Monday, December 24, 2018

The Most Noteworthy Business Book of 2018: Measure What Matters by John Doerr

Reading John Doerr's best seller, Measure What Matters took us back twenty (short but memorable) years, when we were on Sand Hill Road pitching our fast growing e-commerce company to a couple of storied Silicon Valley VCs.* Little did we know, as we were making our rounds, Sergey Brin and Larry Page were just down the road, pitching John Doerr to invest in Google.

John's saw Google's potential and wrote a check. He was richly rewarded for his insight. His $12.5 million investment in 1999 was worth billions when Google went public in 2004. (The $25 million round included John's firm, Kleiner Perkins as well as Sequoia Ventures as co-investors.) 

But Google's success was not a forgone conclusion. John brought more than money to Google. His introduction of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as a management tool was critical to the company's ability to execute on their ambitious plans.

Measure What Matters chronicles John's introduction to OKRs while working at Andy Grove's, Intel and expands on OKR's core principles with four additional "superpowers" to help company's of all types and sizes achieve superior execution while enhancing workplace satisfaction.

And it's not just theory: He illustrates how OKRs are being used beyond Google, by Bono, the Gates Foundation, Zume Pizza, Intuit, and others. (The book's foreword by Larry Page is a bonus that's worth the price of the book!)

It's a good read, filled with practical, actionable advice. Knowing your time is valuable it's one of the few, and perhaps most noteworthy management books we're recommending from 2018.

*One of the venture firms we visited showed interest but insisted we'd have to move our company to the west coast as a condition of their investment. We politely declined, preferring to keep our operations in scenic southwestern Michigan; a decision we have never regretted.

Monday, November 12, 2018

How a Website Redesign Can Drive Sustainable Growth

Our latest website launch illustrates the collaborative process we've developed over the past  fifteen years of helping clients grow their businesses in multiple markets and industries. In this case, the market is healthcare; our client is Kidney Care of Michiana.

The project kick off was a meeting with the principals to get a clear understanding of the business strategy and objectives that would help them grow their practice. These included updating their website to (1) better showcase their expertise, and (2) explain the scope of services and locations where services are available, as well as (3) providing access to related information resources, while (4) making everything available and easily usable on screens of all types and sizes; (i.e. responsive mobile design.)

Point 4 is notable because more than half of all searches are now from a mobile device, where the "real estate" (visible screen) is minimal, and users' impatience is maximal. What we used to call the "six second rule" for capturing a visitor's attention is now probably closer to four seconds on a smartphone.

One logical response to this culture of pervasive impatience is to adopt a minimalist approach to design and messaging. An extreme (but beautiful) example of this is the current website, where other than the navigation bar, the only thing visible "above the fold" is a gorgeous photo of the two iPhone X phones (stacked) with "Welcome to the Big Screens." and two links underneath.

Besides the navigation bar and the product name, there are a total of five words on the Apple website, before you scroll the page down. That's what we call minimalist.

Of course, as the world's most recognized brand, Apple doesn't really need to explain who they are, what they do, how they're different from their competitors and why they can be trusted. This works for Apple. But for most companies, this spare, ultra-minimalist design is far less than optimal.

Our experience tells us it's critical that our clients' websites are clean and uncluttered, while (nonetheless) resonating with a clear, compelling story about what they do, who they serve, and how they're better than their competitors, while building trust and guiding the visitor to the next click.

And remember, this has to happen in four to six seconds!  It's not easy, but getting it right creates a competitive advantage (relative to the online competition) precisely because it's difficult to achieve.

You can see the end result of our process in this case at our client's relaunched website: Kidney Care of Michiana.

What comes next is equally important to driving growth: A well-executed online marketing program to help boost the new site's search engine visibility. This will put them in front of the right audience, at the right time, in the right place, to help them achieve the business objectives that fuel sustainable growth, well into the future. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Three Reasons We're Quitting Facebook, Twitter and Google+

Google just announced that they are shutting down Google+. In case you forgot, Google+ was the social media platform they launched in 2011 to compete with Facebook. After years of languishing, and now, with their belated admission of a data exposing bug, they’ve finally pulled the plug on the consumer version of the Google+ platform.  

