It Takes a Village to Grow a Company

Balancing the needs of your business with the needs of the communities it serves is always difficult. John Mackey is the CEO and cofounder of Whole Foods Market, and Ernst & Young’s 2003 Entrepreneur of the Year. He addressed this delicate balance: “I think one of the most misunderstood things about business in America is that people are either doing things for altruistic reasons or they are greedy and selfish, just after profit. That type of dichotomy portrays a false image of business. The whole idea is to do both.”

 

In other words, being a good corporate citizen means serving your community as you grow your business, two completely compatible and praise-worthy goals. Here are some thoughts and ideas to help you succeed in this balancing act.

 

  • You can gain access to a broad new market by simply setting up a table at charity and community events. My wife manages a retail store. She sponsors fashion shows and similar affairs for local women’s clubs and senior activity centers. The organizations’ members usually serve as models. Not surprisingly, they often buy the outfits they model. A small donation or commission on sales may convince an organization to become your defacto marketing partner if they have not done so in the past.
  • Consider allocating a portion of your marketing budget to support local charities. Make a promotional flyer (you already have all the tools you need on your PC) and hire a youth group to distribute it in neighborhoods, shopping center parking lots, sporting events and community events. Take out ads in community group bulletins and newsletters. You can also offer special discounts to their members. I once attended a church that received a small contribution from a local grocery store for all cash register receipts collected from church members. The promotion was prominently mentioned in the church bulletin every Sunday.
  • Homeowners associations are not charitable entities. However, I include them in this post because they are non-profit organizations. HOAs have the added advantage of easily observable and homogeneous demographics. Do not overlook them when offering targeted special discounts and similar promotions. They may also welcome your sponsorship of their newsletters and neighborhood events.
  • Because of the close physical proximity of prospects, homeowners associations with whom you have established a marketing relationship are an ideal setting in which to experiment with a door hanger campaign. You can print flyers on your computer, order door hangers from any print shop or online, or order the paper stock and print them yourself. Think about hiring your favorite charity youth group to distribute them for you.

 

I look forward meeting with you again on Wednesday morning. Best wishes until then.

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

The Horse Comes Before the Cart, Part 3

This week I have been emphasizing that the successful implementation of any strategy requires it be executed within the framework of a comprehensive marketing plan. Diving into a marketing campaign without first having a plan of where you are going and what you hope to accomplish is putting the cart before the horse, and makes you vulnerable to “tactical soup.”

Today I will conclude this three-part series by discussing the monitoring and evaluation of your plan.

8. Sadly, the critical step of monitoring results is often omitted by small businesses. Don Bradley and Chris Cowdery of the University of Central Arkansas conducted a study titled Small Business: Causes of Bankruptcy. They found that 58% of businesses that filed for bankruptcy admitted to doing “little to no record keeping.” Without an adequate accounting system, a business cannot fully understand its revenue cycle nor have a true picture of its marketing costs. You cannot manage what you cannot monitor, and you cannot monitor what you do not measure.

Measure, monitor and manage, in that order!

Include hard and soft-dollar components when measuring marketing costs. A $3,000 invoice for a newspaper ad is an obvious cost. However, a portion of the salary and benefits of the employee who spent four days writing and editing the copy is also a marketing cost. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that if a tactic has no hard costs (as with many Internet tools) that it is cost-free. The risk of this mindset is skipping the evaluation phase of the planning process. Time is a scarce resource in business. The opportunity cost (measured by what else you could be doing) of your time has value. It must be examined and justified in light of the marginal revenue it generates.

9. Finally, at the risk of over-simplification, the evaluation stage is largely a matter of comparing actual costs and marginal revenue to the expected numbers. However, knowing things like who responded to your promotion and whether they bought only sale items or made additional purchases are also important. This is a time to be objective and cold-blooded! If a marketing tactic exceeded cost expectations or failed to generate the required sales, cross it off your list. Never fall in love with an idea.

As you construct, implement and fine-tune your marketing plan, remember that it is a management tool. It is a not weapon to punish yourself or your employees. No one succeeds all the time; we often fail the first time! If costs exceed the benefits, take a page out of Thomas Edison’s playbook. When challenged about experimenting with over 10,000 different substances before picking a carbon filament for his light bulb, he replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Learning that something will not work is valuable information!

Let’s talk more on Monday. Have a great weekend!

