BrandYourself, DIY Online Reputation Management

I happened to watch a rerun of Shark Tank this week and was intrigued by Patrick Ambron, co-founder of BrandYourself, an online reputation management service. I find it very interesting since I’ve been in the position of counseling small business clients on the problems they’ve encountered, such as having negative reviews on Yelp. Worse yet, those Yelp reviews show up on a Google search results pages, often with the negative review snippet showing front and center.

Ambron says BrandYourself isn’t so much about removing the negative as helping you create a [positive] presence online. I agree with that philosophy and also wonder if their Do It Yourself tools can really work. In my own experience, I find clients want to spend as little time and money as possible. They typically don’t understand my philosophy of:

Great online reputation management is actually great online marketing, which most every company should be doing.

Thinking responsively: responsive web design that is

Responsive web design - Strategic Compliance, Inc.

Responsive web design adjusts elegantly to fit on desktop, tablet and smartphone browsers

Responsive Web Design

This year I’ve built new websites for clients on responsive design platforms. Mobile responsive design has been talked about for a few years, but I think it’s really become a must in the last couple of years. And it’s much easier to accomplish today with responsive design platforms, like most of the StudioPress WordPress themes.

If responsive web design is a somewhat unfamiliar, no worries. Responsive web design is a website design that adjusts elegantly to fit on desktop, tablet and smartphone browsers. No longer will people get essentially the same website view as a desktop – only scrunched to fit the smaller space. Instead, the responsive technology adjusts the website content to  the particular device. Searchers and visitors can easily see and navigate the available content.

Strategic Compliance, Inc.

The website displayed here is for Strategic Compliance, Inc., a “boutique, human resources consultancy offering critical wage and hour compliance solutions. Owner Alfonso Zarate created the business to leverage his past experience as a Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Department (WHD) investigator. He seeks to bridge the gap between legal compliance issues and everyday human resource issues, and help employers better relate to employees from different cultures or who speak different languages.

Alfonso’s experience as a WHD Investigator helps his clients defend themselves against WHD investigations, saving them time, money and headaches. He is proficient in reading, writing and speaking to/from English/Spanish. During his time as a WHD Investigator, Alfonso received the prestigious Secretary of Labor Exceptional Achievement Award on three occasions.

Lofstrom + Company professionals developed the firm’s branding, including the logo and tagline, and built the website content and design from the ground up. We chose the “Executive Pro” theme from StudioPress, which allowed us to have mobile responsive design with very few alterations to underlying code.

Entrepreneur of the Year – Yes Me!

Gary Lofstrom, Entrepreneur of the Year Award Winner image

Gary Lofstrom – 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year Award Winner, as awarded by KC-IABC

I was honored yesterday by my peers within the Kansas City chapter of International Association of Business Communicators ( as the 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year. The award was presented at the annual Business Communicators Summit. I am grateful for the recognition and want to say again that IABC has been a great professional organization for so many marketing communications professionals to cultivate their skills and achieve their personal and career goals.

Per our chapter’s guidelines, the Entrepreneur of the Year Award recognizes the achievements of our industry’s self-employed professionals. These individuals inspire us with their entrepreneurial spirit by organizing, managing and assuming the risks of running a business and demonstrate:

  • A strong book of clients
  • An ongoing, active role in IABC
  • Assistance and support to other communications professionals – both organizational and independent
  • A position of respect among their fellow entrepreneurs
  • Evidence of business stability

Should you include photos of key people on your website?

A good head shot photo is a must for your website. Make sure you’re not having a bad hair day!

This headline is a question posed frequently by clients when I ask them for their most recent, high quality head shot, or ask them to get a head shot photo taken for their website. I generally support the idea of a photo to go with a bio. However, I think there are times when certain people prefer to omit their photo for security and/or privacy reasons. I know there’s not much in the way of privacy once you do much of anything on the Internet, but if a person has such a concern, then it should be respected. As for revealing one’s age, gender, etc., the bio even without a photo will reveal quite of bit of information (if it’s at all informative). Final thought, I don’t stay long on a website if it the people behind it are a mystery! What are they hiding?

Jive Talkin’ at Cerner Corporation

Social Business Collaboration Tools Leveraged by Cerner Corporation

Lance Yoder shares how Cerner corporation uses social intranet software to improve internal communications

A large number of communications professionals and other business managers wanted to learn more about the social intranet today by hearing how industry giant, Cerner Corporation, introduced the Jive platform to its 10,000+ employees and numerous clients, business partners, invited guests-researchers and industry experts. The presentation was titled, “Using Social Business Tools to Improve Internal Communications” and was presented by International Association of Business Communicators colleague, and Cerner Program Manager, Lance Yoder.

As a past employee of large organizations, I find this rather fascinating. How can these multinational companies improve internal communications? How can they improve communications with customers, vendors, industry experts, etc.? Based on how curious people from organizations without sophisticated social intranets, Cerner must be on to something.

For me, a one person communications consultant, I want to to know how these tools might affect smaller businesses, which are important clients to me. Can small businesses use them now, or is it, for now, a tool for larger companies with deeper pockets and the personnel to operate the tools.