Google’s action reminded us of the importance of reevaluating our company’s social media strategy and reconsider how we're communicating with our clients and friends. After some careful consideration, we've decided it's time to quit Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (which will still be available for some corporate users). We’re taking this step because of concerns in three areas: 

Security Concerns: As mentioned, Google just admitted a data exposing bug. But they’re hardly alone: In May of this year, Twitter advised all 330 million of its users to change their passwords after a bug exposed their passwords in plain text. And in September, Facebook admitted a breach exposing an unknown  amount of data of some 50 million Facebook users. And this is on top of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that compromised as many as 87 million Facebook user accounts.

Effectiveness Concerns: Helping clients in a dozen different industries develop and execute online marketing strategy, we’ve been able to draw some conclusions about what works and what doesn’t in the realm of social media. We note a general distinction in social media effectiveness between B2B and B2C focused companies with notably better results for the latter than the former. Better, for B2C, but not necessarily great results. The problem, as we it, is contextual: Most social media users are there to socialize first. Shopping and searching for business solutions or services isn’t high on their list.

ROI Concerns: Since advertising on most social media platforms isn’t free, it’s reasonable to expect a measurable return on that social media marketing investment. And again, across industries, ROI has been difficult to track, especially for B2B companies. And it’s not just ROI on the money invested that concerns us, it’s also the lack of ROI on the considerable investment in time required for the proper care and feeding of these social media networks. 

In our experience, well-designed keyword campaigns along with quality SEO are far more effective in driving targeted, in-the-market traffic to our clients’ websites while delivering a measurable, meaningful ROI.

So this will be our final post on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Of course we'll continue to share our occasional ponderings on our blog, by email and via LinkedIn articles. 

Our clients can still reach us by email or, (as quaint as it sounds) by just picking up the phone and calling us. Come to think of it, compared to social media, the phone is more secure, more effective and has a higher ROI in developing client relationships.

Here’s our number: 269-409-8169. Call us anytime.

P.S. Let us know if you need assistance deleting any of your social media accounts and we’ll share some helpful links.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top Four Chrome 69 Don't Miss Features

In the ten years since Google launched it's Chrome browser, (now used by 2/3 of the planet), they have regularly tweaked, updated, upgraded, patched and generally improved it over the course of 68 prior iterations. (That's a new version every 53 days!)

Now, with Chrome 69, (released just days ago) we see some of the most important changes introduced in the last few years. The latest version of Chrome is faster, uses fewer computer resources, is more customizable, and more useful in many ways. Here's our pick for the top four improvements:

"Not Secure" Websites Flagged: Rather than saying a website is "Secure" Chrome clearly alerts users when they visit a website that's not running on an HTTPS (encrypted) server. Visitors will see a "Not Secure" notice next to the URL. Firefox and MS Edge also show a small "i" (for Information) in a circle icon next to the URL. Clicking on that icon will show a drop box that says the site is potentially dangerous or not secure. But Chrome's warning is more noticeable and effective in warning users away from websites that lack this level of security. For businesses whose websites are still not encrypted (HTTP instead of HTTPS) this should be a wake up call. 

40 Security Vulnerability Patches: With Chrome 69 Google has patched some 40 bugs or vulnerabilities, including seven that were labeled as "High" risk. (This is the second highest risk level of Google's four tier ranking system.) Internet security is a never ending "arms race" with the bad guys. And no security measure, process or operating system (including iOS) is invulnerable to attack or hack. But using Chrome 69 can give you 40 fewer things to worry about.

Enhanced Password Manager: Chrome could already remember and fill in your passwords, addresses, and (with your permission) even your credit card numbers, all securely saved to your Google account.  Chrome 69 can now generate one for you and save it, so it's there the next time you sign in, including on your laptop and phone. If you've ever struggled with coming up with another unique, strong password for a new website you're going to love this feature.

Improved User Interface: It's been two years since the last meaningful change in Chrome's UI (user interface). Now, with Chrome 69, you'll see a new look across platforms, including desktop, Android and iOS. It's simpler and cleaner with more rounded shapes and icons. Tabs are changed to make multiple tabs and websites easier to identify and navigate. Prompts and menus have been simplified, including the URLs in the address bar.

