Blog Moving Time

Blog Moving TimeThis blog is moving to a new home: the Butow Communications Group (BCG) website. Since the blog launched in October 2016, we’ve had a chance to see how the blog was received. It’s clear that this blog can be of better use for current and prospective BCG customers.

However, this site won’t go away. It will have more basic information about the Blogging to Drive Business, Second Edition book. Speaking of the book, several people  have asked Rebecca Bollwitt and me about creating a third edition.

The bad news is that the computer book publishing industry has cut back its offerings dramatically. Publishers aren’t that interested in producing general business or beginner/intermediate level books as they were even a couple of years ago.

Que, a publishing brand owned by UK company Pearson Education, published the first two editions of Blogging to Drive Business. In early 2016, Pearson laid off 4,000 employees — about 10 percent of its workforce. Worse, some authors (including one I know) had current and future book authoring contracts cancelled.

At Pearson’s annual meeting on May 5, 2017, investors revolted against a 20% increase in CEO John Fallon’s pay after a 2.6 billion pound (about a $3.4 billion) annual loss. Fallon tried to assuage investors by putting his additional salary in Pearson stock. He also announced another round of job cuts and office closures that will save 300 million pounds ($3.95 billion). This is on top of Pearson’s plan to sell its consumer publishing joint venture with Random House.

Fallon warned investors that “things are not going to get better anytime soon.” So, don’t expect a third edition of Blogging to Drive Business in the near future. Given Pearson’s troubles, I won’t be surprised if their technology book brands are sold off, too — hopefully to a solvent buyer that’s willing to invest in books. If so, Rebecca and I will be there to promote a new edition of the book.

In the meantime, visit the BCG website and click on BCGIN in the lower-right corner of the screen to sign up to get news and offers from BCG. When the new BCG blog is online, then you’ll be the first to know. And keep checking this webpage because the new Blogging to Drive Business site will be online soon.

Review Your Website Now

Check your website to make sure it's working right

I recently wrote a review of a potential client’s WordPress website. This website has a lot of good things going for it: It looks inviting, its mobile version looks good, and it has the right amount of information for its intended audience.

I also found a number of issues with the site for the client to consider:

  • The page title of the site and the site address were different from the actual name of the business. That may cause confusion with viewers, not to mention search engines.
  • The site descriptions in the site code didn’t have any information about the site. Instead, the descriptions mentioned Facebook and WordPress. These descriptions are not search-friendly.
  • It should come as no surprise that the site didn’t have any WordPress SEO plugins, so it’s harder for search engines to find the site.
  • The social media icons were a bit too small on the mobile site. This makes the site a little harder to use.
  • Only one of the social media icons went to the actual social media profile. When you tap on any of the other icons, they all go back to the website.
  • The copyright date is 2014. Not updating your copyright makes your site look outdated…and may convince people not to return.

Do any of these issues look familiar to you when you view your website?

If so, don’t wait to update. Use whatever reason you want. The fact that we’re now in the second half of 2017 is a good motivator. Catching up with — or beating — your competition is another.

Review Your Important Stuff Today

I keep all my important stuff in my bank safe deposit box. By important stuff, I mean my life insurance policy, will, advance health care directive, and password spreadsheets stored on a USB drive.

I revised my life insurance policy recently after I received a letter about privacy from my insurance carrier. That letter prompted me to check my privacy settings on the carrier’s website. I discovered that I hadn’t updated my policy in 5 years…before my father died. So, I updated my beneficiary list, and I checked my will at the same time. I made a couple of minor changes to the will, had it signed, and notified my executors of the changes.

Some tragic news also pushed me to make these changes: Early this month I learned that my cousin’s 25-year-old stepson passed away. That reminded me that things can change quickly, so I checked and ensured all my important documents were in order.

I hope you aren’t compelled to look at your important stuff because of a family calamity. Instead, the calendar should compel you — next weekend, the first weekend of July, is the halfway point of the year. So, use that date as an opportunity for you to review your important stuff.

What’s more, if you don’t have as much important stuff as you should, consider shopping for it. You may need life insurance, business insurance, a will, or an advance health care directive. It’s possible you may need a copy of your birth certificate. And you should put together a list of your passwords and put it on a USB drive. Then your executor can get important information from your computing device(s) and website accounts. And your executor will thank you for making things easier during a stressful time.

As Peter Drucker said, “Long-range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions.”

Contract Good, Uncertainty Bad

A contract is your parachute.Whenever a client and I agree to work together, I send the client a draft contract that contains suggested deadlines. I build my contract from a template that clearly states we need to work together to make the project come to life. That means we must send each other materials by specific deadlines so I finish the job in a timely manner.

