The Good Funeral Guide Blog

We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.

Monday, 20 October 2014

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Guest post by Mark Shaw

All this talk of change has led me to look back. As I do, I have to accept I am old enough to have witnessed many changes. Not as many as some, and I hope many more still to see.

The supermarket where I would once accompany my mother for the Saturday shop has since changed ownership and corporate name no less than 6 times. But still Heinz, Kelloggs, Colgate and Hellmans get my vote.

At the age of 15, as church organist in a rural Highland village, I played for all the village funerals. It was this introduction to funerals that led me on this path. They were not glamorous affairs – how could they be with an Austin Princess hearse? They were however smart, dignified community occasions. Any less than 300 attendees would be seen as a poor attendance. I knew most of the funeral script – thats just the way funerals were. Local family businesses where funerals were conducted as required, between other services which the family business was involved in.

My first real venture into funerals was while on school work experience. In the big smoke of a nearby town. A full time, relatively large scale and somewhat more grand set up given the volume of funerals done. This was the best, most educational and interesting week of my school days.

I now realise how fortunate I was to get in to this profession. The week after I left school, I started as a trainee funeral director 80 miles away in a city to which I had rarely been.

This firm, part of a chain, was involved with the best part of 2000 funerals a year. It was run by staff and managers, following head office policy, rather than the 3rd generation of the family whose name was above the door.

I was surprised that my rural ways and enthusiasm for a job I knew little about was not welcomed more warmly. That said, 22 years down the road, I can understand how the novelty of multiple night time calls wears thin and can make you grumpy.

In my own mind however I was always destined to work for myself which I eventually did when excuses not to take the plunge ran out.

So, changes? Well there were no celebrants, humanists or family led ceremonies in these days that I can remember. Eco coffins? (I think you could still buy aerosol CFC’s.) Woodland Burial? No. Direct Cremation? Would possibly have been seen as a sign of disrespect – and the funeral directors might even have attended out of sympathy. Funeral estimates were a new thing. Having said that, If I am not mistaken, the DWP (DHSS) would have paid the full amount of a moderate funeral to eligible applicants. In any case, a family might have seen it as a matter of honour to pay the funeral account and so no need to ask for money up front. The majority of client families of course remain happy to pay a fair price for a good service.

So the dinosaur of funeral directing has seen changes even in my short time. Changes which challenge our industry / profession. Changes which have seen our role and prominence grow as some funerals become more elaborate. Other changes around the marginal edges of the bereavement sphere see some families try to Do It Themselves, whether out of budgetary constraint, or as an expression of love and devotion to loved ones. And yes, I have been loosely involved with DIY funerals done for both reasons.

Family circumstances have changed. Splits, distance, free thinking and the associated tugs on loyalty as people want to do things differently rather than in the prescribed manner. This all poses a challenge to the function of the funeral director. Not to mention obesity, traffic congestion, legislation and all the other things that have changed.

So our micro world of funerals along with the macro world of life has changed.

A few taps of a mobile phone gives us much of the information we need on any matter including death, dying and funerals. Our shopping is delivered to the door if we wish. Our society can no longer function without technology, systems and organisations.

How these changes are made manifest within our profession is inevitably going to be a matter of debate. As cars get bigger, faster, shinier and can no longer be repaired with a hammer, it follows that hearses will do likewise and be a source of pride to their owners.

Corporate tactics, accounting policies, aggressive marketing and all the associated problems of that will be applied to any potentially profitable activity. Lets accept that funerals will not be excluded.

Ultra low cost funeral companies running on a shoe string, or out of love need to prove sustainability. Lets not forget the other areas around deaths that need resources. Whether in servicing coroners’ contracts, international repatriation, high profile / state funerals all of which need grit, determination, and a sufficient return on the necessary capital.

We all work hard in our own sphere. Let’s keep it up, do our best for the clients who find us, and relish the challenge which our profession hands to us on a plate.

Poem

Saturday, 18 October 2014

This is the second poem we have have published by Paul Wooldridge. You can find the first here. Paul started writing poetry following the death of his father and as a result much of it deals with death and grief.  Paul is not a poet in the fulltime sense of the word, he is an ordinary person with a job etc who also writes poetry. So your feedback would be very welcome.

