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Intuit Quickbooks’ Billing Solution emails end up in Spam. The solution is easy; but Intuit isn’t fixing it.

Billing Solution is a paid-for add on to Quickbooks. It allows invoices to be sent via. Quickbook’s mail servers, and stored online for easy payment/retrieval by my clients. The emails used to be sent flawlessly, and QB would even sent payment reminders based on the payment due date — all automatically.

A few weeks ago, I started hearing from clients that they hadn’t received any invoices from me. It turned out that those emails all end up in the SPAM folder, rather than be delivered to their inbox. I had my clients mark it as “not spam” and/or add the email address, but it still ended up in spam.

I spent a considerable amount of time locating the issue; Intuit.com’s SPF DNS record is invalid. By the specs, SPF allows for no more than 10 DNS lookups, intuit.com exceeds this limit. As a result, Google and many other email providers can’t verify that the emails are legitimate, and since it “looks” fishy (invoices with requests for money, etc) it throws it into the Spam folder.

I tried to bring this issue to the attention of Intuit’s network admins, but, so far I keep hitting a wall. I’ve posted to them on Facebook and Twitter; they say they’re “investigating”, but so far, the simple change to remove one of the DNS queries, has not been done.

This is a DNS issue for intuit.com that causes Billing Solution emails to end up in the spam folder. It’s entirely an SPF issue, and it should be (easily) fixable.

This is a BIG DEAL, and it’s an easy fix. Instead of fixing it, Intuit actually created a new support document claiming that some other issue was responsible for the mis-delivery. Let me say that again; rather than fix their broken SPF record, they created an entirely new support document to try to prove me wrong. Their explanation makes little sense, and still doesn’t address the core issue (that their SPF record is invalid). Intuit knows that their emails are going to Spam, they just didn’t know why; I’ve now told them why, yet they still seemingly have no interest in fixing the underlying issue.

To verify that their SPF record is invalid, go here and type “intuit.com” into the box on the right half of the screen. It will respond with ‘No SPF record found’. Or, you could go here and type ‘intuit.com’ into the top box and click the “Get SPF record” button.

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You can read about the actual cause of this issue here.

Please help me spread the word about this issue, and hopefully get Intuit to fix their SPF records.

Top Reasons Why Your Current Website Sucks

You might think your site is just great, but, it probably sucks. Here’s why.

1. Your website has flash (or, is flash)

Using flash on your website, or as your website, might have seemed like a great idea at first. You could add music that auto-played (more on that later), animated backgrounds, menus that dance around and emit showers of sparkles as you click it. Leaving aside the horrible, horrible sparkles for a moment, there’s a larger issue at work here; there’s another reason why your site sucks as a result of using Flash. It doesn’t work on mobile devices!

Now, at this point, I expect all the Android fan boys to chime in and remind me that Flash does work on Android devices. My response? For now…

Adobe themselves recently stated that they would drop support for mobile Flash. Now, while Flash is still a decent product for other uses (fast prototyping, desktop web games, etc..) it isn’t appropriate for use as your website.

But, why do you care about mobile users? Someone who has the money to spend on a smartphone or an iPad, probably has the money to spend on your services. Just saying.

Additionally, a Flash website can’t be indexed as well by Google, so you’re losing any SEO benefits of your site. Also, not all computers have Flash! So, some people will get an error screen only asking them to install Flash–a task that can’t always be completed.

2. Your website auto-plays video, audio or some other assault on my senses

I’ve covered this before, but, when I encounter a site with music, sound, floating balloons, etc.. I leave. So does everyone else. Check out your bounce rate, I guarantee it’s through the roof high.

3. Your site doesn’t work with mobile devices

Even if you create your site in pure HTML, it still needs to render correctly on small screen devices. If you don’t test on an iPad/iPhone, you’ll never know if it works correctly.

4. Your content sucks

I’ve seen lots of bad sites. But, if I need to spend 10 minutes to find your email, I’m not going to contact you at all. If all your major content is posted via. a PDF, or if you require me to log into some other service, to view a generic document or print a coupon, I’m not going to do it.

5. Your design sucks

We all love bright colors, but if your site has a different color for every element and uses more than 3-4 fonts, I might just rip my eyeballs out of my eyes. At least remember this one rule.. Red and blue should NOT be used at the same time!

Options, and classified ads


Options. There’s plenty of things you can do to improve your business. You can spend money on cameras, you can spend money on ads in your local newspaper, you can spend money on software, a website, lenses, and much, much more.. But, before you go out and spend money on another lens, ask yourself one simple question:

Why am I not getting as much business as I want to get?

