I bought an Electrolux vacuum a few years ago when I finally grew up and invested in some nice carpets, and the thing was worth every penny. I actually LOVE that vacuum. A couple of months ago the head on the vacuum broke when SOMEONE WHO ISN’T ME vacuumed up my daughter’s sock. It’s a canister, so all we need to do is take the head to a vacuum shop and get it fixed. I live in the country, which means NOTHING is simple, but Scranton is only 15 miles away and full of old school small businesses; of course there is a repair shop there. That vacuum has been sitting in my mudroom for 3 months. I’ve made approximately 65 trips to Scranton since then and I have yet to remember to take that part in for repair.

No, my house is not a filthy mess; I’ve been using my cheap Dirt Devil since then. Does it make me feel like an incompetent loser when I see the Electrolux sitting there? Absolutely. But I know it’s ok to be a loser about a broken vacuum cleaner. I didn’t always feel this way; for years I tried to be super woman and keep the perfect home, have a rock star career…. you know. But now I know what’s important, and having that vacuum fixed is way down on my list of priorities.

What is a priority?

1. Making sure I spend some time talking and reading to my daughter everyday.
2. Keeping the commitments I make to my clients when it comes to meeting deadlines.
3. When deadlines can’t be met, communicating that clearly and immediately.
4. Staying on top of my marketing goals, consistently, which means daily.
5. Making time to recharge my batteries so that I have the energy and inspiration to do all of the above with gusto.

Sometimes procrastination is ok; if you come to my home or office you may find a dirty floor, but you will also find a happy, successful place of life and business.

Building Trust Instead of Marketing

I’ve been reading UnMarketing by Scott Stratten so I’m thinking even more than usual about what the end goal of marketing is. It’s not simply Brand Recognition or being everywhere and therefore recognizable – it’s about making your customers want you. For a pizza shop this is a totally different mission than a Financial Institute because no one has to trust you to buy pizza. Well, ok Dominos may not see it that way; of course your customer has to trust that your food is safe for them to eat, and they will obviously hope that it tastes good, but it’s not the same challenge a financial advisor encounters where their client has to entrust them with their life savings.

So how do you build that type of trust? For my business I can do it by conveying consistent, thoughtful and useful information through Facebook, Twitter, my blog etc. Some industries, like banking, face a much tougher challenge; if you’re a small, regional bank with limited advertising dollars, spending a large percentage of your budget on print advertising is a waste of money. People won’t learn to trust you through print advertising alone.

Recently I met with a regional, 75 year old Credit Union whose customers are only Businesses – you can’t just walk in off the street and open an account and therefore their marketing plan has to be much more calculated. Not only do they have to make sure that their marketing efforts put them in front of the decision makers that run or own businesses, but they have to build trust with them as well. Instead of their traditional print and tv advertising, I think it is critical that they get the opportunity to build personal relationships with their target customers. How do they do this?

1. By creating a series of specific seminars that will provide information to those targets.
2. Create a PR plan that ensures the seminars are well attended.
3. Sponsoring and getting in front of Business Organizations that can give them access to many decision makers at once.
4. Making sure their traditional marketing efforts convey the message of trust and security to the target customer.

That list will continue to grow and refine itself as I work with the client, but the foundation is clear: We are not simply marketing, we are building trust. If you work in a highly professional industry you should think hard about the Trust Foundation in your marketing efforts.

You Are Your Client’s Bouyancy

You are not allowed to drag them down, EVER, no matter how close you may become. You are not allowed to tell them about your troubles at home, your struggles with employees, or ANYTHING that may dampen their spirit. They should leave every phone call or meeting with you feeling more inspired and hopeful than they did when it started. Period.

Is this fair? Who knows. Is it the way things are? YES. No matter what they tell you , your clients want to know that you are solidly going upwards… you are never faltering or doubting your direction. You may change course but you may not discuss WHY until you’re certain that you are.

I have a friend who owns a Title Insurance company and has been making a fortune these past few years; if you know anything about the Real Estate business you’ll know that profitability has NOT been easy of late. If you know anything about Title Insurance you’ll know that it’s not an industry many get rich in. Why is my friend Bob doing so well? Sure he’s smart and does a thorough job, but the REAL key to his success is that you are guaranteed a smile when you interact with him. He is ALWAYS upbeat, quick witted and he listens when you speak. He makes everyone he interacts with feel special, and he makes you smile. That’s it. People WANT to be around him. People choose to do business with him when there are hundreds of others in his area they could choose.

