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  • 01/26/2015
  • SEO

2015 Makes Reputation Management More Relevant than Ever

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and Forbes Insights surveyed 300 executives all over the world. They learned that 87% of them rated reputation as their highest concern for 2015. The World Economic Forum has even gone so far as to say that more than 25% of a company’s market value is wrapped up in a company’s reputation, which means an online reputation problem could impact stock prices even before you start seeing a dip in your sales revenue. (Source: Managing Reputation Risk is a Major Concern for Companies).
Never has there been more of a need for companies to remain “on their best behavior.” Everyone’s watching. Threats can come from every direction. It’s enough to make any executive want to unplug from the Internet forever…but of course that’s not an option.
Reputation management begins with your company operations, so it’s time to clean house. Here are some areas to watch this year.
Several high-profile hacking cases have made it clear that customers take a dim view of companies who will not invest in the time, money, or technology that is necessary to protect their personal information. Businesses are built on trust. If a customer can’t trust you to keep his credit card information away from thieves then he will stop giving you his credit card information. It’s as simple as that.
Start looking for solutions. Take the time to invest in the best solution, but don’t dither. You need a solid security plan, and you need it yesterday.
Employee Relations
Rid your organization of every onerous, unfair, or paternal business practice that you can find. Most consumers are rank-and-file employees. They watch how you treat people just like them. They listen when employees get online to share their story with the world.
Expect to come under fire if you refuse to pay a living wage, if you pull dirty tricks to try to get out of providing health insurance, if you treat your employees like children, or if you treat them poorly because illness, pregnancy, or injury make them less useful to you. 2015 is the year that will require us all to treat our workers like they’re our own friends and neighbors.
Product or Service Quality
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Reputation management can’t put lipstick on a pig. If your product or service isn’t up to par than all the SEO tricks, marketing methods and PR spin jobs in the world will not save your company. Take a hard, honest look at your offering. Look for ways to improve. Invest in making the improvements.
Indifference, apathy, and mediocrity won’t cut it. Customers can easily research alternatives, and they’re happy to enthusiastically spread the word about alternatives that make them happy.
Customer Service Procedures
Eliminate any policy that could give customers the impression that you’re making it difficult for them to cancel their services, especially if you have some sort of auto-billing arrangement. Put as much information about policy and procedure as possible onto your websites so your customers understand exactly how your business works.
If customers spend a lot of time on hold or listening to elevator music while punching buttons on an automated menu then it might be time to expand your call center operations as well.
Political Activity
Our nation is deeply divided, and there are very few moderates. Any political activity could destroy half your customer base. Try to see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil.
Launch elaborate lawsuits to push political agendas at your own risk. Avoid endorsing candidates or issuing statements (even on receipts) about the ACA or other hot button topics. Keep any donor activity quiet and be careful what you tweet. Prepare to be trolled if you choose to refuse service to someone. Watch where you’re advertising, too, unless you wish to become deeply associated with some inflammatory political figure.
Digital Footprint
Sometimes, of course, threats to your reputation happen because someone else had an axe to grind. You could do everything right and still pick up a defamatory review. That’s where proactive reputation monitoring and management comes in. 2015 is the year to partner with a reputation management firm who can be diligent about building a digital footprint which robs these individuals of power. After all, it’s hard to destroy a company from your lofty position as the 2205th result on the Google SERPs page.
Staying on top of your digital footprint while doing everything else right is the best way to meet this strategic challenge head-on, and to ensure that your company enjoys many, many more decades of profitability.

Finding the Opportunities in Setbacks

Setbacks are going to happen, no matter how good you are. Finding a way to bounce back is the difference between emerging stronger than ever and living in a future where your life no longer reflects your full potential.

My consumer goods company hit a rough patch before I sold it. Why? Because someone decided to slander me with fake negative reviews. Such things tend to spread like wildfire if left unchecked. They even start to impact your personal reputation (as well as your personal life).

What’s worse, these nasty rumors got started because of a problem with a competitor’s product.

Obviously there was a pain point here—my reputation was getting trashed. As I began to work on solving the problem I realized there were other companies out there with similar problems. It was a short step from meeting this challenge to realizing that there was a real need for the kinds of services that a full scale internet reputation management firm could provide. That is when I sold the consumer goods company, and launched the new venture.

As it happens, is doing way better than my old company did, even before all of the trouble started. If the setback had not happened I would not be doing as well as I am today.

