Fiercely Protecting Your Business Sanity

Like most small business owners, time is my most precious resource. I am constantly thinking of new ideas, coming across new possibilities for revenue, and in recent years, becoming easily distracted by a myriad of social Business Sanitymedia ticklers that get me chasing someone else’s ideas as well.

There are weeks when it overtakes me. Despite my very profound understanding that in order to be successful I must stay focused, I end the week feeling out of breath and unproductive.
A very long pause and a conversation with myself is in order.

Most important is forgiving myself for once again getting off track, and knowing HOW to get back on. Here are my tips for restoring your own sanity at work:

1. Work all weekend: I know it may SEEM counter-intuitive  but you absolutely need to sit at your desk when there are NO distractions and get sh*t done; clear your inbox, organize your desk, make a new priorities list. You will feel sane and in control, and therefore able to make better decisions.

2. Simplify what you’re listening to: If you’re like me you get 400+ emails a day (no joke). Many of them are instant Deletes. Go through your recent 7 days of email and sort the emails that you regularly receive into Necessary or Frivolous. Unsubscribe or designate as Spam anything that isn’t essential. Cut down on the amount you must delete and you’ll carve minutes, maybe more, out of your day.

3. Cull the Blogs: New information and advice comes at us at lightning speed; just admit to yourself that you can’t be cutting edge on everything. Stop trying to digest it all and choose the 3 – 5 blogs you want to follow; try to digest that information and engage with that community in a more meaningful way. You’ll get a lot more out of your experience, and build stronger online relationships in the process.

4. Stop trying to be everywhere: if you are, you will not make an impact anywhere. Find the networking groups and Social platforms that work for you and stick with them.

5. Exercise: You can’t feel sane and maintain the necessary level of energy if you aren’t in shape. And don’t tell me you don’t have time – that’s just an excuse. Cut 30 minutes out of the time you spend on Facebook, Twitter, or having cocktails every day and run, bike or get your rear to the gym. This is a marathon you’re running – you have to be in shape for it.

If my list sounds like a lecture, forgive me…. I have to give it to myself every now and then. That’s how I know these things work.

You can’t DO Social Media

DISCLAIMER: I have absolutely no intention of joining the inane argument about which generation should be in charge of your Social Media community.  Statements like “No one over/under 25…” make me furious because it is so ridiculous to judge anyone based solely on their age.

However, like all of us older Social Media geeks, I have encountered the discussion in real life far too many times. Over the past 2 years I’ve had an ongoing ‘debate’ with a young man who started a ‘Social Media Management’ You can't DO Social Mediacompany; he once declared that ‘in 5 years there will be nothing BUT Social Media Marketing.’  I know, it’s another discussion not worth having because it is based on idiocy.  Very few companies can thrive with only ONE marketing tactic driving their sales.  TV, print, signage, email marketing… they’ll all change in the next 5 years.  Social Media will change too… but none of them are going away.

Just today I discovered that this same Social Media Management company did something that burns me, and should burn everyone else who ever reaches out to a Facebook Business Page for customer service:

They deleted a negative post.

Young and old friends – Never, Ever do this.  Not unless the post contains language that will offend your audience.

If someone takes time out of their day to reach out to your company for help, HELP them. The removed post wasn’t rude, it was simply requesting help after repeatedly calling and emailing.  Not only was it removed,  it wasn’t even RESPONDED TO.

This brings me back to one of my most persistent gripes about Social Media: It isn’t there for the DOING.  It is a tool. A Tactic. An incredible communication tool for small business.  Sure, people will complain.  And, just like in Real Life, every customer complaint is an opportunity for relationship building. If the complainant is so irrational that you cannot build a relationship with them, your patient, professional dialogue about their issue gives you the opportunity to build trust with the other people listening.

What has me so fired up about this type of ‘delete’ is that I know how very hard small businesses work to gain customers. I know that, especially in THIS economy, each one is so precious. Erasing any of them is criminal.  And I am convinced that this sort of reaction is what “doing Social Media” is. But that’s not good enough. You need to have a strategy, a plan… you need to nurture your online community.  You need to be there for the good and the bad.  You need to be prepared, in advance, for the bad and how you will react to it.

Here’s the myth debunked: Social Media is no different than real life customer relations.  Whatever you should do in a Real Life situation should be done in your Social Communities too.  Would you hang up on a disappointed customer, or would you try to resolve the issue professionally?  I think everyone knows the answer when they just stop and THINK about it.  Social Media, like the telegraph, phone, and email before it, is simply a new communication tool.  Don’t loose your marbles trying to ‘do’ it, and just ‘do’ good business.

