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Sometimes we need a little reminder on the basics of proposal writing.

1. Always dissect the proposal into an easy to comprehend outline and be considerate of what the client is asking to be presented.

2. Be vocal – We all know that relationships win business, but sometimes there’s an RFP out on the streets from an unknown person/organization/community/etc., that’s a perfect fit for your firm’s qualifications. Don’t let not knowing anyone on the selection committee preclude you from going after the job, but do make a courtesy phone call and try to schedule a meeting to learn more about the project and the client’s needs. Make your presence known before your proposal lands on their desk and your chances of making the shortlist will escalate.

3. Coordinate the staff that will work on the proposal. Give them an outline early on with detailed writing assignments and due dates. Follow-up, Follow-up, Follow-up.

image credit: flickr user Q is for Quilter

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We all know that creating experts is a key way to establish credibility for a firm. When our principals are teachers, presenters, lecturers we have something to talk about. It’s easier to present their credentials for an upcoming project, especially if you’re presenting them to someone who has seen that principal speak. Why then don’t we do the same for ourselves?

Being marketers we’re at an advantage in creating our personal brands. We know the tricks, we know how to get our names out there. And in an environment where job stability is a thing of the past it’s even more important to start building that credibility now. Maybe you’re already on your way to building your personal brand, but if not here are 6 simple steps to get your started:

  1. Develop your story: Who are you? What are your professional goals? How are you achieving them? Then talk about it.
  2. Think about where your home base is going to be, that URL that you can point people to. Maybe it’s your LinkedIn profile or maybe it’s your personal website. If you haven’t claimed your name as a URL do it now. You may want it later and it would be terrible to build your name only to send traffic to another person’s website.
  3. Establish your expertise through blogs. If creating your own blog is too time consuming consider contributing to a blog within your industry. If you’re in the AEC industry SMPS Boston and Help EveryBody Everyday are good places to start.
  4. Comment on other people’s blogs, not only does this show your expertise, but it helps raise your name in SEO rankings.
  5. Share industry news with your peers through status updates either through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or a combination of all three.
  6. Join an organization within your industry and get active.
And for more personal branding tips visit Dan Schawbel’s Personal Branding Blog.
image credit: Flickr user nicholaslaughlin

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I recently went through a naming exercise for a new business; not for an employer or a client, but for myself. It was a journey of exploration filled with fear and second thoughts. The fear that I’d never find a good name, or at least a good name that was still available. And second thoughts of what if in a year, two years, a decade later I no longer liked the name? Because of my experience in the A/E/C world I started the naming process with my own name, but quickly realized my first name was taken and my last conveyed the wrong image. From there I needed a new strategy. And it’s a strategy I’m sharing with you.

It’s a simple three step process with the only prerequisite being patience.

  • Step one: brainstorm names
  • Step two: see if the URLs are available
  • Step three: start searching the web

Step one: This is the hardest step. Make a list of names that would be suitable for your business (you should be thinking of the brand you want to portray). Consult friends, family, colleagues, strangers, anyone who might have advice. Don’t be shy, the larger the list the more you’ll have to work with once you hit step two. You may also find that a name that was so so when you wrote it down grows on you in a day or two.

Step two: take your list of names and see which ones still have a URL available. You can use any domain registrar like godaddy or network solutions to do this. If the URL isn’t available, cross the name off the list. Even if you think it’s the perfect name, without the URL the name isn’t going to work for you in today’s digital age.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • You may have some room to play with the name in order to find an available URL (think theurbanstudio.com vs. urbanstudio.com). Be flexible, but keep your mind centered around the eventual people that will be searching for your company. Make sure you’re not unintentionally directing them to a competitor.
  • You’re looking for a .com URL. Others like .us, .net. .whatever are not acceptable substitutions for a .com in business, unless you’re setting up a non-profit. If that’s the case feel free to claim the .org.
  • Even if the name is taken, it may still be available. If the URL you want is taken, but inactive, send an inquiry to the person that’s sitting on it with an offer to buy it. You can find contact information through the domain registrar.

Step three: Now you have a list with potential names and accompanying URLS; it’s time to start doing internet searches. Use the major search engines and see what type of competition you’ll have for placement. If your search results in pages of similar business types with similar names you know you’ll need to do a lot of work to start placing above them in the search engines. Even if you can place above your competition, you may not be able to stand out from them. Similarly, if your search results in a flood of results that you’d rather not be associated with then you may want to move along to the next name on your list. The goal of this step is to test your name for searchability. A name that doesn’t result in a lot of search results is going to be easier for you to establish among the search engines.

After completing the three steps you’ll be left with a list of truly viable names. Choose the one you want and quickly register the domain name before someone else scoops it up. Then comes the fun part, it’s time to start creating your brand.

And if you’re curious about what I was naming click here.

