I Botched My Email Newsletter

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So that you don’t have to…

There’s a hundred excuses I could make but the only truth that matters is that my lack of attention to my RSS driven email newsletter has resulted in the last few emails not being delivered – Oh the perils of automation!

Somewhere along the line some dodgy characters got introduced into a post (all hail copy & paste quoting) which failed to validate, so MailChimp failed to send and pretty much every RSS reader failed to pull my posts. Needless to say emails didn’t go out, I now feel like an ass, but at least I’ve learned a valuable lesson about trusting too much in automation – or at least about the merits of checking on said automation periodically to ensure that it’s working.

Every cock-up is an opportunity and this one is no different. Instead of sending you guys new posts every time they are published (although you can still get them that way if you want) I’m switching to a weekly format where I’ll not only send you links to what I’ve written in the past week but add some commentary about and highlight other cool marketing / podcasting / consulting / valuable content, tools and stuff from around the web. The point being to give as much value to my beloved newsletter subscribers (that would be you) as possible.

I want this newsletter to be a dialogue and not a megaphone, so feel free to hit the reply button  and tell me where you agree, disagree and just how awesome it all is…

Before I round out this post by asking you to subscribe to, let me just say a great big “Thank you” to everyone who is currently subscribing to the newsletter. I’m touched that you take a bit of time out of your week to read my stuff and I hope I continue to make it valuable and entertaining for you.

You guys are the best…

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Podcast Interview – Biology Of the Blog

Biology Of The BlogLast week I had the pleasure of being interview by Jess Goulart for the Biology of the Blog podcast on BreakThru Radio.

On the podcast we talk about a number of topics including how to improve computer science curricula at Universities so that we can turn out developers with real-world skills and ensure that people are studying the skills that they are most suited for.

We also talk about the differences and similarities between online and offline marketing, finding your marketing voice, being authentic, engaging your audience and building your network.

The podcast features musical tracks as well as the interview with yours truly. I’ve highlighted the sections where I appear on the playlist below if you want to skip straight to the interview.

Unfortunately the interview was cut short because I had to leave to deal with a client emergency and we weren’t able to take up the interview again, but Jess edited things so that the ending isn’t too abrupt.

00:00 Mic Break
00:21 Like a Lie – Copeland
04:42 A Real Hero – Electric Youth
09:03 Mic Break
09:47 Lay Your Wet Head Down – Emby Alexander
13:26 Interview w/ Paul pt. 1
25:40 POC – Filmstrip
28:29 MMS 1970s – Filmstrip
30:54 Interview w/ Paul pt. 2
41:21 Sun/Shadow – Holy Ghost Tent Revival
45:37 Mic Break
46:05 Windows Painted Shut – Jam Jars
50:16 Saplings – Jam Jars
54:24 Finish

Download “Biology of the Blog” mp3. 64.4 MB 54:24

Stop Over-Analyzing and Build Your Referral Network

Build Your Referral Network

Note: The alternative title for this post was “Getting Bogged Down In Data”.

If there’s one trap that everyone falls into at some point in their marketing career, it’s over-analyzing. We all know how important it is to track the right data when you’re launching a new campaign, or building out a referral network for your medical practice or small business – but over-thinking which data-points you need can actually lead to precrastination and a lot of wasted opportunities and delays.

To be fair these issues tend to be befall those relatively new to marketing more than anyone else, but even experienced marketers can fall into the same trap when faced with something they’ve never had to work with before.

These delays and wasted opportunities are not what our clients are paying us for. Our clients expect us to hit the ground running and create actual results, but how do we do it?

Let’s assume you’ve never built a referral network for a medical practice or small business before and you’re suddenly thrown in a the deep end and have to start building one at an established practice that previously handled all their own stuff. You’ve been handed a couple of spreadsheets that they’ve been using to track referrals, but they appear to have somewhat contradictory data. Where do you begin?

Talk to the client and set your goals:

Confer with your client and find out what is they wish to achieve. Obviously they all want to add to the bottom line, but for most medical practices it will be something like: “Renew relationships with past referrers who aren’t sending as much work, strengthen relations with existing referrals, and bring in new referral sources”.

