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  Although I had no real interest in what I view as a sadly outdated method of marketing, I thought I’d ask some questions in case I was missing something.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

My Top 5 Marketing Minds Small Business Can Learn From

It is my job in Real Life to create smart marketing strategies for Small Business clients that suit their budget and brand. These days this almost always includes creating, or developing, their online marketing presence. Although it may appear that EVERYONE is on Social Media these days, it’s simply not true for many businesses. And many that are on don’t understand how to use the tools they’ve set up. Often the decision makers(s) is, to say the least, overwhelmed by Social Media in particular. My advice is always to put one foot in front of the other and master one platform at a time. Once you get your sea legs with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn… and now possibly Google+, you can start to determine which platforms work best for your business and focus your time in the right places.

If you decide that 2012 will be the year you really learn how to use social media to grow your business, and fine tune your skills, here are my Top 5 Marketing Minds to follow and learn from:

1. Chris Brogan Any of us who spend a lot of time in Social Media may believe that everyone already knows who Chris is; he’s one of the most ‘famous’ Social Media stars. But, if you’ve never used Social Media you probably don’t. His book Trust Agents (with Julien Smith) is still the first thing I recommend to clients so that they understand that Social Media is NOT a space to continually blast your marketing message. It’s about building trust and engaging with your audience.
2. Jay Baer: I discovered Jay about a year and a half ago and his blog, Convince and Convert, was one of the reasons I decided to narrow down the amount of information I was trying to consume and focus on engaging in a few excellent communities. Jay covers a wide range of topics, but he never mails in a mediocre post. Everyone of them is worthy of reading and re-reading, and the folks you find in the comment section are some of the smartest out there.
3. Gini Dietrich Founder and CEO of Amrent Dietriech, is one of the wittiest and positive online people I know. Her blog, Spin Sucks, offers daily doses of knowledge on a plethora of New Media tactics and often inspired and spirited discussion on PR and Marketing. The marketers I admire most I discovered on Spin Sucks, and although they may be Fortune 100 Marketers, PR mishaps happen to companies of all sizes everyday and the lessons learned here can save you from total disaster.
4. Danny Brown is one of those smart people I met on Spin Sucks, and his blog covers a range of Marketing and PR topics. Danny’s steady and thoughtful voice is absolutely priceless a midst the mania and wildfires that can blow up on Social Media. His new venture, Punk Views on Social Media, is the on the other end of the spectrum where you’ll encounter frank, often spicy discussion on Social Media.
5. Brian Clark’s Copyblogger is one of the Must Reads in my inbox. The reality is that you can have all of the megaphones (platforms) in the world, but if your content isn’t compelling you won’t build an audience. Copyblogger covers more than just how to write or recognize this copy, and if you pay attention you’ll also learn a whole lot more about how to build your social media traffic and SEO.

If this seems like a lot to follow consider this: how many email newsletters do you receive that you barely skim and delete? Why not slim down your overloaded inbox and really focus on learning, thoroughly, how to use the platforms you’ve set up?

Sunday Night Marketing

You can’t get there from here, at least not without a plan. It’s Sunday night and YOU, small business owner, are thinking about tomorrow and all the things you have to do: your overloaded inbox, that proposal you were supposed to finish up on Friday…. your problem employee. Small Business Marketing

STOP it right now.

Right now you need to focus on ONLY ONE THING: how you are going to do one thing this week that will grow your business. And I don’t mean sell one thing; that only helps your short term sales. You are going to pick ONE MARKETING TACTIC and PEN it into your calendar for at least 2 hours this week. It can be any of the following:

1. Get active on your Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn Page: By active, I don’t mean a post every couple of days – I mean 3 posts a day for at least 6 days. And they have to be thought out and meaningful to your customers.
2. Work on your website: Yes, that Face of Your Company on the internet that you don’t even want to look at because it hasn’t been updated for SO LONG it’s embarrassing. Take 3 hours and work on the updates and then implement them.
3. Work on your Marketing Calendar: That’s right – all of those things you promised yourself you’d do last Christmas holiday as you looked forward to the new year with enthusiasm and hope. So what that the last quarter will be here in weeks – there’s still time to create the event or implement the promotion that you’d thought of. Plan it out and set the wheels in motion.
4. Review your Target Client List: You know, that list of dream clients you plan on personally reaching out to ‘when you have time.’ It’s time. Pick ONE of those dream clients and make contact this week. And then make an alarm on your calendar to follow up within 2 weeks and DO IT.

