Archives for February 2011

Bond, James Bond

Market intelligence can be defined as the collection, analysis and evaluation of information relevant to a company’s outlook as respects its customers, products, industry and competition. The purpose of market intelligence is to make informed business decisions based on actual or anticipated developments, changes and trends.

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War watching James Bond, the phrase might sound very “MI6-ish,” conjuring up images of high-tech surveillance gadgetry used by beautiful people as they race Aston Martins through the French Alps. In actual practice, market intelligence for the typical small businessperson is much more mundane and low tech. Nonetheless, the ability to monitor and anticipate market changes and competitor actions is a valuable tool for every business. It is sure to provide numerous opportunities for profitable growth.

Since it is low tech, it can also be low cost. I like low cost! City or regional business journals, the business section of local newspapers, the Internet, U.S. Census Bureau statistics, common customers and suppliers, commercial websites and even your eyes and ears are all potential sources of actionable information.

Governmental units and corporate America publish all sorts of relevant market data. The list is extensive. Governments disclose incorporations and new business formations, bankruptcy filings and business licenses. On property matters they publish real estate sales, mortgage financing activity, median home values, building permits, property foreclosures and zoning change requests and approvals. They also disclose bid requests and awards for public projects, marriages, divorces, sales tax revenue, public entity minutes and budgets, population and employment data. Businesses disclose new products, marketing campaigns, executive changes, new facility openings, interest rate changes, new customers and contracts.

What would it do for your marketing efforts if you could identify and capitalize on new sales opportunities before your competition does, or quickly counteract their promotions, price changes and other actions? For example, suppose you are one of several drywall contractors in your town. However, you are the first to learn that a large tract of previously undeveloped land was just sold and that a rezoning request to single-family residences is pending approval. While it could be weeks or even months before the new owners or general contractor requests formal bid proposals, you have already made your initial sales pitch.

You must identify information in the public domain relevant to your business. You can then decide what market actions are appropriate given your analysis. Look for one of two general types of information, direct actionable information such as recent or anticipated competitor actions, or indications of trends and future developments.

  • Begin identifying relevant information by answering several questions. The first question is who are your direct and indirect competitors? What actions might they take to make it easier or more difficult for you to compete with them? For example, if a competitor announces longer hours, a major sale or a new product line, your business life is about to get a little more challenging. On the other hand, if a national competitor announces the closure of their local office or store, you may want to develop a marketing campaign to attract their former customers.
  • Another question you should address is what factors are likely to increase or decrease your pool of potential customers. For example, most construction related businesses are significantly affected by interest rates; falling mortgage rates encourage home building, construction material sales and mortgage lending. Rising interest rates have the opposite effect. New car sales are impacted by the employment outlook; consumers are reluctant to incur additional debt if they fear the loss of their job. Conversely, car owners might then be expected to begin spending more on repairs as they are forced to maintain aging vehicles.
  • Business and economic indicators can be leading or lagging. Leading indicators change at the start of a business cycle, and are therefore probably more important in your market intelligence. Mortgage rates in the previous bullet are a leading indicator of new home construction. As another example, assume your business is home decorating with a specialty in new construction. Additional leading indicators relevant to you may be building permits or new home starts in your city or region.
  • Indicators can be directly or inversely correlated to your business. Sticking with the interest rate example, home construction is inversely related to mortgage rates. It rises as rates fall. One the other hand, if you own a job placement and staffing agency, your business is probably directly correlated to employment levels. Your placements increase as employers increase hiring activity. Another directly correlated (and in this case leading) indicator might be the level help wanted ads.

I once had a boss who was liked to say, “I get a lot of data. Very little information, but a lot of data!” Avoid the common mistake of confusing the two. Collecting data without developing information and an action plan to capitalize on it is wasted effort.

LINKEDIN TIPS – THREE FREE IDEAS TO HELP EMPLOYERS FIND YOU

Online job boards have been around over 15 years. CareerBuilder and Monster went live in 1994. HotJobs followed in 1996. However, fewer than 3% of jobs were found through this new medium. Ten years ago, I did not know anyone who had gotten a job or even an interview through an online site.

Things began to change in 2002 when LinkedIn created a new paradigm by introducing social networking to online job searches. Today, LinkedIn has 90 million registered users. It is growing at the rate of one new user per second. It is available in over 200 countries and in 6 languages.

