Category Archives: Marketing Plan

Bowling for Business: Take my word for it.

Shout your message from the rooftops. Word of mouth works!

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on Monday, March 8, 2010.

A stray Labrador Retriever we found sitting quietly in front of the dog pound, Maggie was beautiful, loyal, intelligent and, unfortunately, quite destructive. She met me at the door when I came home from school; sat on top of her doghouse instead of inside of it, dumped over the trash cans inside and outside of our house and routinely opened the gate so our other pets would run away.

Fed up with her antics, my parents reluctantly decided to give her to my friend, Lori, and her family. Since Lori lived in the country, they explained, Maggie would be happier and less hyper. Devastated, I sobbed into my faithful companion’s shiny black coat the entire drive to Lori’s house. I’ll never forget Maggie’s sad brown eyes staring back at me when we left. I was certain she felt abandoned, forsaken and betrayed.

The weeks that followed were difficult. Usually a happy, bubbly kid, I was inconsolable, moping around as if I had lost my best friend. So the day my dad drove by Cherrylynn Elementary School during my lunch break, with Maggie in tow, remains one of the highlights of my life. It also marked the first and only time I got into trouble and had to stay after school.

When lunch was over and we went back to our classrooms, I was too excited to contain myself. Regardless of my classmates’ interest or lack thereof, I told everyone the news that Maggie was back in my life. Mrs. Tomasini repeatedly warned me to be quiet. But I was, literally, incapable of biting my tongue.

As punishment, I had to write “I will not speak out in class” 100 times on the chalkboard. Not exactly scared straight, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Sometimes, news is just too great not to share. And that is the essence of word of mouth marketing.

Word of Mouth is defined by Wikipedia as the passing of information from person to person. Originally the term referred specifically to oral communication (literally words from the mouth), but now includes any type of human communication, such as face to face, telephone, email and text messaging.

Any time you form an opinion and share it using your mouth to speak or fingers to type, you are engaging in Word of Mouth. Where you share the information determines how many people hear what you have to say and whether or not it is passed on to others. Until now, my story about Maggie was heard only by a small group of third graders at an Englewood, Colorado elementary school. But when content catches on and travels, it’s referred to as buzz or going viral.

Among the first to successfully systemize word of mouth marketing was Trip Advisor. Founded in February 2000, the free website provides a forum where customers can write reviews and share opinions, favorable or not, with Internet users. Amazon.com and eBay were also early adopters of the practice of publicizing unbiased customer reviews.

Of course, there are inherent risks associated with allowing folks to share their opinions. People expend effort to communicate only when they are passionately driven to do so for one of two reasons—a great experience made them fans or a negative incident turned them into foes.

In the Gas Pedal book I highly recommend, Word of Mouth Marketing, author Andy Sernovitz examines how the world’s most respected and profitable companies get people to talk about their company, their causes, and their stuff through the power of word of mouth. The nice thing about this particular form of advertising is that you can implement it regardless of your marketing budget.

For Free—

Make it easy for folks to share their opinions about your products and service. To do this, first, make sure you provide excellent products and superior customer service. And then, add a public forum to your website. But don’t censor negative feedback or you’ll appear disingenuous.

On a Limited Budget—

Have your webmaster add plenty of links to “share this post,” “comment,” “subscribe,” “follow us”, “join our community,” “tell a friend,” and “share your experience.” The easier you make it for visitors to participate in your online community, the more invested they will be.

The Sky’s the Limit—

While you can’t pay for word of mouth, you can hire someone to help you publicize legitimate comments from your existing fan base. People trust people. Professional communicators know how to gather the best feedback, give full attribution and strategically position testimonials to let existing customers advertise your offering. Take my word for it.

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

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Bowling for Business: Confessions of a Professional Spinster

All effective public relations is based firmly on the truth.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 28, 2010

While I was growing up, my best friend, Lori, and I used to play in the woods near her home in a small rural suburb of Denver. We would leave her house in the morning and stay out all day, trying to make it back home before dark. But sometimes, our vivid imaginations would carry us away, causing us to lose track of our play-time curfew. On such occasions, when we finally arrived at Lori’s house, we were greeted by her very unhappy mother, who had quite a set of lungs for a woman of such an advanced age. (Everyone seems old when you’re in grade school. At the time, Judy was all of 28.)

