Archive for Marketing Strategy

Small Business Owner as Artist

artist painting

Are you an artist?

My guess is most people who read this blog don’t consider themselves artists. I think you are an artist, here’s why.

Last weekend I was listening to an online workshop conducted by photographer Joel Grimes. The topic of the workshop was Creative Expression in Photography. In laying the groundwork for his talk, Joel made the following statement:

“If you have a passion to create, you are an artist.”

By that definition, almost every small business owner that I meet is an artist. I say “almost” because once in a while I run across someone who just gave themselves another job. But the majority of owners I meet, and the ones I love to work with, have that passion to create. They may be creating as part of their job, or their job may provide the means for pursuing their passion – either way, their business is more than just a job.

I’ve heard others talk about looking at your work as art. Seth Godin talks about this a lot. According to Seth:

“Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.”

In the past, I’ve always just sort of nodded and said to myself ‘I get it”, but it never really struck a chord with me. For some reason, when I heard Joel say it, it did strike a chord. It wasn’t just his definition, but his thoughts about how adopting the mindset that you are an artist affects your outlook of what you do and how you do it.

For example, one of the concepts Joel discussed was the concept of building a body of work. He explained that if an artist wants to be know for something, they need to build a body of work around that subject.

Building a body of work takes time. You get an idea, you try it out. You step back and evaluate it. You determine what worked and what didn’t. You figure out how to make it better next time. And then you start again.

A photographer may want to build a body of work consisting of 20 photographs. Photographers only want to show their best work, so they don’t just go out and take 20 snapshots and call it a day. How many photos do you think they take before they have twenty they want to show?A hundred? A thousand? I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s a heck of a lot more than 20.

It’s the same for business owners. We don’t create the perfect product or solution on the first try. We also try new ideas, evaluate our results, and work on improving. Creating a body of work around a specific type of solution for a specific type of customer takes work – we can’t just do it once and call ourselves specialists.

How we go about building our body of work also influences our happiness and success. Would you create 20 photographs that were all the same? Or take 20 “easy ones” in order to be done as quickly as possible? Or would you take more time, work on the difficult shots, forcing yourself out of your comfort zone in order to learn and grow?

Another lesson I took from the workshop is that defining yourself by your tools (or title) can limit you. Joel explained how changing his self view from photographer to artist helped him break free of the constraints of what was “technically correct” and create art that he enjoys making and his audience not only likes, but are willing to purchase at a premium price.

Have you ever limited yourself or your customer because “that’s just the way things are done in our industry”? If so, take another look, filling this type of unmet need may be the key to taking your business to the next level.

So why is any of this important for small business?

Viewing your work as art is one way to connect your passion to your daily activities. Many others much wiser than me have written about the connection of a larger purpose to your daily work as a key to success. The key is to actually implement it and I think Joel’s ideas on viewing yourself as an artist can help.

As you plan for the coming year, take some time to answer these questions:

  • How would your business be different if you looked at yourself as an artist?
  • What is your current body of work? How do you feel about it, does it represent your best work?
  • What will be your next body of work?
    • Will you chose it deliberately or by default?
    • Will it help you grow in your art?
    • Will you keep taking the same types of photos, or will you branch out and try something new?

What do you think? Can you see yourself building a body of work the way an artist does in 2014?

How to Balance Marketing Consultants and Internal Staff

elephant balancing on ball

What’s the best way to balance the use of internal staff and outside consultants to handle a company’s marketing function?

That was the topic of an interesting discussion I had with a small business owner this weekend. The issues we discussed are fairly common in the small business community, so I thought I would share them here. If you have experienced these issues yourself, I would love to hear how you addressed the situation – please leave your comments below.

The discussion had to do with how to hire for marketing when marketing is not a full time position and how to best use outside marketing expertise. Like most small businesses, they are used do doing things themselves; however, they also realize that sometimes it makes sense to get some outside help. Our discussion revolved around how to best balance outside and inside resources.

