Category Archives: On a Limited Budget

Bowling for Business: Drown Out the Competition

Don't cut business essentials to save money.

(This column first appeared in The Press Enterprise and on January 12, 2012 and on ROTWNEWS.com on January 14, 2012.)

Resist the Urge to Cut Back on Advertising Despite the Economy

Planning a wedding is a little bit like drowning. As a future mother-of-the-bride, I often feel like I’m in over my head. And you know what they say about people who are drowning: Don’t get too close or they might pull you under. It isn’t that we want to kill prospective rescuers–we are just flailing about in a desperate attempt to survive.

During the past four years in a difficult economy, I’ve watched entrepreneurs thrash around and kill the very thing that could potentially ensure their small business survival: marketing.

The silver lining to a recession is that it focuses business owners’ attention on cost control. And keeping overhead low and profit margins should be a priority regardless of the financial environment. But, in many cases, there are much better ways to boost your bottom line and improve cash flow than blindly cutting costs. Like it or not, there is no getting around the fact that you have to spend money to make money. So, as important as knowing which costs to cut, you should make sure you understand which ones to protect.

If you own a restaurant, you probably wouldn’t consider reducing overhead by cancelling your wholesale order for food. Intuitively, you know that you can’t sell gourmet fare if you don’t have fresh ingredients. Advertising, on the other hand, is a less obvious necessity since it isn’t directly traceable to active income. But the best meals on the planet won’t sell unless potential patrons know where to find them.

I’m hardly alone in my belief that no matter how strapped you are for cash as a business owner, advertising is absolutely the last thing you should eliminate from your budget. The key is to look at your marketing dollars as an investment instead of an expense. The Harvard Business Review maintains that advertising during a recession contributed to profits:

“The rationale that a company can afford a cutback in advertising because everybody else is cutting back [is fallacious]. Rather than wait for business to return to normal, top executives should cash in on the opportunity that the rival companies are creating for them. The company courageous enough to stay in the fight when everyone else is playing safe can bring about a dramatic change in market position.”

A 1979 study done by ABP/Meldurm & Fewsmith revealed that:

“Companies which did not cut marketing expenditures experienced higher sales and net income during those two years and the two years following than those companies which cut in either or both recession years.”

In fact, some remarkable marketing success stories emerged during times of economic difficulties:

  • Procter & Gamble pushed Ivory Soap during the height of the Great Depression. It’s no coincidence that P&G has made progress during every major recession. While competitors cut ad budgets, this company increases spending.
  • FedEx started doing business in 1973 during the gas crisis-led recession. In spite of relying on gas-guzzling trucks and planes to ship packages around the country, they succeeded and grew not only because they could deliver packages overnight, but because they clearly communicated their ability to do so.
  • Kellogg’s and Post were tied for market share in the cereal category in the 1920s. Post cut their advertising budget while Kellogg’s increased theirs by one million dollars. After the recession, Kellogg’s profits improved from $4.3 million a year in the 1920s to $5.7 million in the early 1930s, leaving Post profits in the dust.

In tough times, resist the tightwad tendency to cut advertising. Instead, increase your budget and be thankful if your competition cuts theirs. When rivals cut back, your message will stand out all the more. And that way you’ll ensure at least your company stays afloat.

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

Bowling for Business: Top 11 Marketing Tips for 2011

How to Market Your Business in 2011

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 20, 2010.

I have to admit my personal New Year’s resolutions for 2011 are the same as they were in 2010—lose weight; save money; be a better wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, neighbor and friend. I long for the day when I achieve my nebulous goals so I can draft a fresh, new list.

When it comes to business, I find it easier to establish innovative objectives. So please allow me a departure from my usual column-format to share what I believe to be the top 11 marketing strategies for the New Year:

1. Public Relations

Admittedly, I might be prejudiced, since this is my field. But I maintain the single most important tool in any entrepreneurial chest is public relations. After all, PR is about projecting a positive image, so it is universally applicable.

But how should you approach PR in 2011? Perhaps counter-intuitively, to market in the modern era, you need to return to an old business stand-by: the press release. Retooled as a Social Media Release, this approach remains the single most effective way to boost Search Engine Optimization. Because you can select keywords for each release and post to an online newsroom, Social Media Releases are far superior to the standard press release model.

