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.

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.

Communication: More important than ANYTHING

I would have put this post up yesterday, but I couldn’t because I spent the entire day waiting for Verizon to come and install my internet and phone line in my new office. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t set me up for disappointment by setting the appointment time between 8 am and 12 noon.

Steam may not have been rising out of my ears at noon if they’d call to tell me that their technician was tied up on a previous call.customer service

My voice may not have sounded so strained if, before they missed the second deadline of 2 pm, they called to tell me that they were pushing it until 5 pm, and if the employee arrives at 4:59 pm I’m to wait until he’s finished.

I wouldn’t be thoroughly disgusted with them right now if ANY communication about their poor scheduling was initiated by them instead of me. Or, if I hadn’t waited on hold for over 30 minutes calling them each time.

This post isn’t simply to rag on Verizon, although God knows they deserve it. Sadly, bad communications happen all the time. The result is always an angry, possibly former customer.

And it is almost always avoidable.

Most people are kind, patient and understanding… but they aren’t when you treat them with disdain. Not communicating is always interpreted by the customer as your company not caring. Contacting them as soon as you know of an issue avoids a lot of the negative experience issues they’ll have if you don’t.

Think about it this way: for every single dollar you spend on marketing and positive PR, one bad episode of non-communication can repay that, times 10, with negative publicity. Think about it, what do you do when you’ve been mistreated by a company? For one, you probably blast them on your social media network, more than likely complain about them when you get together with your friends. If you have a blog & you’re a marketer like me, you probably craft a post based on your bad experience.

That’s a whole lot of organic negative pr going on about a company for simply blowing the communication.

Even if my high-speed internet is rip-roaring fast and never a problem, I’ll have a sour taste in my mouth for how lousy I was treated from the outset. Your customers are no different. You may deliver the greatest product in your industry, but if you blow the communications and make you customer feel like you don’t care about them, their network will hear all about it.

Your company must make them FEEL something.

If  you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that I have a huge Business Crush on Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks.  Dino Dogan would tell you that ‘we all do,’ and he’s probably right.  What Howard, or more How do you create passion for your brand?correctly, what Starbucks does to illicit these emotions from customers is that they prompt them, continually.

I’ve written repeatedly that “It’s not about the coffee.”  I don’t even drink coffee; I’m a hard core tea addict.  Starbucks has decent tea and a great Chai, but even that’s not why I keep coming back.  It’s the entire customer experience that keeps me loyal.

In my past life when I supervised 18 Sales Reps. spread out across the Eastern half of the US, Starbucks-Everywhere was my office.  We could sit for hours in a pleasant environment , use the free wireless, and never ever feel rushed.  Not only did I spend thousands of dollars a year at the chain, I became a brand loyalist and incredibly grateful for their hospitality.

And they keep on doing things that make me feel passionately about the brand.  Last year it was the Indivisible campaign; I wear my bracelet and drink from my Indivisible mug every morning.

Recently, Starbucks began offering reusable $1 mugs to cut down on waste.  Of course I bought one, because I care about the environment and feel like I’m part of the Starbucks mission.  Now, my reusable cup )pictured here) already has my favorite drink permanently written on it.  Most of the time I don’t even need to tell my local Baristas what I want, because they know me … another customer service moment that connects me to the brand.

Perhaps you too have a major Starbucks connection, or perhaps you’re a contrarian who swears by Dunkin Donuts.  The point is, the brands that you are passionate about have done something to trigger that passion.  What is it that makes you want to evangelize for a brand?

The next, logical question is: What do you do to create that same loyalty and zeal in your own customers?  Because you know, it doesn’t happen by accident.

8 Social Media Housekeeping Tips for 2013

I didn’t write any ‘grand master plans for 2013’ posts this year, but now that we’re into 2013 it’s time for a social media reorganizing post. To get yourself together, here’s a short list of to dos:

  1. Get a new profile picture if yours is older than 12 months, EVEN if you love it. Yes, 2 years ago I had probably the  Social Media Housekeeping by Ariel Marketing Group best picture of me ever for my profile pic, but, I get older every year just like you do. Being honest crosses over to how you look TODAY too. Upload it to ALL of your networks.
  2. Set up your Gravatar if you haven’t already.  “Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog.”  Your face is part of your brand, and in the social world people want to know you personally.
  3. Set up or clean up your Brand Yourself  profile.  It can help you improve your Google ranking and ensure that the information is accurate.
  4. Review your Linked In Profile, update your job status, and ask for Recommendations that you think will be helpful explaining how well you do what you do.  Give Recommendations to those whose service you value.  Ignore Endorsements entirely, as they’re a cheap scam and a big mistake LinkedIn never should have made.
  5. Review the number of blogs coming to your inbox, and cull the ones that aren’t absolutely beneficial to you.  There is a lot of great information out there, but you can’t absorb it all.  Staying current on the good ones, and active in their communities is far more effective than trying to be everywhere..
  6. Update every brand page you have, from Facebook to Merchant Circle; even if you’re not active on the channel, make sure your information is accurate.
  7. Change out your Twitter Background if it’s no longer relevant.  Update your lists; review the folks you follow and make sure they’re compartmentalized into those lists.
  8. Do a total Social Media review: if you’re using Social to market, which platforms are working? Which have diminished in value?  Are there new or niche platforms that may work better?

I try to review the above once every 6 months, but sometimes things slip by the wayside, so at the start of each new year I focus on updating and refreshing them all.    That way I can charge into the New Year feeling relatively ‘together.’  If I’ve missed any tips I’d love to hear from you.

