What’s in a name?

Mountain City Services Logo

 

When I announced my new IT business would be known as Mountain City Services, LLC., there was immediate rebuttal from some close to me.  They were dismayed that I had decided on a name void of any reference to IT, technology, computers, networks, internet or anything with a plug.  Even a poorly conceived play on IT related words would be something. I chuckled and thought,  “yes, I do believe they think I just proved that I’m not very smart after all.

So, what’s in a name? For me, thinking about a name, was my journey thus far in life. Born and raised here in Altoona, A.A.H.S. graduate, floundering a bit post graduation.  At age 22, I had been living at home with barely a part-time job. I think that the state was in bankruptcy as I recall. I was bored, complacent and frustrated that life in Altoona appeared to be all there was for me.  The idea of surrendering to what hand you were dealt in life, at age 22, would have been the worst thing I could have done.

A good friend was moving to Ft. Lauderdale and offered to put me for up a few months free of charge if I helped him move.  Once employed, we could discuss room rent or I would be free to strike it out on my own. I had nothing to lose. I was packed and ready within hours.

We arrive just days before Hurricane Andrew would decimate Homestead Florida. It was decided we would stay in Sarasota until the storm passed. My buddy had spent his honeymoon there, it was familiar to him.  After we arrived, the beauty that is Sarasota, quickly changed his mind.  He bought a home there instead.

Much of time in Florida was spent developing my IT career in the software, offset and magazine publishing industry in Sarasota.

Fast forward 18+ years, A few trips home to lay to rest some family elders and spending time with family, friends and some thought and debate, I decided it was time for another change—It was time to return home.  Return to its beautiful mountains and splendid 4 seasons.  It has since become apparent that I also missed gardening.  It’s a labor of love that I enjoy deeply.

I made the official announcement.  Family and old friends were joyed to hear that I was moving home but were quickly compelled to ask WHY?, as in, “WHAT are you thinking?” [smack]

People I’ve met since being here often have a similar response when they learn I returned after 20 yrs in Florida.

So, what’s in a name? I left Altoona barely an adult. Now, returning 20 yrs later, mature and aware.  My perspective is acutely different in my 40’s.  A need to know more about its history and my own ancestry.

More often than not, Altoona is referred to as the RailRoad City. It’s an easy moniker to understand considering our well know local history and largest claim fame being the World Famous Horseshoe Curve.  Even people in Florida knew our city’s  name, one of general replies were “Yes, I recall reading the about the Horseshoe curve in Altoona“, or “I drove by Altoona once“.  A later reference being added. “Isn’t that the city that someone paid to legally change their name for a couple months or something?“.

The only group of people I found who actually had visited Altoona we’re the guys in a model railroading club I belonged to in Florida, RealRail.   I was the novelty.  I was actually FROM the World Famous Horseshoe Curve !!

So, what’s in a name I hired a contractor about a year after returning home.  I bought an old Victorian style house, researched its owners back to the 1890’s when it was first built.   The construction company used Mountain City in their name.   Mountain City… I wondered why?  I asked, the owner was unsure, he was second to the business name and could only state it was just what our city was known as.

Winters in FL were enjoyable and very much still a time to be outside.  Being home, I have ample time for research through the winter months here while locked inside.  To summarize my research, it simply seems to be a term used by the railroad in the later 1800’s.  We are a city in the mountains, at the base of Horseshoe Curve.  We were referred to as the Mountain City.

In 1887, Louis Black built the Mountain City Theatre, on the corner of 11th Ave, and 12th St.

In the early 1900’s The Mountain City Hebrew Reform Congregation commissioned a Moorish structure with onion domes and horseshoe-arched openings. It was later the First United Church of Christ, then by 1990, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church was located at the site on 1433 13th Ave.

Mountain City Brewery was a renaming of Union Brewery, built in 1880, with an address at 1419 4th Ave.

A 1910 reference to the Mountain City Trust Company, as well as the Mountain City Business College which occupied a floor of the Jaggard Building at 1508 11th Ave.

References are from: National Parks Service 1990 – Book , Railroad City – Four Historic Neighborhoods.

There were also baseball teams.  In 1884 the Altoona Unions, or Altoona Pride were local major league teams. In the 1890’s an amateur Baseball club was formed, known as the Mountain City Base Ball Club.