People are now using LinkedIn to network, get interviews and land jobs. More importantly, employers are now using LinkedIn to find new employees. Gone are the days when companies were limited to merely posting static job descriptions online, and then sorting through countless unqualified applicants. Employers can proactively conduct key word searches to find qualified candidates without ever posting a position. They can screen employment history, professional qualifications and educational credentials. They can also check references. All this is done at a fraction of traditional recruitment costs.

It is therefore vital that today’s job seekers make it as easy as possible for employers to find them on LinkedIn. This article presents three suggestions LinkedIn users can implement themselves, at no cost, that will do just that; make it easier for employers to find you. The suggestions are:

  1. Optimize your LinkedIn profile by performing a key word review;
  2. Personalize your LinkedIn profile (URL) address, and;
  3. Promote your brand.

As a LinkedIn user, you should periodically optimize your profile by performing a key word review. Simply put, make sure you are including all the right words in all the right places! This will improve your rankings when employers search for someone with your qualifications and experience.

The questions are where and how to perform this multifaceted process. I got 443 hits on Amazon for the word LinkedIn, offering books and videos up to $299.95. “Cut me a break, I’m unemployed,” you say? Then I suppose hiring a professional consultant is out of the question.

The good news is there are recognized LinkedIn experts who share their knowledge and resources for free. My favorite is David Lanners, a Harvard MBA and a very engaging public speaker. Visit Dave’s website at: http://www.leaderhelper.com/resources.htm for links to numerous documents, presentations, videos, seminars etc. If you do nothing else, download his color-coded one page summary called LinkedIn KEY (to Higher Rankings). Pay particular attention to sections highlighted in green, as these are the areas that affect your LinkedIn rankings.

While you are at it, visit Dave’s LinkedIn profile, http://www.linkedin.com/in/leaderhelper. It probably bears little resemblance to yours, but you cannot argue with success! It also demonstrates suggestion #2; personalize your LinkedIn profile (URL) address.

Do not settle for the address automatically assigned when you registered on LinkedIn. Mine was http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dale-r-schmeltzle/6/4a1/303. People often misspell my name under the best of circumstances. Having to enter 55 characters, the last 10 of which are gibberish, does not help. Remember, your goal is to make it as easy as possible for employers to find you.

On the other hand, the name Schmeltzle has one advantage. Only 9 users worldwide share my name. That includes a cousin with three profiles. By simply adding Dale, I claimed a little corner of the Web all for myself. However, what if you are one of the 1,227 David Bakers, or the 3,373 William Smiths, or the 4,080 Robert Jones I found? I rarely search a name that does not generate multiple hits unless I enter additional screening criteria (location, past employer, etc.). Unfortunately, sometimes I only have a name. At that point, I can either guess or move on. Do you really want to put a prospective employer in that situation?

Adress challenges are easily overcome. LinkedIn lets you to personalize your profile address and abbreviate it in the process. My address is now: http://www.linkedin.com/in/dschmeltzle. The benefits are obvious, including that it is 17 characters shorter. In addition, wouldn’t the address http://www.linkedin.com/in/DPBakerCPA go a long way in distinguishing you from the other 1,226 David Bakers?

Yet 60% of my 600+ LinkedIn connections apparently do not know you can easily change your address. Simply go into your profile and click the edit button in the Public Profile section. Another page will open. Click edit next to “Your Public Profile URL” and your problems are solved.

By following these two suggestions, you have enhanced your profile and provided a shorter, more identifiable URL address. You have done exactly what any marketing executive would tell you to do; you have improved your personal brand. It follows there is one more critical step in your job marketing campaign.

Suggestion #3 is simple; promote your brand. Prominently display your LinkedIn URL address on your resume, business cards and out-going email signature. You might also consider adding it to personal websites, blogs and other appropriate social media

Why is suggestion #3 necessary? Not everyone will locate you on LinkedIn. Your resume will also find its way to prospective employers through traditional job boards, networking, job fairs and even snail mail. However, even if an employer did not find you on LinkedIn, it is highly likely they will want to review your profile before extending an interview. By affording them easy access to your LinkedIn profile, you also provide access to your references, published papers, articles, presentations, professional discussions, etc., none of which are available through hard copy resumes or cover letters.

I will close with an unsettling statistic. There are currently 7 applicants for every open job in the U.S. Hopefully, these suggestions, which cost nothing except your time, will improve the odds of finding your next position and separate you from your six competitors.

Feel free to contact me at dale@CFOAmerica.net if you have questions on these suggestions. I wish you good luck and best wishes in your efforts.