How to Get Results From Your Chamber of Commerce

Small Businesses often have small marketing budgets; it is an absolute necessity that they maximize every dollar spent on marketing. Networking is crucial if your marketing budget is tight, and your local Chamber of Commerce can be the Using your Chamber for Business networkingbiggest bang for your buck if you know how to make it work for you.

I have lived all over the Eastern US, and in each location I’ve been involved in Chambers.  Some are stronger than others, but in order to make any Chamber work for you, you must not sit on the sidelines; get involved.  Here’s a short list of to dos:

  • Read your membership documents: As soon as you pay for your membership, read every thing handed to you and look out for the free deals.  Most chambers give you discounts on advertising or even free opportunities to get your business in front of your fellow members during your first year of membership.  Don’t let them sit unused.
  • Meet with a Chamber Employee: Set up a meeting with whomever handles Membership and/or Marketing and make sure that they understand your business, and ask to be made aware of every marketing opportunity. Make a friend inside the Chamber and keep in touch.
  • Attend Events: This may seem like a no brainer, but I cannot tell you how many people I come across who pay their dues, never go to events, and then complain that they’re ‘not getting anything‘ out of their Chamber.  You must attend different types of events as well – some breakfasts, some lunches, some evening events.  You’ll find that other people get into routines and you’ll miss meeting them if you don’t go to the ones they always attend.
  • Volunteer: You must give to get, and the best way to be noticed and make friends in your Chamber is to stand shoulder to shoulder with them as you work on a project or event together. People do business with people they know, and you really get to know your fellow members when you work with them towards a goal.
  • Offer to Speak: Chambers are often searching for professional speakers willing to get in front of other members and help them learn more about a particular subject. If you have the ability and knowledge, don’t be afraid to give some of it away.
  • Sponsor an Event: Not only will sponsoring a high profile event get you noticed, it will bring lots of good will from your Chamber.  Offer to host an event at your business if possible… the first hurdle in getting a new customer in the door is to get them in that first time.  Once they’re comfortable, they’ll come back.

Like so many things in life and business, you only get back as much as you give.  Chambers can be powerful weapons for your marketing arsenal if you know how to use them.

What have you done to get the maximum out of your Chamber?

If you want to learn more about how to maximize your Chamber membership, check out Frank Kenny’s endless stream of helpful tips.


Advice from your customer: Want My Business? Let Me Tell You How Not to Get It

Over the years I’ve had several companies attempt to sell me their products or services. In most of those instances, they failed. It wasn’t the quality of their products that cost them my business (well maybe once or twice). Does Cold Calling leave you cold?The problem was their sales approach. Let me give you some tips if you are really interested in getting my business:

  1. What’s in a name? It is very important that if you want my business, you know whose business you seek. If you are contacting me via telephone, make sure you know how to pronounce my name. If you are soliciting via mailers or email, spell my name correctly. For me there is nothing that gets a hang up as soon, a mailer shredded as quickly, or an email deleted as promptly as getting my name wrong.
  2. Cold calls will get you the cold shoulder. While I understand that sales is a tough business, I’m still not a fan of the cold call. I’m fortunate enough to have someone to screen my calls so I can pick and choose my conversations but others don’t have this luxury. Those poor souls end up trying to quickly and politely say no in hopes that they don’t have to rudely hang up on an overzealous sales person. If cold calls are working for you, kudos, but I know they aren’t working on me.
  3. Unannounced is unacceptable. This is taking the cold call to another level. The sales person dropping by the office without an appointment who wants to see me. While I admire the courage of someone who does this, I can guarantee that you will not get into my office.
  4. Do your homework or you will fail. Do not make a sales pitch to me without knowing my business. I mean REALLY knowing my business. We are in an age where information is abundant and readily available. Before you talk to me, do the research. I’ll be much more open to talking with you if you truly understand what I need.

Now I’m not heartless and I do need goods and services, but like you I am ‘too busy’ too often and I don’t have time to waste.

Let me give you a one final tip on how to get my business. Remember that you are being interviewed. Getting my business is really a job interview. When you come looking for my business, have references and make them good. A list of references is good. Letters of reference from your other clients are better. A personal reference from someone I already know professionally works best.
If you take my advice, I think you’ll find better success not only with me but with other potential clients.

Today’s post is by guest blogger John Errico, an all the time Sports Love & Game Day Stringer for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. His day job is VP of Finance. Follow John on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn ; as of this date he has still resisted Facebook.

