Sunday, April 15, 2007

Email Marketing: Inexpensive, Expedient and Measurable

(As published in Greater Wilmington Business 4/2007)
In the past 10 months of writing this column for Greater Wilmington Business and simultaneously publishing to my online blog at EntreMagnet.Com , we’ve spent a good amount of time discussing the fusion of marketing, technology and business. It seemed only fitting that my last column for Greater Wilmington Business would be about Email Marketing. (I'll continue to update this blog periodically but am beginning work with IBM as a Technical Sales Engineer and will juggle the new time demands between my MBA and my family accordingly!)

Email Marketing is important to you as a small business owner because it is an inexpensive, expedient and highly measurable way to “touch” your customers. Coupled with an online newsletter, it can be a very powerful method of providing useful information to your clients while at the same time, reminding them of your brand, or, in other words, maintaining strong customer “mindshare”. And, the more positive interactions you have with your customers, the higher your customer retention rate will be.

Amazon does a fantastic job of utilizing email marketing to pitch certain products to customers that have previously purchased an associated product. Since they track all customer purchases in their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database, they might know, for example, that 58% of customers who bought a camera case for a Canon SD630 digital camera have also bought the additional battery.

Have no fear if you’ve not yet amassed a lengthy email address list of customers as there are numerous ways to do this including contests, postcards and coupons.

If you are a golf store, for example, you could raffle off a new Nicklaus Titanium Driver at the end of every month or quarter. Customers that want to sign up for this contest can submit their email and other demographic information (how often they play golf, for example, or their favorite brand) into an online form on your website.

To cut down on potential abusers of this contest (ie., people that sign up for the contest, but are not really golfers and are just going to ebay that driver if they win.) you might send physical postcards to your existing physical mailing list of past customers. This postcard would drive them to a specific webpage within your site that is not otherwise accessible.

Finally, you could provide them with a “20% off” or “get something free” coupon (mailed to existing customers or created as a cut-out ad for potential new customers) that is only valid if they fill out their email address on the coupon.

There are also additional online sources of email lists. InfoUSA.Com, for example, provides targeted email lists broken out by demographic variables that start at $750.

It’s important that when you are amassing an email marketing list that you obtain “permission” from these potential customers to market to them. If you send marketing emails without permission, you risk having your email being marked as SPAM, being delisted by your ISP, and losing your email account, not to mention that this may be against the law. (Click here for more information on the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.)

Now that you’ve amassed your email marketing list, there are few ways to go about conducting your email marketing. You could send an individual email to each client, which would probably have the highest return rate, but would be the most time intensive. The alternative way is to put all the emails into the Blind CC (BCC) section of your email and sending it that way. This is less time-intensive, but will have a lower response rate, and your ISP (whoever you pay for internet access) may blacklist you since your email may seem like SPAM. This can also be cumbersome when dealing with email lists that number in the hundreds or thousands.

A better solution I’d recommend is utilizing online services like VerticalResponse.Com to create and manage your email marketing campaigns. They both have online tours and free trials to get you started.

You begin by uploading your existing email lists (from Excel, Access or ACT!), composing an email using a set of online templates, and then sending the email. These online vendors will then track who opens the email, what emails have bounced (allowing for easy removal), and who has unsubscribed from your email list.

ConstantContact.Com charges a monthly fee that is based on the number of emails in your email marketing list. For example, it would cost $30/month to send unlimited emails in a month to your list that contains less then 2500 email addresses.

In contrast, VerticalResponse.Com charges for every email that is sent with no monthly fee. For example, it would cost $15 to send out an email to a marketing list consisting of 1000 or less email addresses. If you go above 1000 addresses, the price goes down to $13 per 1000 email addresses.

Make sure that you give your customer the option to remove or unsubscribe themselves from your email marketing list. Ideally, they could specify the frequency and method with which they should be contacted. For example, I might only want to be contacted once every month, while someone else, who is farther along in the purchasing cycle, wants daily or weekly reminders of new product offerings. One customer might want an HTML email with lots of graphics, while another client (possibly with a slower internet connection) might want a strictly text-based marketing message. The more that your customers feel they are in control, the higher the chances that they will be open to your message.

I’ve really enjoyed writing this column over the past year and wish you good luck in your future email marketing efforts. If you ever have any questions about marketing, technology or small business, please pop me a buzz, comment or email.

