You are Invited to my Party

Small business coach and author Robert Gerrish said, “For many, one of the greatest moments in business is the joy of attracting a new customer or client. In such circumstances, it is easy to get so caught up in the excitement that we forget to spend time on realizing the value of one of our business’s best assets, our existing client base.” For example, you may have heard banks criticized for offering free checking to new customers while charging existing customers for the same service.

As Mr. Gerrish suggests, all too often promotions only target new prospects. Show your appreciation of existing customers by holding promotions and events designed exclusively for them.

  • A special after-hours personal shopping event or trunk show, complete with entertainment, refreshments and “invitation only” discounts is an example. If your products typically require sizing or fitting (such as clothes), allowing a two day presale can create additional excitement. Customers select their purchases in advance, which you hold until the actual sale. This procedure also requires customers to visit your facility at least twice.
  • The luxury day spa I spoke of earlier invited my wife and I (did I mention she is one of their most loyal customers) to an art exhibit by a nationally recognized concert pianist. The event also included a wine tasting.

Another way to demonstrate your appreciation for existing customers, suppliers and employees is to hold an open house or reception. This is a great way to display your operations. It will also strengthen relationships between customers and staff that have not met. If your facilities do not include a suitable physical location, host it at your home, a nearby restaurant or under a tent on the front lawn. Moreover, while your open house or reception must be memorable, it does not have to be expensive. Class is not measured in dollars.

  • You may find network contacts are willing to help cater the event, print programs and menus, provide entertainment or other useful services at substantial discounts in order to promote their products and services to your customer base. Always take full advantage of your network and be ready to reciprocate by supporting and promoting their events.
  • Avoid scheduling functions on weekends or when likely to conflict with numerous holiday events. Use all of the communications tools and options previously discussed to ensure good attendance. There is nothing more discouraging than hosting a party when no one shows up.

A final caution about special event promotions is that in order to be truly special, you cannot hold them too often. Any promotional tool that is used too frequently runs the risk of creating customer expectations that will cause them to avoid full price purchases in anticipation of a sale or event that may never happen.

Next week, I will present an exciting 3-part series on my ongoing love affair with SlideShare.net. It picks up where a June series on this topic left off. I think you will enjoy it. Until then, stay safe and enjoy your weekend. You earned it!

 © 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 2

On Friday, I began a discussion of things I learned about SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Since that time, my seven files have had more than 3,400 combined views, 2,800 for one file alone.

I shared the first three items on my list. They discussed how to start your profile, upgrade options and social media connections. Part 2 will discuss suggestions for making SlideShare an integral part of your marketing efforts. Here is today’s list:

4. I preach a simple 12-word marketing strategy to clients and friends. It is this: Communicate one message, promoting one brand, to multiple audiences, at no cost. While Friday’s item #3 fully supports this strategy, do not stop there! I issued three free press releases (one of which can be viewed at http://bit.ly/ipIFnF), published this information using several free article marketing websites and periodically retweet links to the presentations.

5. The first slide of a PowerPoint presentation or the first page of a pdf document will appear as a small icon link on your profile page. It should be readable, attractive and descriptive to invite viewers. I display my logo and blog URL on every download. You will also be asked to provide a description, category and tags for each file. Making this information keyword rich makes it easier for interested views to locate you slide shows and videos. Making something keyword rich simply means using certain words and phrases that potential customers are likely to use in search engines when looking for your company, products or  services.

6. SlideShare gives users the option of allowing viewers to download files. Since you are posting files in a very public venue, I see no reason not to allow downloads. Additionally, presentations can be made available only to authorized viewers with any of the upgraded versions. It is then a viable option to share private files that are simply too large to email. An example might be a large contract or proposal in pdf format.

If you do not know how to create a pdf file, download CutePDF Writer at http://cutepdf.com/Products/CutePDF/writer.asp. It is a free version of commercial PDF creation software. CutePDF Writer installs itself as a printer subsystem. This enables virtually any Windows applications to create professional quality pdf documents.

7. SlideShare can be used to promote and support your event marketing efforts. For example, you can make advanced copies of upcoming seminars available online to help invitees decide whether to attend, or provide copies to interested parties who are unable to attend.

8. Users and their followers can post additional information on their wall, very similar to Facebook. I posted a notice of a free seminar based on one of my uploaded files, along with a link to EventBrite for event details. Viewers can also post comments on individual slide shows.

Please return Wednesday when we not only complete the list of 12 things I learned, but will reveal the final two Chinese proverbs.

Improving Those Email Statistics

I am in the process of completing and preparing for a series of free seminars called “What’s Your Story”? It deals with ways of communicating a consistent marketing message and brand to multiple audiences at little or no out-of-pocket cost. In the presentation, I use email marketing to illustrate why you need to use multiple communication channels to reach your entire target market.

Email has at least one major advantage over many other channels. It is very easy to study statistics and trends in things like open rates and click through rates. One of the major vendors tracks open rates by about 30 industry categories. The highest is only 27%. That means that an average email campaign can expect that fewer than three out of every 10 people who receive the email are going to open it. More importantly, recognize that the largest part of your target market will never make it on to your distribution list.

