Texas Self Storage Association has served its self-storage industry members since 1986.  Headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, TSSA is the leading expert in self storage in the state of Texas.  Whether you're an owner, operator, manager or employee,  TSSA's blog will provide you with the latest tips, advice and knowledge for running your self-storage business. 

You Got a Bad Online Review, Now What?

by Mallory Scott, TSSA

No matter how tight you run your (business) ship or how diligent your employees are about providing excellent customer service, it’s almost inevitable that you will receive at least one bad review. There are eight simple steps you can take to effectively handle a negative review.

1. Don't Panic

This one is paramount. While your gut instinct may be to freak out a little bit, try your best to remain cool, calm and collected.

2. Stay Positive

It can be challenging to not take negative comments personally, but keeping your attitude in check is key when dealing with bad reviews.

3. Do Your Homework First

Take some time to objectively analyze the bad review. If there was a problem with a service or process, investigate it to ensure your business processes are functioning properly. If the review was customer service-related , interview the employee involved to understand their recollection of the encounter. No matter what the subject matter of the review, make sure the entire picture is clear before submitting a response.

4. Respond—I Repeat...Respond...Always

You may be tempted to avoid confrontation, but the absolute best approach is to submit a professional response to let that person (and any future prospective customers) know that you genuinely care about your business and your customers.

5. Show Empathy

The tone of your response matters immensely in conveying a sense of compassion to the reviewer. If you find that there was an error made on your side, then a sincere apology is a good place to start, however; don’t accept responsibility for something that was not your fault.

6. Take the High Road

Don’t point blame or point out their faults (directly) in your response. Though the review may be one sided or not completely accurate, respond only with comments that will be productive for resolving the situation.

7. Offer to Have a Conversation

Ask the reviewer if they are open to having an offline discussion via phone or email. End your response with your first name or initials to let them know that you are a real person and that you are interested in listening to what they have to say.

8. Continue to Ask for Reviews

You might be discouraged after receiving a bad review, but keep your head up and continue asking your customers for reviews. As time goes on, any negative comments will eventually get overshadowed by good ones.

It all boils down to you simply showing up and responding in a positive and professional manner. You’ll always come out on top if you remember to sprinkle a little sugar on your conversations rather than vinegar—the wise words of my grandma have helped me and can also help you navigate those tough and sometimes uncomfortable situations like handling a negative review.

Have you effectively handled a bad review? How did you do it? Email marketing@txssa.org and tell us about your strategy. 


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You Got a Bad Review, Now What?

SEO Don'ts...First Count the Cost

by Christopher P. Baird


Being fully aware of the cost of any action, or inaction, will serve your overall Internet marketing strategy.

 

I have recently asked myself how often I have seen a book, video or even a seminar about what NOT to do on any particular subject. I know they are out there, but I couldn’t think of any that stuck out in my mind lately except, of course, the commercials that tell you don’t smoke, don’t drink and drive, don’t abuse animals or take the tag off your mattress.

I, and others, spend quite a bit of time telling people what they should do, but I thought the “what not to do” topic would be helpful to website owners simply because, sometimes you can be doing all the right things, but if you do just one thing wrong, you negate all your efforts and hard work. Related to websites, there are quite a few things that you should not do, and some of them are very subtle, but have significant long-term impacts. Even though there isn’t really a “never” or “always” rule for anything, it is my opinion that you, the website owner, should be fully aware of the cost of any action, or inaction, regarding the success of your website.

There are really two major don’ts I have seen over the last couple of years. I can say without a doubt, the website owner committing these errors was not aware of the long-term effects of actions.

Count the Cost

Do NOT link from your website to other websites unless you first count the cost. Does this sound stupid or just not important? It is subtle, I will give you that, but most people don’t put much value on their website links. Why should they? If we think of your website as your Internet equity, adding an external link passes at least a little bit of your equity to the beneficiary of that link. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but if you think of your website equity as a bucket, now think of links as straws carrying your equity in and out of the bucket. You guessed it, the links to your site are putting equity in and the links from your site are draining it out. A link to your website is, in simplistic form, a peer vote for the quality of your site, and a link out is the same from you to the site you link to.

I have been asked, by some of our clients in the past, to put a link from their website to another in a visible location as compensation. My question to them is, have you considered the potential cost other than displaying some underlined words on your website? Usually that question is followed by awkward silence and then by, “What do you mean?” I then explain that if you put a link on your website to another site where your potential customer can go to check out your competition, how many rentals do you think you may lose in a year? Even if it is just one or two in a year, the cost over a five-year period is substantial. Let me now ask, is there a gadget, review or peer relationship that you would consider worth giving $10,000? If so, good, put the link on your website, but at least now you know what it actually costs.

This is not to say, don’t ever link, but the simple strategy is to get links from good complimentary businesses with quality websites, and give links to the same type of websites. If you simply link to another site selling storage in your neighborhood, you could be losing rentals and that means losing money.

Look into Listings

Do NOT let other people claim your places, maps or other internet listings! This is another huge mistake many facility owners make. It sounds great, having someone manage a prominently placed listing to make sure you get everything you are entitled to from it. Sounds great, right? Well, let me put it to you another way. Let’s say that you have a great high-traffic advertisement which was given to you, and I came along and convinced you that I could do a better job managing that ad, then sent potential customers from your ad to my website instead of yours, and built my site’s equity instead of yours, and then sold potential leads from your ad back to you in some form or another. How does that sound? Crappy, right?

Well, for all practical purposes, that is exactly what happens to a great number of Google listings. There are also many similar listings you are entitled to as a business owner. You probably have Yelp, Merchant Circle, CitySearch, and another 30 or so maps, or directory listings that may not be pointing to your website. What if just one person a day sees your listing and goes somewhere other than your website to look for storage? Maybe it takes 500 people looking for storage to get one tenant but at 35 per day, you may be losing one rental every two weeks—that’s 104 rentals per year. How much is that worth?