Now, when the appointed time(s) come this week for you to carry out the action you plan tonight DO IT LIKE YOUR BUSINESS LIFE DEPENDED ON IT. I guarantee that after you finish you’ll wonder why on earth you didn’t do it sooner.

And next Sunday you’ll do it again. And the next Sunday after that. And before you know it…you’ll be implementing your marketing strategy like it’s actually part of your business plan.

Your Customers Won’t Take Your Marketing Seriously If You Don’t

If you read my blog you know that I run a Small Business Marketing company; we empower small business owners by creating blended marketing strategies with a major focus on new media. Because strategy is my bag, I spend most of my days consulting with the decision makers on how to spend their limited marketing budget to most effectively gain the Focus on Marketing for Small Businessattention of their target clients.

If never fails to amaze me that a good percentage of my clients, and by that I mean more than half, have no personnel dedicated to marketing. Many of my clients are really small businesses with only a handful of staff, so it is understandable that they may not have a person on board whose sole job is marketing. What you do need, Mr/Ms Small Business Owner, at the very minimum, is to have the responsibilities of marketing decision making as part of the job description of an important key player.

The business owner’s retort to my suggestion is often: “That’s why we hired you.” Believe me, I’m grateful when any client entrusts me with their marketing. Bringing in an outside marketing consultant is smart, but ‘we,’ the outsiders, are not enough. There needs to be a person on your staff who is the liason and decision maker to ensure that the strategy you’re paying us to enact is working. Someone on YOUR team needs to be actively involved in approval and monitoring of the strategy.

If you’re a sole proprietor, you need to dedicate a percentage of every week (that’s right, I didn’t say month or year) to thinking about and monitoring your marketing efforts.

What does it mean if you DON’T dedicate personnel or time to your marketing? It means you are ignoring one of the two most important parts of your business. Without marketing you may very well be invisible to your target clients. Without marketing, your company will not grow at the rate you need it to. Without marketing, it is much more difficult to achieve the desired sales rate you need. Without marketing how will you ever get to the point of success you have envisioned since the day you went into business? All it takes is for you to elevate this most important aspect of your business to its rightful place. Spend money, but more importantly, spend the time it requires to make your marketing successful.

Giving Up Before You Try

A few months ago I was contacted by a small business owner with a unique product that no one else had. Most business owners would kill to have a product with no competition, but as Mary Kay said, “every cloud has a silver lining.” Pioneering New Products

The problem with having a product this exclusive is that YOU have to create the market. Smart companies have done this for years: the iPad is a recent example. It’s not so tough for a major company like Apple to create desire through huge marketing campaigns. For the small business owner with limited funds – not so easy.

This is where the internet has changed the game; through websites, Social Media – a compelling You Tube video – you CAN, with determination and some luck, create a market and by building a solid foundation, own that market for years or at least until a large company offers lots of money to buy you out, and then they can go and market your product.

The small business owners that came to me with their unique product did indeed have enough money to start down this path. They came asking for a comprehensive New Media Marketing plan, and that is what we delivered. Our standard advice for most small businesses is to build each piece as you go: a great website first, social media and email marketing next, blogging after you get the other 2 down, and then a calendar so that you stay focused and connected on all of the things you’ve set up and the other tactics we plug in as you go.

But when the proposal came the small business owner balked. Not so much at the price, but at the commitment creating a market would entail. That commitment was primarily TIME, the most valuable thing any small business owner has.

