Author Archives: Lis

Manage your next project like a pro

project management tipsWhether you’re putting the finishing touches on a great site design or seeing leads stream in from an email campaign, the end of a successful project feels great. What’s not always so great? The middle. Poorly defined expectations, sparring stakeholders and blown deadlines can derail the best of marketing intentions – and lead to unhappy clients.

As a project manager at The Simons Group, my job is to make sure our work stays on track, on time and on budget. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, developing a repeatable process that keeps everyone on the ball. If you’re tired of hearing “When is this due?” and “Why didn’t anyone tell me that?,” here are a few strategies to strengthen your project management game.

4 pro tips to keep projects on track

  1. Define your scope. Does that new logo need to include a tagline? How many concepts will you deliver? Will you present your work on a conference call or in person? Setting clear expectations upfront helps you avoid budget-busting scope creep and miscommunication with clients about deliverables.
  2. Name your stakeholders. This includes everyone performing the work, as well as the people who will approve it. Assign specific responsibilities to each person, from writing content to sourcing photos. If it’s a client-facing project, determine which company members will be involved in the review process and loop in everyone from the start. There’s nothing worse than preparing to launch a new site, only to find out the CFO thinks the home page is “too green.”
  3. Get techy. Project management tools are a lifesaver for companies with complex projects or a lot of projects to handle (or both, like us!). The Simons Group invested in one earlier this year, and it’s already paid for itself by cutting way down on the time we spend hunting through emails. Some platforms come with extras like time tracking, CRMs and accounting features, while others just offer the basics. Either way, you’ll be able to assign workers to tasks, set deadlines and see progress at a glance.
  4. Consolidate feedback. Everyone’s got an opinion – but when they all chime in separately, those opinions take forever to sift through, adding time and expense to your project. If multiple people at your client’s company will be reviewing work, encourage them to establish one point person to share feedback. Ideally, that person should smooth over internal squabbles and present the consensus. It’s not helpful to hear that Tom thinks “Chief Marketing Officer” should be capitalized in the middle of a sentence, but Bob doesn’t. (By the way, Bob’s right.)

How do you keep your projects on track? Let us know in the comments below.

Cure ‘Uberization’ anxiety with these 4 digital strategies

digital-dream-2-1456675The internet and mobile have turned the way we do business on its head. While digital transformation opens up exciting opportunities, it also strikes fear into the hearts of many business leaders, who worry that more digitally savvy competitors might come along and wipe them out.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise dubbed it “Uberization” anxiety syndrome, named after Uber’s gutting of the taxi industry. By developing a more efficient, customer-friendly model that relies on smartphones and cloud computing power, Uber has revolutionized the way we get around. Business and IT leaders across every vertical worry their industry could be next.

From a marketing perspective, digital transformation offers unprecedented insight into our customers and prospects. We can see how they interact with our emails, nurture leads with the click of a button, and track how many times they mention our brand (or a competitor’s) on Twitter. With the proliferation of marketing channels and products, though, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to find and execute the right mix.

That’s why many small and mid-size businesses are still struggling to adopt a digital strategy. According to a recent report by LeadPages and Infusionsoft, nearly one in five businesses don’t use any form of digital marketing, and nearly half don’t know if they’re marketing effectively – while another 14 percent know they aren’t.

Do you worry that your competitors are swaying prospects with sophisticated email campaigns while you’re still sending faxes? Here are a few steps for developing a solid digital marketing strategy.

  • Start with processes, not tools. All the technology in the world won’t help you without a solid process in place. What types of customers are you targeting? How will sales handle the leads once they come in? Develop your funnel, then use digital tools to accelerate it.
  • Don’t get sucked into what others are doing. So many factors go into choosing the right software, including your average sales cycle, customer demographics and the size of your sales team. If it takes a year for a lead to turn into a prospect, you probably don’t need a marketing automation platform to keep in touch with them twice a week.
  • Think like a customer. Many businesses get overwhelmed by maintaining an online presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and countless other platforms. To prospects, it’s all part of a single wrapper: their smartphone. They don’t need a different message on every channel; repurpose content to get more mileage out of your efforts.
  • Measure and adapt. The beauty of digital marketing is the built-in data and insight. Are people constantly bouncing off of one of your landing pages? Try reworking the call to action or page layout.