I can tell you it is worth paying attention to. If I am 80% wrong on my stats and you only get 20 rentals in a year, isn’t it still worth paying attention to? I say a resounding YES! Now don’t get me wrong, if you have no intention of claiming the listing and keeping it updated yourself, having someone else do it and charge a fee seems reasonable to me. This is just another example of counting the cost. If you are fully aware of all costs and you are still willing to pay, I say go for it.

Well, there you have it, a couple of very important things you should NOT do to help continue to build equity in the Internet part of your business. Remember, in the Internet marketing strategy of today, there are no more silver bullet programs that get you what you want in the blink of an eye for a few dollars. I recommend you take inventory of what you are entitled to, claim it, optimize it, and use it to the best of your ability. If you don’t use what belongs to you, someone else will.

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SEO Don'ts

Innovative Thinking

by Clint Greenleaf, Greenleaf Book Group LLC

Many executives think that innovation is a complex process requiring deep thinking, expensive consultants and detailed approaches. In reality, it’s a lot simpler than that. While it can be complicated, at its core, it’s often as simple as thinking of better ways of doing the same old task. Let’s look at some simple ways that you can innovate in the self-storage industry. Ideas for innovation can come from four major areas—from your customers, your employees, your competition, or from outside your industry altogether.

Your Customers

Your customers are full of ideas. While some may not be feasible or cost effective, the desires of your customers can lead to great innovations for your business. There are a number of different ways to solicit ideas from your customers. For your local customers, you could do a customer appreciation event—keep it simple with burgers and hot dogs, and when they come, ask them how you’re doing and what other services they’d like to see. You can also send out a survey with invoices, via email, or when they come to your location. In some cases, it won’t take much to make them happy. In other cases, their requests might expose a new potential service area to expand your offerings. The trick is to fully listen to their ideas and look for trends. Turn off your defenses and graciously hear them out…there might be a gem of an idea in their requests. Your customers want to see you succeed—and there’s nothing like tapping into their pool of wisdom for help.

Your Employees

Your employees have innovative ideas— and it’s your job to unlock their brilliance. Balancing day-to-day tasks and big picture thinking seems complex, but there are some simple things you can do to help them innovate. When they ask questions or voice dissenting opinions, spend a few minutes to answer their questions or clarify your approach. You’ll either explain something they should know about the business, or you might find that you’re doing something ineffectively that can be improved upon. Listen for “It would be great if…” statements. They may complain about computers or software, or they might wish that your customers could have better access to their business units. Perhaps they’ll expose a latent issue that can be resolved to increase productivity, as long as you’re listening. Pay extra attention to new hires who are learning your systems and procedures. Their fresh eyes can identify clunky, “it’s always been this way” processes and they may be able to bring stronger systems to you from their past experience.

Your Competition

This is probably the easiest way to find innovative ideas: Look at what other facilities and operators are doing. But don’t just look at your competitor one town over—look all over the world to see how self-storage businesses are serving their customers. In researching this article, I found a treasure trove of interesting ideas from other companies that are offering tons of premium services like professional organizer services, online selling services and video monitoring—and charging for them, too. Innovation will not only help you compete for business; it will also help you grow your business by building new lines of income.

Outside Influences

When we first moved to Texas, we bought a home from Streetman Homes. About a week later, I got a really nice personalized letter from Randy Streetman, the CEO, thanking me for our business. It invited us to contact him directly with questions or comments and was personally signed on heavy stock paper. This simple gesture really made us feel connected to Streetman and proud to be a customer, and I realized that I wanted the customers at my company (Greenleaf Book Group) to feel the same way. For the last 10 years, I have been sending out similar letters to our clients when they sign a book deal with us. Most authors comment on how “innovative” we are to make personal contact by the CEO so early in the process. While it does allow me to connect with them in a non-traditional way, it is also just a great way to open the lines of communication. And while it’s quite effective, it’s certainly not my idea – but one that I was happy to make mine when I saw how well it worked. That’s one of the key approaches to innovation: You don’t have to think of everything on your own, but when you see something you like, you can customize it to your own business.

An Exercise in Innovation

A good exercise for you to consider with your business team is, “What could destroy our business tomorrow?” While it’s not exactly pleasant to think about, the question begins a process that exposes the dangers of your current business model. What key offer or development by your competition could render your business useless? Once you know what can destroy you, it’s much easier to protect against it. In the publishing business, we had heard for many years that eBooks were coming, but they kept stalling out for one reason or another. Then Amazon’s Kindle became mainstream and sales skyrocketed. Publishing, a business full of go-betweens, could quickly be streamlined—eliminating the need for many steps. Publishers who ran this exercise in the late ‘90s and in the early 2000s were ready for the change. They innovated their models to sell electronic product and were careful to make sure they bought the electronic rights to books they published. They also met the needs of their authors by giving them value they could not get by self-publishing alone, like editorial or marketing support. In other words, they saw a changing value proposition on the horizon and changed course accordingly versus sitting idly by only to watch their companies go under. Innovation isn’t always this obvious— or this simple. The point here is that even industries like publishing, which eluded change for so long, will eventually face a time when they must evolve. Sometimes innovation is necessary for survival; at other times, that’s not so much the case but it still drives growth. Making innovation a priority for your self-storage business now will help ensure that you are not only prepared for survival mode but are also driving towards a stronger, more valuable business tomorrow.


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Innovative Thinking

Stop Interruptions to Recurring Payments Due to Out-of-Date Card Information

Sponsored by CardConnect
April 21, 2021


Enabling a service on your merchant account to monitor customer payment accounts on a continual basis, to determine if the saved card data has become obsolete, will help you get in front of potential problems with expired cards and other causes of payment interruption. Some of the most common reasons that cause a customer's card data to become obsolete include:

  • A new card is issued due to suspected or confirmed fraud,
  • A replacement card is issued with an updated expiration date,
  • The account transitions to a different class or tier of card that requires a change in account number.

Whether you offer a subscription service or use recurring payment solutions for your business, you know how frustrating it can be to see transactions decline. Using an automatic updater to retrieve new card data can help your business to:

  • Update stored customer payment details with new data, without ever involving the cardholder
  • Stabilize and maintain cashflow by reducing late and declined payments
  • Reduce involuntary churn caused by expired cards or new account numbers
  • Reduce efforts and costs associated with merchant outreach due to outdated payment information
  • Improve customer satisfaction by avoiding interruptions in products and services as a result of nonpayment


Ready to take the headache out of cardholder updates?