I learned long ago that if you don’t create and sign a contract with clients and partners, uncertainty is always the result. That leads to lost productive time, (probably) court hearings, (maybe) lost money, and (definitely) more stress.

 

Setting the Scene

I recently created a website for a medical professional. She signed a contract for website design services in early April. Throughout the process, she verbally chafed about the contract deadlines. At different times she claimed:

  • She didn’t read the contract before she signed it.
  • She didn’t understand the contract when she signed it.
  • We were on a “relaxed” schedule, not the schedule stipulated in the contract.

I knew about my client’s busy life, so I created a contract amendment for her to sign. That amendment contained new due dates and would not charge additional fees as stipulated in the contract…provided we each met our deadlines. She signed the amendment.

Things were going well. My client approved the design that I delivered to her on time. We spent a few days making small changes to the website text.

Two days before any other text changes were due, she decided she didn’t like her new website. She demanded that I either extend the deadline to a nebulous future date or not charge her for the rest of the website work. If I didn’t comply, she said she would damage my reputation on Yelp.

 

The Value of a Contract

I never encountered such a threat from a client in my nearly 23 years in business. So, I consulted with my pre-paid legal service, which has been a good investment. The attorney sent my client a demand letter, and I sent her the final invoice. (If she tried to leave a bad review on Yelp in response, she quickly learned that I don’t have a Yelp account.) Her written reply to my attorney said I was wrong about so many things and directed me to contact her attorney.

So, I sent her attorney a two-page letter that included:

  • Information about my experience with small claims court cases,
  • A reminder that she’d have to drive 50 miles to my town for the small claims court hearing,
  • A note that my client and I communicated exclusively by e-mail, so I would bring our entire correspondence to the hearing, and
  • An offer to waive late fees if his client paid the final invoice 10 days after he received my letter.

With that letter, I included copies of the contract, extension amendment, and the e-mail message that contained my client’s demands and Yelp threat.

One week after the attorney received my letter, I received a letter from the client. It contained a cashier’s check for the full amount due. My client paid me for my work, but I still couldn’t show off that work on my website portfolio.

The moral of this story: Create contracts, stick to your deadlines, document everything, and be ready to protect yourself.

Why I Left the Better Business Bureau

The past few weeks have been busy for me as I add or renew personal and business memberships. I also dropped my membership in the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The reason for the latter has to do with passwords and privacy.

I joined the BBB in 2011. Last year, the BBB posted my unhidden BBB password in my renewal e-mail message. For some time before then, news outlets documented the lack of privacy controls in e-mail messages. What’s more, some pieces of my BBB account password were in other passwords I use to access other websites.

Why I Left the Better Business BureauI updated a lot of my passwords quickly. When I was done, I expressed my concern to the head of the BBB office in Sacramento. The head of that office assured me that such transmission would never happen again, and that a note about this would be put in my member file.

After I renewed with the Better Business Bureau in March this year, I received a thank you e-mail message. This message once again contained my user name and my entire unhidden password. I promptly e-mailed the head of the Sacramento BBB office about this. Her e-mail response explained that the person who sent the message was a new employee and he didn’t read my file.

Her response also contained the entire original message with my unhidden password. So, now I knew the previous message wasn’t an innocent mistake. I responded to her in a separate e-mail message to prevent further transmission of my password, and told her that either BBB staff didn’t train its staff correctly or my “member file” didn’t exist. She apologized again and refunded my dues quickly, but I won’t be a Better Business Bureau member anytime soon.

Though I look at and change my passwords on a regular basis, this incident happened in between those regular checks. I neither appreciated having to put other work aside to check and change more passwords nor the anxiety.

So, I want to share this cautionary tale with you and offer some ideas if you’re concerned about passwords, too.

If you’re thinking of sending passwords via e-mail, or even document attachments with important information like your signature, there are three ways I protect my documents. You may want to consider these strategies as well:

  • Your e-mail software may offer the ability to send encrypted messages, where both you and the recipient need a “key” to open the message. If you use Microsoft Outlook, you can get instructions how to do that on the Office help website.
  • If you use Adobe Acrobat, encrypt your PDF document with a password that the recipient knows.
  • You can also use a file compression program such as 7-Zip to not only compress the file but also require a password to open the compressed file.

In the latter two cases, you may need to talk about what password you want to use and keep the references reasonably cryptic. For example, you may tell the recipient to use the first few letters of a word combined with the last three digits of a number that both of you know.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any questions or further thoughts. In the meantime, I hope you have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend.