Why Small Business Owners Need to be Performance Marketers

Over at ArCompany I am blessed to work with the ever wise and honest Danny Brown.  He describes himself as a ‘performance marketer’ whenever a client asks about his approach.

If you’re a small business owner you may not have heard that term before, but you need to.  Basically, it means that Danny sets goals for marketing strategy in accordance with a client’s goals,  and then he tests and measures ariel markealong the way. What works is enhanced; what doesn’t is refined or jettisoned.  And then more testing and measuring.  It never stops; your marketing plan is an ever evolving piece of your business, and it needs to produce.

Today I fielded a call that one of my small business owner clients pushed my way – among other things I serve as a gatekeeper so that they are not caught up by a slick salesperson who catches them in an optimistic moment, causing them to spend on an untested tactic with no data to back up the decision.  Sound familiar?

Today I got a call from a lovely gentlemen selling advertising on his own unique television system.  The man politely told me that he had a large, flat screened tv that he took out 3 – 4 days per week to golf course club houses, mobile home communities, restaurants etc. and played his reel of advertising continually for 5 or so hours at a time.

I get a lot of phone calls from people selling advertising, but this one was certainly different.  Although I had no real interest in what I view as a sadly outdated method of marketing, I thought I’d ask some questions in case I was missing something.  Here they are:

  1. Do you have a list of locations and dates that you will be showing your program?
  2. How many times in an hour will my client’s advertisement play?
  3. How much does it cost to produce the ad?
  4. Do you have demographic information on the people you are marketing to? Age? Gender? Income level?
  5. Can you give me a list of advertisers who currently work with your for a reference?

The man immediately cut my off, saying “Hold on. You are out of my league. Just forget it.”    And that was the end of the call.

I felt a smidgen badly for the man – he was an older gentlemen trying to make a living in a way that he thought was creative.

But the reality is that I feel far worse for my clients who make marketing purchases based on emotion or guesses.  Your dollars are too precious to gamble with, and when you purchase ANY marketing without understand the questions I asked above, you are throwing your money away.  If you want to give money to charitable causes, by all means do it.  If you want to give donations to charitable causes that align with your target market, that’s great too.    But never, ever buy marketing without understanding some basic facts about who will see the message, how often, and what the chances are that the tactic will cause them to purchase.

Think this is unusual? I see small businesses make these sort of mistakes every single week.  Just think harder, and if you need help, find a marketer who knows their stuff and isn’t afraid of performing to meet your goals.

Wee Email Marketing Tip of the Day

I LOVE email marketing, but only when it’s done  the right way.  Effective email marketing is not actually complex, it’s simple.  You need to:

  1. Build a decent, non spammy email target list that is opt in.  Yep, opt in.Email Marketing Tip
  2. Have a great subject line that gets the reader to open the email.
  3. Focus on one, or if you MUST, a few succinct topics – no one has time for 6 paragraphs.
  4. Clean design is essential. Hire someone to create a custom template if necessary.
  5. Have a strong, explicit Call to Action – otherwise, what’s the point?
Periodically I’ll be providing email marketing tips via this blog; here’s the first one:

Wee Email Marketing Tip of the Day:

Beginning any email with “Dear Valued Customer” is so transparently unauthentic it’s laughable.  For one, many people on your email list are NOT your customers.  Secondly, if you really valued your customer you’d know their name.  It’s a lot more genuine to just say ‘Hello’ at the beginning if you don’t have the contact name.

Now, go kick your email marketing in the rear end.

What 9000 Small Businesses Taught Me

As anyone over 25 knows, life moves swiftly.  It seems like only yesterday that I was fresh out of college and pondering what in the heck I would do with my life.  But it wasn’t yesterday; it was 21 years ago.  20 years ago I was Small Business lessonsblessed to fall into a sales career that quickly gave me the opportunity to manage a small business.

I had no idea what I was doing.  But I was smart. And I liked people. And it turned out that I was good at sales. I was also blessed that the owner of that business was pretty damned smart as well, and quickly taught me business principals learned IN REAL TIME that may have taken me years to learn in a classroom.

This was all fortuitous for me, because that business owner was my boyfriend, and when I decided to leave I had to leave the career as well.   I ended up as a wholesale sales rep. and my journey over the next 15 years would result in putting me in front of thousands of small business owners.  By my conservative calculations I have spoken, one on one, with approximately 9,300 small businesses over the past 15 years.  I don’t mean a trip to the ball park speaking, I mean I’ve had the opportunity to speak, face to face, about the workings of small business with thousands of owners and managers.