Examine the existing data:

Use past data to figure out who you need to be courting to bring them back into the fold. Most practices and small businesses will have some form of referral tracking in place, and the very least they should be able to pull data from their CRM or practice management solution. If the don’t then you’ll have to do some extra leg-work with the client.

Discuss your observations with your client as some declines in referral sources may have “political” reasons and may be a waste of your energy. Very often your client will have a fairly good idea as to why someone stopped referring to them and this can give you very valuable insight into how to approach them.

Do your research and identify new referral sources:

Chances are that the sources referring to your client are not the only fish in the pond. Get online, hit up directories and find out what other potential referral sources are within your client’s catchment area.

Decide What Information You Need To Track to be effective:

The previous three steps were easy, now comes the part the holds most people up – deciding what information to track and how to track it. The more information you track the harder it can be to find a tool that will allow you easily manage the data, and frankly, the more work there is for you. After a certain point the tracking of unnecessary information becomes a burden and a time drain. Too much data can cloud your view. Lets keep it simple.

Get yourself a whiteboard.

Write down all of the data points you would like to be able to track (Name, contact info, NPI number, past referral numbers etc..)

Go have a cup of coffee and talk to someone about something completely different.

Come back to your whiteboard and start erasing all the data points that you don’t ACTUALLY need! Be aggressive. If it’s just a “that would be nice to track” but doesn’t actually help you beyond looking pretty on a spreadsheet, then kick it to the curb.

If at the end of your murderous erasing spree you’re tracking more than 6-8 data points you’re doing it wrong.

Track Your Information And Visits – Get A CRM

Finding a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution that fits your needs is considerably easier now they you’re only tracking a handful of data points, but there are somethings that you will want to consider.

  • It should allow you to easily import contacts from your email platform
  • It should integrate with your email platform so that you can tag emails and assign them to relationships and organizations
  • It needs to have strong note taking abilities
  • It should have a strong mobile app. You don’t want to be carrying a laptop around all day or filling in your notes when you get back to the office. If you can do it all on your phone, then YAY!
  • It should be scalable – someday you may grow your consulting activities beyond yourself

Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to enter all of your potential referrers information in straight away. Add them as you intend to visit them, and any competent CRM will start building relationships and tracking organizations as you tag emails and correspondence leading to organic population.

As an added bonus, a CRM will help you track your progress, projects and tasks, making reporting to your client considerably easier.

Prioritize your list

Based on your research and existing referral data you should now be able to easily prioritize the practices that you need to reach out to first. Talk to your client once your list is complete – explain your reasoning as they may have some insights into the meetings you’re about to setup.

Start making phone calls, sending emails and hit the streets.

Get out there. There’s nothing holding you back now except you and your willingness to make contacts. Send your emails, make your calls, visit offices, attend conferences and events, shake some hands! Track and analyze your results, rinse and repeat accordingly.

What’s Your Reputation Worth? Why It’s Okay To Say “I Can’t Do That”…

Know Your Limitations

When I started freelancing and consulting, back when I was young, good-looking, idealistic and proudly rode my Brontosaurus to work, I made the same mistakes as many budding freelancers and consultants –  I accepted work that I really shouldn’t have because I wanted to ensure that next paycheck. Hey, don’t judge me! Do you have any ideas how much it costs to feed a Brontosaurus?

While I certainly delivered on my end and my clients were always happy, it usually meant a steep learning curve for me as I tried to learn new technologies in order to be able to deliver on the promises I made – it also meant a lot of stress and working a lot more hours than needed – hours which came out of my my free time because you can’t charge the client for your lack of knowledge.

Looking back with more than a decades worth of hindsight I find myself wondering what damage would have been done to my reputation had I not been able to deliver, or if clients were unhappy with the finished project?

I find myself wishing that someone had told me (or that I was clever enough to figure out) that it was okay to turn down work that wasn’t within my area of expertise and to use the extra time to expand my skill set. A little extra hunting for contracts in my field, instead of taking every job that came for fear of not getting another one, would have led to a lot less sleepless nights.

Unfortunately for many freelancers and even firms, this habit stays with them long after they’ve graduated beyond Padawan Consultants. It’s a hard habit to break – that paycheck is very tempting when your health insurance is on the line.

We need to accept that doing what is best for the client is ultimately what is best for our business and our reputation. Reputation is all we have.