Attendees listening image

Communications professionals listened attentively and had many questions for Cerner Corporation’s personnel in regard to its social intranet collaboration software

If I can learn about such trends as they occur, hopefully I will be a more valued consultant to small business enterprise.

Top six branding mistakes by small businesses

In working with entrepreneurs and small businesses, I often find they have some serious problems with their logos and branding graphics. They contact me because they need some help with a website, a brochure, email blasts, blogging, etc., but what they really should do first is fix their corporate identity.

Branding mistakes graphic

If the corporate identity is really bad, then creating a new website, featuring that branding, is like painting rotten wood on a house. It looks better for a while, but pretty soon the rot is again showing through. Here are my top six branding mistakes:

Home-made logos

When you’re just getting started, paying for someone to develop a professional logo and branding seems incredibly expensive. And surely you can pay $25 or so for a logo software program and do-it-yourself. Or why not pay an online company $150 or so “to create the best logo possible.” Too often you truly get what you pay for, and that ain’t saying much!

Use of cliché stock art

Everyone now knows how cheaply you buy stock art on the Internet. So obtain some cheap online art of a globe, or a bar chart, or an arrow, or a puzzle piece, or a leaf, or an oak tree. You’re golden now, you’ve got an instantly recognizable form that says your company is global in its service area, builds sales volume for its customers, is solid like a hundred-year-old oak tree, solves puzzles, etc. Unfortunately, those shapes are overused and have become cliché.

Meaningless taglines

How often have you seen a tagline for a company that doesn’t mean anything? Sony has a tagline of “Make. Believe.” It doesn’t tell us what the company does, how the company is different from competitors or what it stands for. It’s rather meaningless. If you can take a tagline and use it for any other company, then it doesn’t have much punch. How about, “General Motors. Make. Believe.” It’s equally meaningless for the auto industry. A company’s tagline should be a memorable phrase that concisely captures the essence of your company’s business purpose or value proposition. It should complement and reinforce your company name and logo graphics. I’m a pragmatist when it comes to taglines. I really think they should relate to what you do, how you do it and be concise (less than 10 words).

Poor color scheme

Blue is my favorite color. I would like to have a logo and website featuring the color blue. Roughly half of the people say blue is their favorite color. About half of all contact lenses sold are tinted blue. So guess how unique having blue in your branding colors is? Not very. Actually, the mistake I see most often is choosing dark colors, often 2 of them to be the branding colors. Black, when combined with dark green, dark or medium blue or gray can be problematic with logo graphics. They are too close together in the color palette and can be a bit gloomy.

Too complex

Facebook logo example

Facebook’s logo uses a friendly, all lower case font treatment and is simple, yet memorable.

Overly complex logos can just be too busy to efficiently communicate your brand. Watch out for lots of swirls and multiple images, an excess of embellishments, odd shapes or patterns. You can easily overload the audience with too much visual stimulation. I once tried to help an entrepreneur who was starting a home inspection business. He had a satisfactory name for the company, and my art director came up with a simple, smart graphic representation of a house. The client kept asking for more details for the graphic. Shouldn’t we have a door? What about windows? Pretty soon the simple graphic was overloaded with details!

Perplexing font choices

The font used for a business name is critical. It must be easy to read. Don’t make the audience squint to figure out the name of your business. The font should reflect the personality of the business, yet be appropriate for the industry and target audiences. Some of the best brands just use the font and minimal graphics. Facebook, for example, uses all lower case characters in a simple and recognizable manner.

Poor branding can result in catastrophic outcome, or at least hamstring a business until it corrects the branding. Your branding graphic should be:

  • Simple – easy to read/interpret.
  • Memorable – sticks in people’s minds.
  • Professional – not amateurish or home-made.
  • Unique – not confusable with another organization’s brand.
  • Timeless – think Coca Cola.
  • Versatile – can the branding graphics be used in a variety of mediums?
  • Appropriate – can the audience relate to the brand?

I’ve stated my opinions on branding and logos. What say you?

How fancy is your firm’s capabilities brochure?

Just when I thought nobody wanted a firm brochure anymore, I get a call from an upstart accounting firm. The sole proprietor had already created a “do it yourself” website, and she also wanted to have a printed brochure to provide clients and prospects.

capabilities brochure

Print brochure samples courtesy of Kelly Palmer

The capabilities brochure banter

“What kind of capabilities brochure options do you have?” she asked.

“What kind of information do you want to disseminate, and who is your target audience?” I asked.

The usual answers came forth,

“Something about me and my background, a description of my services, my contact information and I really want it to sell them on me. My prospective accounting clients are small businesses and individuals with fairly complex tax filing needs.”

“Don’t you have a listing of options from me to pick and choose from, you know like the way I did in choosing the level of website I just acquired online?” she asks.

“Well, no I don’t offer a canned brochure product. I try to make each brochure unique to the client.” I replied.

And frankly, between you and me, it seems everyone is the best at what they do, or at least they think so. It can be a real challenge to write something about a person or firm that makes them truly stand out. Isn’t everybody client-centric, skilled beyond human limitations, etc.?

