Is Your 404 Error Page a Dead End?

Screenshot of Custom 404 pageWe’ve all seen them from time to time. The dreaded “Nothing Found Here” page or 404 Error Page.

This can happen when a link is broken or the visitor to your site types in a URL wrong. Sometimes, it’s because you completely took down a page or post rather than edit (??).

Having a custom 404 page provides a better user experience to your visitor because it’s not a dead end.

Google suggests this is good practice and offers some helpful ideas and widgets.

I recently updated the 404 error on ConverStations with a few helpful links. Thoughts from John Sadddington’s post on Customizing Your 404 Page is a great help.

Is your 404 Error page a dead end? It doesn’t have to be.

Need a hand creating a Custom 404 page? It’s the newest item in our growing Online Store.

Get a Custom 404 Page

Quick Feet Pumping to Daylight

running back in traffic with quick stepsLots of football to watch this time of year – whether you want to or not. It’s on all the time it seems.

Something to keep a lookout for if you are watching a game or highlights – is how the best players and great plays get started with short, quick steps that keep pumping towards open field, what’s often called “daylight.”

Watching a player gallop ahead of the pack in an open field is a beautiful thing to see. Yet, the daylight often comes only after a series of short steps and pivots – often in traffic when it seems unlikely the play will go far.

If you get stuck in a work project, shorten up your steps.

  • Make them smaller projects
  • Pivot when necessary
  • Just keep pumping

An open field is a few steps ahead.

Then, you just might go all the way.

Connect Your Social Sharing

SmallBizTracks – FAQs

hands raised to ask a questionAs you can probably tell by now, we are big believers in growth by taking small steps (“tracks”). The journey becomes so much better balanced with regard to time, workload, and attention.

One of the “tracks” I am working for my business is creating an FAQ for SmallBizTracks. The beginnings of that are below:

SmallBizTracks FAQ

How do we meet if we’re in different locations?

- If meeting in person doesn’t work, we can still meet face-to-face using a number of tools, including Skype or Google. We can also meet by phone and use a screen sharing tool for displaying or training purposes.

How do I know which level is the one my business needs?

- During our initial meeting, we discuss the details of your project. That helps determine if Basic is the best choice (and it often is). While we can begin at any level, we strongly believe in building upwards incrementally.

Are you just going to try to up-sell me later if I get Basic Level now?

- Probably. Eventually. Tools change. Services launch. Your business grows or changes. So yes, if you grow out of what we put into place, we go to a different level. Or if a new service is launched, we let you know about it if we feel it might help grow your business. Our goal is always your business growth, not the up-sell.

Do I have to pay upfront?

- Yes. To start the work, we ask for payment upfront. Because of our 100% guarantee, we make sure to finish the task in-time and with your approval. If there are questions, a phone call or email is encouraged.

How does the (money-back) guarantee work?

- Your payment is held in an escrow until you sign off on the project as complete and delivered. If at anytime you decide the project isn’t working out, simply stop the project (we’ll ask you for an email stating such). If we decide on our side, it’s not working out, we’ll do the same and refund your payment in full.

Are your prices a recurring subscription, or a one-time charge?

- While there may be some situations where we agree an ongoing relationship would be beneficial, the services listed on our site are almost always one-time. Any subscription services we might suggest become a relationship with you and the provider (i.e., GoDaddy for a domain name or DropBox for file-sharing).

Do I have to give you access to my passwords?

- Not always. In most cases, we do need access to your website admin area, but there are services we can use so we share a password for the duration we work on your project. After the work is done, we delete that connection. Your password never changed, and we no longer have access.

Who owns the finished work, such as domain names or plugins?

- You do. Unless it’s a subscription service, the accounts with any domain names you obtain or services subscriptions we agree you need to grow your business – belong to you. Still, we’ll always be available to answer questions.

I have a project in mind, but I don’t see it on your services menu. Do you know of someone?

- Us. We’ve had a couple of situations where a customer asked about something that became part of our “menu” – so if you have something you need, we start with Basic Level project and work from there. If it’s outside of our capabilities, we know people who are smarter than we are (and charge accordingly).

Do You FAQ?

Do you use an FAQ page on your site? Maybe we should create a “track” item in the SmallBizTracks Catalog for an FAQ page. We could have a discovery conversation and build out the best Frequently Asked Questions (and include a few you wish would get asked). Basic.

Giving Thanks for Your Hard Work

Digging Out the DayAlways hard at work,
Even when many still sleep
As a business owner you push yourself
And often you drive deep.

Many times you do it on your own
Pulling all-nighters in a pinch
Learning as you plow forward
Not always quite a cinch

Thank you for your efforts
Enduring come what may
Your service to keep things going
Day after night after day.