 

Failing Courage

 by Paul Wooldridge

 

My father cries like me. With eyes closed, tears

slip gently down his cheeks. Or should it be,

because I’ve shed so few in thirty years

and now I witness them so frequently,

I fear I cry like him, not he like me?

 

They build behind his eyelids, thin and raw,

before descending, leaving gleaming trails

on ageing skin, more pallid than before.

I note the signs, those caused as bodies ail,

and with them his reserves of courage fail.

 

Both anchored in the living room, his hand

in mine, he sinks back propped with pillowed head.

As limbs begin to twitch beyond command,

I watch my future weeping on a bed.

 

 

 

Guest Posts and Beyond: Search Engine Optimisation For Funeral Directors

Friday, 17 October 2014

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Guest post by Mark Sharron

Okay Charles, challenge accepted.  This will be the first in a series of articles where I share some insights into what the readership of this site (people who work in the funeral industry, mostly) can do to increase their search engine exposure.

To give you a little background on myself I have been working on behalf of a Brighton funeral director (Sussex Funeral Services Limited) for about 18 months and I’m proud to report during my tenure their brand has enjoyed an uninterrupted strong first page presence.

As business owners, if you get SEO right, the rewards can make the difference between a healthy balance sheet or struggling to attract new clients.

This article and those that follow will give you an insight into how Google and other search engines work including how tips on how to increase your search engine exposure.  I also extend an open invitation for any readers of this site/blog to ask me anything in the comments below.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to cover a range of topics and tie each of them back to the funerary industry. These include:

  • *   Keyword research / types of keywords.
  • *   Pay per click (ppc/adwords) advertising
  • *   Your website
  • *   Content marketing / onsite seo
  • *   Google local
  • *   Google organic
  • *   Link building (including guest posts like this one)
  • *   Analytics
  • *   Social media

Keyword Research:

The foundation of any SEO campaign is keyword research.   Thorough keyword research will either make or break an SEO campaign.  When I first engage a new client, the first thing I usually get told is “I want to rank #1 in Google.”  My immediate response is “What do you want to rank #1 one for?”  The most important first step in any SEO or PPC campaign is keyword research.

A keyword is any word or phrase that a potential client may type into a search engine when looking for your site or a competitor’s offering.

The trick to keyword research is understanding your market and the kind of language prospective clients are using when they search for a funeral director.

For example:

  • *   Your brand name e.g. Sussex Funerals
  • *   Funeral director Brighton
  • *   Funeral director Hove
  • *   Funeral home Brighton
  • *   Undertaker Brighton
  • *   Funeral director
  • *   Undertaker
  • *   Funeral home
  • *   Cheap funeral director Brighton
  • *   Affordable funeral director in Brighton

This list is a very small sample of potential keywords a prospective client may use.  The idea is to create an exhaustive list of funeral focused keywords and have your website rank at the top of first page for all of them.  The greater the number of keywords your site ranks for, the more prospective clients will find your site. More clients finding your website means more potential business.   To summarise, this is known as a “long-tail keyword strategy.” A long-tail keyword strategy is not about picking one specific keyword, rather an aggregate search volume strategy that targets hundreds keywords at once.

Different Types of Keywords:

Not every keyword is equal.  Some will attract more searches and will be harder to rank for; other keywords will be less competitive and convert more clients.  In the SEO industry we give different types of keywords names.  I personally group keywords into the following categories:

  • *   Short-tail keywords
  • *   Long-tail keywords
  • *   Branded keywords
  • *   Local keywords
  • *   Keywords with commercial intent

Short Tail: 1-2 words are a known as short tail keywords e.g. “funeral director.”  These keywords attract the most searches. They are more competitive/will be harder to rank for, and users landing on your site are in research mode, therefore a high percentage of visitors arriving at a website using short tail keywords do not convert into billable business.

