How to find a web developer to build your dream


(Editor’s note: This post first appeared on The Startup Project which is may latest entrepreneurial endeavor to launch 12 startups in 12 months.)

You might have the greatest idea in the world!

But if you don’t know how to code your vision might not ever see the light of day.

So, you have a couple of options:

  1. Teach yourself to code.
  2. Find a friend or colleague who is willing to help.
  3. Hire a freelancer.

If you are considering hiring a freelancer then this post is for you.

Please note: The Startup Project is meant to be a learning process and an opportunity to share experiences. If you are a developer, or someone who has built a lot of products, then you might have a completely different approach. Your constructive input and advice for improving the following “Find a developer” process is appreciated.

Initial steps

Before beginning your research on freelance developers you should have a pretty good sense of what it is that you would like to build and the basic functionality that’s going to be required.

For example, is your idea like Uber, but for pet care? Or do you want to build out an on demand music platform for endurance athletes?

Your ability to clearly articulate what it is that you want created will have a direct impact on the success that you’ll have working with a freelancer.

Once you have a clear vision of your product in mind, you should familiarize yourself with the concept of creating and writing the “User Story.” User stories are part of the agile development process and they break down the overall platform idea into individual pieces of functionality. There are typically three basic components.

  1.  As a
  2. I want to
  3. So that

Using one of the web examples from above:

  1. As an endurance athlete
  2. I want to sign up to EnduranceRocker
  3. So that I can have great music to workout to

A more in depth definition and examples can be found on Wikipedia.

At this point in your process you might also want to draw some wireframes or rough mockups of what you want the user interface to look like.

My preferred method is to just start with a clean sheet of 8 x 11 paper. If you prefer doing the draft mockup online then there are numerous tools to choose from. Balsamiq, Mockflow, or Justinmind are just a few examples.


Finding a freelancer

Once you’ve given some thought to what you want to create, written user stories, and made a mockup of the interface, now it’s time to find a developer to build your vision.

Some of the more popular sites for finding a freelancer are oDesk, Elance, and Freelancer.  Because it can quickly become overwhelming you may wish to to just place a “freelancer wanted” on one of the platforms above. For the purposes of this post oDesk was used.

The first thing that you should do is type “Rails developer” in the search box.


When you have your listing of developers, I would suggest starting off by filtering the results to show only those who have a feedback rating of 4.5 – 5 stars.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 8.11.40 PM

You can also set the hourly rate that you have budgeted (even though I prefer to work off of a set price), the hours the developer has billed, and you can choose based on how recently they have been active.

Under “Tests” you might also want to select that the developer has taken the “Ruby on Rails” test and filter those who have scored in the top 10% – 30% and make them your top candidates.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 8.24.47 PM

With the field now greatly narrowed down you might like to run a “private” posting by hitting the “Contact” button on select programmers.


The good thing about making your posting private is that you can make initial contact and invite developers to respond to a simple inquiry like the one below.

odesk-freelancer-inquiry You might find that some won’t answer and that’s great because it rules them out right away.

However, for the folks that do respond, if you find someone that you would like to work with, then send them more specifics about the functionality that you will require for your project.

If you move forward and decide to hire a developer, I strongly suggest starting off in bite-sized chunks. Most platforms today have a “Sign up”, “Sign in”, and “Sign out” feature. You might start by having your new freelancer build out this functionality first. That way you can get a feel for how they work and you can determine if you are compatible.

Also, make sure that you have a Github or Bitbucket account and have the code pushed there.

Through serendipity, my “hire a freelancer” process actually stopped here because I connected with a developer in a different way (which I will speak to in a moment) that might work for you, as well.

How I found a developer

About a year ago I was trying to learn to code so that I could build out my own products with Rails. Like most beginners, I quickly ran into an issue and realized that I needed a skilled person to help get me moving forward again.

Around the same I heard about a new startup called “Hackhands.” Their mission is to help people (for a fee) “Instantly connect with a qualified programming expert.”


The programming expert that I paired with was extremely knowledgeable, communicated effectively, and was able to solve numerous programming problems for me.

When I decide to pursue The Startup Project I remembered the Hackhands developer that I had worked with stating that they were going to open up a freelance Rails development practice. So, I sent an initial email with what I wanted to have built.

When I got the response I was excited to see that they were in fact doing Rails development, but unfortunately, their price was way beyond my “bootstrap” budget.

However, before moving on (and hiring someone off of oDesk) I sent a follow up email with what I could afford. To my surprise, the response was positive and I typed up a simple RFP and we began moving forward.

Stay tuned for more, get updates here –>



Thank you for reading the first post on The Startup Project!

If you are searching for a developer to create your entrepreneurial vision, or if you are a seasoned freelancer, please feel free to provide your thoughts on how the process can work out best for all parties. You can offer your insight on Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Twitter @mark_hayward.


52 Business blog post ideas for you

blog-post-ideasDo you find yourself lacking the time to come up with creative ideas for new content and blog posts? Here are 52 ideas to help get you through the rest of the year.

Fact: We all have the ability to be publishing companies now.

However, as business owners sometimes it can feel as though we’re just too busy to do anything else other than keeping customers and employees happy. Yet, now more than ever, it’s critical to be creating content that helps you reach potential clients.