Photo on Flickr by fady habib

Services as a Product with an Online Store

Neon Open Sign for StoreMaybe they’re reading pieces like this one, but more than a few small business owners are asking about what kind of products they could sell in an online store.

How about their services? What would that look like in an online store?

Many service-based businesses do this offline already. Product-izing knowledge into component-sized items really isn’t a new idea – offline. Why not online?

In putting together online stores together for folks in recent years, I most often use MarketPress, a premium plugin from the folks at WPMUdev. It’s easy to use, comes with great support – and transitioning from other eCommerce tools is a breeze.

As I began to look at the online store component for a service-based business, my attention turned inward. I can use SmallBizTracks as the laboratory. A natural fit, with our practice of sizing things down to component-sized improvements we call “tracks.

So … Present the “tracks” in an online store. Create internal display ads to run internally, and maybe eventually externally. Make it repeatable so others can do likewise with their own services (or outsource the project).

Our own store isn’t quite ready-for-prime time from a display standpoint, though the back end pieces are working. There are more “products” to “display”, improvements on copy and pricing, and creating an inventory of ads still to come – yet, it’s become a project built with enthusiasm. Not just within, but for a lot of the small and rural businesses I work with.

They’re looking for additional income streams. It’s a sign of things to come (and maybe already here).

Here comes the ad …

Open Your Online Store

Note:  There is an special going on for subscribers to Whistle Stops Weekly. Subscribe now to receive a discount code in the store for the rest of the year.

The Scent of a Storefront

Cookie on a PlateDoes the scent of your storefront or office make pedestrian traffic linger?

As I walked into the jewelry store, I anticipated a short wait to see the owner. It was shortly after lunch and the foot traffic around the town square was pretty busy, even with a few of the nearby storefronts vacant.

Approaching the counter, the jeweler stepped up to greet me. We were the only ones in the store.

After talking about her company’s web and mobile efforts, the conversation turned to the business climate in the small town. Recently, a small corner bakery a few doors down had closed.

“People used to linger longer,” she said, “and the smell of cinnamon or chocolate used to fill this store when the door opened. Gosh, I loved that smell.”

I simply raised my eyebrows and tilted my head. I don’t know if I titled it all that much, but her response was one I’ll treasure.

“You’re right! I can bring the smell to the store.” I hadn’t said anything.

Is it wrong for me to hope she has fresh baked cookies next time I visit?

We often notice what our storefronts look like. We change up the window display, or make sure the glass is clean and sidewalk swept. But what of the scent? Does the scent of your storefront or office make pedestrian traffic linger?

Maybe even walk in. And become a customer.

Other ideas for your storefront? Spice it up with your social media presence on display (3 tips from Kim) or bring it alive with bring it alive with planters and window boxes (good hints from Kristi).

Location Based Services Ad for SmallBizTracks

Photo on Flickr by Peppysis

Twitter for You and Your Business – A Test of Two Accounts

Apple and Orange, different handsWith the rise of independent contractors, freelancers, and solopreneurs as small business owners – this is a question I hear more and more:

With a Twitter account for both my own name and my business name, How do I avoid repeating everything?

It’s a good question, one I’ve asked myself often. Simply tweeting the same thing on both accounts is really making noise and clutter. In most cases, you’ll have a large cross-over of folks following both accounts. So, how do you remain the same – but different?

There are a few practical and helpful ways to do this, and we’ll look at a practice I’m starting to use between @mikesansone and @SmallBizTracks.

Bad Robot

The worst thing you can practice is sending out a tweet from both accounts, saying the exact same thing, at the exact same time. It’s noise. With the ability to schedule tweets using tools like BufferApp or Hootsuite, you can at least separate them – and get better coverage.

If you must post at the same time, change up the message: Maybe the title on one tweet and a tagline on the other tweet. Unfortunately, most of the folks who do this are posting to their blog and have an “auto-tweet” thing going to both accounts. Still, change the time on one account or have it auto-tweet to your business account, then re-tweet then later from the other account.

Pre-Purpose Your Practice

Local Resource: If your business prides itself on being part of the local marketplace, on your business account you might want to become the resource on things happening in the business scene around you.

You could post on events, people on the move, even simple things like “Saw that @MamasKitchen is having Stroganoff as a special. Yum.” Or “Construction begins on 4th Ave, take 2nd of you’re coming into town.

With that plan, you can tweet larger business issues and thoughts from your personal name account.

Best in Your Business: Perhaps your business name account can become known for being a resource on topics only related to the business. A bakery owner could do all the food-type tweets, as well as their own menu, on the business-name account. On the personal name account could be larger issues pertaining to running a small business, or or be the human touch and relationship building tweets.

