Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Power of the Testimonial

I recently got an email from someone who purchased a copy of my music CD from my site. This, in and of itself, isn’t really all that strange, but this one was really nice and made me stop and think for a minute.

Here’s an excerpt: “...I just feel like I have to say something- my brothers and I are in a band and love to rock out, but we couldn't really find the direction we wanted to take our music until my brother heard about you and we got a CD. Your music has changed my life, and now I can't stop listening to it!”

After letting the good feeling of having my work touch someone settled in, one of my first thoughts was, “I need to put this on my website!”

A healthy testimonials page can do a lot for your website. Right off the bat, it can help build confidence in you as a business and in your product. Your customers are encountering you for the first time. They have no history with you, no trust built up. Why should they risk their money with you? With a good testimonials page, they can see that you’ve got good history with other clients.

If you’ve been around a while, it can help to show your business’ longevity. You’re not just a “Here today, gone tomorrow” store, but one with an established clientele. If you’re relatively new, it can help to show you as a growing company.

People shopping always have objections. Hopefully, many of them will be dispelled by your main page text or your product description. Some of them can also be addressed by other clients in your testimonials page.

Most of all, good testimonials can show a potential customer that they’re not alone.

Now, as your company grows and sells more and more, you’ll receive testimonials and be able to post those on your site. But what about as a startup? How can you establish that without a big clientele? Here’s some suggestions:

First of all, if you’re selling products supplied by someone else, contact your suppliers or the manufacturer. They might have some testimonials on file that they could share with you. As long as they are product-centered, they’ll not be deceptive, and they’ll serve until you can get some of your own.

Another idea is to get some of your products, and take them to family and friends. Give them the products and ask them to write a few words about the products. Again, make the testimonials centered around the products and their benefits, rather than your company.

As you begin to make sales, follow up each sale some time later with a contact, probably an email. Ask them how they’re enjoying their product, and how they’re using it. Not only with this generate some spontaneous testimonials, but it will also make for good back-end customer service and communication. It might even lead to additional upsales.

Once you’ve got some testimonials, you’ll want to post them effectively on your site. One thing that a lot of people do wrong with their testimonials is to post too many of them. Long, scrolling pages of one after the other is detrimental. People won’t read them all, and it can even impact your credibility. Begin with the ones you have. As you get more and more, start being choosy of the ones you post. Choose testimonials that are strong and favorable. Choose the ones that directly address the objections that potential customers might have. If you’ve received any from someone with a recognizable name, especially someone with some authority in your industry, definitely choose to post that one on your site, probably near the top.

Some say they shouldn’t be edited, but I feel like it’s best to cut out the parts that don’t directly relate to the message. Sometimes testimonial letters can be quite long and contain information that’s not as impactful. I’d edit all of that information out. I don’t ever change the words of a testimonial, however, and I don’t like to write them and have the giver “sign” it.

Cite the quotation, if possible, with a full name and a linkback to their website, if it’s relevant. That will give your testimonial more credibility, and will also boost the site of the writer for a bit of “return the favor”.

The quote that I cited in the beginning of this article can now be found on my testimonials page, at http://markhansenmusic.com/fans.htm. Build your own testimonials up, and strengthen your position with your customers!

Monday, January 23, 2006


Usually, when I write here, I’m giving advice. I’m drawing from my experience in business and life and I’m telling you what to do. Sometimes that’s hard, practical advice, sometimes that’s softer, more personal advice.

But today, I’m going to talk about something I need help with, too.


To do that, I need to share something very personal with you, with a bit of backstory. My son, now 6, has both Cerebral Palsy and Cystic Fibrosis. The CF makes him very susceptible to respiratory infections and diseases, and the Cerebral Palsy keeps him in a wheelchair. Neither one keeps him from being a constant fount of fun and inspiration for our family and those that know him. He’s a sharp and cute kid.

