Energizing Your Work Force

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics once said, “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, make me feel important. Never forget this message when working with people.”

Her quote applies to both customers and employees. Today, I want to apply it to your employees. Make sure every employee fully understands how important the accomplishment of his or her individual goals is to achieving overall company success. Publicly praise them when they accomplish a major milestone toward achieving those goals.

Do not assume every employee knows all they need to know about your products, services, company policies or even the basics of sales and customer service. Make the effort to ensure they are adequately trained on all critical aspects of your business. Simply teaching them to up sell by always asking the equivalent of the fast food industry’s standard question, “Do you want fries with that order?” will go a long way toward increasing average customer purchases.

Why is this important? Alan J. Zell, author and retail marketing expert says, “Every business needs more business. That is an accepted fact. The unaccepted fact is that most businesses don’t use all the opportunities available that will bring them additional business. When one looks for additional business, the primary goal should center around getting second sales. What are second sales and why are they important? Second sales are add-on sales, repeat sales and sale by referral. They are important because they are much less expensive to get than first sales.”

If you would like to see Mr. Zell’s advice in practice, try leaving a shoe store without being asked if you need extra laces, polish and a few extra pairs of socks to go with your new shoes. It cannot be done!

I talked earlier about the importance of networking. Here are two simple suggestions that will make your employees feel appreciated, and give you the opportunity to grow your business through their network contacts.

  • If there are too many networking opportunities for one person, have a key employee join a group or two. It will be a growth experience for them and it demonstrates your trust and appreciation.
  • I can still remember my excitement over 35 years ago when, having just graduated college, I brought my first business card home and presented it to my father. I do not know who was prouder, my dad or me. I also gave copies to everyone I knew, and probably strangers I passed on the street. However, what I attributed to pride, my employer probably chalked up to that cheap advertising I talked about in Chapter 3. Order business cards for all your permanent employees. They are sure to hand them out generously.

Let’s meet again on Wednesday. And remember, you have just one week to submit your entry for CFO America’s contest and a chance to win a $100 gift card. Please visit http://bit.ly/iImrPd for details.

More on Dues-fee Networking

Last Friday’s post discussed ways to network without incurring dues. Here is one more idea on that topic. Use your burgeoning networking skills to form your own merchants’association.

I was in a frozen custard store a few months back. (Note that if I were making this story up, I would have said a health food store.) As I was leaving, the cashier handed me a 25% coupon. There was nothing unusual
about that. However, this coupon was for another retailer selling totally unrelated products. The reality is the second retailer (assume it was a shoe store) would happily hand the identical coupon to any new customer who walked through their door. This idea is effective because except for the coupon, I would have never given the shoe store a thought.

Many malls and similar retail venues have a merchants’ association to promote its members. For example, you can plan facility-wide marketing events (festivals, special sale days, etc.), or one-on-one partnership
promotions like the custard store illustration. Another common practice is to offer gift certificates that can be redeemed in any member’s store. The concept works well for participants in close physical proximity and if marketing partners know and trust you, and are familiar with your product or service. Assuming you can obtain the help and support of other members, create an association newsletter or similar forum to keep members informed about matters of common interest like law changes, community events and so forth.

Let me now end the discussion on networking with a quote from Mr. Tom Lewis, an online marketing consultant from “across the pond” who I thought put the whole concept of networking in a rather interesting and
concise perspective. He said, “All these new media buzzwords like social networking and technology like LinkedIn are just new ways of complementing (some would say avoiding) personal contact. Get out there and get your face known! Pick up the phone and call some potential clients. Speak at some networking events. Knock on some doors.”

Thank you Mr. Lewis, I agree.

Dues Free Networking

The goal of the Chamber of Commerce is to act as a business network to promote local businesses. The Chambers of Commerce in my area all do a very effective job of carrying out that mission. They frequently hold ribbon cutting ceremonies and similar events to promote new or expanded businesses. These events often appear on the front page of local newspapers. They also conduct formal and informal networking events. However, since my book is subtitled 115 Low-cost Ways to Avoid Market Obscurity, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the annual cost for an individual membership would likely be between $150 and $250. Corporate memberships generally start around $250 and can escalate quickly as you grow depending on annual sales, number of employees or other variable factors determined by individual chapters. Furthermore, not all of the cost is tax deductible.

Here are two networking strategies you can implement without incurring dues.

Why not form your own personal networking group? You will eventually deal with many vendors, bankers, insurance agents, accountants, lawyers, suppliers and so on. Evaluate potential vendor’s customer base, and try to select those most similar to your market. Then trade referrals. Make sure they fully understand your business and its marketing objectives. They will also need a generous supply of your business cards and
other appropriate marketing materials.

  • Vendors who serve other customers and clients in your markets can be a great source of general market intelligence. However, do not ask them to compromise their business ethics by revealing confidential competitor information, and be leery of those who do so voluntarily.