Most businesses are beginning to realize that the power of blogging is NOT achieved by publishing content that promotes the hard sell of products and services. But rather, the most effective online publishing efforts are centered on helping to connect you and your potential & existing customers on a more human level that builds trust and (hopefully) leads to increased sales.

During the next year if you find yourself getting stuck creatively, here are 52 content and blog ideas for you.

  1. Answer three of the most commonly asked questions that customers have about your service or product.
  2. Did you come from a completely different field (like a heart surgeon) to pursue a business passion (like opening a bakery)? What was the journey like?
  3. A day in the life post. What is a typical day, a week, or even a month like at your business?
  4. Who are your customers? Conduct a brief interview with some customers or clients. (Have you seen the success of Humans of New York?!)
  5. What have you done in your life that makes you unique, and how does that translate over to your business and serving customers?
  6. What are the tools of your trade? For example, are you using a piece of software that makes your day easier and perhaps it could help your customers?
  7. Most business owners did not get where they are at on their own — who has inspired or mentored you?
  8. Why did you choose your business location? (Or if your business is online what are some of your favorite spots to work from?)
  9. Have you done something astronomical, such as completing the Hawaii Ironman or climbing Mount Everest? Your clients would love to hear about it…
  10. What allowed you to move beyond fear and pursue business ownership?
  11. How is the reality of running a business different from what you expected?
  12. Interview an industry leader in your business niche.
  13. Do a photo walking tour of your neighborhood.
  14. How did you manage to start your business? (You might focus on practical points such as securing financing, required permits, and so on.)
  15. What causes do you care about? How has your business supported the community or your favorite charity
  16. Where have you visited in your travels? How are the places different?
  17. Do you sell a product (or deliver a service) that’s technically complicated? Boil down a critical but difficult-to understand concept in a resource post.
  18. Define your customer service philosophy in a short manifesto. (Even better if you include real life examples that display your remarkable customer care.)
  19. Conduct a photo or video walking tour of your business.
  20. Highlight the top five or ten blogs in your industry.
  21. How is your business or service conducted in other cultures? For example, are there any differences between carpet cleaners (or whatever your venture is) in New York City and London?
  22. What are the challenges you face on a daily basis?
  23. Write a humorous post about something that occurred at your business. (Remember to change names to protect the innocent.)
  24. Create a compelling challenge for a free giveaway.
  25. Highlight a new product or service that’s proving helpful to customers.
  26. A simple, heartfelt post, on why you love doing what you do.
  27. Highlight some monthly specials, promotions, or clearance items. (Note: use this type of post sparingly!)
  28. Draft a helpful post or tutorial specifically to help others in your industry.
  29. Define the origins and shipping procedure of your product. How did that coffee get to your café? Where is it grown?
  30. Explain the requirements of entry into your line of business. What type of training is required to be a web designer? Do you need certain skills to run a hotel?
  31. What are the top ten mistakes you’ve made while running your venture?
  32. What is your personal history and what are your qualifications?
  33. Why are you located where you are?
  34. What are ten must-have items in your business?
  35. Provide the most convenient routes to get to your business and perhaps list any unique or historic landmarks around you.
  36. Highlight a special customer.
  37. Feature any eco/enviro-friendly products or infrastructure that you have (such as solar panels, or low-flow, high-volume shower heads).
  38. Comparison post – e.g., if you own a restaurant, what’s the most popular dish like when it’s prepared the standard way and/or for someone who is gluten intolerant? Or why might customers want one technology over another?
  39. Describe any improvements or upgrades you have made to your business.
  40. Create a tutorial post specific to your industry, which might be a trivial task for you but could really help the readers (it might be programming an iPhone, or how to make the perfect pizza crust).
  41. What do you do during your time off?
  42. Does your family have a history in the business? For example, was your shoe store, marketing firm, or bike shop started by your grandfather?
  43. Post a survey seeking input from your customers about how you can improve their customer experience.
  44. Write a personal post and invite your customers to comment or provide their thoughts.
  45. Do a real-life product review where you use one of your services or business items for a week and report back on your findings.
  46. Highlight the businesses around you that you support.
  47. Thank every single person who has helped you along your way.
  48. Have an employee do a written or visual diary of what their day is like.
  49. Respond to a critic head-on. Don’t be confrontational, but explain your point of view in a professional manner. For example, if you’ve had a customer service issue, explain what you are doing to remedy the situation.
  50. Surprise an unsuspecting customer/client/guest with an amazing experience — like a gift certificate for a fine meal, a massage, or a shopping spree — and write about the lucky winner and how you went about choosing who would receive the gift.
  51. Ask your customers to take some photos or video of your business and post them. (Making sure to give credit to the photographers.)
  52. If you made it this far, write a year in review post highlighting your successes, failures, and plans for the future.

Whether you post once a month, once a week, or once a day hopefully you found this “content cushion” helpful! If you have further thoughts or input, I’d love to connect with you on Twitter @mark_hayward or LinkedIn.

image source: Flickr/littlenelly


Ten Critical Points to Consider Before Heading Off as a Remote Working Global Nomad

remote-working-tipsAre you thinking about packing up and working from an overseas location? Do you long to have your office on the beach in the Caribbean or perhaps on a hillside in the Swiss Alps?