Card Account Updater Is Your Solution

Card Account Updater is a feature embedded directly in CardPointe that automatically identifies Visa, Mastercard, and Discover cards that have been replaced with a new card number or expiration date and updates your stored customer payment details with the new card data – helping you avoid failed transactions or gaps in services provided to your customers.

When the Card Account Updater service receives updated card information from Visa, Mastercard, or Discover, stored customer payment information is automatically updated with the new details, and can be used for any individual payments made using the CardPointe Virtual Terminal, or used for any upcoming scheduled payments that are part of a billing plan.

Sponsored by:
CardConnect provides seamless credit card payment integration services for all businesses, protected by powerful security solutions. Click here to learn more. 


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Stop Interruptions to Recurring Payments Due to Out-of-Date Card Information

Turn Your Neighbors Into Loyal Customers
6 Tips to Earn the Business of Your Community

by Aytcha Katun-Williams

Do you know where your self-storage customers come from? Most of your customers are located within a seven mile radius of your facility. Given that the majority of your customers are local, you will need to know how to attract local businesses and residents to pick your local storage facility over your competition. Below are six quick tips on how to gain the business of the community that your facility is located within.

1. Get the Attention of Your Neighbors

Self-storage property owners and managers have been utilizing community involvement to create a working relationship within their neighborhoods for a long time. While charitable giving is not a new concept to the self-storage industry, let's look at some creative ways to take your community involvement to the next level:  

  • Many storage facilities allow a small percentage of their units to be used rent-free by local charities, churches, schools and alike. In return, these organizations spread the word by mentioning this charitable giving on their website, during their events, but most importantly by word of mouth.
  • A storage facility in North Bethesda, Maryland has each drive-up unit door painted with unique artwork. The facility owner hosts a community art day every few months where artists come and paint the storage doors with an art theme of community charitable events. The event is an open house, food and drinks are served while the residents and businesses of the area view the artwork created by local artists. Not only does the facility support local artists, but it also increases its curb appeal while bringing new traffic to the storage facility.
  • How about allowing your facility to be a collection point for a charity organization or for electronic recycling? You can opt to collect for your local Food Bank, the Salvation Army or another organization. Most charity organizations have containers that they deliver to your location and do pick-ups on request. They then advertise your facility through all their marketing channels as a drop of location. Electronic recycling companies will need you to allocate one 10’ x 10’ drive up storage unit but they will do the rest of the work to advertise your storage facility as a drop of location and will schedule pick ups at your request. All of these community activities bring further visibility and new customers to your facility.

2. Know Your Local Businesses

Some owners prefer business customers, as they stay longer and are less price conscious. And, all businesses from dental offices to insurance companies need storage. Understanding how and when each different business could utilize storage will allow you to cater your sales pitch to the needs of that business. Becoming a member of local business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce or the local Rotary Chapter is one good way to get to know local business owners. Attending the weekly meetings of these organizations and asking the right questions is crucial in finding out how you can help these businesses. What are all the different types of local businesses in your neighborhood and how can you serve them? It’s important to be able to think outside of the box. Your facility may be near multiple retirement communities with new residents who will need storage. Building that relationship with their management may mean steady and long-term storage rentals for your business.

3. Support Your Local Businesses

Giving back to your business community is one of the best word-of-mouth marketing methods. Offering storage units to local businesses at a discount or renting storage units to use as a workshop, selecting a local moving-supplies vendor for your point-of-sale items are all great ways of showing your support. Have you considered selling locally made ancillary products at your storage facility? You can sell scented car fresheners and other locally made products to show that you keep everything local.

4. Cross Marketing to the Next Level

Cross marketing is a tested and proven method for local marketing. Your local restaurants, insurance and real estate brokers and other businesses will gladly exchange business cards and flyers for cross promotion efforts. How about combining your next community event as a networking opportunity for the local businesses? Consider inviting several of your local businesses to be present at your next community event to network with the community and to advertise. Local business involvement will be key to a successful property-hosted event, with the incentives being self-evident.

5. Let Your Managers Get Creative

Leaving some lead room and allocating a small “local marketing” budget for the managers are key. When visiting local apartment buildings or retirement communities, take a basket of muffins or cookies. People love treats, and treats will help you to stand out above your empty-handed competition.

6. Grass Roots Marketing Via Social Media

Are you utilizing social media channels as a form of grass roots marketing? Social media is a free way to reach your target market and take your community relationships to the next level. Consider using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media channels to announce new local business tenants, to publicize your support of your local businesses or your next community event. Data shows that the ever-increasing number of social media users are checking their accounts several times a day. What better way to announce your support of local businesses, discounts to local residents and more! If you think about it, when working within our communities we go back to the basics. Whether it is a person or an organization, having their best interest in mind and finding creative ways to help results in their appreciation of what you have to offer, and brings new business.

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Turn Your Neighbors Into Customers

Winter Storm Provides Opportunity to Prove Grit, Help Tenants

by Holly Barr and Ginny Sutton, TSSA Staff
February 19, 2021


Texans are known for their grit. We pride ourselves on persevering through heat, drought, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes.

And now we’ll add “ice and snow super storms” to the list. This 2021 weather event will be noted in our state history and will surely earn a footnote in future farmer’s almanacs. Heck, this storm even warranted a name—Uri. We aren’t used to having names for our little ice events.

Usually, our ice storms are short lived and for most of us, staying off the roads while they are happening is the only impact we experience. Snow is even rarer, but this event didn’t provide the fluffy white stuff of our dreams. Our typical ice storms don’t threaten the power grid for the state or leave thousands without power through rolling blackouts or even for three to four days. They also don’t leave the multitudes without water or scrambling to deal with water leaks from burst pipes. Those are typically isolated incidents, and sometimes we know one or two people who experienced that. This time, it’s all around us, or we are in the midst of it ourselves.