If in fact, you’re losing jobs because the quality of the images aren’t good enough, you really should get a new lens or camera. But, if you’re like most photographers, the reason you’re losing business is because there aren’t enough people inquiring about your services! Ultimately, you have an issue with exposure.

People can’t hire you if they don’t know your in business. That’s where a good website comes in.

Websites are cost effective methods of advertising your business. To understand why, let’s use some math!

A typical 3-line classified ad in a newspaper might cost you about $100/mo. Now, for a photo business, a 3-line ad may not be enough. After all, people tend to hire photographers based on the quality of the photos. But, for the sake of ease, let’s assume a 3-line ad is actually useful in attracting clients. You’re spending about $1200/year on a classified ad, that’s going to people reasonably close by to where you live.  After three years, you’ve spend $3,600 on advertising in the local paper. If you decide to not run the ad one month, your exposure will be zero; no one will be able to find your business as the ad wont be published anywhere.

On the other hand, if you spent about the same amount of money on a website (including hosting), you’d have something that will work forever. Once you’ve built a website, it’s yours to keep. You may need to pay for hosting, but, it’s much cheaper than another ad in the newspaper. Also, content wise, your website can have lots and lots of text, lots and lots of photos, and interactive forms that your prospective clients can use to contact you.

So, for about $100/month, would you rather have a 3-line ad in the classified section of your newspaper? Or, a gorgeous website that will actually show off your portfolio, and allow prospective clients to hire you for a photo shoot?

Putting the Horse Before the Cart

I hear this a lot. Photographers tell me they bought all this cool gear. L series glass, expensive bodies, flashes (lots of them), and all sorts of other post-production work-flow gadgets and gizmos. I drool slightly when I hear about it; I’m a big tech nerd after all! I love really great toys; and I adore good quality, pro level products.

But, almost without fail I’m told a follow-up story of woe. They can’t afford to market themselves properly because they’ve just spent $10,000 or so on camera equipment. That same camera equipment that’s now essentially lying idle because they have no work.

As a business owner myself, I understand the need for solid equipment. It makes my life easier, and helps me do my job more efficiently. In the case of a photographer, no camera means that you have no job.

What’s a photographer to do?

I’ve spoken to hundreds of photographers; and probably an equal number of their clients. The one thing that all photographers say is important when taking a great photo? Great gear. But, what do the brides say? Aren’t the brides the most important metric of what makes a photo ‘good’?

Brides, by and large, say that their favorite photo is the one with the people they love in it. Really. It’s not the technical perfection of the photo. It’s not the color balance. It’s not the contrast or bokeh. Their favorite photo is the one with Uncle George. The same Uncle who they haven’t seen in 15 years. Yeah, the photo that’s all fuzzy and green-tinted. The same photo that you were just about to delete. That’s their favorite!

Brides don’t care about photography. They care about people.

Consider for a moment another course of action. Instead of buying $10,000 of equipment up-front; rent it. Rent the equipment when you get a job. Use the other $9,700 you just saved on equipment purchases and spend some of it on a website; on advertising; on making yourself visible. You’ll always be able to buy the equipment you want–but, when you’re first getting started in the photography industry, don’t rush out and buy ‘stuff’. Buy something that will help you afford the ‘stuff’ you really want.

The benefit is obvious. Your brides get great photos that you’re happy to show off (renting lets you get great gear, at an affordable price). You get a way to market yourself with a website. As a result, you get found by brides, and you can earn an actual living. Yeah, you may not own all that great gear right away; but, does it really matter?

Uniqueness

Uniqueness is important. It what makes you notice that one thing isn’t like the others.

It’s like Canon vs Nikon. Flickr vs Picassa. Google vs Bing.

Sure, competing products might do something similar, but there’s always something that’s unique about them. Flickr? Community. Picassa? A crazy good computer program to manage your photos. The list goes on and on.

So, what makes your business different? Why are you different than all the other unique photographers out there? What makes you special?

If you don’t have a good answer to those questions, it’s time to think about it.

When everyone is super…

Ok, my kids like The Incredibles. So do I. My absolute favorite line is when Syndrome, the main antagonist of the story, says

…[E]veryone can be superheroes! Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super, [laughs maniacally] no-one will be.

Everyone clamors and jockeys for position; all claiming “uniqueness”. But, everyone goes and runs the same blogs. The same advertisements. The same facebook posts. Individuality is lost. Uniqueness is lost.