Just as small business owners wear many hats, so do their employees. Not every role in the company can be filled by one or more FTEs. It is a common scenario for someone to be assigned marketing tasks in addition to the other roles they fill. Sometimes an administrative person may assigned marketing duties. In a professional firm, it may be one of the partners who is assigned the marketing duties (and quickly delegates to his admin staff <g>).

This scenario can lead to a lot of frustration when a conscientious, hard worker, because they don’t have the knowledge (they are not a marketer) or direction (their boss is not a marketer) ends up in a role where they don’t know what “doing a good job” looks like. This frustration from their marketing role can also effect attitudes and performance in the other roles.

So what is the right approach for a small business? Should they hire for marketing experience but only if that person is willing to also perform other roles? Should they hire an admin who is willing to also learn to perform marketing tasks? Should they outsource? If so, what should they outsource and what should they keep in house?

Of course, every business has different needs and resources, but here is a scenario that many small business owners have used to their advantage:

  1. Work with an outside consultant to create a strategic marketing plan. This should be done using a collaborative approach. A marketing professional knows about marketing, but you know your business and your market. Be wary of consultants who want to interview you, go off and do some work, and then come back with a completed plan for you to follow. Doing something is better than doing nothing, but I’ve never seen this method deliver meaningful results.
  2. Use the strategic plan to create an action plan for the marketer(s). Your marketing tactics should support your strategy.  Your strategy should also help you filter your tactical choices. Without a strategy, every tactic sounds like it could be a good idea. Make sure your tactics help you reach the right people, with the right message, at the right time.
  3. Make sure the marketer has the tools to collect and report key metrics back to management. One of the benefits of being a small business marketer in today’s digital world is how easy it is to track the results of our marketing efforts. Incorporate reporting key metrics into your regular (I prefer quarterly) marketing planning and review sessions and you will start asking better questions (and finding better answers) about how you can improve your marketing efforts.
  4. Give the marketer access to the consultant to answer questions, provide recommendations on tools and resources, and learn about best practices. While this may be done on an ad-hoc basis, many businesses find it helpful to establish a coaching or mentoring relationship that includes an accountability component as part of the relationship.

In this example, “marketer” refers to internal staff assigned to marketing, but can equally apply to vendors to whom you outsource marketing activities.

In my experience, this scenario above works well because:

  1. Management is involved with the development of the marketing plan and strategy. They are then in a better position to delegate (vs abdicating) responsibility for marketing.
  2. The marketer now has a clear idea of what the goals are, what they should be doing to help reach those goals, and the support they need to achieve those goals. In other words, they now know how to do a good job.
  3. When the system provides feedback (and a regular planning process), management and the marketer tend to have a more collaborative relationship than when reviews are only conducted during performance review or contract renewal time. They are able to make better, data based decisions about what is working, what isn’t, and what to do about it.

Do you outsourced part or all of your marketing function? What has worked well for you? What lessons can you share with our readers?

How to Identify Your Ideal Customers

When we talk about small business marketing, we always talk about starting with a sound marketing strategy before jumping into tactics. One of key elements of your marketing strategy is identifying your ideal customer – those customers in your sweet spot, the ones you can really help, and the ones who truly value your unique approach and what you bring to the table.

Most small business marketers describe their ideal customers in terms of demographics – industry, income or revenue, location (zip codes), etc. Demographic information is helpful, but most small business owners benefit from asking two questions to help them identify their ideal customers first, and then use demographic (and other) information to help them find more customers who meet their ideal customer profile. Those two questions are:

Are They Profitable?

If you can, create a spreadsheet of your customers and list the amount and type of business you do with each. You might even rank them in order from most to least business over the last three years.

Now remember, revenue is not the same as profit. Your biggest customers may not be your most profitable ones. Determine which customers are your most profitable. Which types of work or projects are the most profitable? How much work are you doing that is not profitable? This exercise can be a real eye opener.

Do They Refer You To Others?

