Almost by definition, small businesses can find room for improvement in their marketing. With that in mind, here is a checklist to help you do just that.
Articulate your strengths
Your greatest strengths could be your education or training, your individual mix of complimenting professional experiences, or your character features. Write out the answers to the following — longer term, think about getting testimonials from clients to provide social proof:
- What makes you different from your competitors?
- What do you focus on when working on a project for your client: Is it the quality? Meeting the deadline? Keeping the project within the set budget?
- Remember your biggest successes in life: What was the challenge? And how did you surmount them.
Work your network
Your closest network consists of your family, your friends, your neighbors, school mates, former colleagues, sport pals, and other acquaintances. Here are some ways to leverage your relationships with them to help market your business:
- Tell them on a regular basis how you help your clients and with what problems people can come to you and find help.
- Ask them to recommend your services.
- Ask them to suggest to you people who might use your services or products.
- Offer a free service if they recommend you to their contacts.
- Give them some of your merchandise.
Grow your network by joining business associations and attending relevant events and meet-ups. At each gathering, make a point of telling at least one new person how you help clients and your latest success stories.
Tap your clients
Your existing clients are a valuable source of feedback and potential promotion of your business and services.
- Ask them for recommendations.
- Call old clients and tell them what additional services you offer and about special promotions.
- Start a regular email with free advice that may help your clients in some way.
- Offer them a current analysis with action recommendations for potential client introductions.
Do everything you can to extend your brand beyond its current reach. For example:
- Create social media pages when you have time to update them on a regular basis.
- Seek out online groups and blogs and comment on topics that fit your expertise.
- Give lectures at your city college or presentations at industry events and publish about them on your website and social media pages.
- Write expert articles and send them to industry related publications or even your local paper.
- Publish the articles on your website or add a link to the article on the website of the industry association.
- Research your industry vertical and engage in cross promotion
Readers, what would you add to this checklist of marketing for small businesses?
Want to make more money right away? Becoming more productive is the fastest way to increase your earnings. You actually need to do that in order to keep up with the rest of the economy: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says productivity is growing 3 percent annually.
You can boost your own productivity by getting more organized. Even if neatness seems totally against your nature, taking small steps toward decluttering your work environment will do wonders for your output. Ditto for making better use of personal planning tools that are already at your fingertips.
Here’s a very simple list of things that will help you get started on the path toward improved productivity.
Make a List
Start keeping a to-do list if you don’t already. Maintain it in the calendar feature within your smartphone or email software, for use as a springboard to manage your time. Set up automated alerts to consult your to-do list, and whenever you consult it afresh, try to consolidate tasks. Ultimately work toward scheduling tasks on your list, and you’ll start to get more done in less time.
Schedule time on your calendar for organizing, and stick to the schedule. Make it a regular occurrence and each time focus on a different aspect of organization.
The more you designate locations for things, the easier they become to find and the more time you save as a result. So whenever possible, put things in files or containers, and create labels for them that legibly list the contents. Start by marking three boxes with the labels “keep,” “toss,” “sort” to begin the process of putting things in files and containers. Then work on going through each of the three boxes during your scheduled organization time. Try to group things logically, putting similar items together.
Consolidate Your Work Space
Apply consolidation logic to your desk and work space. Toss out anything that is broken or doesn’t work properly. If you find duplicates of anything you have more than one of, either get rid of the extra or put it in a box with other duplicates that you can turn to in the event something breaks.
Anytime you have to add anything to your desk or work area, try to eliminate something. You will probably need to consciously remind yourself to do this — most likely you’ll catch yourself in the act of augmenting and have to force yourself to do the necessary subtraction – for a while before it becomes a habit.
Don’t Just Move Things Around
Don’t let consolidation devolve into simply transferring clutter from one location to another: This can lead to a complacent delusion that you’ve done more organizational work than you actually have. Rather than move something from one place to another, tackle it in its original location.
Cultivate Free Space
Completely clear out one space in your work environment — it will ultimately become the location where you put something that previously did not have anywhere to go, preventing clutter from beginning again. Once you find you no longer have an empty space, find another area to clear out so that you can avert the next clutter situation the next time you need to add something to your work environment.
These tips only scratch the surface, and in fact may inspire other good organizational habits once you get going. The more you practice them, the more your productivity will increase. Speaking of which, what tactics have helped you become more productive, readers?
When faced with the potential loss of a business relationship, it’s almost tempting to risk not correcting the mistake, in the hope that others won’t be able to detect the error. Of course, not making things right is in effect another mistake. There’s a fine art to correcting mistakes, and it involves four things: punctuality, accountability, charm, and generosity.
The difference between a small mistake and a big problem often comes down to timing: Agonizing over how to fix the situation can waste a lot of time in a way that exacerbates the original error. Communicate about it as soon as possible, apologizing for the inconvenience and promising a generous remedy.
