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Adding an online chat feature – good idea or not?

Maybe it seems a little back to front. I mean, first I reviewed some  online chat software and now I am writing about whether or not adding online chat to a website is worth considering.

For me, that’s the order things have happened – I did the research because a client asked me too. And now I am thinking about adding chat to my site as well.

Of course, I could wait a while and see how chat goes for my client… Yet again, their business is so different to mine that any data would probably have limited value.

So what’s so good about offering online chat functions?benefits

 Here are what I see as the reasons for adding chat to a website…

  1. you appear approachable and interested in helping potential clients
  2. it is simply another way people can choose to contact your business
  3. you can solve issues quickly – no waiting for emails or loosing people because they can’t find the answer they want from your site
  4. some people prefer to interact online instead of via the phone – and I suspect this tendency will increase
  5. an online chat can be quicker and less intrusive than getting a phone call
  6. by answering immediate questions, you can learn what people want to know when visiting your site – and maybe what is missing (or hard to find) from your site
  7. it’s a relatively simple way to make your website more interactive
  8. as a service provider, it can also be a great customer service tool for existing clients
  9. for someone like me, knowing how to use a new feature can be beneficial in advising my clients

And what’s NOT so good about adding chat to your site? Costs

If online chat was perfect for every website, we’d all have it, right? So here are some downsides to adding an online chat function…

  1. it costs money – there is quite a range of prices but you are likely to pay for the software and maybe hosting
  2. it will take time to set up – choosing a supplier, adding the code to every page on your site, customising the system to match your site/brand/clients
  3. there may well be time and money in getting a designer involved to integrate things nicely into your site
  4. it’s a new tool to learn how to use
  5. it’s potentially a distraction – being interrupted as you work and having a new set of stats to look at and worry about
  6. if you can’t be online a lot of time when your clients may expect you to be, it may give an impression of being unavailable or disinterested. Most software shows you are offline – yes, people can leave a message for you to get back to them, but not all will and the offline message may not be great. Some software has the chat button disappear when you are offline so that could be a solution if you are frequently unable to monitor chats.
  7. it may not suit your audience. Taken to extremes, a blind audience is more likely to prefer phone calls to online chats, but there would be less extreme examples where chat would be a waste of effort to install
  8. being live, you need to think faster than if answering an email or even updating social media. If writing (or writing clearly with good spelling) is a struggle or you’re concerned with being 100% accurate, then an online chat feature may be intimidating

Making the choice

weighing benefits and costs on scales

Have I missed any other points to consider?

I think it’s also important that a website gives the right impression. Do you think online chat is suitable for professional businesses or perhaps just for more informal or technology businesses?

Or put it this way, would you ever use an online chat feature on a professional website?

Finding your business monster

Are there any monsters hiding under your business bed? Or perhaps yours is hiding behind your phone or in the pile of outstanding paperwork…

Laura Patrolino shares a story about the monster under her childhood bed that wasn’t really there when she looked. For a year, she followed behaviours that suited her fear rather than reality or her best interests.

The question is, do you have monsters under your business bed – that is, are there behaviours you follow in your business that are based on fear rather than a solid business decision? Or maybe behaviours based on misinformation, outdated ideas or factors that no longer apply (for instance, it may have made sense to work at night when you had a toddler under foot in a home based business but not now that your child is a teenager and you work full time business hours).

Have a look at what you do (and don’t do!) and think about the reasons and emotions behind them. You may find writing some procedureswill help you identify processes based on something other than efficiency and effectiveness.

So did you find many business monsters?

When can a professional writer help?

It isn’t only people who ‘can’t write’ who use the services of professional writers like me; in fact, many of my clients can write reasonably well. However, there is a misconception that hiring a writer means you are stupid or can’t write so I thought I’d share a few examples of where people find it helpful to talk to a professional writer.

1. writing about yourself. I’ve had a few people who are excellent writers ask me to write their website about us page or a business profile as they don’t feel objective enough to write about themselves

2. writing specific items. It takes some different skills and knowledge to write web content and technical reports for instance, so I have clients ask me to write their procedures but write their own web copy.