It’s okay for us to say that we can’t do a job. It’s okay for us admit to potential clients that we don’t know something (Pro-tip – it makes you look smart and confident to acknowledge your own short-comings), and if we refer clients to people who can deliver quality work, the client and those we referred them to are likely to send work our way in the future.

Yes, we’ll have to hustle a little harder to get that paycheck in the short-term, but long-term being honest with yourself and potential clients about our abilities is the best deal for everyone, and will do wonders for your reputation.

Farewell To Some Old Friends

If you’ve arrived at this blog post expecting to find a post on UrlyBits, Geek Is Awesome or Unfollowing Jesus, then I’m sorry to say that those sites have been discontinued.

Well actually I’m not sorry because all good things must come to an end. Building and maintaining these sites have been an amazing provider of entertainment, education and personal growth for me, but now it’s time to take things to the next level.

With my consulting business growing, wanting to spend time with my family, the birth of Malcolm and another baby on the way, now is the time to reassess priorities and jump on some new opportunities.

Every end is a new beginning and this one is no different. Scrw Media is being re-branded and we will soon roll out a new site that has an emphasis on the new direction we are taking (more on that when the site rolls out), and we also have plans to roll out one or two new sites as well.

Thank you to everybody who has been a fan of the sites over the past 6 years or more. Between our podcasts, blogs, future sites and new services, we hope to continue entertaining, informing and helping you for a very long time to come.

They Didn’t Think It Through – Browsing WordPress Mobile Theme Stores

I was looking for inspiration for a mobile site design today, trawling WordPress theme stores, when I noticed a particularly stupid and unhelpful trend.

The image you see below is what I get when I visit the demo for a mobile theme on a mobile browser. Yes, that’s right – you’re looking at the full desktop site with the mobile version embedded in a frame…

I understand that these demos are setup to help people visiting from their desktop, but is it really such a stretch of the imagination to think that someone might want to demo your mobile them on, I don’t know… their mobile device?

Theme Demo Nexus Screengrab

Medical Practices Simply Can’t Afford To Skimp On IT Infrastructure

1964, Dynamic control problem being studied in the Analogue Computer Laboratory

Analogue Computer Laboratory – 1964. Source.

The Earth orbits the Sun, and medical practices can’t afford to skimp on IT infrastructure… some facts are simply immutable.

Normally I would proclaim that any business can’t afford to skimp on its IT infrastructure, but given the current climate where just having a Windows XP machine connected to your network is a HIPAA violation, I’ve clearly got a certain target audience in mind for this post. That said, it’s not just medical practices that could benefit from taking a few minutes to read this post.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past months advising (and implementing) practices on how to make the move from the no longer supported Windows XP to Windows 7 and newer operating systems, and one thing has become readily apparent to me – there are two kinds of medical practices:

  • Practices that see technology as part of the patient experience.
  • Practices that only think about IT when it breaks.

The medical practices (and other businesses) that realize that their IT infrastructure is part of the patient (customer) experience tend to have made the realization that IT in a medical office is not just there to scan ID cards, print receipts or create patient forms, but actually adds substantially to the patient experience and bottom line of the practice.

Happy patients = more money!

That’s not a difficult concept right? I think everyone can agree that if a patient has a positive experience at your office they’re more likely to come back the next time something ails them. They’re also far more likely to recommend you to other potential patients (word of mouth marketing), leave positive reviews on rating sites, etc… Happy patients = more money for you. Simple!

A lot of medical practitioners and office managers appear to forget that the patient’s experience in their clinic is not just measured by the patient – doctor interaction, it comes from the everything they experience at your office. From the moment they walk in the door, from that first impression, the friendliness of the staff, the promptness of their appointment, the ease of filling out information – it’s all being judged by the patient and it ALL impacts your bottom line.

So, how does IT actually affect any of this? Well, let’s forget about silly little things such as multi-thousand dollar fines (per patient) when data is exposed due to poor infrastructure and / or running out of date operating systems and look at the ways that keeping your computers and software up-to-date actually affects your bottom line.

Faster computers (and modern operating systems) increase staff productivity.

It’s not just just the ability to run better, newer software, but multiply the 10 minutes it takes those ancient computers to start up by the number of staff you have and there’s a massive amount of wasted productivity hours. A lot of time is wasted every day because applications take forever to open / switch between, and all of that wasted time is time that you are paying staff for. If  you want to get more productivity from  your staff then give them the tools to do it.