To try to ward off the lectures, Lori and I manufactured elaborate cover stories on our way back to her house. On one such occasion, we told her mom that we had been kidnapped by factory workers at the abandoned DuPont factory in Louviers. An impressive sleuth, Judy somehow saw through our tall tale and promptly called my mom to ask her to pick me up. Lori and I learned a valuable lesson that day. No matter how creative the spin, a lie is a lie.

As a public relations practitioner, I try to disassociate myself with unscrupulous folks in my field who have yet to learn the message. Popular culture portrays us in shades of gray, with television shows like Spin City and SPINdustry and movies like Thank You for Smoking and The Hoax. The prejudice can probably be traced to our predecessor P.T. Barnum who had a knack for finding and exhibiting people, animals and a range of oddities, many of which were hoaxes, such as the infamous Feejee Mermaid.

But leaders in our field know that the only way to successfully pitch anything is to make sure all promotions are based firmly on the truth. Wikipedia defines Public relations (PR) as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics, which gains an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that provide a third-party endorsement.

What sets PR pros apart is our knack at taking any given company or individual’s reputation, activities or incidents, and reinterpreting them from the Point of View (POV) of the client to the POV of the intended target market. A timely case study of this is the recent public relations’ nightmare faced by SeaWorld Orlando. Global news coverage started shortly after the attack when an animal trainer drowned after being dragged underwater by a 12,000-pound killer whale during a show called (of all things) Dine with Shamu.

Further complicating the incident is the fact that Shamu is the name generically used for the killer whales at the theme park, according to Steve Baker, president of a theme park consulting and management company called Baker Leisure Group.

Shamu is the SeaWorld icon. Shamu is SeaWorld.

So how do you convince potential park guests that Shamu won’t dine on them? I believe the order of the day for SeaWorld is honesty. Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, Inc., a management consulting firm, concurs,

The big task (for SeaWorld professionals) is to be honest with the public and the media as they conduct their forensic study on why the accident happened, because that will determine how SeaWorld is perceived in the future.

If I were on the public relations team for SeaWorld, the first order of the day would be the prompt removal of the tagline currently posted on the Dine with Shamu section of the theme park website. “It’s exclusive. Intimate. And unforgettable.” no longer seems appropriate. It will be interesting to watch the actual SeaWorld PR team in the weeks to come. No doubt they’ll be pulling out all the stops to get SeaWorld back on track. Tools at their disposal include the same ones your company or non-profit group can employ.

For Free—

Dust off your phone book and call an editor to introduce yourself. If you take time to get to know their editorial needs (without wasting their time in the process), they might give you an idea or two for potential coverage. The most important advice I can give you about press relations is to learn to be a resource instead of a pain in the neck.

And, on June 15, the Public Relations Society of America’s-Inland Empire Chapter, is hosting a free event, Speed Consulting at the Speedway, for businessmen and women in need of pro-bono PR.

On a Limited Budget—

Hire a freelancer to write a press release about a new product or event you want to promote. Then, subscribe to a free or low-cost electronic press release service such as E-Releases, I-Newswire, BusinessWire, PR Log or PR Newswire. The social media releases we post get clicked an average 215 times. Those clicks lead to valuable press coverage.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Hire an agency. Only a trained public relations professional will be able to skillfully speak on your behalf, work with the media, handle crisis communications, manage social media and oversee effective employee communication. And that’s not spin.
Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: The Write Stuff

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on and in the Biz Press on February 18, 2010.

Clearly convey your intended messag

No doubt you’re familiar with the game of telephone, where you whisper something to the first person in a line and then wait to hear how the message gets scrambled on the other end? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the current record-holding “telephone game” whisper is, “They inherited the earth and then the army came and scorched it.” The final words passed on were “Mayfield College.”

I’m confident the folks at Guinness would reevaluate the record if they came to my home, since we unintentionally play the game on a daily basis. My husband’s instructions to Kaitlin to “Clean your room” are heard as, “Watch television all day long.”

My requests to Lauren to “Take out the trash” are interpreted as, “Make brownies and destroy the kitchen in the process.”

