Dear readers, Jane is proud to introduce a new friend today. A friend who helps prove the power of blogging. Our Smart Woman Online, Denise Wakeman of the Next Level Biz Tips blog, came to us through another friend (as she notes in her interview) Paul Chaney, president of the brand new Pro-Bloggers Association and author of Radiant Marketing Group blog. When she wrote to us asking us to participate in a survey, we immediately went to her blog...and we were sold! Denise is warm and friendly, but also professional and informative. She embodies the blogger in all of us-- in our humble opinion, which led us to ask her for this interview. Don't you agree that building community, meeting like-minded folk online, is one of the best parts about blogging? See what Denise says...
Lip-sticking: Tell us something about your business...when did you take it online, and why? Which leads us to the question of: what convinced you to start your blog?
Denise: I've been working online since 1996. My former spouse and I started a business coaching company in 1996 and lived in rural Ontario, Canada. The only way we could survive was by using the Internet to build our buisness. After 6 years and building from 0 to 6 figures, we parted company and I returned to Los Angeles. After working at a J.O.B. in the entertainment industry for about 9 months, I realized my true gifts and passion were better served by starting my own business.
I realized there were many, many solo professionals like coaches and consultants, who were experts in their niche but did not have the experience, knowledge or interest in learning how to leverage the internet to build their business. So I took a leap and started Next Level Partnership in August 2003 and haven't looked back once! I love working with solo professionals and my business has moved away from actually doing the implementation to more consulting, coaching professionals to take charge of their Internet marketing. I work with a Virtual Assistant in India who takes on some of the implementation tasks.
As for my blog, I started it for my business in September 2004 after one of my clients, Patsi Krakoff of Customized Newsletter Services, told me she wanted to start a blog. I knew I better figure out how the heck blogs worked since Patsi was probably going to look to me for guideance. I had been reading political blogs during the US Presidential election but had never really thought about them in a business context. As soon as I set up my blog on TypePad, (applause all around from Jane and group) I knew this was the way to go, especially for solo professionals who may have limited budgets. I LOVE blogs and am now teaching other professionals how to set them up for their businesses.
Lip-sticking: Sales and Marketing, someone once told us, is like selling smoke. Your recent post on Buzz Marketing seems to support this idea-- quoting a Harris article that says folks get "google-eyed" and tune out traditional marketing. Hmmm...can you explain what 'traditional' marketing is, compared to 'internet' marketing? Is the WEB really trustworthy--we know there is a growing debate on whether bloggers are trustworthy-- tell us what you think-- apart from what that Harris survey revealed.
Denise: The quote from the Harris survey surprised me since for so long I've been reading and hearing how people don't trust the web, don't want to do transactions online, etc. So, to read that people find the web one of the most trusted sources of information was interesting. It shows how far the Internet has come in terms of commerce and use by the general population. In my opinion, "traditional" marketing is more push oriented, i.e., TV and print ads, whereas Internet Marketing can be more interactive and viral or word of mouth.
Granted, many on the Internet use traditional means to advertise: ads on web sites, direct email ads; and when I coach my clients about Internet marketing, we focus on using the Internet to create relationships and trust with their customers through their communications strategies of email newsletters, blogs, teleclasses and their websites. As for the web, it's as trustworthly as any other medium. Offline or online, there are many reputable businesses and some that are not. You've got to do your homework, ask questions, get referrals and trust your own judgment.
Lip-sticking: We notice that you quote many A-list lady bloggers. We especially like Maria Marsala's "Freebie Seekers" article. Where did you find her? That's great advice! Which brings us to the observation that-- you support a lot of other writers and bloggers--- a focus we think is win-win, but which some folks find worrisome. Aren't you afraid of losing customers to these other writers?
Denise: Having been involved in the coaching community for so long, I'm aware of a lot of coaches. I've known Maria's work for a long time. However, I ran across her article because I subscribe to MANY lists that deliver article content. Most of the time I delete, but every now and then, I run across information I want to share with my readers. Maria's article really resonated with me since it is often a balancing act when talking to a new prospect about how much time do you give away, how much info in order to attract them to become a client. As far as losing customers to other people, I'm not worried. There are only so many people I can work with and there are so many incredibly smart, talented professionals out there. Definitely there's more than enough business to go around.