So think about that long and hard before your next customer interaction. Suck in whatever stress you have and save it for your best friend – make your customer feel like they mean something to you, and give them a smile. The ROI on THAT is immeasurable.

Beware of the Acronym

I am not totally against the use of Acronymns, and I understand that in our fastpaced lives sometimes they’re really useful. For instance – no one is going to use the term Compact Disc when CD is the widely accepted shorthand. But something has happened in our business culture; some companies and industries have gone our of their way to create Acronyms where not only are they unnecessary, they confuse the listener. For example:

1. LOL: The internet has caused a rapid increase in the overuse of acronyms because, let’s face it, typing on a phone pad is a pain. Please, stop using this one – perhaps the most overused of all Acronyms.
2. PADI – Professional Association of Diving Instructors – no one will know your acronym if they don’t even know you exist.
3. NIMBY – Not In My Backyard – Seriously?
4. TIA – Thanks In Advance – If you can’t take the time to write out ‘Thank You in Advance’ you shouldn’t be asking for the favor.
5. ASAP – As Soon As Possible – Be careful using this one in business communications because it comes across as command rather than a request. No one that isn’t in the military likes to be given orders.
6. OOO – Out of Office. Huh?
7. EOD – End of Day. Do we really need this??
8. UPnP – Universal Plug & Play – they must not have worked too hard on this one.
9. S.H.A.G. – Senior Housing Assistance Group – do you see where careless use of acronyms could be a problem?
10. D.P. – Designer Portfolio: this one courtesy of my old company and is an abbreviation rather than an acronym; the entire design industry knows them as Architect Folders and sales reps. had to constantly explain what they were to customers.

I’m not for outlawing all acronyms; if they make communication easier and MOST PEOPLE understand them I say go for it. For instance SCUBA, HGTV and ATM are all widely understood acronyms that make life simpler.

In business, especially if it’s highly specialized, is where most people get into trouble. I constantly caution clients to stop using acronyms if I don’t understand them the first time I encounter them. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to train your clients and new employees as to what they stand for – ditch them. Just because the people in your company understand your acronyms doesn’t mean you should use them. It’s difficult enough explaining what you do in 30 seconds or less – jumbling that speech with acronyms the listener doesn’t understand puts you in danger of losing them permanently.

If you do encounter acronyms you are clueless about, try to clear it up. If your clients need to use this service to understand what you or your website are saying, my guess is they won’t bother.

Do You Know Your Customers?

A few weeks ago I posted a blog how your customers wanted to know your company, and Social Media is the perfect way for them to do it in a way that is not possible with a website. Your customer base may be so large that it’s impossible to actually KNOW your customers on an individual basis, but in order to give them what they want you need to understand WHO they are and what appeals to them:

What is their gender, income level, age demographics?

What blog posts, product promotions, advertisements or facebook posts have they responded to? If you’re using Twitter consistently, what tweets were re-tweeted?

How do you get these answers? Through analytics, surveys, and consistent marketing tracking.

Where do you start? If you have the technical know how AND THE TIME, start with programs like Infusionsoft that can simplify the process and give you detailed feeback and follow up with interested people who visit your website or blog. If time and technical know how are not something you have a surplus of, hire a marketing company to set up tracking programs and coach you and your staff on how to use them. Like everything else that gets results – it’s a lot of work to set up and programmed properly, but the results are priceless and will be the guide for you to steer your business through the next months and years.

Without it you’re just shooting blindly at a moving or invisible target. So as you continue to plan for 2011 make sure Analytics & Surveys, and Follow Up are a big part of what’s to come.

Where Are You Going

I was raised in very rural Northeastern Pennsylvania by an amazing woman, my Grandmother Doris Chapman McCloskey; she came from a long line of fascinating, independent, strong women and graduated from college in 1925. At 9 years old I went away to attend Milton Hershey School, a boarding school for disadvantaged youth founded by another incredible human being, Milton Hershey of Hershey Chocolate fame. My entire childhood was formed by the legacy of two outstanding human beings who took nothing for granted and saw NOTHING as impossible.