Once you have identified your profitable customers, make a new column in your spreadsheet where you can identify the customers who are known referral sources. Consider this: Only happy clients refer and happy clients are most often happy because you or your approach is a good match for what they needed. This narrow group of profitable clients, the ones that also refer, holds the key to discovering your ideal client profile.

Now that you have identified your profitable customers who also refer you to others, learn everything you can about them that will help you find more customers just like them.

P.S. – More tips on creating your ideal customer profile and creating a marketing strategy can be found in this free small business marketing strategy guide.

Creating Social Media Strategies That Drive Business Results

Do you have a social media strategy for your business?

As small business owners are becoming more comfortable with social media, many want to know how to create strategies and plans to use social media tools to drive business results.

Many small business owners, and many of the consultants they hire, jump right to tactics without taking the overall business and marketing strategy into account.

Selecting tools that make publishing easier (i.e. Hootsuite and TweetDeck) and creating a schedule of who will post what, when, are important parts of your execution plan. However, the execution plan is not the same as a strategy. If the tactics you are executing are not rooted in a strategy, then these tools will only help you fail more efficiently.

Before you jump into selecting your tools and creating your publishing calendar, take a few minutes to consider these 3 questions:

1. What do you want to gain from your social media plan?

Have you defined what success will look like for your social media plan? Having a clearly defined business goal, whether it is building a community, driving traffic to your offline store, or enhancing your customer service, is the first step the first step to creating a successful social media plan.

2. What do you do or offer that people will want to talk about?

People will talk about and share things for their own reasons, not for yours. Do you know what your audience wants to talk about? Sometimes, they may want to talk about the features of the products and services that you offer; more often they want to talk about the benefits those product, services, or just knowing you, bring to their lives. If you want to be part of the conversation, talk about the things that interest your ideal customers.

3. How do you make money and how can social impact that?

Do you make money by selling products online? Do you have brick and mortar stores? Do you sell directly or through affiliates? Are you a consultant looking for long term engagements? The answers to these questions will make a difference in how you use social media in your business.

If you want to create a social media plan that drives business results, start by asking and answering these 3 questions.

Marketing Catalyst Online Marketing Resource Center

Regular visitors here know that I my job is to help business owners consistently attract their ideal customers by installing the Duct Tape Marketing system in their business. The Marketing Catalyst is one of the main ways we do this (the other is our Managed Marketing programs).

Recently we added a new online marketing resource center to the Marketing Catalyst program. The resource center is a private website that hosts all of the course outlines, workbooks, audio, and video files as well as links to external resources – everything we use when helping customers implement the Duct Tape Marketing system in their business.

Having these resources online provides a number of advantages over the previous, paper based resources we offered. Using multimedia, we can cater to the way you like to learn. The online resources are much easier to update – an important feature in today’s rapidly changing marketing world. Having the resources online also makes it easier for you to share with your employees and co-workers and keep them informed about your businesses marketing goals and plans.

Another nice feature of having these resources online is it makes it easier for me to show you what the program is like by offering you a free trial. The free trial gives you full access to Session #1. You can also see the outline for the other sessions in the program, giving you a feel for what you will accomplish in the overall program. To get your free trial, simply click on this link.

For more information about Duct Tape Marketing and the Marketing Catalyst program, watch this short video featuring John Jantsch, the founder of Duct Tape Marketing.

Please contact me if you have any questions or need help accessing your free trial.

Marketing Strategy – Channels vs. Function

Strategy-ChessMarketing strategy before tactics – if you have visited this blog before, or have heard any of my fellow Duct Tape Marketing Consultants speak, then I am sure you are familiar with this concept.

But how do you know if you are focusing too much on tactics and not enough on strategy? I think you can tell a lot by the starting point your choose and the questions you ask when you begin working on your marketing plan.

