Friday, February 26, 2016

Five Steps Small Businesses Can Take to Better Market Themselves

Yesterday I was asked if I could share five ideas of things businesses do wrong when marketing themselves.  That sounds so demotivating, so let's cast this as five steps a small business can take to step it up!  Same thing, perhaps, but a better tone.

#1.  Refocus on your target customer.  Too many businesses adopt a philosophy that they serve "everyone" or several different segments at the same time.  It's vital to decide what one, laser-focused segment is your true target and aim marketing messages to them.  If others buy, that's great, but they cannot be the place you spend time and money.  Let's face it: advertising of any kind is expensive and the highest return on every dollar spent will be the customers who are most likely to buy.

#2.  Take a good look at your messaging.   Do the messages you send when promoting, advertising and selling work together?  Can a customer make sense of what you offer?  Can someone clearly describe you, your products and services, and how you can help them?  Can they easily confuse you with a competitor?

#3.  Find that point of differentiation.  Most businesses operate in a highly competitive space where consumers find it difficult to understand how one provider differs from another.  Your messages are much sharper when you can find a way to stand out, positively, from other choices,  Don't make it about price.  Do you have a unique skill? use special raw materials? provide extra value?

#4. Engage with your customers.  Use tools like an email newsletter, blog, social media platform, and video to make your products and services so much more personal.  Create value added by sharing ideas and information, asking questions, and stirring up excitement with contests or special events.  People like to do business with people and every chance you have to engage boosts the chance someone else will refer business to you.

#5.  Be picky with social media.  There are (too) many social media platforms out there and I can absolutely guarantee that not all of them are appropriate for a given small business.  Too many small businesses spend huge amounts of time posting and interacting at too many sites.  How many do you currently use?  Weed out the non-performers and focus on the top three or four.

Bottom Line:  Every business can take its game up a notch.  Can you sharpen your focus, tighten your message, find ways to engage more actively, and stand out a little better?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Newsletter Can Serve You Well

I have recently seen several fantastic examples of "newsletters" as a marketing tool by business owners in my network.  The word is in quotes because in not all cases does the communication look like the traditional printed product so popular in the last century.  Online, "newsletters" can take various forms and they can be more easily produced and deployed.

I like the modern newsletter for several reasons.  Properly done, it is a communication that provides a wonderful value added.  The business can share information about their area of expertise as well as new products and services.  Sent at a predictable interval, the newsletter is a nice reminder that the business is "out there", boosting TOMA.  And it can be customized, often by sending variations to different lists.

My favorite local example is a short (3-4 paragraph) weekly email sent by a home services company.  It's friendly, slightly chatty, and both reminds customers about what they may want to know (e.g. steps to take in cold weather, checklists for being away from home, etc.) and tells them who to contact (by name!) that week if services are needed.

There is a caution.  I always encourage businesses to build their newsletter lists on an "opt-in" basis to ensure that anger at being spammed is minimized.  Also, a link for opting-out should always be included at the bottom of the newsletter.

Bottom Line: can your business use a short newsletter, once a week or perhaps monthly to provide value added and Top of Mind Awareness to your clients and customers?  Now is the time to get one started!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

LinkedIn Can Help, If Used Well

I periodically hear talk in "solopreneur" circles about LinkedIn as a marketing tool.   This particular tool seems to have equal shares of advocates and detractors.  The latter crowd often seem to be populated with those who have had exposure to LinkedIn and didn't get the results they wanted.

LinkedIn is a great tool.  But it is a specialized tool.  Many detractors think it is a venue for sales, and that is exactly what it is not!  Nor is it an especially good way to generate B2C activity (i.e. Business-to-Consumers).

What LinkedIn does pretty well is idea-sharing.  And that comes from the theory that a good way to feed a network is to share ideas, concerns, and solutions.  I have regulars who post multiple items every day.  That may be a bit on the high side, but it is not off the mark by much.  By posting these easily digestible nuggets a solopreneur, or any other businessperson, can establish expertise, authority and most importantly that reminder that you are there, helping people with their challenges.

My principal concern for those posters I see most often is that they over-do "sharing": If articles or other writings are shared, at least do so with a context.  And for heaven's sake, limit those shared Internet memes!

Bottom line: Are you ready to put LinkedIn to work for your business?  Build that network, make appropriate connections, and regularly share valuable content.  You can plant seeds that grow in wonderful ways!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Signs May Point in the Wrong Direction

It isn't hard to find a great deal of advertising signage in a good sized metropolitan area.  From the lowly yard sale sign to clever "mobile" ads, there are many applications.  My city is very strict and restricts signs from most locations.  I tend to see them only on electric service poles, at interstate intersections, and (in sandwich board form) in front of the relevant business.

Some of my clients tell me signs get results for them,  a claim I do find astonishing.  I'm wired to be annoyed at these ragamuffin signs -- perhaps too many "We Buy Homes" have soured me.

But more to the point, signs tend to be weak servants for a business.  They can only disclose a very small amount of information beyond a phone number and a call to action.  They are usually relegated to sketchy locations (along with the scammers).  And they rarely boost brand equity.  A few get away with success by dint of unusual circumstances, like the mobile billboards towed through city streets, or the "For Sale" signs of a real estate company.

Can roadside signs work for your business?  It's certainly possible, but in the broader perspective is this a superior technique to an alternative?  If you are lofting the proverbial "Hail Mary" pass with a streetside sign it may be time to reassess the target market or some other fundamental.

Bottom Line:  Look at streetside signage with a critical eye.  If this is a method others in your field have used with success, be sure to produce ones with the best production value, a solid call to action and a reinforcement of your brand values.  Be careful of local zoning laws.  And think hard about alternative forms of advertising.