The baseball reference article cites the teams location as being “Altoona Mountain City“‘

So, what’s in a name?  I liked it, it felt like home after several years of flat Florida and its not so overdone like Railroad type labels.   Like my decision to launch my own company, it offered up some sense of pioneering spirit—also a sense of pride I was gaining as I learned more about our local history and that seemed to mirror the confidence being built as I fleshed out the details of my new endeavor.   The IT details seemed unimportant to the name.  Adequate slogans or tag lines on marketing materials would round out the description so people know the type of services I provide.

And, there it is.  What’s in my company nameA sense of pride for our local history, some family heritage in this small place known as Altoona Pennsylvania and a similar spirit embarking on a new adventure for me personally.

Being conventional isn’t always the right path.  My company name and my passion for technology are reflections of each other.   A sense of pride and spirit in my work that complement the pride and spirit I have for Altoona.

Some people still won’t get it, and that’s o.k..  If you’ve never left Altoona, you’ll never understand the choice one makes to return home.  Now you know what’s in my company name.

I want to promote my brand on social media and sell stuff online


Social media platforms are plentiful.  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Etsy, and Linked In are among the leaders.   There are several more to consider however, depending in what you’re marketing.

Many start with having an account and posting regularly.  If you’re using Facebook, you can create a Business Page specific for your business, while other platforms, like Instagram, Pinterest and Etsy are all great ways to sell products.  Its takes persistence and dedication along with a good guerrilla marketing plan to turn posts into $$.

Using great descriptive keywords in your posts are a great way to be included in search results.  Snapping of pic of your newest inventory item that is visually obvious to identity but has a bad or no caption, ie:  “These are brand new to our store” doesn’t offer much for the search feature to work with.

So, be descriptive.  “New Inventory! 40 hr handcrafted wax candles in 6 great scents, Vanilla, mocha, rainy forest, mango, earthy morning, and Breezy Afternoon”  That gives search index process several words to index for searches.

Unless you have a firm understanding of the various social platforms, stick with those you do know.  Start out small, target media platforms that lend itself the types of clients you want to attract.  Explore the less familiar platforms.  Reach out people posting their products and services, see if they can offer you sage advice on the platform.

Sometimes branding can be secondary to selling the product itself.  A modest site with some eCommerce can be bit costly where as an eBay post or store, yahoo storefront even amazon can offer you almost immediate presence and you pay a service fee for items sold.

In the absence of hiring a pro, sit down with some colleagues and friends and have brainstorming session with them.  Ask them questions about their online shopping habits.  Where do the ideas or impulses to buy come from?  Do they see items on FaceBook or Instagram and purchase from those?  Do they shop on eBay or amazon?  Do they have a WATCHED list on eBay, or a “wish list” on Amazon?

Service providers, where do you seek or gain new clients?  Word of mouth is likely the most common, secondly, platforms like Facebook can drop you your ad into a 10 mile radius of your business address.

Its important not to overlook traditional media either, Print, Radio and TV.  Most all of them are offering a combo ad schedule with the primary product and secondary online ad presence on their site, etc..

Social media can be an inexpensive way to begin to test market waters.   For some, it will be the only place they will need to advertise.  For many others, it will be a mix of traditional and digital marketing environments.

You can can read more about online advertising options here.

 

 

I want to do some online advertising

In the beginning, where to begin?  Let’s start with what is being sold. Products, services, are you local only, inside a radius, national, global?  There are several digital advertising platforms these days.

Both the local paper and social media are good places to start. Advertising can be inexpensive and with social media, some decent audience targeting can be applied.  I use a FaceBook Business Page with regular ads and  boosted posts to introduce myself to local business owners. While the main intent of my article posts (yes, you can call them blog posts too) are to share my knowledge and skill sets, I also hope that through reading my articles, local business owners are able to relate to my posts and my perspective on services I provide.  Providing them some initial level of confidence in my ability to assist them in their business needs, that makes them comfortable contacting me when they need some extra hands to assist them.

There are as many advertising choices at the national and global level.  There is something to meet every budget. From purchasing ad words to drive traffic to your site, to online advertising options through popular mass media ad outlets.  Even more still, high volume target marketing via global online advertising platforms that place your ads in several markets across the nation or the globe.

