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7 Popular Web Apps That Can Change The Way You Do Business

In yesterday’s post I outlined the road map for building a total web presence even though you’re short on time. Today I want to share an eBook I wrote that reveals how and why I use certain tools to get some of the online work I do, done.

There should be something for everyone in this free eBook – The Productivity Handbook: 7 Popular Web Apps That Can Change The Way You Do BusinessGo get your copy here and don’t be afraid to share with friends!

In this guide I explain how and why I use:

  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • StumbleUpon
  • GMail
  • Pinterest
  • Delicious
  • Instagram

7 Competition Crushing Value Propositions

Page one of Warby Parker's infographic laden annual report

One of the biggest challenges that any small business faces in the area of marketing is standing out from everyone else that say it’s doing what you’re doing.

Until you can firmly offer a solid reason for why you should buy from or hire us over everyone else, you’ll compete on price.

As you develop a marketing strategy for your business you must proactively create the value proposition of “why us” and build all of your marketing messages, products, services, processes and follow-up communication around supporting that proposition.

This is how you use strategy to dominate your market. This is how you define value in terms that matter to those you are trying to attract.

Below are seven ways to think about defining and refining your core value proposition.

1) We know you – So many companies try to serve mass audiences. This is tough for any organization, but can be next to impossible for a small business just getting started. One very powerful way to create a point of differentiation is to carve out a narrow segment of a market and explain through every communication that you are the experts in serving that market.

Divorce attorneys that specialize in representing men are an example of this type of approach. Obviously, you won’t attract female clients, but a man going through a divorce might feel you have specialized knowledge and experience that other, more generic divorce attorneys, don’t possess.

2) A better way – Creating a product, service or approach that clearly offers a better way to get a result, particularly a result I desperately need to get, is another strong way to demonstrate value and promote a business.

Pretty much everyone struggles with processing too much information. Many have developed all kinds of systems to remember things, track things and keep to do lists under control. Evernote created a better way to do this and made the process simple, accessible and manageable on the devices that millions already used, so it’s value proposition offered a very recognizable way to do something better and the company has grown measurably because of it.

3) One of a kind – Some segment of just about every market craves things that are custom made. The more markets are inundated with mass produced items, the more opportunity exists for things that are made to order or made by hand.

I believe the popularity of a platform like Etsy is due in part to this need for some to find and possess things that are one of a kind or made just for them.

If you can find a segment of your market that values this approach it can be a highly profitable proposition. I asked the owner of a men’s clothing shop I frequent about the market for suits these days and he said there are really only two segments left. The low end off the rack suit and the very high end custom tailored suit.

4) Access – Another interesting value proposition is to take a market or demand that already exists and disrupt it by creating access that isn’t generally available.

Peter Shankman founded a service called HARO or Help a Reporter Out, based on this proposition. PR professionals and marketers had long paid thousands of dollars a year to gain access to a pool of journalists looking for sources to specific stories.

HARO built a database and service based on this concept and made it available to anyone that wished to subscribe for no cost. The service became so popular that it began to attract significant ad revenue and Shankman later sold it to another industry disruptor Vocus.

5) Savings – Offering a market ways to save money or lower risk will always be a strong way to differentiate a business. Now, understand this is not the same thing as offering a lower price. The key to this proposition is to demonstrate how your product or service will clearly allow them to save money through the use of what you are offering. A version of this proposition is to show them how they can lower the risk of losing money as well.

Many of the cloud based Software as a Service offerings such as Dropbox do this very well. Dropbox allows many people to more easily share and store files without the need for server hardware and eliminates the risk of losing data by automatically offering backups.

6) Convenience – Come up with a product, service of business that makes it more convenient to do something that people are already used to doing and you’ve got the makings of a winning value proposition.

I read a lot a books and the Kindle device for me is flat out the most convenient way to find, buy, read, store and carry lots of books around.

7) Design – Great design is actually very hard to do, but when you invest in it as a core value proposition, it can actually be a tremendous way to stand out and attract a market segment for whom form and function are equally important.

Apple has entered and dominated several markets in which they had no history, mp3 players and phones, using their design value proposition.

Building a business model and marketing strategy based firmly on any one of these proven proposition will allow you carve our your place in the market. However, if you can combine several of these propositions you’ve got the foundation for something downright disruptive.

A collaboration between four close friends, eyewear maker Warby Parker was conceived as an alternative to what the founders felt was the overpriced and bland eyewear available today.