Faster computers equal happier staff.

In my experience, there’s little that will annoy good staff in a good office faster than slow computers. It’s frustrating to have to not be able to move on to the next thing, especially when you have a patient standing there waiting for that document you sent to the printer 5 minutes ago.

If there’s one thing patients are especially good at picking up on, it’s the atmosphere in an office. When staff aren’t happy, you can be sure that patients aren’t, and that is going to have negative impact on their experience and willingness to return in the future or recommend  you to other potential patients.

Faster computers equal happier patients.

When you’re sick, tired or in pain, the last thing you want to do is stand around twiddling your thumbs for five minutes at the check in desk at your doctors office waiting for their EMR (electronic medical record) system to pull up your details. That should have happened almost instantaneously, and it would have if the aging computer had more RAM, a faster CPU or better connectivity to the server.

Get those patients checked in and out faster for a better patient experience and a less crowded waiting room.

Keeping your infrastructure up-to-date saves you money.

All computers break down, have issues and occasionally need repairs, but performing support tasks on older computers takes longer. Slower machines take longer to install drivers on, track down issues etc. It’s not rocket science.

As your infrastructure ages there tends to be more issues which require support and the cost of that support can escalate rather quickly. You might only see it as a $100 here, $200 there, but when this is happening every other week (even when you have contracted support agreements) it can quickly get to the point where you could have actually paid to replace aging equipment and had LESS support call-outs.

Upgrading / Staying up-to-date doesn’t have to be a huge expense.

A lot of small practices get sticker shock at the notion of spending many thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars to replace equipment that still essentially works. Most don’t realize that these upgrades don’t all have to be done at once. Unfortunately a lot of vendors won’t tell you that, instead going for the big “all in one” sell – but that’s another blog post.

Implement a rolling upgrade policy. Start with the oldest computer (or computers depending on how desperate the situation) on your network and get them upgraded – whether than means adding more RAM, SSD’s or a better CPU or simply replacing the whole machine. If you have a server, see if that needs upgrading too. In 6 months time upgrade another machine or two and continue to do so over the next two years. By the end of the two years you’ll have completed 5 upgrades (0 months, 6 months, 12, 18, 24) and have replaced or upgraded 10 machines without any one major expense.

Most small medical practices will have somewhere in the region of 10 – 20 machines, but you can adjust the plan to suit your infrastructure needs and budget accordingly.

On month 30, start the cycle again – upgrading the components of or replacing the machines first updated at month 0. Repeat the cycle over and over again and you’ll never have machines more than 2 – 3 years old running on your network.

You may also wish to annually evaluate your networking equipment and see if any performance gains can be made by upgrading aging switches / firewalls / routers to newer faster standards.

Remember that it’s not just your hardware.

Aging software can be a productivity drain almost as much as aging hardware. Be sure to evaluate new versions of the tools and software you use in your practice and determine if making the move to newer versions could increase productivity or will add features that improve security etc..

Speaking of security… Don’t forget those updates…

Again I’m going to gloss over the potential fines that medical practices and businesses can be slapped with if patient / customer information is compromised, and instead remind you of the cost of having someone come out to clean your network of trojans, spyware and malware. Good anti-virus and anti-spyware software is always a must, but none of it is perfect. No matter your operating system – Windows, OS X, Linux… make sure that you are installing updates regularly. These updates don’t just add new features to your system- they fix bugs, can increase stability and performance, and fix security holes and issues.

If your IT person (you do have an IT person, right?) recommends that you turn off Windows updates for performance, or because things “might break” then you need to fire them. The days of such things happening are long, long in the past, and the rare times that they do occur are far lest costly than the potential damage than can be caused by not running them.

While you’re at it, have your IT person or vendor upgrade the firmware on you routers / managed switches / firewalls etc….

It doesn’t cost a lot to be secure AND productive…

For most practices, if you put your IT infrastructure on a rolling upgrade cycle the cost becomes pretty negligible plus you get to avoid the major sticker shock of a one time upgrade.

If you start thinking about your IT as part of the patient (and staff) experience the outlay will more than recoup itself in increased productivity, repeat patients and positive word of mouth marketing.

