You Aren’t in Kansas Anymore, Dorothy: The Realities of Transitioning to an Entrepreneur
(I’m posting it like this so I can use the Spritz Bookmarklet to speed read it. ) From http://www.susansolovic.com/
You Aren’t in Kansas Anymore, Dorothy: The Realities of Transitioning to an Entrepreneur Corporate employees and small business owners may as well live on two different planets. Corporate employees work hard to meet the goals and objectives of their organizations just as small business owners do. But unlike small business owners, corporate employees never have to worry about making payroll or keeping the lights turned on. There’s no need to stress over aging accounts receivable because the corporate accounting department handles that. Bad press, a missed deadline or a failed project can certainly create turmoil and stress in the corporate world, but when it happens to a small business owner, it could mean the end of the road. Entrepreneurs don’t have a safety net. If they screw it up, there’s no one else to blame. In today’s economy, millions of corporate employees are getting the boot and a significant number of them are choosing to migrate to the world of small business without an appreciation for the chasm that exists. Stripped of their title, comfortable office, dependable salary and support systems, these corporate casualties are in for a crash landing. You aren’t in Kansas anymore. So let me share some quick survival tips. First, upon entry to the land of small business, remember people here speak a different language. No one cares what you used to do for Big Name Company. You’re on your own here, kid. It’s up to you to prove your value. Secondly, don’t make the mistake of spending lots of money on marketing materials, a web site and office space. Here in the small business world, bootstrapping is the key to success and we’ll be happy to share our resources to help you look big without spending big. We’re all about collaboration. As you get started, don’t get frustrated when you have to do it all yourself. In our world, no job is too small for the CEO. Your job description encompasses janitorial work, bookkeeping, sales, administrative tasks, mailroom duties and generally everything else. It’s overwhelming at first, but you’ll get used to it. You may be great at doing what you do, but that alone isn’t enough on this planet. To succeed, you must understand the basic principles of running a business too. There’s a huge difference between creating a job and building a business. A job generates revenue as long as you continue to work, but if you stop, so does the money. A business is bigger than you alone and it is sustainable without you. Finally, you only think you had ulcers in the corporate world. Running a small business requires you to work longer and harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. Plus, you’re adding the burden of putting at least part of your personal finances at risk. In the early 5 stages of my company, I used to joke about loving my job so much, I paid to go to work every day. Once you’ve embraced the nuances of the small business world, I bet you’ll find it the best time of your life. It’s high risk and high reward, but I’d never trade it for the corporate world. Small business is the American dream. 6 How to Join the Baby Boomer Entrepreneurs as They Lead the Way According to a recent report from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, entrepreneurial activity is down overall for the second straight year. The only exception preventing this from being an “across-the-board” phenomenon is older Americans — Baby Boomers — who registered an uptick in their rate of startup creation. There are a variety of reasons older Americans start businesses: · They get to a point when their finances allow them to chart their own paths. · They realize that if they don’t pursue a dream now, it may never happen · They lose their jobs because of downsizing and laying off the older employees with bigger salaries. · They want to enhance their retirement by either increasing their income or by increasing their levels of activity and engagement. But, whatever the reason for forging out on one’s own, what are some of the best options and approaches for these seasoned citizens of the business world? The often heard call to action, “Carpe diem!” or “Seize the day!” takes on a new sense of urgency when we hit the age of 50. In a few of the cases I mentioned above, it seems logical that the older entrepreneur will be looking to start a business he or she finds enjoyable. However, I strongly urge you, that no matter why you have decided to start your own small business, you make it a business that fits your talents, skills, ideals and personal preferences. Over the years you have undoubtedly developed a long list of things at which you are quite good. For the most part, these are also what we enjoy doing. It’s when we’re forced to do things at which we don’t excel, that our spirits suffer. Write down all the things you’re good at, no matter how trivial they may seem. Ask your family and friends what they think you’re good at. Categorize them as professional and personal. There may be some overlapping. Now write down all the businesses and professions you’ve considered since you were young. Further, think of all the business people you have admired over the years. Write their businesses down as well. Review these two lists and find the places where they overlap. Which business ideas take the best advantage of the things you are good at and enjoy? It may not be as obvious as you think. I know of a fellow who started a business late in life. He was very well off, didn’t need to work and was quite brilliant. But, more than anything, he liked to be physically active. He started a fulfillment business that required a lot of warehouse 7 work. He could go work in the warehouse a few hours a day and burn off some of his energy. It was perfect for him. Consider your choices carefully. Make the job of running any business you start later in life, your favorite and most fulfilling work. If you’re at a loss for what you want to do in the second chapter of your career, check out my book, “Reinvent Your Career: Obtain the Success You Desire and Deserve.” 8 Direct Mail Marketing and Local Marketing The other day I got a big envelope in the mail. I knew it was a direct mail marketing piece of some kind. Although I usually toss these immediately, I opened this one up. Inside was a sample of a 39-cent pen with my company’s name imprinted on the side. It’s not exactly the way I promote my business, but it did start me thinking about the state of direct mail marketing. Can it still be useful for small businesses or would you be better off attaching your business cards to the legs of passenger pigeons? Out of curiosity I looked at the Twitter frequency of two hashtags. #Emailmarketing is used about 90 times an hour. When I checked #directmailmarketing, I found that it hadn’t been used in five days. However, given that hashtags and email both live in the electronic, virtual world, I don’t think it was a totally fair comparison. In fact, before you think that I’m totally negative on direct mail, I need to point out that tech giants like Google and Apple often make excellent use of direct mail pieces. If you have a Google AdWords account and haven’t run a campaign in a while, there’s a good chance you’ve received some snail mail from Google. Usually it’s a succinctly written postcard prompting you to contact them for advice. In recent years, I’ve published many articles on the importance of local marketing initiatives. Further, Internet marketing has increasingly targeted the local market. If your business depends on local customers, have you tried gathering all their email addresses? There’s really no good way to do an email blast to everyone living within five miles of your business, is there? However, you can easily target a direct market mailing to the geographic area that best represents your customer base. A well designed direct mail piece to your local area can be an excellent tool for your marketing efforts. If you want to expand your business, or announce new products of services, a good brochure or postcard can be very effective. I believe that the company that sent me the imprinted pen missed the target a bit. However, some premiums sent via direct mail can do a great job helping you brand your business in your local area. I would bet that more than half of the people who read this have one or more imprinted magnets for local businesses holding up a drawing or some other important notice on their refrigerator doors right now. (I certainly do.) We see those business names and logos every day for years. 9 Apple, by the way, has used direct mail campaigns to distribute slick posters that feature its products. These posters are so well done that they are often plastered to the walls of tech writers and other industry influencers. Finally, as much as I believe in smart email marketing campaigns, so far I haven’t received any email enclosures that will stick to my refrigerator or are beautiful enough to post on the office bulletin board. Direct mail marketing may still be very useful for your business. Give it some thought. 10 Local Boosters Plus Social Media Equals Success It’s a time-tested truth that the same tool can be put to both good and bad purposes and that certainly applies to social media. In recent years we’ve read a lot about riots and other nefarious activities organized and promoted through social media. On the other side of the ledger, we’ve all enjoyed viral videos of flash mobs pulling off some crazy and wildly entertaining stunts. The good side is getting another boost with a flash mob variation: the cash mob. A cash mob is a group that descends on a local small business. Participants typically come with $10 to $20 to spend at the business. A local bar or restaurant hosts a post-cash mob get-together. There might be prizes and other fun add ons as well. The effort supports the local economy and is gaining popularity around the world. You can find information on cash mobs all across the Internet, but perhaps your best starting point is Cash Mobs. If you want to check on the cash mob activity in your area go to Twitter and search for this handle, @CMyourcityname. Anyone can organize a cash mob and often it’s the local Chamber of Commerce that pulls everything together. For example, in the Daytona Beach area, the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce recently organized its first cash mob event when local residents descended on the Sew & Quilt Shop. “It is a grass-roots, community-led movement to support local businesses. With $10 in hand, chamber members will come together to shop in a locally-owned small business, at a set time, on a specific day. It’s a win-win all around: cash mobbers have fun, businesses make money and our local economy gets a boost,” Flager chamber government affairs director Gretchen Smith told the local media. It can be a bonanza for local small businesses. When a cash mob hit John Reburn’s Appalachia Press in Roanoke, Virginia, he sold stationery, books and prints to 54 customers in less than an hour. Even during the Christmas season it takes a full day to rack up that many sales, Reburn related. In Roanoke it wasn’t the chamber that organized the event, but a group of local residents who put together their own informal committee to promote cash mobs. Not only do cash mobs put dollars in the till, they can have a positive psychological influence on small business owners, who sometimes see themselves as constantly swimming against the tide. 11 “There are months when you just wonder if you can continue and if (printing) just has to be a hobby and not your career. But this little cash mob was just so joyful. Even though it was just one night, it does make you feel appreciated,” Reburn said. If you’re involved with your local Chamber of Commerce, or know other like-minded shoppers who would like to further the financial health and awareness of local businesses, consider organizing some cash mob events. You’ll find some great guidelines on the Cash Mobs site (http://cash-mobs.com). You’ll have a lot of fun and folks will make some new friends in the process. 12 One Million Free Email Marketing Tips How many email marketing tips do you want today? You name the number and we can go out on the Internet together and find them. Believe me, there’s no shortage. However, I think handing out “tips” is like the old adage about giving a person a fish. You know, give a person a fish you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. It’s more important that you understand some principles of email marketing than gather up 42 tips, and when you know the principles then you’ll be able to discern which tips apply to what you’re doing. You can discover virtually all of the important principles that should guide your email marketing if you can answer these two questions: · Who is your audience? · What do you want them to do? Let me take two extremes to illustrate how important it is to have a command of these two questions. Email “A” is going to a list of prospects. The people on the list have expressed some interest in what you do. Email “B” is going to a list of regular customers. They are the lifeblood of your cash flow. With our two wildly different audiences established, it leads us to our goals. With the prospects, we want to move them further down the sales funnel. Maybe we want the email to lead directly, or semi-directly to a sale, or maybe we want to pull the prospects in more closely to our brand. With the prospects we haven’t yet fully established our authority or brand so email readers will not give us a lot of time. The subject line needs to pull them in and the body content needs to be direct and not long. The body of the email could be as short as: “Thank you for your interest in our product. We have a free white paper that explains it in detail and gives practical tips on how to best use it. Here’s where to download it.” With prospects you want to get that one “next” action. Don’t say more than you need to say to accomplish that. 13 Your regular customers need something different. Often this will take the form of a newsletter. Occasionally it will be a special offer. Let’s consider the newsletter and ask our second question, “What do you want your customers to do upon reading the newsletter?” The answer may be more abstract. Often you want to strengthen your relationship and maintain “top of mind” status. You may also have something to sell. To strengthen your relationship with these customers month after month, your emails need to contain value. Notice that the prospect’s email linked to value because that was the action we wanted to achieve. The regular customer newsletter needs to have value on its own, otherwise your customer will soon cease opening it. While the prospect email needs to be short, the longer email for your customers needs to be “scanable.” If it’s written as one long