"There are so many things about marketing over the internet that I just don't know about, it is daunting. And honestly, I just want to design and make jewelry so having to understand everything about everything is quite overwhelming. In addition to being queen of the house and taking care of the kid, as I know you understand!"

That's the email that started it all...and it's an email that a great portion of Search Engine Guide readers could have written themselves. Despite the wide variety of discussion forums, articles and seminars designed to help teach small business owners how to better market their businesses online, the reality is that taking on the task is still fairly daunting. Who do you trust? How much do you spend? What needs to hit the top of the priority list?

All of those are good questions, but they become even more important when you're already working more than full time running your actual business. I took a step toward trying to help answer those questions when I wrote the Zero Dollars, a Little Talent and Thirty Days series late last year, but time has shown me that there's need for more. It's one thing to sit down and focus on starting up a really unique new business when you've got a platform like Search Engine Guide to launch it from. It's a whole other thing to take a REAL, every day business and figure out what the best direction to take it is.

Through hundreds of emails with Search Engine Guide readers, I can see that there are plenty of businesses out there ready and willing to invest the money that it takes to improve their online marketing. The problem that most of them have is that they simply don't know how to get started. That's where Search Engine Guide comes in. Once again, it's time for us to share the ups and downs, the good decisions and the bad, and the every day realities that come with promoting a business online.

Meet Carrie D. Mader - Jewelry Artist

That quote above came from Carrie, a reader that found us via my 30 Day e-book. Carrie owns and operates an online store that sells high end, but affordable gemstone and bridal jewelry. As a full time work at home mom, Carrie could relate to my experiences during the Lactivist project. In our first few email exchanges, she talked about the HBO series Big Love and pointed out the benefit of adding another wife to the family. After all, any work at home mom has thought about having herself cloned at least once.

I asked Carrie for a bit of background about who she was and how she got started with her own online business. It turns out that Carrie got into this whole "run your own business" thing the way many of us do; she started having fun and all of a sudden life snowballed and she woke up a small business owner. Back in the day, Carried worked, as she puts it, for "...big ass consulting firms implementing big ass billing systems for big ass telecommunications clients." She hated her job, hated the stress and like many entrepreneurs, wanted and needed a change. So she quit her job and signed up for interior design school.

A multi-tasker even then, Carrie was planning her wedding while taking classes. Turns out she had a near impossible time finding high quality, affordable gemstone jewelry for her bridesmaids to wear at her wedding. So what did she do? She took a class, she bought some equipment and she did it herself! The pieces were so popular that a business was instantly born.

These days, a day in Carrie's life goes something like this...

"I get up at the crack of dawn with my husband who owns a restaurant in San Francisco who goes in at the crack of dawn. I never used to be a crack of dawn person, but now I am out of necessity. I get up, check emails, check in with my girlfriends, and then I get to working on jewelry for a bit until Ethan wakes up. I drop all of that and we snuggle, have breakfast, make lunch, talk, have a 'rock star dance party' (which can include mariachi music that he finds on the radio, who knew?) Then we head to preschool.

At home my real work includes trying to keep some semblance of a household. My husband does a much better job. But unfortunately he is busy running a restaurant and I must do the laundry and attempt to keep the house in some type of order. Notice I didn't say clean. There are PARTS of my house that are clean, just not the whole thing all at the same time. I don't know how anybody does that.

My real work also includes running a jewelry business which I do out of my home. I love making jewelry. I am driven by color, color is my passion in life. And I am completely fulfilled by designing a new piece of jewelry.

The biggest challenge with my business is being a one woman show. In my fantasy life I thought 'oh, I will spend all day making jewelry and then sell it, what could be more fun?' but in reality it is a whole hell of a lot more work than that. I am VP of shipping ops, Manager of inventory control, Director of marketing, Head of production, Senior Sales associate, Queen of web site development and She-Ra princess of power.

I didn't finish out my day, cause it is never really finished… During the day I don all my business hats except for the ones I forget and then wake up wearing in the middle of the night. Then I go back to preschool and pick up Ethan, we run to the grocery store and try to figure out what to have for dinner, get home, play, try to clean up so that neat freak husband doesn't go mental when he comes home, eat dinner, take a walk, put Ethan to sleep, make jewelry, make jewelry, make jewelry, pass out."

Based on my conversations with Search Engine Guide readers, it seems like a lot of at-home entrepreneurs live a similar life. So the very thought of trying to learn enough about things like search engine optimization, e-commerce usability, link building and content writing would be enough to scare any of them into inaction.

Carrie knew that she needed to work on her site to get it to rank organically in the engines, but she admits that the very idea seemed so daunting that it was easier to just buy keywords through Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing. As with most small business owners though, Carrie was starting to wonder about all the "free" traffic that she might be able to pick up if her site was actually optimized.

So the plan was to put together a team of consultants that specialized in exactly the things that Carrie's site needed. Each consultant would spend time via email, phone or instant messenger picking Carrie's brain so that they could come up with a plan of action for Carrie to follow to help drive more traffic to her site. It would be up to Carrie to put these suggestions in place, but she'd be free to pick our consultants brains on what she could do herself, who she might need to hire and what order of priority things would be given.

With that in mind, let's meet our first Real Small Business, Real Big Ideas team.

Matt Bailey - Site Logic Marketing
Matt will be serving as the team's point man on both web analytics and usability. Matt's going to go over the site with Carrie and work up a list of stumbling blocks that may be hurting her conversion rates. He's also going to help her get setup with some good analytics and will help her come up with a plan of what she needs to be looking for and what she can learn from the data.

Karri Flatla - snap! Virtual Assistance
Kari is going to be the team's content specialist. She'll do some brainstorming with Carrie on things like keyword research, the customer buying cycle, and how to build content that will really help sell her products. She'll also help Carrie decide what tone her copy should take and how she can best incorporate her "personality" without running into the ever-so-common "it's all about the seller" trap.

Lisa Stewart - Big Foot Web Marketing
Lisa is the team's queen of links. This girl has built links for everyone and their brother, even their brother's brother. As such, she's going to work with Carrie to figure out what types of incoming links are going to best serve her and to help come up with a plan for getting those links. She'll also be giving Carrie some tips on how to seek out new links over the long term.

Stoney deGeyter - Pole Position Web Marketing
Stoney will be working as an overall search engine optimization consultant. He'll work with Karri and Lisa on content and linking strategies when it comes to keywords and will also help Carrie and her development team figure out what they need to change about the site and its structure to make it more search friendly.

Of course there's also me, Jennifer Laycock. I'll be working with all of the team members and Carrie to try and get a plan of action both laid out and ready to implement. I'd also be working with Carrie on some other areas of marketing like blogging, viral marketing and online reputation management.

Tune back in on Wednesday when I'll post part two of the first week of this series. In that article, we'll cover the software that we'll be using (including several generous donations from Search Engine Guide readers) and will outline the primary challenges faced by Carrie and our team of crack consultants. I'd also note that as with the 30 day series, this one will be interactive. So, please feel free to bookmark the associated forum thread so that you can pop in with your own thoughts, suggestions and questions for Carrie and our team.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

July 17, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Real Small Business, Real Big Ideas - The Carrie D. Mader Project Part 1