Archive for the ‘Marketing Strategy’ Category

It’s 2013; get a website already

Monday, January 28th, 2013

If you ask a room-full of small business owners whether they have a website, a surprisingly large number will look you straight in the eye and say, “I don’t need one.”

This group tends to include some of the smallest businesses, like handymen, gutter cleaners and house painters. But it also includes a surprising number of businesses with higher overhead and more at stake: mechanics, limousine services, even some restaurants and retailers.

But today, a website is like a telephone and a business card: You shouldn’t even think of doing business without one.

Why you need a website

According to Pew Research, one out of three people who own cell phones use them to access the internet to decide whether to visit a business. That doesn’t include the larger number of people who use computers and tablets for the same purpose. Are these all people you don’t want as customers?

For the smallest businesses, a website can act as an extra set of hands – providing information without you having to stop work to answer the phone. It also puts you on equal footing with larger competitors. Finally, in an era when fewer and fewer people use phone books, it may be the best way to make sure people can find you.

Even the simplest website can present your business as organized and serious; it broadcasts that you want people to find you and learn about you. Not having a website says the opposite: that your business is marginal or indifferent.

Here are the most common reasons small-business owners tell me they don’t have a website – along with some push-back.

I get all my business by word-of-mouth: That will likely be the case even with a website. But people who are referred to you may still want to see your website before making a call. You’ll never know how much business you didn’t get because such people discovered you don’t have one.

Most of my customers are older and don’t use the Internet: Are they so old that they’re likely to die before you? If so, the younger customers you’ll need to replace them are more likely to use the Web to pre-qualify businesses like yours.

All my customers are local; I don’t need a website to reach people in Idaho: If a website reaches people in Idaho, it’s reaching more people close to home, because Google and all the other major search engines now use geographic location in determining search results. Reaching people outside your geographic area may not be the goal of your website, but when it happens, it doesn’t cost more and it doesn’t hurt anything.

I don’t have anything to put on a website: In my experience, this is the real reason many people never get around to building a website. When pushed to make a case why anyone should do business with them, they freeze. Organizing the description and value of your business can make your brain ache, but it’s critically important – and not just for your website.

I don’t have time and I don’t have the money for someone to do it for me: If you thought it was importnat, you would have made time.

Building a simple site

Lots of small businesses have integrated the Internet with their day-to-day operations by building feature-rich websites with blogs and appointment-schedulers and other add-ons. This can be invaluable, but it also costs more money and requires someone to maintain and update content.

You don’t have to do this. A website does not have to change the way you do business. It doesn’t need to have state-of-the-art social media integration. It doesn’t need to be optimized to show up at the top of search engine rankings. There’s nothing wrong with a simple website that provides basic information and seldom changes.

Three things are required to build your first website: A domain name; a hosting service and a simple drag-and-drop platform on which to build your website. All three should cost around $100 a year, and the large hosting services like GoDaddy and 1&1 provide everything you need in one place (and you’ll enjoy it about as much as a trip to Walmart on Dec. 24). If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the process, ask for help from a friend who has already been through it; it’ll cost you a six-pack.

The harder job for most people is figuring out what to put on the website. So make it simple. I suggest starting with just 4 pages:

Home: The introductory landing page that provides basic information about what your business does and who it serves.

Services: A page that goes into a little detail about what you offer. It doesn’t have to say much – just a list of the things you do.

About: A page that provides background about you and the business; use the same stuff that you say to prospective customers when trying to close a sale or deal with them.

Contact: It’s enough if you provide an e-mail address and phone number. Also include your mailing address – in case somebody wants to send you a check some day.

After the website is up and running, you may decide to add one or two more pages:

  • Testimonials from customers
  • A gallery of photos, if appropriate, of work you’ve done

One warning: Don’t illustrate your website with photos that you “scrape” from other websites or from Google Images. Most of these are copyrighted, require a license and royalties. If you need photos, try or Stock.xchng, where photos really are free to use as long as you follow their guidelines.

Don’t worry about all the other fragments of knowledge you hear about building a good website. They all have their time and place. But for you, it’s enough to establish your online presence and then get back to business. You’ll be glad you did.


Your business card is not an ad

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Work boots are like soccer shoes in the sense that they both provide a protective covering for your feet. But if you play soccer or work in a steel plant, they are anything but interchangeable.

Your marketing materials are purpose built in the same way. A brochure isn’t interchangeable with a frequent buyer’s card any more than work boots are interchangeable with soccer cleats.

People who run their own small businesses are hard-working and busy. They typically seek to leverage time and money by applying one solution to as many problems as possible.