I had to choose my response. This was easily the type of setback that could have driven me out of business forever. I had to choose to find the gift inside of the pain so that I could turn the pain to my advantage. Eventually, every single entrepreneur will face a similar choice.

Of course, your “choice point” may not lead to the sale of your company. You don’t have to launch an entirely different business to reap the benefits of embracing your pain.
You might end up launching a new product line instead. Or you might develop a proprietary procedure that makes your company stronger. A new partnership that helps you take your company to the next level. It doesn’t really matter what the breakthrough brings. What matters is that you found the benefit in your setback.
The method for doing this is easier than it sounds. If you’re feeling pain, then there is value in the solution to that pain. There’s also a good chance that there are other people who are experiencing the pain. That means you might have a new solution to either sell or use as a competitive edge once you’ve worked through the problem.
So don’t freeze up, blame yourself, or assume that you’re not cut out for this kind of work. Just meet the challenge head on, and accept it as part of the entrepreneur’s journey.

The Hidden Pitfall that Destroys Employee Engagement

Do your employees actually care about working for you, or are they just going through the motions?

If you feel like it’s the latter, have you tried motivation exercises, extra employee perks, rah-rah speeches and a ton of other gimmicks to get them switched on…to no avail?

Have you gone on firing sprees in the hopes of finding better employees, people who are really going to plug in and help you take your company to the next level? Do you find that promising employees hit the ground running, only to peter out after a couple of months?

The problem may not be your employees, and it may not be your perks. The problem might lie in the company itself.

Some companies engage in unethical practices. It’s easy to fall prey to this temptation. You’re there to make money, and sometimes doing something just a little bit underhanded makes making the money that much easier. Burying a hidden charge in the fine print or making customers run through 97 hoops in order to cancel their recurring billing arrangements may do a great job of keeping the company cash flow strong. But at what price?

This is just an example, of course. There are dozens of ways that companies can trip, fall, and roll right off of the moral high road.

The thing is, your employees are aware of these moral failings. Most of them keep their mouth shut, because they’ve got families to feed and the job market’s tight. But they don’t have any love for you or your company thanks to these unethical practices. Most of them are just waiting for the day when they can find someone else to work for.

They don’t identify with you, the company owner. Not really. In their eyes, you’ve got more money than they’ve ever dreamed of touching. They’ve never been a company owner. They have been the little guy, getting screwed over by bad company practices. They know how it feels, and they don’t really feel good about participating in it.

You may not even be the source of the unethical practice. It could be a manager who is encouraging it to massage his metrics because he’s hoping to score a big bonus or a big raise. These sorts of cancers crop up in organizations from time to time, and it’s important to catch them and eliminate them before they metastasize.

In Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink reveals that most employees are motivated by feeling as though there is some sort of greater meaning or purpose to their work. Can any employee really feel as though they are engaged in that meaning or that purpose if they know that some arm of your organization is actively engaged in screwing over other people?

Employee disillusionment may well be a symptom to a much greater and deeper problem within your company. It may be a sign that you’re looking at all the wrong metrics. That you’ve sent the message that profits are all that matter, no matter what it takes to get there. That you’re okay with salespeople who lie to make the sale, with customer service agents who promise one thing just to get a customer off of the phone faster but who deliver another to maintain some other almighty metric, or that products and services can be shoddy if it shaves a few bucks here and there. You might not have even meant to send those messages—it may have happened when you set your company’s metrics, and attached rewards and punishments to those metrics.

Thus, you must make sure that you are evaluating the impact of each and every one of your policies on a regular basis. You must understand how your policies affect your customers in particular. Then, improve upon them, both to improve the customer’s experience and to make employees feel good about working for you.

Highlight the ways that your company improves other people’s lives every single day. Make that your company’s mission. The money will follow. For example, at we help companies stay in business that would otherwise have a hard time doing so, because we help protect and defend them from spurious, defamatory attacks. We know what we’re good at, we know what we stand for, and we know why we’re here. We also make sure that none of our policies hurt the very people we’re trying to help. I’m happy to report that right now, at least, we’ve got a team who responds to that mission, who cares about it, and who comes into work every day ready to make some magic on behalf of our clients.

I also know that one careless decision from the captain’s chair could bring all of that crashing down: a billing policy that I don’t really think through, or a performance metric that emphasizes numbers over relationships. Constant vigilance and a commitment to integrity keeps our organization healthy, and it will help yours, too.