Long Tail: 3+ words imply commercial intent.  4+ words there is strong commercial intent.  A web user is starting to narrow down their search to a specific product or service, e.g. “affordable humanist funeral director.”  Individual long tail keywords attract fewer searches but they typically have more value.  Ranking for a lot of long tail keywords is a lot easier in organic search and less expensive in Adwords.

Local Keywords: Local keywords can be a combination of short-tail or long-tail and generally have a strong commercial intent as a user is searching for a local service provider e.g. “funeral director Brighton” or “cheap funeral director Brighton”

Branded Keywords.  This is just your brand name e.g. “Sussex Funeral Services.”  In this case my client has used a local keyword as his brand name which gives his website an advantage when web users search for Sussex Funeral Directors.

Keywords with Commercial Intent: These are usually long tail keywords where there is a clear commercial intent. e.g. “cheap funeral director”, “budget funeral director”.  Users are again searching for something specific.  They are in buying mode.  You will find your competition knows these keywords have value and they can be quite expensive to bid on.

In the next article I will explore Google Adwords and considerations / tips when setting up a PPC campaign as a funeral director.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section and I will respond within 24 hours.

 

 

Write a guest blog post and feel the lift

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

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It takes all sorts to make a GFG mailbag — it’s not all lawyer’s letters from the FBCA, you know. Here’s one:

Hello Charles and Good Funeral Guide team,

I’m an avid reader of The Good Funeral Guide blog and and would be honoured to contribute by submitting an article.

I would love to read a post on ‘How to Incorporate a Limousine in a Funeral on a Budget’, and I think your other readers would too. It would definitely be a valuable inclusion because it will give your readers some tips on saving money on using a limo in a funeral.

I know you are probably too busy to get that content out immediately so how about you have my friend Mircea Stanescu write it for you? Mircea is the owner of Echo Limousine, which is a Chicago based limousine rental and service company. I assure you that the content will be of excellent quality.

Look forward to hearing from you,

Shivani

Our reply:

Dear Shivani

As an avid reader of the GFG blog you may have sometimes suspected that it is based in the UK. I can confirm that it is. This being so, I fear Mircea’s words will fall on deaf ears. I greatly regret this.  

With all best wishes 

Charles 

We get an awful lot of these emails from guest blogggers, most of them equally bonkers. Why? Because blogging wins tons of Brownie points with meritocratic search engine web crawlerthingies. It catapults you up the rankings and increases your visibility a millionfold – perhaps more. As Shivani knows very well, a mighty vehicle like the GFG has serious rocket power. Here at the Batesville-GFG Shard we have never bothered with SEO, not only because we think it unsporting but also because we don’t need to. We blog a lot and therefore sit at the right hand of the Lord Google Almighty Himself. 

From time to time we invite our readers to submit an article. Lots of you have promised to write something but have failed to come up with the goods, leaving the blog looking like the ravings of pub bore – me.  

How good it would be to widen the debate, embrace all sorts of points of view and have a blog that is representative of everyone who works in Funeralworld.  

Let off some steam. Send it in. Nom de plume allowed. It’ll be read all over the world and it’ll put your website on page one of Google. 

Come one, come all. Just do it. 

 

 

How old school got to be old hat

Monday, 13 October 2014

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I don’t know what undertakers think about while they’re queueing for the supermarket checkout, but if they have anything in common with 84% of the rest of the population they may be reflecting on how their shopping habits have changed since the recession.

Just how many of them go on to make a connection with the changing habits of funeral shoppers is unclear.

The big four supermarkets are getting on with the job of remodelling themselves in order to adapt to altered trading conditions. We’ve heard them yelp, we’ve watched their share price tumble, but they’ve not cried Unfair! They’re buckling down to hard task of winning back custom.

The budget stores Aldi and Lidl have done well out of the downturn. Today’s grocery shoppers are avid deal-seekers.

People now buy from an average of 4 different supermarkets a week. They want value. Brand loyalty has gone out of the window.

They’re using the internet a lot more, too.

They like to top up with artisan products from small suppliers at farmers’ markets. There’s closer identification with the little guy and a rejection of Big Corp. Tesco is shunned not just because it’s too expensive but also because it’s perceived to be antisocial. Today’s shoppers want values, as well as value.