Having spent a good portion of the past eighteen years working internationally in places like Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tortola and Puerto Rico, I wholeheartedly support the pursuit of the remote worker dream.

With the advent of remarkable workspaces like Piloto 151 and emerging platforms like Teleport , there really is no reason (for most of us!) to report to the same work office every day.

However, if you have not lived internationally or worked from overseas before, I thought that I would provide you with some details that you might want to think about.

1. Are you ready for challenges that come with living in a foreign country
Living some place is much different than just visiting for a week on a yearly vacation. This might sound completely obvious and like common sense, but during my time overseas I’ve seen many folks pack up all of their personal belongings and move 5000 miles away from home only to arrive at a destination and realize a week later that they can’t stand living there.

If you can afford to do so, a pre-move visit is always encouraged and could help you to avoid a potentially costly mistake.

2. Moving is stressful.
Relocating to another city within your own country is difficult enough. In fact, stress wise, moving typically ranks as one of the most difficult life changes an individual (or family) can make. When you decide to become a global nomad and move overseas you can multiply the stress factor on a scale of magnitudes—language barriers, new customs, and etc.

Part of the allure of living overseas can be the challenges that one might expect to face. However, you need to really consider if you are ready for the language difficulties, cultural barriers, and bureaucratic red tape that can that can be associated with an overseas move.

3. Are you ready to be away from family and friends (support network)
Certainly tools like Skype, Google+, and Facebook make it easy to keep in touch on an almost daily basis. But, homesickness and being away from family and friends around holidays and special occasions, and during serious illness, can quickly tarnish beachside living or skiing every morning.

Before packing your bags check to see if there is an existing expat or remote worker community to help act as your surrogate support network.

4. What are the immigration policies at your desired destination?
Many countries require you to show proof of an onward ticket before they will even allow you to enter. You need to find out:

  • How long can you legally reside in the country you wish to work from? (Is it thirty days, three months or one year?)
  • If you need to renew your immigration status is it as easy as crossing the border for twenty-four hours and coming back in again? Or, do you have to go back to your home of record?
  • Are there any passport stamp fees associated with an extended stay?

I have a good friend who overstayed his visa in one of the countries where I was working and he wound up spending eight months in the local prison. (Hint: Watch the movie Midnight Express to get an idea of what you might be in for if you decide to overstay your welcome.)

5. Can you legally run a business or work online at your chosen destination
Will you be required to get a work permit? Even if you are running an Internet based business, some countries do not want you working within their borders. Other countries will make you fully disclose the type of work you’ll be doing or the business you will be running and may require you to get a special work visa.

6. What will your tax status be?

Although you might not be working for a local company, you should check with the country’s treasury department to determine if you have to pay local taxes. Additionally, if you are a United States resident living outside of the states you will need to determine if you qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

7. Will you have access to medical coverage and medical care?
Nobody likes to think about a serious medical condition arising. If you’re heading overseas and currently have insurance you will need to find out if the hospitals and clinics in your new country of choice accept your policy. In the event that they don’t, try to find out if you can you get an international travel add-on from your existing insurer or purchase supplemental expat insurance.

Once you feel secure with your insurance situation, you might want to find out what medical care is care like at the destination you are heading to. Consider the following, do you have a particular medical condition that requires special treatment or medicine? Can you get the help you need at your new location? Additionally, discern if there are any serious health concerns such as malaria or typhoid and look into proper prophylaxis and immunizations.

8. How is the cost of living?
In your home city you might be so familiar with the prices for everyday goods that you don’t necessarily pay attention to the standard living costs.

For your new location you may wish to research what can you expect to pay for every day essentials like rent, bread and eggs, a car, gas, and beer. Moreover, you might be accustomed to very low prices for water and electric utilities. Other costs to consider would be the price for mailing and shipping items.

9. Can you legally purchase property?
This question is for the hardcore, expat/remote worker, but if you are going to be in a country for any length of time it certainly is one worth considering for living or investment purposes. Although, it is important to remember three things:

  • Property ownership does not necessarily make you a resident.
  • In some cases countries will restrict the purchase of property by foreigners.
  • Always do your due diligence to check for clear title and hire local legal counsel.

For example, in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) the government requires that you apply for what’s called a, “Non-Belonger Landholding License.” The whole process can take well over a year, and even if you are successful at obtaining the license, you are not allowed to reside there while waiting for it. Once you do have it, you are only allowed to live in the BVI for six months out of the year.

If purchasing a home or property is part of your overseas remote working dream, then check the real estate laws carefully.

10. Everything else!
If you made it passed all of the items above then you can actually begin to think about your in-country work needs such as, living arrangement, office space, and internet access.

Final thought, do your research and you’ll make out just fine!

image credit: John Roberts








A Quick Guide to Content Marketing for Tourism Businesses and Hotels

(Editor’s note: This post initially appeared as a guest post on Daniel Craig’s Reknown blog)

Do you want to make a commitment to content marketing as part of your online strategy but are unsure where to begin? Or perhaps you struggle to maintain consistency with your posting schedule?

As a former hotel owner I truly comprehend the overwhelming feeling caused by the seemingly endless social media options available today. Trying to make sense of it all can feel as though you are standing on the edge of a cliff and staring down into a never-ending abyss.