Your email needs to be above average! It is critically important to squeeze the best possible results out of your email marketing efforts. Experiment with things like how the timing and subject line of your email effects the statistics. I read an interesting post called The 4 Words That Will Get Your Email Opened by Sean Platt of the copyblogger.com. It said that in his experience, the most effective subject line for virtually any type of email marketing distribution was simply “You Are Not Alone.” Platt’s theory is this headline appeals to a universal human need to know there is someone who shares our common experiences and is willing to help solve our problems. Interesting theory Sean. I may experiment with that one myself!

There is another theory (unproven in my mind) that people will work harder to maintain what they already have than to gain something they need. You can test this hypothesis by tailoring your subject lines accordingly. For example, a marketing newsletter might be promoted from the perspective of how to maintain existing customers. A human resources discussion could be presented in terms of how to motivate and retain valuable employees. The same thought applies to event marketing.

As email has matured as a communications media, people have become more discerning not only in what they open but also in giving out email addresses. Do not abuse or waste an engraved invitation to their inbox. Allow me a simple analogy to illustrate the point. Whatever subject line you choose, remember that it is only an invitation to your electronic party. Like a real party, you still need to deliver “the goods” that your guests are expecting when they arrive. The expected goods are either valuable information or a chance to save money on your products and services. If you fail to deliver, they are unlikely to attend another party.

As you are writing copy for an email newsletter, article marketing, blogging, and so on, also keep in mind that the average reader is very busy and perhaps somewhat impatient. They are not searching for an online English translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. They are looking for interesting, concise articles and information that provide relevant content in a reader-friendly format. Tailor your writing style to match that profile for maximum opens. Again, this also applies to event marketing.

Finally, you might be tempted to save the cost of an email service and simply send a mass distribution to all your contacts in Microsoft Outlook. A reason not to do that is that email services offer spam-checking software that will identify potential problems in your wording and structure. Make corrections accordingly and avoid being trapped in recipients’ spam filters. Instead of sending emails with Outlook, visit MailChimp.com. They allow you to send emails to 2,000 recipients free.

Have a safe weekend. I want you back here bright and early Monday morning.

Becoming a Recognized Expert

There is an old axiom in marketing 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 face-to-face meetings and free seminars. The axiom is supported by the fact 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. Event-based marketing can be a very effective way to start the ball rolling. It will allow you to interact with potential customers and build trust as you demonstrate your expertise. It will also encourage them to seek you out for your knowledge and expertise, and to recommend you within their circle of influence.

There are several free event-listing sites available on the Internet should you wish to open your events to the public. Most allow business promoters to coordinate announcements and listings through Facebook and Twitter. Some allow you to issue tickets, limit attendance, collect fees (via PayPal) and even ask qualifying questions. Online event-listing websites include:

  • EventBrite
  • EventSync
  • Facebook Events
  • PlanCast
  • Zvents

Prospective attendees will ask themselves a very selfish question. What is in this for me? Most small businesses will welcome free advice in at least three areas: how to increase sales, how to reduce costs and how to generate more cash. Whatever your subject matter, promotional material must identify specific customer problems and promise real solutions.

Make sure information presented at the event closely matches those promotional promises. They are what drew attendees. It is unlikely that disappointed prospects, frustrated at not hearing the promised solutions, will become your customer.

The main point of your presentation is what the audience wants to hear, not what you want to tell them. Get to it quickly.

You want your audiences’ undivided attention. Therefore, present only a cryptic outline on slides and handouts at the event. Otherwise, attendees could have read the presentation at home and saved the trip.

Attendees will expect a commercial. Hold it for the last or next to last slide.

Finally, a drawing for a free gift certificate, an autographed copy of your latest book or some other valuable prize will encourage attendees to stay for the entire presentation.

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?

Web-based Sales Platforms – Groupon

Today I continue the discussion of web-based sales platforms as low-cost marketing opportunities. I introduced this topic on Monday with a short post about eBay. While eBay has become phenomenally successful, it does have its detractors. Fortunately for today’s small business owner, it now has a wide variety of competition to accommodate your marketing efforts.

National websites that distribute coupons and advertise specials are interesting and growing promotional vehicles. Perhaps the best know of these so-called “deal of the day” enterprises is Groupon. It was the subject of an August 30, 2010 Forbes Magazine article called Meet the Fastest Growing Company Ever by Christopher Steiner. Its name is a play on the words “group” and “coupon,” a misnomer since customers purchase discounted vouchers, not coupons. If your specified minimum number of customers is achieved, you are paid immediately. It costs nothing unless the offer is completed.

Groupon’s compensation is a healthy portion of the offering proceeds, plus credit card fees. Customer discounts of at least 50% seem to be the norm. Groupon is therefore a viable platform to distribute gift cards and to introduce customers to high margin products or services, especially where additional full-price sales are anticipated during the initial or repeat sales.