Even if it really wasn’t your fault, you look much better when you claim responsibility for the mistake than when you blame others. Similarly, truthfulness about what happened goes over better than anything you could possibly fabricate. A classic lie to avoid: saying your technology was hacked when it wasn’t — even people who aren’t tech savvy can see through that excuse.
Infusing charm into all of your business dealings is the adult version of “Just a Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins — the medicine goes down in the most delightful way. The need to be pleasant might be obvious, but less so is being graceful under pressure. It’s natural to feel stressed out or anxious about a mistake. But letting any hint of that seep into your communications could make them backfire. Take deep breaths and relax before you start talking.
Actions speak louder than words, and that goes for making amends instead of just saying you’re sorry. Offer some form of gift, coupon or discount with an apology and you might not just keep a business relationship, but possibly strengthen it.Nobody’s perfect, and the people you want to continue doing business with agree. If they don’t, and you lose a relationship with a perfectionist, you’ll still be able to learn from the experience. Don’t make the same mistake twice.
In our information flooded world, people are battered with all kinds of things demanding their attention. A person needs to get a message five or more times before they pay attention, remember and act on the information. That means a non-integrated, singular marketing activity wastes time and money.
An integrated marketing communications campaign allows you to vary the presentation of the message while conveying a consistent content. Ask a marketing services firm to help you if planning and executing an integrated marketing campaign feels overwhelming.
Let’s say you want potential customers to know that you offer the miracle machine for fighting the physical signs of aging in your newly opened studio with the goal to sell them a bundle of treatments.
An integrated marketing communication campaign could consist of a three-month campaign using social media, your website, a white paper, email marketing, editorial
content in an offline publication and advertising, Google Offers, postcards, sandwich boards for the sidewalk and event marketing with an offline open studio event.
How Do You Make Sure a Marketing Communication Campaign Is Really Integrated?
To integrate your message visually over all channels you need a corporate design that includes a logo, a tagline with the essence of what you offer, a color scheme and shapes that enhance the appeal and eases recognition of a visual design and transport your core message.
If all you have now is a logo and a tagline, ask a graphic designer to suggest a color scheme and shapes that can be used. Blood red and black or needle sharp shapes are probably not conducive to entice your target group to seek treatment in your studio.
The best way to articulate a goal or objective is by answering a series of questions about what you want from the campaign. Ask what outcomes you seek, such as:
- Increasing visibility and awareness;
- Building trust for your product and services;
- Differentiating yourself from your competitors;
- Counteracting bad press;
- Getting new customers or upselling existing ones.
Then, ask yourself what you expect or hope that your target group will think or do as a result of your campaign. Think of how you can measure that; it might not require polls or surveys if you have good analytics or “social listening” software.
Once you determine your metrics and measurement tactics, try to anticipate what you might learn from a poor response. In other words, how might you adjust your campaign one way or another based on the outcome?
Limit your research to what your goal is and your budget allows. Find out how potential competitors market themselves, even if what they offer is only vaguely similar. Take note of the most successful of their marketing tactics and ask yourself why they were successful — and similarly, learn from their mistakes and differentiate yourself from those things. Use all of this data to help determine how your campaign will fare.
Maintaining youth promises appeal probably mainly to women over 40 with a medium and higher income. You can get an insight into your local demographics from the U.S. Census website. Do you know enough about your target group’s preferences: gathering places and communication styles (i.e., face-to-face, phone, text, image or video, sheer facts or flowery marketing language)? And how would your target group benefit from the goal that you’re pursuing?
Remember the acronym AIDA as the formula for getting people to connect with your marketing message:
- Attention: Get people’s attention and they become aware of your product or service;
- Interest: Get people interested by demonstrating advantages and benefits of your product or service;
- Desire – Convince people your product or service will satisfy their needs, so they desire it;
- Action: Lead people to act, either by purchasing or contacting you for more information.
Attention is captured by standing out from the environment where the message is conveyed. Interest is captivated by promising an answer to the needs of the target group. Desire means that the person becomes motivated to get the promised benefit. The promise may be on an emotional or material level like feeling more self-assured and attractive, less vulnerable in a youth worshiping world, or getting a discount, a prize or a freebee. The call for action needs to be followed by the means to get in contact with you either by phone, email, interactive social media websites or snail mail and street address of your studio and opening times.
Make sure that you hit up three main points in your message in a consistent and clear manner with the tone and appeal appropriate for your target group and your goal. Slang, goth or hip-hop elements are probably not the right way to address baby boomers.
The channels you choose need to be the preferred information and discussion outlets of your target group. Each channel has its inherent ability to convey a message. For example, if your message entails something that happens over time and you want to show a development you want to choose a video. If your target group has an academic background, they might just want to scan a text message for keywords instead of taking the time to watch a video.