Labels:

SEO: Optimizing Your Website for Search Engines

(As published in Greater Wilmington Business 3/2007)
Previosly, we discussed Website Analytics, the art and science of determining how visitors find out about your small business website. This month, we’ll focus on how to augment the search engine component of that traffic.

As you may have done yourself, your potential customers type keywords into websites like MSN.Com, Yahoo.Com or Google.Com looking for certain products and services. If your company website pops up in the top ten or twenty list of websites on the search engine results page, the chances of them navigating to your website are greatly enhanced.

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is all about editing the pages of your website so that they show up ranked as high as possible in these search engine results pages. The search engines engage programs, called robots or crawlers, to sift through the millions of websites out there, and categorize them. SEO helps you to make their job easier.

If you look to the right side of these results pages, you’ll see the “Sponsored Links” or “Sponsored Results” section which lists the websites of companies that have paid to pop up whenever certain keywords are typed into the search engines. This is called AddMe.com has some great tools to help you get started.

Second, edit the filename, title, description, keywords and text in your pages to be consistent and contain relevant keywords that potential customers might type into a search engine. Click here for a quick primer on how to use meta-tags .

I’d also recommend typing your website name into the following tool to analyze your current meta-tags and recommend changes.

Third, increase the “quality” of your link by contacting any and all partner companies or businesses with a similar customer base and ask if they will put a link to your website on their website. The more of these so-called “in-bound” links to your website from other high quality websites, the higher your organic ranking will be. This is called PageRank and is used by Google in its search ranking algorithm. You can see the number of websites that link to your website (your “link popularity”) by clicking here .

Fourth, you’ll want to submit yourself to all the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL according to http://SearchEngineWatch.Com ). This is also known as Search Engine Submission (SES) and will trigger the search engine robots to visit and categorize your page.

Finally, track the results over the next several months to see if the changes you’ve made have caused any changes in the percentage of website traffic that is referred to your website by search engines. If you are going to hire someone to do this to your existing website, costs range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars dependant on how much of your page has to be edited and rewritten. WordWrightWeb.Com, for example, charges about $500/year to provide SES (or Search Engine Submission) services, submitting your site to major search engines on a monthly basis.

Be forewarned though: if you try to “game” the system by tricking search engines into thinking you are someone you aren’t (for example, adding keywords like “Britney Spears”) just to get traffic to your website, they will penalize you and kick your website out of their search engines. Also, typing many high-interest keywords in invisible text (white text with a white background) or “stuffing” keywords by mentioning them over and over will also increase your chances of getting penalized.

Since your website genuinely provides helpful and relevant information about your in-demand products, you owe it to your customers and your business to utilize SEO. Using the steps outlined above, you can aid the search engines in guiding potential customers to your small business website.

Labels:

Web Analytics: Who is visiting your website?

(As published in Greater Wilmington Business 2/2007)
In previous articles, we’ve discussed building a website as a key component of your small business marketing effort. Now that you’ve built the website, how do you gauge the success of it as a marketing medium? How do you track the effectiveness of offline promotions designed to drive traffic to your website? How do you determine what keywords visitors used to find your website? Web Analytics is the answer.

Web Analytics is an analysis of the people that have visited your website. Whenever someone visits your website, a trail of information is left behind like so many bread crumbs. Examples of this data include the location, duration, entry page, keywords used to navigate to your site, screen resolution, internet browser version and operating system type of the visitor.

The beauty of the web, and part of what makes websites like Myspace.Com so successful, is that with enough traffic you are able to almost immediately see the results of various online and offline marketing campaigns and almost instantaneously react by changing the content of your website. It is the most measurable marketing medium that exists, thus enabling you to more accurately build a marketing budget around your online campaigns.

Even better, many of you have web analytics reporting built into your monthly website costs without even being aware of it.

It’s important that you talk with the company that hosts your website and obtain a copy of this information on at least a quarterly basis to see how your marketing mix affects the nature and volume of the traffic to your website. For example, when you ran that TV ad last month, did it result in an uptick of activity on the page outlining the services or product mentioned in the ad?

If you host your website at MyHosting.Com or 1and1.com, for example, website statistics are included with any website hosting package that costs $5 or more per month. To access web statistics on 1and1.com, you login into your control panel and click on the Launch Web Statistics link where reports are broken into Visitors, Geography, Technology, Pages, and Referrer sections.

You can either dynamically create each report, which can be time intensive, or have them all emailed to you on a weekly or monthly basis.