As a family, we’re working on refining the communication model. Brent and I have recently discovered that while communication theories like repetition, parroting and paraphrasing do no good, threats yield results. Miraculously, the girls accurately discern messages like, “Vacuum the living room or hand over your cell phone.”

The reason our teenagers pay attention to this type of message is because we have made it relevant to their world. By engaging them on their terms, we make them an active part of the conversation. I’m embarrassed it took so long to adopt the practice at home since we do it all of the time when it comes to writing website copy for clients at Mountain Marketing Group.

In real life and Cyberspace, effective communication boils down to understanding and speaking to your audience from their point of view. When it comes to marketing, this relatively simple concept is revolutionary. Instead of designing and writing a website that looks like a billboard, remember that the reason people go online is to gather information. That’s why it’s called the Information Superhighway. Your site should provide help, not hype.

For Free–

If finances are tight, write website copy, yourself, using the following tips—

  1. Personalize your message and involve readers.
  2. Be friendly. Use anecdotes. Don’t talk down to your audience.
  3. Let your passion about your product or service come through.
  4. Prominently feature testimonials.
  5. Be real. Avoid overly-technical explanations and corporate-speak. If you mean to say, “If there’s a problem,” don’t write, “In the event of an unsatisfactory experience.” 
  6. FOREGO EXCESSIVE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS, BOLD TYPEFACE AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!
  7. Talk benefits instead of features. How will your product or service improve your clients’ lives?
  8. Leave your mission statement off of the homepage. Visitors don’t care.
  9. Include a guarantee or free trial.
  10. Proofread everything at least three times. Errors undermine credibility.

It’s exceedingly difficult to look at your own copy with objectivity. Left unchecked, your greatest asset, familiarity with your offering, can be a liability. So, after you’ve written the copy, run it by other people so they can give you their opinions. Be aware that friends and family will be biased. They already have at least a rudimentary understanding of what you do. So, try to get the verbiage in front of someone who has no preconceived ideas of your product or service.

On a Budget–

Hire a writer who specializes in creating direct response copy, which is designed to solicit a reaction that is both specific and quantifiable. An experienced writer will understand how to do all of the above and will be able to skillfully provide interesting information as well as a seamless call to action. And this is of paramount importance. After all, what good is a great website if it fails to improve the bottom line?

The Sky’s the Limit–

Hire a professional website development team, which will make sure your copy is stellar and that the artwork matches the tone and feel you wish to convey. A web team will eliminate the potential for your message to get lost in translation. And, unless you want to challenge the current record in Guinness, that’s a very good thing. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Armchair Figure Skater

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 8, 2010, in the Biz Press on March 4, 2010 and in the Press Enterprise on March 6, 2010.

Social Media success is more a marathon than a sprint.

I’ve never been much of an athlete. In fact, in kindergarten, I had such a difficult time climbing the thick, giant rope that dangled from the ceiling in our gym that, when I finally achieved the goal, my PE teacher invited me to perform at Parents’ Night. The other invitee was a sickly girl named Lisa who didn’t have eyebrows, skin pigmentation, or stamina.

My lack of athletic prowess is probably the reason I’m such a die-hard fan of figure skating. The polar opposite of me, figure skaters demonstrate power, artistry and precision in everything they do. I’ve been watching every televised figure skating event since Dorothy Hamill won gold at the 1976 Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. I was one of the few who didn’t tire of endless news reports about Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding in 1994. And I’ll probably see every Olympic figure skating event held this year in Vancouver.

But, along with other Olympic fans, thanks to advances in technology, the way I watch the games this time will be different.

  1. TiVo—instead of enduring countless commercials, I’ll be using our DVR to tape events. If I watch any advertisements this time around, it will be because they catch my attention as I fast-forward.
  2. Website—rather than relying on NBC producers to spoon-feed me the information they believe most relevant, the Olympic website offers information, ad infinitum, about every athlete, venue, competition and affiliated sponsor.
  3. Interactivity—if I’m so inclined, I will be able to connect with the athletes by reading their Tweets, perusing their blogs or watching videos on YouTube. And I won’t be hampered by location or previous commitments since I can access it all, 24/7, on my Smartphone.

So what does any of this have to do with marketing small businesses and non-profit organizations? Just this. Contrary to our cultural training as consumers in a society that expects on-demand entertainment and instant access to anything and everything, when it comes to advertising in 2010, we have to be willing to wait.

