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A Blueprint for Prime and Subconsultant Partnering Success in SOQ Development

Lately, it feels like we are continually responding to requests for qualifications, which may or may not include fees. We have all had occasion to request qualifications information, we have all submitted it, and in my 26 years of experience, some Primes absolutely request it more efficiently and consistently than others. Putting together a collaborative and cohesive submittal package requires extensive and dedicated creative experience. I often think of it as ‘designing’ and ‘constructing’ a winning story, which if relayed successfully allows your team the coveted opportunity to provide the desired architecture, engineering and/or construction services.

The following items are a few guidelines that should help A/E/C Primes & Consultants work together better on their submittals:

PRIME PREREQUISITES

  • READ the RFQ/RFP before requesting information. Consultant information is not always needed or is limited in scope. Restrictions on font size and content is critical, etc.
  • SEND the RFQ/RFP to the consultant when you request their information. Don’t assume they have it.
  • NOTE the page numbers and items in the RFQ/RFP you want responses for, and anything additional or special.
  • ENCOURAGE participation on the project approach. A consultant may know or have information you are not aware of.
  • CLARIFY if confidentiality of information is required. Lead sharing is common and should be addressed.
  • EXCLUSIVITY for consultants is rare. Be sure it is necessary before requesting and consider if limited exclusivity of specific team members rather than a firm would meet your goal and intent.
  • GIVE as much time as possible for your consultants to respond. Last minute requests don’t allow time for innovative or thorough responses.


CONSULTANT CONSIDERATIONS

  • READ the RFQ/RFP and the request from the Prime carefully before submitting your information. Don’t be the reason your team could be disqualified.
  • CONFIRM the due date and time and delivery method for your information.
  • ASK what the preferred format is for your qualifications and if the Prime has a template you can use or follow.
  • OFFER project approach information, etc., if previous experience or knowledge of the site will provide insight or clarification.
  • PROTECT a Primes’ data, approach, formats or templates. Remember not to share or duplicate them.
  • REQUEST a proposal format if a fee is to be included. A fee by phase is very different than a lump sum. Be efficient with your team members time.
  • SEND your qualifications before the deadline to allow review time, and for a follow up request if anything was missing or misunderstood.

 

Design and construct a successful submittal story by collaborating with your consultants in a diligent and consistent way.

Margie Luster
Director of Business Development, Caruso Turley Scott Structural Engineers

Margie is a 5th generation native Arizonan and is a perpetual optimist about the future.  She has over 30 years of experience in the AEC industry and values the relationships she has made with knowledgeable and respectful Partners and Associates.  In her free time, Margie enjoys working in her garden, growing trees, flowers and fat birds. 

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Getting Them to Show Up - How to Use Internal Marketing to Drive Employee Involvement

Internal marketing is about selling the brand of the company to the employees and part of creating the culture of the firm. Internal marketing and campaigns are often overlooked or executed in a haphazard manner to where internal clients miss the message. When employee engagement is strategically planned, the overall impact is more powerful and leads to higher employee involvement and overall satisfaction in the company.

But how do we as marketers do that for our company? Well first, you need planners from different parts of the company: someone from HR, marketing, and a representative of the people makes for the best team to collaborate on events. And then you get started. Kinda.

Messaging
Planning really can’t commence without having a universal message to be the driving force behind the planning. Why are you doing this? What is the take away from this engagement? If you don’t have a specific goal in mind here are some ideas:

  • Align the external with the internal: Sometimes our employees don’t always know what the message is to our external clients. So flip the script and market to your employees with the same message. By aligning the two you make that message something employees live and breathe.
  • Work Hard, Play Hard: We tell our clients and prospective recruits that we “work as hard as we play” (or some deviation of this saying). And between deadlines and new projects, we always up hold our “work hard”, but often times the “play hard” gets missed. That’s where a fun internal campaign can make up for that.
  • Target Campaign: Maybe it’s as simple as a food drive or maybe a corporate anniversary, but there are times when a targeted campaign is effective for specific events.


Execution

For anyone who has Googled how to do something, this is the part we fast-forward to – how do I do this? Sadly, there is no magic “Top Five Things to Do” bullet list because there are many avenues that can be customized depending on a variety of things such as time, intent of the message, man-power, or money. But here are some good starting points:

  • Planning: Now you have a message, let’s make a plan! If you’re planning for a year or for a short-term targeted message, planning allows you to coordinate messaging with all the tools in the marketing tool box: graphics, social media, blogging, etc. Then create a schedule to see how events and tasks work with the bigger picture. Need graphics or collateral materials designed? Need a leave behind or giveaway ordered? Did we schedule a release for the 1st of the month and that’s a Saturday? All of these things will drive the execution of your message.
  • Get ’em Outta Their Chairs: One of the biggest struggles I’ve had with internal events is getting people to participate. If we can build anticipation about an event, then we draw them into the event and honestly that’s half the struggle. Even if they don’t participate, they might have just as much fun being a spectator.
  • Mix It Up: Competition is a healthy thing, especially with highly driven people, but not every event needs to be a battle-royale of wit or brawn. On that note, not every event needs to be a potluck or catered. Social events are just as engaging as volunteer events. Providing a variety of events keeps people engaged.
  • Let the People Speak: Sometimes it’s beneficial to arrange to get feedback through a survey. You will always hear the voices of the extremes. They love or they hate, but what about the people who are meh about the event. Try using an anonymous survey service, like SurveyMonkey, to get an idea of what the people like. We are often victims of our own groupthink, so doing a little crowd-sourcing allows you to back up what you think the people want and don’t want.


Potential Pitfalls

Like many endeavors there are pitfalls. Sometime being aware of them will help you work around them, but more often than not they are unavoidable.