paragraph, it won’t engage its intended audience. I’ve taken two extremes to illustrate my point here, but there are prospects and customers who fall between these extremes. For example, you’ll have a different desired outcome for a customer who hasn’t done business with you in a year versus one who buys something every month. The email to the inactive group would be somewhat closer to the one you send prospects. But in all cases remember: If you know the right answers to those two questions, you’ll be able to set the tone, craft the content and present the offer that works best. 14 4 Great Ideas for DIY Marketing Month and Beyond When June rolls around, the calendar on my smartphone says it’s Entrepreneurs Do It Yourself Marketing Month. However, for most entrepreneurs and small business owners, every month is DIY marketing month, so let’s look at some time-proven DIY marketing tactics. I don’t want to rehash the social media marketing tips that you see almost every week. I’m going to pull out a few “gems” that I suspect some of you are overlooking. Testimonials. One of the most powerful, easy and inexpensive marketing tools in the world is testimonials. If you look at any great service provider’s website, you’ll probably find testimonials on the home page. If you have some customers who are big fans, see if you can feature their testimonials prominently on your website. Use real pictures of these folks. We can all smell stock photos from a mile away. Be honest. It’s always, as the adage goes, the best policy. For retailers, product reviews serve this purpose, and when they are from a verified buyer, they truly become a testimonial. Comment on forums. It is amazing how much traffic you can generate for your website when you post informative comments on forums related to your business sector. When you register to make comments on popular forums, often they will allow a link to your site in your “signature.” Do some research to discover which forums would perform the best for you and then spend a few minutes every day, scrolling through and reading new posts. Major forums give you statistics on the most visited topics and often tell you how many people are actively browsing. Concentrate your efforts in those locations. Create beaucoup landing pages. If driving qualified customers or clients to your website would significantly enhance your marketing efforts, create landing pages to match every possible interest your leads would have. Hubspot did a survey of 7,000 businesses and found an interesting relationship between the number of landing pages and number of leads captured among both B2B and B2C businesses. The increase in leads wasn’t very significant when businesses went from one to five or even as high as 20 landing pages. However when the number of landing pages hit 40 and above, leads increased by five to six times. 15 Start an affiliate program. Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer is probably most famous for persuading his friends to whitewash the fence for him. Lining up others to sell your products won’t make you an icon of popular culture, but it will increase your cash flow. Research the various ways you can get an affiliate program going. There are plenty of third party providers as well as plugins and other software solutions. Maybe right now you don’t have something that you feel is appropriate to offer in an affiliate program. Do a little thinking and find a product that dovetails with your existing product line or service. Use it as a lure to build an affiliate program and then when leads see what else you offer or do, you have a good opportunity to up-sell/cross-sell or turn them into steady customers. 16 Social Media: In-house or Outsource? Which is Best for You? Do you remember in middle school when a new fashion fad would appear and you and your fellow tweens just had to have it! Social media is a lot like that today, but I urge you to consider your goals before you jump on the bandwagon. Don’t make the mistake of doing what everyone else is doing because what works for one business may not work for another. In today’s small business environment, it’s important that you have some social media presence, but your expectations and what can be achieved need to be aligned. I’ve discussed the benefits of social media in other posts and covered some of the issues and misconceptions on Fox Business. Take a moment to review those and be sure you’re going in with the right set of goals. Once you have a handle on what you want to accomplish, then you have to see that the work gets done. There are four possibilities: you, someone on your staff, an outside agency or freelancer, or some combination of these. The two guiding principles in selecting between these options are: · Which best utilizes your resources, and · Who has the talent. Those two don’t always align nicely. The boss. Let’s look at you first. As a small business owner you have a lot on your plate. Would taking over the social media responsibilities take you away from tasks that only you can do? Would this additional work decrease the time you can devote to the things you do really well? If either of those are true, then you need to minimize what you do in the social media. But what if you have a gift for this kind of work? You can still post occasionally, but find someone on staff and transfer your knowledge, or find a professional to take over the bulk of the work. The employees. The same criteria apply to your staff, with one exception. Do you have an employee who has a talent for social media work and who would become even more valuable if you freed up time so this person could take over social media? In other words, does it make sense to shift responsibilities around? This can be great for your small business and for your up-and-coming social media maven. It gives this person an environment in which to develop professionally. It also shows other employees that you encourage growth and taking on new challenges. 17 The contractor. Many small business owners will want to find a contractor to handle much of the social media responsibilities. Paradoxically, the smallest of the small businesses may find that this is the best strategy. For example, a solopreneur can quickly get stretched in too many directions. This can be disastrous. Handing off the lion’s share of the social media work to a contractor can allow the solopreneur to give the proper attention to the most crucial tasks of building the business. A very small business also seems immediately larger to the outside world when a professional social media expert comes on-board and gets a good campaign going. Finally, these solutions aren’t mutually exclusive. No matter who has the primary responsibility, you, as the owner, can still contribute. Further, employees should become involved as well when the fit is right. 18 How to Use Instagram to Get Your Small Biz in the Picture Since we’ve known for ages that a picture is worth a thousand words, it shouldn’t be any surprise that a picture beats out 140 characters. However, that’s not the only lesson we learned recently when Instagram users officially passed Twitter users on smartphones. A funny thing happened on Instagram’s way to smartphone supremacy over Twitter— business was slow to catch on. As recently as 2012, only 40 of Simply Measured’s top 100 brands even had an Instagram presence. Further, there’s a wide chasm of engagement among brands on Instagram. The top 10 brands receive 83 percent of all Instagram engagement, according to Simply Measured. As the fasted-growing member of the social media, and given how business has been a little slow to catch on, Instagram still holds potential for many small businesses. And if you’re in a category similar to any of Instagram’s top 10 brands, you should devote some serious thought to how you can best leverage the photo-sharing social medium. Here are the categories that cover these brands: · Automotive. Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi. · Media. MTV. · Sporting Goods. Nike and Adidas. · Beverages. Starbucks. · Luxury. Tiffany, Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton. If your small business is in any of these categories, or does business that is closely related to these categories, take some time to study what they do on Instagram so you can get some inspiration. Here are some tips that will help boost your engagement no matter what category your business is in: · Use CTAs (calls to action) whenever you can. · Don’t limit pictures to products, post pics of friendly, helpful employees. If you make something, feature the manufacturing process. · Be creative. At Christmas, Taco Bell posted a wreath made entirely of green and red sauce packets. · Solicit comments by asking questions. Put the social back in social media and interact! · Take followers “behind the scenes.” · Link to your other social media accounts. · Organize a contest on Instagram. · Know the local “power users” and get them on your “team.” A hair salon, for example, could get a local modeling agency onboard. 19 · Use hashtags. You can greatly extend your reach by using the right hashtags. It will take some research on your part. Before I leave the topic, I want to encourage B2B companies to consider Instagram. While the top 10 mentioned above were retail businesses, GE has made a surprisingly strong entry into the Instagram world. People love GE’s pictures of big jet engines, manufacturing scenes and other high-tech imagery. To get started on Instagram, hit the help center for basic information and additional tips. Also, Instagram has a business blog where you should be able to mine some useful nuggets for your small business. 20 How to Use Instagram Video in Your Marketing, Branding We just looked at ways major corporations are getting good marketing results using Instagram and discussed how you can adapt their strategies to your small business. Now I want to move away from the standard picture posting and talk a little about video. Video is to Internet marketing what banner ads and photo galleries have been in earlier days. I’ve discussed the importance of YouTube as a marketing and branding tool, as have many of the guest writers who have posted here. Instagram can be an important part of your video marketing. Interestingly enough, I think one of Instagram’s video limitations is also one of its strengths: videos can be no longer than 15 seconds. Now, answer me honestly: Aren’t you ready to abandon many videos after around 10 seconds anyway? The short nature of the videos should provide a hint about the best natural hook into Instagram: Twitter. If you’re already a big tweeter, adding Instagram videos is a natural…even though Facebook paid beaucoup bucks for the startup not all that long ago. Instagram trends toward younger consumers, so keep that in mind as you plan to integrate it with your campaigns. Here are some ideas to get you started: New product or service teasers. Think of a 15-second video as like a “coming attraction” teaser at the movie theater. Show just enough to pique your customers’ interests. Go behind the scenes. Do you make something? If you produce something that is used or consumed, show vignettes that illustrate parts of the process. If you are in the food industry and use special organic ingredients, introduce a farmer. Do something funny. If your business is all desks and offices, do you have a class clown, or someone who likes to prank his (it’s almost always a “he” – isn’t it?) neighbor, capture one of these moments. Or illustrate a harmless prank others might emulate. Show your customers. Sell a big ticket item? How about a video of your customer driving away in her new Porsche? People’s favorite video subjects are themselves; second favorite: their friends and relatives. 15-second insights. We love information in bite-sized chunks; that’s why “list” blogs will be forever popular. Have an expert at your business take one small topic and deliver one useful insight. Make it a series. 21 Fiverr cartoon, animated graphic, whiteboard presentation. Come up with a idea for an animation, head over to Fiverr.com, find someone to render it and then post the video to Instagram. How cool could that be and all you have invested is five bucks? When you post your videos, don’t forget to use hashtags so they will be found by the right people. Also, be persistent about featuring them via Twitter and Facebook. Don’t just promote them once, come around to them on a repeating schedule, as appropriate. 22 Build Your Small Business Brand With Video Marketing We just discussed one “channel” for your video. Let’s take a step back and look at what makes a good video. My career started as an anchor and reporter for small market television stations. Even though I was an “on-air” personality, I had to shoot video and edit many of my own stories. You youngsters out there would laugh if you saw the primitive equipment we had to use. Big, bulky cameras, 3/4 inch tape and huge tape decks for editing. Now you can shoot HD video and edit it on your smartphone. (I sound really old now, don’t I?) Because it’s relatively easy to produce quality video today, many savvy entrepreneurs are using video to build their brands. Video marketing is effective because it gives you the chance to show, and now, inform people about your business. Consumers who view an online video are 85% more likely to make a product purchase! Plus, having video on your website increases traffic to your site — meaning more customers will find you. Worried you aren’t Martin Scorsese or Steve Spielberg? You don’t have to be. Larry Winget, The Pitbull of Personal Development, has a popular YouTube channel, and he tapes much of his content using his iPad. Nothing fancy. He’s simply talking to his audience which helps him promote his books, products and speaking engagements. Here are some tips on making a effective videos for your business brand building. 1. Keep it short. Most popular Internet videos are under 3:00 minutes. People have short attention-spans in today’s face-paced world. If you have a lot to say about a subject or a product, produce a series. 2. Be Creative. Get the juicy stuff upfront and be entertaining. If people click on your video and it’s boring from the beginning, they’ll quickly leave. Grab their attention from the start. 3. Be Natural. Unless you’re an actor or a broadcaster, reading a script will sound canned and boring. Plan ahead what you want to say, but then talk naturally. People don’t care if you mess up a little. That makes it real. 4. Create a Call to Action. What do you want your customers to do once they’ve watched your video. For me, I want viewers to sign-up for my newsletter and connect with me via my website and social media. 