Small publications take advantage of that tendency by creating ads that are the same size as a standard business card. Business owners don’t have to think or spend to design an ad, and the publication gets a quick signature on a contract.

But just because it’s cheap and easy doesn’t mean it’s smart. In fact, it’s usually a waste of money. Business cards and advertisements are simply designed for different work.

The job of business cards is to make it easy for people to reach you. And that’s all they does. They work because you hand them out to people who have already expressed an interest in what you do.

On the other hand, the job of an advertisement is to help people decide if they’re interested in what you do. It has to tell people what you do, and how you do it better (or differently) than others. It also may need to include a coupon or special offer of some kind to allow you to track results. And, of course, it must include at least a few critical bits of contact information.

If you plan to advertise, spend time thinking about how your ad must differ from your business card in order to really sell your product or service. If you’re not able to make that commitment, then find another way to invest in your business.

Because running a business card as an ad probably won’t generate results. But it will indicate that you ‘re someone who thinks it’s a good idea to play soccer in work boots.

Image courtesy of Luigi Diamanti/

Names make news (2.0)

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Photo courtesy

Two years out of college, as a young reporter for a business weekly in Upstate New York, I met the crusty old publisher of the Pacific Business News – a business journal in Honolulu. I didn’t like him much. I was idealistic and ready to change the world. I was living in the snow belt and learning how businesses work. I was reporting on Michael Milken (a Master of the Universe, the junk-bond king, deal-maker supreme) and leveraged buyouts. I was writing about how empires were made, how old cities were rebuilt, how capitalism made the world turn.

This old guy, meanwhile, was living in paradise and frustratingly pragmatic. Standing before a room full of wide-eyed people like me, he was asked to dispense some advice to us young guns. After something like 50 years in business, you know what he came up with?
“Names make news,” he said. That was it.
To look at his newspaper was to understand how this pedestrian philosophy played out in the real world. While it has been updated over the past 25 years to get ahead of changing times, the product I saw that day was gray and cheap. Articles were short, reading as if written by flacks and hacks. Every person’s name that was mentioned – there were a lot of them – was bold-faced. Some articles seemed concocted for the specific purpose of highlighting a large roster of names.
I was unimpressed. I promptly forgot that old publisher’s name and promised myself I’d forget his tired old advice too.
What I discounted was his experience. He’d been running the same publication for something like 50 years. It’s possible, I now realize, he had learned and discarded many other truths along the way – distilling his success into one rule of thumb that fostered success for his product in his market at his time.
Names make news.
I never did manage to forget that advice, and while it’s not the only rule I’ve lived by over the years, it has never failed me.
It came back in a rush this morning when Seth Godin’s most recent blog post came through my e-mail. Seth is a marketing guru; he dispenses more good advice in a week than many of us dispense in a lifetime.
Seth’s advice on the subject doesn’t come across like that of a crusty old publisher marking time in Hawaii. It’s contemporary, directed at social media marketers, online journalists, bloggers – would-be masters of the new digital universe.
But it’s equally concise and to the point. When people look at photo albums, he says, they go directly to pictures of themselves.
He writes:
Knowing that, the question is: how often are you featuring the photo, name, needs or wants of your customers where everyone (or at least the person you’re catering to) can see them?
So listen up Internet 2.0ers. Your self-indulgent rants, your complex business models, your highly-designed user experiences are all well and good. But as media change, some things don’t. Names make news. They always have and they always will.
Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut;

Make sure value-added really adds value

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Value-added is the currency of the new economy. The idea is this: You do business by giving people what they pay for, but you gain and retain customers by adding a little something extra on top.

When the Eat ‘n Park restaurant chain gives each child a free Smiley cookie after dinner, that’s value-added. When UPS and FedEx provide tracking numbers so you can follow the progress of your package, that’s value added.

But beware of providing value-added that fails to add value. That can actually harm your business.

Here’s an example from the business-to-business world: In the course of my work, I recently placed some small advertisements with a local media outlet. Ever since, I have received a weekly e-mail letting me know that my online customer profile has been established and that if I fill it out I will receive a free listing in some under-explained and over-complicated online system. They call it value-added; I call it extra work with dubious benefit for which I won’t be paid. But ignoring it leaves me with the inescapable knowledge that maybe – though not likely – I am shorting my client on some meaningful opportunity.

Here’s another, from the business-to-consumer world: The pharmacy placed four automated calls to my house the other day.

One was important; it directed my daughter to call the store about a question on a prescription she had transferred from another location. Over the next few hours she called several times and nobody ever answered the phone. In the end, she drove to the store and waited in a long line to speak to the overwhelmed pharmacist.