  • Beware of Overkill: Even in internal marketing there is “too much of a good thing.” If we overindulge on message or concept, there is a chance of burnout from your audience. Your funny, company battle-cry can quickly be accompanied by eye rolls and groans because it’s been used too much.
  • Lack of Turnout: Like I mentioned above, turnout is always a problem. It’s not just the technical staff who are busy. Everyone has deadlines and tasks and goals to meet, and that might not include playing games at the Halloween carnival. Don’t be discouraged. A little FOMO generated by post-event hype can drive participation in your next event.
  • Criticism: There will always be criticism. They didn’t like the food vendor. The room was cold. It was too hot. The trivia questions where too hard or too easy. We know that everyone has an opinion and we should turn our cheek to criticism, but there are times when criticism is actually just someone wanting to be a part of something. Recently my firm celebrated Pi Day with a selection of pies from a local bakery. The day before someone asked if there would a gluten-free option. I had completely overlooked this part of the planning. I ran, well it felt like, all over the Valley to no avail and ended up making a gluten-free pie that night. I did this because this was a person wanted to be a part of an event, but through my poor planning, was not able. I was able to see past this criticism of my planning to an opportunity to include someone.

 

While we know that more goes into the culture of a firm than pot lucks and parties, a well –structured internal campaign can help drive the message.


Sara Reynolds
Marketing Coordinator, Wood, Patel & Associates, Inc.

Sara has been in the A/E/C industry for more than a decade and has been a SMPS member for the three years - ever since joining Wood, Patel & Associates. She is a mother to two boys (ages 9 and 5) and her free time is consumed by lacrosse, Cub Scouts, Legos, and sharing the refereeing duties with her husband. She enjoys good whiskey, a good book, and good conversation. 

 

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Top 10 Tradeshow Essentials for Success

Tradeshows generate income and improve the bottom dollar. Tradeshows are a great way to meet new prospects, connect with clients, position your firm as experts in the market and gather competitive intelligence. Unfortunately, we often see firms spend thousands upon thousands on tradeshows, without maximizing their time and money to ensure top results. In the past two decades of exhibiting at tradeshows and conferences, I have learned a lot of lessons – most of them the hard way.

Here are my Top 10 Tradeshow Essentials for Success:

1.  PLAN FOR THE WORST, EXPECT THE BEST

Make some goals. Every solid plan starts with clear goals in writing. Goals guide important decisions, helping you determine the best decisions on everything from booth placement to giveaways and provide a yardstick to assess whether the tradeshow was ‘successful.’ Some sample goals could include:

  • Get at least 20 genuine prospects.
  • Ask customers 3 specific things about their business or buying habits.
  • Find 10 good recruiting prospects
  • Talk with 10 industry leaders.


Set a schedule.
Remember, a failure to plan is a plan to fail. Create a schedule for everything from securing your exhibit space, to producing pre- and event-marketing materials, including the day of set-up, etc.

2. DEVELOP YOUR MESSAGE

You have 3 seconds. Three seconds is about all you get to attract attention with your booth space. You need to decide what your message is early on, and use it often and consistently.  Hint: a photo collage of all your past projects is not a message. The goal is to get people to stop, not to explain everything about who you are and what you do.

3. DON’T FORGET TO PRE-MARKET

Send a personal invitation. Reach out to clients and prospects ahead of time to let them know that you will be exhibiting and give them a good reason to stop by. Direct mail can, and does, work in this instance. Offer something cool and expensive at your booth, but only if they bring the postcard to you. Then, because you collect their card, you have their contact info to follow up later. Don’t forget to put provide your booth number! Emails work as well because you can use the tradeshow’s name in the subject of the email inspiring people to likely read your email blast.

Promote the show. Add a line to everyone’s email signature with the show info and your booth number. If you have a giveaway or something else interesting, say that, too.

Make a date. Set up meetings ahead of time with existing customers, new targets, vendors, editors/publishers and potential alliances.

4.  HAVE A BOOTH THAT STANDS OUT IN THE CROWD

Location, location, location. Pick your booth location wisely. Think about how people move through a show. They have to pass by end caps, are likely to visit the restrooms, and will gather at food stations. Be in their way. Also, avoid being clustered with your competitors, and try to be adjacent to teaming/project partners.

It’s all about the design. How is your design conveying your one message? How is it showing the unique offerings of your firm? Attendees will see a ton of booths, all essentially identical. You have to do something different. It doesn’t have to be amazingly unique, just different.

5.  SWAG AND TECHNOLOGY, DONE RIGHT

Everybody loves swag, right? No! Most of us have many pieces of useless plastic. Try and relate your swag to your message. For example, if you tout technology, don’t have basic pens and notepads – have a cool techy device instead.

Moving pictures work. We tend to look at moving images, especially when they’re bright. Your booth should have a big monitor or a bright projector using video to tell your story. And remember, your story isn’t all of your past projects/experience, it is bigger than that. It should be focused on your UX or unique selling position.

6.  PROPER STAFFING

Plan on at least three people to staff the booth. One person should be walking around and going to meetings, and two people at the booth consistently allows for busy times, restocking items, and taking breaks. Most attendees don’t want to talk to sales people; they want to geek out with their peers so make sure you have staff ‘working the room.’

Invest in some pre-tradeshow training. Just because staff have attended a conference before, don’t assume they know what is expected of them when exhibiting (as well as attending). Go over the expectations with staff, review the tradeshow plan with them (see #1 on this list). Take the time to honestly assess if they have the business development skills needed to do well as an exhibitor. In other words, don’t put your most introverted person in the booth just because they are the subject matter expert. If they need to be there, pair them with seasoned business developers and marketers who will help them make connections.