What they did next was a sure road to failure: they purchased a basic, not bad looking website with NO Search Engine Optimization, making them invisible online. They ran a few ads in Trade Magazines… and any traditional marketer will tell you : Save Your Money. If you’re not going to commit to consecutive months you’ll get zero traction.

What my small business owners really did is the Gave Up Before They Tried. Why? Probably so they could console themselves with having tried, when in reality they never gave their unique product a chance because they wouldn’t commit to the time and energy to take it from invisible to Out There With a Chance of Being Seen.

Any successful business owner will tell you that before they got to ‘successful,’ they worked tirelessly to give their company a chance at success. And I mean tirelessly. That’s what it takes.

I often watch small businesses start up with a flurry of excitement – money is spent on the store front, the products, the shiny new sign, and then Bam! They’re out of business in a matter of months. I wonder what the owner THOUGHT was going to happen. The moral of the story: If you build it they WON’T come. You need to build it and then ‘Enchant’ them in the ‘door.’

Not committing to really selling your business via a serious marketing plan isn’t fair to anyone, including yourself, and it’s a sure road to failure before you ever really try.

7 Ways You Should Use Good, Old Fashioned Tactics in Business

Last week’s Cloud debacle got me thinking, hard, about how quickly we embrace new technology and how sometimes that might not be a good thing. If you aren’t aware, part of Amazon’s Cloud went down and took a lot of websites with it, including Hootsuite and Foursquare. It stayed down for hours meaning any sites effected could not do business.

My company stores all of our graphics and most client files on both our own server and href=”http://basecamphq.com/”>Basecamp; if anything happened and we lost those files we would basically have to start our company over. Additionally, we’d be putting our clients in a terrible position since we also host their sites and store a lot of their files. Because of my paranoia and the fact that I’ve always had trouble embracing new technology, we also use good old fashioned external hard drives. My issue with new gadgets/software etc. is not born out of laziness or fear, but because of how much the ‘implementation slump’ slows you down.

The business I’m in, New Media marketing, requires that we stay ‘up’ on all of the latest shifts in Internet marketing, so I’ve FORCED myself to explore each major new development. Yet I cling to the old stuff for too long I am sure; – I have a second generation iphone because frankly, I don’t see how upgrading will effect my work life.

While pondering the new vs. the old , and after waiting an entire day for my beloved Hootsuite to come back up, I read an article about Floor Coverings International getting customers during the recession the old fashioned way – by reaching out via phone and face to face meetings.

And it struck me; we’d better not ditch ALL of the old methods.

Apart from the external hard drive, here are the Old Fashioned touches you should consider keeping:

1. Sending a handwritten thank you card, and if you think you don’t have time for that use Send Out Cards; sending ANY card will make a big impression on people used to receiving junk & bills exclusively in their mail box.
2. Picking up the telephone and actually having a conversation in place of an email.
3. Thanking someone for a Referral; how often are we too busy rushing onto the next task to do this?
4. Asking for an introduction, LIVE, face to face, with a target customer.
5. Real, live, face to face networking instead of stalking our prey via email and Social Media.
6. Civility in email; no one is to busy to say hello, please, thank you or good bye in email communications.
7. Buying the important books in paper; I love my Kindle desperately, but when it broke I lost all of my books until Amazon kindly sent me a new one. I was glad I’d bought the most important books in hardcover so all of my margin notations were intact.

Think you’re too busy for any of these? Do yourself a favor and just try a few of them for 1 short week; I guarantee you’ll change your mind.

We Believe in What We Do

What we do is empower small businesses through the power of New Media.

We utilize the tools the web offers to help small business get the word out to as many people as possible about what makes them special.

We help small business develop the right voice to differentiate themselves online.

We develop smart, effective websites that are short on flash and long on useful content. We build in organic SEO so those website show up.