“Content marketing” has unquestionably been the preeminent buzzword in marketing for a few years now, and for good reason. When done right, it can help you to build credibility and trust among your clients and even brand you as an “expert” for your particular destination or hospitality business niche.

For this post I’m assuming you have some type of online platform to post your content to: a blog, Facebook, YouTube, etc. However, if your blog is sitting dormant or your Facebook feed is “collecting dust,” perhaps you need a little push to get going again. My goal by the end of the article is to inspire you to either start producing content or to resume your efforts.

What is content marketing?
Whether you are responsible for promoting a destination, are the GM of a well-known brand, or own a small B&B, one thing is certain: in today’s online world we all have the power to be publishing companies and public relations firms.

In its simplest form, content marketing can be thought of as information and communication materials that you create (in text format, video, photos, etc.) that are helpful, enlightening and even entertaining for your customers.

Content marketing is intended to create value for your customers by answering questions or by helping to solve their pain points. Frequently it comes in the form of customer stories, anecdotes that share your backstory, insider tips, informational videos and engaging photos. If your efforts are successful, your clientele will actively seek you out online,

In direct juxtaposition to traditional advertising, whereby businesses simply broadcast a pushy sales message and do not provide any inherent value, a well thought-out and successfully implemented content strategy will allow you to gain the attention of customers, develop trust and build business connections.

The screengrab below shows a snippet of the Distrikt Hotel’s blog post, “Top 5: Historic Bars.”

distrikt hotel blog

This is a great sample post to get you thinking about articles that you could be creating. Undoubtedly, the hotel is providing beneficial information for their guests and you don’t get that “sales pitch” feeling. In fact, the only mention of the Distrikt comes in the fifth listing where they let you know that the Landmark Tavern is close to them.

Consider the following: if your website is analogous to the front door of your business, then your content posting platforms—blog, Facebook, etc.—are similar to your comfortable lobby area where stories are told, ideas are shared, questions are answered and trust is earned.

Three Content Marketing Quick Start Best Practices
Now let’s look at some best practices to help you to build an enhanced connection with your guests, and ultimately to increase sales and bookings.

1. Know who your ideal customer is
Your content marketing efforts are intended to create value for your customers by educating them and helping them in their decision making process. If you don’t have a solid understanding of who your ideal guest is, then it’s going to be difficult to produce helpful information. (Note: if you have different customers depending on the season or time of year you should keep that in mind and adjust your work accordingly.)

As an example, when I owned my hotel, our ideal guest was an active traveler who liked adventure. Typically, guests were in their twenties to late forties and liked activities such as hiking, snorkeling and bird watching. Many were also interested in experiencing the local culture and trying non-touristy restaurants and out of the way spots.

To help get you going, ask yourself:

  • What do my customers like to do?
  • What are the most frequently asked questions from my guests?
  • What is the most impactful communication I can generate to begin to develop a relationship with clientele who find me online?

Many potential customers will simply mute out overly promotional messaging that screams, “My business/destination is great!” However, if you educate your clientele, or perhaps even entertain them, you will not only grab their attention but may compel them to share your content, thereby exposing you to a whole new network.

2. Build a backlog of content ideas
If you’re ever at a loss as to what to post next, you’ll find my next quick start best practice helpful: build a backlog of ideas that you can refer back to.

Mind mapping is an exceptional technique for coming up with a steady stream of content ideas. The mind mapping method utilizes the creation of a diagram commonly referenced around one key point. For a tourism business or hotel, a mind map could be developed around a topic that might include your destination, your business niche or popular activities.

During my time owning a hotel I frequently would do this exercise so that I could come up with twenty to thirty posting ideas. A mind map for content ideas for my current location, Rincon, Puerto Rico, would look like this:

mind mapping

As you can see, I began by jotting down the name of the destination and then came up with numerous topics and sub-topics that could each be turned into a helpful post for visitors. What would a mind map look like for your destination?

3. Develop a posting schedule
As a hospitality or tourism professional you most certainly have a tremendous amount of daily responsibilities. “Finding the time” seems to be the number one obstacle to developing a content plan and sticking to it.

Having the discipline to consistently create and post quality content requires real focus and a long-term commitment. Your third quick start best practice is to develop an editorial calendar based on how often you think you can post.

Much like exercise, if you do not schedule time to fit your online work into your day, you won’t do it. However, if you can make it a regularly scheduled habit, then you are more likely to stick with it and be successful.

Certainly, hotel staff would never say that they do not have time to check in a guest or to clean rooms. Your online efforts need to be weighted with equal importance or they will always get pushed to the side.

A special quick start content marketing bonus
Here are four types of posts to use while developing your strategy.

List post – people like content that is easily digestible. One of the most popular forms of online posting is what’s known as a “list post.” A sample list for you might include: “Top Five Activities,” “Three Restaurants You Must Experience,” or “Four Great Spots for a Family.” Include your destination name in the title for SEO purposes.

“How to” post – potential customers want answers to questions about your business and destination. The “how to” post provides a convenient way to develop information that is valuable to your guests. Sample titles might include, “How to Experience (Your Destination) Like a Local” or “How to Spend a Long Weekend at (Your Location).”