All of that knowledge has given me a nearly intuitive ability to know, quickly, what businesses are successful and which ones are struggling, and why.

Here are the most crucial kernels I’ve taken away from it all:

  1. Business Planning is not optional.  Yes, I’m talking to you Mr – I’ve been in business for 30 years.  You can only run your business if it’s not running you.
  2. Truly successful businesses have a marketing budget.  I’m not saying this because I’m a marketer; for much of my career I was selling wholesale.  You may be downright shocked at how many small businesses rely entirely on word of mouth.  The ones that last through the bad times spend money building their brand awareness.
  3. Family businesses are very vulnerable when the 2nd generation takes over.  There is often resentment about ‘how much my parents worked,’ and a total lack of understanding about how many hours it takes to run a business; if you’re generation #2, beware and be smart.  You need to think like a business person and not as the child of business people.
  4. Partnership agreements are a necessity. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve seen friends and even relatives destroy their relationships when a business splits up.  Plan for how you will part first and it may very well save your relationship in the end.
  5. Staccato marketing is worthless. You can’t expect stop and go marketing to work; having a successful month and deciding to ‘try’ something one time will give you zero results.
  6. People matter more than anything.  I have been in businesses where employees are part of the ‘family,’ and in others where the owner literally steals points off the salesperson’s commission.  Guess which ones have fewer headaches and therefore much less wasted profit due to poor quality control? Don’t give employees a reason to steal from you.
  7. The customer isn’t always right.  Big businesses like Nordstroms can afford to give away the lot when someone whines; those sort of gimmes aren’t in the budget for small business.  The way to manage a bad customer is to have strict quality controls and procedures to document them.  Small claims court is a reality for many small businesses; you can avoid it if your policies and procedures are crystal clear and followed.
  8. Everyone is in Sales. This is as true for BIG business as it is small, but if everyone isn’t perfectly clear that their paycheck is paid BY THE CUSTOMER, then we have a problem.
  9. You can’t stand still. The number of times I’ve seen once great businesses whither on the vine because they stopped adapting to a changing marketplace is mind boggling.  The ability to honestly assess your business’ place and path forward in your marketplace is essential. If you can’t do it, bring in outside help.
  10. Honesty wins. It has become obvious to me that dishonest business managers lie to themselves; they pretend things are better (or worse) than they are in many segments of their business.  When you do that, you can’t measure and adjust your strategy.

Of course there’s a lot more where that came from; the US is built on the backbone of small business.  I look forward to learning even more over the next 20 years.

Website Purchasing Information Small Business Needs to Understand

If there’s one thing we understand about Small Business, it’s that money is usually tight, and your marketing dollars are precious. There is nothing more infuriating to us than finding that a new client has been hood winked or website rules for small businesssold a bill of goods by a web developer.  Your website is no joke; it is usually your company’s face to the world.  People don’t look you up in the phone book anymore, they Google you and/or your services.  The single most important thing is that you show up.  The second is that your website is easy to use and immediately tells your visitor how you will help them. But it’s not that simple getting there.  To help you avoid costly mistakes, here’s our list of what you need to do.