For the very poor, there are food banks to tide them over.

Trading conditions in Funeralworld are far, far worse. The cost of funerals has risen faster than that of groceries. For the very poor, the Funeral Payment is a dwindling and inadequate contribution to the price of a funeral. There is presently no volunteer-led community initiative on a par with food banks to help them.

A nation of born-again deal-seekers has stimulated the rapid growth of new startups offering budget funerals. These Aldi undertakers have been able to build volume to compensate for smaller margins by undercutting the old-school undertakers by some distance. Their competitiveness has been enhanced by the strong vocational values of many of them, some of whom work for next to nothing.

On top of that there’s been the inexorable rise of direct cremation, the grocery equivalent of the food pill. A great many of those who opt for this cheapest-of-them-all alternative are those who could easily afford a high-end funeral. Whoops, there goes a tranche of big payers.

Funeral shoppers no longer want to buy a whole funeral in one shop. They want to assemble it from several suppliers and they use the internet to find them. If they can afford a coffin from an artisan maker, that’s the one they’ll buy.

There’s been no rejection of Big Corp yet because consumer awareness has not identified Dignity, Funeral Partners and Laurel Funerals for what they are, nor have they sussed Co-operative Funeralcare for what it manifestly isn’t. Such is the growth rate of consumer vigilance, it won’t be long.

It’s not all about price. It’s also about service culture — too big a topic to be more than alluded to here, but an important factor.

Above all, though, there’s a widespread and growing rejection of the ceremonial, processional funeral in favour of simpler and therefore cheaper funerals. Bereaved people increasingly want to create ‘meaningful experiences’ rather than put on a good show.

That a nation famed for the quality of its ceremonial events should be falling out of love with ceremonial funerals is curious, something we talk about here from time to time. Whether this is an evolutionary phenomenon or down to a failure to adapt to modern needs is open to debate. The upshot is that there are lots of ‘traditional’ undertakers out there with high overheads and a dwindling customer base.

The pressure on traditional funeral homes is very great just now, varying in intensity from area to area. The best are buckling down to adapting to altered trading conditions. Some now offer a budget range, just like Waitrose. Others are lashing out with impotent fury at the unfairness of it all. The GFG has been a target of some of these recently. It won’t do. The GFG doesn’t have the clout to start trends. All it can do is hold up a pitiless mirror to what’s going on.

The undertakers  who survive will be the ones with the intelligence and humanity to meet the needs, values and budgets of their clients. The rest will go to the wall, and, sorry, you’ll only have yourselves to blame. Even in the good times we had hundreds more funeral directors than we needed.

Poem

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Soul
by John Whitworth

The soul is like a little mouse.
He hides inside the body’s house
With anxious eyes and twitchy nose
As in and out he comes and goes,
A friendly, inoffensive ghost
Who lives on tea and buttered toast.
He is so delicate and small
Perhaps he is not there at all;
Long-headed chaps who ought to know
Assure us it cannot be so.
But sometimes, as I lie in bed,
I think I hear inside my head
His soft ethereal song whose words
Are in some language of the birds,
An air-borne poetry and prose
Whose liquid grammar no one knows.
So we go on, my soul and I,
Until, the day I have to die,
He packs his bags, puts on his hat
And leaves for ever. Just like that.

Child Funeral Charity now taking referrals

Friday, 10 October 2014

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Kevin Tomes, Trustee; Anne Barber, Trustee; Bel Mooney; Mary Tomes, Trustee; Roger Gale, CEO

The Child Funeral Charity is now considering referrals from professionals within the bereavement industry who will be able to put forward details of any family who they believe needs help to cover the costs of a baby or child’s funeral. Once approved by the trustees, CFC will donate up to £700 per family, with the money being paid directly to the relevant suppliers.

Roger Gale, ceo of CFC, says: “The Child Funeral Charity was created because we saw how challenging parents often found it to successfully apply for the Government’s social fund to allow low income families assistance to pay for funeral costs. We do not think it is right that, when faced with the loss of a child, a family suddenly has to worry about how to pay for the funeral.  We hope we will be able to move forward quickly and help each parent during their personal journey of grief.”