Customer/guest interview post – whether in text or video format, guest interviews provide a powerful way for you to have an additional touch point with your clientele. They provide a “real” customer experience for those researching your venture online.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specific post – Google offers a very handy and freeKeyword Planner tool. When you type a phrase into the tool, e.g., “Florida beaches”, it provides a list of the average monthly search volume and competition for the keywords. From this information you can create targeted SEO content/posts that provide answers to questions your customers are actively searching for online.

google keyword planner florida beaches

Regardless of the type of content you develop, be sure to optimize it for search by including your destination, business name, activity, tags and hashtags – whichever are appropriate to the platform you are publishing to.

The most powerful aspect of content marketing is it allows you to answer the simple question, “How can I best serve my customers?” In order to take advantage of the boundless possibilities that content marketing can provide, you must be willing to put in real energy, real effort and real commitment.

Always remember, the number one rule is it’s not about you. If you start your content from a place of empathy, transparency and an unbridled willingness to be helpful, then you can’t go wrong.


How “Code and Stay” Packages can Work for Puerto Rico Tourism

Would you rather be freezing, working and coding in NYC or Boston all winter long? Or would you like a respite from the frostbite on the sunny beaches of Puerto Rico? Imagine this. You can get on a plane during a blizzard, wearing your ushanka, and about three and half hours later step out into blazing sunshine in shorts and flip-flops.

(Note: For those that might not know, “code/coding,” as it’s used here is meant to be analogous to computer programming/hacking, creating apps, and developing online platforms for business and money making purposes.)

There’s been a lot of not so great news coming out of Puerto Rico lately regarding residents leavingthe debt burden, and lost jobs.

But on the flipside, Puerto Rico was just voted “Best Caribbean Island” by the readers of USA Today! (How’s that for irony?) It’s easy to see why it was voted number one! Puerto Rico has something for everybody with sandy beaches, the rainforest, world-class resorts, intimate Inns, great food, impressive culture, friendly people, and the list goes on and on.

Puerto Rico Best Caribbean Island

While there is, sadly, an undeniable “brain drain” happening in Puerto Rico, what about the “brain rush?” Specifically, those skilled and entrepreneurial minded travelers who come to the island for a week, ten days, or even for a month. How do we connect them, promote collaboration, and knowledge give-and-take, while they’re in Puerto Rico?

Well, what you might not know — through all of the noise — is that there’s a tremendously dedicated group of talented individuals seeking to change Puerto Rico’s economic trajectory through entrepreneurship, technical innovation, and creativity.

Game changers like Marcos PolancoRamphis Castro, and Dana Montenegro, and startups like BlimpKytelabsAnt Rocket, and Piloto 151 are shaping Puerto Rico’s future economy; via one day of work and one line of code at a time.

You might be thinking, “How does the Puerto Rico Tourism fit into all this?”

To which I would answer, it all starts with a Tweet. You see, my former Launch Academy Coding Bootcamp cohort-mate, Zach Young, and I were having a Twitter conversation and he mentioned that he “keeps seeing photos posted of Puerto Rico” and stated, “I need to get out there!”

Then the “light bulb” went off and I sent the following Tweet to Puerto Rico Tourism Company as a way to start the discussion and to have them think about becoming the conduit between travelers and locals.

puerto rico tourism twitter

To their credit, Puerto Rico Tourism replied and suggested I “DM,” which I did.

twitter puerto rico tourism 2

The idea behind – (choose your name) “Code & Stay,” or “Hack & Surf,” or “Collaboration in Paradise” – packages would be to create even more avenues for information exchange, technical inspiration, and creative growth here in Puerto Rico.

Fact: Talented individuals (like Baris at Google) are traveling to Puerto Rico for vacation. However, unlike Baris, many visitors might not know how to connect or get involved with the entrepreneurial community here who are working to launch something brilliant and world changing.

That’s where “Code & Stay” packages come in. For a bit of vacation time mentoring entrepreneurs, giving presentations, or pair programming (or live coding) visitors to Puerto Rico — who are in the entrepreneurial and tech world — could get packages with reduced rates, guaranteed upgrades, or other booking incentives.

Specifically, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, in conjunction with a group like Startups of Puerto Rico, could perhaps initiate the discussion with a forward thinking airline like JetBlue, and approach hotels like the San Juan Marriott, the DoubleTree, and the Intercontinental San Juan. Or, conversely, maybe smaller boutique properties like Andalucia Guest House, Acacia Boutique Hotel, San Juan Water & Beach Club would be willing to discount room rates or offer other enticements.

You get the point.

How does this benefit the traveler, tourism, and the local entrepreneurs?

In order to be successful, all good ideas must solve a problem or provide some type of benefit(s). The following are just a few of the possible, tangible outcomes:

The visitor – Besides coming to an amazing destination, they would get a real cultural experience and have the opportunity to interact with some of the brightest and most talented folks in Puerto Rico. That’s not even mentioning (hopefully) discounted travel and a place to work like Piloto 151. Most importantly, I believe that the traveler stands to share their knowledge, while at the same time, learning a lot and getting educated about the “Best Caribbean Island.” In the grandest of outcomes, maybe they come back and invest or create jobs here.

