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The Power of Relationships

By Eddie Stewart, CEO, Stewart Transportation Solutions, Inc.

For third-party companies in the meetings and events industry, a good relationship with a vendor can make all the difference. And we should know!

As meetings and conventions become larger and more complicated, third-party companies have become an integral part of how planners operate. With the ability to streamline the planning process, they take on the task of dealing with vendors or venues, contracts, details, logistics and the minutia associated with planning a meeting.

In order for third-party companies like ours to make it all happen, we must rely heavily on the relationships we have built in cities across the globe. A good relationship can make the impossible, possible. And in the event transportation industry, there are three types of relationships that stand out from the rest – our relationship with the vehicle company, the drivers and our on-site staff.

Some people are surprised to learn that we don’t own buses or vehicles of any kind. This means that we’re not limited by geography or the size of a fleet, which allows us to provide transportation services anywhere the client decides to hold an event or meeting. In order to do this, we depend on the fleets of transportation and bus companies throughout the United States and abroad.

Whether you talk to a CMP or one of our Program Managers, they will tell you that knowing the right person to call makes all the difference. And it’s a very symbiotic relationship. We depend on them to get the job done right and they look to us to bring them good business. We respect our vehicle vendors and understand their needs. Because of this, they will work with us to find solutions to most inventory or availability issues that can come up.

Of course, the power of a good relationship extends beyond knowing the right vehicle vendor.  The men and women who drive those vehicles can have a big impact on whether a transportation program is successful or not. We figured out pretty quickly that a happy driver can make all the difference. That’s why we provide a cash gratuity to all of our drivers (believe it or not, many event transportation companies don’t do this!), take the time to get to know their names and make sure they get their required breaks. They appreciate this and will often go above and beyond to provide our clients with the best possible service. We also have drivers who request to work on our shows just because they enjoy working with us. A happy driver also makes the job a lot easier for our staff.

The relationships we have built with our travel and local staff are essential to what we do. It’s more than just hiring a body to stand on the curb and herd people onto a bus. We depend on our network of 400+ contract staff to keep it all flowing smoothly on-site. At the start of every show, we make sure they are trained on more than just the show schedule. We make sure they know us as a company, our culture and that they are part of our team. They also get a crash course in Servant Leadership – our management philosophy.

Relationships are an important part of any industry, but particularly for companies like ours. We are able to do bigger and better things for our clients year after year because of the vendors and people we depend on. Respecting the relationships that keep the doors open and the clients happy is key to third-party success.

My Recipe for Success

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Small Business Social Media Reality Check Part 2

By Liz DeJesus, Marketing Manager

Welcome Back (hopefully)!

In my previous post, I touched on the social media dilemma I experienced as a time-strapped employee of a small business. I’ve come up with some advice that I hope you will find helpful as you embark on your own social media journey.

Let’s start off with a brief and simplified summary of what I think the experts would say a proper B2B social media strategy should include.

Develop Social Media Strategy – should include goals, platforms, audience, messaging, metrics, ROI, campaigns and content development.

Unique Content Curation– can be in the form of blog posts, giveaways, freebies, contests, videos, etc.

Create and/or Update all Platforms – for all platforms, update header graphics, descriptions, contact information, links, etc.

Create Publishing Schedule – create calendar based on unique content and known company milestones, product releases, developments.

If you think you can do all of this, then you most certainly should. The experts will tell you that you should do all of the above and then some. However, my reality was a bit different and I think many of you might find yours to be a bit different as well.

I was finding it hard to understand where our company fit in with all of the guidelines. Our target audience isn’t huge – meeting planners don’t make up a huge portion of the population – and we provide a pretty niche service for the industry (a service that doesn’t get a lot of attention!). That being said, pursuing a strategy that encompassed all of the “right” things to do seemed pretty irrational.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about small business social media.

Get Staff on Board

This can be a doozy. Many businesses are blessed with a tech-savvy staff who are fully engaged with social media. They understand the different platforms, how they work and the languages of each. Then there are the businesses made up of folks who do not view social media as a priority. And of course, there are the businesses who are mix of both.

Regardless of where your company falls on this spectrum, it is important for your entire staff to have a basic understanding of social media as it relates to them professionally. We had a meeting at the beginning of this social endeavor and explained how social media can benefit our company and our bottom line. We connected the dots for everyone and made sure they were comfortable with our direction. The more they understand, the more likely they are to get excited and provide valuable, share-worthy information with you.

This was incredibly important for our team because I am pretty dependent on them to provide me with content. They are on the front line of what we do. They have the stories, the pictures and they are the essence of what we do and who we are as a company.