About once a year, usually in the winter, he’ll get a respiratory bug and he’ll go into the hospital for what’s called a CF cleanout. They do intensive respiratory therapies and lots of anti-biotics. It takes about 10 days of inpatient treatment (during which time the little flirt wraps the nursing staff around his little finger).

The cleanout has become a part of our routine. He gets admitted and we adjust our lives so that one of us can stay up with him at all times. It’s not convenient, but we work it out. It’s not scary, either, because it’s something that happens once a year. Most kids go their entire childhood and will never stay overnight in the hospital. With Jake, we can count on it once, twice or even three times a year, for various reasons.

So, a few days ago, he was coughing really hard, and running a fever, so we took him in and they admitted him and started the cleanout process. Normal stuff, like I said, no need to panic.

I stayed up with him over the weekend, since Mom does it most of the time during the week. Saturday morning, his monitors started alarming, and he went into a fiebral seizure. That means the doctors think the seizure happened because of the fever.

For the next couple of hours, there was a small army in and out of his room as the hospital staff worked their magic to help him recover. Then he spent some time down in the Pediatric ICU, before finally returning to his normal room later that evening.

Just so you’re not worried, he came back to himself pretty quickly and is back to his cleanout routine of watching Cartoon Network and insisting that the nurses play him in Candyland.

The point I’m getting to in all of this, is that in the middle of the seizure and the recovery, while I was helplessly watching the staff doing their jobs (and doing it quite well, I might add), and praying for his (and my own) strength, nothing mattered but his recovery. I wasn’t thinking about checking my emails, I wasn’t thinking about my search engine ranking, and I didn’t think for a moment about checking on any orders.

And that’s as it should be. In a moment of total personal crisis, there are some things that simply take precedence over business. I don’t think there are any among us reading this that would expect anything different.

But, after the crisis passed, I found myself thinking about my kids, and about how often I brush their needs aside because “I have to do this”, or “I have to get that done”. Now, as the principal breadwinner of the family, I know that I have to work, and work hard to earn a living. And that’s also good and right. But sometimes, I also have to realize that it’s good to find balance. When there’s not a crisis going on, it’s OK to spend some time on business, and some time with family. It’s OK to lose a game or two of Yu-Gi-Oh to my other son, so that he still feels connected while his brother is away. I can do my other work after they go to bed, or while they’re in school. I can make it work.

What about your life? You can make it work, too. I don’t know your life or your schedule. We all deal with different situations and different challenges. But I do know that on some level, you can make it work, too.

How? I don’t always know how to do it in my own life, so I certainly can’t tell you how to do it in yours. That’s why I started this article with that disclaimer. I just thought that sharing this story might make you ask yourself where you can make room for more balance in your own life and business. In the long run, it will make you more successful at both.

Now, then… Where’s my Yu-Gi-Oh deck?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why I love the Snow

One thing I love about new snow is that it’s so... clean! I love to watch it falling, and I love to look out over my yard and the street and see everything covered in a blanket of clean white. That’s one of the coolest things about winter.

And part of why I love it is that it’s symbolic, to me, of an important concept, both in life and in business: Forgiveness.

We all make mistakes. We all have weaknesses, we all do things wrong. How we deal with those determines, in a large part how we succeed. They’re all different, each one. Let’s look at them

A “mistake” is, for my purposes here, something you do that doesn’t work. And in this case, I’m thinking of the things that we do that we’re not fully aware of. You don’t notice a stop sign, you misplace a file your boss handed you… These are examples of mistakes. They can have consequences, and sometimes those can be pretty dire. Still, we can fix them, and once we’re aware that we’re doing them, it’s not so tough to get proactive and even prevent some of them from happening again. Sometimes it takes the natural consequences of a mistake to make us aware and keep us from doing them again.

A “weakness” is something more personal, and more ongoing. It’s something that we do over and over again. It’s like a bad habit we have. It could be a bad temper, or one of your insecurities that keeps you from more aggressively promoting your business. Maybe one of your weaknesses could be simple ignorance. I’m talking about not doing something for your business or your life simply because you’d never learned about it before.