Instead of blasting our message to a passive audience, we must recognize that we are on the supply side of the equation. To learn what our target market demands, we have to be willing to listen, engage in relevant conversations, and earn a share of the voice. Social media success is less a sprint than a marathon because social media is all about relationship. And, in the real world as well as Cyberspace, it takes time to build relationships.
For Free—

Ironically, when it comes to social media, the most important step is the one most often overlooked. Unless you take time to listen to what people are saying about your organization, you won’t know what you can offer to the conversation. To do this, do a keyword search for terms relative to your field. Then, when you find the sites where folks gather, put away your keyboard and read. Once you understand the neighborhood, resist the urge to lecture. Instead, engage and contribute so that you become a trusted member of the community.

On a Limited Budget—

If funds are tight, hire an intern or junior staff member to monitor social media conversations and report back to you. But save the heavy-hitting for the folks who understand your brand. To succeed in social media, you have to become an expert in sharing whatever interests your target market. So teach your employees how to take advantage of blogs, wikis, Facebook, or YouTube. A great resource for this is a social media book I’ve touted, before, Groundswell. In it, Forrester researchers Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff provide plenty of social media case studies, along with proof they work.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Instead of joining a social network community, start one yourself. One of the first high-profile companies to do this was Dell. In the early days of social media, Dell turned a deaf ear to complaints lobbed by a customer named Jeff Jarvis, who started blogging about “Dell Hell.” But Jarvis’ discontent struck a chord. Within months, the highest ranking Google search term for Dell was Dell Hell.

Eventually, Dell had no choice but to address the nightmare. Their solution was to create a social networking site called Idea Storm, where customers post ideas and vote on products. The transformation didn’t happen overnight. But, in time, Dell went from cautionary tale to the benchmark for successful business communication, proving that flexibility and persistence pay off for anyone trying to climb the corporate ladder (or a giant rope).

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

Bowling for Business: Don’t Ignore the Voices in Your Head

Your Marketing Strategy Should Feature Social Media

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 25, 2010.

Social Media—You Know You Need To

I made a critical error in judgment last week. Despite reports from the National Weather Service that a nasty storm was on its way, I threw caution to the wind and headed down from Running Springs to Riverside for a professional development luncheon. Having once slid into a BMW on Kuffel Canyon (Yeah. That’s right. It had to be a BMW), I would normally err on the side of caution and stay home rather than risk a return ride on potentially icy roads. But since I’m on the board of directors, I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to the group.

I made it down the mountain and to my meeting without incident. But, on my way home, two tiny harbingers of danger appeared on my dashboard in the form of flashing batteries and brake lights. So, instead of driving straight home, I stopped by my mechanic’s. Adhering to Murphy’s Law, the very minute I pulled my car into the bay, the idiot lights went out. Just to be safe, the repairman ran diagnostics and determined that everything was fine.

After I left, about a block from the repair shop, the warning lights reappeared, and remained lit until my car died just above the middle passing lane, right before a curve, away from all of the rest of the traffic in the dead of night in the middle of a blizzard on Highway 330. Without cell phone service, and with a very full bladder, I reluctantly abandoned my vehicle and accepted a ride from a kind man who was, thankfully, a realtor from Big Bear instead of a serial killer. He drove me up to a clearing and I awkwardly loped home through 3 feet of fresh powder in soggy leather clogs.

By the time I stumbled home and called Auto Club, I discovered that my car was already en route to a storage facility in town. To retrieve it, I would have to wait for the storm to pass and cough up a $380 towing fee, as well $50/day for storage. As I write this, three days later, my husband is shoveling about 7,000 pounds of snow from our driveway so we can pick up my 4-wheel drive, chain-clad, very dead car.

All of the above could have been avoided if only I had listened to the still, small voice that prodded me to skip the meeting. Because I ignored it, my husband and I will be reaping it for some time to come. I share this story because business professionals so often silence the voice of reason when it comes to advertising. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this disclaimer, “I know I really need to advertise, but…”

One local entrepreneur, who shuttered her restaurant after three unprofitable years, wondered aloud, “Maybe things would have been different if only I had advertised.”