Which digital marketing tactics does your company use? Let us know in the comments below.


The biggest mistake you’re making in your website content

content writing for compelling websitesHere’s a quick test: Go to the home page of your website and read the first sentence or phrase. Does it start with “We”? If so, it’s time to change your perspective.

Just like your eyes glaze over when your date drones on about his latest juice cleanse, a prospect will lose interest fast in a self-centered company. You may think you’re providing your readers with helpful information, but simply listing your company’s qualities and product features in exhaustive detail isn’t going to cut it.

To connect with your audience, put yourself in their shoes – it’s about them, not you. Here’s a guide to writing content that turns prospects into customers.

  1. Focus on their needs. What problems are your customers trying to solve? How does your solution meet their needs? Identify the top two or three things you can do for clients, whether it’s save them time through automation software or satisfy their hunger with a delicious pizza, and lead with those in your content.

Bonus tip: Back up your claims with success stories or testimonials from other clients when possible. Hearing a third party sing your praises is much more convincing.

  1. Use active language. Consider this sentence: “Our financial services firm draws on its wealth of experience to create customized plans for our clients.” It’s all about the company, not about the customers it’s trying to reach.

Now try it this way: “Secure your family’s financial future by partnering with our experienced managers to create a wealth management plan.” Clear, personal and empowering.

Bonus tip: Get to the point. Two to three sentences per paragraph are plenty.

  1. Make the call to action clear. Once a prospect has read your persuasive prose, what do you want them to do? Fill out a form? Sign up for your newsletter? Make the path to conversion obvious and compelling by spelling it out.

Bonus tip: If you’re directing prospects to a form, keep it short. According to this Unbounce post, one company saw a 120 percent spike in submissions by reducing its form fields from 11 to four.

What are your best techniques for writing compelling site content? Let us know in the comments below!

5 must-know SEO content tips

SEO tips

Your industry keeps getting more crowded, and search engine algorithms are constantly evolving. So how do you snag a prime spot in the search rankings and stay there?

While there’s no magic formula, optimized content is a big part of the battle. Try these strategies to give your site an SEO boost.

  1. Don’t worry about keywords. Seriously, don’t worry about them. The conventional wisdom used to be that pinpointing the exact keywords and phrases your audience searches for and peppering them strategically throughout your content would boost your rankings. Then Google introduced the Hummingbird algorithm, and that all went out the window. The search engine can now interpret your content or a user’s search phrase and match it to similar keywords and phrases. That means if someone searches for “Chicago automobiles” and you’re selling “Windy City cars,” you’ll still show up in the results. Instead of focusing on the perfect keywords, write quality content that describes your services accurately and makes people want to stick around.
  1. Write compelling title tags. Title tags are like the headlines of each page – they appear in the tab on your browser and tell search engines and people what the page is about. To get the biggest SEO boost from your title tags, write unique tags for each page, describe the page’s most important content first, and use no more than 70 characters (including spaces).
  1. Don’t forget meta descriptions. Meta descriptions are the text that appears under the site link in the search results, and they play a big role in whether a searcher decides to click on your link. If you don’t include meta descriptions on your site, the search engine will pull one for you from the page content, and it may not be the content you want to highlight. Use action-oriented language in your meta descriptions and keep them to 155 to 165 characters – any longer than that and they may get cut off in the search results.
  1. Make your content linkable. Inbound links are one of the key factors search engines consider when determining which sites land on the first page. Along with writing quality content that people want to link to, make sure the page itself is actually linkable. If you’re posting on a password-protected site or sharing a nonlinkable slide show, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
  1. Start (and maintain) a blog. Search engines love fresh content. One component of Google’s algorithm, Query Deserves Freshness, considers which searches are getting more traffic than usual and rewards sites that wrote about the subject most recently. Frequent posting also means frequent indexing by search engines (and more chances to climb the rankings). Keep your finger on your industry’s pulse and answer your customers’ burning questions regularly on your blog. Just make sure your content is worthwhile – search engines will penalize you for stuffing your site with crummy posts.

Which SEO strategies has your business used successfully? Let us know in the comments below!


So long for now …

waving-hand-1243865With the end of the year fast approaching, it’s time for The Simons Group blog to sign off for 2015. Whether we’re writing about social media trends or B2B paid search strategies, we love sharing our thoughts with you each week.