Understanding the different advertising media distribution channels and how they generate and charge for their services can be tricky.

I’m a local business serving the local community, so keeping it local is a good place so start. Targeted Facebook ads and boosted posts, newspaper and local media website banner ads are all good ways to introduce myself.

FaceBook Live video streams have seen a recent trend of interest to many as well.    There are a few good applications that have been developed that manage your social media presence.  once set up with account login details for each, will cross post and share items between your social media accounts.

And even if you don’t have an advertising budget, there are still a few free sites like Craigslist and PennWoods.Net that provide some free advertising options too.

Even though we sift through piles of spam, Email marketing can still work when set up properly.  You can read more about email marketing here.

I want to do some email marketing

Email, while perhaps not as difficult as finding the right mix of traditional (print/radio/tv) and online advertising, can be a wasted effort when not done correctly.

We all have email, and we all sift through it endlessly.  Microsoft called it right when they introduced CLUTTER to its Outlook application.

Some businesses readily abuse the “we will occasionally contact you with special offers and discounts” statement they make and next thing you know, you’re getting emails DAILY…

Its a quick way to anger people who are interested in your brand or product but who are not consumed by them either.  We’ve all clicked on a interesting Facebook post or an ad and signed up for free this or that, then unbeknownst to us, a barrage of emails follow.   Personally, I tag them as spam after a few days because unless you are delivering a daily newsletter, then your efforts should be “1”—one a week, one every other week, once a month, or once a quarter.

Poorly designed and sent bulk emails are easily tagged as spam by the receiving mail server and end up in a junk mail folder or worse, your email and/or domain end up on a spam blacklist.   Sending frequent emails can tag your domain on a grey list, when people start marking emails as spam, over time, the spam filters services compare marks and make updates to their grey lists and black lists.

There are key elements to the structure of an email that spam filters watch for.  The email is graded, only when it receives a passing grade, is it delivered.

There are several configurable options in spam filters.   Matching sender and reply to mail address, subject line and body content, a contact, address and phone number as well as a clear, concise method to remove themselves from future mailings, both in the email header and in the body itself. Web links in the email that are the same domain or sanctioned domain as the sender.  Emails and domains are checked again spam black, grey and white lists.

Much goes on behind the scenes that many business owners are simply not aware of.  Not unlike the war on search engine results accuracy, email filtering services have had to step up their game to protect businesses, their employees and systems from from viruses to offensive images and everything in between.

Sending BCC (blind carbon copy) emails out to 150 emails on your list isn’t a good way to send emails yourself.  Over time, emails like these are grey listed and spam filters will track them, their frequency and for some smarter filters, if they were reviewed or just trashed. Filters actively look to see if the email is to a BCC recipient, its a red flag and often, at minimum, places your email in a spam folder.

Properly configured and managed emailing lists can be a great way to communicate with a target audience of people who are genuinely interested in your products or services.

They yield higher open and conversion results.   For most businesses, emailing once a week is more than enough, I think one email every other week, twice monthly or monthly is even better if your business offering isn’t something that is forever changing.

Newsletters are the exception, as they are meant to deliver timely news as a rule.  Daily is fine if you’ve asked to receive the news daily.

There are plenty of great bulk mail services out there.  Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, Vertical Response are some quality vendors, just to name a few.  These bulk mail service mail houses send your emails for you if you have collected your email list honorably.

If you have the skills in-house, you can develop your own list management tool like, using free products like  phplist or openNewsletter.  As long as you craft your emails in a way that meets general spam filter specifications, a high open rate and conversion rate can be achieved.

There other services; email list cleaning services that you can send your existing list too, to have scrubbed, and verified accurate or not.  They can also do a one time “OPT IN mailing’ for you, asking your list officially join a well respected service provider like Mail Chimp.

Blind, unsolicited email marketing is not optimal and repeat mailings will lead to poor spam grades which drops your emails into spam folders.

For almost everyone, I recommend using a permission based OPT IN service like Mail Chimp.  It’s a great way to break through filters and into inboxes.

These are well respected OPT IN and double OPT IN services that have rigid standards for their lists.   You can’t just import a list of emails you collected from your email account and send emails to them, through these services. They expect their clients to send individual emails, promoting them to join the mailing lists by doing the “OPT IN” request process first.