Becoming a Recognized Expert – Part 3

Today I continue with the discussion on how to become a recognized expert in your business. Here are more marketing ideas that will allow you to interact with customers and encourage them to seek you out for your expertise.

Collaborate with experts in other fields to share their skill sets. Have an attorney talk about relevant legal issues. Have a CPA discuss tax saving opportunities or an insurance agent explain the basics of business liability insurance. Again, there is no need to limit topics to a narrow band around your business. The litmus test of any agenda is merely are the topics interesting and relevant enough to entice your intended audience to attend the meeting.

Make good use of your formal and informal networks in promoting events, identifying speakers and defining topics. Ask every speaker for a brief resume for use in advanced promotions and in their introduction. Have them promote the event to their customers and contacts.

  • Get a list of their invitees. Have attendees sign in with contact information and add them to your mailing list. Crosscheck attendees with the advanced registration list. Then send a “sorry you couldn’t attend” email to everyone who registered but failed to show up. Provide copies of all meeting handouts and summaries or refer them to your website.
  • A drawing for a free gift certificate, an autographed copy of your latest book (more about that later) or some other valuable prize will encourage attendees to stay for the entire presentation.
  • Track new business and contacts from every meeting. Several small businesses I know consider free seminars to be by far their most effective marketing tool.

Here are two additional ideas to make your meetings more appealing to potential customers while stretching your limited marketing budget.

Have business partners co-sponsor events. They can share in the cost of promotion, refreshments, seminar materials, etc. Make sure you acknowledge their support on promotional announcements, slides, handouts and introductions.

Restaurants sometimes offer free use of rooms (especially during off-peak times) for your meetings as a way of promoting themselves. I have held seminars in local Starbucks. Attendees bought their own coffee. It is a win-win for all concerned, so ask them! Churches and community groups may also be a source of free or low cost facilities for your seminars and meetings. Be an appreciative tenant.

Becoming a Recognized Expert – Part 2

Last week I began a discussion on marketing ideas that will allow you to interact with potential customers and encourage them to seek you out for your expertise. Here are some additional ideas.

Subject relevance for your meeting is critical. Present solutions for problems your audience is facing today, even if your advice allows them to solve those problems without buying from you. Remember, your primary goal is that the meeting provides one of several contacts. Make a good impression and some of your audience will give you that opportunity. You will also benefit from word of mouth advertising as attendees share your information and solutions with others.

  • Support word of mouth with a generous distribution of business cards, bios and other promotional materials.

Subject matter does not need to be highly technical or even glamorous to be relevant. Several of the national home improvement centers hold seminars on how to design and install basic home improvements like flooring, wallpaper, landscaping and so forth. Guess who just happens to sell all the supplies the homeowner will need to complete the do-it-yourself project? I recently heard of a home cleaning service that held a series of meetings on proper cleaning techniques. After a few months, they had more new customers than they could accommodate.

  • As the home cleaning service example clearly illustrates, you will frequently have attendees who decide it is easier or simply more efficient to retain you to solve their problems, even if they are capable of doing so themselves.

Becoming accredited or qualified to provide continuing professional education (CPE) credits to accountants, lawyers, realtors and other licensed professionals involves time and perhaps some minor costs. However, if your target customers are required to obtain CPE, it will give your seminars a distinct advantage over your competition, especially if held near the end of that profession’s licensing period. I attend a monthly seminar sponsored by a national consulting and executive search firm. Although held in a large hotel, it is routinely over-subscribed by several hundred CPAs anxious for 2 hours of CPE.

  • Visit the National Registry of CPE Sponsors, a program offered by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy to recognize CPE program sponsors for CPAs. Other professions have similar credentialing organizations and requirements.
  • Have attendees visit your website for CPE certificates.

More about this subject on Wednesday.

Do Something Crazy Today!

Let me end the week by issuing a challenge. Do something original, offbeat and maybe even a little crazy to grab customer attention and stand out from your competition. Tasteful humor goes hand-in-hand with this suggestion. I know a consulting firm that adopted Ground Hogs Day as their official corporate holiday (they said all the good ones were taken) and Punxsutawney Phil as their company mascot. Every February 2, long after customers have thrown out the last Christmas card, they get a card from just one company.

I heard about another small business that holds a pre-Christmas contest where customers are invited to submit their favorite holiday recipe online. While modest prizes may be awarded for the best recipes, everyone is a winner. Every customer receives an electronic cookbook compiled from the entries and just in time for their holiday meal planning.

You might think about a themed promotion coinciding with something associated with your business or a big happening in your community. Above all, be original. A German restaurant holding an annual Oktoberfest celebration is logical, but it has been done many times before.