7. MAXIMIZE YOUR TIME THERE.

Have a pick-up line. What gets people to stop? To laugh? To say, “Ok, fair enough, tell me more.” Test your pitch all show long. After the 100th pitch, you’ll know exactly what gets people’s attention — now put that on your marketing materials! Your opening line should engage them with something you specifically have to offer. Do some research and develop 3-5 questions that you’re going to ask of people who walk by the booth, then ask away.

Ask questions. Instead of constantly pitching to prospects, have a real conversation. Be genuinely interested in the other person — what do they do, what are they interested in.  If you’re good, they will actually ask you for a pitch as a form of reciprocation.  Don’t ask how they’re doing.

Take names instead of pushing brochures. How often do you dump all of the printed materials you received before you head back home? Do you think your prospects are any different? Scan their badge or get a business card and mail them something after the show.  Remember quality over quantity; if you take their info vs handing them materials, you now have a reason to follow up with them with materials that are customized to their unique issues that, obviously, only you can solve.

Wear comfortable shoes. Stand, don’t sit —sitting looks like you don’t want to be there. Get your body into the aisle. Just because there’s a table there doesn’t mean you have to stand behind it.

Use the time to gather competitive intelligence. Walk the floor and talk to everyone. You can commiserate about how the show is going and how it compares to others. Scope out the competition.

Build your own party. Who can resist free booze and free food? Rent a room at or near the conference site with wine, beer, and basic food. Pass out invites at the show and on your pre-show mailers.

8. LEAD TRACKING*

Take notes. You’ll talk to 100s of people: write it down within 10 minutes. How often do you finish a conversation and then can barely recall it? Use their business card to take notes on what you discussed as soon as possible. Use LinkedIn every night to follow up with contacts quickly.

Have a system for lead tracking and train all your staff on how to use it. You have likely spent thousands of dollars to exhibit, make sure you get your money’s worth by tracking all of the contacts you have made and any
potential leads. This is the #1 missed opportunity at tradeshows and the #1 reason why you are there.

*Sample tracking tools: CRM database, card scanner, tablet, or a simple lead sheet.

9.  FAILURE TO PLAN IS A PLAN FOR FAILURE

If you don’t plan for an emergency, the likelihood of it happening is 10x greater (note this is not scientific, rather based on personal experience). Prepare a tradeshow emergency supply Box of Everything. Here is a starting list for you:

  • Pens (multiple, different colors)
  • Sharpie
  • Scotch tape
  • Masking tape
  • Zip ties
  • Extension cord
  • Batteries
  • Electric plug bar
  • Post-it notes
  • Rubber bands
  • Tiny stapler
  • Highlighter
  • Paper clips
  • Scissors
  • All-in-one tool (screwdriver, can opener)
  • Medicine (Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, Dayquil, etc.)
  • Generic business cards (in case anyone runs out)


10. FOLLOW UP FAST



The key to getting your money’s worth from exhibiting at a tradeshow is to capitalize on every encounter there. Sadly, more often than not, firms return to the office after a show and get right back to business as usual. It is not surprising, you all have been out of the office for days and there is work piling up! Really, what is the point of all of that time and money if you do nothing with what you learned at the show?

External tasks. The marketing department can do a direct email campaign with lessons learned at the conference, who won your giveaway, or just a Thanks for stopping by email. This is a good time to get prospects integrated into your marketing process. Your business development team should be scheduling follow-up meetings, making CRM entries and sending any follow up information that was promised.

Internal tasks. Don’t forget to debrief internally to improve your processes and make decisions on next year’s attendance. Did you meet your stated goals? Why or why not? What could you do differently?  Also discuss the competitive intelligence you gathered (see #7 on this list). And lastly, apply what you learned. You talked to many firms, pitching a hundred different ways. What did you learn?  How can you use it to improve your firm?


Deirdre Gilmore, CPSM
Founder of Tank Girl Marketing and Co-founder of TGM Development
Deirdre is a Certified Professional Services Marketer who understands all aspects of marketing, from business development through research and operations. She specializes in setting strategies, business and marketing planning, training and coaching, strategic project pursuits, strategy, and brand development.  Deirdre sits on the board of the Arizona Association of Economic Development and received their Member of the Year Award in 2015. Furthermore, Tank Girl Marketing won three SMPS marketing communications awards. When not fulfilling her duties as Sergeant Strategy, Deirdre enjoys spending time with family and traveling the world.

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Five Best Practices for AEC Websites

Having designed hundreds of websites over the past 20+ years, we’ve seen significant changes in website standards and best practices. However, having looked at a large number of Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) firm websites, we’ve noticed that many are not keeping pace with these changes. If your goal is to attract and engage new clients, you can’t underestimate the role your website can play in this process. Whether potential clients find your firm through referrals, networking or online searches, your website is often the first (or close second) impression they have of your firm.

Whenever we evaluate a website, there are five best practices that we consider first:

1. Website Load Speed/Performance
2. Mobile Responsiveness
3. SSL Security
4. Search Engine Optimized Content
5. A Clear and Engaging Homepage Message

Before you say, “Wait a minute! What about design or style,” yes, of course these factors are also important. However, if your visitors leave your site before they have a chance to notice the design or style, what good is it? The five factors we focus on are directly related to the initial experience visitors have on your site. We also know that these are some of the same critical factors that Google uses to rank your website in search results. Let’s look at each in more detail.

1. Website Load Speed/Performance

What do we measure?
How much time does it take to load your homepage in a visitor's browser on their computer or mobile device?

Why is this important?
Research shows that many visitors will leave your site if it does not load within a few short seconds. A load speed of less than 3 seconds is ideal. We also know that Google considers load speed a critical factor for ranking websites in search results. Your website performance is affected by many factors, including the speed of your server, the plugins installed on your site, and other technical issues. For AEC firms, one of the most common problems is high-resolution, full-screen project images, which can reduce site performance to a crawl.

