Monthly Archives: December 2009

Bowling for Business: The Top 10 Marketing Tips for 2010

New Year's Marketing Tips

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on December 21, 2009

I don’t know why I even bother writing down my Near Year’s resolutions. Instead, I should just make several copies of the same list, because the items on it never change.

  1. Lose weight.
  2. Eat healthy.
  3. Watch less television.
  4. Read more books.
  5. Spend more time with my family.
  6. Stay on top of the laundry.
  7. Exercise.
  8. Clean out the pantry.
  9. Spend less. Invest more.
  10. Actually implement my New Years’ resolutions.

When it comes to business, I have compiled another list, which I will be happy to share. It is my idea of the top 10 marketing tools for 2010. Now, by recording these, I know I run the risk of being compared to Nostradamus, whose predictions are always menacingly scrawled across the front of scholarly journals like the National Enquirer. But I think it’s important to note that my ideas are not based on dreams. Nor are they presented in quatrains. But, they do appear in print. So, you never know…

Kathy Bowling’s Predictions of the Top 10 Marketing Tools for 2010

  1. Food—People will continue to eat this. So I suggest that you find ways to use it to promote your business. You can do this either by printing your marketing message on candy wrappers or by bribing potential clients with pizza.
  2. Money—No matter the economy, people like cold, hard cash. So if you want them to pay attention to you, I recommend giving away dollar bills while you speak.
  3. Freebies—if you print your name on virtually anything and give it away, people will take it. I can attest to this because we have an entire drawer filled with corkscrews, potato chip bag clips, visors and refrigerator magnets, many of which are emblazoned with logos of companies which have long been out of business.
  4. Telephones—this might seem an antiquated suggestion. Most business owners actually have at least one phone line. However, to their peril, some have forgotten how to use it. I encourage you to make 2010 the year that you abandon the impersonal practice of replying to every note with a text message or email. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call your clients and vendors. It might take them awhile to find the phone. But when they uncover it, they’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear the sound of a human voice on the other end of the line.
  5. Cell phones—when cell phones first went public (Yes, I am old enough to remember this), they were about as convenient to carry around as a bale of hay. They are now quite small and weigh considerably less. So consider purchasing one. A note of caution, however. Once you buy one, it won’t be long before it attaches itself to your ear like a parasite. When people know they can reach you 24/7, they will try to reach you 24/7.
  6. Face-to-Face Communication—even better than a phone call, personal interaction is the best way to do business. People are more likely to abandon etiquette when they can hide behind technology. So, as often as is practical to do so, try to do as much business as possible in person.
  7. Computers—while some business owners hide behind technology, others reject it. If you are stubbornly refusing to accept the fact that Cyberspace is here to stay, I recommend that you pry the cold, ballpoint pen out of your frigid fingers and invest in a PC.
  8. Ads—some folks have traded costly advertising campaigns in favor of “freely” pitching their products via Twitter, Facebook and the LinkedIn. I caution against this practice. While the majority of social networking sites provide direct lines of communication between buyers and sellers, these tools lend themselves more to public relations than to direct marketing. Put down the bullhorn and grab a cup of coffee. Listen to the conversation and earn your right to participate. When it comes time to advertise, you will need to ante up, just like in the old days. The difference is that, after interacting with your target market, you’ll better understand how to use or alter your product so that it addresses your target markets’ needs and concerns.
  9. Charity Sponsorship—with belts so tight, donations have lost their allure. Even so, it will always make sense to share resources with those who are less fortunate. Holland Lowe, director of Operation Provider, says that donations are at an all-time low and requests for help are at an all-time high. Consider a year-end gift, which will not only help your organization at tax time, but will demonstrate your commitment to something beyond improving the bottom line.
  10. Networking—once known as relationship marketing, the practice of getting to know people as individuals instead of potential customers is the best way to grow a business, and, more importantly, enrich your life. Find a group that encourages friendship and active referring. My membership in the San Bernardino Business Elite Chapter of BNI has multiplied my own success, exponentially. And, in the infamous words of Clarence the Angel, Second Class, in the classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life:

“No man is a failure who has friends.”

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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Bowling for Business: Cash Flow is King

How to Increase Your Cash Flow

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 14, 2009 and in the Business Press on January 7, 2010.

Although I’m not an economist, based on the checkout lines this week at Target, I would surmise that consumer confidence is on the rise. My first clue should have been the parking lot. I drove around aimlessly for hours, finally settling on the only empty spot I could find…in Texas. After I hiked in, the chaos at the front door reminded me of the mob scene in the cult classic, Soylent Green.