An image says more than 1,000 words, so use an image whenever the image supports your message. Watch out for diverging image and text meanings! Cognitive dissonance can be helpful if deliberately used to achieve your goal — or it may just irritate and repel the recipient. Take advantage of the various channel characteristics in your campaign and make sure that you keep the corporate design and tone and appeal across all channels which is crucial for an integrated marketing communication campaign.
Integrate the community: Groups, associations, or businesses may exist that don’t sell the same products or services but are interested in your target group for other reasons: Check your neighborhood for local restaurants, cafes or bars to hairstylists or apparel stores with community boards. They may help you in reaching your goal by sharing or linking to your content, sponsoring food and drinks for your event or providing expertise and support, or other resources.
Identify your potential partners and prioritize them according to ease of access to them and probability of their willingness to collaborate. Develop a proposal strategy so that each potential partner sees their particular benefit in working with you. Keep in contact with those who were interested or collaborated with an occasional note pertinent to your common interest.
Assuming there have been similar marketing campaigns: How does your creativity measure up against those? Does your message really stand out in a positive way or is it just a “me too?” If you’re unsure how to measure your creativity you will find reference points here where creativity is explained as a function of novelty of form and content that spans the spectrum of imitation, variation, combination, transformation and original creation.
Check if all the parts of your marketing campaign are effective: Content related to the benefit of the recipient, visual design creative and appropriate to content and target group; if video is part of your campaign make sure that you have good speakers who have a melodious voice and give fluently important information. Some webinars or YouTube videos are unbearably amateurish. If you can’t do it right don’t do it at all. Bad marketing communication is counterproductive. Assure quality of every single step and module.
This includes, for instance, checking online content in different browsers and with different computer screens for formatting or color issues. Print can surprise with unwanted color changes and blurriness. Checking out a proof before printing the whole lot is a good suggestion. And particularly watch out that the phone number and street address is correct before publishing anything online or offline.
How would your integrated campaign flow?
Choose the right social media outlets for reaching your chosen demographics. There you can create your company pages and offer a continuous flow of information about your treatments and successes. Use your website to offer a white paper (e.g., about the newest methods to maintain a youthful appearance) to be send to their email address. The expressed interest and email addresses can be integrated in an email marketing campaign.
Google Offers is a good way to promote a special deal and allows you to get even more email addresses of your target group. Again, the interest in this particular offer can be integrated in email marketing campaigns. Editorial and advertising in print media can be expensive. If you can afford it, launch your editorial content — for example, an interview with a medical doctor about the advantages of using the miracle machine. Accompany the editorial with an ad for your studio.
Design an attractive sandwich board for the sidewalk to make pedestrians aware of your studio and the benefits of getting treatment. Spice it up with promotions that change weekly. People only notice things that keep changing. Something that doesn’t change fades into the background.
Distribute postcards that advertise your “open studio” event with a discount coupon in collaborating shops in your neighborhood. Put a color code sticker on the postcard so that you know from which shop they came and identify the partner who brought in the most. Ask people to send you an email to RSVP to the event since you need to plan for drinks and food. Then you have the email of a potential customer even when they don’t show up. Make your ”open studio” event count. Set yourself a goal how many people you want to sign up for a treatment bundle.
Online marketing has the advantage that data is electronically present and can automatically be analyzed. Success can be measured with the help of social media, blog and website analytics or email marketing metrics.
The success of offline marketing tools is much more difficult to measure because it involves active participation of recipients or attendees in a survey — be it by an actual interview from person to person or directing them to an online survey. This is time consuming and involves special skills. It is best to ask a marketing services firm to conduct the follow-up interviews.
Readers, how do your marketing efforts compare with what we’ve described here? What would you like to improve upon?
LinkedIn is an underutilized resource. Optimize your presence on that social network and you can leapfrog ahead of the competition.
Do a Google search for information about LinkedIn, and you find a lot of articles about improving profiles, from a job seeker’s perspective, and a relative minority are written about how businesses can boost their presence on the site. Here’s how we will up the ante on the discussion: Optimize both! Your business benefits if all of your employees put the best forward on LinkedIn, since their profiles all link to your page.
Most likely you won’t be able to get every single one of your employees to do this with their profiles. In fact, it might just be that whoever handles the page optimization becomes the only person to optimize a profile to match. It would be great if everyone on your staff used professionally prepared biographies on their profiles, but that might take more resources than you care to devote to this effort. More realistic: supply your staff with a list of keywords to add to the skills section of their profiles.
This section happens to be one of the most underutilized parts of LinkedIn profiles, as it offers the social networking version of search engine optimization (SEO). You can add up to 50 different terms to the skills section, yet most people only have a couple dozen at most. There was even less of this before LinkedIn launched the endorsement feature, whereby people could vouch for your skills. This has added skills to profiles that didn’t have them before.