Human Touch: Business tweet? On the business name account. Personal touch, whether it be a movie, a recipe, or your favorite team? On your own name’s account.

Different Resources, Different Accounts: I’m leaning heavily in this direction going forward.

With SmallBizTracks, the focus of the business is to build a better business presence (offline and online; web, social, mobile) by breaking things down to small components. We call these “tracks” and there is a plethora of tips, tutorials, and tweaks shared on the web daily.

Knowing that many small business owners are the DIY type, I’ll be sharing the helps for the DIY folks on @SmallBizTracks. The @mikesansone account will be sharing resources too, but at a larger scope of thought and theory. Tips on the business account; Thinking on the name account.

There are many possibilities with these types of practices. Just about every small business owner has at least a few options:

  • Type of business
  • Geographic location
  • Leadership or Management roles
  • Marketing and Sales
  • Human Being

And there’s no single right way to do things. Find out what works best for you, measure success, modify.

Location Based Services Ad for SmallBizTracks

Photo on Flickr by automania

Since Chalk on a Rock – Sharing Stories

We’ve been doing it forever. Sending a message. Chalk on a Rock. Smoke in a stack. Mannequins in a window.

Displaying messages, images, and sharing stories.


Maybe in previous generations, a business owner would write a Letter to the Editor to get their name out there. Perhaps do a stint in a leadership role at the lodge. Rent a billboard along the highway. Paint the storefront window during a holiday. Put a magnet sign on our truck.

The tools are different now. Easier really, once you get a bit comfortable. You can pick up the phone to do a podcast (BlogTalkRadio) or produce a live, on-site broadcast from your store (UStream). Display your products on Pinterest (now with maps).

And you can do all those things from your smart phone. That’s where many of your customers and customers-to-be are shopping.

So grab some chalk (or outsource it).

Note: Each Sunday, Whistle Stops Weekly shares at least 4 tips, tweaks, or tutorials found around the web, plus at least one cool tool small business owners can use. And it’s free. Subscribe today.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Having a Bias on Action (Ebook)

Cover for SmallBizTracks EbookHaving recently proposed  a practice Repurposing and Pre-purposing Content, we’re at it again (and hope you are too).

This time last week, we put a few pieces of content together into an Infographic. This week, we took some pieces, new and old, and put them into an Ebook.

Building a Better Presence: Having a Bias on Action is a 38-page gift with your free subscription to Whistle Stops Weekly. Plus, as a subscriber you will receive new Ebooks as they are published in 2014 (active subscribers).

If you are already a subscriber to Whistle Stops – you should be receiving your copy of Having a Bias on Action in your email today.

There are many ways to put together eBooks or digital publications such as White Papers. For this piece, I grabbed some tips from HubSpot’s Simple PowerPoint Ebook Template, one of the many free resources HubSpot offers.

Grab a copy of Building a Better Business Presence: Having a Bias Towards Action today and automatically reserve your spot to receive upcoming Ebooks, in addition, you’ll receive Whistle Stops Weekly each Sunday.

Small Steps Leading to Big Results

Motivational Photo Poster of Woman Rock ClimbingTaking small steps leading to big results.

That’s what our friend walking the tracks in the story realizes. By taking things one small step at a time, he remains ahead of what ever that next big thing is – no matter if it’s fad or fantastic.

Small steps lead to big results.

If your goal is building a better business presence, guess what happens when you get there. Yep, you have a new goal: building a better business presence. As you reach your goals, celebrate a bit. Then keep going.

There’s no jumping on bandwagons or over-indulging on the latest web-based business-craze kool aid.

The idea behind SmallBizTracks is as much for the small business owner who prefers to journey the ever-changing world of web and mobile themselves (DIY) as those who don’t want to touch it at all (that would be outsourcing). Or any combination.

Here’s a mantra:

  • Start Stepping
  • Make Meaning with Each Step
  • Assess & Measure
  • Leap Over No Step
  • Let’s Do it Again

When you hike up a mountain, you reach the top by your feet hitting one pebble at a time. Nobody ever climbs a mountain in a single step.

So whether the project before you is a mountain or a molehill, take it one step at a time.

Assess where you right now. In a free 30-minute call (800-825-9973), we’ll discuss your current web and mobile presence and score your current situation in three areas: Findable, Connectable, Shareable. At the end of the call, I’ll send you a single-page report with an idea for first steps in each area.

Next step? One idea is to subscribe to our free Whistle Stops Weekly. Each Sunday, Whistle Stops brings you least 4 tips, tutorials, or tweaks you can use to keep moving forward. Also included is at least one “cool tool” and ideas and insights on what’s ahead in this landscape of building a better presence. Subscribe Today.