  1.  Buy your own domain.  Your website needs a domain – think of it as your online address.  You can purchase domains at Blue Host or Godaddy if you must (we are not fans of their advertising so we avoid them).  There are any number of domain registrants out there, just make sure that YOU own the domain, no matter how much you love your website developer.  Relationships end and businesses close down. It is very difficult to get control of your domain if the company that owns it won’t cooperate.  If you don’t renew your domain yearly you can actually lose control of it if someone else purchases it.  So, register it for at least 3 years and make sure that your registrant has your current email address at all times.
  2. Pay for a decent hosting service.  Your website needs somewhere to sit, which is where your host comes into play.  We strongly advise that you host it with a company you trust that has customer service you can rely on. At Ariel Marketing Group we like to host our client’s sites because it means that we have full access when they want to make changes or have issues. If you have no technical knowledge of web development we highly recommend you do your homework finding the right host.  Expect to pay $25 or more per month for this service, depending on the size of your site. 
  3. Buy a WordPress site.   Yes, we know tons of great programmers who build in php and other excellent languages, and you can buy a beautiful site built on a lot of different languages or platforms, but for small business we think there is no better alternative than WordPress unless you have an ecommerce site with thousands of products on it. WordPress gives you a professional design, built in SEO (we’ll get to what that is in a minute) and you can do most of the updating to your site yourself. That means you don’t have to wait a week to put up a new event or change the wording of a page.  In addition, there are thousands of WordPress designers out there if you have a falling out with whomever built your site.
  4. Maintenance Fees.  Once your website is live it’s not finished. It’s NEVER finished.  Your website is a living, breathing part of your business, and it needs to reflect that.  New events, new products, and yes, blog posts that provide your visitors with valuable information will need to be updated regularly.  If you’ve purchased a WordPress site then you can do a lot of it yourself, but if you want design and layout changes you’ll probably need a programmer.  Hopefully you’ll be using the same developer who built your site, but regardless of whom is making the changes, expect to pay them for it.  We don’t recommend regular maintenance contracts, but expect to pay at least $60/hour for maintenance on your site.
  5. Ranking on Google. Yes, there are other Search Engines out there such as Bing and Yahoo, but Google makes up the huge majority of search traffic.   Just because you have a beautiful website does not mean you’ll show up on any of them when someone searches for you or your product. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and basically means that Google understands what you do and thinks your site is valuable enough when compared to your competitors.  It’s a complex but very important issue.  Hiring a web development company that understands SEO gives you a huge headstart.  If not, you can hire an SEO professional to audit your site and provide you with organic SEO.  Expect to pay $5,000+ for an audit on a fairly large site – less for smaller sites.  The audit helps the SEO expert determine what is wrong with your site, but also what your competitors are doing.  Then, plan on at least $1,000/month for 4 – 6 months minimum to get you up to fairly high ranking, and of course a lot depends upon where you start.   Then you’ll have to pay a maintenance fee to remain in a strong position.  If you’re not on the first page, your site is invisible.

There is a lot to take in, and a lot to pay if you add it all up.  Of course many businesses start without doing all of the above, but if you’re serious about your website and your online presence, you need to understand the costs and the strategy.  We hope that helps you avoid an expensive mistake.

 

Yes, You DO need a web expert.

The bulk of my clients are small businesses with less than 10 employees, and very few of them have a dedicated marketing professional on staff – that’s why they need me.  My job is to maximize every marketing dollar my small businesses spend, because money is always tight.  In general, they trust me and together we get results.

The one area where I get tremendous push back or simply a deer-in-the-headlights look is on website development and SEO.  If you own a small business and don’t know what SEO is, you’re not alone. It’s Search Engine SEO ExpertiseOptimization – if done well you’ll rank high when someone Googles your product or service.  If not done well, you won’t be on the first page of Google and your website is basically invisible unless someone searches for it specifically.

My clients don’t ignore SEO because they’re not bright, they usually shy away from it because they don’t understand it and it seems too difficult.  But it isn’t, and it’s essential.  SEO done well is the GREAT EQUALIZER.  You may not be able to rank #1, but if there are only a few companies doing it really well you can get up to #3 or #4 – all you need to do is get ‘above the fold;’  be visible on that first page without making the user scroll.

Can you do it yourself?  Probably not; not without dedicating inordinate amounts of time to becoming an SEO expert. Which I don’t advise; heck, I”m not even one.  But I have SEO experts on my team who can help you get to that very important ranking.

This post isn’t about selling me, or Ariel Marketing Group per see, although if you need us we’re here. This post is about easing the fear and clearing up misconceptions that hold small businesses back.  If you’ve been looking the other way when it comes to your online potential, stop.  Speak to an expert who can tell you what you need and what it will take in plain English.   It’s not as overwhelming or tricky as you might think.

5 Online Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Should Avoid

“Everything has changed for small business marketing.” 

If you’ve heard that once, you’ve heard it a hundred times; even on this blog.  And it’s true.  The internet, and then Small Business Marketing Mistakes
social media, have profoundly changed the possibility for small business to reach more people.   If you don’t embrace the changes, what does it really mean to your business?

