my business.”

Thanks for your feedback and suggestions, Janice, Mark, and Hirsch. It’s great to see businesses using a variety of methods on their Facebook Pages to increase their fan base and interact with audiences.

I trust this article has you thinking about how better to market your organization using Facebook Pages — best of luck with it!

This post first appeared as part of Issue 434 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

Interview with Mike Brown

Bali Trees

I recently had the opportunity to interview Mike Brown, co-organizer of the well-renowned Webstock, New Zealand’s largest web conference. With only a few weeks to go before Webstock 2009, Mike took a few moments out of his busy schedule to reply to my questions.

Rumor has it you were a web developer before becoming an event organizer. How did you end up running events instead of cutting code?

The programmers I used to work with would laugh at the idea of me “cutting code,” but yes, I worked for around eight years doing HTML/CSS. Then I moved into information architecture and user experience. All of which I enjoyed a lot.

I was on the Web Standards Group mailing list and made the mistake of posting a few times there. Someone emailed me and suggested I think about setting up a Web Standards Group in Wellington. This was in 2004 and the idea was to have city-based meetings discussing web standards topics of the day. So I emailed everyone in Wellington that I knew and for our first meeting in early 2005, had around 75 people attending.

It grew from there as it became clear we were satisfying a need for people in the industry to meet, learn, network, and share.

The main impetus for Webstock is that we’re all total fanboys and fangirls at heart, and the only way we’d be able to meet people we really admired in the industry was to invite them ourselves! I blogged about the journey to Webstock in more detail on the Webstock blog.

There are obviously challenges to face when changing careers in such a big way—from building web sites to running conferences. What’s been the highlight of this change for you, personally?

Well, in a sense my life has been a series of career changes, often to the chagrin of my wife! I guess the highlight of this particular change is being able to do what I’m truly passionate about. Previously I was doing this outside of my work, so the chance to make my passion my work really feels like a privilege I’ve been handed.

It’s also a chance to work closely with Tash Hall, my main Webstock partner-in-crime who is one of the most inspiring people I know.

Finally, and more personally, it’s given me the chance to be a lot more flexible with my hours and consequently spend more quality time with my wife and kids. The week I quit my previous job I walked my kids to school for the first time ever — there was no longer a need to be at my desk by a certain time!

Lucky guy! If you could give one piece of advice for a web designer or developer who is considering selling products instead of services, what would it be?

I’m sure there are others better equipped at giving advice here! It seems to me, though, that a lot of success in this area almost comes about by accident. People build a product to solve a problem that’s bugging them (to scratch their own itch, so to speak); it’s only as they’re building it, or after it’s finished, that they think about selling it.

So I guess the advice is: concentrate on building a dynamite product. Solve real problems that you come across. Build it for yourself first. Then worry about selling it.

My area of expertise does lie elsewhere though, so follow any advice at your own risk.

As for web developers trying to break into the speaking circuit, what do you look for in a conference speaker?

Well, there are a couple of points here. Webstock probably is more for experienced speakers, rather than those trying to break into the speaking circuit. So I’ll talk first about what we look for at Webstock. Then I’ll offer some thoughts on how to become a (good) speaker.

For Webstock, first and foremost, they need to be a good, entertaining speaker. This example is a bit extreme to make a point, but in general I think it’s true that an entertaining speaker with shallow content trumps a boring speaker with great content. People are paying money to attend a conference; the presentations they see are a performance that should engage them.

The speakers we look for also need to know their stuff. We want attendees at Webstock to be inspired and pushed and challenged. And we want them to learn from people who are among the best in their fields. So we need speakers that have the knowledge to do that.

Also, and this is much more intangible, we want speakers that we’ll personally like as people. One of the bonuses for us is working with the speakers and hanging out with them a little, and it’s much nicer when we can feel a connection with them.

For someone trying to break into the speaking circuit, I’d offer three pieces of advice.

  • Speak as much as you can; present at work to small groups for short periods. You’ll suck at times, you’ll be nervous, but you’ll get better. Knowing how to present to audiences is a skill you can learn.
  • Work at being better. Study other speakers at conferences you go to and by watching the TED talks, and learn from how they present. Read Garr Reynolds’ blog, Presentation Zen.
  • Respect your audience. It’s a privilege to be able to speak to a group of peers. They’re giving up their time to watch you. Put in the research time needed. Spend time crafting your slides. Rehearse your presentation. It will take longer than you think it should to prepare, but it’s worth it and it’s the minimum you should do.

Great tips, thanks. So, what are you most looking forward to during Webstock ’09?

As an organizer I most look forward to feeling that buzz a successful conference has; when you walk around and people are animated and smiling and blown away by what they’ve just heard. If we can create that atmosphere at Webstock, I’ll be very happy.

As an attendee it’s really hard for me to single out the speakers I’m most looking forward to seeing. I think Jasmina Tesanovic will be fascinating.

I’m really looking forward to Annalee Newitz and Matt Jones. Damian Conway is perhaps the most entertaining speaker I’ve seen. But if I had to pick one speaker I’m most looking forward to — Bruce Sterling. Speaking in Wellington. At Webstock. OMG!

Thanks for your time, Mike, and I look forward to attending Webstock and visiting New Zealand for the first time, later this month. I hope to catch up with any Tribune readers while I’m there too — trust I’ll see you there!

This post first appeared as part of Issue 432 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

Words & Images © 2005-2016, Miles Burke. All rights reserved.