On the other hand, did your team make it to the World Series or the Stanley Cup? Unless you are a Yankees fan, that is probably a rare occurrence worth celebrating. Not a sports person? Is the Russian Ballet coming to town? Hold an evening of ballet lessons. Is a new Picasso exhibit opening at your local art museum? Hold a contest for customers to paint their own version of Guernica.

If no other ideas appeal to you, make up your own holiday and start a new marketing tradition that you can capitalize on for years to come. The idea is simply to have fun communicating your brand, value proposition, products and services in a clever and original way that customers will remember!

Let your creative juices flow. The only limitation is your own imagination in dreaming up a low cost promotion. I hope I have convinced you by now that having fun and communicating with your customers does not have to mean being able to afford a huge budget.

What Would Charlie Sheen Do?

You have probably figured out by now that I love to use quotes and old sayings. Have you heard the one that there is no such thing as bad publicity? Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen would probably disagree with that. So would I.

Press releases must be newsworthy, interesting and engaging across a wide readership. Nevertheless, if something happens that meets those criteria, free publicity is hard to argue with, especially since you are sure to write nice things about yourself. Examples of newsworthy events include a new product, a recent expansion or new facility, a speaking engagement, a sponsorship of a charity event and again, publishing a book. You might also consider issuing a press release if you land a major new client or contract. Be sure email the client an advanced copy of the press release. Ask them to signify their approval by return email.

A press release is nothing more than a short article, typically three or four paragraphs long. Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • Write in a journalistic style, beginning with an attention-grabbing headline.
  • The first paragraph should provide an overview of the news item and explain why it is important. It should sound exciting to a general audience.
  • The next paragraph typically provides background on the purpose or benefits of your products or services.
  • The final paragraph should be a description of your company. Include “for more information contact:” as the last sentence.
  • Avoid highly technical or industry-specific jargon.
  • Be prepared to answer questions and even defend press release statements. Local newspapers and the trade press might want a more in-depth understanding of your news than provided in the press release. I once worked for a $1 billion company. A financial rating agency informed us that the results of their new “multi-variant discriminant analysis” showed we were a very solid company. The Public Relations Director gleefully issued a press release, quoting the agency verbatim. Unfortunately, we soon learned he had no clue what a multi-variant discriminant analysis was. For a few short days, I was his best friend.
  • You can find numerous press release templates and suggestions online. One free and valuable resource is http://www.theprdoc.com.
  • If you still feel uncertain about how to write or distribute a press release, Amazon lists 13 software programs under $30.
  • Target media outlets including local newspapers, trade publications, television and radio stations and countless websites that specialize in providing business related content.
  • Finally, distribute press releases through your own blogs, websites and other social media platforms.

I’ll see you back here on Friday for my next post.

MEET YOU, THE RECOGNIZED EXPERT

There is an old axiom that a prospect does not become a customer until a vendor touches them seven times. Touches or interactions involve every tool in your marketing quiver including media advertising, direct mail, networking, window and point of sale displays, telemarketing, email campaigns, web based marketing, trade shows and face-to-face meetings.

The axiom is no doubt based on the common sense assumption that consumers prefer to do business with people and companies they know, like and trust. The question every business must answer is how to initiate and sustain the process without crossing the fine line of being perceived as just another pushy or (worse yet) desperate sales person.

Here are two marketing ideas that will allow you to interact with potential customers and encourage them to seek you out for your expertise.

  1. Look for speaking engagements to showcase your products, knowledge and skill set. Business and social groups such as the Lions, Rotary, garden clubs and Chamber of Commerce usually have guest speakers at every meeting. Tell your networking groups that you are available and eager to speak. Do not overlook local public service radio and television programs as speaking opportunities.
  2. Hold free meetings and seminars. I am not talking about locking prospects in a room and brow beating them into submission or presenting a thinly disguised infomercial. We’ve all suffered through a few of those! I am talking about a free and open sharing of your knowledge and expertise. Jimmy Stewart said, “Never treat your audience as customers. Treat them as partners.” Focus on solving real problems for those partners, not selling your products or services.

On Wednesday, I will discuss several more ways to encourage prospects to seek you out.

What the Heck is Potpourri Anyway?

More importantly, how is it used? Come on, guys. You know you’ve wondered about this. I know I sure have. Years of extensive research has taught me that it comes from the French words “pot” and “pourri.” No surprises there. Pot has the same meaning as in English. Pourri means rotten. So literally, it means a pot full of rotten stuff.