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

The Horse Comes Before the Cart, Part 2

This week I am discussing the important topic of determining your marketing strategies within the context of a comprehensive plan. Launching a marketing campaign (even if it does not involve any hard costs) without a plan is “putting the cart before the horse.” On Monday, I presented a framework for constructing your marketing plan. It begins with defining your goals. Today I will share additional thoughts on clarifying your goals and the tactics to accomplish them.

3. Consider financial and non-monetary objectives. Examples of non-monetary objectives include things like closing percentages, page hits and customer traffic patterns. Be specific! A goal of increasing sales is neither constructive nor measurable. A goal of increasing sales 5% per month for the next six months through a combination of a 4% increase in customer count and a $17 increase in average dollars per sale is.

4. Business goals are rarely accomplished in a straight linear fashion. For example, a 24% annual sales increase is not going to come in equal increments of 2% every month. Your marketing strategies are going to take time to produce results. They are affected by existing sales patterns and seasonality that every business experiences. Establish a realistic timeframe for each goal, with appropriate interim benchmarks to measure short-term progress toward long-term goals. That allows you to take timely corrective action or adjust goals as needed.

5. As you define goals and timeframes and the strategies and tactics to accomplish them, be aware of conflicting goals. Here is a simple example. What is the first thing most retailers do when they want to increase revenue? They hold a sale. In other words, they cut prices! Obviously, the hope is that increased customer traffic will more than offset the lower prices. However, it is still a conflict. Here is another example. Assume you want to increase the average customer purchase in your shoe store from $58 to $75. You therefore introduce a new line with a higher price point. Most customers are only going to buy one or two pairs of shoes. Therefore, while revenue from the new line will go up, sales of cheaper lines will probably go down. Conflicts are not necessary bad, and are often unavoidable. My only point is you need to look at the whole picture. Recognize and manage conflicting goals in your market plan.

6. Specify the purpose or desired result of every marketing tactic. In other words, what action do you hope clients or prospects will take because of a marketing initiative? Your definition of purpose establishes the basis of measurement and encourages accountability. The desired result may include multiple objectives, including the following:

  • Business production
  • Generate new leads
  • Brand awareness
  • Introduce a new product or service
  • Advertise a specific sale or promotion
  • Establish your expertise
  • Increase customer traffic
  • Consumer education

7. Tactics rarely operate in a vacuum. You can sometimes leverage one against another. For example, relationships developed online can be taken offline. A social media connection is a far better sales prospect if you subsequently call or meet face-to-face. Similarly, you might precede a direct mail campaign with a subject matter media blitz via article marketing, blogging, email newsletters, press releases and so on.

I will conclude this topic on Friday, when I will discuss step 4 of your market planning process, monitoring costs and results.

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

The Horse Comes Before the Cart

 

 

 

 

 

 

I advocate a simple twelve-word marketing strategy. Communicate one message, promoting one brand, touching multiple audiences at no cost. It is made possible by an abundance of free and low-cost tools that afford simultaneous experimentation in multiple channels. However, successful implementation presupposes you first established a comprehensive marketing plan.

Your marketing plan will be our subject matter for the entire week. Today I will present a planning framework and discuss the importance of goal setting.

Diving into a marketing campaign without first having a plan is analogous to the old phrase “putting the cart before the horse.” You are vulnerable to what Gordon Andrew of Highlander Consulting calls tactical soup. He defines the phrase as “getting bogged down in a flurry of marketing activity without placing enough emphasis on how it will generate revenue and profitability.”

Describing a complete marking plan is beyond the scope of this document. However, I will discuss some basic elements of your plan. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind.

  1. Constructing a marketing plan is not a “once and done” task. It is a continuous process, as illustrated by the 5-step diagram at the top of today’s article.
  2. The first requirement of a plan is to define your goals, preferably in writing. Let me return to my horse analogy for a moment. Can you image a race where the jockeys did not know where the finish line was? The situation would quickly become chaotic. Horses would run into each other as jockeys individually decided which direction was best. It may sound like a ridiculous example, but it is no different than running a business without a clear direction. Just like a race, knowing where the finish line is and staying focused on it is critical to success. Goals provide us with that direction. As Zig Ziglar says, “A goal, properly set is halfway reached.”