Experts are predicting that this event will break records for insurance claims totals, surpassing claims from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Events like this have at least one silver lining—they give all of us the chance to see what we’re made of and how tough we can be when it’s needed. Numerous times during the past week as our power was off—sometimes for more than 8-hour stretches—I found myself thinking, “Can you imagine what it was like to experience this kind of weather back when houses weren’t insulated, and electricity wasn’t in the picture?” Anytime I felt a bit whiny or was cold I would picture pioneer mothers with their children hunkered down inside of timber homes with gaps between the logs and my pity party would quickly dissipate.

In addition to being tough, our members are givers. A few of you have shared with us what you’re doing to help those in your communities, but we know there are countless others who’ve helped, too. Send us your stories, so we can continue to share and encourage each other. We sent out an email to members earlier this week with resources available on our website, in case you didn’t see it, you can go to our home page and you’ll find our link to disaster resources.

So, what’s next?

  • Busted pipes
  • Flooding
  • Clean up
  • Food and water needs
  • Drinking water
  • Waiting for plumbers or insurance adjustors
  • Communal contempt for ERCOT (kidding, kind of)…

Maybe you’re wondering how you can help your tenants during this time? Some ideas…

  • Do you have an extra case or two of water in storage? Can you share with your tenants when they come to the facility?
  • Be prepared for people bringing in potentially wet items and have a script planned for how to tell them they need to dry them out before storing. Help your managers with resources.
  • Do you have a plumber in your network? Can you ask them for advice to give your tenants while they are waiting for repairs? Anything to prevent further damage?
  • Have numbers on hand for your city’s water and electric emergency numbers to share with tenants if they seem unsure.
  • Homeowners and renters are encouraged to reach out to FEMA online at www.disasterassistance.gov or 800-621-3362 if they are in need.
  • If you have the capacity, can you become an information hub for tenant needs and resources? Even a bulletin board outside? (“I have” or “I need” labels with notes and pens for posting, or business cards for contractors can be helpful.)
Did your office experience water damage? If you lost your printed leases or Goldbook©, reach out, as we will replace those lost TSSA resources. If TSSA can help at this time, please call or email and let us know what you need. We are still answering the phones at 888-259-4902 during regular business hours, or you can email us at info@txssa.org. We also continue to post helpful items to our website and social media platforms.

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Winter Storm Provides Opportunity to Prove Grit, Help Tenants

The 4 (or is it 7) P's of Marketing and Self Storage in 2021

by J.D. Blacklock, Blacklock Storage

 

Ringing in the New Year, the TSSA addresses the importance of marketing in an increasingly competitive industry. I am sure many of you are planning and executing your New Year’s resolutions. In addition to our personal health goals, such as trading in Christmas cookies for kale salads or putting up your quarantine slippers and finding your running shoes, it is important to plan for the health of your business. Implementing a strong marketing strategy was important in the past; it is now absolutely essential to your success.

Self-storage fundamentals have been negatively affected by the supply created by new development in recent years. The development pipeline dwindled this year and rental rates seem to be stabilizing in select markets. The rental rates, in most markets, are still low considering current construction costs. Although the industry seems to be on an upward trend, the amount of publicity storage has received may make the next wave of development even greater than ever before. Barriers to entry into self-storage are lower now with the growth of third-party management services and availability of institutional capital.

Elliot Management Corporation, a large hedge fund, recently purchased a significant portion of Public Storage’s stock. In a letter from Elliot to the Public Storage board, they mention, “By underinvesting in new stores, existing stores, store-level employees, innovation and customers, the Company has failed to capitalize on the considerable firstmover advantage, leaving its shareholders to pay the price of that opportunity cost.” This is a sign that competition will be increasing in years to come as the REITs battle for market share. Many new entrants to the self-storage arena believe that operations and marketing are lacking at existing stores, thus creating opportunities for innovative marketing plans to be implemented.

As a marketing undergraduate, I learned the importance of the “4 P’s Marketing Model”: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. If you take the P’s a step further, you could focus on People, Process and Physical environment. Customer service, safety and a clean retail environment are serious differentiators. The full marketing model cannot be explored in depth today but may serve as a starting point. This magazine issue will go into more specific marketing strategies such as social media marketing, Search Engine Optimization, etc. I encourage you to reach out to other operators, vendors and contributors to follow up on specific marketing plans.


Product:

Self storage is primarily a needs-based business. Our customers need safe, convenient, secure storage and FAST!


Price:

Price is only as good as your value offering in the market. Market rates can vary wildly between asset types and how the customer perceives your property. Do you know your market?


Place:

Location, Location, Location! Some firms have the best locations and brand awareness in the business, yet they are underperforming in relation to their peers. This applies to physical location, positioning of online presence and brand awareness in the community. A great location with little marketing doesn’t cut it anymore.


Promotion:

Do you promote your brand locally? Do your representatives give you a positive image and participate in the community? Do you have a strong, positive online presence?


People:

Are your people excellent at sales? Do your people create a clean and safe environment?


Process:

Do you have a concise management and marketing process that is followed? Do your competitors seem more organized or professional than you?


Physical Environment:

Does your store feel more like an industrial yard or more like a retail environment?

COVID-19 changed buying practices in general, and specifically, the rental process. Tweaking your strategy to conform to new business norms and starting a marketing plan will take any business owner a long way. Small things, done consistently, add up to big things in the long run.


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The 4 (or is it 7) P's of Marketing and Self-Storage in 2021

Top 10 Self-Storage Social Media Must Dos

by Dan Manco, Live Oak Consulting

1. Make sure your business’ digital marketing foundation is solid with an SEO-friendly website, Google My Business claimed, and one to two social media platforms being used (Facebook + one other).

2. Align your social media marketing with your overall marketing and business goals.

3. Integrate your marketing messaging and initiatives into your social media marketing.

4. Create and use social media content that is relevant and useful for your target audiences.

5. Don’t overcommit. Be realistic about resources and methodical about your effort.

6. Target groups by affinity, location, and group membership on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

7. Don’t be overly “salesy” with social media marketing and posts. A good rule of thumb is that at least 66% to 75% if not more of your posts should be valuable, “non-salesy” content. The remaining 25% to 33% can be more direct sales focused.