So, you write good copy that flows well and tells their story as best as it can be told; and by teaming with competent art directors we can make a brochure stand out as coming from a professional, quality-minded professional service firm.

The request for a list of canned options did get me thinking, especially since the CPA firm owner did not have much in the way of budget. So, I offered her a brochure option using the “good, better, best” analogy. Here’s the basic description of each:

Good, better and best capabilities brochure options

  • Good Brochure: a simple sheet of 8.5 X 11 or 11 X 14 (legal size) that is ultimately machine-folded in order to fit into a number #10 envelope or perhaps a desktop brochure holder. Most businesses today go with color, versus one-color or two-color that might be a bit more economical to print.
  • Better Brochure: a presentation brochure/folder (approximately 9 X 12 when folded) that includes copy on a stapled insert (usually 8.5 X 11), and may have a pocket for additional materials, plus a slit for a business card. Printed on heavy 15PT card stock and 100# Gloss Cover, giving it durability and a higher level of impressiveness, versus the “good” approach.
  • Best Brochure: an “image” brochure is a capabilities brochure on steroids. It might be a unique size and shape, and with a unique paper stock. It might have “see-through” tissue paper when you open the first page. It might have a folder pocket. It can be a bit costly, but if one wants to impress, the image brochure will do the job.

My capabilities brochure recommendation

As a startup accounting firm, she was in the early stages of building her solo, professional reputation and client base. She offered accounting and financial services to individuals and businesses, as well as tax services and QuickBooks services/training.

If your accounting doesn’t have much money, then the good brochure may be your only option to get a professional quality capabilities brochure, written by a skilled copywriter and designed by a proficient graphic designer. It was just right for her startup accounting firm for now, and she can step up to a higher quality level as she grows her accounting practice.

However, if you really want to stand out, and you have a reasonable budget, you should consider the “better brochure” or the “best brochure.” They have size, which makes an impression. Think of how you get your mail. If you get a letter in a #10 envelope and another in a 9 x 12 envelope, which do you open first? Hands down, I bet it’s the larger envelope because it grabs your attention. It’s perceived as more important, even if the smaller envelope holds a check for you.

It’s good to know that even though I’ve jumped headfirst into online marketing, content marketing, inbound marketing, or whatever handle you might use, there are many people and businesses who still value the qualities of printed marketing collateral. This begs the question, do you have a firm brochure, and how would you describe it?

Note: read more about marketing brochures.

Print media complements landscaper’s online presence


Is print media dead? Of course not! It has unfortunately – in some people’s minds – become the red-headed, step-child to the sexiness of online marketing.

Spring newsletter

Beaver Creative News

This landscaping firm is reaching out to audiences that appreciate the capabilities of a licensed landscape architect. Are they older, more affluent and read print publications? Likely so. Do they Google topics they want more information about? Probably so.

This target audience undoubtedly grew up reading print newspapers and magazines. However, like so many Americans, they’ve become accustomed to the wonders of Google searches. The newsletters include short features on timely topics, like spring plants and shrubs, and include tantalizing photographs that appeal to those who appreciate beautiful gardens and landscapes. Most notably, the print newsletters complement the landscaper’s website.

Online marketing can, and often should, complement traditional marketing techniques. Since there has been a decline in print marketing, such as newsletters, there is less to compete with in the mailbox. Of course, I strongly believe the print piece should be a quality piece, professionally designed and in color. Otherwise, it won’t stand out and get the recipient to take a look.

Good writing is important, too, so be sure to include the services of a talented content writer. Please do consider my content writing capabilities if you’re thinking about getting some help.


Landscaper’s website a breath of fresh air & soil & water

I’m rather proud of the Beaver Creative Environments website that I helped create with the team of Terri Nemer and Lisa Bowser.

Beaver Creative Environments

Beaver Creative Environments

Terri is a talented art director who wisely chose to go against the usual concept of splashing a landscaper’s or gardening-related business’ website with lots and lots of the color green. Instead, she chose white as the featured or background color, and who would have thought it would work so well.

The design is very soothing and eye-catching, and the white background actually makes the images and colors used pop!

Lisa Bowser, a talented art director in her own right, took the design concepts and made them work in WordPress. This is no small task. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard a web developer say, “That’s a nice design, but we cannot make it look like that.” With the skills of an art director who has mastered the technology of WordPress, my clients don’t have to settle for mediocre design. And I’m a big believer in design. I know that my words, as the content writer, will have much more impact when they are encapsulated by great design.

Nice job ladies!

BTW, the content in this website is rather extensive for a small business. It covers numerous services offered by this landscaping firm, and discusses their approach and methods. The content is search engine optimized, with the help of the SEO-friendly WordPress software.


Sprint supports small businesses

Sprint held a “Social Media Marketing Made Easy” seminar at its Overland Park, KS campus a few weeks ago. It featured Starr Hall, who offered an overall review of how social media can be used to hype a small business, create conversations with prospects and customers, and lead to increased revenues. Starr helped us frame a social media marketing plan in the second half of the program – very hands on – which was great. Perhaps the best part is the fact that local employer Sprint showed its support of small businesses, and promised to offer additional programs and events for small businesses.