It may be that I will never achieve anything near the incredible success of Milton Hershey, and I certainly do not have to beat the odds that a rural woman growing up in my grandmother’s era faced, but I know that the main reason I have been able to start and grow a business in this feeble economy is because of the lessons of my youth: Found your business on a strong product or service, surround yourself with capable partners, PLAN YOUR STRATEGY, and work your tail off – these are the necessary ingredients for a successful business despite any economic backdrop.

So my question for you is: Where are YOU going this year? What Life’s Lessons will you use to formulate YOUR plan for 2011? You may not have been as lucky as I to have such a unique childhood, but you certainly can find your own heroes. I never stop collecting them: Richard Branson, Jack Welch, Chris Brogan, Gary Vanerchuck… They all help me formulate what I want to get from My Plan.

My partner and I have an ongoing agenda for where we’re headed. We tweak it regularly and discuss that plan weekly. We KNOW that at the end of 2011 we’ll have continued our incredible growth because we’re both committed to where we are going. We may have to change directions if part of planning falters, if so we’ll chart another course. But our goal of continued growth and professional development will remain intact and our adherance to it will be the reason we get where we are going.

Get the Important Stuff Done Now

All along the Eastern seaboard is a silence that only an insulating snow storm can bring. People are digging out and stepping far outside of their regular routines, many secretly loving that time is standing still. Quite a few already planned this as an additional play day and the snow is just an added bonus. Some meant to get some work done today, but with offices, roads, and transportation shut down – why not play?

Hey, I’m all for ‘playing;’ as this snow blankets the northeast I’m tucked away in a beach front hotel on Florida’s sunny Gulf Coast, and I plan on LOTS of playing with my daughter this week. But I’m also doing The Big Stuff this week – planning my 2011 Growth & Marketing strategy. What does that mean? That means I am asking myself 2 questions:

1. How is my business going to grow this year:
a) What type of business do I want more of? Less of?
b) Does my pricing structure need adjusting?
c) How can I better use my time to target the desired type of growth?
d) What key service do we want to add to our arsenal?
e) What’s dragging us down and how do we jettison it?
2. How will we get our message in front of the right people?
a) Of course, since we are a marketing company we think about this for our clients everyday; we need to regularly think about it for ourselves.

Of course it’s easy to look out the window at a beautiful blizzard or ocean view and think of all of the fun things I could be doing right now, but for me The Big Stuff = the meaningful stuff, and is the most fulfilling work I do all year. This week while the world is quiet I get a lot of Big Stuff done.

Using Clients for Promotion

This topic has been rolling around in my brain for months; the reason it has taken so long for me to tackle it is that there is a lot of gray area. In general, I don’t like gray areas and frankly often don’t even believe they exist. People often create them so they don’t have to make the tough choices. But this area really is gray for me and a lot of marketers I’ve spoken to: should you use your client list to gain new business? Really the question should be: is it ethical and/or effective to use your client list to gain new business by promoting their relationship with your company? I’m not talking about using testimonials in print and website to build your reputation; if your client has willingly given your a recommendation and you’ve acquired their permission to use it, then by all means promote away.

I’m talking about the prominent display of a clients logo and/or company name on your website and print materials. All you have to do is look around the internet for a minute and you’ll see what I’m talking about – logos or client lists displayed on the Home page of websites. Like Oprah I really trust my gut, and something about this doesn’t sit right with me. Now, if you’ve partnered with a client for a very long time and they want to give you glowing testimonials that’s one thing, but to use their images on your front page to attract business makes me think that you can’t say enough about your own work in your own words to get me to buy in. Your Home Page real estate is limited, and if you can’t quickly tell me how you will help me I more than likely don’t care about who else you helped.

Referrals, word of mouth marketing & testimonials are wonderful, but that’s not what a front page client list or logo is – it’s a gimmicky visual that probably won’t get you very far. Don’t believe me? Look around at the most successful companies in your industry and you’ll see that I’m right. Reserve that precious front page space to quickly and clearly get your real message across. When we want to know more about who you worked with and what you did we’ll go looking.

Do you have a well?