3. they don’t like writing. I don’t like doing data entry or researching differences between mobile phones, and I don’t expect that everyone likes writing as much as I do 🙂 Many of my clients are relieved to be able to hand me their written needs so they don’t have to face it themselves – and because it leaves them time for what they do like doing (hopefully!)

4. writing takes time – and we’re all busy. For my clients who can write, time is usually the biggest reason they hire a professional writer – they are simply too busy to write their own material. In many cases, I can write it faster than they would have anyway, so it saves them time in two ways really.

5. consistent and effective results. I write all the time and can set aside blocks of time for clients so what I produce for them is consistent (within that document but also with their other materials) and effective whereas they have more distractions if they try writing it themselves so the result is often less than optimum.

Can you relate to any of the above reasons for using a professional writer? How do you deal with such situations if you don’t hire professinoal help?

6 reasons to use a professional

As a business owner or manager, there are always many tasks to do, and often not enough time for them!

Yet many people hesitate in getting outside, professional help for things like writing, design, website updates and bookkeeping; for some, they don’t think they can afford help, others like to maintain complete control, some think it will take longer to find someone than to just do it themselves and another group just wouldn’t know where to start looking for help.

Whatever your reason for putting off getting help, here are my reasons to look and ask for help…

  1. a professional will do the job well – so might you, of course, but at what cost in time? Sure, I could design a website – it  would look horrible and cheap, but it would be done! So for things out of my skill set, it is worth looking for an expert
  2. it saves you time – even if it only takes you an hour a week to maintain your blog or two hours a month to update your accounts, think what else you could do (and how much money you could earn) in that four to eight hours a month…
  3. it clears your head as you don’t have to worry about fitting in that task anymore nor the details of how to do it. A clear head lets you be more productive, creative and relaxed
  4. a professional will probably do it much faster than you – meaning the job will be done and potentially increasing your profits much sooner, especially if you factor in that you would do the task around all your other responsibilities
  5. a professional may be more objective which can lead to better results. For example, I write very concisely and to the relevant point so often cut out a lot of information the business owner includes because he or she is passionate about the topic
  6. the professional can offer an outside opinion and fresh ideas. I don’t know how many times designers I have worked with have taken my outline and come up with something perfect and totally unlike what I had envisaged – in fact, I often ask designers for their input rather than giving them rigid briefs

I know it can take time to find the right professionals to work with. I know it may seem out of budget (but factor in time savings and better results and you may be surprised at the affordability). And I know building trust in others to care as much as you can be hard. Yet I believe it is often worth talking to a professional to find out how they could help.

Do you have any stories about an outside professional helping your business?

Blogging for money

I often come across people claiming to make their living from a blog or advocating others to start a blog for the purpose of making money. While I don’t doubt a blog CAN make money, I don’t think it is as easy as starting a blog nor do I think ‘everyone’ can do it.

blog for money or blog for others purposes?

Do you blog for money or other reasons?

Raivyn (who apparently does make money from her blogs) wrote a blog post about the realities of blogs and money. I like the fact she starts with suggesting the need to know why you are blogging and what you want to achieve. If you love writing online and want to make enough for a weekly cup of coffee, then blogs may be the income stream you need; if you hate your job and want a full time income, then blogging needs a lot of thought before believing it is the solution.

Which leads, of course, to why do I write this blog? There are a few reasons, but my aim has never been to make money directly or to be a pro-blogger.

Having a blog attached to my business website allows me to promote my business indirectly – it lets customers know who I am, it is an easy way to add content to my site frequently which gives people a reason to return and search engines a reason to find me, and it is related to my business anyway.

I also enjoy helping people and sharing knowledge which is what most of my blog posts are aimed at.

Of course, if anyone wants to pay me riches for reading my blog, I’m open to new ideas! But making money is not my priority from the blog.

