When Every Second Counts

Wikipedia defines an elevator speech as “a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or organization and its value proposition.” Every business needs one. Moreover, unless you only hang out  on the top floors of very tall buildings, you need to be able to delivery your elevator speech in 30 seconds or less.

I have recognized for some time that my elevator speech needed some work. Frankly, it lacked punch and left audiences wondering exactly how I could help them. In the process of “sprucing it up” a little, I came across a blog post by my good friend John Carroll of Tres Coaching (http://www.trescoach.com/) in Keller Texas. John wrote an article on June 20 titled “Are you Speaking to me?” that nailed the issue of elevator speeches so well that I got his permission to share it with you.

John writes:

Three important elements that lead to success in a typical networking setting when positioning yourself, your business and your value proposition to other group members include:

  1. Preparation and planning,
  2. Tailoring the message to your audience, and
  3. Follow-up.

This article will address #2 “Tailoring the message to your audience”, and I will provide you with some ideas and an example that should help you raise your profile, obtain more quality referrals and effectively promote your business through networking.

Far too often, I see people just going through the motions when it comes to their networking activities. You know what I’m talking about. When it’s time for 30-second introductions they start with their name,  business name and offer little additional information to enable them to connect with the audience. What a waste of time!

Your 30-second introduction is the entry point upon which to build those great new business relationships, so take the time to do it right.

A 30-second introduction should answer three important questions, “Why should I do business with you?” and “How can I help you?” and finally, “Are you speaking to me?” It is important to tailor the message to  your audience, so people don’t walk away scratching their heads trying to figure out what you’re all about and to whom you are speaking.

Now, what do I mean by tailoring the message to your audience? Glad you asked.

In a typical networking setting there are four groups represented – potential customers, partners, suppliers and DNAs (Does Not Apply). So, don’t get up and just ‘spray and pray’ when it is time for your introduction. Recognize that how you speak to a potential customer is different than a prospective partner or supplier, and your message should reflect those subtleties and differences. Targeted group members in the audience should be keenly aware that you are speaking directly to them by what you say and how you say it.

Here’s an example of a 30-second introduction that a branding/marketing expert might use to promote their services and target new prospective clients …

“Effective marketing is much more than a slick brochure or a high-tech web site. More importantly, it’s about connecting prospective buyers with your business, and delivering measurable results.

At (Your Company Name), we are experts at helping clients find the right “connections” with their customers, so they buy more and more often.

If you are a small business owner and want to improve your marketing results, please see me after (breakfast, lunch, etc.) to schedule a FREE evaluation to determine how we can help.

(Your Name) with (Your Company Name) – from great ideas to your bottom-line.”

The above example answers the three important questions, and it is clear you are speaking to those small business owners in the audience who want to improve their marketing results.

Similarly, if your target audience is potential new partners or new suppliers, your message should reflect what is important to those particular groups and not be generic. Tailoring the message to your target audience should enable you to build positive new business relationships through networking and obtain more quality referrals.

I hope the information contained in this article has been helpful. Please share any additional thoughts and comments here that you think would be valuable.

Enjoy the journey!

John

COPYRIGHT © 2011 John Carroll

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 1

“May you live in interesting times” is the English translation of the first of three Chinese proverbs. These are very interesting times indeed for business owners struggling to market their products and services without simultaneously emptying their bank account. It seems not a week goes by that I do not learn about another free or (almost as good) low-cost marketing tool on the Internet.

This week was no exception! CFO America opened an account at SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Users can upload files in PowerPoint and pdf formats, among others. It is comparable to YouTube, but is primarily for slideshows. Launched in 2006, the website was originally intended as a vehicle for businesses to share slides with employees. However, it has since expanded to host slides and videos for entertainment, educational and other purposes.

SlideShare claims 50 million visitors and 90 million page views per month, ranking it as one of the top 250 websites in the world. The White House used SlideShare to publish President Obama’s birth certificate in
April 2011. The impressive list of blue ribbon users also includes NASA, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IBM, several branches of the U.S. military, Dell and the University of Texas.

Today I present the first of a three-part series on this subject. I will cover the basics of how to get started and how to increase your market exposure. I will complete the series next week.