If, for example, the “Browser Version” report reveals that 66% of your website visitors are using Firefox, but you’ve designed your site to look great on Internet Explorer, you may want to test your website using Firefox. Also, if you designed your website for Mac users and you are seeing that 76% of your users have Windows XP, you may want to rethink who your customers are.

One thing curiously lacking from 1and1.com reports is a report on the keywords visitors used in the search engines to find your site.

If your website is hosted at Myhosting.Com, they use WebTrends.Com to compile a 71-page Word document of 45 reports that is emailed to you at your request. For example, I was able to determine from the “Top Search Phrases” report for www.PackageBusters.Com that “Sharp Sidekick”, “Clamco” and “packaging equipment” were the three most-used phrases that visitors typed into a search engine that resulted in that user visiting the PackageBusters.Com website. This shows me what PackageBusters products are in demand and might be a good place to start a “pay-per-click” online campaign to drive traffic from search engines to my website. (We’ll talk more about SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, in next month’s column.)

If the company that hosts your website does not offer an analysis of your visitor traffic, or you want to test the traffic for a specific page, Google Analytics is a powerful and somewhat complex reporting tool that is available for free at http://Google.Com/Analytics. You basically copy a snippet of HTML and JavaScript code generated by Google Analytics, add it to the page you’d like to track and then Google Analytics captures and reports on information about visitors to that page.

For example, using a tool like this, I was able to determine that the Small Business Center gets 38% of its traffic from users directly typing www.cfcc.edu/sbc (called “direct” traffic), 10% from the City of Wilmington website, and 18% from the search results of the Yahoo and Google search engines. The high direct traffic means that my marketing mix of postcards, newspaper advertising, and brochures has been effective at educating potential clients on our website address, and the relatively low 18% coming from Google and Yahoo means that I should do more to get into the search engines.

In the end Web Analytics is all about learning more about your customers and refining your website so that it becomes the ultimate measurable marketing vehicle. Next month, we’ll talk about SEO, short for search engine optimization.

Labels:

Monday, January 15, 2007

Skype Me! Calling over the Internet for free/disruptive technologies

(As published in GWB 1/2007)
Clayton Christensen, author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, defines disruptive technologies as initially inferior products launched by smaller companies that move up-market from a small niche into increasingly profitable customer segments, eventually overtaking the leading providers of that product. In English: think of the first automobiles in the early 1900’s as technology that disrupted the horse-drawn carriage.

He argues that it almost never makes sense for an existing category leader to move down-market and provide inferior products with lower profit-margins to less demanding consumers. This leaves the door open for the upstart company, devoid of old business models and infrastructures, to establish a toe-hold within this new underserved consumer segment.

Enter Skype. Skype, a small Luxembourg-based company formed in 2003, offers free phone calls over the internet using a microphone and speaker hooked into your personal computer. The disruptive technology in question here is called VOIP, short for Voice over Internet Protocol, and companies like Skype and Vonage threaten the dominance of existing telephone companies by allowing users to talk over internet lines for free or drastically reduced rates.

How are they going to compete with the established phone companies? Vonage charges a flat rate of $25/month for local and long distance calls between US, Canada and Europe, and connects your phone through your cable or DSL modem broadband connection. Vonage reportedly has about 2 million subscribers as of a 12/8/06 AP report and Skype has over 100 million registered users with 5 to 7 million active at any time. Customers in this VOIP category have doubled since last year.

Further, EBay bought Skype last year for a reported $2.6B to foster greater communication between sellers and buyers, increase transactions, and reduce fraud.

How do you use Skype? Go to http://Skype.Com and download the latest free version (2.5) onto your computer or palm device running Windows, Mac OS X, Pocket PC, or Linux. It is essentially an IM (Instant Messenger) application that allows you to chat, make phone calls, and, as of last year, video conference with other Skype users, all for free.

You can call landline or cell phones from your computer (a service called SkypeOut) from Skype for a few cents per minute. The SkypeOut Global package costs about 2 cents to make calls to the US, the UK and China, amongst other countries.

You can also sign up for a phone number (a service called SkypeIn) to receive phone calls from landlines or cell phones for about $4/month, a great way to setup an initial separate business line for cash-strapped small business owners. For international users, you can secure phone numbers in different countries so that when the people call you from, for example, a land-line in Taiwan, they are making a local call that is routed to you over the internet to your wireless laptop, while you are sitting on the coach. A 12 month subscription costs about $30.

Skype charges about $15 a year for voicemail, though it is bundled for free with your SkypeIn phone number. Also, the SMS (short message service) functionality allows you to send text messages from Skype to the cell phones of your business associates, customers or friends for 11 cents per message.