What improvements can you make?
Photoshop and apps like Squash help you resize and compress images before uploading them to your website. Large, full-screen images should be no larger than 1500 pixels on the longest edge, and file sizes should be compressed to less than 200 KB.

2. Mobile Responsiveness

What do we measure?
Does your website layout properly adapt to different screen sizes on smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computer screens? 

Why is this important?
Nearly everyone has a mobile device these days. According to Statista.com mobile internet search traffic is outpacing that of personal computers and is forecast to continue growing. In 2017, Google recognized mobile responsiveness as a top criteria for search result rankings. More and more people work outside the office from their mobile devices. If your website is difficult to read or use on a mobile device, they are very likely to leave.

What improvements can you make?
Review your website on different sized devices. If you find it difficult to read or navigate, then it's time to consult your website designer to make some changes.

3. Secured Socket Layer (SSL) Security

What do we measure?
Does your website have a Secured Socket Layer (SSL) Certificate, which allows secure connections from a web server to a visitor’s web browser?

Why is this important?
Unsecured websites are more prone to hacking, malware, and other attacks. Starting in July 2018, Google began penalizing (i.e. lowering a site’s search ranking), and in some cases, blocking access to unsecured websites Imagine how potential clients might react to seeing this alert come up when they visit your website.

What improvements can you make?
Visit your site. Check the URL in the browser address bar. If your site is properly secured, the URL will start with https://. If you see http:// then your site is not secure and you need to contact your web designer to install an SSL Certificate.

4. Search Engine Optimized (SEO) Content 

What do we measure?
How well does your site rank for relevant search terms, compared to your competitors? This is your search engine ranking.

Why is this important?
Getting found online is critical for attracting new clients. When your website copy and content is properly optimized for search engine ranking, you appear higher in search results and get found more easily by potential new clients.

What improvements can you make?
Many factors can affect your search ranking, including the use of relevant keywords and properly written content on your site. Regularly update your site to continually improve your search ranking.

5. A Clear and Engaging Homepage Message

What do we measure?
Does your homepage answer the three important questions critical to engaging new visitors? Those questions are:

  • What does your firm do and who do you do it for?
  • What key "pain point" do you resolve?
  • What is the next step to move forward?

Why is this important?
Your website should introduce visitors to your firm and bring them to in-depth content that will answer their questions. If your homepage messaging does not convince them to go further, they will leave.

What you can do?
Take time to ensure that your homepage clearly and concisely answers The Grunt Test. (Could a caveman understand what you offer?) A clear message is your best opportunity to engage and convert new website visitors.

Ready to Take Action and Take Control of your Success?

It's important to have a website that connects and engages with prospective clients. The five essential factors we’ve covered are critical to your online marketing success! Following the best practices we’ve outlined, you’ll rank better in search, attract more traffic, and bring visitors deeper into your site.

Bryon McCartney
Chief Idea Guy & Managing Partner, Archmark Branding & Marketing
Bryon has been in the marketing and branding industry for more than 30 years and has worked with AEC firms for 20.  His past experience includes professional photographer and video producer where he completed assignments around the world.  When not working, Bryon enjoys golf, traveling, and building with Legos. If you’d like to know how your website measures up, get your own website evaluation, FREE for SMPS Arizona members by emailing Bryon at [email protected]. You’ll get a detailed review of your website and concrete steps you can take to improve it.

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Pop Up Best Practices Inspired by Beyonce

Employing pop ups on your company’s website is a great way to grow your email list, engage website visitors, and drive people to connect with your brand. While these list-growing gems have the potential to add value to your website and to your business, when done wrong, pop ups have the potential to annoy your website visitors and drive them away from your site.  In order to create pop ups that add value to your website visitors, you’ll have to be strategic and think of the opt-ins as a relationship building tool. Beyonce Knowles, affectionately known by her fans as Queen B, is a singer, dancer, actress and businesswoman whose success is largely driven by her ability to make a connection with her fans through her art.  Beyonce’s lyrics illuminate different aspects of relationship building that can be applied to companies looking to create a connection with their customers through opt-ins.

Here’s a look at pop up best practices inspired by Queen B herself.

  1. “I Don’t Know Much About Fighting, But I Will Fight For You”  - 1 + 1 Application: You’re Fighting For Your Users Time and Attention. Fight Wisely.

In a society inundated with social media and a constant flow of information, companies must compete for consumers attention. Getting someone to your website is a victory. But, you have to fight to keep them on your website. It’s important to create engaging, irresistible pop up offers that demonstrate why the consumer should take action. Fight wisely for your consumers attention by utilizing exit intent popups to grab their attention as they move to leave your website. It’s also a great idea to use visuals and keep your opt-in messaging short and sweet to immediately communicate the value to your customer.

  1. “I’ll be There For You If Somebody Hurts You” - ’03 Bonnie & Clyde Application: Communicate Why Consumers Should “Trust” You

Since pop ups are relationship building tools to connect with your customer, it’s important to communicate the value your company brings to “the relationship.” Just like Beyonce’s iconic Bonnie & Clyde lyrics, you can use your pop up’s message to communicate your company’s willingness to “pick up the pieces” of any negative past experiences your potential customer may have had. You can do this by communicating that people can opt-out of any unwanted email communication from your company and, by highlighting what makes you stand out from your competitors.

  1. Don’t Bore Me, Just Show Me - “Check On It” Application: No Boring Pop ups Allowed

The visual appearance of your pop up matters. You can create a wonderful offer, but if your pop up looks plain, boring or otherwise unexciting, people are less likely to pay attention to what you’re offering. Instead, leverage color, images, fonts, and other aspects of visual design to create a pop up that’s visually appealing.