While she was there, I asked her to pick up another family member’s prescription that had been submitted electronically the previous day by the doctor. Not only wasn’t that prescription ready, nobody in the pharmacy could find any evidence it had ever come in. But 20 minutes after my daughter got back home, another robo-call arrived to announce the prescription was ready.

That phone call was intended to be value-added, but instead, it emphasized that the pharmacy is understaffed and has flawed processes – resulting in the inconvenience of another trip to the store.

By the time I returned home, there were yet two more calls – “courtesy” reminders that it was time to refill some maintenance medications.

I never asked for these reminders. In my household, we order refills after observing the pill bottle is close to empty. The pharmacy just assumed my family would value these calls and opted us in.

I’m sure there is a way to change the settings for these automated calls. But why should that be my job? I didn’t ask for all this value-added in the first place. Aside from the momentary pharmaceutical chaos in my household, we’re basically healthy and view our business with the drug store as a transactional necessity.

This, of course, is what the pharmacy corporation hopes to change. By offering all this value-added service, it hopes to turn our transactions into a relationship.

It’s having the opposite effect. So rather than figuring out how to change my preferences, I simply seethe in the background while the answering machine records each call.

The lesson is this: If you’re going to offer value added, make sure it really adds value. Otherwise you’re just spending money on something that actually harms your business.

Wants vs. needs? You’re selling both

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Seth Godin, one of the best marketing bloggers I follow, says wants and needs are often confused. He writes:

That pays off for any marketer that has persuaded his market that they need what he sells. It backfires when those ‘needs’ are seen for what they actually are–luxuries.

I agree with Godin in both his point and his brevity. But in being admirably concise, he omits a noteworthy nuance. People are more eager to buy things they want than things they need. They’ll go to great lengths to pay the lowest price possible for actual needs – stuff like medicine, groceries, industrial consumables. But they’ll happily spend more on things they want – think wine, golf clubs, a redecorated office.

The point? While Seth Godin is correct that you’ll improve sales by persuading people you can fill a need, you’ll lubricate the sales process and increase pricing margins by convincing people that your product is also something they want.

As evidence, consider:

  • Dell v. Apple
  • Toyota Yaris v. Mini Cooper
  • Emerson audio equipment v. Bose

There’s a lesson for your marketing in that knowledge too.

First things first: What game are you playing?

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012



Image: (click image for linkback)

Strategy before execution. This should be simple.

But it’s human nature to jump right into doing stuff before sweating out the big questions.

For example, a couple prospective clients have put off small, closed-ended projects that I proposed to help them align operating strategy and marketing. This in turn would  help them answer such daunting digital communications questions as how to deal with social media, and what capabilities does the website need to offer?

It’s my suspicion that what they’ll really learn is the organization doesn’t actually have a unifying operating strategy. But in both cases, the reason given for delaying the little strategy project is that they first have to devote all their attention to the big website project.

I understand that building a new website is daunting. But it’s even harder if you don’t know what purpose the new website is supposed to serve. It’s like getting ready to knock the ball in the hole without knowing whether you’re playing billiards or golf.

That’s why strategy always needs to come before execution. Strategy tells you what you’re trying to do. The website will help you do it. But only if you tackle them in the right order.

Everybody’s a publisher now

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

I moved from the editorial side of the publishing business to the money side in 2000 and my timing couldn’t have been worse.

In my first month of selling advertising, it was my job to convince would-be advertisers why they should select my products as opposed to anybody else’s.

By the second month, I was answering a much more difficult question: Why they should advertise at all.

Even in 2000, at the height of the first internet bubble, marketers were figuring out how to use digital technology to disintermediate the media – in essence, becoming publishers themselves. That forever changed the nature of the publishing business and it led to my own nine-year journey that eventually resulted in my decision to leave the publishing industry behind.

Here’s just one piece of evidence: A blog from Alan Mutter, the self-proclaimed Newsosaur. He says big retailers have gone much further than disintermediating their former publishing partners; now they’re competing with newspapers by selling advertising on their own e-commerce sites.

Today, every company needs to think like a publisher. Here’s what that means:

Content: Publishers develop content that’s meaningful to their audience. For companies, this means creating content that’s useful to customers and prospects. In the business-to-business world, that shouldn’t be difficult. No matter what product or service you provide, you’re likely to have more technical expertise about it than any trade journal.

The challenge is purely cultural. Most companies rush to say what they want prospects to know. Those that are successful content marketers instead provide information prospects want to hear. There’s a difference; while the marketer’s first instinct is often to load up on features and benefits, the prospects are really looking for solutions. Business-to-business marketers who can figure out how to help prospects solve problems first will quickly gain permission from those prospects to provide judicious and thoughtful sales messages too.