The Puerto Rico tech & entrepreneurial community – Certainly, with social media, the barriers of global communication have been largely dissolved. However, collaborating with someone in person on a business idea, or hearing an outside perspective on entrepreneurship, or working to solve a particularly tricky coding problem, has intrinsic value. Even though there are fantastic tech and entrepreneurial meetups on island, sometimes it can feel as though you are working in a vacuum. Outside connection and perspective can sometimes be the antidote and solution to pushing a creative idea further.

Puerto Rico tourism – As a former hotel owner here in Puerto Rico I can tell you that these early adopters of technology and entrepreneurs are exactly the type of guest that we wanted staying with us. They are the bloggers, the Twitter power users, and addicts of Instagram who will help to grow a hotels digital presence by writing, Tweeting, and posting about the island, their interactions with the creative community, and the properties they’re staying at. With respect to global tourism, creating a “Code & Stay” promotion is an innovative approach to marketing the island as a destination and no other location has such a program.

In closing, the above post is meant to just get the initial idea out to the greater world and to create a discussion amongst stakeholders like the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Startups of Puerto Rico, and travelers to the island. Certainly, more thought, dialogue, and “packaging” needs to go into the “Stay and Code” concept. Please offer your input and thoughts below on how you might structure this idea for success or share on Twitter.


3 things I would do as Manager of Digital Marketing for the Grand Wailea Resort

The other day I was on LinkedIn updating my profile to reflect the work that I’d recently done for the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG). While I was logged in I somehow came across the fact that the Grand Wailea Resort in Maui was looking for a Manager of Digital Marketing.

grand wailea manager digital marketing

I’ve spent a lot of time in the South Pacific — living in Samoa for a bunch of years and traveling through Hawaii — and figured I would investigate further to see what the Grand Wailea was currently doing as an online strategy to better connect and interact with potential guests (and ultimately to increase bookings).

When I visited the Grand Wailea’s website I quickly noticed that they had all of the requisite links to various social sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) and noted (at the time of writing this article) they had not been too active on any of the various platforms.  In order to serve the hotel best, I thought I would offer them three things I would do immediately if I was their Digital Marketing Manager.

(Note: none of my suggestions are meant as criticism, on the contrary, I want the Grand Wailea to succeed in their digital strategy and to help their guests have an amazing experience!)

1. Conduct a thorough reputation audit

The Grand Wailea is part of the Waldorf Astoria brand, which offers, “5 star luxury travel to top destinations.” Additionally, in one of their YouTube promo videos, the Grand Wailea exclaims that they “offer unsurpassed luxury.” Which is great, and is exactly the perception and expectation I conjure up in my mind when I envision this iconic property. However, after a quick check of TripAdvisor to see what past guests have had to say about the property, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between what’s being sold/offered and what is actually meeting guests upon arrival. To be clear: the Grand Wailea has great reviews but from the one star all the way to the five star an overriding theme was “the rooms are getting tired.”

Below you will notice a four star review (awesome), and even though they had “no complaints” if you read the last line this Senior Reviewer even mentions that “the rooms are outdated.”

Grand Wailea TripAdvisor

I’m not sure if the Gran Wailea has a remodeling project in the works, or what their plans are. However, if they want continued, long-term success with the “hotel review feedback loop” then I would suggest more transparency, and perhaps even a rebranding to state that the rooms are “classically elegant,”  or something along those lines to set expectations early. In all honesty, it does not matter who your digital director is, if guests feel like they’ve been duped on the quality of the rooms, then negative reviews and comments will continue.

It’s important to note that travelers have always had a voice. Social sites like TripAdvisor, Facebook, and Twitter just allow guests the opportunity to magnify how many people can hear their opinion. Previously, it was perhaps ten friends and now (with extended networks and friends of friends) they might be telling ten thousand people or a million about their experience at your hotel.

2. Create remarkable content

The second thing I would do as Manager of Digital Marketing for the Grand Wailea Resort would be to use a keyword tool, such as Google’s Keyword Planner, to discern what potential guests are searching for online when it comes to Maui. From the information provided by the Keyword tool, and via a thorough understanding of the Grand Wailea’s guest demographic, I would develop an editorial calendar of blog, Facebook, and YouTube content that was aimed at helping visitors with useful information. (Note: the graphic below shows the results for a keyword search using the phrase “Maui family activities.”)

maui family activities

As noted in the introduction above, the Grand Wailea’s website lists all of their relevant social media accounts, but they are not updated all that frequently. Some simple posts that I would suggest they create would be “5 Great Beaches for Kids,” “How to Tour Maui with Children Like a Local,” and “10 Rainy Day Activities the Whole Family Can Enjoy.” Potential guests want to interact, engage, and feel connected to brands via their online presence and if social media accounts are just “collecting dust” then the Grand Wailea is probably losing business.

3. Become a social media concierge

The third thing I would do as the Grand Wailea’s Manager of Digital Marketing would be to start using social media channels as an extension of the concierge desk. The best and most effective way to do this is to join online conversations in a non-spammy way. Two simple ways to be incredibly helpful to potential guests would be to answer questions in a destination forum like TripAdvisor’s Maui discussion board and to use Twitter’s simple search tool to communicate with travelers that need assistance.