8. Use the launch, test, measure, optimize, test, measure, optimize, repeat approach for your social media marketing initiatives.

9. Use Master Content Documents and Content Calendars for effective project management and ongoing campaign optimization.

10. Jump in and get started if you haven’t. If you already have a robust social media marketing effort, step back, question everything and challenge each marketing initiative with the following question: “How is Campaign X building our business?”

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Top 10 Self-Storage Social Media Must-Dos

Marketing Alphabet Soup

by Jennifer Jones, JKJ Marketing

 

When it comes to marketing, it can sometimes feel as if you are throwing money into a black hole with no idea what any of it means, where it’s going or what kind of return you’re going to get. So here is the quick and dirty of what all of those acronyms mean and how it affects your business.

SEO

  • Search engine optimization is the key to ranking in search. There are many strategies out there as to how to raise your rank and what is realistic. It boils down to the specific need for each facility, but this must be a long-term strategy as it takes time to move this needle and there are a lot of moving parts and types of optimizations that can help a website with SEO. The different types of SEO are local SEO, on-page optimization, off-page optimization and technical SEO; all of these are important for a successful SEO campaign, and depending on your website, you may need to focus on one more than others.

  •  Local SEO: When a potential customer searches for “self storage near me,” you want to make sure your location pops up at the top of the local map, and this is where local SEO comes into play. Local SEO consists of making sure Google knows about your business, services and location through Google My Business so it can connect you to potential customers in your area.

  • On-page optimization: Having a good website with correct page names, image alt text, keyword research, updating your content (a keyword-based blog helps with this), not having duplicate content and overall schema is key to improving your ranking. Remember that not all keywords are created equal. You need to know which ones will be effective for your business.

  • Off-page optimization: Getting backlinks from websites that are relevant to your business is the core of off-page optimization and one of the most vital parts of SEO since this is how Google knows if a website is relevant. The key to this is the relevance of the website to your business and industry as well as the way they are linking to you (“follow” or “nofollow”). There are many different strategies for getting backlinks to your website and many of these involve creating content.

  • Technical optimization: Technical optimization consists of having clean code on your website and making sure it is setup correctly so Google can understand the code, determine what you are serving to your visitors, and understand how it all links together. This includes header structure, proper redirect implementations, internal linking, schema and canonicalizations, among many other things.

PPC

If your facility is new to the area or your SEO is not where it needs to be, PPC (pay per click) campaigns can help your business get in front of people who are searching for self storage. You set a budget, monitor the campaign and optimize as you get data. PPC isn’t something you can just set and forget; you need to monitor your campaigns to make sure you are reaching the right people and keep optimizing so your cost per lead can decrease as you make changes. One of the most important parts for PPC success is correctly setting up conversion tracking, which seems complicated for people who aren’t very tech savvy.

SM

There are many different social media platforms: LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Snapchat are the main channels. Knowing your audience and knowing these platforms is critical to success here. If your community is primarily older, Snapchat is probably not your best bet for reaching them. However, if your facility is in a college town, it might be the perfect place. Depending on your goals for social media, you may simply want to focus on brand awareness to get more “likes” or “followers.” You may want to measure engagement with your audience or you may want your audience to end up at your website.

ROI

Whatever your goal, you want to make sure that what you are spending your time on is netting what you want out of it (return on investment). Paying attention to what you want, what you’re actually getting, what is working (and what isn’t) is important to measuring your effectiveness. Whether it comes to SEO, PPC, SM or ROI, you still want to focus on the big five: revenue, cost, efficiency, differentiation and customer satisfaction.

 

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Marketing Alphabet Soup: SEO, PPC, SM

Creating a Knockout Website

Creating a Robust Website Means Asking Tough Questions

by Kevin Romo-Leon

 

The perfect website does not exist. Designs voted as pretty don't cut it and optimized SEO is quickly losing momentum. A marketing professional cannot personally declare a great website. Nor can the expert promise specific results. As frustrating as these (learned) truths may seem, your website remains your most powerful marketing tool.  

Website opportunities are a responsibility. Take initiative to ask questions, and a lot of them! Your best first question, "How will this make me money?" Don't settle for indirect responses. If it doesn't make sense, demand a better answer. 

Marketing is about connecting the customer to your product (nothing different from what you're used to). With the help of a web developer, the digital world can accelerate these connections. Your site's final product mirrors your leadership. Ask questions that match your business goals. To support your authority, we've crafted the following strategy. 

QUESTION FUNDAMENTALS

Any question you ask falls within two categories:

1.  Easy to answer
2.  Hard to answer

A quick Google search for, "What questions should I ask my web developer?" produces a healthy set of results. Common lists include cost, timeline, hosting location, management access and design features all important discussion topics. Although relevant to website production, these suggestions don't tell you how to gain more customers. Easy-to-answer questions often reflect their limited impact on sales revenue.

Questions that are hard to answer expand your product's potential. These questions push creative limits, challenge strong beliefs and set higher standards. Because of their nature to make us think really, really hard, the best solutions are rarely achieved.

The ego gives up before patience and persistence can fully pay off. The truth is left unrevealed and we settle for answers that sound good.

Tough questions require a willingness to explore the unknown. These learning curves don't have to be extensive, but they must be purposeful. One step back, two steps forward. Learn more about the decisions you have to make. It's not necessary to attain expert status (that's why we hire resources) but knowing enough to approve (with confidence) well-suited ideas is worth the results at stake. 

FEARLESS QUESTIONS

Embrace the questions "How are you making me money?" and "This thing that you are building, how much money will it make me?"

We've been taught to judge value based on resumes, references and explanations of skill sets. Past experiences help move the hiring process along but are not reliable for leveraging current business goals. A worthy professional can easily relate their work to the bottom line. Success is best packaged with honesty and accountability with no hard feelings attached. Your business relies on cash flow, which relies on valuable work, which relies on professionals who care about making

PERSEVERE THROUGH THE PROCESS

Practice patience. The questions most people give up on are the same ones which will yield a higher return on investment.

So ask your web developer the hard questions.