Here are the first three things I learned about SlideShare that will help you “Avoid Market Obscurity“:

  1. Begin your exciting marketing experience by opening a free account at http://www.slideshare.net/. You will be asked to create a public profile that includes a description of your business, address and contact information, logo or picture, website link, industry, keyword tags, and other basic information. Start by visiting CFO America’s profile at http://www.slideshare.net/CFOAmerica.
  2. Like most “free” online services, this one has several upgraded versions. They range in price from $19 to $249 per month. The extra fees buy customized channels, expanded functionality, visitor analytics and the removal of banner ads, among other advantages. All upgrades include Zipcast, a virtual meeting service similar to the better-known and admittedly more robust GoToMeeting. The advantage is that subscribers receive a customized link to share with their attendees. Those attendees merely click the link without the need to download software or open a SlideShare account. Regular readers already know my advice on this one! Even if these features appeal to you, I suggest you resist the urge to upgrade until after you have had an opportunity to evaluate your experience over the first thirty to ninety days. You may find the additional cost is unnecessary. I should add that the free service includes unlimited slide shows and documents, plus three videos per month.
  3. SlideShare collaborates with social media giants Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to promote and share content. For example, you can embed presentations on your Facebook Fan Page, your LinkedIn profile or your blog. I embedded a document on my Fan Page, a simple matter of coping and pasting a code supplied by SlideShare. The document can now be opened in full screen. Viewers can also like, retweet or otherwise
    share presentations with their followers and connections.

Three of my PowerPoint presentations had over 200 combined views during their first 3 days online. One of my pdf documents (a reprint of this article) was featured on SlideShare’s home page, and was viewed over 1,500 times during its first 36 hours online. I am confident this activity, which puts to shame my YouTube statistics, was largely the result of the other social media services. Take full advantage of these capabilities for maximum market exposure.

Have a great weekend, and please plan to read Twelve Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 2 on Monday. As an added incentive to returning readers, next week I will share the final two Chinese proverbs.

Surely you won’t want to miss that!

Nine Things I learned about YouTube-Part 1

A few weeks ago, having recently published Highly Visible Marketing, I had a guilt-stricken moment. You know the experience, the one where you suddenly realize you’re not following
the very advice you so freely give to others. In my case, it was driven by having advocated YouTube as a free marketing tool in your social media arsenal, something I had yet to do myself. Having resolved to “practice what I preach” I published my first YouTube video yesterday. The experience was so cathartic that I decided to blog about it.

Frankly,  my video has yet to snag an Academy Award nomination for best cinematography or sound editing. I am especially disappointed at being ignored for Best Costume, given that I wore a freshly laundered shirt. However, I did learn a few things in the process that might save you time and money, and might encourage readers to “take the plunge” into producing their own YouTube videos.

Today, I’ll share the first four things I learned, those dealing with required hardware and software, and how much you can expect to spend. Here is today’s list:

  1. I began my YouTube adventure expecting to spend several hundred dollars to get the hardware and software I’d need. That did not prove to be necessary. I initially explored several software packages that would provide basic editing capabilities. Each had a price tag of around $100. It turns out my Windows operating system already had two pieces of software that provide all the functionality I need. Unless you fancy yourself as the Steven Spielberg of social media, so does yours! They are Windows Live Movie Maker (“WLMM”) and Sound Recorder.
  2. Although most computers have a built in microphone, the audio from mine sounded muffled and distant. I invested $15 in a basic headset (available at any big-box store that sells computers or audio equipment), which although far from perfect, greatly enhanced the sound quality.
  3. You will need a video camera to complete the full range of input options you’ll want. Almost any digital camera or cell phone will work, but video quality and ease of uploading to your computer can be issues. I initially planned to buy a Cisco Flip video camera, the preferred camera of most people I know who are active on YouTube. I quickly learned this brand has been discontinued. Instead, I bought a comparable Sony Bloggie camera for $149. One word of advice is to make sure your camera has a tripod mount.
  4. Finally, I also bought a mid-range web camera, which was on sale for $15. This tool could replace the need for a microphone and a video camera. However, I found the sound and video quality both somewhat lacking. More significantly, I would be forever tied to filming in front of my computer. With a son in the military and the free availability of Skype (an awesome product I plan to discuss at length in my next book), the money was still well spent.

On Friday, I will discuss the final five items. I’ll see you then! In the meantime, locate WLMM and Sound Recorder on your computer and start drafting that first script!

AVOIDING MARKET OBSCURITY

The title and subject of my book is Highly Visible Marketing – 115 Low-cost Ways to Avoid Market Obscurity. Obscurity means existing in a state of darkness, anonymity or insignificance.