Indeed, I wish she had come to us for help. Marketing is as essential to business success as a working vehicle is to safe travel. But don’t take my word for it. Last year, business owners in America spent nearly $61 billion on advertising. They allocated resources to marketing because they understand the importance of advertising for—

  • Making your presence known to potential customers, colleagues, associates and competitors.
  • Maintaining your relationship with current clients by reminding them about the value of your product or service.
  • Strengthening your call to action and message.
  • Introducing new products and services.

Although most business men and women intuitively understand the value of advertising, since budgets are tight, they talk themselves out of doing the very thing they know they need to do. The result? At an alarming rate, Inland Empire businesses are failing to thrive. In fact, experts put the percentage of new businesses that fail, nationwide, within the first five years, somewhere between 50%-80%. The solution? Invest in the advertising strategy that offers the most bang for your buck. And, no matter the budget, in today’s technology-driven environment, that method is social media.

For Free—

The great thing about social media is that the only required investment is time. The top three social media platforms, in my opinion, are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you focus on these, and post valuable content to each account multiple times each day, you can achieve virtually every advertising objective necessary for business success.

On a Limited Budget—

While social media can be done without access to tons of cash, to be competitive, you have to be willing to find valuable information relative to the interests of your target market and post it on a daily basis. The problem is that most business owners don’t have time to do research and post status updates and informational links up to 90 times each week. Some actually want to spend time running their businesses! So, if you can swing it, spending money on social media management is worthwhile. Most of our clients report an average tenfold return on their investment after just 12 weeks of service.

The Sky’s the Limit—

The nice thing about having cash in reserve is that you have the luxury of paying experts to manage all of your advertising efforts, which frees up a considerable amount of time. Even so, we recommend that every client maintains a connection with their social media friends and fans. Our most successful social media clients post personal messages and stay connected to their contacts to supplement our efforts on their behalf. For ideas about what to post, might I suggest listening to the voices in your head?

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

Bowling for Business: Clear the Clutter

Clear the Clutter from your Marketing Strategy with Pay Per Click

This column appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 10, 2010 and in the Business Press on January 20, 2010.

Cleaning House with Pay Per Click

On the heels of the holiday season, our house looks a bit like a war-torn country. Half-eaten plates of cookies, broken candy canes and stale cinnamon rolls crowd the kitchen counter. Torn tissue paper and abandoned gift bags pepper the living room floor. Opening a cupboard is like preparing for a bomb blast, requiring deft “duck and cover” maneuvers to guard against plastic Del Taco cups and Tupperware that fall like mortar.

The reason for the disarray is simple. We have too much crap. (Sorry for the vernacular. But there is really no other way to describe how much junk my small family somehow manages to accumulate.) Every January, to combat the onslaught, we schedule an informal “Clean up the Crap Day.” We spend hours sorting through our possessions and arranging them into piles to throw away, donate or stow. And whenever we take on the task, I wonder how, in a single calendar year, one family could have possibly made so many trips to Wal-Mart.

After clean up day, we breathe a collective sigh of relief and vow never again to repeat the practice of letting things spiral out of control. We agree to live simply, cut out the clutter and streamline our household so that we won’t have to spend needless energy sifting through excess in order to find what we really need.

In this economy, the same might be necessary for your current advertising strategy. It might be time to clear the crap. And if you’re going to get down to brass tacks, consider implementing one of the best advertising options available today, Pay Per Click.

Also known as Pay Per Ranking, Pay Per Placement, Pay Per Position or Cost Per Click, Pay Per Click (PPC) is an Internet advertising model used on websites, in which advertisers pay their host only when their ad is clicked. When you enter a word or phrase in the search bar using an engine such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, two different sets of results are returned… organic (or natural) and sponsored (or paid). When I explain this phenomenon to Mountain Marketing Group clients, I’m surprised at how few are aware of these two very different categories.

Organic results are purported to be completely non-biased—meaning that the engine will not accept any amount of money to influence the rankings of an individual site. This is quite the opposite of paid advertising which appears in “sponsored” or “featured” search engine results, in which higher positions are rewarded to the companies willing to pay the most per visitor. You can tell the difference between the two types of search results because sponsored keywords appear in shaded areas just under the search bar and at right.

The nice thing about PPC is that you pay only when a searcher clicks on your listing and connects to your site. By using PPC, you pre-qualify your audience, since they were actively searching for your product or service or they never would have found it in the first place.