  1. Some Call It Arrogant, I Call It Confident - “Ego” Application: You Have Something Great to Offer. So, Offer It!

Have you ever questioned whether to use pop ups on your site for fear of being spammy or annoying? The truth is, pop ups that offer no value to customers and that appeal consistently throughout someone’s website experience can be annoying. But, that doesn’t have to be the case. Pop ups that offer visitors something valuable, from a discount, to regular updates on your company’s newest products, can enhance website visitor’s experience and get them excited about continuing to connect with your brand. So go for it! Be confident in what you have to offer, and let people know how they can get involved. Pop ups with valuable offers will help you grow your email list and can be the starting point for a “long term relationship” with your customers.

Saundra Wilson 
Digital Marketing Director, Markitors
Saundra is a digital marketing director at Markitors, a Scottsdale-based digital marketing agency that specializes in small and medium businesses. She recently spent several days at MailChimp HQ in Atlanta as part of an exclusive Partner Program. She’s passionate about living her best life, self-care, writing, and empowering others. When she’s not busy helping clients connect with customers, you can find her watching Say Yes to the Dress and practicing her best hip hop moves. 

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Five Tips to Obtain Content from Technical Staff

How many times have you heard, “Don’t we already have that information in a different proposal?” or how about “Can’t we just dust off a response from another pursuit?” If you oversee gathering, creating and finalizing details of a proposal then you are much too familiar with these skin-crawling questions. But, have you ever thought of it from your technical staff’s perspective? For example, a Project Manager is likely right in the middle of managing several projects and juggling deadlines – now all of a sudden they need to stop what they are doing to provide you content they think they’ve given you a hundred times. Of course, he or she is going to respond with the suggestion of re-utilizing what they have given you before. On the other hand, a marketer’s job is to tailor the proposal for the client, come up with new and creative ways to deliver the right content and pull the most interesting information from the technical team as possible. So, how can you find some common ground? Here are five tips to leverage your technical staff for content creation.

1. Give them something to start with.
Let’s say you need content for how your team is going to approach the project. Pull a few pieces of standard information that you’ve used in the past to get them started. Then, take what you know from the RFP/RFQ and ask your team specific questions that will tie in to the approach. Here are a few example questions:

  • This project is going to be in an occupied building, how will our team handle noise, safety and delivery schedules? (Remind them to help come up with response that are unique to your company’s process)
  • How will we phase this project and why is that the best method?
  • How will we uniquely meet this project schedule?
  • Do we have anything that we offer for this specific pursuit that other companies won’t?
  • What’s the advantage to hiring our company given how we will approach the project?

Basically, get your technical staff thinking. Now that they’ve seen you do some legwork and are reading your prepped questions, they are thinking about the response on a deeper level. 

2. Interview your technical staff.
More than likely, your technical staff does not enjoy writing and it might take them a lot of effort to get their thoughts organized cohesively on paper. Offer to set up an hour meeting where you can record, type and listen to everything they say about the pursuit. Then, take that information and organize it how you see fit.

3. Offer to help.
Do they not have time to walk the site? Offer to go take photos of the site and report back. Are they slammed and keep missing deadlines? Offer to order lunch so they can have a productive, working lunch. Do early mornings work better for them? Come in early one day so you can meet before the day is lost. I’m not saying completely adjust your work-day for your technical staff but I am suggesting you help make the process easier. This will go a long way and only build a better relationship with your team.

4. Be in the know.
Take the opportunity to learn more about the technical pieces within your industry. Attend conferences and read articles to stay up-to-date with current trends. Ask your technical staff for book suggestions that might help you better understand their world a bit. Take your technical staff out to lunch and pick their brain a bit about what they do daily and how certain situations are handled. If your schedule allows for it, ask if you can shadow for a few hours one day and dive deep into their world. You’ll gain invaluable insight from your colleagues through these methods and earn a ton of respect along the way.

5. Befriend your technical staff!
The stronger relationship you have with your technical colleagues, the better. Also, the more you implement the above tips, the smoother the pursuit process will become and the easier it will get to engage your team. Don’t only go to lunch with them to learn, go to lunch to build rapport and team comradery. Set up a happy hour! Have fun together and get to know each other to gain respect for one another. It is always a good idea to engage with people in times when you are not just needing something from them.

These tips should help you gather the best information possible from your technical team, build relationships within your workplace and thus increase your hit ratio. Pursuing work is a team effort and everyone should pull together and do everything they can to submit a winning proposal. Are there any additional strategies you have found successful to gather great content from your team?  


Ashley Black
Marketing Coordinator, Ryan Companies US, Inc.
Ashley joined the AEC industry in January 2015 and became a member of SMPS shortly after. She is the current Blog Chair and a member on the hospitality committee. Ashley loves traveling, basketball, cooking and spending time with her niece, Halle.

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Quality Photography Importance & Insider Tips

We live in a photography era.  Every single day nearly two billion digital images are uploaded to the internet and that number is increasing by the minute. Number of monthly Instagram users as of June 2018?  Over one BILLION. Chances are today you've already viewed dozens of images. For many of you, that happened before you even left your house for work. Everyone is viewing and taking and posting photos. Are the marketing photos you are posting as good as they should be?

What great (or not so great) photos can say about your company's image:
Regardless of type of photos (architectural photos, corporate headshots or product photos), the quality of photography a business utilizes may reveal a lot about their values. Compare a company that uses poor quality photographs vs. another that uses high quality professional photographs. Could it be assumed that one is more likely to cut corners to save money, while another understands the value of quality and professionalism? Which firm would you choose to collaborate with?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Phoenix Zoo. Photo by David Schacher Photography LLC

The use of high quality professional photography in marketing has never been more important.  It could mean the difference between landing that big project and/or client, or not, and this should be taken into serious consideration when planning your photography budget. Do you really want to skimp on this?