You can find the referral form here

CFC needs to fundraise in order to support parents who have lost a baby or a child. Please support CFC in any way you can. Click here

 

www.childfuneralcharity.co.uk

Childrens  Funeral Charity logo

 

 

A fitting tribute to Sir Donald Sinden

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

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Posted by Andy Clarke and Holly Bridgestock-Perris

On 11 September the world lost one its finest actors of screen and stage. Sir Donald Sinden died at home at the age of 90 following a prolonged battle with cancer.

The national press has given praise for his extensive work and his contribution to British acting. They have fully covered his career and extolled his acting successes over the past 7 decades.

Sir Donald will be remembered for his various stage appearances from comedy (There’s a Girl in my Soup, 1966-1973) to various Shakespearean characters in numerous film productions and, more recently, playing alongside Martin Shaw in BBC’s Judge John Deed.

Sir Donald’s funeral service was held at a small village church miles from the busy west end where he was a regular visitor. Friends and family gathered at St John the Baptist in Wittersham, near Tenterden in Kent to say farewell to the great man.

The Sindens are neighbours of ours and Sir Donald was a very popular and highly respected member of our community. Locally he will be remembered for his happy manner and friendly smiles in the High Street of Tenterden and surrounding villages. Quite often I would hear his distinctive voice booming across the aisles of our local Waitrose as he chatted with staff and other customers alike.

Sir Donald was also a supporter of local arts – he was patron of the Barn Theatre Company based at the Ellen Terry Barn Theatre at Smallhythe Place and supporter of Homewood School drama department who named their theatre after him.

He also supported the local community in many other ways. I remember well, one year, running into Donald at Stone village fair where he was master of ceremonies and resident judge and prize awarder – in his best Shakespearean theatrical voice presiding over best Victoria sponge and largest marrow. A delight to the ears!

As such, we were delighted to be asked by his son, actor and director Marc Sinden, if we could provide a hand-painted Curve Coffin for Sir Donald in the distinctive “Salmon and Cucumber” colours of the Garrick Club in London which Sir Donald frequented.

We are delighted that the story was covered by local press.

 

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My first funeral

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

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Posted by John Porter

I think a personal reflective piece is in order following my delivery yesterday of my first fee-paying funeral ceremony as a recently qualified Funeral Celebrant. I will not forget it for several reasons.

The first reason is that I was sunning myself beside a swimming pool on a sun-drenched Greek island when I got the call from the funeral director on my mobile. I rarely answer it on holiday but for some reason decided to. I said “yes” without hesitation, took down the details and called the client straight away. The line sounded like a load of crickets having a tele-conference but we somehow managed to set up a meeting for the following Monday. The funeral was on Thursday. My mind started to tick. I sent a couple of emails and quickly established that the family did not want an order of service – phew! One obstacle out of the way with a tight timescale.

The interview went very well, I sent a draft script the next day and resolved a miscommunication between others about version of music – it pays to be very picky on this point! The son and grandson were both speaking during the ceremony about their matriarch’s character.  One would read, the other would do it off the cuff with some notes on his iPhone. I was not nervous about this as there were no funeral ceremonies to follow. 20-25 people would be there including 8 grandchildren which I was very pleased about.

Thursday 2nd October dawned a beautiful day. Chilly start but soon became unseasonably hot. The ceremony was at 2pm. I was working at the hospital until noon (p/t administrator in Transforming End of Life Care Team) and was fully prepared. I fancied lunch on the pier and then a short cycle ride to the crematorium – allowing 30 mins before the start to check everything. I was calm.

The second reason I will remember my first funeral is that 2nd October 2014 was my partner and I’s 21st anniversary – since we met. I was feeling very happy.

The third reason I will remember my first funeral is my accident! I left work as planned at noon and set off on my fold-up Brompton bicycle, suited, booted and tanned, to the bus stop for a ride to the pier. The sea beckoned. Within 30 seconds from leaving my office I cycled past a van that was blocking my way onto a grass verge and then suddenly hit a hardly visible hollow and summersaulted over the handlebars collapsing in an undignified heap! No-one came to my rescue as I guess they did not witness my acrobatics. Those first few seconds are very hard to recall. My first thought was “The funeral!”, the second “My clothes!” I scanned myself, nothing broken, no obvious holes in the suit – just a bit dusty. Phew! I did not notice the blood dribbling over my twisted Brompton. It was coming from the tip of my finger. “Right, back to base I think”.