When we focus on tactics we tend to focus on marketing channels, ways to “get our message out there”. You can tell if you are focused on tactics if you start your marketing plan by creating a list like this:

  • social media
  • direct mail
  • advertising- online and offline
  • PR
  • Video
  • email marketing

When we focus on tactics, there is a tendency to stress efficiency over effectiveness. “How many different ways can I blast out my message?” becomes the primary question we try to answer.

However, when we focus on marketing strategy, we tend to focus on function – the purpose or goal we are trying to achieve. When we focus on function, we start working on our marketing plan by creating a list like this:

  • How to I find new customers?
  • How do I keep more of my existing customers?
  • How do I get more referrals?
  • Can I re-activate or re-engage my former customers?

When we focus on function, we start by thinking about the customer. What do the need? What motivates them? How do they make decisions? How can I provide what they are looking for?

When we focus on our marketing strategy, we begin with function and then decide on the appropriate channels to help our ideal customers find what they need.

Don’t mistake a list of tactics and channels for a marketing strategy. Focus on the needs of your customers and the goals of your business first and let the tactics follow.

When Is A Lead Sales-Ready?

cooking_timerNot every lead you generate comes to you “ready to buy”.  Some leads will never buy your products or services. According to some studies, only 25% of new leads could be considered sales-ready (I think that may be high), and upwards of 25% are probably never going to buy from your business.

That leaves approximately 50% of your leads who may buy from you at some point but are not ready to buy right now. Our challenge in dealing with these 50% is this two fold – 1) how to we stay “top of mind” so they will remember us when they are ready to buy and 2) how do we know when it is appropriate to move from a marketing conversation to a sales conversation?

For professional service providers, achieving and maintaining top of mind status is typically achieved by sharing relevant and timely information on a consistent basis with your prospective customers. Electronic newsletters are a common way to “stay in touch” these days, but phone calls, handwritten notes, whitepapers, and recorded webinars are all great ways to deliver relevant information while establishing yourself as an expert and building Know, Like, and Trust.

Detecting when to shift from a marketing conversation to a sales conversation can be a little trickier. With today’s emphasis on marketing with digital media, marketing conversations typically do not take place face-to-face, so it can be difficult to detect a prospects level of interest. Therefore, many professional service firms just wait for the prospect to initiate a sales conversation.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, What Type of Salesperson Is Your Website?, some marketing automation tools give us the ability to detect our prospects’ “digital body language”, providing us clues about the sales readiness of a particular prospect.

Before spending money on a marketing automation software solution, it is important to think about the criteria that you will use to define when a prospect is ready to have a sales conversation. Software vendors usually refer to this as “lead scoring”. The basic idea behind lead scoring is you assign values to your prospects attributes and behaviors. You then adjust your end of the conversation to match the prospects level of interest and where they are in their particular buying process.

If you have different people fulfilling the sales and marketing roles in your business, one of the best things you can do to insure they are aligned with the same goals is to have them work together to develop the criteria of what constitutes a sales ready lead.

When working on your lead scoring scheme, you should take the following three broad categories of criteria into account:

1. Demographic Data: Geographic location, company size, industry, position in organization, etc.

2. Lead Source Data: Where did the lead came from – web search, tradeshow, referral, advertisement, etc.? What questions or search terms led them to you? What business problem are they trying to solve?

3. Behavioral Data: Knowledge of whether they visited your website or read your content marketing materials. Different actions should carry different scores – visiting your pricing page should receive a higher score than a visit to the careers page.

Once you collect this sort of intelligence, you can use it to determine a prospects area of interest (which pages did they visit) as well as their level of interest (did they visit an area multiple times, download related resources, or return to the site more than once?).

Use what you learn to adjust your communications to the appropriate level. If someone’s behavior indicates they are in research mode you may want to send them a whitepaper or case study. A repeat visitor who has consumed most of your marketing content may appreciate a phone call to help answer any questions they still have that are preventing them from moving forward.

Like all marketing tactics, success with lead scoring and marketing automation is dependent on having a sound marketing strategy in place. If you are not sure if you are ready for marketing automation, may I suggest taking advantage of our free Signature Brand Marketing Audit.