Why hire a professional photographer?
The experience and knowledge that a professional can bring to a project is absolutely crucial. Most of this knowledge can only be learned from experience and lots of trial and error which a seasoned pro should have. Some important qualities a professional should possess are:

  • Correct/creative lighting techniques including knowledge of ambient and/or natural light. For example, on any exterior shoot before I arrive I've already mapped the location on my computer and know exactly where the sun will be at the optimal time of shooting.

  • Equipment Knowledge (especially important when equipment failure occurs). I could write an entire article on equipment failure, the importance of backup equipment and how experiences that I have had have saved entire location shoots.

  • Post Production (Processing) Experience is an absolute must have requirement when hiring a photographer. Take a look at their portfolio. How extensive is their body of work? Have they digitally removed clutter such as light switches, electric sockets and exit signs? Unfortunately, many photographers don't understand how to process a photo once it has been taken and the difference in the end product is night and day.



3900 Camelback Center. Photo by David Schacher Photography LLC

How to distinguish an amature from a professional and questions you can ask: 
What exactly is a "professional" photographer?  Generally speaking a "professional" photographer is someone who makes a living taking photos full time. Although there isn't a standard qualification which defines "professional" photographer, there are several key questions you can ask which will almost immediately separate the pros from the non pros:

  • Do you have a (current) business license? If the answer is no, beware. I'll bet your company has a business license.

  • Do you carry insurance? Can you provide a COI? Again, if the answer is no its time to find someone else. Photographers should carry both liability and equipment insurance coverage to protect not only themselves but their clients as well. Why risk it?

  • Do you charge/pay sales tax? If the answer is no, you are not dealing with a professional. Any photographer (or client) that is under the belief that sales tax isn't necessary, regardless of type of photography expertise/delivered media, is not only mistaken but can be in for a very expensive surprise.

  • Ask about their copyright policy. While this can vary, if a photographer doesn't provide a clearly written copyright contract, chances are you are probably dealing with an amateur.

  • What type of equipment do you use? This is a question I am seldom asked, but when I am it is usually because the client has specific requirements such as camera speed/resolution. You should be asking about the resolution your photographer will be able to deliver. With the rapid changes in technology today I am constantly updating my equipment. With that being said, simply having good equipment does not automatically equate to being a professional photographer.


Phoenix Children's Hospital. Photo by David Schacher Photography LLC

In the ever-increasing photography era that we live in, quality images have never been more important for driving potential customers to your brand. It is of paramount importance that your company stands out from the others. Quality photography will speak volumes about your identity whereas substandard photography can negatively affect a company's image.

David Schacher
Photographer - David Schacher Photography, LLC

David Schacher is a Phoenix, Arizona based commercial photographer and specializes in architectural/drone photography, corporate headshots, and product and event photography. Additionally David photographs the testing of military vehicles and weapons testing. His photos have been featured in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal and CNN.com and can be seen at www.davidschacher.com and on instagram

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6 Ways To Improve SEO Rankings In 6 Hours

SEO is hard, but there are some simple things that you can do to help improve your online presence. This article is about the simple things. Here are six ways that you can improve your SEO rankings in six hours.

1. Change Page Title Tags

Imagine you are turning in a paper to a professor. The title of your paper is what your professor will immediately evaluate to determine the contents of your paper.The same is true for websites. Each page on a site has a title, and Google is the professor who is grading your site. There’s not more of a lower hanging fruit in SEO than making sure that every page title tag is unique, accurately describes the content of your page, and targets a keyword that your potential customers are searching for.

Quick action item: go to your home page. Take a look the title that appears in your browser. Does it say “Home”? If so, change “Home” to “Your Product or Service” and you’ll immediately have more of a SEO optimized website.

2. Submit a Sitemap

Okay, another analogy. You’re on a roadtrip to Dunsmir, California. How will you get there? Instructions – Google Maps, GPS, or for some, Mapquest. Sitemaps are the directions you give to Google so that pages on your site can be discovered. Can Google discover content on your site without a sitemap? Sure, just like we can probably find our way to Dunsmir. It’s just more efficient for both Google and our backseat driver to have directions.

Quick action item: Go to Google Search Console. Create an account if you don’t already have one. Then, submit a sitemap to Search Console so Google can discover all the content on your site, including the new content you’ll be adding in the future.

3. Backlinks

Backlinks are the single most important SEO ranking factor. Backlinks are an incoming hyperlink from one website to your website. Google evaluates backlinks to help determine what your website is about, and how authoritative your website is on a given topic. The higher the quality of a backlink, and the higher relevance of backlink, the better. For example, our company typically ranks on the first page of Google for the term “digital marketing company.” If you type markitors.com into opensiteexplorer.com, you’ll see some of the backlinks we have from sites like mashable.com, adweek.com, and more. These are high quality backlinks that help us rank for our target search terms.

Quick action item: what website do you own, or what partners do you work with that could potentially link back to your website?

4. Page Speed

Google incorporates page speed into their ranking algorithm. Why? Because their job is to serve up the best resources, and if a page doesn’t load quickly, then people lose interest and leave the page. Most websites are built poorly, with large images not optimized for the web that significantly slow down their website speeds – and search engine rankings.

Quick action item: Go to Google Page Speed Insights. Type in your website. See what score is assigned to your website. Is your score in red? If so, cruise down to the recommendations and you’ll have actionable steps to take to improve your page speed. Most of the time, the easiest, quickest, and most impactful recommendations are in relation to reducing the file sizes of images.