A variation of the personal networking group idea is the “Buddy Marketing” strategy. Look for partners with products or services that are complementary to yours, or whose customers use your product or service. An example would be a sporting goods store joining forces with a health club. The store can offer club members special discounts and promotions on sporting goods products. They can also share mailing lists and even include club promotions in their mailings, electronic distributions and on their website. Perhaps the health club would allow the retailer to demonstrate their products in the club’s lobby on occasion.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, as we remember all those who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the rights and privileges of living in a free society. May God bless all of those who voluntarily wear a uniform, including my son, Eric.

Creating Rolling Billboards

Andrew Szabo, the “Marketing Chef” and motivational speaker once told me that the average person is bombarded with over 5,000 marketing messages every day. You market to customers and prospects every time they are reminded of your company or products. Some messages are obvious, others more subtle. The question therefore is not how many marketing messages you receive per day, but rather how many you remember the following day and the following week.

Several local school districts in my area started selling advertising space on their bus fleets a few years ago. My only thought is why buy space on someone else’s fleet before first taking advantage of your own. Vehicle graphics on company cars and trucks are inexpensive rolling billboards seen by hundreds of potential customers every day in the neighborhoods and areas where your products or services are purchased and used. Custom magnetic signs can be purchased online, at FedEx Office or franchise operations like Sign-A-Rama for under $100 per pair. Unlike some alternatives, magnetic signs will not depreciate the resale value of your vehicle. Simply remove the signs and reuse them on the replacement vehicle.

Other low-cost removable vehicle graphic options to consider are rear window decals and bumper stickers. Depending on the nature of your business and your creative skills, bumper stickers can be given to employees and customers for additional advertising exposure. Order them from the same vendors that sell magnetic signs.

Finally, a 2007 survey by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators estimated 9.3 million Americans (3.8% of all registered vehicles) had “vanity” or personalized license plates. The popularity of vanity plates varies widely by state. Virginia leads the nation with over 16% of all vehicle owners ordering personalized plates. Sadly, I must report my own state of Texas comes in dead last, with only a 0.5% penetration. Could that mean we are less vain than the nation as a whole? If you have ever known a Texan, you already know the answer to that question!

The study did not report how many of these personalized license plates were used on commercial vehicles. However, if you can subtly communicate your name or message in seven characters or less, try it.

Have a great weekend.

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.

Networking 101

American “Rags-to-riches” motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “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.”

The following short points will help you network with those unfortunate, misguided people in your market who are going down the wrong road, namely the one leading to your competitors. Your goal is educate them on your value proposition and thereby direct them to the road that leads to your front door.

  • Search the Internet for local business networks. Start with www.meetup.com, a free service that provides information on 250,000 monthly meetings in 45,000 cities. Meetup has several other features you will find useful including meeting agendas and guest speakers, reminders and member pictures and profiles.
  • It has been said that a person’s name is their favorite word. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang stated an obvious corollary to this point, “It helps a ton when you learn people’s names and don’t butcher them when trying to pronounce them.” With a name like Schmeltzle, I know where he is coming from! If necessary, spell their name phonetically on the back of their business card to help remember its proper pronunciation. It is very true that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Mess up a name and the opportunity may be lost!
  • Public speaking, essential to successful networking, is a skill that is difficult to teach. However, it can be learned over time. As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” Start with a small, friendly audience and work your way up to more challenging venues.
  • Focus on the quality of your network contacts, not the quantity. For that reason, I suggest you consider the size of groups and avoid those that are simply too large to establish meaningful relationships with substantially all members.
  • Meeting all of the regular attendees and familiarizing yourself with their businesses may be best accomplished in one-on-one or individual meetings outside of a group setting. I often meet with members over a cup of coffee.
  • You may find new vendor connections that are as valuable as new marketing opportunities, especially when first launching your business.
  • If you are considering offering compensation for successful referrals, remember that compensation does not have to mean an actual commission, or even a lot of cash out of your pocket. It can include a gift certificate from your business or a local restaurant, tickets to a cultural event or a charitable donation in the name of the person who provided the referral. However, be aware that the practice of compensating referrals may be setting a precedent for those in your networks who would otherwise provide free referrals. Find out what the common practice is for the group, and do not stray too far from the norm.
  • Finally, you might occasionally offer tickets to a sporting event or a charity function as a door prize. However, give a minimum of two adjoining seats and try not to hand them out on short notice. That will depreciate the value of your gift in the eyes of the recipient.

Have a great weekend. I look forward to reconnecting with you on Monday!

Web-based Sales Platforms – Part 4

For the past week, I have been discussing online “deal of the day” companies. These venues are primarily for selling products. However, numerous local, state, and nationally targeted websites allow you to promote your services or locate potential clients at little or no cost. Some will subject you to international competition, and several have experienced their share of criticism and controversy. Terms and conditions vary; shop around and investigate to find websites appropriate for your business.

New websites pop up regularly. Here are a few to get you started.

·      Elance.com provides an online marketplace for consultants and others to search for assignments, submit bids and negotiate contracts. The largest categories are information technology and marketing, including web development, programming and search engine optimization. Elance assesses their fee on payments by businesses to consultants.

·      Craigslist is a centralized network of online communities featuring free classified advertisements with sections devoted to sale items and services. According to the Factsheet on their website, Craigslist operates through 700 local websites in 70 countries. It claims 50 million users in the U.S. alone. Craigslist experiences over 20 billion page views per month, making it the seventh largest site worldwide for English language page views.