Know Your Voice

Figure out what your social media voice is going to be and stick with it. Is it informative? Playful? Funny? Direct? Serious? A mix? Regardless of what your voice sounds like, try to keep it consistent. Think about it, would you want to befriend a person whose personality changed from one day to the next? Nope. Not up for that roller coaster ride.

It’s About YOUR Brand

That’s right, when it comes to social media, your business is sort of a big deal. That means that while it’s important to connect with your audience, success is directly linked to how you (the individual tasked with the company’s social media) connect with social media. Do you know the brand? If you don’t understand the heart and soul of what the company stands for, what your coworkers do on a daily basis and what your industry is like, then this just won’t work.

I have found it incredibly helpful to get on the ground with our program managers. I have worked the curb with them, stood in the rain with them, put in 15 hour days with them, worked with clients and bus companies, and seen just how hard they work to make our company successful. Because of this, I have a much better understanding of our company and our brand.

Be Realistic

Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t do it all. The most important piece of advice I can give to anyone starting out in social media is to figure out what works best for you. Spend some time deciding which social media platforms you want to focus on and determine exactly how much time you can dedicate to each. You should probably know going into it that you will experience some guilt and feel like you could be doing more, if there were only more hours in the day! You’ve got a lot on your plate and spreading yourself too thin won’t help anyone.

Social media is important but it can be overwhelming. Remember, you are a human being who is doing your best with the resources at hand. Pay attention to the trends and what’s going on but don’t let what someone else says define your social media strategy. Be original and try not to be too afraid to take the plunge. Social media should be FUN!

Tackling the Website [Re]Design Process as a Small Business, Part 2

By Liz DeJesus, Marketing Manager

I know, Part 1 was such a nail-biter that you’ve been waiting with bated breath for part 2! (Don’t worry, if you did happen to miss it, make sure you check out Part 1.) I’m not one to disappoint so let’s get back to the good stuff!

Audience & Messaging

Before you and your design team dive into the technical elements, the color schemes, the layouts, etc., it’s your responsibility to know who your audience is and what you want them to know about your company. We recommend setting aside about 3-4 hours one day for a brainstorming session. Use this time dissect your current website, create idea boards and start thinking about your messaging priorities. Some questions you may want to consider:

  • What do competitor websites look like? How can you be different?
  • What is the first thing you want and don’t want visitors to think when they land on your homepage?
  • What are some pain points for your target audience? How can you identify those challenges and highlight your solutions?
  • Does your audience primarily use desktops or mobile devices? How do you want your website to behave on mobile devices?
  • Is your company’s service or product easy to understand? Do you often get confused with other types of businesses? (People always think we’re a bus company!)
  • How can your website and social media efforts enhance your web presence and your value to your audience?

This will help you prioritize content and navigation and will pay you back in dividends during the design process.

Show Me the Money

A good website design isn’t going to be cheap. This is a fact. That being said, there are things you can do to keep costs down and stay on budget. Make sure you understand how your design company charges. (Most charge by the hour) Make a point to periodically request breakdown of the hours you have used and the hours you have left. Your website company should be open with you about your hours and be willing to answer any questions. Empower yourself with this information so that you don’t get halfway through the process only to discover that you’ve used 90% of your hours. That spells O-V-E-R B-U-D-G-E-T.

Images and More Images

Perhaps one of the most tedious tasks associated with our web design process was sorting and organizing our thousands of images. We had images saved on just about every imaginable format – hard drives, phones, the cloud, discs, tablets, USBs and even the archaic medium known as…FILM! Nothing was organized.

You will need to have a pretty decent stash of high resolution images for your website. Sure, you can buy stock images but that’s so boring! Don’t be boring. And trust us, if you’re thinking about expanding your marketing efforts at all, you should get in the habit of meticulously organizing your company photos. It’s just a smart idea.

Copy

The holy trinity of website design might be: functionality, aesthetic and good COPY. Your copy is your voice. It is how visitors will come to know you. It is how they will finalize their impression of your company. It should be informative, yet interesting. After all, what’s the point of spending hours writing website copy if no one will actually read it?!

We decided to write our own website copy because it’s cheaper AND our old website already had a BUSLOAD [pun intended] of great copy that we were able to use as a starting point. In fact, we had so much copy that we spent a significant amount of time cutting it down.

It’s actually really difficult to start writing copy until you have an almost-ready-for-development website design. When you see the different sections and layouts, it really helps you understand how much and what type of copy you will need.