According to Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO, “We just didn’t think a pair of glasses should cost more than an iPhone.”

Warby Parker’s obvious innovation was to go direct in an industry full of middlemen, big name designers and licensed brand names.

The company designs their line of glasses, works directly with the manufactures and sells it’s line of prescription and sunglasses directly to the end consumer.

In an effort to take on an entrenched $16B industry, they created a fixed price of $95 for all styles, ship out up to 5 pairs for no cost test drives prior to purchase and donate a pair of glasses to those in need for every pair sold.

The company was featured on CBS Sunday Morning and in the New York Times in 2011, sold over 100,000 pair of glasses and grew to over 50 employees according to its 2011 annual report – another innovation as it was delivered in a series of infographics rather than the typical dry corporate report.

Savings, access, convenience, design and a better way all rolled into one value proposition.

Free Handbook: 7 Apps That Will Change The Way You Do Marketing

The Productivity Handbook by John JantschThere’s always more to do than time to do it these days. That’s why I love discovering new tools and apps that help me get it all done.

I also love to share what I find and so I teamed up with Hubspot to write The Productivity Handbook: 7 Apps That Will Change The Way You Do Marketing.

(Yes, Hubspot asks for some information from you, but trust me, the how to use and why to use info included in this eBook will be worth it to you. If you’ve read anything I write you know I give away practical advice only.)

You’ll learn how these exciting, new tools can help you:

  • Brainstorm ideas for fast content creation using Evernote
  • Easily share large files across multiple devices using Dropbox
  • Generate more traffic to your website using StumbleUpon
  • Tell your story and share photos using Instagram and Pinterest

Download your eBook here

5 Ways to Make the Incredibly Useful Dropbox Even More Useful

dropbox addonsIn the past I’ve written about how I use the online file storage, backup and syncing tool called Dropbox.

Because I depend on this tool so much I use the Team Version and pay an annual fee that is pretty steep, but the no hassle factor is worth it.

Recently, I’ve started adding even more to my Dropbox use with the following addons that help extend its usefulness.

AirDropper – This tool allows you to create a custom file sharing page with your own branding. Then if you need to send a file to someone or they need to send a file to you, you can give them a unique URL to use and all files are transferred to and from your Dropbox account.

DropPages – This tool allows you to use Dropbox as a lightweight Content Management System. Using little more than text files saved to DropPages you can create, edit and manage an entire website and even use your own domain to do it.

HelloFax – I don’t actually use the fax part of this, but I use it almost daily to edit, sign and email documents like contracts without the need to print, sign and scan. By connecting it to Dropbox the documents I email all get a backed up in a HelloFax folder.

SideCloudLoad – This tool allows you to send any file on the web directly to a Dropbox folder without downloading it to your computer first. The thing I like about this is you can find an ebook you want to read while surfing on your phone and just have it sent to Dropbox rather than you phone.

MailDrop – MailDrop allows you to create a special folder in your email program (label in GMail) and then automatically save email attachments to Dropbox. This can be a great storage, backup and collaboration tool for documents that come to you from other people.

As our dependence on apps continues to grow you can expect app makers to look for ways to further enhance the productivity tools that we come to rely on in increasingly personal and mobile ways.

10 Apps I Use Every Single Day

Transmit app

More and more, we’re becoming an app happy world – Apps that run on our laptops, apps for the mobile and apps for the iPad or tablet. Even better are those apps that sync across all of our chosen devices, keeping us on task and on track in an increasingly online world.

Below are ten applications that I use on a daily basis to get more done, manage more information, communicate more ideas and generally keep the plates spinning.

TweetDeck – This is my primary social media dashboard. It’s a desktop application that runs on Adobe Air and while there are lots of alternative choices, I’ve just always stuck with TweetDeck. I do however use the Twitter app for the iPhone too.

I have groups, lists and searches set up at all times and use the scheduled Tweets feature to meter out content I want to share throughout the day.

Evernote – This is my brainstorming, idea clipping, bookmark storing powerhouse. Evernote syncs beautifully across all devices and allows me to outline my life in so many ways without having to commit anything to memory.

I’ve stored everything from ideas for my books to wines I want to remember. Here’s my Evernote routine in case your interested.

Dropbox – This is my online backup and file storage tool of choice. I probably overuse this tool, leaning on it as a file server for my team as well as a backup for important files, but it just works so well.