Finally, for business travelers taking an airplane flight that offers wireless internet, you can make phone calls from your laptop while in mid-flight. Also, and this is where the world really gets flat, you can teleconference with up to 5 other Skype users anywhere on the planet Earth, for free.

If you’d like to bypass the computer, there are several phones that allow you to make Skype calls over any available wireless internet connection using only your Skype username. The Sony Milo and the Belkin Wifi Phone are just two Skype phones available under the Skype.Com “Shop” link. Polycom Communicator is a USB Speakerphone that can be used to conduct conference calls using only your computer and an internet connection.

As I mentioned above, this disruptive technology is not yet perfected- at times, I’ve noticed that bandwidth issues might cause echoes on the line. Also, as a peer to peer application, Skype makes use of the existing internet bandwidth of logged-in users to help route phone calls and so some corporate and educational Information Technology Administrators might disallow use of Skype, despite the numerous advantages in productivity and communication. Skype 3.0 is in beta and has a Skype for Business package that will help IT Administrators manage this issue.

In the end, we have a nascent VOIP technology provider that is disrupting the existing business model and price structure, and gaining in customer acceptance every year. The inevitable growth of Skype and VOIP in public acceptance, dependability, and quality coupled with increased penetration of free high-speed wireless internet access, will surely challenge the current market leaders. Such creative destruction is the lifeblood that keeps entrepreneurship and innovation moving forward.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Google Gains on Microsoft Office: Software for Workgroups

(As printed in GWB 11/06)

You may have heard some buzz about “Web 2.0”. While all of our 401k’s have been recovering from the DotCom collapse, many companies have been busy quietly building the Web 2.0 second-generation of online website applications that emphasize sharing data and working collaboratively in groups.

This collaboration has been made possible by capitalizing on what Thomas Friedman calls the “flattening” of the world in his book “The World Is Flat”. Essentially, in the late 90’s, billions of dollars of fiber optic cables were overbuilt all over the world allowing anyone from anywhere in the world to transfer data, voice, and applications over the internet for a close to zero marginal cost. This was happening just as we had all begun communicating using the same tools and the same interoperable PC’s on the same operating system (largely Windows).

Taking advantage of this “flattening”, Google has spent millions on a gaggle of companies that write collaborative online applications that do not need to be installed on your PC, but give you many of the same features. One such company is Upstartle which produced a word processor called Writely and was consequently gobbled up by Google.

Microsoft Office includes Word, Excel, Outlook and Visio to satisfy PC customer needs for word processing, spreadsheet analysis, email/calendaring, and flowchart/diagram creation, respectively.

Is Google attempting to take on MS Office with its new fleet of online collaborative tools? Some think so.

The general strategy seems to be to take the 20% of the functionality that we use 80% of the time, mix in collaborative capabilities and make it free. Offering it free, presumably increases site visits and creates content that Google stores on their server farms to create better search results. The fact that these documents are stored on Google’s servers, and not on our PC, frees us up to access the documents from wherever we are with whatever browser we are using as long as we have an internet connection.

Gmail, Google’s free email service, has already been here for a while and has continued to raise the bar on free email. But, be careful, they use the content of your emails to create targeted ads. (Experiment with this by sending an email with lots of references to pigs, for example, and you might see ads for bacon.)

Google “Docs and Spreadsheets” is the integration of Upstartle’s Writely word processing application and the Google Spread spreadsheet application into Google’s fleet of online applications. You invite collaborators by email and give them the ability to edit the document or spreadsheet.

For example, your 4-person workgroup could be collaborating on an end of year report, with each person responsible for one section of a 4-section report. In the pre-flattened world, you would have each person email their MS Word documents to the entire group to give status updates, with one person responsible for integrating all the changes into one document. With Google Docs, you can each edit and update the document online and the changes are made immediately and are visible to all the editors in your Workgroup.

You can then export the Google document to many different formats including MS Word, RTF, Adobe Acrobat PDF files, or HTML. Google Spreadsheet will export to Excel format.

Google Docs also tracks revisions, the text edits and formatting changes that each person makes to the document. This allows you to compare different versions of your document, who made the changes, and at what time they made the change.

There are some drawbacks – for example, when you insert pictures and then export the file, the pictures are sometimes resized incorrectly. Cutting and pasting to and from Microsoft Word is still not straightforward as the fonts sometimes change and cause artifacting or leave XML code. In Google Spreadsheet, you start out with 100 rows and have to manually add additional rows. Each row addition takes a 1 or 2 second delay while you are editing online, which can be prohibitive when you are trying to increase productivity.