Why do I suddenly feel like Gus in My Big Fat Greek Wedding?

Wait, that can’t be right! Well, as near as I can figure, in common usage it’s just a collection of mismatched things, some of it maybe looking dried out and a little rotten. But when you mix it all together, it actually looks and smells pretty good. It has a purpose! Today I am going to present a “Potpourri” of simple marketing ideas for you to consider in promoting your business.

W. C. Fields liked to joke that he would not join a club that would have him as a member. The exact opposite occurs in networking groups who practice exclusivity in their membership. Many allow only one person from each profession. Make the exclusivity issue your first question when considering which networking groups to join. If it applies and a local competitor beat you to the group, you may still have the option of redefining yourself for purposes of membership. For example, although you typically introduce yourself as an insurance agent, perhaps the group can allow you to be the commercial insurance agent without upsetting another agent who specializes in personal lines accident and health insurance.

Secondly, consider joining trade groups and professional associations dedicated to your occupation or profession. Your initial reaction might be why waste time with people who are competing for the same customers, especially since many will be larger and more established than you are. I can offer two reasons.

  • First, you will probably gain a lot of valuable information such as new technology, business procedures, new products, better sub-contractors and less expensive suppliers and vendors.
  • Secondly, you may find other members occasionally refer over-flow work or jobs that are just too small for them. You can sometimes make a nice living from the crumbs that fall from the king’s table.

More marketing potpourri on Monday. Have a great weekend!

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS THROUGH NETWORKING – PART 3

“If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn’t need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around.” American Rags-to-riches” motivational speaker Jim Rohn

Today, let’s talk about all those misguided, unfortunate people in your market who are going down the wrong road, namely the road leading to your competitors. And specifically, let’s talk about more ways to get them on the right road through networking, a subject I touched on a few weeks ago.

The goal of networking is, quite simply, to get to know people, and to have them get to know you. Here are suggestions to help with both goals.

First, focus on the quality of your network contacts, not the quantity. Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” For that reason, I suggest you limit new contacts at your networking groups to no more than two or three at each meeting. Greet each new person you meet with a firm handshake. Maintain eye contact. Ask questions and learn about their business, especially how you can help them. Let them do most of the talking while you practice your active listening skills. Here are two simple tips to help build personal relationships through networking.

  • Do not trust your memory. Take notes on their business card. Review those notes before every meeting until you can remember the background of people you have already met.
  • Be sure to greet them by name at your next meeting.

Next, a clever but simple tag line will help others remember you. I have a network contact who sells gloves and industrial safety equipment. He ends his 10-second speech with, “How’s your glove life?” Another contact, whose first name happens to be Glo, ends with, “Thanks for letting Glo light your way.” I can always remember both businesses.

Finally, wear a permanent nametag. I found myself engaged in a constantly losing battle to reapply the stick-on variety. They invariably fell off repeatedly during every meeting. That was a distraction I did not need when dealing with the already stressful situation of introducing myself to a room full of strangers. The problem was solved by investing $12 in a magnetically secured nametag complete with my business logo. I purchased it at Sign-A-Rama from a contact I meet through networking. If you do not have a similar local vendor, you can order your nametag online.

On Friday, I intend to answer a nagging question that has been keeping half the men I know awake at night for years. You’ll have to come back to see what it is.

MAKE IT EASY TO BUY – PART III

You have probably heard someone say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Layaway payment plans, common since the days of the Great Depression (especially for “big ticket” items like furniture, appliances and jewelry), disappeared from the American retail scene over the past 30 years. They were rendered obsolete by the widespread use of credit cards that allow consumers to “buy now and pay later,” a paradigm they much preferred over a “pay now and buy later” scenario.

However, recent economic challenges lead Sears to reintroduce layaway plans in 2006. Kmart, Best Buy and Marshall’s soon followed. Here are some points to consider if a layaway plan might increase your sales.

  • National retailers require a fixed down payment (20% seems typical) and charge small service fees. Balances are paid off through scheduled payments over 60 days or so, with delivery only after the final payment. A small penalty is deducted if an order is canceled. Several chains offer refunds only through store credit. Search the Internet to determine fair and reasonable terms for your business.
  • The most challenging aspects of layaway plans are the requirements of having an accounting system that can track and bill payments, and an inventory system that can segregate related merchandise. If your systems are not up to these challenges, or if your average retail price is too small, layaway plans are not for you. P.S. it may be time to invest in a new system!
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