As you can see from the screengrab below, the TripAdvisor Maui destination forum has over 46,000 discussion topics, questions, and inquiries. The Grand Wailea’s Director of Digital Marketing should be replying to many of the questions as a way to build trust and to build brand recognition.

 maui tripadvisor forum

Similarly, Twitter provides the Grand Wailea an almost never-ending opportunity to be the “Maui Digital Concierge” by simply connecting with those users who are seeking trip guidance and looking for insight on Maui.

grand wailea twitter

 Currently, though, their Twitter account does not appear to be updated regularly and the majority of their Tweets are about the hotel itself. This is a common mistake made by tourism business and the great thing is that it’s easily remedied by following the rule whereby you are helpful 80% of the time and only promote yourself in 20% of your interactions.

For any hotel out there, simply having social media accounts does not increase business, and if you are struggling with digital marketing I suggest you get started by looking at the 21 Day Hospitality Social Media Challenge. Building trust, being helpful, and providing complete transparency wins with guests every time.

Obviously there is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done by the Grand Wailea. The three suggestions mentioned here are meant to be part of an initial digital strategy that can be seamlessly implemented by them today.

I wish the Grand Wailea tremendous success in 2014 and with their search for a capable Digital Marketing Director. (Note to Grand Wailea: If you would like to discuss a more in depth comprehensive digital strategy there’s a good chance I’m going to be in Hawaii in February and feel free to connect with me on Twitter @mark_hayward or via email.)



21 simple and actionable ways to improve your hotels social media strategy today

Congratulations and give yourself a big pat on the back if you followed all 21 days of the social media challenge!

I’ve written a lot over the past three weeks on tools, strategies, and best practices to help you, the hospitality professional, get a better handle on social media. For today’s final day — and for those that did not complete the whole challenge — I will give you the abridged version by providing 21 actionable tasks that you can do RIGHT NOW to improve the social media presence of your hotel or hospitality business.

Without further ado, here are your daily goals for the next three weeks.

Day 1. Conduct a simple reputation audit.

Day 2. Learn how your online presence can separate your hospitality business from the competition.

Day 3. Determine 5 qualities of your ideal guest.

Day 4. Understand how your guests find you online.

Day 5. Discern how your guests perceive your business from what they research online

Day 6. Write a post (Facebook or Blog) that answers one of your most frequently asked questions.

Day 7. Comprehend why your website is critical!

Day 8. Interview one of your guests and post it online.

Day 9. Create a mind map of content ideas.

Day 10. Make a mini-schedule of posts that you can use for your blog or Facebook page.

Day 11. Master how to craft an eye catching headline.

Day 12. Post some photos to Facebook or Instagram.

Day 13. Shoot some video.

Day 14. Improve your Facebook engagement.

Day 15. Realize the number one mistake hoteliers make with Twitter.

Day 16. Educate yourself on the difference between TripAdvisor and YELP?

Day 17. Go to a destination forum and answer some questions about your location.

Day 18. Encourage a departing guest to write a review of your property.

Day 19. Actively respond to negative reviews (a management response template is provided for you).

Day 20. Undertake your hospitality social media strategy in an hour a day.

Day 21. Ask one of your check-ins if they like your page on Facebook, and if the do give them a free upgrade. (It’s all part of the review feedback loop!)

There you have it! Three weeks worth (or 21 days) of simple, yet actionable, tasks you can incorporate to improve the social media presence of your hospitality venture.

If you need help or have questions, shoot me an email or connect on Twitter.


A social media strategy for the time crunched hotelier

social media for time crunchedWelcome to day 20 of the 21-day hospitality social media challenge!

As a hospitality professional you most certainly have a tremendous amount of daily responsibilities, tasks to complete, and very long working days. What you probably don’t have is a lot of free time.

A common question from folks in the tourism industry is HOW DO YOU DO ALL OF THIS — TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc — as a time crunched hotelier?

The simple answer: it has to become part of your daily routine. Just like you would never say that you did not have time to check in a guest or clean rooms, social media needs to be weighted just as importantly. Optimizing your online strategy is the exact same concept. It has to be a priority or it will always get pushed to the side.

How much time can you realistically commit?

Much like exercise, if you do not specifically schedule time to fit your online work into your day you won’t do it. However, similar to your fitness regime, if you can make your social strategy a habit then you are establishing a proactive online approach, as opposed to, being reactive and constantly trying to put out fires.

To be sure, the social web never rests or takes a day off, so if you can implement your scheme to have coverage every day that is fantastic. If not, you do the best you can.

The basics of a social strategy that you will need to cover & your time crunched hotelier social media strategy.

(Please note: I am not stating that this is ideal, I am saying that this is a sample to work within based on your time constraints. Your needs and requirements might vary so take the time to create a social strategy that works for you!)

The following assumes that you have an hour a day (That’s just four fifteen minute blocks!) to put into your online efforts. If you have more time, fantastic! If not, determine where your guests are spending their time online and use your minutes wisely to connect and build relationships with them.

  • Listening (10 minutes) – What’s going on in the online world when it comes to your destination and hospitality venture? What is being said?

Do you have a listening tool like Revinate or ReviewPro? If not you can very easily setup a FREE Google alert for your property (and any other keyword you want) so you can be alerted if you or your destination is mentioned online. Also, incorporate Twitter search to find any @ mentions that you can reply to.