I also use it to share large files and grant conference attendees access to my PowerPoint presentations.

You can see my Dropbox routine here.

Reeder – This is an app that turns my chosen RSS reader, Google Reader, into something much more functional and much more attractive.

I do most of my blog reading on my iPhone or iPad and the Reeder app gives me a ton of functionality. I can easily share a post on Twitter, clip to Evernote and bookmark to delicious right from the post in Reeder. Great time saver.

Dragon Dictation – This iPhone app (at least that’s the only version I use) allows me to speak a memo and have it converted to text. I’ve not really tested this out, but I think I could compose a blog post using this tool.

The app then allows me to email the text or manage it in various other ways. I use this tool whenever I get a flash of brilliance while driving or think of something when trying go to sleep and want to capture the idea right away.

HelloFax – Actually this is billed as a fax machine replacement, but I don’t really use that function. What HelloFax allows me to do is receive a document, like a contract, agreement, vendor form or non disclosure (I get lots of these.) that need edits and my signature.

Instead of editing, printing, signing, scanning and emailing back I simply download the document, upload it to HelloFax, make my edits, drop in my stored signature and email it back.

And 4 just for the Mac

text expander

Text Expander – There are dozens of snippets of text that I need to use frequently. Text Expander allows me to write chunks of copy once and then paste those chunks whenever I need to with a couple keystrokes.

I have entire emails that I send in response to certain requests, email signatures, blog sponsorship messages, and even HTML code snippets that I use frequently committed to short, time saving keystrokes that are easy to recall.

Pixelmator – This is my replacement to Photoshop. Now, I’m not a graphic designer, so I don’t have major league design challenges, but I’ve used Photoshop for years and for $29 this tool does everything I need it to do and is much easier to use than Photoshop.

I’m sure Adobe would challenge this statement, but this tool is at least on par feature wise with the $99 Photoshop Elements.

Adium – I use Adium for all things related to IM – this Mac only client allows me to converse with folks via instant message regardless of the IM platform they use – Facebook, GTalk, or AIM. .

Transmit – This is my file transfer tool. It’s lightening fast and allows me to upload and manage files via FTP to my web sites. I also use it to access my Amazon S3 file storage as I use Amazon’s cheap hosting and streaming for my videos and other larger downloads that I make available on my sites.

I also use Transmit to move files around on my laptop. Instead of using two instances of the Finder on my Mac, I use a split window in Transmit that allows me to drag and drop files more easily.

How and Why I Use Dropbox

I’ve been covering a number of tools I depend on in this “how and why” format and people seem to be enjoying this so I’ll do it as a regular feature for a bit.

File storage with Dropbox

Image: redjar via Flickr

Today’s subject is the tool Dropbox. Dropbox is not a new kid on the block and lots of folks speak lovingly about this online file storage service. There’s a free version that may be robust and large enough for most, but I’ve chosen the full meal deal because I use Dropbox so completely.

There are other tools that can do all of what I’m going to describe, but from a file handling standpoint, ease of use, and set-up the way I work, Dropbox is killer.

Here’s why

  • I have a small staff and Dropbox is our internal server. We store everything and exchange and collaborate on files just like you would in any server environment. The main difference, of course, is that our Dropbox server is in the cloud and we can easily access all files (even those being worked on by folks back at the ranch) when I travel or someone works from home. (If you elect to Kick Out a team member they will no longer have access to the folders and the files will be permanently deleted from their hard drives.)
  • Dropbox uses a technology that only needs to upload changes so you can make tiny edit to a huge file and it syncs in seconds.
  • I have business partners in other countries and I can share and collaborate on specific files and folders and know that we are all working from and using the right document.
  • I speak to groups in seminars and workshops almost weekly at times and Dropbox allows me to work on a PPT presentation save it and then share a public branded link with groups that need to approve my presentations or as a way for me to share my slides without have to transfer or upload anything – I just save the file as I work and then share the public link on my last slide (I wrote about setting up my own branded link shortener here and I love to create custom links to my presentations like ducttape.me/sxsw for example)
  • All of our files are automatically backed up and synced in multiple places at all times.
  • I have iPhone and iPad Dropbox apps that allow me access all files on these devices as well. I’ve made more than one presentation on my iPad and I love the remarkable intimacy of that tool.