The ultimate purpose of marketing is to influence consumer behavior in ways that accomplish your goals. What exactly do you want to accomplish? A logical place to start defining your goals is by answering a series of questions. They include areas like:

  • How many new clients do you need; how many can you currently accommodate?
  • How will increased sales affect your cost structure? For example, will you need to hire more sales associates or increase inventory levels?
  • What is your target revenue per new client?
  • What is the minimum revenue per client that you can profitably accommodate?
  • How would you describe your target customers in terms of key demographics like age, gender, location, education, income level, professional profile and so on?
  • Who is the ultimate decision maker in target organizations?
  • Where are potential customers likely to turn (Internet, newspaper, Yellow Pages, etc.) to learn about your products or services and to find businesses that provide them?

Finally, today’s picture features my wife Shelley and me standing next to a horse in Central Park. Send me your favorite horse pictures and I will select one for Wednesday and Friday’s blog posts. Email your pictures to support@CFOAmerica.net.

On Wednesday, I will continue this topic with some suggestions to help you establish interim goals and the tactics to accomplish them.

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

Bull Horns in Cyberspace, Part 2

On Wednesday, I began a discussion of things we can do to attract attention to our blogs, and some of the mistakes I have made over the past six months as a blogger. Today I will conclude this topic with Part 2 of Bull Horns in Cyberspace.

Here are my thoughts and suggestions for today:

Find your style. A little trick I have learned that seems to work well is to study a new marketing tool, process, etc., and then write about what I learned. For example, I recently wrote a three-part article called Twelve Things I Learned about SlideShare. I write from the point of view of reporting what I know at the end of the process that I wish I had known at the start. I offer advice to those considering using the same tool, and discuss how to be more effective in communicating their message to an ever-widening audience.

Use other social media to promote your blog. I always post summaries of blog posts on Facebook, Twitter and occasionally LinkedIn. Facebook allows a 420 character article summary, LinkedIn 700. Always leave room for a hyperlink to your blog. Consider using a URL shortener like https://bitly.com/ if you are pressed for space. This is even more important to accommodate Twitter’s 140-character limit. Abbreviated versions of three or four articles are also featured in my monthly newsletter, which is distributed free through MailChimp to over 700 people. Finally, I am having some encouraging preliminary results by posting entire articles on SlideShare.net.

Do not overlook the value of paper in promoting your blog. Add your web address to business cards, print media ads, Yellow Page listings (you remember those, right?), letterheads, email signatures and so on. If you really want to go high tech, add a Quick Response Code to allow smartphone users to find your blog easily. For more information on QR Codes, see our March 25 blog post “More Thoughts on Business Cards” at http://bit.ly/i5ikHc.

Encourage reader feedback and sharing. When readers post comments (positive or otherwise), thank them for their effort. I only delete spam, an inevitable byproduct of blogging. I have recently become more active in soliciting feedback. I now periodically end posts by asking readers for their comments, suggestions and criticisms. I also invite suggestions for future articles. Finally, make sure your blog has plug-ins or widgets to promote article sharing through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other social media vehicle you believe is likely to help capture your target markets. Allow readers to bookmark your URL to their list of favorite sites with the click of a button.

So let me end there, by inviting you to post your thoughts on CFO America’s blog. What do you like? What do you dislike? Keep it clean and I promise to approve it. Most importantly, what can I do to make the information presented more useful to you in growing a prosperous business?

Bull Horns in Cyberspace, Part 1

Last Friday CFO America’s blog began with the question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a noise?” It concluded by assuring readers that falling tress always make noise. That got me thinking about things we can do to make noise, or rather what we can do to attract attention to our blogs. It also caused me to reflect on some of the mistakes I have made over the past six months (listen to me, the battle-hardened veteran) as a blogger.

Today I will present Part 1 of a two-part article on this topic. Here are my thoughts for today:

1. Pick a schedule and stick to it! The correct blogging frequency is whatever best helps you connect with your target audience. For some blogs that may be daily, for others once a month. Unfortunately, this is not a variable that invites experimentation. Fortunately, it is not so much a question of having the optimal blogging frequency. Simply commit to a schedule and tell your readers when to expect new posts. While most bloggers enjoy writing, too great a frequency can be grueling. I blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, something I have done faithfully except for a handful of holidays. As you gain followers, do not confuse or disappoint them by not keeping your commitment. Here are a few thoughts to help ease the burden of your commitment.