·      Fiverr.com offers products and services for $5, of which the website keeps $1. Its challenges and limitations are immediately apparent, starting with whether you want to offer anything for five bucks! You will be surprised at the offerings. Two actual examples are, “I will teach you how to make your hands a flute for $5” and “I will take a photo of myself holding a logo of any website, company, etc. for $5.” Therefore, you should carefully consider whether being in the same crowd would cheapen your brand. For that reason alone, it may not be appropriate. However, if you are willing to offer virtually free products or services to gain new customers, it merits consideration.

·      OLX hosts free user-generated classified ads for urban communities around the world and provides discussion forums for various topics. It gained prominence upon announcing a partnership with Friendster, a social networking website.

·      Guru.com is also a freelance marketplace that allows companies to find consultants for contract work in 220 different fields. Guru’s website reports over 1 million registered members and over 8,000 projects posted per month. Be aware that if the service you are marketing can be delivered remotely, competition from English-speaking competitors in developing countries in Asia and elsewhere will likely exert strong downward pressure on your price expectations. That is why I no longer advertise on Guru.com.

I will complete this series on web-based sales platforms on Monday with a discussion of several online business directory listings that are available free of charge and can be set up within minutes.

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?

Internet Marketing for Small Business-Part 4

On Monday, I introduced email-based survey programs as a low-cost marketing tool. Surveys can offer feedback from current and former customers, or an entire market. They can also provide market intelligence on your competition and industry.

While a complete outline of a survey program is well beyond the intended scope of this book, here are a few quick points you should keep in mind:

  • Begin your survey with a clearly defined plan. What do you hope to learn, what questions will help you gather the information necessary to achieve your goals, and what actions will you take because of the information gathered?
  • Make questions clear, precise and short. Each should address only one area or piece of information. For example, responses may be ambiguous if participants are asked about price and service in the same question.
  • Close-ended questions (where the respondent selects from a limited number of specified answers) are easier to analyze. Open-ended questions provide more qualitative information. Consider a combination of both types of questions.
  • Being constantly patted on the back accomplishes little, other than eventually wearing out the fabric on your shoulder. In business, it is far more valuable to receive an honest assessment of what you are doing wrong. Therefore, be willing to accept and act on the results of your survey, warts and all. Nevertheless, a press release may be in order if a favorable outcome justifies it.
  • Ask how likely the respondent is to do business with you again and how likely they are to recommend you to someone else. If either answer is no, determine why.
  • Construct surveys so they take no more than 10 minutes to complete.
  • Offer an incentive (like a 20% coupon) for those who give you the 10 minutes.
  • If you decide to incorporate the U.S. Postal Service to survey customers without Internet access, include a postage-paid return envelope. Your response percentage will be abysmal without one.

On Friday, I will discuss a few final points that apply to your evaluation and implementation of both email marketing and survey campaigns. Best wishes until then.

Internet Marketing for Small Business-Part 2

On Wednesday, I began a discussion of email marketing and surveys as marketing tools for your business. Through this book, I have stressed low-cost experimentation as a means to fine-tune your marketing strategies without sabotaging your bottom line. Email marketing and survey programs are the perfect opportunity to apply that principle.

A prerequisite for email campaigns is a sufficiently large mailing list. Offer an incentive to prospects willing to opt-in or join your mailing list. We have all jotted down invalid information to escape the clutches of a pushy sales person. Therefore, do not hand out coupons or gifts on the spot; mail or email them. That way invalid data costs nothing.

Once you have established a customer and prospect database, it is time to consider an email marketing campaign through a vendor like:

  • BenchmarkEmail
  • Campaigner
  • ConstantContact
  • iContact
  • MailChimp
  • Pinpointe
  • VerticalResponse

Several of these already low-cost vendors are actually free, depending on the size of your mailing list and the number of monthly emails. Many also offer a free trial period. All the services allow you to download and manage email lists, and to create professional looking newsletters and other documents. They give recipients the ability to click through to your website for more information, and to forward emails to others. If they like what they see, their network then has the opportunity to opt-in to your mailing list. Email marketing services also offer the ability to promote, manage and even collect registration fees for event-based marketing ideas as previously discussed in this series. Keep the following points in mind in your analysis and planning process:

  • Structure email campaigns so you can track actual sales and new leads. There are several ways to accomplish this. One is to offer unique promotions or promotional codes in each communication channel. Another is to require customers to print the email promotion and present it in person to redeem it.
  • Prices for email marketing services vary. They can be based on fixed monthly fees, sliding scales depending on the size of your mailing list, or a fixed charge per email. Several vendors offer limited free trials. Shop around and speak with your network contacts to find the one that best fits your needs and budget.
  • Perhaps most importantly, email marketing vendors help ensure compliance with the Federal Trade Commission’s Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM) of 2003. This is the federal standard for commercial email.

I will continue this discussion next week, starting with some simple suggestions to command more attention with your email advertising campaigns. Enjoy the weekend and I hope to have you back here early Monday morning.

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