People Buy Your Why

Have you had a chance to read the book Start with Why (Amazon affiliate link) by Simon Sinek? The big idea from this book is people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. The book explains how the part of our brain that is responsible for decision making is different from the part of the brain that is responsible for language and the challenges that presents when we try to aspire others to take action.

In Duct Tape Marketing, we are always talking about the principle of “strategy before tactics”. I find that while most business owners agree with this concept on an intellectual level, they often struggle with putting it into practice. I believe the ideas in Simon’s book line up perfectly with this principle – first we have to be clear about our WHY. With a crystal clear WHY, almost any tactic can be successful.

If you have taken the time to really think about your ideal customers, I’m willing to bet that once you got past the typical demographics (industry, geography, revenue, etc.) you will find  indications that your best customers share one or more of your beliefs. They like what you stand for. You both value your relationship. As marketers, we sometimes muddy this up by calling it your Core Difference or some other name but it’s really just your WHY.

We marketers are also fond of saying “marketing is everyone’s job”. What if we replaced that with “everyone should understand and be able to communicate our WHY”? What effect would that have on your business? Would it change more than marketing? I think so.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Simon’s book, I highly recommend it. Start your marketing  with WHY, find customers who believe what you believe and work together so that everyone can succeed.

Strategy Before Tactics Saves You Money

Over the weekend, I read an interesting post on the CRM & Tech for the Small Business Blog titled – Top 3 Reasons Why Changing CRM Software Won’t Help. The post describes three common scenarios where small business owners decide to try to solve a particular problem by purchasing a new CRM (customer relationship management) system.

The post provides several counter arguments to the “excuses” typically raised in these scenarios. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the arguments raised in this post, it did remind me of a common theme that is often the root cause of these frustrations – putting tactics before strategy.

Of course, we usually don’t see the lack of strategy as the problem. We see the symptoms, the biggest being frustration from having spent a lot of money and not seeing any significant returns.

This practice of selecting a tool and then trying to “back into” a strategy is one that I have seen and have been arguing against since my early days (those dark days before the internet) of automating business systems. I still believe that we need to create a business system before we try to automate it.

In the case of CRM, that means having a sales and\or marketing processes defined before trying to select a tool to automate it. If you purchase a technology with the idea that it will “give you a process”, you are in for a frustrating journey. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but if it does work, it will take longer and be more expensive than needed.

Many businesses have learned the hard way, that there is a big difference between conducting a free webinar and conducting a webinar based marketing campaign which includes planning, promoting, presenting, and following up.

The same thing happens with web sites, blogs, social media tools, email marketing, and webinar services. Often we are told we must be doing these things, so we make the purchase before knowing how it fits into our strategy. Then we either try to make-it-fit later or just let the project die.

“Strategy before tactics” may be one of those phrases that seems cliché, but it can save you a lot of money and frustration if you put it into practice.

How Often Do You Review Your Marketing Plan?

I really like the point Tim Berry makes in Business Planning Is Not About Pages. As Tim says about business plans, marketing plan summaries can be useful and have their place, but a summary is not the plan. I love the distinction Tim makes the planning process and output:

“And for the record, that 10-page business plan, or the 20-page or 50-page business plan, those aren’t plans either: they’re output. They are a snapshot of what the plan was at one time. By the time you’ve printed them out, if there’s good planning going on, they are already out of date.”

Last year I wrote about The Marketing Plan Review Process – Your Key to Marketing Success in my April newsletter. I firmly believe that having a marketing plan review process in place is the key to effectively growing your service firm. Overall, I would say having a regular review process it is second only to creating a sound marketing strategy.

How often to you review the marketing plan at your firm? In my newsletter article, I mentioned that I prefer to conduct review monthly. What do you think about that – too often? Not often enough? I’d be interested in learning how often your firm reviews and updates your marketing plan.