5. Fix 404 Errors

People trust Google to serve up the best information in relation to their search query. What happens when Google serves up a result that leads to a page that no longer exists? Just like Meet The Fockers, that circle of trust is broken. Having broken pages on your website, technically known as 404 errors, is a great way to break the circle of trust with Google and lose your search engine rankings. This is especially common when launching a new website. The website developer creates something that looks great on the frontend, but ignores all of the backend urls that were previously driving search traffic to your site.

Quick action item: Cruise back over to Google Search Console. Take a look at the Crawl Errors reported on the dashboard. Are there any urls “not found?” If so, you’ll need to redirect incoming traffic from that link to a live page. These are technically known as 301 redirects. You can easily do this on WordPress by downloading a 301 redirect plugin and start inputting your 404 error links into the plugin, and redirecting to the right place. Warning: this activity is not fun, but totally necessary to keep the good graces with Google.

6. Improve Local Directory Info

If you’re a local business, the thing that matters to you most is getting visibility on search result pages for local searches. In other words, you want to appear on Google maps. The best way to do this is to ensure your business information – address, phone number, website – is consistent on all the local directories that exist on the internet. Google and Facebook are most important to have consistent, as well as your website. But after that, there’s a long list of other directories you can get listed on that will help improve your overall visibility.

Quick action item: Go to Moz.com/local. Type in your business name and zip code. See what score your business is assigned. If your score is pretty low, pay the $99 annually to make sure your score improves.

Hopefully after reading this you feel like this!


Brett Farmiloe
Founder & CEO, Markitors 

Brett Farmiloe is the CEO of a digital marketing company and advisor to an organizational leadership degree program. He’s in Old Town Scottsdale and frequently holds whiteboard sessions with anyone who will listen.

 

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The Best Recruiter You Aren’t Using Yet

What role does your website play in the business? Certainly it’s likely to be part of the sales team, PR team, marketing or even customer service team. But, what about having it help with finding great people to fill your open positions (a.k.a recruiting and hiring)?

And from the looks of it, hiring is a real challenge for the industry. A recent construction organization survey found found that 82 percent of its members believe the cost and availability of labor are their biggest issues. This has been a growing concern, in 2011 only 13 percent named labor costs as their biggest concern. Last month, they posted an article discussing construction job openings being near a post-recession high. Even the Wall Street Journal has mentioned that “construction is ground zero in the worker shortage.”

Where do you think one of the first searches job candidates do to find a new position? Yep, Google. Are your open positions showing up there? If not, your website needs some help. Here are three steps to filling positions faster using your website:

1) Evaluate the website from a potential employees’ view point

Chances are, up until now, the website has been focused on prospective clients. Now that you want to use your website as an effective recruiting tool, you’ll need to make a great first impression with candidates. Here’s a few items that typically need to be updated:

Home page - Include photos of people that actually work at the company on the home page. Potential candidates begin to evaluate the possible fit of the company even before they get to the “Careers” section.

About page - Besides the standard bio info and company awards, be sure to have information here that talks about your company culture and values. Not only is this great for potential employees, it can also help with attracting the right clients.

Careers page - This is a page you might need to add to the website. If it does already exist, ensure it has updated information on benefits and other perks of being an employee. Having real employee testimonials on this page can also aid in attracting the best-fit candidates.

An internal review is good, but don’t underestimate the value of direct feedback from candidates. If you’ve recently hired someone new, reach out and ask a few questions about how they found your website and their impression of it.

2) Give the website a technical checkup

Making a great first impression with your content is fantastic, as long as you get the chance to make the right first impression. Your next best employee might be trying to check out an open position with your company from their phone while they are waiting their turn at the dentist. Make sure he/she can get to the information they need by checking the technical performance of your website.

Does your site load on mobile in under three seconds? 
If your web page doesn’t load quickly, mobile users will find somewhere else to go – plus, mobile users are likely to be on slower connections, so every byte counts. To know exactly how quickly your page is loading on a 3G connection, use Google’s Test My Site tool. Another option to check site speed and insights on how to improve site speed is GTMetrix.

Is your site optimized for use on mobile devices?
Let’s say your page is loading quickly but the potential candidates can’t see or access the information. They probably aren’t sticking around to learn more. One way to understand the mobile experience of the website is to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

3) Optimize your job postings for Google

Wouldn’t it be great if people searching for the kind of jobs you’ve got open could find them easily? It’s now possible for you to structure the information about open positions on your website for ideal placement on Google search results. If you are using a third-party recruiting website like Indeed or LinkedIn, they are already using this approach. But, what if candidates could find the job posting directly on your website just as easily?

To have your jobs appear in Google like the screenshot above, add job posting structured data to your webpage. If you are already working with a search engine marketing professional, they are typically already familiar with this type of structured data (also called schema), and may be able to help you out. If you have a WordPress website, you can use a plugin like Jobs for WordPress to easily add open positions to your website and ensure they contain the structured data for appearing in Google’s Job Search Results.

Websites aren't just for marketing and sales. I think often as marketers, we tend to get caught up in how to best serve prospective clients online (a.k.a. lead generation). As it turns out, considering other audiences of the website presents an opportunity to increase the overall contribution of the website to the business and its potential return on investment.

Websites are unique in that they can improve many aspects of the business, not just those that are customer-related. Once you’ve added recruiting to the ways that the website is serving the business, you can identify other possible roles for your website by looking at your analytics and talking to other departments about the use of the website in common company workflows.

 

Brandy Lawson
CEO,Chief Online Officer & Speaker - FieryFX

Brandy Lawson founded FieryFX six years ago and is a Digital Marketer Certified Partner with more than two decades of experience in business and technology. She helps clients with simple, innovative automations, create an irresistible online presence and secure their digital assets to get them the RIGHT clients, more money and more freedom. In her free time she captains her boat on Lake Pleasant and co-hosts the Northwest Valley WordPress Meetup. She also loves ridiculous shoes and Jeopardy.