I refuse to believe that any business venture is predestined to obscurity. Rather, obscurity is an insidious enemy, often ensnaring us in its inescapable stranglehold before we realize we were in danger of falling victim to it. It may be the ultimate result of a series of bad business decisions, or too often merely the failure to act decisively at key junctures.

Whatever the cause, market obscurity in a competitive business environment is usually a precursor to failure, or at best mediocrity. It is certainly incompatible with success. By definition, a business that achieves “highly visible marketing” cannot be obscure.

Let me relate the story of one entrepreneur who had to overcome many obstacles to avoid obscurity in his personal and business life.

Will Keith (W.K.) Kellogg was born shortly before the Civil War, the nearsighted and painfully shy son of pioneer parents. Labeled “dimwitted” by his teachers, he quit school at 14 to become a broom salesman. He held that job for 6 years. W.K. then worked as a bookkeeper and business manager at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a church-affiliated health resort where his older brother John was superintendent. He labored there for 26 years, often working 120-hour weeks. Many of those hours were spent searching for a digestible substitute for bread. His experimentation was often conducted in plain view of Sanitarium guests, including C.W. Post.

Finally, at the age of 46, his efforts resulted in the invention of corn flakes. He was eventually forced to part ways with John, who saw no market potential for breakfast cereals. W.K. founded the Kellogg Company in 1906, eleven years after Post Cereals was founded. In July of the following year, the Kellogg plant burned to the ground. Always known as a man who believed in hard work instead of fate, W.K. rebuilt a fireproof plant from its ashes.

Although he had every excuse to live a quiet life in complete obscurity, W.K. Kellogg founded what is today the world’s largest producer of breakfast cereals. Over 30,000 employees can testify that his legacy is not one of obscurity, by any definition of the word.

Corporate history is replete with people like W.K. Kellogg. Countless small businesses started in garages, basements, railroad stations and similar humble origins went on to become extraordinarily successful. The list includes Ford, Kodak and Sears just to name few. All had at least one thing in common. They all had to avoid the trap of market obscurity and pull ahead of their competition. To accomplish that, they had to deliver a superior product or service. They also had to differentiate their brand and communicate its benefits to potential customers.

I often ask myself several questions. Where will the next Ford, Kodak or Sears come from? For that matter, is that level of success even achievable in today’s challenging economic environment? After all, Henry Ford, George Eastman and Richard Warren Sears did not have to worry about global competition or the latest Internet marketing platform. They simply marketed their brands’ unique advantages on pieces of paper in the form of catalogs, magazines, and newspapers.

While we cannot predict the future, there is one thing we can say with complete certainty. The pool of potential Fortune 500 companies is huge. U.S. Census Bureau statistics (as compiled by the 2007 County Business Patterns and 2007 Economic Census) show that non-farm employers with fewer than 100 workers employed 42.7 million people, over 35% of the entire civilian labor force. Those employers represented over 80% of all businesses.  They had total estimated annual revenues of $7.8 trillion. The Census Bureau also reported that the 5.7 million businesses with revenue under $5 million encompassed 94% of all American firms.

There is no question that small businesses comprise a huge and vital part of our national economy, no matter how you define the term.

Web-based Sales Platforms – Part 5

Today, I complete this series on web-based sales platforms. Several large online business directory listings are available free of charge and can be set up within minutes. These directories provide a valuable tool to enable business owners to manage and enhance their Internet presence. For that reason, they are especially important for companies who do not have their own website. These sites promote connection through online searches by potential customers. Companies can post extensive information. Listings typically include business categories, web addresses, locations, hours, payment options and detailed product and service descriptions. They may allow you to upload photos, and some offer coupon and promotional capabilities. Many allow customers to post reviews. Some of the larger directories are:

·       Google Places

·       Bing Local

·       Yahoo Local

·       Hotfrog

All are free, often with upgraded services available for a fee. Google Places offers the ability to post real-time updates. It also provides a dashboard to track how many times people found your business and what keywords they used to find it.

Here is a closing thought from Highly Visible Marketing’s chapter on Internet Marketing Basics. Michael Dylan is an entrepreneur and business enthusiast. He summarized the ultimate challenge of Internet marketing this way: “In real-world shopping, you can look your customers right in the eye, chat with them and thus understand what they want, or guide them to a certain item. But with so much online business, we need to establish good customer relations in cyber-space, including ways to find out what the customer needs and what they really value in your business.”

I encourage you to remember Mr. Dylan’s comment as you develop and implement your Internet marketing strategies.