The Vicious, No Win Cycle of $0 Marketing

I met with a potential client who owns a unique gift/tourist store in a very competitive vacation area.  I am very familiar with their business because I patronize it regularly; it is far and away the best place around to get Ariel Marketing Group's advice on avoiding the vicious cycle of $0 marketingunique apparel, swim suits and beach toys.  Its location is not ideal; many competitors are far closer to the beach.  Location in Retail is not everything, but is counts for A LOT.

Problem #1: Bad Location

I know that this Retailer needs to do 2 things:

  1. Market More.
  2. Prompt customers to go out of their way for a reason: this store is worth it.

Problem #2: The client has a minimal budget.

This is the vicious marketing cycle too many small businesses find themselves in:

  1. Their money is tied up in inventory.
  2. They need to sell that inventory in order to earn money to market more.
  3. Without money to market they don’t have enough customers to turn over their inventory.

Without a change in their action plan, this store is destined to fail.  Here are my suggestions:

  1. Update your website; no excuses.
  2. Use Social Media; no, it isn’t free, but it’s very cost effectively if used properly.
  3. Increase your advertising in the most effective publication/platform there is.  Find the money somewhere and commit to 6 months of this.
  4. Network like mad.
  5. Use email marketing, effectively.

You cannot market with zero dollars, but you can market on a shoestring to gain momentum.  It can’t stop there; every extra dollar needs to be pumped back into marketing until you move from a shoestring to a real marketing budget.  Look around you at all other successful small businesses: none of them got there without marketing.  In order to get out of the vicious cycle you need to force a change, and that can only be done by investing in your marketing.



Your Website is Never, EVER, Finished

If you get through the grinding process of revamping or rebuilding your website and allow yourself to think “thank goodness that’s finished,”  the likelihood that you’ll be successful selling or marketing online is slim to none.Ariel Marketing Group on website updates

The typical process the owner of a new website goes through is as follows: adulation & infactuation with the new site, moving to a slightly critical reaction upon viewing it a couple of months down the road,  to eventually, full on disgust with both visual and functionality issues. These responses are normal, expected, and frankly necessary. Your website is not like a brochure you print up and hand out …. it should be a living, evolving part of your business, and like your business, growing continually.

This doesn’t mean you have to log on everyday to tweak it, but it does mean that you should think of your website as the internet face of your business; each new development or facet your business adds should be simultaneously reflected on your website. Portfolios should grow and evolve – old jobs, no matter how great, should be taken down and new, fresh projects highlighted. New events or additions to your company should be chronicled on your website, and that great picture of you from 14 years ago, no matter how stunning you look, should be replaced with something that is more representative of who you are now.

The web is constantly evolving – new Social Media platforms are popping up everyday, and as you join these new communities, your website should as well. New collaborative business relationships should appear as links to your site; old, defunct relationships should be eliminated. Your Bio or About Us page needs to be updated – every new award, position, or achievement should be added.

One of the most difficult parts of a great site is getting the verbiage right. It needs to be straight to the point, explaining to the visitor immediately how you benefit them – NO LONG paragraphs please; make it as succinct as possible.  It needs to be updated regularly, because it will become stale just like the other parts of your site if it isn’t refreshed. Refreshing also means taking that next step; add VIDEO to your site and you’ll hold visitors just that much longer. It may mean the difference between a fleeting visit and a new customer.

I am NOT advising you to have a busy, over the top home page that overwhelms the viewer… editing is an important part of the process. I know, it all sounds like an awful lot of work, and it is when you look at it as a composition, but you’re not doing all the work AT ONCE. It is a process, and a very necessary one, but it isn’t a full time job. With discipline (there’s that favorite concept of mine again), you’ll develop a rhythm, it will become second nature, and your site will be as it should – an integral part of your brand, the face and ‘catalogue’ of your company and the first impression many people have of you. Make sure that impression speaks to who you are now, not who you were last year.

This post was originally written in 2010 and updated for today.  The  foundations of a great website don’t change; it has to.

Don’t let your client set the budget.

I’m a HUGE believer in the relationship being the cornerstone of good salesmanship; what separates the wheat from the chaff is what you do with that relationship to leverage sales and make your client happy with the results.Selling what your client needs.  If you really understand your client’s needs and believe in your product, you cannot let a client set a strict budget limit before the negotiation begins.   Too often in this weak economic atmosphere we sell from fear; fear that we won’t get the deal based on our client’s belt tightening.  Fear that we won’t get paid and therefore won’t be able to pay our bills. Fear that we’ll ‘lose the sale’ altogether by presenting what they need rather than what their stated budget needs.

You must find a way to erase that fear totally if you want to do your job properly. Your job, my sales friend, is to sell your client the product they really need, not the product that fits their budget.