  • Why do users respond to this design?
  • How does this process connect the product to the consumer?
  • Does this function convert traffic into paying customers?

Also important to consider are actions that unintentionally ‘waste' resources. The developer's creative mind can quickly deviate from adding perceived value to your website. Be aware of ‘cool' ideas that lose relevance.

When intentions are disconnected, simply remind your expert of your business goals. Ask these questions to ensure the quality of your investment:

  • What does this do?
  • Why is it important?

Their answers should be an interpretation of how to gain one more customer. If not, the effort will be a better fit elsewhere.

TIMELY QUESTIONS

The decision process starts before meeting with your web developer. It begins with you and a focused energy. Your laptop, a notebook and even a cup of coffee are invited, but anyone who will try to sell their ideas is strictly prohibited. This time to yourself is sacred. It is a time of reflection on what really matters to your business. Ask questions that clarify your entire web- site strategy (going forward):

  • Why is my facility the best in the area?
  • Why would the consumer choose my competitor?
  • Why will they call me?
  • Why will they reserve a unit?
  • Why don't they move in?

Now that objectives are clear, an effective action plan can be brainstormed. This is where you trust

another professional's technical skills. A meeting with your web developer extends the decision process by finding a balance in workflow. Sharing business emotions, understanding logistics and planning for scalability are rarely straightforward conversations. Lead by asking them questions that assume the growth of your facility:

  • How can my design and marketing teams collaborate with you?
  • What user conversions are the highest priority?
  • What wins can we celebrate?

Hard questions require adjusted expectations. Be prepared for ideas to be challenged and don't anticipate perfect answers.  It's all part of the process. A mutual respect for professional abilities will achieve higher levels of work.  Practice patience. The questions most people give up on are the same ones which will yield a higher return on investment.

Better website interactions reward the effort of establishing a partnership that shares a common vision.  After the completion of all agreed web projects, a shared responsibility exists. Questions you and your developer should be able to answer:

  • Which website feature is converting the most customers?
  • What can improve the user experience?
  • What data can help make smarter marketing decisions?

Working with your web developer is a revolving process.  It has no definitive stopping point. Making progress relies on continual self-reflection, discussion and analysis—all of which you control.

QUESTION MISCONCEPTIONS

Mostly because of distractions and everyday stresses, we opt to avoid questions that complicate things.

However, marketing opportunities are too important for a passive attitude. Questions for your web developer are worth thorough explanation. As a favor to your website investment, do not be impressed by their immediate responses.

  • Quick answers DO NOT prove credibility.
  • Short answers DO NOT save time.
  • Familiar answers DO NOT satisfy concerns.

Submitting to answers that sound good is very tempting. Out of the need to make decisions and move the day along, not every answer can be critically addressed.  But when something doesn't quite resonate, explore further by asking different sets of questions. Everyone has it wrong—there really is such a thing as a ‘bad' question.  It's the one you fail to ask.

DAILY QUESTIONS

My favorite question is, "Why?" "Why this way?" "Why not that way?" "Why is this happening?" "Why does it matter?" "Why is it relevant?" Curiosity is the world of opportunity. The moment we stop asking "why" will be obvious. The websites we design will look boring, bounce rates will surge and web reservations will be negatively affected. These digital marketing fears keep our specialists asking, "Why?!"

COLLECTION OF DATA

You and/or your web team should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is the data telling us?
  • What can we learn from these numbers?
  • What actions can be better measured?

The emotional labor of answering these questions is a small investment. Although it creates a short delay in work production, expanding our comfort zone is insightful. We discover untapped potential and find a new appreciation for our work.  We begin to see how minor adjustments impact the marketing ecosystem as a whole. A website's true power is revealed with even harder questions:

  • What can we integrate?
  • What can we automate?
  • Where can we spend more to make more?

Responding with, "I don't know," is perfectly acceptable. For us, it's an honest response that is highly respected. The right answer must prove its validity over time. With this awareness, we make better use of our day mapping the lessons we’ve learned. We prepare ourselves for big changes in technology and consumer behavior. We build for growth.

Online marketing promotions or web-only pricing strategies are not sustainable business decisions. More responsibly, build a website consumers actually care about. Create a product that has an emotional effect. Customize every detail to satisfy their digital shopping habits.

Start by declaring what your business stands for and find a developer who shares those principles. Together, as marketing partners, figure out the best way to connect the consumer with your product. Asking the hard questions sets a new project standard. A great website is born when your web developer takes the initiative to ask, "What is a customer worth to you?"

 

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Creating a Knockout Website

Know Your Competition

You May Be Your #1 Competitor

by Donald Jones, Donald Jones Consulting

 

One evening in January, there was a meeting in one of our Central Texas communities. The residents came in numbers to share their concerns regarding a new self-storage development being considered through the city’s planning and zoning committee.  During the course of two hours it became evident the public knew nothing about the industry or the strides the industry has made to be more appealing to their community.  Everything they said related to what they had seen in the past and the term “not in my backyard” became the mantra as they attempted to move the development elsewhere.

There is no way we can blame the residents of this community for not really knowing why a developer would want to enter the market because they are not informed. However, how often do we ask our employees to give us fairly simple information as it relates to their home market and they do not have an answer? The developers who are coming into local markets know the competition very well and the reason new developers are coming is because they firmly believe they can offer a better product and better service.

But, is it true?

COMPETITION ANALYSIS

As we evaluate our own properties, how do we match up against the competitors in a given market? Who is responsible for gathering specific information, and who is responsible for managing the information when it is obtained?  While these answers are generally determined by owners or management company staff, frequently the task is filtered down to the staff at the specific location.

For years, the industry asked property staff to do competition studies that are essentially an exercise in price shopping. Yet, is price really the true measure of the competition? Upon replacing a management company recently, I had an opportunity to interview the two remaining employees regarding their jobs. I asked both a very simple question, “Who is your #1 competitor?” Both answered the question exactly the same, both were wrong, and they were replaced.