I expect to have an exciting announcement next week. I look forward to connecting with you on Monday.

Web-based Sales Platforms – Part 3

First, let me say that this picture of the Prince William and his new bride has absolutely nothing to do with today’s blog post on web-based sales platforms. Although having been awoken at 3 AM to watch the ceremony live, I probably look and feel like the little girl on the left; cranky, tired and a little out of sorts!

On Wednesday, I discussed Groupon, the largest and most popular “deal of the day” company. Like eBay, Groupon also has its detractors. If the economics or mechanics of Groupon simply do not work for your business, you are not alone. However, you may have cost effective alternatives readily available. Groupon is quickly gaining new competition. An article in the April 25, 2011 edition of Forbes Focus by Brendan Coffey estimated Groupon has 425 “me-too” competitors, and suggested that future competition may include Facebook and Google. Groupon rejected a $6 billion buy-out offer from Google in December of 2010.

While I have not evaluated specific vendors, here are several options you may wish to explore on your own.

  • Some cities and regions are creating websites to distribute coupons and advertise specials to promote local businesses, and typically at a lower net cost than the big-name national sites. I was pleased to see several such sites advertise on television during a visit to the Central Coast region of California. As an example, look at www.slocoupons.com. It promotes commerce in San Luis Obispo County. Search the Internet and ask your network contacts for comparable programs in your area.
  • Socialdish.com is scheduled to launch in March 2011, so its ultimate success has yet to be determined as of this writing. However, what makes it worth watching is that it is structured as a multilevel marketing program. It will distribute 30% of its fees through 10 levels of “downlines” as people recruit their friends and family. The limited information available at this time indicates Socialdish’s charges to advertisers will be less than Groupon.
  • LivingSocial.com is another “deal-of-the-day” type competitor to Groupon. This company was partially financed by the online retail juggernaut Amazon.

On Monday, I will discuss several more Internet websites that allow you to promote your services or locate potential clients at little or no cost.

In the meantime, best wishes to the Royal couple. If you are ever in North Texas, stop over. We’ll throw some red meat on the grill and I’ll tell you all about the War of 1812. And if you have any questions on marketing, I can tackle those too. Kate, I understand you family runs a small business. Who handles your finances?

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 7

I conclude this seven-part discussion of social media marketing today with just a few closing thoughts. First, having gone through the effort to develop content, create a social media marketing program and build a following, do not fail to promote Twitter, Facebook etc. on outgoing email signatures, business cards, letterhead, websites, and promotional materials.

Every media platform should be used to promote all the others. For example, you should occasionally send a tweet inviting followers to “Like” your Facebook Fan page, and use Facebook and Twitter to announce new posts on your blog.

Provide a direct link to your blog and social media platforms whenever possible. For example, my outgoing email signature ends with, “Please click on the links below to read our blog or to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.”

This series presented many new challenges for the already overworked small businessperson. Let me end with one more. Future Vision Web Services made this observation: “Most of today’s market leaders are those companies who had the foresight to recognize the changing landscape in today’s modern business world. The new business battleground has been very cruel to those companies that have fallen behind the curve.”

Do not allow the rapidly evolving landscape of social media marketing keep you from realizing the full potential of your business.

See you again on Wednesday.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 4

Last week, I introduced the topic of social media marketing as a low-cost, effective marketing tool for your business. Like everything else in business, success in social media marketing requires that you prepare a plan.

Develop a social media plan that includes target dates and milestones. It should incorporate several platforms with a consistent message and theme or look. Each platform should be linked to your website or blog. Fred Campos, a social media expert and founder of FunCitySocialMedia likes to compare social media marketing to a three-legged stool. Following his analogy, I ultimately selected Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as my three legs. Again, visit www.alexa.com to find the best matches for your target market.

I also have two websites, one of which is the WordPress blog that I mentioned earlier. The other is a “landing pad” that presents a three-minute video and invites viewers to join my mailing list to receive a free publication that explains my services and business approach.

My social media platforms always carry a summary of blog postings. To the extent possible, Twitter, Facebook and both websites have a similar look as to color scheme, graphics and narrative theme. While LinkedIn is far more limiting in its graphic design options, it does allow your logo and picture. And it is hard to argue with free!

Your followers can greatly magnify the distribution of anything you post by making it available to their contacts. They do that on Facebook by simply clicking the “Like” button. On LinkedIn, they recommend you. On Twitter, they “re-tweet” your comments. Whatever it is called, encourage your following to share your content for maximum exposure.