Often, the client  doesn’t know what that is; YOU are the expert after all.  In addition, they have no idea what the ROI will be.  You need to explain all your plan and its projected ROI before you set the budget with your client.

A client just left my office having spent 3 times the budget they’d set for marketing, and I can guarantee you they are thrilled with their decision.  I listened to her when she told me her initial budget,  but I didn’t allow that to dictate our discussion over what she actually needs. Her number did not factor into what I presented to her.  If you work backwards by allowing the budget to dictate what your client purchases,  you do both you and that company a disservice.

Develop the optimum plan first, analyze what that will cost, and then present that to your client. Explain that their company’s goals come first, and you cannot do your job properly if you don’t educate them on what will work to achieve those goals.  IF they object because they sincerely can’t spend what it takes to execute your plan,  re-analyze your plan and cut the least necessary pieces.  If your plan is a solid one, and you do your job convincing your client of its value, you will do very little cutting.

Taking Stock

It’s Friday afternoon and we’re all, hopefully, preparing for some R and R. On the weekends I try to take a step back and recharge; I focus on my family, and I focus on my business’ Big Picture. I seek out the type of clarity you Clarity of purpose Ariel Marketing Groupachieve when you, for whatever reason, can see clearly what is important.

Yesterday at 6:30am  an old high school friend of mine died in his sleep, of a heart attack at the age of 47.  His name was Tim Mitchell.

Tim and I weren’t what most people would call extremely close, but because we both grew up in a very special place, Milton Hershey School, we were more family than most families. We’d spend a lot of time together one weekend a year at our annual Homecoming, and shared one mutual friend are both very close to.  Hanging out with Tim always guaranteed a tremendous amount of laughter, hugs, and good feelings.  I know that all of us must suffer intense loss, but speaking to our mutual friend yesterday was just so deeply heartbreaking I could barely catch my breath.

Today, long before the weekend began, I had that clarity we all strive for… the kind you only get after great loss when the entire world and what is important is crystallized and oh so obvious.

So go home, hug the ones you love, work on your business if it is your passion, spend time in nature, and take a moment to really take stock of what matters.  We are all here for such a very short time.

This is NOT My New Normal

Talk of how “America is different now” have abounded since the crash in 08′.  Running up to the second Presidential Election with no true rebound has only heightened the hyperbole that somehow we won’t ever pull out of this ‘new Not accepting the new normaleconomic reality.’

I am not an economist, but I know one thing: I will not accept less as my ‘new normal.’

Small Business Owners are the backbone of this economy, and none of us should accept that ‘this is how it will be.’

We already worked 80 hours a week; now we  have to work smarter than ever. We have to embrace every new tool and tactic at our disposal that can help us market our business for less money in more creative ways. We have to improve even the best customer service standards, and deliver top notch product.

More than anything we have to refuse to accept any ‘new normal’ that mandates that we will get less out of life.

Since we are the backbone of the economy, it’s up to us to turn it around.

That starts with us believing that things will be better because we will make them so.

Starbucks sells a lot more than coffee

I have a brilliant but antagonistic friend who has big issues with my deep admiration for Howard Schultz;  he doesn’t understand how I can admire a man who figured out a way to charge $4 for coffee. I don’t admire Schultz simply for his genuine rags to riches story, or his Indivisible campaign… although the latter is something that I think is remarkably inspiring.

My admiration for Schultz and the company he created began when I fell in love with his product… and in case you didn’t notice, his product is NOT coffee.  As a VP- Sales who traveled extensively to manage Sales Reps Starbucks isn't about the coffeeworking primarily out of their vehicles, I spent hours upon hours having meetings in Starbucks.  I don’t even drink coffee, but I am intensely loyal to the brand that Schultz built.  Here’s why:

1. Consistent quality products; I’m a big tea drinker – try getting a decent cuppa anywhere outside of a major metropolitan area that ISN’T Starbucks.

2. Always friendly and helpful employees.

3. Comfortable and attractive interiors.

4. Never the feeling that you’ve overstayed your welcome.

5. Free wi-fi

I know there are plenty of Starbucks haters who deride the demise of the independent coffee house, and I totally get that… but most of us living outside of major cities never had a decent coffee shop, let alone a pleasant place to meet for a leisurely hour.  Starbucks sold, and we BOUGHT, and experience.  A pleasant, warm, quality experience that did not exist before they built it.

The question for your company is: what’s the experience you’re building for your customers? If it’s just product, you’re in trouble, because there’s always a newer, shinier product that comes along to entice them away.  What about the experience of dealing with you will build this sort of loyalty?  It’s NEVER been just about the coffee for Starbucks.    It can’t be just about the product for you either.