This was not a power move for the property, it was necessary because the employees didn’t have a clue that they themselves are their #1 competition. They came to believe that no matter what they did, they could not overcome the prices of their competitor. They were so consumed with the pricing they had been tracking for years (which is much lower than their own), that they believed they could not compete. They were in fact beat, but not by their competition. They were beaten by themselves for not knowing the facts.

We have executed competition analysis in more than 30 states for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is to gather accurate data that allows us to make good decisions. Without solid information it is difficult to make good business decisions. When we do these studies, pricing only occupies one small portion of the information gathered. All other details about a property are critical. And when left unmeasured, the gauge used to measure one’s position in the market can become skewed.

COMPETITIVE CATEGORIES

Consider using some of these categories when obtaining information and see if it makes a difference in the quality of your analysis: property information, marketing sources, rates by product type, hours of operation and access, amenities, facility rating, construction and special notes.

Property information does not just include an address, but how customers communicate with the property and who they communicate with. During a recent visit to a property, I asked the manager for pricing. His reply, “Our rates are online.” My retort, “Would you like me to leave and check the rates online?” Initially baffled by the statement, he took note. When you shop the competition, how does the manager respond during the visit? Friendly and inviting, or put off and dismissive? Clean and in uniform, or sloppy and unkempt?  Are they instructive and reassuring in teaching a potential tenant about self storage, or presumptive that the visitor knows the business already?

Marketing sources are widespread in the industry. There are many vendors who offer tools to assist in lease-up, rate management, software, etc. When properties are researched, are competitors using the same search engine aggregator? What variability exists between competitive websites—are some sites more powerful than others? When researching pins on mapping programs is the information accurate? When considering who has the best Internet presence, what conclusions can you draw? How a property markets itself will affect their potential draw.  How does the subject property compare?

Rates by product type are an extremely important metric.  In the example earlier about the employees who were released, their competitor was a Class C facility with no climate control, while the employees were managing a Class A facility with four different product types. When obtaining rates, gather information that is relevant. If a facility does not offer parking, there is no need to obtain pricing for that product type. Get the rates that matter most for the decisions you are trying to make.

Also, consider the ever-increasing amount of admin fees and insurance requirements placed upon tenants. Are these done categorically through institutional players, or are these locally- owned properties that have some level of flexibility? Will the competition require tenants to purchase locks on site or can they bring their own? What specials are being offered and are they necessary in the market or the subject property?

Hours and access can vary with every property. During some studies in a specific market, we learned that every storage property offered gate access only until 7 p.m. The reason was their fear of theft after 7 p.m. Instead of the market working on security improvements, they reduced customer access and convenience. When evaluating properties, are they accessible both via human communication as well as physical access?

Amenities are the aspects of a self-storage facility that will appease the tenants with an effort to make their rental experience more convenient and more secure. This list could include items such as: resident managers, kiosks, electronic gate access, enhanced lighting, storage carts, online payment options, cylinder lock security, elevators, insurance, truck rentals or moving supplies. Staff can inquire about other specific items like multi-unit discounts, or 24-hour access for special occasions. Understanding the amenities offered by the competition will allow one to understand more clearly what changes might be required, or it may just be a matter of simply being aware.

Facility rating is a subjective item but it includes things that are intangible. What is the appearance of the competitor? What is the ingress/egress?  Are signs crisp and clean, or lackluster and tattered?  Is the location highly visible, or on a back road with low visibility? How was the management? Attentive and helpful or barely helpful? Is the office fresh, clean and roomy, or is it cramped with the management lifestyle (food, pets, etc…) and the corresponding sights and smells?

Construction is a way to determine age of a facility and the true comparative value to other self-storage facilities in a trade zone: steel construction vs. block construction; heavy outside swing doors vs. light gauge roll up doors; concrete drives vs. gravel paving; quality lighting vs. limited lighting; and fencing that appears secure vs. fencing that can easily be breached.

Special notes represent things that weren’t specifically asked for but need to be noted. This could include various specials being offered. This might include a comment about new construction or how the mystery shopper felt during the visit. Would he/she have rented on the spot because of the great experience, or were they in a rush to move to the next facility?

When assignments are given to monitor the competition, it needs to be understood that rates have value, but they are only a small part of the overall competitive value. There have been many instances where a self-storage competitor is within a mile or two of a subject property, but they have ZERO competitive influence because the shopped property was just flat pathetic and the experience was miserable. If only rates are obtained, one might get a $50 price for a 10 x 10 non-climate storage unit compared to the $85 price that a quality property is charging. An uninformed owner might consider reducing rates.

There is a practice between various institutional players to obtain rates on a monthly basis, or in some cases, on a weekly basis. After having shopped storage facilities for 23 years, I’ve learned that rates just don’t move that much for the majority of the industry. Performing a quality rate analysis on a quarterly basis is more than sufficient and performing a quality competition analysis, including property visits on a bi-annual basis, is reasonable. However, always consider seasonal influences (e.g. rates increasing prior to summer).

After all data is gathered, then there is real value in sitting down with staff, district managers and owners to discuss what to do with that data. How will a facility be managed in the future? What plan can be written for the next six months to train the onsite management to improve the quality of the facility and to improve the customer experience? What items are tangible and can be seen and felt by future tenants?

RENT WHAT YOU HAVE

When all is said and done, there is a phrase that rings true with every storage property: “Rent what you have, not what you wish you had.”

If a property only has non-climate storage, then embrace it and make it the best non-climate property in the market. If a property only has small units available to rent, then enhance the marketing on those small units. If the property only has a unit with a swing door and the latch is very difficult to close, then fix it and make the experience better for future tenants.

The manager of a given property should be committed to the objective of leasing up the property and their mind set should be geared accordingly. Rather than having a three-page list of storage units on the desk, they should be prepared with a very short list of five to eight storage units that are absolutely perfect for a prospective tenant. If they concentrate on renting one or two of those in a given day, they will do so.

Understanding the competition is a tool that is used to make better business decisions. The assignments to gather information should be specific. We need to understand the differences in the properties and the effectiveness of their onsite personnel. Onsite managers need to see how their counterparts are treating prospective tenants and begin to apply best practices.