Google Calendar provides you with a free online calendar that offers layering and sharing capabilities. You can add events or meetings which become searchable by Google and then layer your personal calendar, for example, on top of your work calendar, allowing you to view both at the same time. You can then allow different people to view your work calendar vs. your personal calendar.

Gliffy.Com provides a flowcharting and diagramming tool very much like Visio. Use it to create floor plans, process flowcharts, and simple diagrams and then export them to a picture in JPG format for use in a report or presentation. Google does not yet own Gliffy, but it seems a likely candidate for takeover.

In the end, Google provides users with more options, provides their servers with additional information to create more relevant search results, and provides the software world with a healthy dose of competition, which benefits all of us lucky Web 2.0 consumers.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Hardware Buying Guide for Small Business

(As printed in Greater Wilmington Business 11/2006)

This month we are going to discuss two potential hardware upgrades for your desktop or laptop computer: the Flat-Panel LCD monitor and the external hard drive.

The hard drive in your computer stores all your applications (like Microsoft Word or Apple iTunes), related documents, music, pictures, videos and the operating system (for example, Windows XP).

The mass legalization of digital music, ripped from CD’s or the web to our iPods or computers, high-resolution pictures and videos from digital cameras with ever-increasing megapixels, and increasingly sophisticated 3D role-playing games have dramatically increased our demand for storage. “It’s so sweet”, says local music enthusiast Greg Thompson, “I’ve got every CD I own ripped to my external hard drive”. Mr. Thompson’s collection consists of about 200 CD’s and over 2,000 songs.

Before the advent of cheap external drives, life was difficult for those of us who wanted to backup our data or transport it from one computer to another. For years, users had limited options in that floppies only stored a little more then 1MB/disk. As internal hard drives increased almost exponentially in size from tens of MB to tens of GB, the backup systems lagged. We had options like the Zip disk (100MB per disk) and the Castlewood Orb (2GB per disk). Finally, with the advent of the cost-effective external drive, our backup solutions are on par with the size of our internal hard drives.

For smaller file transfers that go between computers you can use a thumb-drive, also called a “flash drive” or a “jump drive”. They are currently about $25 for 1GB of storage and $45 for 2GB of storage.

But to back up your hard drive, an external hard drive is just the thing.

“Portable” means that the unit pulls power from the USB interface itself and has no AC cord. Otherwise, you’ll need an AC outlet handy. You then connect it to your computer through your USB, firewire, or Ethernet connection. An “Enclosure” ($30-50) is a cheap way to take an internal hard drive (often cheaper) and enclose it in a steel or plastic box and then connect it to your computer via a USB interface.

I personally have worked with the Lacie 80GB USB 2.0 hard drive ($100) and the SimpleTech 250GB Network Attached Storage drive ($200). The Lacie shows up as an additional drive under “My Computer” in Windows XP and allows you to copy files to it immediately. The SimpleTech has a more involved setup program, connects via Ethernet, comes with a print server (enabling me to print wirelessly from my laptop) and includes a backup scheduling application.

Monitor Upgrade
Do you have an aging 15”-17” CRT (short for cathode ray tube) monitor? Is desktop space at a premium? Or, have you purchased a laptop with a 12” screen to keep the weight down, and now you long for a larger screen to enhance your video editing, gaming, or surfing experience and simultaneously ease the stress on your eyes? Have no fear- the Flat-Panel LCD (short for liquid crystal display) is the answer. The good news is that prices have dropped dramatically on LCD monitors as companies have brought more factories online to increase production. You can get a respectable 17” LCD for under $200 now and it will give you more screen “real estate” then your old 17” CRT, which only provides about 16” of usable real estate.

Important attributes include the screen size, viewing angle, response time, native resolution, and whether it takes a Digital or Analog input. Additional bells and whistles include built-in speakers and USB ports.

Many of us have analog VGA outputs, a 15-pin trapezoid-shaped female plug on the back of your computer that usually has a picture of a monitor next to it. Digital outputs are faster because the screen information that goes from your computer to your monitor stays in the digital domain, rather then being temporarily converted to an analog signal. But, if your computer does not have a digital video connection then you don’t need one for your monitor.

LCD’s produce the best image at their native resolution. If you don’t have a widescreen laptop and your LCD is wide-screen, the image might become blurry due to scaling.