2. Email Marketing

Although some pundits predicted that social media marketing would replace the use of this time-tested tool, don’t expect email marketing to go away. It is still the best way to reach your target market. In 2011, make sure you’re using the new tools provided through most email marketing companies, such as surveys, bounce-reports and social media tie-ins.

3. Social Media

For those of you who were waiting for the demise of social media, it’s time to give up the ghost. We’re living in a brave new world where Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are as much a part of the landscape as business cards and email addresses. So, if you have somehow managed to avoid setting up a social media account for your business up til now, do so in 2011.

4. Videos

My family and I finally caved in and purchased the new TiVo Premiere. I am blown away by our newfound ability to watch YouTube videos on our living room television set. We no longer have to crowd around a PC to access music videos, podcasts and MP3 files. The drawback to this type of technology is that the inferior quality of amateur videos now stands in sharp contrast to professionally-produced commercials and short films. So hire a professional to write, direct and post videos that have the potential to go viral.

5. Promotional Marketing Items

Everyone loves gifts…even you. So don’t underestimate the value of providing people with nifty trinkets that show you care while promoting your brand. Unless you’re rolling in the dough, think simple and cheap. Favors can be very inexpensive—something as simple as pen with your logo on it, a pin or sticker, or an individually wrapped chocolate. For just a few pennies per item, you will make a great impression.

6. Branding

Don’t stop at giveaways. Use every available opportunity to build your brand online and in the real world. Make sure your logo and slogan appear on everything from your email signature to the sign outside of your shop.

7. Website Strategies

If you haven’t already done so, convert your website so it no longer functions merely as an electronic brochure. Shoot for an update that encourages website visitors to interact instead of passively peruse.

8. Direct Marketing- Knock on More Doors in the New Year

The shine is off the penny for teleconferencing and Go-to-Meetings. Since, by now, most businessmen and women understand how to navigate the world of the webinar, to stand out in 2011, you will need to abandon all things electronic and at least offer to give your clients some face-time.

9. Support your Community

This topic is so important that it actually merits its own column. So we’ll cover it more in detail in time. But suffice to say it is imperative you support the businesses located adjacent to your own. Buy local and encourage others to do so. Join the Chamber of Commerce. Volunteer to serve in leadership positions wherever you are able.

10. Do Pro-Bono Work

Again, this is critical. So we’ll discuss the topic more in future posts. Demonstrate your personal commitment to support causes that matter. Pro-bono work shows that you care about more than your own bottom line.

11. Have Fun

Try not to take yourself too seriously. Try to remember why you went into business for yourself in the first place. If you aren’t having any fun, it will show in your product or service. And if you take steps to make changes in 2011, you might be able to come up with a new list of business resolutions for 2012. Happy New Year!

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

Bowling for Business: Holiday Gift-Giving—Think Outside of the Box

There is value in sending personalized holiday cards to clients

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 6, 2010 and in the Biz Press on December 8, 2010.

Making a trip to the post office during the holiday season used to be an exciting venture. Eager to read hand-penned personal greetings and catch up on news about family, friends and business associates, I braved the crowds and returned home to tear into elegant, foil-lined envelopes with quivering fingers.

Such is no longer the case. These days, pre-printed postcards, generic newsletters, stamped signatures and email blasts communicate one central theme—that the sender is too busy to take time to communicate directly to me.

So when it comes to sending a Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa greeting this year, I have one recommendation for you: make it count.

Rest assured you can do this regardless of your budget.

For Free—

Although you can create an email card for free, in this case, the adage applies: “You get what you pay for.” After all, if you are able to do a quick Internet search to locate free e-cards, so can your intended recipients. And do you really want to communicate to them that they are worth nothing to you? Better to skip the holiday greeting altogether.

If, instead, you opt for an inexpensive gift, set a realistic budget and stick to it. But don’t be cheap. Giving away pencils that cost .19 apiece communicates that you are either a skinflint or in dire straits, neither of which is your likely goal. Better to send a nice card than a cheesy trinket.