5. Contact Information. “I love your stuff, but I don’t know where to find you.” Be sure to always include your contact information on every video. Make it easy for customers to find you. 23 6. Distribution. Post your videos on your website, but also in as many other locations as possible. You can post them on YouTube and create your own channel. You can promote them on social media platforms and embed them in your e-newsletters. Remember, the most effective marketing videos selling anything at all. They are providing quality information for viewers. As a result, your brand will be seen as the credible, trustworthy expert in your field or industry. Check out my YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/SusanSolovic) and the videos on my site. 24 Creative Ways Small Businesses Can Use Affiliate Marketing Small businesses are always looking for inexpensive ways to advertise; budding entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to start a business on a shoestring. Affiliate marketing programs can be what both groups are looking for, and that’s a good thing, as Martha Stewart might say. However, in the corner of the Internet where all the over-thetop, super-hype lives, affiliate programs are often touted as get-rich-quick schemes, and that’s a bad thing. Affiliate programs can be a sound way to advertise for a business and a decent way for a person to start a business and begin to make a little money on the Internet. But starting or joining an affiliate program is not a way to turn on a gushing cash spigot. If you already offer products or services over the Internet, starting an affiliate program will extend your reach. Websites will sign up to promote your business. When a visitor of the affiliated site buys something from you, the affiliated site gets a percentage of the sale. You don’t pay anything—except for your overhead to set up the program, create graphics, etc.—until a sale is made, unlike paying for “clicks” or “impressions,” which seldom result in an actual sale. The very nature of this system encourages your affiliates to diligently promote your products. If their marketing efforts fail, they earn nothing. Today you have several options to start an affiliate program for your small business: there are third party services and networks, you can custom code your site and some shopping cart systems include affiliate solutions. When small businesses establish affiliate marketing programs, they generally want to enlist as many affiliates as possible, without becoming associated with sites that their customers might find objectionable or cause other problems. For the other side of the affiliate marketing proposition: Should you become an affiliate? If you’re looking to create an e-commerce business just through affiliations, it’s a tough row to hoe. The competition is intense and high search engine rankings are usually the critical factor. Of course, the startup costs are low, so you don’t have much to lose. Consider another scenario. If you’re already doing okay in e-commerce, should you become an affiliate of other online sellers? You’ve probably noticed that many of the bigserver (the online equivalent of “big-box”) retailers, like Amazon.com and Buy.com, sell products offered at other e-commerce sites. They generally carry the “marketplace” label. 25 There are three sound reasons to add an affiliate dimension to your existing ecommerce site: · To gain incremental revenue. · To better serve your customers, and · To test the potential of new product lines. The additional revenue may or may not be significant. The second two points are probably more salient. If your customers are buying products related to your catalog at another seller, grab the finders fees for those sales. These may be products that you can’t or don’t want to warehouse yourself. Using an affiliate membership to test the potential of new products is a great strategy. Be sure to check out any non-compete language in your agreement so you can handle the situation properly if you decide to drop out of the affiliate program and begin selling the product line yourself. While affiliate marketing isn’t a panacea, the fact that it has been part of e-commerce since the very early days and continues to grow, shows us that it’s still very useful and worth investigating. 26 Consistency is Critical For Successful Small Business Marketing A successful marketing plan is built on consistent messages. But when you’re building your business it’s tempting to want to try to be all things to all people. Thus, your marketing messages end up being all over the map. The result: It confuses your customers. (Gets confusing for you too.) Before you start to market your small business, you need to know what it is you want to say. Granted you may find the need to adjust your marketing messages periodically, or you may have different messages for different audiences, but it’s important to start with something and remain consistent. It’s impossible to be all things to all people so ask yourself: “What makes you different from everyone else in the market?” Your answer should be an integral part of your marketing message. Give people a reason to change their buying habits. Why should they do business with you? You need to stand out from the crowd of competitors. No — make that jump out from the crowd. When you craft your marketing messages, don’t confuse people with too many things. In other words, don’t hit them with a fire hose and try to tell them everything there is to know about your business. That will overwhelm them and they won’t key in on what makes your business unique. Once you have your message, stick with it. Be patient. Give it a chance to work. Don’t change it daily or weekly. Repetition enhances memory, and it takes a while for your message to cut through the clutter and be heard. So if you want your message to resonate, you must repeat it time and time again. Never guarantee something in your marketing materials unless you’re absolutely positive you can deliver on that promise every single time. Establishing expectations with your customers and not being able to live up to them can tarnish your reputation quickly. News of bad service travels fast. Finally, make sure your marketing messages match your actions. This is known as brand integrity. Lots of business brands make the terrible mistake of saying one thing in their marketing and doing something else when it comes to delivering the product or service. If you tell people in your marketing campaigns that customer service is paramount, but you have people in your organization who don’t deliver on that promise, then you have minimized the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Talk the talk and walk the walk. 27 The Marketing Conundrum – To Spend or Not to Spend Q. “Like many entrepreneurs today I have a dilemma. I really can’t afford to continue my marketing efforts, but I know I can’t afford not to. Any advice on how I can spread my message without spending a fortune?” Susan-Says®: This is an ongoing marketing conundrum: To spend or not to spend. Our current economic crisis creates even more angst for small business owners who are searching for the right solution to this enigmatic puzzle. You didn’t provide any details about your current marketing budget or strategy, but the first thing I’d do in your situation is a careful analysis of your existing efforts. What’s working and what’s not. Be as objective as possible. A lot of us get attached to specific marketing activities and as a result we don’t step back and closely examine the return we’re getting in regard to the time and money we’re spending. Marketing is not an exact science, but you should be able to directly identify some business return. Secondly, I would focus your marketing on techniques that cost very little, but that