  • Creating (20 minutes) – Facebook, your blog, YouTube, Instagram, and all the other platforms will not update themselves. You need to dedicate time to sitting down and committing to create updates or it will never happen.

Draft a post for Facebook or your blog, create a short video, upload some photos, and/or respond to any comments or input.

  • Managing (10 minutes) – Developing your presence on the social web means gaining the trust of your potential customers. A great place to begin is by helping out in forums and providing useful input.

Check all relevant destination forums to see if there are any questions you can help with.

  • Responding (10 minutes) – If you have any negative reviews online then get to work by writing empathetic and sincere management responses that help to show (your potential future) guests that you care.

Check TripAdvisor,YELP, and other platforms for new reviews and respond accordingly.

  • Reading (10 minutes) – Find out what’s going on with your competition by reading some of their reviews and by looking at the content they are creating.

You’re not the only one concerned with social media, your competition is too! Additionally, the online marketing space changes very quickly, so keep current by reading a few relevant blogs such as Seth Godin, ProBlogger, and Mashable.

Task day 20: Your challenge today is to commit one hour (or four fifteen minute blocks) and dedicate the time to your social media presence.


How to write an appropriate management response (a template for you)

Welcome to day 19 of the 21-day hospitality social media challenge! You are almost done with the challenge and hopefully you have followed along for the whole three weeks.

Do you struggle when it comes to responding to negative reviews? I’ve previously talked about how you can respond to those who were not impressed with your hospitality business. However, for today I want to go one step further by providing a real example of a negative review and by giving you some best practices for responding. As a quick recap, here are some best practices to keep in mind while formatting your negative review management response.

management response best practices

Below is a recent review from a TripAdvisor community member that no GM wants to start their morning off with! As you can see, from the headline alone, the former guest (we’ll call him “JimBob”) did not particularly enjoy the accommodation experience where he stayed.

tripadvisor negative review

When I read the review immediately it seemed clear to me that this person’s perception and expectations DID NOT meet reality, and from the tone of the evaluation, “JimBob” probably felt that he was deliberately misled.

If you read no further, understand one thing, the days of “bait and switch” are over. If you have small rooms, the pool is closed, or the restaurant only serves burgers you had better let your potential guests know before they book, to ensure that you can avoid negative reactions.

Your management response template

The following is how I would respond to “JimBob.” Please feel free to use this sample reply as you see fit. If it might be of assistance via the rearranging of some words or with a few edits, by all means, it’s here to help you in your daily routine.

Greetings JimBob – Thank you very much for taking the time to review our property.

Your input, and the feedback from all of our guests is vitally important to us and we always want guest expectations to be met upon arrival.

Per your comments, we have updated our website to ensure that future travelers know that while remarkable hospitality, service and cleanliness are our top priorities some of our bathrooms are indeed small. We sincerely apologize if you did not know this in advance.

We hope to see you again in the future and you can reach me directly at 555-555-5555 if I can be of any assistance.

Line 1. As you can see, I started off with a simple thank you to let the reviewer know I appreciate their time.

Line 2. On the next line I am letting the reviewer, and future readers of this review, know that we care about all of our guests.

Line 3. On the next line issues are addressed and it’s always a best practice to include some positive sentiment for future readers of the review.

Line 4. Finally, keeping the response brief with a simple closing and contact information should further follow-up be required.

When it comes to your future guests, and avoiding negative reviews, your best strategy is to be wholly transparent and to give full disclosure about exactly what you have to offer.

Task day 19: Your challenge for today is to go and respond to a negative review that you have been hesitant to reply to. If you are fortunate enough not to have any negative comments then write a management response to someone who has recently reviewed your hospitality business.

Don’t miss a day of the challenge! Sign up below.


9 pretty compelling reasons why you should be encouraging guest reviews

Welcome to day 18 of the 21-day hospitality social media challenge!

Do you encourage guests to write reviews of your hospitality business? If not, you probably should!

1. 92% of internet users read product reviews (e-tailing group).

2. 89% of people say that reviews influence their buying decision (e-tailing group).

3. 53% of travelers say they won’t book a hotel if it has NO reviews (PhoCusWright).

4. 81% of travelers usually or always reference TripAdvisor hotel reviews before making selections (PhoCusWright).

5. 98% of users agreed that TripAdvisor reviews helped them have a better trip (PhoCusWright).

6. 300 million people view TripAdvisor content on sites other than TA each month (TripAdvisor).

7. TripAdvisor has 26 million monthly unique visitors.

8. 78% of travelers say seeing a management response to reviews makes them believe that it cares more about its guests (PhoCusWright).

9. 84% of travelers say an appropriate management response to a bad review improves their impression of the hotel (PhoCusWright).

Remember, guests and customers have ALWAYS talked about your business! Social media just allows them to amplify their voice. As opposed to telling ten people, travelers now have the ability to share their opinions with the world. Attention to detail and amazing customer service never go out of favor, master them both and the most difficult part of reputation optimization is taken care of.

Task day 18: Your challenge for today is to encourage a departing guest to write a review of your property.

Don’t miss a day of the challenge! Sign up below.