The checkout line snaked all the way back to the frozen food section. Now, if you’re not a Target shopper, this may not mean much to you. But suffice to say it was not unlike a gas station circa 1970. The good news is that some people appeared to be bonding in line. One young couple who met near the dog food aisle got engaged and married by the time they reached the checkout.

Now, ordinarily, any reasonable, rational person would take one look at the crowds and walk right back out the door. But this is the holiday season. So sanity is in short supply. For my part, I was willing to brave the crowds because, in so doing, I would save $4.75 on a Christmas gift for my husband. As I said, sanity is in short supply.

I share this with you because we, as Inland Empire business owners, should pay careful attention to economic indicators like overflowing parking lots and long lines at discount stores. While there is no telling how remorseful shoppers will be once their credit card bills arrive in January, for now, people are willing to throw caution to the wind. So I say, Carpe Diem!

But how can you seize the day if your company doesn’t offer inexpensive trinkets that are easily wrapped and placed under Christmas trees? It all boils down to a lesson you probably learned in high school economics…supply and demand. Figure out how you can reasonably supply what is in demand, without rewriting your entire business plan and altering your mission statement. Then, focus all of your advertising efforts on that item or service.

Now, granted, this will require some creative thinking. But if you can come up with a strategy to get people in the door in a down economy, you can improve cash flow, which may just keep you afloat until your primary product line is back in fashion.

The following are ideas for demand-side marketing at every price point:

For Free—until we moved to the San Bernardino Mountains, I was unaware that mistletoe is a parasite capable of taking out a mighty oak. I’m embarrassed by the numerous occasions I purchased small plastic baggies filled with the fungus, which was dressed up with red ribbon and peddled by enterprising tykes stationed outside grocery stores at Christmastime. When all else fails, take a lesson from their strategy. Find something you can get for free and sell it. You might be surprised at how many people might be willing to pay. (I’ve got several trees filled with mistletoe if anyone wants to explore that trade.)

On a Budget— add and promote a secondary product line. Pam of PJ Studio cuts and colors hair and recently decided to branch out by creating beautiful winter scenes on tin stars which she sells during the holidays. Granted, the line between high-lighting and tole-painting may seem faint. But Pam did well to focus on products that share an overlapping target market. Her hair-styling clients are a captive audience who admire and purchase her artwork, which translates to improved cash flow.

The Sky’s the Limit—if you’ve ever had a hankering to diversify, now is the time for happy accidents. Consider Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton who was trying to expand his customer base by coming up with a cure for headaches. Although he failed in his attempts, in the process, he stumbled on the recipe for Coca-Cola. Since, ironically, Coke is now widely believed to cause headaches, Pemberton’s efforts have come full circle.

Thankfully, today, both Coke and Excedrin Migraine are available for purchase at Target. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Follow the Money

Follow the Money

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on December 6, 2009 and in the Business Press on December 16, 2009.

Just before Christmas when I was seven years old, my father walked with me to a small curiosity shop/drug store in our town called Rotolo’s. I was eager to spend the $5 I had earned raking leaves and doing odd jobs around the house. This was in the 70s. So he was able to wait outside the store while I walked safely up and down the aisles, searching for Christmas gifts.

I finally settled on a glossy ceramic piggy bank for my mother and a box of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls for my father. I was so excited when I exited the store, I could barely contain myself. Since I loved piggy banks and chocolate, I was certain I had found the perfect presents.

And, on Christmas morning, when they opened their packages, my parents’ reactions confirmed my assessment. They praised my taste and thoughtfulness. My mom immediately placed change into her bank and displayed it on her dresser, where it remains to this day. My father shared his treats and kept the empty package. We found it among his treasured possessions many years later, after he had died.

Only later did it occur to me that two thirty-year-old adults might not have chosen a piggy bank and packaged snack cakes had they shopped for themselves. My naïve gesture succeeded because my parents understood and appreciated my frame of reference.

However, when it comes to promoting your product or service, you can’t expect your customers to respond in kind. While it is natural to lean toward logos, colors, slogans and advertisements that appeal to your own tastes and preferences, the only way this strategy will work is if you just want to sell to yourself. If you would rather extend your customer base, you’ll have to broaden your advertising horizons.

Oddly enough, when it comes to selecting a target, many entrepreneurs take whoever they can get, however and whenever they can get them, without figuring out who they actually want to attract in the first place. If your product or service is worthwhile (and I certainly hope that it is), then you do prospective customers a service by figuring out who they are and properly communicating your message to them.