Audience: Publishers spend a lot of resources to develop audiences for their content – and more important, for the advertising messages they carry. Companies now have the capability to develop their own audiences through social media, skilled distribution of valuable information, and dedication to keeping their contact databases current.

This isn’t magic. It’s not easy and it’s not free; the reason companies have been cutting back on advertising over the past decade is to divert funding to become successful publishers themselves. And those that do are succeeding in a world where target audiences play a more active role in the marketing process than they ever did in the heyday of newspapers and magazines.


So much to do that nothing gets done

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Many small business owners are not marketers. They’ll tell you as much.

People start their own business in order to do what they love and do well. Marketing becomes a necessary evil.

For many, writing is a chore. Or databases are a mystery. Or blogging takes too much time. Social media creates an uncomfortable blend between business and personal. Networking is superficial. Advertising is too expensive and doesn’t work quickly. Public relations is a crapshoot.

It’s altogether too time-consuming, too hard, too expensive. There’s so much marketing work to do that  nothing gets done. And it’s easy to justify, because word-of-mouth is the thing that works the best anyway. But word-of-mouth isn’t real marketing; it’s luck. And while I’d rather be lucky the good, the real winners are both.

Aside from being under-capitalized, marketing paralysis may be the most common affliction among small businesses. There is a lot to know about marketing and too many easy reasons not to get started.

But marketing is now more accessible to small businesses than it’s ever been. Marketing rarely comes for free, but it’s possible to start marketing seriously without risking thousands of dollars like you had to do 10 years ago.

So here’s an idea: Try one thing. Instead of getting overwhelmed by all there is to learn about marketing, try choosing one marketing activity and focusing on it until you’re proficient – or at least comfortable.

What should you do first? I’d advise doing the activity that interests you most; you’re more likely to find the joy in mastering it.

But if you insist on being pointed in the right direction, swallow your pride and jump onto Facebook. Why? It’s a tool that can allow you to reach 1 out of 2 people in the United States – for free. If you coughed up $3 million to advertise on the Superbowl you wouldn’t reach that many people. Facebook is, simply, the largest media outlet in the world. And you can get started without spending a nickel.

What do you do on Facebook? Start by building a profile for your company, and then explore and experiment. We can discuss it in more detail another time. What’s important is that you do something. Anything.

Privacy: It grows fainter and quainter

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

In a recent workshop on social media for small business, one owner remarked that she didn’t want to start using Facebook for her business because she doesn’t want information about her personal life to be available to strangers online.

After an explanation that it’s now possible to keep business and personal lives separate on Facebook, I flippantly suggested that the era of privacy is over anyway.

Many people under the age of, say, 25, seem comfortable sharing every moment – for better or worse –  with their extended network (often numbering in the thousands) of “friends.” And as that generation ages, our notion of privacy will become ever fainter and quainter. It will become a nostalgic memory, like retirement and puppet shows.

For example, I’ve just learned from that the U.S. Department of Justice insists that e-mail messages should not enjoy the same protection as written correspondence or information about phone calls. The difference? Warrants are required when law enforcement officials want corporations to turn over your phone records or letters – but not necessarily e-mail. And DOJ wants to keep it that way.

Why? To make it easier to conduct fast criminal investigations of events that have either transpired our are about to transpire. I can see their point. I can also see why the main law covering such issues needs to be revisited; it was last updated in 1986, about 10 years before most people received their first e-mail.

But I hope the Justice Department softens its stance before privacy really is a thing of the past.

The Rules of Social Media Content

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Rule #1:
They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
(Attributed to many sources including Theodore Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr.)

Rule #2:
It’s not about what you say; it’s about what they hear.

Rule #3:
Fast. Short. Meaningful.

Rule #4:
An incomplete solution now is better than a complete solution later.

Rule #5:
Instead of giving a lecture, tell a story.

Rule #6:
You can’t educate ‘em if you don’t entertain ‘em first.

Rule #7:
You can keep your audience busy with quotes and retweets. But to build an audience, you need to be original.

Rule #8:
Of course you’re there to sell. But your audience isn’t necessarily there to buy. Remember it and respect it.

Rule #9:
One sales pitch for every 20 pieces of non-selling content. Maximum. And that’s if your content is really good.

Rule #10:
More like H.L Mencken. Less like Billy Mays.

Rule #11:
You’re not a guru until OTHER people call you a guru; so don’t even bother trying to prime that pump.

Rule #12
Write like you talk, and talk well.

(More to come, or suggest your own)