If you own a small business you know what it’s like to run out of gas; it is our J-O-B to stay positive, motivated, and work like madmen. Usually we’re pretty good at doing that, but every now and then, if you’re like me, you hit a wall. Especially at this time of year: the holidays are upon us and much is expected outside our normal realm of responsibilities that ALREADY stretch us to the limit. How does one keep going? You need a well. An Inspiration Well to be exact. People or places you can return to when you need to ‘fill up.’ If you don’t have a regular source take a moment and make a list so you’re not searching out resources when you’re beyond exhaustion. Here’s my list of the places I go when I’m running low:

1. Entrepreneur Magazine: the paper format gets me juiced for weeks, but when necessary I go to Faceboook/EntMagazine. You can also sign up for the Daily Dose if you expend a lot of energy.
2. I have no idea what sort of caffeine levels Chris maintains, but he is an endless source of ideas & inspiration for marketers & business owners alike, and since October he’s had a column in my beloved Entrepreneur, which is a beautiful thing.
3. I know, I know – there’s nothing unique about putting Oprah on the list, but if you want an example of the can-do attitude that is necessary to keep it going, she’s the best example out there.
4. NAWBO: The National Association of Women Business Owners. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but the point is that you NEED a group of like minded business owners from whom you can draw inspiration, ask advice, or just get together for solidarity. This is the group I choose – what’s yours?
5. Mikal Belicove’s Four for Friday: Almost every Friday Mikal rolls out a list of 4 questions that make you think and sometimes laugh out loud. If you’re an internet junkie check out his regular column in, yep, you guessed it: Entrepreneur Magazine.
6. Creative Energy Options Sylvia Lafair and her organization run a top notch Executive Coaching business and this year I enrolled in their Total Leadership Connections program. It’s year long program that teaches the nuances of leadership for both work and personal life issues. It’s a big time commitment but it’s worth every minute.
7. Gary Vanynerchuk Ok, so whatever Chris Brogan is drinking times that by 10 and you get to Gary’s level of excitement. His book Crush It changed my work life.
8. The Great Gatsby: I once heard John Irving ridicule everything about F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I read this book every single year for the last paragraph. Great literature is good for the soul.
9. DesignFollow Because of my line of work visual inspiration is vitally important, and as Steve Jobs will tell you: Design is Important.
10. My Daughter Adelaide: We all need to understand the fundamental reason we work so hard, and it’s not for the money.

We all require a re-energizing periodically, and it doesn’t happen by accident. So sit down and come up with YOUR list of the best Wells of Inspiration you know of, and return to them to fill up as often as necessary.

Is Your Logo Naked?

Working with small businesses I would say 50% or more have no tag line at all, and 20% of those that do have useless ones that aren’t memorable. Why do you need a great one? Because you, me, and everyone we know is so busy we can’t see straight half the time, so when we’re looking for a product or service we usually don’t have a lot of time. Add to that the fact that we are INUNDATED with spam & junk mail and you have one frenzied prospect you’re trying to attract.

Some business names themselves are remarkable enough to identify WHAT service a company provides, but a tag line should can inform the viewer about what sets you apart and ensure that they remember your BRAND. Here’s a list of some of my personal favorites:

1. Nike – “Just do it.” Overused now, but absolutely awesome, inspiring, and meaningful.
2. FedEx – “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Echoes your own sense of urgency when you need quick freight service.
3. BMW – “The Ultimate Driving Machine” Says a lot more than “just another luxury car.”
4. American Express – “Don’t Leave Home Without It.” A straight forward sense of security.
5. John Deere “Nothing runs like a Deere” Reliability in 5 words
7. Maxwell House – “Good to the last drop.” Simple, good stuff.
8. RG Petty Construction – “On budget, On Time, On Demand” – So you’ll expect a lot, but that’s a good thing.
9. Gibbons Beer – “If it’s Gibbons, it’s good.” <-- now defunct Pennsylvania beer but that tag line said it all. 10. Northeastern Maintenance "Got Snow, Need a Mow? Call Joe." My friend Joe Yantorn's maintenance business; I guarantee you know what he does and when you'd need him. There are loads of great tag lines out there, even more companies have naked logos. Your tag line should say in 6 words or less what you do or why the viewer should choose you. It shouldn’t be cute, overly clever or too technical. And if you are at a complete loss as to how to go about developing a tagline or creativity is not your strong suit hire a great marketing mind to develop one for you. Think of it as a landmark for your logo and brand, and as a landmark it will quickly distinguish you from your competition.