Now, select the relevant keywords from your staff’s skills lists and work them into your company’s LinkedIn page. Incorporate these terms into the description of your business and what it offers. Use the same terminology in the status updates you’ll be posting to the site every day — yes, you can post them as a page and on your own profile. The same goes for posts to groups, both the ones you create and the ones you join: work your terms in. Ditto for the questions and answers part of the site.
Contributing content to the site on a regular basis will also position you better in search results, both for a page and a profile. Try to put up something at least once a day. Also, including images also increases your social SEO, since they foster more engagement than any other type of material.
Readers, how does your LinkedIn presence stack up?
Business-to-business startups may have a harder time marketing themselves on Facebook than consumer-facing brands do, but by no means should this be an excuse to forego social media nor online promotions overall. A nifty roadmap for scaling up on various social networks appears in the infographic below, created by Introhive. Please let us know what you think of it in the comments section beneath this post.
No organization is safe from crises – any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, significantly damage reputation or negatively impact the bottom line.
The causes are many and hardly calculable. But whenever there’s a problematic event, it’s exacerbated by poor communication. Any shortfall in crisis management can turn an incident into a scandal, especially now that people can spread the word faster than ever via social media. The negativity can travel internationally within minutes, doing damage to an organization’s image and credibility.
The best way to handle crises is to prepare for them in advance. Begin by brainstorming different worst-possible-case scenarios and develop communications strategies for them. Ideally this work should involve collaboration with stakeholders from different departments — including legal — to create a crisis preparation manual.
It should cover as many crisis situations, and as many aspects of each situation, as possible. It should designate a crisis communication team consisting of people who are easy to reach and capable of making the right statements as soon as possible.
This manual should also help employees beyond the crisis communication team understand their responsibilities an emergency — typically, you want to train and authorize the broadest swath of staff to be able to make basic statements acknowledging the situation and explaining that the company is working on a solution.
More advanced messaging would be handled by trained media spokespeople. Map out who would communicate different types of messages via various communication channels.
These individuals would have predeveloped messages reflecting the company’s overall vision, mission and goal, the preparedness to deal with the crisis competently and which resources are and can be employed. They should reinforce the positive and be action or solution oriented. The idea is to not allow for there to be a delay in response or even a “no comment” in these situations.
The communications plan should even cover what to do if the answer to a question is unknown or not immediately available: The individual who fields it should immediately acknowledge the inquiry and tell whoever asked that “we will get back to you once we have an answer to that.” Or, if the answer to a question is not allowed to be shared for policy reasons — such as privacy of personnel information — that policy should be conveyed right away.
That said, here are some examples of acknowledgement messages that could be provided to the broadest swath of staff possible to enable swift replies to crisis situations:
- “We have implemented our crisis response plan, which places the highest priority on the health and safety of everyone involved.”
- “We are deeply saddened upon learning of…”
- “We extend our deepest regret and concern for…”
- “We have undergone a rigorous risk management process to prevent…”
- “We are is committed to collaborative efforts that can reduce the…”
- “Our hearts and minds are with…”
- “We will be supplying additional information when it is available and posting it on our website.”
Once a crisis communication plan is committed to writing, you can do the messaging version of fire drills: Roleplay different crisis scenarios over and over again with everyone on the crisis communication team, making sure they all know the contents of the crisis management manual inside and out.
Schedule at least quarterly reviews of the crisis communication manual to check if it is still up to date. Updates could range from personnel changes — designated pointpeople might have left the company or changed departments — and new emergency scenarios based on recent current events. Additionally, any technology upgrades at the company or other innovations would need to be incorporated, possibly requiring the revision of related processes. Finally, check for weaknesses or ambiguities and eliminate them.
When in doubt about any aspect of crisis communications, enlist help from experts who can help you prepare for different scenarios. No matter whether you do crisis communications with a third party or entirely in-house, the end result should equip you to maintain the ability to act quickly even in the worst situations.
Our webinar, “Content Marketing That Will Make You Rich,” debuted at the Online Marketing Institute’s Integrated Brand and Agency Marketer Summit and is available to stream on demand on the organization’s website. Get a taste of what it’s about by taking a gander at the PowerPoint slides embedded below. Let us know what you think of it in the comments section.
Getting noticed online gets increasingly harder as webpages proliferate and Google expands the factors considered in its search algorithm — there are now 200 things affecting rank. Knowing how it works can help you make your business more accessible to users, even if what you actually offer is rather complex. The following infographic does a nifty job of explaining how Google works. Let us know what you think of it in the comments section.
Some people remain cynical about social media, which makes it necessary for marketers to continue to make the case for it to their internal stakeholders. The following infographic offers a nice shortcut on that with a list of ten reasons why small businesses can’t ignore social media.