[Warning] At times, writing your own website copy can bring about feelings of insanity. We suggest surrounding yourself with funny coworkers, soft lighting, snacks and wine (after 5:00 pm, of course) throughout the process!

Hold or Fold

Like most things in life, it’s important to know when to hold and when to fold. You know your company better than anyone. Remember that. There will probably be some things that your design company thinks are irrelevant. They may suggest you scrap some copy or certain design elements. Weigh those suggestions with your own insight and respond accordingly. Sometimes you will need to let go, but sometimes you need to stick to your guns. A good design company will support your decisions.

Conclusion

No matter how amazing your website design company is, the entire process is incredibly exhausting. If you can accept this going in, you can mentally prepare yourself, your coworkers, your husband, your children, your dog….just kidding! But just because it is exhausting, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Go into the process with a positive attitude, the right team to help you through it and an amazing website company to keep you going.

All of the hard work will pay off and you will end up with a finished product that you and your staff can be proud of. After all, owning and/or working for a small business is by its very nature a labor of love, why would designing the perfect website for your small business be any different?

Tackling the Website [Re]Design Process as a Small Business, Part 1

by Liz DeJesus, Marketing Manager, Stewart Transportation Solutions, Inc.

As a small business, the decision to design or redesign your website is no small undertaking. It’s an extremely time-consuming process with a lot of moving parts. Once you make the decision to embark on the journey, you have no choice but to stick with it. Our redesign journey took us almost 9 months (!!!!) but we learned a lot along the way.

Selecting a Website Design Company

In order to tackle this project and see it through to completion, we knew we needed to be very strategic. We also knew we needed to hire the right design company. We started with a simple list of what we wanted in design company.

  • Culture Connection: The relationship needed to feel right. We sought a company that understood our office culture and our company values. We also wanted a company that valued open and honest dialogue.
  • Time Management: We needed a company that understood our time constraints and could keep us on track with deadlines, tasks and everything in between.
  • Vision: We needed a visionary to bring our ideas to life!
  • Expertise: We didn’t just want our website to be pretty, we wanted it to be what we needed in order to be successful. We wanted a company that valued the visual component just as much as all that technical stuff (SEO, analytics, keywords, etc.).

What we needed was Cabedge. We knew from the first meeting that they were the right fit for us. They said all the right things and the best part was, we knew they meant it. They cared about the design just as much as the functionality. They took the time to understand our company, our industry and our values.

Okay, we’ll stop gushing now, but the reality is, the company you pick to design your website is absolutely critical. You’re going to be working with them A LOT so if you don’t mesh and if you don’t feel like you can be honest, it’s not going to work. It just won’t. And if it doesn’t work out, you will have wasted your hard-earned money. No small business can afford that.

The other critical piece of the puzzle is the designer. If you’re not exactly savvy (like us) when it comes to understanding the intricacies of graphic and web design, you probably need a designer who doubles as a mind reader. For instance, your designer needs to be able to make sense of the nonsense that comes out of your mouth when you’re trying to describe some random feature you saw on a random website once upon a time. You need a designer who understands your vision and can bring it all to life.

What You Want vs. What You Need

While we do suggest that you spend a significant amount of time looking at various websites for inspiration and ideas, try to be realistic. You might think you want your website to be the combination of every cool feature you’ve ever come across, complete with all the bells and whistles, but just because it seems cutting-edge, doesn’t mean it’s what you need.

Think about your website design from the user’s perspective. To determine how we wanted our website to look and function, we found it helpful to think about the website features that drive us crazy as users. Here is our list of website pet peeves:

  • Homepage Music: You know, you’re in that library-quiet coffee shop, you click a website link and without warning some cheesy, smooth jazz starts blasting from your computer. No, thank you.
  • Hoops & Hurdles: You just want information! And you don’t want to watch a video or ad, give out your information, download an article or promise your firstborn child just to get it.
  • Mobile Unfriendly: If the user can’t navigate your website on a tablet, then you’ve missed the mark. Your website should be responsive. It should work across all platforms.
  • Squished Pages: What’s up with those websites where everything is squished in the middle of the page? We just can’t get on board with tiny font and wasted space.
  • Website or a Book? SO.MUCH.COPY. If you want to bore your website visitors to death, or worse, drive them away altogether, you should cram in as much copy as you possibly can, preferably in single-spaced paragraphs on a squished page.

All of this to say – just because it may seem like the coolest design feature in the history of website design, doesn’t mean your visitors will think so. Which leads us to the next piece of the puzzle – understanding your audience.

Stay tuned for the second part of this miniseries and we’ll fill you in on what you need to know (or at least what we think you should know) about messaging, budget and bringing your website baby to life!