If you're not sure if your computer has been upgraded to Chrome 69, drop us an email and we'll send you a short tutorial. It will explain how to verify your current version of Chrome and (if necessary) how to initiate the upgrade process. Chrome 69 will run on most Windows, Linux, and Apple iOS machines. 

Taken together, we think these (and many other under-the-hood) changes and improvements make Chrome 69 the best Chrome browser ever. It's an upgrade that can help you to be more secure and more productive whenever you're online.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

How Important is Real World Experience?

Our latest website design and development project reminded us of the importance of real world, hands on, in-the-trenches experience in creating a viable business. Our client is ENS Staffing. They serve the health care industry with temp (or more permanent) nurse staffing solutions "when and where" needed.

Founded by a group of experienced nursing professionals, we were impressed with their deep understanding of the problems their clients faced, as well as their insightful solutions. We noted these were insights based on their cumulative decades of experience as nursing professionals, ;(not just focus groups).

Our role in the project was to translate their health care expertise and offer into a website design capable of clearly explaining their value proposition in just six seconds. (This is Google's metric on how long the average first time visitor to a website takes to form an opinion.)

But telling a good story isn't enough; we also needed to provide a clear "call to action" (CTA), which, in this case was asking the visitor to contact the company to initiate a discussion on their specific needs. (A classic lead qualification and generation model.)

For a new, relatively new, unknown company credibility is essential. Trust is the coin of the realm online. It's not easy, but authenticity goes a long way in building trust. While hard to define, true authenticity shines through. That's why we took a very light touch in editing their content to preserve the voice and authenticity of the founders.

Working with ENS over the last few months reminded us of the importance of real world, in-the-trenches experience in creating a business the solves real problems, coupled with an intimate understanding of how to best serve their customers and solve their staffing problems in creative, cost-effective ways.

It's been a pleasure helping them bring their vision to life in the online channel. You can see the results of our collaboration here: ENSstaffing.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Relaunched Website Changing Perceptions: Fast, Painless Dentistry Means Anxiety Free Root Canals

Our latest website redesign project could be a case-study illustrating the challenge of changing perceptions. We're talking about the all-too-common anxiety associated with a "trip to the dentist" and (even worse), the pain of "getting a root canal". 

The client is Coulter Family Dentistry in Mishawaka, Indiana. They've built a well-regarded regional dental practice with technologies and methods designed to take the anxiety and pain out of a trip to the dentist, in a relaxed, professional, beautiful setting.  

As website designers our challenge was twofold: First, in telling their story in a clear, friendly, non-technical manner. (This is key to building our client's brand and differentiating their services.) And second, making it work flawlessly both on desktop computers and smartphones. 

Our approach included the liberal use of videos as well as textual explanations of implants, crowns, gingival grafting, bonding and (yes) root canals, plus before and after photos and a photo "tour" of their offices for context. (Note the Teddy Roosevelt diorama in the waiting room!)  

Reviews have been gratifying. Here's a link if you'd like to take a look: Coulter Family Dentistry  (Of course, your comments are always welcome.) 

The client's press release announcing the relaunch of their website provides additional details; here's a link:  WebWire Press Release for Coulter Family Dentistry Website Relaunch

May all of your trips to the dentist be painless! 


Monday, May 7, 2018

Windows 10 Update (1803) Problems and a Few Suggestions

One week into the latest Windows 10 update (version 1803 AKA the April 2018 Update) we're hearing of a significant number of bugs and issues update.

A short list includes problems loading Edge browser and Windows Defender; the right click function not working on taskbar items; problems with Fast Restart, plus Chrome browser hangs up and Cortana freezes up; the microphone isn't detected; mouse acceleration is different/weird; shutdown doesn't work properly, among others. (On the other hand, the 1803 update seemed to "cure" a spontaneous shutdown problem I had on my office computer before the update; I don't know why.)

What you can do: You might consider delaying the update a few weeks (or months) until Microsoft addresses some of these issues in subsequent tweaks/versions of the update. Or, if you had "automatic updates" enabled and you now have some of these problems with version 1803 you may be able to roll back to the previous version (1709) of Windows 10. Here's how: Go to Settings, choose Recovery and you'll have the choice to "Reset this PC" or "Go back to the previous version of Windows 10"; then click "Get started" to begin the roll back process.