I’ve been working with small business for over 20 years.  I have had thousands of marketing conversations with small business owners. It is a profound pleasure to help a hard working small business grow and thrive by altering or creating a new marketing strategy and sticking with it, watching the new found revenue literally change people’s lives.  The owner/manager can stop worrying and start brainstorming, and often entire organizations are transformed by the stability that more revenue can create.  It’s what makes me get up every morning; the opportunity to help people and organizations grow.

I have also had the opposite experience too many times to count; discussing what is possible, and often necessary, with the decision maker only to watch them hold back on essential pieces of a plan, knowing they will fail because I’ve seen it too many times.  Half efforts leading businesses back to the same failed marketing strategies they’ve implemented for years.  This is doubly true for online marketing, an arena that so many small business owners still don’t fully understand.

If you want to avoid failing with your online marketing efforts, beware of these 5 pitfalls:

  1. Your website is your platform:    Don’t build your community on property you don’t own.  Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or any other online forum or network is not your community, it is a channel to communicate with them.  Bring them back to your website, your blog, your property.
  2. Your website design is essential:  I do NOT mean that your website needs to be slick and visually cutting edge, I mean that it needs to immediately tell the visitor how you will help or inspire them, or where they can buy what they came for. Navigation is king.  You have 15 seconds to make them want to stay.  Extra tip: your nephew, or uncle, or college roommate may not be the best choice for building this most precious piece of your online real estate.
  3. SEO cannot be ignored:  SEO is what determines where you show up on Google; too many small business owners still don’t understand that their website is invisible without SEO work, and SEO is not free. Are there cases where it isn’t important? Sure.  Example:  A custom home builder who only does 15 homes a year and is booked, perpetually, through referrals.  A website for a client like this is simply an online catalog.  But for the great majority of small business owners, SEO is the un-plundered goldmine of internet leads.  Do your homework. Talk to a lot of people. Educate yourself. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there, but you need expert help in this area; it is constantly changing.
  4. PPC is over rated: PPC, or Pay Per Click advertising, gets you into the first 3 or so links that show up in the top, colored box on Google, or in the columns. They are paid advertisements, and each time you click on them you cost the advertising business money; thus, Pay Per Click.  It is the quickest way to get your business to show up online, and, for temporary SEO it can be a boost.  However, it’s a short term fix; organic SEO is where you should be putting most of your efforts because the results are long lasting.  Once you quit paying for PCC, you disappear from that 1st page. Again, educate yourself and hire someone who really understands SEO.
  5. Commitment is essential: This is probably the single most frustrating part of my job, for both on and offline marketing; the client gets excited, commits to change… and then wearies, or becomes afraid, or starts to cut the budget.  They sabotage their marketing plan and then blame it ON the plan when it fails.  Your online marketing efforts won’t be successful if you only work on it in spurts.  There are smart plans that work, but you must stick to them.

The one thing my 20 years has taught me is profound respect for the scrappy small businesses that fight, every day, to exist.  I understand that the key players in these organizations work an insane amount of hours and wear so many hats it’s hard to think straight.  I know time is their most over stressed resource.

I also know how to make their lives easier, their businesses more successful, their company prosper.   None of it is done without planning and commitment to a strategy.  When it’s built and worked properly, it is a tremendously beautiful thing.

Featured image courtesy of www.sxc.hu.

Community Managers Know how to Roll the Dice

Susan Silver for Ariel Marketing Group

 

Today’s guest post is by the inimitable Susan Silver.  If you don’t follow her already, I strongly recommend it.

 

 

 

Yes, I am using the metaphor of Dungeons & Dragons to teach you all about what it takes to helm the leadership of a brand through social media.

As a long time D&D player I can tell you all about dice. Take for example the stability of a d4, its pyramid shape makes it difficult to knock over. Perhaps the glorious achievement of rolling a d20 to hit a foe and succeeding is the more thrilling example. Neither truly fit the community manager role. Nope, we are the DMs crafting a narrative where our followers are free to go on adventures.

3 Traits Community Managers and DMs share

  1. They know when to let things be.  You have to let players talk and speculate during the adventure. Similarly, you cannot control how people talk about your brand. Community managers monitor chatter so they can give encouragement, connect with community, resolve conflicts and respond to customer crises.
  2. They give community motivation  In RPGs motives are everything and there are often conflicts even among party members. Community managers need to give incentives to share, comment, and be involved with the brand. They must also understand the diversity that exists in their community and engage in appropriate ways with members.
  3. They fill many roles You can store the hats community managers wear in a bag of holding. At various times we are called upon perform the following activities: marketing, PR, customer service, event planning, statistics, analysis, writing, editing, and leadership. Do you feel overwhelmed yet?