The response rate should be in the 8ms range for newer monitors - older LCD’s used to have a blurring problem due to slow response rates.

Be careful when purchasing a 19” Widescreen LCD vs. a conventionally-sized 17” LCD. The 19” widescreen will work better if you have a widescreen laptop, but both LCD’s will be the same height.

Upgrading to a new hard drive and LCD monitor will enhance your computing and entertainment experience, and give you the room to create, capture listen to or view all of those wonderful memories for many years to come. Or, at least, until the next upgrade.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Using Online Surveys to learn more about your customers

(This article was originally printed in Greater Wilmington Business 10/2006)
(Please click here to learn about online surveys and take one yourself!
http://www.zoomerang.com/survey.zgi?p=WEB225QB92XYN8 )

Customers are the most critical component of your business. Learning more about them and identifying innovative ways to deliver value to them should be paramount in your never-ending quest to increase profitability.

In previous columns we’ve talked about leveraging the internet as a cost-effective marketing tool to help spread the word about your business. This month, we’ll talk about some of the benefits, costs and specific steps you would take to use an online survey to learn more about your customers and how to better serve them.

Too often we make assumptions about our customer’s preferences and their perceptions without ever asking them. Surveys, Focus Groups, and Interviews are three methods we can utilize to learn more about our customer.

The 3 R’s of marketing are Research, Reach, and Retain. Surveying customers falls into the Research aspect and helps you to answer questions like: Who is your Target Market? Who is your competition and why are you better? Why are you uniquely suited to deliver a given product? This research can also be used to identify the optimal ways to reach and retain them.

Some of the reasons you might want to utilize a survey include making a decision to move an existing product into a new market, finding out more about your existing customers and how they view your company and its products, and identifying the unmet needs of your existing or potential customers to create new services.

Online surveys can be used to inexpensively obtain speedier, more accurate response rates that reduce workflow, thus saving two of your most critical resources; time and money. Zoomerang.com and Surveymonkey.com are two online companies that provide this service.

Some of the benefits of using online surveys are higher response rates, automatically and immediately tallied results, no need to wait for mail to be delivered and returned by respondents, and no need to print the surveys.

In compiling the CFCC Small Business Center Annual report, for example, we use online surveys to ask more in-depth questions about our customer’s experiences with our services.

This process was previously done by mailing out several hundred questionnaires, addressing and stamping them, and then waiting several weeks for replies. Once a goodly portion of responses was returned, the results were tabulated into an Excel spreadsheet and answers were compiled into a “Survey Results” document, an unnecessarily tedious process often resulting in less then 10% response rates.

About 3 years ago we began using Zoomerang.com to take the place of our paper-intensive survey. In one survey, it took 48 hours to achieve an 18% response rate and 1 week to achieve a 24% response rate.

Zoomerang’s Basic version is free but results are only available for 10 days, there is a 100-response limit, and you can’t download results to Excel. Upgrading to the “zPro” version removes these limitations, costs $20-$50/month and allows for better analysis and filtering, sharing of results, and extends the survey expiration date.

SurveyMonkey.Com, who charges $20/month or $200/year, lists about 33 competitors at http://surveymonkey.com/Pricing.asp . SurveyMonkey Basic is free and has a limit of 10 questions and 100 responses per survey. I utilize Zoomerang because their free service allows for 30 questions per survey, though I might go with SurveyMonkey were I to upgrade to the professional version.

The workflow is as follows:
1. Log on to zoomerang.com and create your survey.
2. Once complete, a unique web address will be generated.
a. Example: http://www.zoomerang.com/survey.zgi?p=WEB225QB92XYN8
3. Send this survey link via email to your existing clients, who would click on the link and take the online survey.
4. You can then periodically view immediately tallied results.
5. With the Basic Version, you can print, copy or save the results as an HTML file. With Pro Version, you can export or email the results to yourself.

Using the client’s name and addressing one email per client will get better response rates. The alternative is to Blind CC your entire email list with one bulk email so that no-one sees the other addresses on your email. A potential downside to utilizing Blind CC in this way is that, depending on the number of emails you are sending, your email may be categorized as spam.

If you are not polling an existing list of clients, Zoomerang provides a “Sampling” service that will poll a targeted list based on demographic information like income levels or consumer habits.

As an example of online surveys, I’ve posted a link here:
http://www.zoomerang.com/survey.zgi?p=WEB225QB92XYN8
where you can answer questions about this column and we can learn more about how to better serve you, our customers.