For Free—

Although it is not possible to advertise for free using PPC, I have managed campaigns for clients who have set campaign limits at $10, just to see if their keywords generate any activity. When you consider the cost of advertising using other mediums, where you have to pay regardless of the effectiveness of the ad, PPC is a great alternative. There are simply no hidden costs.

On a Budget—

Keywords cost anywhere between .05 per click and several dollars, depending on competition. The most expensive keywords relate to the mortgage industry, where people pay up to $40/ click. Our clients pay an average .75 per click. If your product or service is highly competitive, there are still plenty of ways for you to utilize PPC without having to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. One is via Facebook, which offers PPC ads which are different than Google AdSense, Yahoo Search Marketing or Bing Search Ads. On Facebook, you can create an ad, which includes artwork, for free, set campaign limits, handpick your audience and leave thousands of impressions for only a few dollars per month.

The Sky’s the Limit—

One of our clients spends $2,000 per week on Pay Per Click advertising. The reason he is willing to invest so much is because he is happy with the results. If an advertising strategy had the potential to change the game for you, would you consider it? PPC might not be the best marketing method for everyone. But, for many, the strategy is the single most cost-effective way to hunker down and cut the crap.

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

Bowling for Business: Trimming the Fat

Cut the Fat from your Advertising Strategy

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 2, 2010 and in the Business Press on January 13, 2010.

Make Sure You Have the Right Advertising Strategy for 2010

Like most other Americans, on the heels of holiday indulgence, I spend January exploring diet trends. When I find one that sounds promising, I head to the grocery store with a laundry list of weird, expensive food substitutes. Last year, I tried the Flat Belly Diet. It appealed to me mostly because it allowed rather large quantities of dark chocolate and peanut butter. And here’s a shocker—it didn’t work! But it did manage to give me acne.

For no discernable reason, I decided to share my dilemma with a chubby checker at Stater Bros. She recommended I purchase a Wii Fit since she’d owned one for a week and was certain it would work. So, I convinced my husband that the magic bullet for sustained weight management was to spend $300 on the at-home convenience of a Wii Fitness system. And I actually used it for several weeks before pulling a muscle doing virtual yoga.

Over the years, I’ve tried pretty much every diet and fitness regime. And while you won’t likely see my face on the cover of Prevention Magazine or Muscle and Fitness, I do manage to trim a few pounds every time I lead my family into nutritional purgatory. And I shudder to think of how large my frame would be were it not for my annual January dietary ritual.

My business partner and I take similar steps when it comes to trimming the fat from the advertising strategy for Mountain Marketing Group. At year end, we redo brochures, order giveaways and finish advertising contracts, with an eye to re-evaluating and re-prioritizing after the first of the year. I must admit that doing so is about as much fun, and as necessary, as dieting.

For Free

When times are tough, some entrepreneurs make the mistake of ceasing all advertising. While this may, initially, appear to improve the bottom line, it’s a lot like shooting yourself in the foot. Unless you plan to shutter your business, lean times call for more, not less, decisive advertising action. If your business is in trouble, make 2010 the year you turn things around. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Place an ad on Craigslist. You might be surprised at how much interest a free advertisement on this website may generate.
  • Include your company on every available free directory listing. Since funds are tight, you need to be diligent to stay on top of these sites, since new ones pop up daily.
  • Consider affiliate advertising. Assuming you maintain a credible website and/or blog, (which are mandates for anyone in business in the 21st Century), you might consider allowing affiliates to advertise on your site.

For example, CollegeRecruiter.com pays affiliates a $100 commission whenever a visitor to one of their sites clicks through and buys something— anything— within 365 days of that initial click-through.

On a Budget

When cash flow is tight, carefully evaluate your Return on Investment. It is possible to completely revamp your entire advertising strategy without spending a penny more than you already do. Just make sure you see a direct response from each of your efforts.

One of our clients was shocked when we pointed out that his $300 monthly Yellow Pages’ outlay yielded a meager 2 calls per month, which meant he was paying $150 per lead. By shifting his budget to pay per click ads, we multiplied his ROI tenfold.