7 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Often Fail at Marketing

Inadequate marketing tanks start-ups. Since start-up failure is far more common than start-up success it’s relatively safe to say that most entrepreneurs are lousy at marketing.

None of the marketing pitfalls below are insurmountable, but they are useful as diagnostic tools, especially if your business isn’t getting enough steady leads to produce profits month after month.

1. The entrepreneur has no time.

Most start-ups begin as solo shows, which means that the entrepreneur is trying to do everything that entire departments of people are doing for other companies. This can be overwhelming even when there aren’t many customers. Starting a business isn’t for the faint of heart for a reason: these days, three people handle the work I used to do myself.

Marketing doesn’t always provide immediate benefits, either, which means it often slips to the bottom of the pile in favor of activities which bring in money now. Unfortunately, this isn’t a situation that can continue if you want to grow your business in the long run. Make daily marketing a priority—or hire an agency to do it for you.

2. The entrepreneur has no budget.

Once upon a time, one could use most Internet marketing channels for free, or nearly for free, and reap considerable benefits from doing so. Many people are still stuck in the mindset that marketing can be 100% free, and that any scrappy start-up in the garage can compete with Fortune 500 companies with multimillion dollar budgets.

That was before the days of Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Facebook newsfeed algorithm changes and other changes which have slowly forced “free” marketing methods into near invisibility over time. You can still do a lot of work for free, but you can’t stop there.

3. The entrepreneur has no skills.

Most entrepreneurs do not launch businesses because they’re professional marketers unless, of course, they are launching marketing firms. Copywriting is a real skill that goes way beyond “putting words on paper.” The only people who can really do stellar graphic design are graphic designers. Branding expertise is hard to DIY, too.

There’s plenty of information out there, so it’s not hard to pick up at least the basics of some of these skills. It is, however, difficult for, say, an accountant (or an internet reputation specialist) to look polished, professional, consistent, and appealing without getting at least a little bit of help.

4. The entrepreneur has no plan.

A marketing plan is a must if you want to start a business. I argue, and will always argue, that it’s going to be more vital than a business plan. If you don’t know how you’re going to get the word out then the strength of your offering just doesn’t matter.

A competitor whose offering is not even half as good as yours can beat you if that competitor had a plan and you didn’t.

5. The entrepreneur never changes the channel.

Some entrepreneurs get the hang of a single marketing channel—such as content marketing or social media—and then stay there. They never branch out to the myriad of other options that are available to them.

These days you need to jump into almost everything: paid search engine marketing, SEO/local SEO, public relations, direct mail, print media, e-mail marketing, and more. You’ve got to be everywhere you possibly can be so that you rise above the noise.

6. The entrepreneur doesn’t understand how different channels work together.

It’s not enough to flood different marketing channels with your information. These channels have to work together seamlessly. One has to lead into the other. Your direct mail, piece, for example, needs to lead to a landing page that captures an e-mail address before moving people on to your website where they can then go and make a purchase. All of these elements must have a consistent look and feel so the customer never feels jolted out of the experience.

7. The entrepreneur is uncomfortable with the whole idea in the first place.

Marketing has always made people uncomfortable. It feels a bit like bragging, and we’re often told that bragging is inappropriate when we’re children.

We’re not children anymore though, and it’s vital to break through this psychological hurdle before you launch your business. If you’re truly providing solutions to people’s problems or an answer to their desires then you should never be afraid to say so.

Hiring New Employees? Put Them to the Test First.

The New York Times recently ran an article on “test driving” employees before you hire them. This is a fantastic strategy.

Finding good people is one of the hardest parts of building a great company. Any employee represents a significant expense, too—especially high level employees, who will cost you an arm and a leg. You can’t afford to take any chances.

I don’t necessarily advocate staffing your company with temporary workers, as the companies profiled in the article did. That course of action comes with a host of other problems. A temp-to-perm program can impact your reputation by making you look exploitative (just ask It can also dilute your company culture.

Fortunately, there are other ways to put potential employees to the test.

1.  Watch their approach.

Look beyond that glorified marketing document known as a “resume.” Look instead to the methods your candidates used to conduct their job search.

For example, did the candidate reach out through his or her network? Did he or she take the time to learn your name and, in so doing, address the cover letter to a real human being? Does he or she actively blog or tweet about your field or industry?