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Part 2 - Creating Context: Combining messaging and visuals to drive marketing success

As we discussed in Part 1: Hierarchy and Contrast: Understanding the foundation of graphic design achieve visual goals, effective imagery is not just pretty: It ties into messaging and drives business goals and results.

As a marketer in a world where visual communication is becoming increasingly important, you must be able to identify which images are pretty but pointless and which images are engaging, useful and will drive business goals.

We established in Part 1 that the quickest way to do this is to understand the foundation upon which design is built: hierarchy and contrast. In Part 2, we will go a step further and demonstrate how effective imagery and messaging unite to create context.

Why is context necessary?

We’ve all heard that content is king. It’s not. Content is just information. It’s conveying the who, what, when and where. Context is the real king. It answers the question, “Why do I care?” and invites people to experience the product or service in their own lives.

As an example, content is the information a company includes in a press release. Context is the article that comes out in the newspaper after a journalist has spent hours putting the information into perspective. As such, content is the image and the wording of the post. Context is what makes someone click the link.

Here’s an example:

We’ve all had that post with a “great graphic” that got a TON of likes and comments. We felt really good about it and that maybe, just maybe, we’ve found the secret sauce to cracking social media engagement.We were excited to see what would happen… except nothing did. We didn’t get any clicks or any calls. Just a bunch of thumbs up which made us feel like a big thumbs down.

Why did this happen? Content instead of context. You had an awesome image, but people didn’t bother to discover who created it or take the next step to learn about the product or service.  Here’s a fantastic post that illustrates what I’m talking about:

It’s funny and gets the point across very clearly.

However, of the 14 people that liked it, only 2 were not in the same industry as the poster (proofreaders, educators, etc.) and the three comments were all lamenting how frustrating affect/effect is to master. The post got people engaged and talking, which is great, but I bet it didn’t drive any revenue to the poster because it didn’t have any context. That is, it lacked two things:

  1. Branding
  2. Direction for what the viewer is supposed to do with the information presented.

Therefore, it got engagement from the wrong audience (i.e., nonrevenue generating) and probably didn’t drive any business goals. So, how do you overcome this? How do you create messaging and imagery that play nicely together and drive business goals? You got it: Context!

How do you create context?

There are four main principles you must keep in mind when creating context between messaging and imagery:

1. Proximity – How close or far away something is from something else tells you whether that something stands alone or is part of a group. This post does a good job with proximity by using the downward pointing emoji. Look at the difference between these two:

      

It’s a small thing, yet the difference in shape and color brings your eye up to the word  “Helpful,” which you may not have read in the first picture.

2. Similarity in our Part 1 discussion about shape, we said combining hard edges with round creates contrast between the shapes, while repetition of the same type of shape creates cohesion, or similarity. Just like contrast is the principle that determines what stands out, similarity is the principle that helps determine and establish patterns, groups, and brands.

        

3. Rule of Thirds The rule of thirds divides a photo into 9 equal rectangles with focal points at each of the four intersections. When we see a photo that is visually interesting, it almost always employs some variation of the rule of thirds. Our eyes are drawn to one of the four focal points because that is where the most visual interest lies. For more information click here.


Image by Prem Anandh

This principle is used in all layouts, not just photography, and is called composition.

  

A special emphasis is placed on the bottom right focal point – known as the power corner. Because we read left to right and end at the bottom of a page, it is the very last place we look. This is why many of the most effective CTA buttons are on the right of (or span) a page rather than in the center, and also why logos or web addresses are often placed at the bottom right of a page.

    
If you’d like to learn more about the Rule of Thirds, check out this fantastic article from PhotpgraphyMad.com

4. Continuation and Leading Lines – In the same way our eyes are naturally drawn to focal points, the power of leading lines cannot be overstated. Leading lines are exactly what they sound like: lines that lead the eye toward or away from a particular thing. They can be actual lines placed on the thirds of a photo or diagonal lines cutting across the page and they can change the focal point of a composition significantly. For instance, review the two images below:

    

Do you notice how you’re your natural inclination is to “look back at,” i.e., into the eyes of the model on the right, while you notice the AIRFRANCE branding more on the left? This is because the effective use of leading lines employs the principle of continuation to take the viewer’s eye through the photo or composition to land on (or point to) the predetermined spot the composer has chosen. In the above example, the use of the pink diagonal line and the little plane icon serve to make sure your eye continues on and up to AIRFRANCE, while the strong horizontal and vertical lines and the use of the upper left focal point makes you stop at the model’s eyes in the photo on the right.

Let’s revisit our original post example and compare it to one who effectively uses the above principles:

     

As you can see, combining all the information into a single image (proximity), adding repetitive color (similarity), and creating hierarchy through the rule of thirds and leading lines makes for a very clearly branded and engaging post that provides the necessary context for the viewer to understand what to do with the information presented and drives business goals.

This goes to show that by employing these rules, you can create beautiful imagery that is also purposeful. Understanding composition and creating context can help you move beyond content and take your business to the next level by increasing the quality of communication you have with your designer, increasing the effectiveness of your use of creator apps like Canva and Adobe Spark, and skyrocketing your marketing effectiveness to drive business goals.


Jennie Jerome
CEO, The Strategic Artisan

Jennie Jerome is widely recognized as an emerging business development leader dedicated to crafting memorable brand identity systems throughout the world. She has been the CEO of The Strategic Artisan for the past eight years and has been in her industry for 11 years. She currently serves as Adjunct Faculty for both the Business and Graphic Design departments at Scottsdale Community College and is an Associate Professor at the prestigious ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation. Jennie is a national level equestrian and has been to over 50 countries for work and play. As an Arizona native, she tries her best to be overseas during summer. 

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