directly target your customer. Mass media advertising is expensive and reaches thousands of people who most likely will never be interested in your product or service. From where do the majority of your customers come? What common interests do they have? How could you provide additional value to build a brand your customers can’t live without? Don’t forget about your existing customers. Are there opportunities to expand your current relationship? For example, if you sell widgets to a particular customer, but you also know they purchase gadgets and gadgets are in among your product offerings too, ask for an introduction and meeting with the individual responsible for gadget procurement. Customer referrals are valuable and an excellent way to grow your business. Offer an incentive to your customers to refer new business. A local health club, for example, offers a free month’s membership for any new member you bring into the club. Some businesses offer customer referral discounts or some other type of perk. Rewarding customer loyalty is important in a down economy. Give your customer’s a reason to stay loyal to you. Even if you are in the service industry, a courtesy discount on an invoice for services will be noted and greatly appreciated. Finally, stay connected to current and potential customers. Keep you name consistently in front of them through informative e-newsletters, blogs, and/or podcasts. Keep your 28 web site current and engaging. Recognize good customers by profiling their businesses in your newsletter or on your web site. Everyone enjoys special recognition. One popular inexpensive technique you that may work for your business is text messaging. Obtain permission from customers and potential customers to text with a special promotion, discount or important piece of information. It’s another way of keeping the communication channel open. (check out mine by texting 35350 and put biz in the subject line.) By giving your customers something of value, such as pertinent information they can use in their businesses, you create a credible rapport which provides a more receptive platform for marketing messages. 29 Marketing Tips for a Start-up Business Q. I’m just starting a business and wondered what you think is the best way to get my marketing going. Susan-Says®: Marketing is an umbrella term that covers a lot of areas including sales, branding, advertising, online, direct mail, and so on. With so many different opportunities from which to choose, it’s challenging for a new business owner to determine what’s best for their business so you’re not alone. In addition to not knowing what type of marketing strategies to utilize, most small businesses have little or no funds to pay for big campaigns. One small business owner told me he decided to purchase a full-page advertisement in a national magazine to promote his business. He was convinced the ad would drive lots of business his way and put him on the road to profitability. Unfortunately, the one-time ad produced fewer than a dozen inquiries and the cost nearly put him out of business. The moral of this story is that sometimes the simplest marketing approaches are not only less expensive, but also more effective in building your business. Good marketing decisions require MACS – Massive Amounts of Common Sense. I don’t know what type of business you have or who your customers are, but if you try using good old common sense, you’ll find hundreds of marketing opportunities. To get you started, let me give you some examples. Networking is one of the quickest and easiest ways to start marketing your business. Get out of your office and get involved in organizations and events where you can meet your potential customers. Don’t expect a sale every time you hand out your business card, however. An SBTV.com viewer recently wrote she had attended a couple of networking events, but explained they didn’t work for her. When I inquired as to why she said, “I handed out lots of cards but I didn’t get any business.” Good networking takes time because it’s about building relationships, not hounding people for business. People do business with people they know and trust. Not everyone you meet is going to be a potential customer, however, they may be able to recommend you or open a door with someone who is. Cross promotions with synergistic businesses are another inexpensive way to market your business. For example, if you have a hair salon you could give your clients a 10% off coupon from a nearby clothing store and the clothing store could do the same for you. It’s a win-win for both businesses because you are rewarding your customers with a little something extra. 30 Finally, make sure you have a professional looking web site. When was the last time you picked up a printed phone book to find a particular type of business? I never use phone books anymore because I search for a business via the Internet. If you don’t have an Internet presence, you are missing business opportunities. 31 Positive Information Can Combat a Negative Customer Review Recently, one of my friends who owns a hair salon asked me what could be done about a bad business review on the Internet. He explained the customer had made false statements in the review, and he was concerned that the comments would cost him future business. Customer reviews on the Internet are helpful tools for consumers, but they can cause problems for business owners if an unhappy customer decides to go on the attack with a poison-pen. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to my friend and it could happen to you as well. So what do you do to combat an erroneous and unfair review? The good news is less than 25 percent of shoppers say they are unlikely to do business with a company because of a negative review. Most consumers know that even businesses with a stellar customer service record won’t be able to please everyone 100 percent of the time. However, if as in my friend’s case, the review contains false statements, email the site’s Webmaster with proof the information posted is false and ask that the review be removed. Typically you can find the Webmaster information in at the bottom of the web page. In most cases, sites will remove the comments because they want consumers to trust the information on their site, but there is no guarantee. If you aren’t successful in getting the web site to remove the false review then neutralize it by creating a positive image on the Internet for your business. Ask your loyal customers to post an honest review for your business in their own words. (In other words, don’t write it for them.) One negative review surrounded by positive comments will certainly lose its impact. In today’s market every business needs a professional presence on the web. If you haven’t already, you should secure a personal domain name for your business and create a web site. There are many web-hosting and design resources today, such as the one offered by AT&T, that allow you to register your domain, get personalized email addresses and create a professional looking web site easily and affordably. In addition to your web site, create pages for your business on social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. You should also consider starting a blog for your business and posting if on appropriate community sites. The more relevant and positive information about your business there is on the web, the less visible a negative review will be. 32 Creative Ways Small to Attract New Customers Bubbles, Bikes and Hot Box Lunches It’s difficult to promote your business when the economy is tight, but every business owner understands the importance of attracting new customers. Because funds are tight many small businesses are coming up with simple, inexpensive, creative ways to build their brand. Take Eric Stamos, co-founder of Zakle.com. Eric rides a bright yellow recumbent bicycle in areas where there are a lot of people. When people stop to comment on his cool looking ride, he hands them a t-shirt with the Zakle.com logo. Stamos knows it is working because he can see a spike in traffic from areas where he has biked. (Imagine what good shape he must be in too.) Zakle.com has member in 46 states and 40 countries and the site allows you to give and get favors. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a downtown toy store purchased a bubble machine for outside their store. In the morning they turn it on and the street fills with bubbles, attracting visitors. Not only did the inexpensive, innovative marketing idea attract new business, it also built a base of loyal customers. Loyal customers love it the bubble machine so much that if it isn’t working right they report it to the owners. Contests are always popular ways when done appropriate to attract new business, but one dating service created a particularly interesting idea. They invited people to submit their worst dating stories to a blog called www.livingmyMoMent.com. The winner received a free Hot Lunch Date Box of their choice. According to the business owner, they had a lot of eager participants who were willing to share their dating nightmares. Finally, one of my favorites is the traveling trade show. We all know it is expensive to travel to the big trade show events. But Richard Avdoian, president of Team Work by Design, says he turns every opportunity into his own traveling trade show. Areas he finds to be excellent “trade show” location include; waiting rooms, airports, coffee shop, and even airplanes. (assuming you can find room.) Avdoian places a few current copies of professional association magazines and/or his company’s newsletters, some promotional pieces and a few business cards on his table, readily available and visible. (Personally, I’d consider a few give-away type items with my company info too.) Avdoian says, “The key is to display all the above fairly organized but not so that it looks staged. The objective is to subtly prompt curiosity from bystanders who may scan your mini trade show booth” 33 The bottom line is you can creatively develop effective marketing strategies for your business without breaking the bank. Sometimes it is as simple as bubbles, bicycles and hot box lunches. 34 Get on the Social Media Band-Wagon Now! Typically I stay away from writing too much about social media, but this week I can’t resist. I spoke to a group of small business owners recently about the importance of integrating social media into their marketing strategies. My remarks were met with lukewarm enthusiasm by over half the audience. So now I am on a crusade to get more small businesses on the social media band-wagon. By getting you on the band-wagon, I mean really getting you turned on about how social media can be a game changer for your business. It’s not enough to set-up a Facebook page and Twitter account and then mark if off your list of things to do. To be successful in this new marketing paradigm, you have to fully participate and commit to the platform. “I don’t have enough time to learn how use social media, much less manage it,” you say. If you use email, you can do social media. None of the popular social media platforms is complicated. And if you mess something up, it won’t blow up in your face. There is no need to be intimidated. Just do it! Pick one or two social media sites and set up a profile by following the bouncing ball — the instructions. It’s that simple. As far as managing social media, set aside a few minutes in the morning and the afternoon to update your status and check-out what your network is doing. Even better, I use smart phone which allows me to update my social media from anywhere at anytime. So if I’m stuck at an airport or waiting for the dentist, I can use that time to be marketing myself and my business. Talk about increasing my productivity. “I don’t have anything to say,” is your next objection. Of course you do. You talk to your customers and clients all the time, right? What kind of information do they want to know? Social media is about sharing helpful information with your network. It’s also about listening and joining conversations. Watch how others are using the platform and learn from them. Make sure your participation is a two-way street. Try to engage people to connect with you. “My customers and clients don’t use social media,” you confidently add. Let me tell you, my 86 year-old father’s friends are among the more than 500 million people on Facebook. If these World War II Veterans have embraced social media, I can confidently say your customers are there. According to a recent survey from eMarketer, 68 percent of U.S. Facebook users say they are more likely to buy a product or service 35 based on a positive referral from a Facebook friend. Don’t give your competitors an advantage by your absence. Finally, a lot of small businesses aren’t convinced social media is effective, particularly in the B2B space. Social media is a “free” marketing tool that helps you keep your brand top-of-mind with your customers and clients. Even if you have a lengthy sales process, when you continually appear on a client’s radar screen as an expert and industry-leader, that enhances your opportunities. That’s effective marketing. 36 Blogging As a Business Building Tool for Small Businesses For some entrepreneurs blogging can be a low-cost, high-return option. Blogging can help small businesses accomplish various things like posting news, building your brand, communicating with customers, identifying your business with a certain community or offering your expertise. Some small business bloggers report they have gained customers as a direct result of their blogs. But most say they blog because they get valuable feedback from customers, attract media attention or simply enjoy having a platform to share and discuss their viewpoints. Blogging, however, doesn’t work for everyone as it requires a large time commitment and at least some writing skills. Additionally, it is important to have something to say. In fact, that’s the biggest objection I hear from business owners. “I don’t know what to talk about in a blog.” While every business owner has valuable information to share, there are undoubtedly certain types of businesses that lend themselves well to the blogging environment. Consultants are the obvious candidates for blogging as they are experts in their fields and are in the business of sharing helpful information with clients. David Harlow, a healthcare consultant and lawyer in Boston, said he began blogging as a means of self-marketing after he left a large law firm and started his own practice. He says blogging was easy to get started and the technology was cinch to learn. With a few years experience behind him now, Harlow says he is pleased with the results. He’s become a reliable resource in the healthcare field for publications seeking commentary on regulatory issues. Also, as a result of his blog, his company has not only gained a few clients, but he has formed relationships with other “bloggers” and consultants across the country. I can attest from first-hand experience, blogging is a huge commitment. So before you start, make sure you are willing to stick with it. Blogs need to provide fresh content regularly. A hit-and-miss approach to blogging with turn-off your audience. As Guy Kawasaki, an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and blogger, puts it: “If you’re blogging and no one is reading you, are you really even blogging?” Always be authentic in your blogs, and write in your own personal voice. While blogs should be written professionally, they aren’t literary works. People want to get to know you. 37 Finally, keep a blog “idea” notebook. There is nothing worse than staring at a blank page when you can’t think of anything to write about. So when you run across interesting items, make a note of them or keep a file folder with industry updates or news items. That way you’ll never suffer from writer’s block. Blogs give business owners a marketing tool we’ve never had before. Done appropriately they can be business building tools. 