Please Just Be Honest When Asking For A Link Removal

404 - Broken Links In Google Webmaster Tools

Can we just be honest when asking people to update or remove links?

It happens to all sites. Links move or change, posts occasionally get deleted, categories get restructured and despite your best intentions, you still have broken links coming into your site.

At this point you can either set up 301 redirects to a new location or relevant content, or you can reach out to site owners and ask them to alter or remove their links. Most site owners will be happy to update broken links, but a little bit of honesty will get you a lot further than trying to scare site owners by saying that Google is penalizing your site and the same will happen to them.

I’m seeing it happen a lot lately. Instead of just being honest and saying “Our bad, we restructured our site and don’t care to put 301’s in place” or “We deleted the content you were linking to” or (and perhaps most honestly) “we’re engaging in some reputation management”, most emails of this type appear to be defaulting to the “Google is penalizing us and if you don’t delete the link Google will penalize you and your site will never rank again” tactic.

The truth is that a handful of broken links on my site spread over thousands of posts isn’t going to result in Google issuing my site any kind of penalty.

While you’re at it, make it as easy as possible for me to find the link you want removed. Provide me with the name and URL of the post in which the link appears. Sure I could search for the URL you want removed but that’s more work for me. The easier you make it the more likely I am to actually do what you want.

Do not, ever, ever, ever send me a list of URLs from my site that include category indexes, tags etc. That’s pointless and making more work for me. Just 1 URL. That is all. Show me you’re not lazy and actually care.

Finally a tip for managing and detecting broken links on your own site.  You really should be fixing broken links yourself as it improves not just your SEO but also the user experience. If you’re using WordPress try using a plugin such as “Broken Link Checker” to stay on top of things. Regardless of what platform you use, you should also be using Google Webmaster Tools which also report crawl errors and broken links.

GALLUP – Americans Say Social Media Has Little Sway on Purchases

Oh oh! It’s time to go back to traditional media advertising! Right, right?

Gallup surveyed more than 18,000 American adults in December 2012 and January 2013 for the poll you see below.

A clear majority of Americans say social media have no effect at all on their purchasing decisions. Although many companies run aggressive marketing campaigns on social media, 62% in the U.S. say Facebook and Twitter, among other sites, do not have any influence on their decisions to purchase products.

Influence of Social Media On Americans Purchasing Decisions

Or maybe, just maybe, a large percentage of those who say that social media has “no influence at all” don’t realize when they’re being influenced by their friends and family.

We know that the actual ads aren’t working all that well, that’s no secret.

Facebook users hate the ads, we use scripts and blockers to remove them. Most of us – a whopping 94% – use social media primarily to connect with friends and family. We don’t want your stinking ads, we want to know how Grannies hemorrhoid surgery went and if the doctors will let her take one home in a jar. Oh, and pics or it didn’t happen!

Was that $5.1 Billion spent on social media advertising in 2013 wasted? Well, not ALL of it was wasted. Those brands and companies that were telling stories and creating content that people wanted to engage with and talk about – they most definitely were not wasting their money.

Those brands hammering out the same old drone of “buy this, buy this”…. Yeah, they were wasting their money.

WOM (word of mouth) is and always will be the most trusted medium that makes or breaks a brand, and the beauty of it is that most of the time people don’t realize they’re being marketed to or acting as an evangelist.

Those jeans your friend was raving about at work, and  you bought two pairs of! How do you think she found out about them in the first place? Someone else was raving about them on her Facebook stream.

U.S. companies spent a combined $5.1 billion on social media advertising in 2013, and they obviously believe that this presents them with a return on investment. However, a solid majority of American adults say that social media have no influence at all on their purchasing decisions — suggesting that the advertising may be reaching smaller segments of the market, or that the influence on consumers is indirect or goes unnoticed.

In the State of the American Consumer report, Gallup reveals that consumers who engage with brands often do so when they are already attached to a product or service. Companies that engage their customers — by providing exceptional service and a pleasurable in-store experience — will, in turn, drive those customers to interact with them on social media. Simply promoting products and services on Facebook or Twitter is unlikely to lead to sales.

The key to reaching new customers and growing your brand via social media – give people something to talk about.

Spend wisely!