YouTube is the most popular search engine, and now exceeds 2 billion downloads per day. I confess that I have yet to add YouTube to my social media-marketing arsenal. On Wednesday, I will discuss this exciting social media platform.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 2

On Monday, I introduced the topic of social media marketing as a low-cost, effective marketing tool for your business. Social media platforms currently include about 20 widely recognized platforms including Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube.

Whatever platforms are chosen, they provide incoming or backlinks to your website and blog. This improves search engine results since the number of backlinks is an indication of the popularity and importance of a website.

Businesses use social media marketing to increase brand awareness and promote products and services. Businesses also receive feedback from customers and potential markets. Perhaps the best analogy I have heard was a comparison to a large, porous funnel. The various platforms cast a wide net to gather many followers into the funnel. As you continue to provide valuable and interesting content and develop relationships, some of those followers will eventually progress through the narrowing funnel to become customers and sources of referrals. Others will fall away.

Because these social media websites are available free to everyone with Internet access, they present inexpensive and powerful platforms for small businesses to get market feedback and conduct targeted marketing campaigns on a local, regional, national or even global basis.

How popular is social media marketing? I got a sense of the interest it generates when I searched Amazon for the phrase “Facebook marketing” and got 452 results. I got 1,618 hits when I searched “social media marketing.” Products included a cornucopia of books and videos ranging up to $1,200 and included 137 hits of “For Dummies” books alone.

Perhaps the real surprise is why there were not more results. According to Goldman Sachs, Facebook has over 600 million active users (defined as those who log on at least three times a week). Perhaps buoyed by the 2010 movie The Social Network, that is a 20% increase in six months. Those users include President Obama and Queen Elizabeth. According to LinkedIn’s Press Center, they have 100 million users speaking one of six languages in more than 200 countries. They add a new user every second. In September 2010, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams said Twitter is averaging 90 million tweets per day. They are gaining 370,000 new accounts daily, with 16% of them starting the service on mobile devices. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Social media marketing is simply too large to ignore, especially if your target market is under the age of 40, affluent and highly educated. It demands attention because of its size, growth trends and cost efficiency when compared to alternative marketing channels.

Today’s suggestion should be obvious by now. Evaluate social media marketing as a platform to build brand awareness and share content with your customers and target market. Use it as a vehicle to provide your customers with a voice. Encourage feedback. Social media marketing is all about consistent communication in channels selected by your markets. Avoid the trap of thinking it is about technology. Moreover, remember that ultimately you are connecting with individuals, not faceless companies and organizations.

On Friday, I will offer some specific tips to help you successfully implement that suggestion.

More “Free Stuff” on the Internet

Participating in message board discussions is another free way to raise your profile within your community of current and potential customers and in your area of expertise. A message board is nothing more than an online discussion forum where people with common interests and knowledge exchange information by posting questions and answers, along with other relevant comments. Messages usually require approval from a moderator before being visible. They can be archived indefinitely.

Answering questions on message boards gets you recognized as an expert. Asking questions gathers valuable information. Both help grow followers for your social media sites as discussed in the following chapter.

  • Message boards are available for virtually every industry, profession and product. For example, Intuit hosts an “Accountants Community for QuickBooks Practitioners and Accounting Professionals” where experienced users of their hugely popular QuickBooks software ask and answer questions. In essence, Intuit supplements their customer support function with participants’ expertise. Search the Internet or ask your network contacts for message boards relevant to your business and expertise. Then contribute your knowledge frequently.
  • LinkedIn Answers and Yahoo Answers message boards, like many others, rate responders by how many participants “Like” their answers and how often their response is selected as the best answer. This is a highly desirable feature and a real feather in your professional cap.
  • Include a link to your website in your message board signature.

Reprints of press releases, blog posts, articles written by or about you and even your “best answers” are excellent testimonials to your expertise and prominence in your industry. Toot your own horn by periodically distributing copies to customers and prospects. Include them in customer mailings, mail orders, newsletters, marketing packets and similar material. Always keep a supply in your lobby.

  • Including a professional photograph with published material puts a human face on your business.
  • While distributing marketing materials as email attachments is easy and cost efficient, it also increases the risk that recipients will not open the email due to security concerns over computer viruses often transmitted in attachments. For that reason, including critical points in the actual body of your email may be preferable.

More marketing tips from Avoiding Market Obscurity on Monday. Have a great weekend!

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