The main thing to highlight is the importance of crafting a narrative for your brand that will resonate with customers. We are living in an era where emotional and compelling stories are taking center stage. Ultimately when there is little difference between two companies, customers will buy a product based on which they feel is promoting values similar to their own. This makes the community manager’s job essential to sales even if we cannot directly tie the two together statistically.

Your proposal must tell a great story.

Recently I had the opportunity to craft a proposal for a company I have known for many years.  Creating the proposal was in some ways effortless – similar to the penning a blog post that you feel so fervently about, it just pours out of you.

Of course there were many rewrites and brain storming sessions with my team, but it was easy for me to put my finger on the many steps that together would create a symphony of a marketing strategy. Think that’s highfalutin talk for a marketer?  Well, maybe it is… but I mean it.

One of my team members said upon reading that proposal:  “It reads like a great story.”writing great proposals - Ariel Marketing Group

Being the analytic sort that I am, my next question was: “Why aren’t they all like that.”

The answer: because, too often, I’ve been lazy.

In order to know, deeply, what your client should do, you must do the research.  And yes, that means hours upon hours of studying up on their past marketing successes and failures.  It means asking a lot of questions to grasp whether their internal culture is hurting or hindering them. It means immersing yourself in who they are, and sometimes veering over the line into the realm of management consulting; your great plans won’t work if they don’t have the infrastructure to implement them.

The issue, naturally, is that we don’t always have TIME to do that kind of research for every Request for Proposal that comes our way.

But enough TIME is not really the issue; how you use your time is.

My answer is: stop writing proposals for every opportunity that comes along, and focus your time and energy on the ones you are most suited for.  That does NOT mean the ones you’d most like to get.  When you walk into a meeting 110% confident that you are the right fit for the client, and that your plan is the right fit for them as well, it’s almost impossible for them to say no; the presentation will FEEL as if it’s necessary for them to move their business ahead.

Conversely, when you walk in the room and the primary energy you’re sending out is hope and admiration for the client, the confidence is missing, and usually the proposed strategy is weaker.

I know this, from experience.  Anyone who has been selling for any length of time can tell you the difference in the two types of meetings.

Approach your proposals as if you are writing a great historical novel; gather the facts and consider and brain storm until you know the company thoroughly – THEN write the proposal.

If you need help it just so happens that the brilliant Gini Dietrich penned this amazing post while I was in the middle of writing mine.  Great minds I tell you.

 

Vulgar language has no place in your marketing

There are 2 writers I admire deeply who litter their prose with foul language. One is the great James Kelman; if you don’t understand Glaswegian dialect, don’t even bother reading, but trust me, he’s brilliant.  The other is a well known blogger who shall remain nameless because I do not want this to be a defense/attack on said blogger.  As I stated, I admire them; they, however, are the singular exception I make for accepting vulgarity in online writing.

I swear a lot in real life; the honest-to-God truth is that my father was a truck driver.  And I spent more than a decade in the carpet industry, where to swear was to speak.  I am not offended in the slightest by cursing in everyday language.  James Kelman’s use of cursing lends a gritty realism that is necessary for his subject matter. The blogger I admire often shocks the reader with their color.  I understand the reason both utilize vulgarity, but before you do, think long and hard.

Here are two reasons I strongly advocate that you refrain from cursing in your blog or marketing materials:

  1. The digital world is anything but private; simply ask Randi Zuckerberg or the Storify Co-Founder who is having his online lunch handed to him for the recently discovered practice of publishing private Facebook posts.  Do you want future clients and/or employers coming across your crassness?
  2. The written curse word usually comes across as lazy and unimaginative.

This image of the incredible Maggie Smith was floating around Facebook this week:

Vulgarity has no place in marketing

 

Violet is, as always, correct.

Cursing is not clever or witty, and it doesn’t make your brand hip or cool.  Your marketing language needs to communicate your message clearly, tell the reader how you will benefit them, pull their heartstrings, or whatever the goal of your campaign is.  Great copywriters can use language to communicate and stir emotions; they do not have to rely upon vulgarity to do so.

The chance that you will offend using crass language is so much greater than anything positive that may come of it… even in your conversational and relaxed blog space.