If you’re yearning for some marketing education to go along with that plate of Christmas cookies, here’s a peek at our top five most-read blog posts this year: 

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Project spotlight: JMG Financial Thanksgiving card

FullSizeRender (2)You know the feeling you get when you see a beautiful card addressed to you among the utility bills and junk mail? We know it, too. That’s why we encourage our clients to add holiday cards to their marketing mix. Sending well wishes to your customers, suppliers and other associates builds goodwill and helps you stay top of mind in the coming year. The best holiday cards are eye-catching, reflect your company’s character, and make recipients feel good while reading them.

This year, we worked with JMG Financial to create a Thanksgiving card that captured the spirit of the season. With a commitment to hands-on service, the wealth management firm has developed relationships that span generations with many of its clients.

To reflect the company’s commitment to family, the card features a modern photo of the JMG Financial team with the greeting “From Our Family to Yours.” An inviting textured leaf pattern frames the photo and sets the fall tone. The sentiments inside the card echo the company’s focus on relationships, thanking clients and associates for their support throughout the year.  FullSizeRender (3)

If you’re looking for more greeting card inspiration, check out our card portfolio. While the holidays are fast approaching, there’s still time to spread some cheer. Whether you offer season’s greetings or wish your customers a happy New Year, sending a card is a simple way to spark holiday joy.

Does your company send holiday cards? What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.

Are you ready for a refresh?

lemon-splash-6-1326638You’ve worked hard to create the perfect mix of marketing materials to promote your business. Then, one day, you take a closer look and realize your brochure doesn’t include your three newest locations. Your website has a fax number on it, but no link to your Facebook page. Your collateral is looking … old.

At The Simons Group, companies often ask us to review their existing materials and recommend updates. The goal is to keep the collateral looking fresh, ensure the materials include the most up-to-date information, and engage customers and prospects in the ways they like to communicate today. Here are a few of the questions I ask myself when giving a company’s materials a once-over:

  • Is the content up to date? I review content to make sure client success stories, products and other details are still relevant. If the latest success story on your website is from 2003, it’s probably time to add a new one.
  • Are they concise? As attention spans shrink, it’s more critical than ever to get to the point. I look for any redundancies in materials and seek out opportunities to break up copy with bulleted lists and subheads.
  • Are they laid out clearly? Clean, easy-to-read design with ample white space and images is the industry standard today. Multiple entry points to a page, such as callout boxes and pull quotes, can also help keep readers engaged.
  • Are making the best use of social media? Maintaining a presence on Facebook, Twitter and more gives you that many more touch points with your audience. A website blog is another great way to engage readers while keeping your site content fresh. I check to make sure all electronic materials include the appropriate social media links and discuss companies’ options for adding or updating a website news section.
  • Are they accessible on the go? More and more people are viewing websites on cell phones and tablets, so it’s important to make sure your site looks good on those platforms. Responsive design will ensure that your site is readable in any format.

When was the last time you updated your marketing materials? What changes did you make? Let us know in the comments below.

Are keywords dead?

Photo credit: parylo00

Photo credit: parylo00

Oh, Google. Just when we think we’ve figured out the secret to snagging a first-page search ranking, the rules change again. Keywords used to be king when it came to search engine optimization, but according to this article from Search Engine Watch, they’re becoming a lot less important. 

Read more…

It’s all about the members on CFBC site

Chicago Family Business Council (CFBC) offers a wealth of programming and support to help business leaders succeed. It’s fitting, then, that the website we recently created for CFBC is also chock-full of resources.

As a strategic partner for the organization, whose membership includes owners and key leaders of family-owned and other closely held businesses, we’ve worked with CFBC for years on its marketing efforts. When CFBC became an independent nonprofit organization and formed an affiliation with DePaul University earlier this year, the group needed a new website to go along with its new identity. CFBC had a long wish list for the site, but one overarching goal: making the website a dynamic, helpful resource for its members.

We handled the copywriting, design and coding for the new site, creating a user-friendly finished product filled with the information members need. Key features include a password-protected section where members can access sensitive documents and other information, a robust directory with member bios and photos, detailed information on joining CFBC, and an easy way to register for upcoming events. The website is built as a content management system, which means CFBC can update the site easily.

What do you think of CFBC’s new look? Let us know in the comments below.