The Sky’s the Limit

If you have cash on hand, take advantage of new media. Imagine the advantage that business owners had when they first realized the potential of advertising on television. The USA’s first television advertisement was broadcast on July 1, 1941. The watchmaker Bulova paid $4 for a 10-second spot, accompanied by the voice-over, “America runs on Bulova time.”

By today’s standards, the $4 price point is laughable. The same will likely one day be said about the current cost of digital advertising. So, instead of waiting for everything to shake down before you make your move, go for it. After all, even if your results are not typical, advertising online won’t likely lead to acne.

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

Bowling for Business: The Trouble with Trifle

In baking and marketing, be careful with substitutes.

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on December 28, 2009.

By Kathy Bowling

Several years ago, my daughter, Lauren, and I followed the Food Network Paula Deen’s recipe for Gingerbread Pumpkin Trifle for a holiday get-together. Not only was the delicacy beautiful, but it was well-received by our Christmas guests. So, this year, foolishly, I decided to try to recapture the magic of that festive dessert.

To prepare, I sent my husband on a mission to fill a laundry list of ingredients. Despite the fact he had to go to three different stores to find Cardamom, he victoriously returned with paper grocery bags filled with $7,000 worth of cake mix, Cool Whip and vanilla pudding. After baking, cooling, mixing and layering, Lauren and I were sure that this year’s Christmas treat would rival our best efforts.

And that might have been true, if only the trifle had been edible.

It turns out that there is an important difference between pumpkin pie filling and canned pumpkin. While pie filling is yummy, full-bodied and sweet, pumpkin is nasty, runny and bitter. In fact, it turns out that, unadulterated, the resemblance between canned pumpkin and primate excrement is more than just visual. And as I scooped the entire contents of the crystal serving bowl into my aunt’s trash can on Christmas night, I vowed never to repeat the mistake of confusing canned pumpkin contents.

In baking and in business, small substitutions can lead to big mistakes. So, as we close the book on 2009 and strategize about how to succeed in 2010, I would like to take this opportunity to point out the three tools for which you should accept no substitutes.

Marketing Tools for 2010

1. Electronic Communication

If you’ve put off building or upgrading your website, make 2010 the year that you join the 21st century by investing in an easy-to-navigate, direct response Content Management System website. Unlike pricey printed materials that become outdated as soon as they roll off of the press, a CMS site is exceedingly cost effective for sharing your message in real time. And since 74% of people who live in the United States use the Internet prior to making any type of purchase, making the most of Cyberspace will keep your company connected and current.

Even if, until now, you’ve somehow managed to escape the inevitability of carrying around a Smart Phone, 2010 is the year of the PDA. Readily accessible and affordable, this tool will keep you constantly connected to the office, like it or not. Although you might be trying to buck the trend, your competitors’ availability in a downed economy will give them a leg up on anyone who irrationally tries to maintain a distinction between work and family life. Now that you can buy one for less than $100, it’s time to make the jump to a hand-held.

2. Public Relations

It would be impossible to talk about marketing in 2010 without referencing social media. However, despite the fact that most businessmen and women are desperate to turn it into a direct marketing tool, in truth, most professionals agree that social media belongs to public relations.

As noted by pundit Brian Solis, “(Social media is owned) by your customers and influencers (who) own and define it. And, without guidance or participation, they steer the impression and perception of your brand.” So, by all means, use social media. But put down the bullhorn you’ve been using to blast your message and, instead, join the conversation. If you use social media networking sites to provide valuable content to your target market, you will gain trust and, ultimately, improve the bottom line.

3. Networking

Although there are countless ways to network, in Cyberspace, arguably the most important professional networking tool is LinkedIn. Although developers of other free sites like Plaxo and Xing try to pretend to offer the visibility and benefits of LinkedIn, to date, there is no other professional social media website that offers the ease of use, search engine optimization and networking afforded by LinkedIn, which launched out of the living room of co-founder Reid Hoffman in the fall of 2002. According to Nielsen Research, LinkedIn has grown a whopping 319 percent since 2007. More importantly, LinkedIn is where the influencers are. The largest percentage of users boast six-figure incomes, are college graduates and have portfolios valued above $250,000.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll examine other business essentials. But, in the meantime, implement the above, being careful to avoid substitutes, and your professional life might be a trifle better than the rest. Happy New Year! Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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.

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.