How I use it

As I said in the beginning of this post, there are free and low cost options that most people can use and get tremendous value. Because I depend on this tool so much I’ve opted for the Team Version and we pay an annual fee that may seem pretty steep, but the no hassle factor is worth it.

With Team we get to share the giant storage quota, Rewind to any version of a file, and encrypted transfer and storage.

  • We create and organize folders just like you would on any server for all of our most important work categories and then everyone works from those folders and saves the work directly to them. The feature that makes this work so well is that the Dropbox app loads on all of our staff’s hard drives and then all files show up on their computer just like they would on a hard drive. There’s no need to go to the web, the files are just there.
  • We also create personal folders for each team member to act like their MyDocuments folder for work in progress.
  • I backup all my websites and blog databases routinely to Dropbox.
  • I store a portable version of Firefox on Dropbox so that if I get stuck and need to use a loner computer I have all my extensions and bookmarks
  • I back up my entire music library to Dropbox and can access it from any computer

So, have you found any other great uses for Dropbox that I may not have considered?

The New About Us Page Is a Social Beast

Since the dawn of the web there has been the trusty old About Us page. It seems a tad cliche, but what the heck, why fight it, visitors to your site have come to expect to find an About Us or Contact Us page, so why not make the most of it.

The traditional About Us page is typically filled with information about the owner, the history of the firm and an overview of what the company does.

Today’s About Us page has the ability to be a tool for real engagement. In addition to providing some information about the firm, it must also be a place where they can find out where to find out much more About Us, a place where they can discover our social graph and who they know that already knows About Us, a place where they can find a myriad of ways to connect with us, a place where they can get specific information, request even more specific information and start to build a relationship that may involve immediate interaction.

Below are some of the tools and tactics that may make it much easier for you to turn you boring static About Us page into a social hub. (This is a perfect place for me to further suggest that using a tool like WordPress to run you entire site makes what I share below much, much easier.)

Meebo

Add Chat – Using text chat services like Meebo or Bleetbox or video chat like Oovoo you can make it very easy for visitors to your site to ask questions and chat directly with your staff right from your About Us page.

Social graph – A new service called SocialBios – allows visitors to your page to see who they might know in your Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, GMail or Twitter worlds. This can be a great way to facilitate referrals and make connections easier. Try it out with me here – SocialBio for John Jantsch

Add Your Social Profiles – By using a Social Media Page Plugin – you can add all the other places you hang out to any page or blog post you like. It might look something like this.

Connect With Us –

Contact Us – You do want to make it easy to contact you for the next step and that may indeed include listing email addresses and phone numbers on your pages, but contact forms are the best bet. You can make them fun and interactive but the best part is that they can be safe and secure and allow you to route email to multiple places based on the request. There are lots of contact plugins out there but I love Wufoo.

This tool allows you to build elegant and feature rich forms and embed them anywhere you like. The form data can be forwarded or stored for multiple folks to view. You could build forms like this yourself, but nothing is as easy to build or update as Wufoo forms.

Tech Support – Using a tool like Zendesk you can turn your About Us or Contact Us page into a customer support center as well. Adding help desk functionality allows you to easily assign multiple people to some of the same tasks so you could provide round the clock engagement if you like. Zendesk also has some social and community features that make it nice for sharing.

File sharing – I use a service called Dropbox as my file storage and backup in the cloud. You can also use an addon to Dropbox that would make it easy for visitors or customers to upload files for you to view. This could be a great way to offer free evaluations or simply to receive large files that you may need to engage a client. (You can also make this option available on a Wufoo form)

There, that should keep you busy creating the monster About Us page!

Taking an Expanded View of Collaboration

symphony collaborationWhen most small business owners think collaboration, they generally limit this thinking to the kind of collaboration you might naturally do with a supplier charged with completing some aspect of a larger project or perhaps a strategic partner required to mesh together a complex solution.

I would like to suggest that in today’s social media world the concept of collaboration is expanded to encompass a much more strategic role.

In fact, collaboration might just be the ultimate social play. Collaboration in this expanded view can and should include collaboration with prospects, customers, partners, providers and staff. Technology now enables any business, regardless of size, to orchestrate the marketing and management effectiveness and efficiency that a great collaborative effort can bring.

I believe that this expanded view of collaboration is more than an efficient way to get work done, it’s an entirely new way to think about engaging your markets, building connection and community, and empowering your staff to more effectively deliver your marketing promise.

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