Lip-sticking: Tell us how important you think it is to have your picture on your blog. Your picture struck us a friendly, warm and approachable. You may have noticed that Jane only sports a caricature...as does B.L. Ochman, another smart lady we admire, which someone once wrote to us and complained about. Thoughts on that?
Denise: I usually recommend that my clients use a professional photograph on their web, blog and marketing materials. People like to see who they're dealing with. I get a lot of compliments on that photo and I have to say it's one of the best investments I've made. I interviewed several professional photographers when I lived in Ottawa and went with the best. It was worth it. I like photos, but it's not a deal breaker for me when I visit a site if there isn't one there.
As far as a caricature goes, I think it sometimes reveals something about the person -- my assumptions are that the person has a good sense of humor, likes to have fun, has an independent streak -- all things I admire.
Lip-sticking: Let's get to the business of doing business online-- your blog is a wealth of information, and connects to a lot of great professionals. What do you think is the most valuable resource you bring to your readers?
Denise: My ability to filter information that can be useful to the solo professional. Because I love information and the Internet and I love to test things, I provide a way for other professionals who are overwhelmed with info to sift through the noise. I'm a fairly early adopter (though not the very earliest) and can keep readers up to date with what's going on and why they may want to explore new marketing strategies and tactics.
Lip-sticking: Do you think small businesses get too much information thrown at them...especially now, with over 8 million blogs providing 'advice' and 'education'...how is a small business to make a qualified decision on who to trust and who not to trust?
Denise: Trust is a very personal thing. I think that a smart business person or professional can tell if something is credible or not. Too much hype may turn some people off and whether or not one is interested in the subject matter. Does the information click for you? Are you attracted to what the writer has to say? What have they done and what do they do now? I think there are more honest, credible people than dishonest.
Before I found your blog (I think through Paul Channey's blog), I had never heard of you, yet when I read your posts, I could tell you knew what you were talking about by the way you communicated, your links to other resources, your references, etc. I don't think that can be faked very well. Maybe I'm too trusting or naive.
Lip-sticking: What do you think is the best part of blogging? Is it better than a website? When would a company need just a blog, or just a website? When would it need both?
Denise: The best part of blogging is the immediacy, the ease of posting, the informality, the connections. In my opinion, for my business, it is better than a web site. In fact I have a one page web site that I was alway too busy to deal with and when I started my blog, that was it. I have no desire to create a traditional web site.
For many solo professionals, I think a blog could be enough if they are the type who loves to write, communicate and has a lot to say about how they can serve people. However, if one sells products or specific services, a web site could complement a blog. I see web sites as a bit more "formal" now, static, more like a sales or brochure vs. a blog that can be more accessible, give a more complete view of the professional, has more personality.
Lip-sticking: What does your description on your About page, "get-it-done solo professional," mean? We assume it has something to do with coaching...but, that's certainly not a solo practice. Enlighten us.
Denise: Many people talk about what they want to do and never take action. I get things done. I implement plans. I am a solo professional and have been for a long time; I know what needs to be done to make things happen. I also know how hard it can be working solo and that many solos get stuck, have great ideas and have no idea how to take them to fruition.
Lip-sticking: We like your blog banner...can you share the name of the designer with our readers?
Denise: Heidi Frieder of ArtHead -- she's a terrific designer.
Lip-sticking: And, of course...do you shop online? If so, would you ever buy a car online? A refrigerator? Or, just handbags, shoes, and books? Surprise us!
Denise: I shop online all the time. (hurrah!) I've done research online for a car and a refrigerator, but have not bought those items online. I did all my holiday shopping online this past year and did not step one foot into a mall. (your feet, no doubt, thank you) That made me very happy.
I have no fear about ecommerce and have never been ripped off or had a problem. I've been shopping online since 1997. I get a lot of flak from a friend of mine for doing most of my shopping online. She tells me it's people like me that are going to put stores out of business. I tell her that business is always evolving and that new businesses will evolve, and anyway, what about the online retailers? Aren't they businesses too? (hear, hear!)
We have little add, dear readers...except...
What's not to like about that?