In return for your diligence, these service providers guarantee you that your emails will end up in recipients the INBOX and not a spam folder.  The other benefit is that in the end, the business has collected a list of email accounts from people who have expressed a direct interest in your product or service.

You can create multiple lists for your customers to join. Maybe your customer only wants emails regarding handcrafted wax candles, and not hand-painted wine glasses.  Creating lists that closely match the ways you may categorize you products or services is good way to start off.  Also, make a list for the “Deal of the Month” or “Newly stocked Items”.

It may sound like overkill, and in some cases it may be, but if you can capture interest, and people are clicking these lists, its your own private captive, interested audience who you can do some quality, marketing too that will likely yield in some increased sales.

Happy Emailing !

What in the Online world am I doing?


These are all common requests made by business owners and managers—the devil is always in the details. For me, the most important part of offering these types of services is client education.

Unless I’m specifically told I don’t care, just do it, I prefer to educate clients along the way.  I’m happy if they want a better understanding, whether in just a general sense, or a more detailed understanding.  The conversation that follows is educational for both of us.

Few things in technology are as they were 5 yrs ago.  The online realm changes rapidly.  It’s only part of the process to develop a good marketing strategy.  When a client doesn’t understand the current technology, perceptions can turn bad.

After the service request is made, I like to start by defining what results are expected.   Its important to work backwards from the result because it ensures the proper path forward.  Its through this process we learn whether clients, have a current understanding of marketing, or develop interest and want to learn more.   In the end, a good approach is developed and solution provided.  The client and I are both pleased with the outcome.

Recently, when discussing tech needs with a client—after a few sentences, he would shut down. “Ok, overload, that’s enough, you can go, see you later.”  I’d laugh, I’m not offended.  Its a typical response, I’m verbose.  Very similar to “well, it hasn’t worked all morning, but since you’re here, it seems fine!

Sharing my knowledge and comprehension while producing results also serves to educate the clients a bit, it provides them a basic foundation of knowledge and they can do a bit more research if they like or at least have a bit of background on the technologies around the services they request.

In a few weeks, we are talking about those next steps.  For this particular client, while providing desktop and server maintenance and site updates—we’re also discussing how to verify data between the online store and their internal system.  We recently sent out their first email campaign and will be moving towards social media marketing.  We’re doing some quick holiday promotions and we’re also kicking around the best way to develop a meaningful, targeted mailing list that is a captive, interested  audience.

I’m happy to walk clients through these technologies and processes at their own pace and time.

Recently another  new client, had just previously spent some cash on a nice, new website, complete with SEO optimizations and possibly some local directory listings.   This type of site, I often refer to as online pamphlet sites.  It primarily exists to convey general details about a business;  store hours, location, phone and types of merchandise sold, and some photos of the store.  It’s not an e-commerce site.  Just a clean online presence for people on the internet who may be searching for more information about the store.

The store offers nationally available products. The merchandise is also a very common item in retail. Wal-Bob and the like, and thousands of stores online carry the same products.  So, the focus is to sell these items locally, letting people know about the brick and mortal storefront and that it’s conveniently located and offers great prices.

Post investment in the website, he hasn’t seen any increase in sales related activities.  No increase in phone calls or foot traffic at his local store. Worthless was the term used. Without knowing what services the company actually solicited, I could offer him that I felt they did provide a nice, clean website and that the business name, website and his FB business page all have a solid web presence in search result rankings.

All he knows today is that it’s holiday season and the advertising budget is gone without any increase in sales that he can attribute to the investment.

This is great example as to why some level of client education is important to me.  Perception is everything in life.   Expectation levels can be checked when there is some level of understanding of the the process or technology behind the service being provided.   The service provider missed the mark, not because they didn’t perhaps deliver what they sold my client, but rather because he’s not happy with end result.  Miscommunication likely resulted in a missed future opportunity.

My commitment to my clients is to be thoroughly detailed and verbose (some may say annoyingly so) and in return, you will have a level of understanding of the service and technology that will make you feel both comfortable and confident about proceeding in a certain direction with a reasonable expectations of the results.

I’ve written in a bit more detail—about 5 topics I touched upon above.

  1. I need a website.
  2. I want to do some online advertising.
  3. I need better search engine results.
  4. I want to do some email marketing.
  5. I want to promote my brand and sell stuff online.

 

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