10 Commandments of the Self Employed

I recently read a ‘take this job and shove it’ sort of resignation letter from a Gen Y-er to his employer, and I could not Ariel Marketing Group's 10 Commandments of the Self Employedhelp but shake my head in that annoyingly “yes, I’m older and wiser” sort of way. He was off to create his own business,
and full of piss and vigor. I admire that, of course, but I also know that the lives of the self employed are far less glorious than they often appear.

If you sit there as one of the many in our ranks, you know how much you sacrifice for the ability to call the shots. Along with everything else you must make decisions about, you shoulder a tremendous, often unbelievable amount of worry over everything from payroll to paying bills. It is very easy to get lost wallowing in the worry and forget why we set out on this journey in the first place.

To help all of us combat the self pity and stress, I’ve created these:

10 Commandments of the Self Employed

1.  Never forget what it feels like to punch a time clock.
Perhaps you never punched an actual clock, but you must remember what it felt like to work the hours someone else deemed necessary. Setting your own schedule is a perk you cannot overlook.

2. Appreciate the steering wheel.
You would not have left your safe job if you didn’t think you could do better.  You can’t forget that driving your own ship means you get to focus on the projects you know are the right ones.

3. Don’t complain about the long hours. Ever.
Remember, lots of people who are working to make some corporation lots and lots of money work long hours too. You get the reward for yours.

4. Mentors are still essential.
Just because you’ve given yourself a fancy title and have the business cards to prove it doesn’t mean you don’t need advice from other smart folks.

5. Accept the roller coaster as a way of life.
Chances are that if you stepped off the cliff, you have already achieved success in business, and therefore you became used to financial security. That doesn’t exist for the self employed – at least not for years. Get used to it. Yes, you can.

6. Collaboration makes you better.
Paranoia and a self defensive stance can creep up upon any business owner who is out there scraping along trying to make it. Don’t give in to the instinct to see anyone in your field as the enemy. Often they have strengths that compliment your weaknesses and vise verse. Partnerships can allow you to do more work, and make more money.

7. The Accounting can’t wait.
Most entrepreneur types are big picture people by nature; many of us detest the books. You don’t need to BE the CPA, but you absolutely must hire a bookkeeper and keep your house in order.

8. Reports are fun.
If you aren’t taking care of #6, you won’t be able to stick to read your reports and enjoy the information to be had there.  In order to create a strategy for your business’ future, you must understand where your business is. This is one of the fun parts of owning a business; it’s the ‘working on your business’ part that everyone goes on and on about.

9. Fueling your inspiration is a good thing.
Staying focused is crucial, but too much focus can leave you numb and unable to be creative. Seek out sources of inspiration wherever you may find them – they don’t have to come from business.

10. It’s all worth it.
There will be days you have a hard time believing this, but in your heart you know it’s true. Had you stayed back at that safe job the big ‘what ifs’ would nag you into insanity. Whatever becomes of your business, you are learning at rapid fire speed, and you are getting better everyday. Perhaps it won’t be your destiny to stay at the helm of the ship you’re driving now, but wherever you end up you will be far wiser for having driven it.

Reducing Buyer Anxiety Leads to Higher Conversions, Happier Customers

Joe Francisco Medelita Lab Coats and Scrubs

 

 

Our guest blogger this week is Joe Francisco, President and CMO of Medelita.com.  He is a tech savvy businessman who has been building his company using digital marketing as the foundation of his company’s marketing strategy.

Follow Medelita on Twitter and Facebook.

 

In 2011 Medelita was growing our online business, but not as fast as we would have liked. We were still in the launch phase of our business attending over 40 medical conferences in 2011 to introduce our products and brand Medelita Lab Coats and Scrubsto our key customer base; physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dentists and veterinarians.

Our customers told us we had a great product. We experienced success selling our lab coats and medical scrubs at medical conferences throughout the United States and Canada. Customers were reacting very positively to ancillary services we provide such as free name and title embroidery and custom logo embroidery for group orders. Our goal was to replicate the medical conference experience through our website, www.medelita.com.

We needed to remove the new customer’s anxiety regarding the price, fit and sizing, and make it easy for them to understand the embroidery process. 85% of our orders receive some type of embroidery. 75% of the visitors to our site were new and we needed to convert them. We could not continue to go to 40 medical conferences per year. There just aren’t enough margins in our product to support these astronomical sales costs.

So we set out on another redesign of our site and emphasized “eliminating buyer anxiety.”

How’d we do it?

1.  Complimentary shipping on everything: orders, exchanges and returns. Truly FREE shipping.
2.  Our toll-free number and click-to-chat on every product page.
3.  Built a whole new interface for embroidery inspired by www.indochino.com
4.  Extended our Professional Courtesy Guarantee from 90 to 180 days.
5.  We added a powerful recommendation to our size guide – “Order two sizes. Shipping is free both ways.”
6.  Made returns insanely easy. Including a return label in sizing orders and making label and forms easy to access from customer’s accounts.

We launched most of these initiatives in 1Q212 with positive results:

1.  8 months at historic high conversion rates and a huge November.
2.  YOY traffic up by nearly 60%
3.  Dramatic increases for our brand searches.

Feedback is positive with extremely high Biz Rate reviews, daily effusively happy emails from customers and repeat business. We took what we learned about our customers’ fears and our success in direct selling and applied it to eCommerce.