Look for something that makes this candidate stand out. The candidate should know how stiff the competition is, so what he or she does (or doesn’t do) to rise above the noise can be telling.

2. Get them to work on the spot.

Here at we often assign test projects during our job interviews. This tells us whether the candidate really knows as much as he or she claims to know. It also tells us how the candidate performs under pressure.

Someone who is capable of producing on the spot and who has a good attitude about being asked to do so is likely a good bet.

3. Put them on probation.

A 90 day probation is highly reasonable for rank-and-file employees. Executive employees might even warrant a six month or a one year probation period. During this period you’ll get a chance to see whether or not your tentative employees really fit into the company culture. You’ll also get to see their skills, and their work ethic.

If it’s not working out you can let these candidates go. No harm, no foul. Both parties understand this period functions as an extended interview, and there’s a lot less pain and trouble involved in saying “no thank you” if it doesn’t work out.

Believe it or not, employees often appreciate these chances to “show their stuff.” After all, the outcome of their employment is quite a bit more within their control during the course of these tests. If they aren’t hired they will know the reasons are performance-based, and that they don’t have anything to do with the often random and arbitrary reasons why people don’t get hired during a more traditional interview process. You’ll both know you’re a good fit for each other by the end of the process, and as a result you get a happier, more committed employee. In short, putting candidates to the test may seem a bit harsh, but in the end it’s a win-win for both of you.

Hey Entrepreneurs—It Is Not Always Better to Do Everything Yourself

I don’t believe in business loans, angel investors, or VC funding. In general, I believe in allowing a business to fund itself. You pursue sales, you grow your customer base, and then you grow your business.

So I understand the impulse to “bootstrap,” and to save every last dime by trying to wear every “hat” in the business. I understand wanting to pinch every penny, and I understand the impulse that leads you to ask yourself questions like, “How hard can it be?” while tackling the kinds of problems that other professionals get paid big bucks to devote their lives to.

However, sometimes those pinched pennies can be very costly in the long run. There are some business functions that you probably just don’t have the expertise to handle. Unless one of the following three business functions describes the actual service that you’re offering to customers right now, you should probably consider investing in them as soon as you’ve got the cash flow to do so.


Quickbooks and H&R Block are not necessarily good business solutions.

You can miss vital deductions. You can make mistakes that trigger audits. If you’re a sole-proprietor or an LLC and you don’t do things just right you could be crushed by self-employment taxes.

Tax problems can actually drive you out of business. I know one independent contractor who started looking for jobs after winding up in debt to the IRS. He said that he just couldn’t see how he wouldn’t be $20,000 in the hole in two years. I made him visit the accountant. He’d thought that the accountant would be too expensive. Turns out the accountant was far cheaper than the IRS was. He’s still in business today.

Accountants also help you grow. You can feel a lot more confident about hiring employees, for example, if you’re already working with an accountant who offers payroll services. You’ll know that the taxes are taken care of, which means you can focus on hiring and training the right people.


The Internet makes it seem like practicing the law is just a matter of downloading a few forms and filling them out. That’s a mistake. Unless you have passed the bar exam yourself you simply don’t know all that you need to know to protect your business.

Omitting or including a tiny little turn of phrase on one of those forms could make a huge difference to the future of your business. You may not even know which forms you need to download.

A form also can’t shield you from a lawsuit. A lawsuit could end your business before it starts. Thus, you need a lawyer on your side, preferably before you’re facing one. You need to be proactive. You need someone who will look at your advertising language to see if you’re running afoul of some regulation you’ve never heard of. You need someone to pay attention to your products to make sure they’re not going to create problems. You need someone who can defend you from patent trolls.

In short, you need someone in your corner, and that someone needs to know what he’s doing.


Most entrepreneurs are crappy marketers. They want to be off doing whatever they’re good at—that thing that helped them create the business in the first place.

But a business can’t grow without good marketing. It’s just a fact of life. You have to invest in it, you have to respect it, and you have to turn it over to someone who does enjoy it and is good at it if you’re no good at it.

If your marketing plan is working then by all means, continue to do it yourself. Unlike the other two disciplines, marketing does not require specialized training or an advanced degree. If your marketing plan isn’t working like it should be, however, hiring a marketing firm, consultant, or professional could be a life-or-death decision for your business.

Invest the money in real professionals. I know it’s painful now, but you’ll thank me later.

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