Weaknesses can be much harder to change, and often they’re the point of our New Year’s resolutions. “I’m going to quit smoking”, or “I’m going to lose weight”, or whatever we’re tackling that week. They often take long-term focus to overcome.

“Doing something wrong” implies that you know at the moment you’re doing it that it’s wrong. You can tell it’s gonna mess you up, but for some reason you do it anyway. Telling a friend a little lie to cover one of your other mistakes, or neglecting a task that you think is going to be unpleasant, but has to be done.

Well, there are lots of ways that you can make things go wrong, right? And I don’t mean to dwell so much on the negative. The cool thing about seeing the snow this morning is that it reminds me that no matter what I’ve done, I can move on. The snow reminds me that I can forgive myself, and not beat myself up over my mistakes, my weaknesses, or my wrongdoing, and I can start with a clean, white, path to walk.

Now, that doesn’t mean simply forgetting whatever small or big thing you’ve done wrong. It means learning from it. For example, if you’ve been working your business for a while, and you suddenly learn something that your ignorance or weakness didn’t allow you to do before, are you going to curse yourself and say, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?!” Or, are you going to say, “Wow! Now I can really move ahead!”

Maybe you did something that really messed your business up. It would be easy to blame it on someone else, or deny it, or just shut yourself down. Or, you could forgive yourself, clean it up, learn from it, and move on.

The point is that the fresh show falls, and gives you a new, clean, and white opportunity to move forward. Start from a clean slate and move ahead.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Say, WHAT?

“We interactively disseminate unique technology while continuing to assertively customize cost effective opportunities to exceed customer expectations.”

“We envision to competently facilitate interdependent sources in order to proactively supply scalable deliverables in order to solve business problems.”

“We exist to competently leverage existing professional content and conveniently build virtual products while promoting personal employee growth.”

“We strive to seamlessly disseminate competitive catalysts for change to allow us to efficiently pursue enterprise-wide intellectual capital because that is what the customer expects.”

Let me tell ya, If you want to have some real fun, go to the Dilbert.com Mission Statement Generator. That’s where I got all of these. Aren’t they a complete rip? They make me want to LOL.

OK, let me back up a minute and let you know where I’m going with this.

We all know that businesses need mission statements, right? It’s critical to your future to have a guide, some kind of focal point that you can use to define your direction. That way, as the day-to-day meanderings of running a business get to you, there’s something to use to correct your course. You don’t get lost in the craziness, you can keep moving forward.

At least that’s the theory.

Too many companies, I think, create a mission statement not because they feel like they really need one, but rather because they heard that they have to have one. It’s like somewhere along the road a teacher gave them an assignment to make a mission statement, and so they did, and it’s now framed on their wall, but they never look at it or never use it and they’ve even forgotten what it says because it really just goes on and on and never really spelled out what their company was really about in the first place.

Here’s some tips for creating a mission statement that can actually help you.

1. Decide what you do

This is, in many ways, the hardest part of all. Before you can create a statement that describes what you do, you have to decide what you do. Some people start a business because they have something they’re excited and passionate about. Others start businesses for more financial reasons, and they don’t care so much what they do. In both cases, it’s important to decide what the business is all about.

While you’re contemplating what you’re doing in business, also contemplate the “Why”. What is your motivation?

2. Don’t be afraid to get specific

Reread all the bad examples of mission statements above. The biggest reason they’re bad is that they’re vague. There’s no indication from any of them what the business sells, creates, or accomplishes. One of them “proactively supplies scalable deliverables”. Right. What on earth does THAT mean?

Some people think that If they’re specific in their mission statement, then it limits their ability to change or to diversify later on. Well, if the business grows to the point where change or diversity is imminent, then it might be time to revisit the mission statement, anyway, right?