  • The most obvious risk of incorporating Groupon into your marketing plan is attracting customers who will only buy at a substantial discount. If your Groupon pricing strategy is contingent on support from full-price repeat sales, this venue could become a textbook example of a strategy that increases sales while decreasing net income. Monitor results closely and be prepared to run away if necessary.
  • Another possible concern is that your promotion will be announced as part of a daily email distribution scheduled by Groupon; you have no control over its timing.
  • Finally, it is possible to become a victim of your own success with Groupon if you do not place an upper limit on how many discount vouchers you are willing to sell. This can happen in at least two ways. First, if your offer is attractive enough, placing limits on it (experiment as you would with any new promotion) will avoid the risk of having more customers than you can accommodate. A line of unhappy customer wannbes standing outside your store with Groupon vouchers in hand is not good public relations. Secondly, you are likely to lose money on every Groupon sale. For example, a $100 gift card offered for $50 will only generate about $23 in your pocket. Further assume the cost of providing that $100 of goods or service is $80. You will therefore lose about $57 on every Groupon voucher. Know your numbers and factor the expected gross loss into your marketing budget.

On Friday, I will discuss several “deal of the day” alternatives to Groupon.

Internet Marketing for Small Business-Part 5

On Monday, I introduced the topic of email as a low-cost marketing tool. Here are a few final points that apply to your evaluation and implementation of both email marketing and survey campaigns:

You will be surprised how few people open your email. ConstantContact tracks “open rates” by about 30 industry categories. Marketing and PR firms (who should be able to achieve stellar results) are 13%. The highest category is only 27%. It is a numbers game, so do not get discouraged. Above all, do not confuse activity with results in your accountability evaluation. A 100% open rate is worthless unless it generates sales, develops new leads or gathers useful marketing data.

Two other valuable statistics are your bounce rate (percentage of undeliverable emails) and your clickthrough rate (percentage of recipients who visit your website from the email link). The first shows how current and accurate your email lists are. The second provides a measure of the effectiveness of your online campaign. Compare both rates to industry averages as published by ConstantContact or one of the other vendors.

Consider the typical schedule and workload of your intended audience. Emails and surveys sent to accountants on April 14 or to retailers the week before Christmas are not going to achieve acceptable response rates.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Apply his philosophy by scheduling mailings on different days of the week and different times of the day. Never schedule a mailing immediately before or after a holiday. It will be deleted in the rush to leave early or buried in an avalanche of emails that piled up over the long weekend.

Also, experiment with the frequency of distributions. Depending on how you use email, you may decide to do weekly or monthly mailings. Get into a regular routine. Victoria’s Secret sends daily emails. My wife finds this excessive, presumptuous and annoying. I might be forced to unsubscribe if they do not slow down. Then again, maybe not. It is all about content.

Many recipients make snap decisions whether to open or delete an email based solely on its subject line. Choose something inviting that suggests a reason to read it. Titles in the form of questions, “how to” advice or lists (for example, Five Ways to Increase Your Sales) are usually effective.

Finally, always have someone proofread every communication before issuing it.

Have a great Easter weekend, I will be right here on Monday with a new topic to help you achieve Highly Visible Marketing. Best wishes until then.

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 3

Last week, I began a discussion of email marketing and surveys as marketing tools for your business. I continue with that same topic today with some simple suggestions to command more attention with your advertising campaigns. Consider the following ideas when developing your marketing plan.

Email marketing commands far more attention if it includes special offers, coupons or discounts. For example, there is a colorful gourmet restaurant near my home. It has been featured on the Food Network’s television show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. Friends and customers are treated to a coupon for a free serving of the restaurant’s signature dessert when they opt-in to the mailing list. They then receive a monthly newsletter that promotes new menu items, shares recipes, and so on. It always includes a coupon for a free dessert, 10% off an entree or a similar enticement. Their website and newsletters promote their Facebook page, Twitter account, blog and numerous YouTube videos. Visit www.chefpointcafe.org to see this outstanding example of an integrated Internet and social media marketing campaign. While I cannot comment on its financial success, I will tell you if you happen to be near Watauga, Texas around mealtime, stop in. However, plan on waiting in a long line.

  • Study emails you receive and think about what makes them appealing or ineffective. It is always cheaper to learn from someone else’s mistakes than to make them yourself!

Online or email surveys are such a flexible and valuable marketing tool that it is difficult to structure an argument not to conduct them on a regular basis. Most of the vendors listed on Friday offer survey capabilities, as do a myriad of other Internet vendors (see www.SurveyMonkey.com as an example). Several of the social media platforms discussed in Chapter 7 also offer free tools for simple surveys. Begin to explore these options by Goggling “Twitter survey tools.” Given the wide variety of competing vendors, there is probably no reason to spend more than $300 a year for even the largest of survey programs.

Surveys can offer feedback from current and former customers, or an entire market. They can also provide market intelligence on your competition and industry. Surveys monitor customer perceptions of your entire value proposition, namely your products, services and prices. They can also help uncover aspects of your value proposition that customers are unaware of, or perhaps undervalue relative to your costs.

While a complete outline of a survey program is well beyond the intended scope of this book, on Wednesday I will discuss a few quick points you should keep in mind.

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