  • Consider using guest writers periodically. That way your readers are treated to different areas of expertise and points of view. It is also a great way to support your friends and network contacts. Hopefully, they will reciprocate and share some of your articles on their website, further extending your reach through cyberspace.
  • Instead of your usual topics or content, occasionally supplement your original writing by sharing (with appropriate attribution) relevant quotes, historical notes, articles and tips written by others. You might also ask readers to suggest topics.
  • Do not give up too quickly. As I said on Friday, Fred Campos of FunCitySocialMedia believes it takes about 100 posts before you begin to build a following. Many bloggers become discouraged and give up before reaching that milestone.

2. Keep posts short, preferably under 600 words. I say this for three reasons.

  • First, readers are looking for “McNuggets” of actionable information, not the English translation of War and Peace.
  • Secondly, the average American adult reads 250 to 300 words per minute. Numerous studies suggest that over 65% of visitors spend less than 2 minutes on a website. Therefore, an entry longer than 600 words will not be read in its entirety, if at all. I should add that the average time spent on CFO America’s blog is three minutes and nine seconds, an unusually long time, but one for which I am grateful!
  • I began blogging by posting excerpts from my book, Highly Visible Marketing, 115 Low-cost Ways to Avoid Market Obscurity. By making blog entries too long, I undoubtedly lost readers before the end of long articles. More importantly, I also ran through my previously written material too quickly. Save some your creative material for another day! A better alternative to lengthy articles is to split them into multiple parts, posting them in consecutive entries. I begin with a brief review of what was discussed in the previous blog, and end by telling readers what to expect in the next entry.

Let me now practice what I preach by ending for today. On Friday, I will present Part 2 of On Bull Horns in Cyberspace. It will discuss suggestions for defining your style and promoting your blog through other social media tools.

Until Friday, please continue to provide valuable feedback and share this information with your friends, coworkers and other associates. Why not add a comment below before leaving today?

 

 

You Are Not Alone!

There’s an old saying that asks, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a noise?” Bloggers might ask a similar question. “If I post something on my blog and no one responds, did anyone read it?”

I am reminded of a story I’ve previously shared. The 2009 movie Julie and Julia recounts the real life story of Julie Powell as portrayed by actress Amy Adams. It tells of Powell’s 2002 experience writing a daily blog of recipes from Julia Child’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Powell’s personal commitment was to prepare and discuss 524 recipes in 365 days, all in her tiny apartment. Early on, the only feedback her blog received were critical comments from her mother. She had no idea whether anyone else was reading her content. After a few months, the blog slowly caught on. It eventually became a great American success story. Her posts were later compiled into her book, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. The book went become a best seller and the first of several books she has authored.

Fred Campos of FunCitySocialMedia assures me it takes about 100 posts before you begin to build a following for your blog. In his experience, the average blogger becomes discouraged and gives up long before their 100th post. While I have been unable to find any authoritative source to support Fred, Powell’s experience certainly seems to support him. So does mine.

I posted my first entry on http://www.CFOAmerica.biz December 31, 2010. As of today, I have made 89 entries to my blog, 76 of which have been extracts from my book Highly Visible Marketing – 115 Low-cost Ways to Avoid Market Obscurity. I received my first comment on January 9. It was in response to the December 31 post. At that moment, I knew exactly how Sally Fields felt as she walked up to accept her 1979 Oscar for Norma Rea screaming, “You like me! You Like me!”

Since then, I have received 82 other comments, an average of slightly less than 1 every other day. But I’ve noticed several interesting trends lurking just below the surface of the raw data. First, comments do not come evenly. Far from it! I’ve had two days, both in June, when I’ve received over 20 comments in a single day. In between, there have been weeks of deafening, ego-shattering silence.

Secondly, we lose sight of the fact that once launched into cyberspace, blog posts are “out there” forever. I am often surprised to see comments on blog entries posted weeks early. For example, just yesterday I received a comment on something I wrote on February 28, seventeen weeks ago.

So let me end with three final comments:

  1. First, falling trees always make noise, even if no one hears them. They are too powerful a force of nature to do otherwise.
  2. Therefore, STAY THE COURSE! If you believe in your message, then believe that people will benefit when (not if) they read it. Don’t give up when success might be just around the next bend in the road.
  3. Last and most important, to everyone who has been kind enough to share their thoughts and encouragement through comments on CFO America’s blog over the past six months, THANK YOU! Please continue to support us through your comments and by sharing our content with your friends and associates.

Have a safe and joyous Fourth of July holiday, as we celebrate our great nation’s independence from the tyranny of that was the crown. I am going to take the day off, but I’ll be back bright and early on Wednesday, July 6.

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