Prospective tenants do not have brand loyalty when it comes to renting storage. They make decisions based on personal experience and by feeling comfortable with the management and the processes of a given storage facility. Make business decisions and hire personnel prospective tenants will appreciate.

YOU MATTER

Our very last point, there is one thing that YOUR facility has that NO other self-storage facility has in your market: YOU. When all is said and done, YOU are the difference, so make the difference.

Donald Jones established his consulting service in 2004 concentrating on property management, feasibility studies, acquisitions and development. With 24 years experience, he is a top 100 operator five years in a row.

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Know Your Competition

How to Beat Google at Its Own Game

by James Appleton, MiniCo Insurance Agency

Google consistently moves the goalpost on us all and it’s hard to stay ahead of the game. We’ll briefly delve into some recent changes and what you can do to improve your local presence.

How has Local SEO changed in the last couple of years?

 

Google has now effectively anchored what are called Local Packs at the top of most every SERP (Search Engine Results Page) it thinks may have local intent. What this ultimately means is more opportunity to show in local results than ever before as Google AI (artificial intelligence) refines its ability to interpret the searcher’s intent. Given that we are a local, sub-market driven business, SEO emphasis on local triggers and keywords is far more lucrative than attempting to rank for an entire market. In other words, stay true to your local, small business roots and you’ll fair better than trying to dominate outside your trade radius.

Google My Business has introduced a variety of services that can also increase local visibility, like Posts, Product Posts, Videos, Q&A, Messages, etc. All of these afford businesses more ways to connect with consumers and differentiate themselves from the competition. You have more options to connect than ever, but it’s easy to get lost in the weeds.

Mobile and Voice Search are making their presence known as well, but evidence to date is that it has not yet begun to affect Local SEO.

How Do I Compete with No Budget Against Yelp and Aggregators?


The good news is that Google appears to want to show more truly local businesses, brick and mortar presence, in each part of a Local SERP, which means less opportunity for big directories like Yelp and other aggregators. There will always be some directories in these SERPs, but smart local businesses with small budgets can indeed compete. To boil it all down: once you have your basic website, a Google My Business Page, and your local citations in place, it ultimately becomes a game of content, links, and reviews, with an emphasis on reviews. Get them, respond thoughtfully to them, and get more.

What Are the Top 7 Things I Can Do?


NAP:  First, every page on your website should contain highly visible and consistent contact information for your business, including your NAP (business’s name, address, and phone number). Google looks to see if you are making it easy for users to get in touch with you at any point in the funnel. These NAP Citations should be present in the header, and/or marked up in the schema (or coding) so that it is easy for Google and Users to find. NAP consistency is key, both within your website and beyond. Claim as many local directory listings you can. Use the exact same formatting for the Business Name, Address, and Phone Number. Inconsistency, like spelling out Road vs. Rd, can have a negative impact.

GEO/Location Specific Title Tags and Content: Second, include location specific keywords in your Page Title Tags that both Google and Users would recognize and associate with your market. Keep the Title Tags to under 60 characters and include the sub-market name and zip code. Nearly two thirds of smartphone users are more likely to buy from stores that customize information to their location. So, ensuring that your content is geo-specific is extremely important.

Get Reviews: Third, the more reviews, the better. Don’t shy away from negative reviews either. Use them as an opportunity to show future tenants your excellent customer service. Obviously use caution when speaking in a public forum; it’s best to take some conversations offline. If you have suspicious review activity, start by flagging the review. It may take several tries to get it removed but keep at it. Pro Tip: DM (Direct Message) Google My Business via Twitter and they will respond. Ironically, it’s one of the only ways I’ve found to actually speak directly to Google. But, don’t be afraid of some legitimate public criticism. Treat it as an opportunity to showcase how you care. It will often sway them to amend their rating.

Do NOT try and drown out negative reviews with spammy positive ones. This WILL backfire.

Flag false reviews and flag them often.

If unable to get them removed, respond professionally saying that you do not have them in your tenant records and ask that they contact you to resolve the issue. You will likely hear crickets, but you’ve strategically called the review into question and downgraded its importance to a real, potential tenant.

Take Advantage of FREE Options: Fourth, register with as many local directories as possible to sprinkle your NAP data across the web. You can use a very affordable service like Moz Local to achieve this for you. Don’t ignore Bing and Yahoo. Though they represent a fraction of search traffic, they are another listing you can’t afford to ignore. Ask for relevant links from vendors or even tenants who have a website or businesses. Relevant inbound links will always give you a boost while irrelevant, or spammy links have long since been proven to have quite a negative effect.

Voice Search: Fifth, while voice search is still in its infancy, it is apparent that our search patterns are changing. People who have been using abbreviated written searches are now engaging in more of a conversational type search through Siri, Google, and Alexa. One might type “Weather Forecast” but ask Siri “is it going to rain this afternoon?” You can clearly see the potential disparity in the keywords, both aiming essentially for the same information. This goes to the core of good content. Don’t court search engines with broken, keywords stuffed speech; focus on long-tail, question-based natural language and the rest should fall in line.

Poor Quality/Unhelpful Content: Sixth, think of your website and its interaction with a user as sort of a Q&A session. They formulate their question in the form of a search and your website should, theoretically, respond with a relevant answer. Seven out of 10 customers visit a business or make a purchase based on information they find in search results. If they’ve somehow found you, make sure to address their concern/question immediately or risk losing the sale. No one cares about the ownership of the facility or your personal story; your website is there to fulfill the needs of the user. If they can’t see that immediately, because you are telling them what you think they want to hear vs. what they need to hear, you will lose every time.

Use Structured Data/Schemas: Seventh and finally, you will likely need web designer assistance to implement this, but Structured Data is one of the only vehicles afforded to us to speak directly to Google through the code. To see if you have structured data in place, use Google’s tool: https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/u/0/ . If not, a great tool to help generate compliant structured data can be found here: https://technicalseo.com/seo-tools/schema-markup-generator/

James Appleton is Director of Sales, Special Risk, for MiniCo Insurance Agency, overseeing customer storage insurance and collectibles programs.

Originally published here under the name “Local Search: How to Score when Google Keeps Moving the Goalpost” 

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How to Beat Google at Its Own Game