3. The shorter, the better

A long time ago, I took a poetry class. At the time, I was minoring in creative writing, and they had brought in this poet to teach a special summer class. She was great and she taught me a lot of really impressive stuff, but one thing that really stuck with me has helped me write everything since then, not just songs and poems.

She said that the essence of what you want to say is like a ghost, hovering there in the air, wanting to be understood. It’s so clear and pure that it’s transparent. You can see right through it to the meaning.

There’s a natural tendency to think that lots of words make a better poem, a better article, or a better mission statement. But each phrase, each sentence, each word you use is like a sheet on the ghost. And the more you say, the more sheets are there, covering the ghost, weighing it down and hiding the pure meaning.

In songwriting, I teach that you should be able to sum up the meaning of the song in about 6 words. If you can’t, then you need to refine and redefine the song. Or maybe redefine your business.

These three elements can help focus your business and make your direction clear. And that’s why you need a mission statement, not just because you need some thing to put in your new frame.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Promote your site and get free stuff.

Now there’s a deal you can’t beat, right? Want in on the secret? Here it is:

There are lots of kinds of blogs out there in the world. There are news blogs, where wannabe reporters expose the latest word. There are commentary blogs, where we get to pretend we’re Op-Ed columnists. Personal blogs share our lives, photoblogs share our sights.

A recent addition to the “bloggosphere” is the product review blog. Very simply, you offer to try out a product and write a review of it in exchange for some of the product. There are a number of advantages to doing this kind of a blog:

1. You get free samples of products. People like having their products in the news and they’re often willing to send you some if you’ll spread the word.

2. When the blog is picked up by search engines, people searching for that product will pick up on your blog, and then possible link to your site.

3. The people selling the product will likely link back to your blog, bringing traffic to your blog and to your site, as well as boosting the search engine ranking.

4. If the product dealer/manufacturer has an affiliate program, you can sign up and link to it and collect commissions. One blog I read about was making hundreds of dollars monthly this way.

5. It’s also a great way to build up connections to manufacturers and distributors of products that you might want to carry at your main site.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Clearly define your audience. If you review cosmetics one week, then car batteries the next, you’ll be too scattered. People won’t know what you’re about. Of course, you’ll want to define your audience by the traffic coming to your main site.

2. Once you know who your audience is, then you can start to define the kinds of products that audience is likely to read about and buy. Go looking for these kinds of products. It’s not a bad idea to begin with products your site is carrying already. If you want to find products you can set up affiliate links with, begin at http://refer-it.com to find good affiliate companies.

3. The next step is to get samples of the products. There are lots of ways to do this. To begin with, you might just have to buy them yourself, so you might want to start off with lower-priced items. You can contact the manufacturer/distributor/dealer and tell them about your blog. Ask them if they could send you a promotional sample in exchange for a review. The more traffic you’re getting to your blog, the better your chances of this, so it might take some time to build up to this. Still, even if your traffic isn’t high yet, you can still boost their search engine ranking by providing a link!

4. When you’ve got the product, use it! Play with it, test it out. Try and think of innovative ways to use it. Go a little crazy. Keep safety in mind, though. You don’t want to risk your life over a product review!

5. Writing the review is the next step. Tell about how you used the product, and how it reacted. Test it out. Here’s the challenge: You want to be honest, so that you can be fair to your audience. You can’t lose your credibility with your readers. But at the same time, you want the people who sent you the product to be happy with the review. When I review someone’s CD at my blog, I try to be positive. I’ll find things that I honestly like about it, and write primarily about those things. If there’s something that flagrantly, obviously wrong or dangerous about the product, I’d recommend contacting the company and possibly not running the review. At least not until they’ve had the chance to respond.

6. Lastly, you’ll want to link to the products. This can be done directly to the product ordering page in your own catalog, or as an affiliate link to a larger retailer. You do want to make some money at this, after all, right?

This is just one more way to use a blog to improve the impact of your website and your bottom line!