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  Although I had no real interest in what I view as a sadly outdated method of marketing, I thought I’d ask some questions in case I was missing something.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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Optimism is the only choice for 2013

Here’s one thing I can tell you with absolute assurance about 2012: It’s over.  

If you had a great year, make 2013 ‘greater.’  If 2012 was a tough one, say good riddance and get moving on.   IAriel Marketing Group 2012 Year Endf you’re in business, you have no choice but to bid 2012 adieu; you must move on, no matter how great or bad your year was.

I’ve read umpteen posts about resolutions, rules and recommendations for 2013; usually at this time of year I’m doing the same thing, churning out a post or two about getting your marketing organized or planning better in the next 12 months.  

This year, so many of my marketing pals have already done a fantastic job of this; here is a list of excellent, rev-your-engine posts to help and inspire you:

  1. Sam Fiorella’s …Accept Less Mediocrity
  2. Becky Gaylord’s 17 Essentials
  3. Mark Babbit’s  … Realizations
  4. Danny Brown’s … 5 Blogs
  5. Gini Dietrich’s … 2013 Predictions

And if you’re looking for Sales lessons, just go to Anthony Iannarino’s blog and read the whole damn thing, sign up for his newsletter, and read everything he writes.

Instead of giving you an advice list of my own, I’m going to give you one piece of advice that has carried me everywhere:

Be an Optimist.

There is no other choice if you want to achieve any of your goals. Of course you must have planning, vision, and focus, but if you’re not dedicated to positivity, you won’t achieve anything.

I leave you some of my favorite lines in the English Language; impossible to read and not feel a deep sense of hope:

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


Happy New Year everyone!