38 8 Sales Tips That Really Work in Today’s Market There’s an old saying in business: Nothing happens until you sell something. But with a tight economy, it’s getting tougher and tougher to get your foot in the door and make new sales. After massive lay-offs most companies are understaffed. As a result, employees have less time and tighter budgets. Direct mail pieces and letters get tossed in the trash. Voice mails and emails are quickly deleted. How do you cut through the clutter? In today’s economy, in order to increase your sales opportunities you need to revamp your strategy. To be successful in sales, think of yourself as a problem solver. Appeal to the needs of your target market. · Identify your uniqueness. Make sure you can define exactly what makes your product or service different from anything else on the market. You are just another widget provider. You bring added value. Demonstrate how your product can solve a problem. Remember, people are short on time and money. · Sell benefits. People buy products or services because it provides something of value to them. So don’t sell the features of your product or service — sell what it does for the buyer. For example, if you are selling a car instead of telling the customer about the state-of-the art anti-lock brakes, appeal to their interest in personal security. · Research. You absolutely must do your homework. The more you know about a company you are trying to sell, the greater your chances are of getting in the door. Think of it as your price of admission. I recently had a bank representative call on me who not only was clueless about what my business does, but also hadn’t done any background research on me. While I smiled and listened to her pitch, I couldn’t wait for her to leave. If you don’t take the time to learn about your prospect’s business, then why should they do business with you? · Identify ways in which your product and service can help your prospect reach their goals and objectives. Don’t assume you know, and don’t try to fake it. · Seconds Count. Because people are time-constrained, you only have a few seconds to capture their attention. Make those seconds count. Capture their attention by clearly defining the unique benefit you can offer. Don’t bore them with details about your product. 39 · Persistence pays. One phone call, one letter or one email, won’t get you in the door. According to marketing experts, it takes about seven touches to get a sales opportunity. · Don’t Compete on Price. People buy what they really want and value. If you start competing on price, you have discounted your value in the eyes of the buyer. Remember, my first point — define your uniqueness. Show your customer how the value you bring justifies your price. · Think creatively. Don’t go after the same people everyone else is targeting. Think creatively. What other types of businesses, industries, or consumers might have a need for your product or service? · Think big. It takes just as long to sell a small business as it does a large company. The difference is larger companies usually has a bigger budget. · Whatever your sales results bring, do you best to keep a positive attitude. Customers like to do business with confident people — people they can trust. If you let your attitude slip, your potential customers will notice. Remember, not to take things personally. And a “no” today may turn into a “yes” tomorrow. 40 Make the Most of Your 15 Minutes of Fame! A television appearance. A radio interview. A magazine article or a mention in a popular blog. Every business owner understands the value of positive media coverage. There’s no better way to build your brand. Media coverage is significantly more credible than paid advertising because the content is developed by an unbiased, third-party source. That’s why companies spend a lot of time and effort trying to capture the media’s attention. What would you do if the Today show? Would you be ready? You certainly don’t want to blow your opportunity. A mishandled interview can damage your company’s brand. The key — careful planning and preparation. Even a seasoned professional can make mistakes without preparing properly. So here are some tips that can help you make the most your 15 minutes of fame. First, never respond to a reporter’s call off-the cuff. When you try to wing it not only do you risk making mistakes, but you also won’t make the most of the opportunity. Find out specifically what the story is about and how it is going to be used. Ask what topics or types of information the reporter is seeking. Next, find out the reporter’s deadline for the story so you can arrange a convenient time to schedule the interview. This provides you with the opportunity to plan and prepare your key messages. What is it you want the audience to know? Jot down your message points so you can stay in control of the interview. Practice what you want to say. Rambling, interjecting a lot of “you knows” or stumbling over words makes you look inarticulate and unprofessional. Your mouth has memory so rehearse what you plan to say. Avoid using slang, industry-specific jargon and acronyms. You want your message to be communicated with clarity. Answer questions in sound bites — in other words be succinct. That’s particularly important for television interviews. Most television segments are only around two minutes in length. Even if the interview is taped, make your answers short and to the point. Don’t be fooled by a reporter’s pregnant pause. Sometimes when you have finished answering a question the reporter won’t respond immediately. A lot of people who are uncomfortable with long pauses in a conversation feel compelled to continue talking. That’s when you can get yourself into trouble by talking too much. Keep your key messages and when you are finished — stop talking. 41 Always assume your microphone is on. You’ve probably chuckled at a few blunders public officials have made when they’ve forgotten to pay attention. And nothing is ever ―off the record Off the record means different things to different journalists so if you aren’t comfortable sharing the information, don’t Finally, “no comment” is never a good response in an interview. It is best to either answer the question or explain why you can’t. If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it, and if possible, offer to help the reporter find the information she needs. Media coverage can give you business a big boost, so plan and prepare to make the most out of your 15 minutes of fame.