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One of the things I enjoy about my birthday is the barrage of special gifts from my favorite retailers and restaurants. I appreciate them all, because they’re from establishments where I already shop and eat. And I’m sure the marketers at the various companies appreciate my birthday, simply because it’s an opportunity for them to remind me that they exist. If you collect birthdates in your demographic information and you’re not using them, you’re throwing away a key opportunity to reach out to your customers. Afterall, who turns down, or leaves a birthday card unopned. For inspiration here’s a list (with commentary) of this year’s bounty:

  • Sephora – free mini makeup kit for eyes (what girl doesn’t love free make-up?)
  • ING Direct – 15% off their on-line store (if you want me to sport your logo gear you should be paying me not the other way around, even with a discount)
  • Boloco – free burrito on my Boloco card (all I can say is YUM)
  • Starbucks – free coffee drink (this would have been even better if Starbucks didn’t lead with the line “We noticed your star isn’t shining as bright” really? are you trying to tell me I’m getting old Starbucks?)
  • Banana Republic – $15 gift card (someone is getting a new outfit for their birthday)
  • Sel de la Terre – 20% off any purchase in February (this is one of my favorite restaurants)
  • Craigie On Main – Free signature cocktail and free surprise gift on my birthday (great way to try to get me to the restuarant for my birthday, but I’m off to Coppa instead, too bad this isn’t valid for my entire birthday month)

image credit: Flickr user Sweet! Cupcakes and Treats (Just Cupcakes!) Wow, that’s a long username…

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I seem to be expiring. Frist, my PF Changs Warrior Card expired (which seems absoluately ridicoulous as it’s the first free membership rewards card I’ve ever had expire) and then my trial membership to Boston Sports Club expired. One company was proactive in getting me to rejoin one was reactive.

PF Changs informed me of my expired card the last time I tried to use it, with an “I’m sorry I’m not going to be able to give you 10% off your meal because your card is expired.” I had no idea the Warrior card had an expiration date, mine was less than a year old. No one at the restaurant was able to re-up my card. I had to apply for a new one and wait for that new one to arrive in the mail. Not a thoughtful approach to a members reward program.

Boston Sports Club on the other hand called me the day my membership was set to expire. I didn’t return the call, but the point is they made the effort. Could the effort have been better? Sure, they could have offered me a discount to convert my trial membership into an active membership, but then again I was already coming off a reduced rate so why dilute your brand with a “there’s always a discount” message.

Here’s the lesson. An active customer is more likely to respond to your messages. They want to know how to continue in programs that might be expiring or at least know that their benefits are coming to an end before they hand over what they don’t know is an expired card. Brands have membership programs, reduced rate trials, etc for a reason. In order to fill the sales pipeline and make more sales. Take full advantage of that pipeline. It was hard to get the customer there, don’t let them slip through cracks via poor communication.

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2590025080_d5ce7bf163Earlier this week I participated in a focus group with the goal of helping a trade organization better communicate with its members. As the group was discussing ways in whcih the organization could improve its communications it struck me, with the increasing popularity of social networking tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter it’s becoming harder to communicate instead of easier. Wait, let me qualify that – it’s becoming easier to find and communicate with strangers and long lost friends, even easier to create new valuable business relationships, but harder to communicate with other groups of people. The reason is the number of tools being used and the different adoption rates. Think about it, when email was the only tool available,most everyone used it. But now, some people primarily use Twitter to communicate, while others use Facebook, and still others use LinkedIn, it comes down to personal preference. Then there are all the other social networking sites out there that people are using.

Conversations are taking place everywhere, but as the tools increase the active listeners become smaller. That’s an important point – your audience may be huge, but your active listeners are much smaller in number. This happens when people join a platform, try it out and then ultimately either become active using the platform or abandon it. And even when they’re active it’s doubtful they’re reading everything you publish.

This particular trade association is doing a lot of things right – they’re on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The problem that was uncovered during the focus group is the very large membership became much smaller as they spread across the different platforms and a large chunk of the membership wasn’t participating on any platform, either by choice or not knowing the channels exist.

It became clear duing the discussion that if you’re not monitoring all three platforms you might be missing some conversations that could lead to beneficial partnerships with other members. But then who has the time to monitor all three? It leads to the question of whether it’s better for the trade association to be everywhere, or if it’s better for them to choose one communication vehicle and make it meaningful. By being everywhere you’re communicating with members in their space, but potentially reducing the quality of the conversation by diluting community engagement. By focusing on one channel you’re forcing your membership to that channel (which may backfire if members don’t like the channel) and providing a larger community of active listeners to take part in conversations. Which is the right way? You tell me.
Image credit: Flickr user djfoobarmatt

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Architecture firms are known for their comraderie and collaborative, friendly conduct. It’s rare you hear one firm saying something negative about another in order to bolster itself. As architects we talk about our strenghts and the benefits we can provide to clients over our competitors, but we don’t often come out in the press naming a competitor, unless it’s akin to Architect A wins a project over Architect B, C and D. That’s why I was surprised at a recent Architecture Record article – SOM loses top architect to HOK – that was the headline. I have to wonder, was this pitched to Arch Record by HOK, and if so doesn’t it cross the line a bit? And why would the architect that the story centers around want to be so calouos to his previous employer. It reads a bit like insider information ” While Galioto left SOM by choice, his departure has spurred questions about how SOM is weathering the recession.” My opinion is this – the story paints SOM in a very negative light and doesn’t do much more for HOK either. Your opinion?

You can read the short article here: http://archrecord.construction.com/news/daily/archives/091009som_hok.asp

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