This situation reminds me of why we don't generally recommend the "latest and greatest" technologies and "shiny object"s for our clients. We think it usually more sense to be be "fast followers" rather than "early adopters". (In spite of the "early adopter" risks, we install updates as soon as they're available to assist our clients with any problems they may have.) 

Technology is wonderful; when it works.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

ND Idea Week Celebrates Innovation and Entrepreneurship with an Amazing Schedule of Events

Having worked with ND Idea Center companies in the past we had high expectations for Idea Week (April 21 to 29) but reviewing the schedule of events and guest speakers this event goes above and beyond.   

Idea Week events include Ted X UND, the 89th Annual Blue & Gold game, a Tech Expo, Maker Faire.  Keynote speakers include Daymond John, CEO of FUBU and a regular on ABC's "Shark Tank" plus Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos, and world renowned violinist, Itzhak Perlman.  

And there's more: Comedian Gavriel Iglesias and his "One Show Fits All World Tour", plus a McCloskey New Venture Competition, Patti LuPone, and the Thomson Reuters MBA Tech Innovation Challenge. Some entertainment events have a modest charge associated but registration for Idea Week is free. 

Here's a link with more info and a complete calendar of events: Idea Week Details 

Idea Week and the Idea Center are both important regional resources for supporting innovation and entrepreneurship here in the Midwest. Click Idea Center for details.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Does the Chrome 64 Update Mean for Your Website?

The latest Google Chrome update (Chrome 64) includes a number of helpful improvements and security features, some of which will impact what your visitors will be able to see on your website. Here's a quick overview of what we see as the "big three" features:

Advanced Ad Blocking: Google is trying to kill (or at least maim) the many kinds of annoying spam advertising that's so pervasive online.  Chrome 64 has more advanced pop-up blocking that will remove auto-play audio and auto-launch tabs and windows. The intent is to make advertising less intrusive and improve UX (user experience) as we browse the online world.

What Chrome 64 Means for Your Website: Google is tracking websites that violate the new Chrome 64 ad standards. If you're site is in violation these will be reported by means of the Google Ad Experience Report. Site owners will get notification of the issues and will have 30 days to correct the problems and re-submit the site to Google for review. Failing to correct matters for 30 days will result in Google proactively filtering the ads. Then there's the impact on the site's SEO visibility; it won't be good. 

Improved Security: One of the more than 50 bug fixes in the Chrome 64 update will disable the Shared Array Buffer which plugs a hole that could allow the Spectre and Meltdown bugs access to your computer. This will help to address the security problem Intel discovered (or at least admitted) a few weeks ago. Speaking of security, remember, Google is also flagging websites that not HTTPS compliant.

Availability: Chrome 64 is being made available for Mac, Linux and Windows, but Windows 10 users will need to download the Fall Creators Update to take full advantage of the some of the new features.

How to verify if you have Chrome 64: Click the three little dots at the upper right corner of your browser; scroll down to Help, then roll over to About Google Chrome. You should see Version If not, there's a Get help with Chrome link right there.

Questions? Call us.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Four 2018 Website Objectives Illustrated

Analyzing recent client discussions it's clear most business owners are focused on one (or more) of four objectives in 2018: They want a website update that (1) helps them stand out from the competition, (2) is mobile responsive and optimized, (3) is SEO friendly to improve organic search visibility and (4) is secure and hacker resistant; (HTTPS at the minimum).

The newly redesigned Better Business Bureau website illustrates several important design principles in achieving the first objective. (Full disclosure: Precept has been BBB Accredited for many years; I'm also a former member of the BBB Advisory Board.) Key elements: 
On a high quality, relevant photo background, the tag line "Start With Trust" is prominent. This is core to the BBB Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It also provides emotional context that resonates with their users.

The message is reinforced with text explaining the tag line: "An ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other."  Under that are a pair of search boxes: "Find" (the service you're looking for) and "Near" (your location). The search results include both BBB Accredited and non-accredited businesses.

Immediately below the photo are boxes that let you file a compliant, leave a review, or explore tips and resources for consumers and businesses. Navigation to the rest of the site is "mobile inspired" via a "Menu" drop box at the far upper right. The overall design is clean, simple and intuitive without sacrificing the information payload required to be truly useful.

You can check it out at

Want to discuss your website objectives for 2018? Give us a call.