Twenty minutes later I stepped out into the sun’s heat, suit brushed, blood washed off, tie straightened, finger smartly decorated with a plaster, bikeless but reasonably relaxed. A bus and taxi (I don’t drive) got me to the crematorium 30 mins before the ceremony as planned. I determined not to mention any of this to anyone until after the ceremony. I could feel some pain in my elbow but dispatched some adrenalin to suppress its pleas for attention.

My ceremony script was in a folio that only just fitted into the lectern (worth checking this in advance methinks). Two buttons: one for music, I noticed later it activates an audible door bell to alert the chapel attendant to play a piece from a CD (quaint!); the other to close the curtains, well-positioned so that I needed to face the coffin to easily press it.

As I climbed into the pulpit to start the ceremony I saw an envelope from the funeral director with “fee for John Porter…” written on it. It was cash. It would be impossible to pick up during the ceremony without being noticed. I let it be and hoped it would become invisible to the family contributors. Mercifully they were too focussed on what they needed to say and appeared not to see it. Another phew!

I closed the ceremony, cued the music (that’s when I heard a distant doorbell chime), left the pulpit, bowed to the closed curtains and stepped into the heat once more. I did not feel relieved. I felt a profound sense of respect for the family that had lost their matriarch, gratitude for the trust they placed in me and overwhelmed by the privilege to help them say farewell.

The family said wonderful things to me. The funeral director said he would email the other FDs in the area as I had done such a good job. I felt very thankful.

The final reason why I remember my first funeral is because 30 minutes later I was sitting in the A&E department of the hospital I work in waiting for an X-ray on my extremely painful elbow. People were being rushed in with life threatening injuries and conditions. The circle of life. I was eating a very late lunch – not the one I anticipated earlier gazing out to sea from my favourite café on the pier.

That was my first funeral.

Who’s sorry now?

Monday, 6 October 2014

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The baby ashes scandal which broke at Mortonhall crematorium quickly spread to other crematoria in Scotland. Will it develop into a UK-wide scandal? Have other crematoria been failing to recover ashes from infants despite the availability of forty-year-old science showing that a foetus as young as 17 weeks’ gestation will, if cremated gently, yield ash?

At Emstrey crematorium in Shrewsbury, where baby ashes were being successfully recovered 100% of the time as long ago as the 1960s, the technique for cremating babies seems at some stage to have been lost, because since 2004 only 1 set of ashes per 30 were recovered.

Shropshire Council has launched an enquiry and clients of Emstrey crematorium have formed a campaigning group, Action for Ashes. One of its members, Glen Perkins, whose 4-month-old daughter Olivia was cremated at Emstrey, said: “We truly believe there are other cases in England and Wales. We’re not going to go away until things have changed. We’re going to keep fighting for what is right.”

In Glasgow they are making sure that what went on can never happen again. They are applying the definition of ashes proposed by both Dame Elish Angiolini and Lord Bonomy: “all that is left in the cremator at the end of the cremation process and following the removal of any metal”.

Councillor Frank McAveety, convener of Glasgow council’s Sustainability and the Environment Committee, said: “The council, with immediate effect, began to use Dame Elish Angiolini’s definition from her report into Mortonhall and moved away from the more general definition of the Federation of Burial and ­Cremation Authorities. This clarification makes it very likely that we will return any ash to bereaved families where they request it.”

In her report into Mortonhall, Dame Elish wrote:

There was little by way of formal training at Mortonhall other than in general cremation practice. When it came to the cremation of foetuses and babies, staff learned from their more experienced peers or supervisor. Likewise, notions of policy and practice were derived by word of mouth with very little other than operators’ manuals committed to writing.

Here was a sorry state of affairs.

When is somebody going to stand up and say sorry?

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