We help our clients become comfortable with:

1. Social Media and how to use it to communicate with their target market.
2. Blogging: What it is, what it’s good for, and how to do it fearlessly.
3. Email Marketing: What not to do so your reader doesn’t unsubscribe, and how to use this much maligned but still effective medium.
4. Follow Up Marketing: How not to drop the ball on the leads that they get.

My partner and I both came up the hard way. Milton Hershey School saved and changed our lives.

It is our mission to empower the little guy.

We help small businesses learn to market themselves because we are on a crusade to change the economic world for our clients. We love the little guy because we are them.

There is nothing greater in life than waking up to your mission, not your job, everyday.

The ROI of Social Media

This morning Chris Brogan’s blog featured a great post about the misunderstanding of the ROI of Social Media; the basic idea is that anyone who is looking for a simple, hard number for the return on time and money invested is way off track (chrisbrogan). Of course this rang true with me because those of us who utilize Social Media on a regular basis as a tool for both our business and personal lives understand how much value it has. Often business owners struggle to see the value of all of the time and energy their employees put into implementing their Social Media Plan. If a plan is well developed with clear goals in mind and consistent follow through, this is your Return on Investment:

1. The ability to reach millions of internet users, which includes half of the US population, and 70% of those users are on Social Media.
2. The opportunity to have your own voice and create your own message rather than waiting for Traditional Media to craft that message for you, if they even know who you are.
3. A vehicle to draw prospects and customers to your products & services with no geographic or financial restrictions.
4. The ability to HEAR what your customers have to say, if you listen, and enter into a conversation with them, thus building your relationships in ways that were unthinkable a few years back.
5. A tool that allows you to create a highly targeted message that is delivered only to your top prospects at the time they are most likely to see and read it.
6. The ability to stay on top of your industry, the experts & the newcomers, and hear their message without having to spend hours searching for it.

As with all of my ‘lists,’ this one could go on and on, and if the power of this tool isn’t strikingly obvious I will never know how to explain it.

Why Newsletters Fail

Everyone of us is sick of spam in all its forms: junk mail, telemarketers, and the worst offender of all – email solicitations that fill up your inbox and create extra work for you to delete. Especially bad are Email newsletters that you want no part of. Only 24% of email newsletters are even opened, so why bother writing them? Because, built properly, they can be an effective means of getting your message out to customers & prospects. How to avoid an immediate delete?

1. SENDING AS AN ATTACHMENT: Believe it or not there are still a lot of companies sending their traditional newsletter as an attachment to email. Big mistake. Not only is the eworld paranoid about attached viruses, no one has time to download your newsletter. If it’s not in the body of the email, very few will read it.
2. TOO MUCH TEXT. Again: We’re all in a hurry; no one has time to read your dissertation. Make it short and to direct; use bullet points or an outline format for the good stuff (like this post:).
3. TOO BUSY: Don’t put a lot “Featured Items” and “Act Now” boxes that make it too much work for the reader. Again, simplicity is key.
4. SELLING HARD: Educate & inform – the newsletter should be beneficial to your target customer, not a sales pitch.
5. SPAM: I frequently get long winded emails from salespeople who visited my website, clicked the “contact us” button and tried to sell me. It takes all my strength not to write them back and ask them if they’re serious. It is almost impossible to “cold sell” through an email. Newsletters should be sent to people who have expressed an interest in your company and given you permission to put them on your list.
6. BORING TITLES: You must come up with something creative that will ensure that anyone interested in your subject matter knows that the newsletter is about. Humor is good.

Make sure you are observing your newsletter analytics closely: how many people are opening the email, how many are clicking through to your website? The job is not over once you hit the ‘send’ button.

If you’re not confident in your writing skills or don’t have enough time to do a newsletter properly, hire someone. Newsletters are tools to build relationships with and earn the trust of your customers and prospects; they will never work as a means to get an instantaneous sale. If you lay the groundwork by building a list with integrity, then provide knowledge and useful content, you can be successful in converting a prospect to a customer.