So why do you have a blog? Is your reason for continuing it the same reason you started it? Does blogging bring you an income? An income worth the time and effort it takes to run a blog?

Business flexibility or constraints?

Obviously, there are many reasons behind people starting up a business rather than being an employee. But a common reason, or support for another reason, is the desire for flexibility.

I have heard “I hate working 9 to 5 so I started my own business” or words to that affect a number of times. And yet those same people may well find that running a business requires more than 8 hours a day, 7 days a week to be a success.

Valerie Khoo not only discusses this issue but gives some good tips on how to plan flexibility into your businessin a blog post last month. I think her most important point is the planning – you need to know what flexibility you want (or need) and then plan the business around that.

For example, one flexibility I want is to be able to go on school excursions with my daughters, especially while they are young enough to be excited by my presence! Therefore, I do not claim to be available during all business hours and my regular clients know I sometimes work at nights or weekends instead of during traditional business hours. One client had a deadline for an article last week when I was at the zoo so we agreed he could call me at the zoo and I would talk him through any technical issues. Flexibility.

I would find it much harder to go on excursions if I had a traditional office where people were encouraged to drop in for meetings.

Sometimes a compromise will be necessary to achieve the desired flexibility. For example, to only work 3 days a week you may have to accept earning less than if you worked 5 days a week or accept having staff or outsourcing more.

If you run a business, from home or elsewhere, do you have the flexibility you expected when you started? Would you like more flexibility in your life to do things other than business?

I would suggest you plan your ideal week, business and personal combined, and see how far it is from reality then look for ways you can move closer to the ideal.

Use your time wisely!

Why use a professional writer?

Not many people actually ask me outright, but you can almost see the thought cross their mind – “why would I pay someone to write stuff for me? I know how to write a sentence.”

One very important reason some people choose to hire a writer is simply to save time. It is a task to be outsourced so you can spend more time doing what you’re best at. This is especially true for people who struggle over every word and find writing very time consuming.

Another reason is distance – a professional writer is not so close to your business so will have a clearer perspective of what needs to be said. When you are close to the business, it is easy to get caught in details that aren’t necessary in a marketing document for instance. And when it comes to something like an about us page on a website, many people find it hard to write about themselves anyway.

A professional writer (or editor) may just review what you have done – finding those little errors you can’t easily find in your own work. It is handy if you work alone and don’t have anyone else who can proof read for you.

Of course, a major reason for using a professional writer is to get words that work well, are easy to read and are grammatically correct. For some people this is easy to achieve, others have to work hard at it and some people just can’t get it no matter what they do. Even if you can write fairly well, if you aren’t experienced at writing in a certain way it may be worth getting a professional to do it for you. You can always use their work as a model for future projects.

I think of it this way – I can hold a pencil or paint brush and make marks on a page but I would pay someone else to actually paint something to hang on my walls. We all have our talents and I’d prefer to outsource to experts than try to find time to do everything myself. Which of course leaves me with more time for writing…

Convincing someone to join in

A few days ago I shared part of an email I received – the person was trying to convince me (and others as it was a mass email) to participate in her forums. Her email was unlikely to work, so I thought I’d share some ideas on how to convince someone to participate in something they are reluctant about.

1. Consider why they are reluctant – maybe it is lack of time or they think it is too expensive, or maybe it is just too hard or intimidating. Once you have the reason, or most likely reasons, answer those reasons.

For example, if people aren’t buying your product because they don’t think it has value for money, don’t tell them they are wrong but explain the value – “This product is fully reusable and made from sturdy materials that will last for years” or “This price includes delivery, a 12 month warranty and a spare battery pack.”

2. Point out the advantages for them, not you.

For example, “Did you know posting on forums can help your search engine results?” or “If you have questions, ask them on the forum – we have experts who may be able to help you” or “When you leave this event, you will know how to save hours every month”

3. Show respect and give the person space to say no without loosing face. No one likes being forced into anything or being nagged, and no one appreciates being made to feel stupid or cheap for not participating in something. So invite and then give them room to decide for themselves.