Our [insert website template brand here] is unique!

Sure it is. It’s unique and special. Just like everyone else’s.

The words on the blog might be different, but that damask pattern that’s your background? Yawn. But SURELY your photo of the Bride and Groom in the tall grass with a small solar flare erupting from between their lips as they kiss.. That’s unique, right? Right!?! (Pretend I’m saying the word “right” in the same way Syndrome said “no-one will be”. The effect should be about right.)

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need something different. You need something… You.

Younique.

Humans are social. We like people (well, we probably don’t like everyone, but, just hang with me for a moment). We like interesting things. It’s why we watch YouTube videos of people doing interesting things. It’s why we read books, watch movies, TV, and more. So, ask yourself.. How is your online presence being unique and interesting?

So, here’s my thought. Be yourself. Show me why you’re different than other photographers. Tell me about your family. Tell me about you. Quit being so afraid to not offend anyone because, frankly, you’re boring everyone.

Music. Ugh.

I love music. I really do.

Most days while I’m working you’ll hear music playing from my computer. It’s calming, it’s relaxing, it’s exciting, it’s well, great! When I listen to music, I tend to be in a better mood. I get more work done. I’m actually pretty happy.

I’ll even have music playing while I surf the web. You see, the web is mostly visual, so listening to music and surfing the web is ideal.

Until…… Wait, what the hell is that noise that’s competing with my beloved music?!? My beautiful aria is being interrupted by some horrible country and western song that I really despise. I’m now instantly in a bad mood. That feeling of zen? Gone. I’m just annoyed. Luckily, there is a way to fix it. For me to get back into the zen-like happiness I was in before I stumbled upon your site…

I leave.

Really. I do. And hundreds of others do too. Check your bounce rate. Ever wonder why your bounce rate is higher than it should be? Ever wonder why people never really compliment your website? It’s probably because they don’t have the same taste in music that you do.

But, not only that.. If you’re a wedding photographer, guess who your clients are? They’re 20-something year old women who work in an office. They also aren’t supposed to be surfing the web for their wedding photographer. Your site music? It just calls attention to the fact that they’re not doing their work. They leave. Your prospective client just left; for good. Because you just needed to share some stupid song with the world. Yeah, great idea.

So, here’s a tip… don’t use music on your site. Really..

Offering coupons in a service oriented business

I see a lot of photographers, web designers, and others who are in a predominantly service-oriented business, offering coupons to prospective clients. It’s a good catch; 10% off? 20% off? As a consumer, I’m all about saving money. I’ll use coupons whenever I see them. I’m certainly not shy about it!

But, why don’t we offer coupons? Why don’t we offer different prices to different people? One word: consistency.

Why consistency matters

Consistency in a service related business is important for many reasons. First of all, if you expect to get word-of-mouth referrals, having some people pay less than others, for the same work, is a recipe for disaster. At best, clients will simply hold off on any purchase until the next coupon arrives. At worst, the client who paid more will feel like they overpaid or, the client who paid less will start to worry that they got 10% less work along with their 10% off coupon.

Now, none of the above may actually be the case; you may have the exact same output whatever the final price may be. But, it still doesn’t stop people from thinking that there might have been some ‘funny business’ going on.

So, when should I offer a coupon?

If you’re selling a product. A subscription to a website, a camera bag, a block of cheese: these are all things that offering a coupon code for makes sense. Why? Because in the case of a product, you can sell the item over and over again. The coupon is intended to attract new users of the product, that then you can (later) charge full-price to.

The first month is 50% off (the rest of the time it’s full price). The first block of cheese is $2.00 off (but, now that you love it, you’ll buy it again at full price).

In the case of photography, offer a discount or package price when they order prints. Prints are something you can sell over-and-over again to lots of different people. Leave your service (taking the photographs) at full price.

In a service business, there isn’t anywhere near the same level of ‘repeat sales’. Someone who pays for a full web-design one year, probably isn’t buying another website for another few years. The coupon is lost revenue to you.

How do I attract new business without offering a discount?

Simple. Price your service properly to begin with. Then, offer great service. Combine that with customer testimonials and examples of your work.

Ultimately, people will choose you based on your portfolio. If you offer a discount or a coupon, the message you send is that you don’t think your work is as valuable as the price you’re charging. And, that lack of confidence will hurt sales. After all, if you don’t even think your work is good enough to pay full price, why should your client?