To hone in on their ideal markets, we counsel Mountain Marketing Group clients to follow the money. And you can do this regardless of the size of your marketing budget.

For Free—

Use your existing client list to get a handle on your ideal target. Create a simple spreadsheet that answers the following questions:

  1. Who buys the largest quantity?
  2. Who purchases the highest ticket items?
  3. Who frequents your store most often?
  4. What do the above have in common?

After you import all pertinent information, go straight to the source. Call or email your best customers. Thank them for their business and ask them how you managed to land their accounts. Inquire about which publications they read, programs they watch, and websites they frequent. Focus your promotional efforts on the most frequent mentions.

On a Budget—

In many marketing circles, the shine is off the penny for email marketing campaigns. In fact, some pundits say that email marketing results have declined by 10 to 40 percent over the past five years. On the other hand, email survey campaigns are all the rage. If you have more than a handful of customers, the most efficient way to find out about their preferences is to write a customer survey email.

Perhaps anticipating the winds of change, email newsletter services such as Rate Point and Constant Contact offer user-friendly tools to create and distribute brief surveys. Since most people appreciate knowing that their opinions count, you probably won’t offend anyone by starting the practice.

The Sky’s the Limit—

When your firm can afford it, I recommend you hire someone to conduct market research. Ironically, although this is a crucial step for effective advertising, it is the tool most often overlooked by business owners. This is a shame, since good market research eliminates the unnecessary outlay of ill-spent ad dollars. And, as we all know, a penny saved is a penny earned…and sometimes stored in a high-gloss piggy bank.

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: The Business of Being Thankful

The Business of Being Thankful

This column appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on November 22, 2009.

Several years ago, my mother-in-law decided to make life easier on herself by preparing the turkey on Christmas Eve. That way, she would be able to slice and store it in broth so she could just re-heat it and relax on Christmas Day. But while she was resting the roasted bird on the oven door so she could get a firmer grip, the weight of the turkey broke the door, spilling 25 pounds of white and dark meat and a gallon of drippings all over her newly mopped floor.

She and my father-in-law spent the better part of Christmas Eve cleaning turkey grease out of the hinges and off of the slick linoleum. They jerry-rigged the door and saved as much of the meat as they could, grateful that the rest of the family was taking care of the side dishes.

But, the next day, while my husband was carrying five pounds of mashed potatoes to the car, he inexplicably dropped the Crock-pot on our tile entryway. The crack that emanated from the broken pot and mess was audible to the entire neighborhood, including both of our dogs, who scurried to the scene to lick up as much as they could before being pelted with throw pillows, slippers and car keys.

Despite the mishaps, we somehow survived the holidays that year, instant mashed potatoes and inevitable surges in blood pressure. And, in the end, we realized that what mattered most hadn’t changed. We were safe, healthy and had a lot to be thankful for.

This holiday season, I encourage you to take time from your business, and in your business, to focus on what really matters. If you feel more like Ebenezer Scrooge than Tiny Tim, let me take this opportunity to help you remember that, no matter the condition of your business, there are still plenty of things to appreciate.

If Business is Bad, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. According to poll results released on May 4, 2008, by CBS News and the New York Times, “America’s view of the condition of the national economy has never been bleaker.” And that was 18 months ago…when the unemployment rate was lower and Circuit City was still in the black! So why would I suggest we should remain thankful, nonetheless?

I think American Author Napoleon Hill said it best: “The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”

If Business is So-So, no matter how small your profit margin, then take solace in the fact that you remain in the fortunate minority. According to a report by the SBA Office of Advocacy, 14,300 small business owners in America declared bankruptcy in the first quarter of 2009. If you weren’t among them, then pat yourself on the back. Though you might feel like you’re hanging onto the roots of a blade of grass on the edge of the world, try to be thankful that you have anything to hang on to at all.

English Football Coach and former player Steve McClaren summarized the reason we can look forward with hope in tough times, “I survived ultimate failure. Now I fear nothing.” Remember, also, that even Genghis Khan lost some early battles.

If Business is Good, then prepare for greatness. If you are kicking business butt in a bad economy, imagine what you will be able to achieve when economic conditions improve.

Instead of passively taking it all in, leverage your position to stimulate the local economy. Take a tip from Benjamin Franklin, who encouraged his contemporaries to do well by doing good, often noting that “he is ill clothed that is bare of virtue.”

Express your gratitude for business success by

  • Creating jobs
  • Mentoring a new business owner
  • Purchasing locally made products
  • And, most importantly, using your super powers for good instead of evil.

Until next week, I’m thankful to be Bowling for Business.