It’s perfectly acceptable to opt for a greeting card. Just take the time to personalize it instead of assigning the task of rubber-stamping your signature to a junior staffer. While it’s not necessary to invest both time and money to create a holiday greeting, you should do one or the other.

Boxed gift cards are available at just about every possible price-point and in just about every discount mart, supermarket and drugstore. Select something that is both professional and appropriate for your line of work. For example, if you own a restaurant, you could send cards that feature mouth-watering photos of food. But this is probably not the case if you own a string of laundromats.

On a Limited Budget—

Since we live in an increasingly electronic world, there is nothing wrong with sending an e-greeting, as long as it has been customized for you. This is especially appropriate if you own an Internet-based business. If you decide to go this route, don’t go it alone. Instead, hire a designer to incorporate your company logo, slogan and personal sentiments.

After all, no matter how altruistic your holiday benevolence, recognizing your customer-base during the holidays is, at its core, a marketing endeavor. After all, gifts (which are not considered to be entertainment) are legitimate, tax-deductible business expenses. Please check with your accountant or tax professional for details and limitations.

Another popular budget-friendly idea is to donate to a charity. Give your clients a list of three or four charities you’d like to donate to on their behalf and let them pick the one they like. This way, the business gets the tax write-off. So it’s a win/win for everyone.

Again, I make no claim to know anything about business accounting. So, where tax deductions are concerned, please check with someone who knows what they are doing. I recommend Ron Drake of TABS.

The Sky’s the Limit

If you choose to purchase gifts for your clients this holiday season, select something that will expertly promote your brand while appealing to the kid in all of us. Granted, this is a tall order. But nobody ever said it was easy to play Santa Claus.

The same rules apply to gift-buying in the business world as they do at home: it’s the thought that counts. So think through your options before slapping down your credit card:

  1. Would you like to receive the same gift? If not, why would your vendors, customers and cohorts want one?
  2. Is the idea fresh or stale? Several years ago, the “it” gift of the season was a digital picture frame. These days, even the electronically-challenged have figured out how to upload their SD Card to create slide show screen savers on their PCs or laptops. So try to select a gift that is timely.
  3. Some gifts stand the test of time because they are good. Don’t be afraid to buy something your clients might already have.

Case in point? Pens.(Pun, intended.) Sure, everyone has one. But there is no such thing as having too many writing utensils. They are easy to personalize, simple to store and inexpensive to mail. In fact, the perfect pens might be just the ticket for reviving frenzied holiday-trips to the post office.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Mountain Marketing Group. Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Forget the Fine Print

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 22, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 24, 2010.

When writing promotional copy for your product or service, less is more.

When I was in sixth grade, Mr. Khouri called my parents for a conference because, although I was excelling in Honors’ English, I was failing math. Since he wrote math problems on the chalkboard, he and my mother and father decided the solution was a giant pair of gold-rimmed aviator eyeglasses that made me look like John Denver. Not a fan of that particular fashion statement, I often “forgot” to wear my glasses or “accidentally” dropped them behind the back tires of our Pinto or “absentmindedly” flushed them down the toilet.

Unfortunately, there was a seemingly endless supply of hideous replacement frames at LensCrafters, which arrived in rapid succession…each pair unbelievably more hideous than its predecessor. This pattern continued until I finally earned enough baby-sitting money to buy contact lenses.

The horror of it all is probably why I refuse to acknowledge my increasing need for reading glasses. For months, I have been complaining to my family that every food manufacturer, magazine publisher and pharmaceutical company has recently, inexplicably reduced the size of the printing on their products.

Unwilling to consider that the problem might lie with me, I decided the logical thing to do was to start ignoring instructions. After all, at my age, I already know how to lather, rinse and repeat without having to read it on the bottle. Turns out, I am not alone.

With so many things competing for our time and attention, most of us are too busy to breathe. Rather than enjoying the luxury of leisurely pouring over every detail in each article that lands in our email inbox, we are lucky if we have time to skim headlines.

But, ironically, when it comes to creating content for others to read, most business professionals write website content and brochure copy as if their readers have nothing but time. So, if you have something you want to say to current and prospective clients, customers, guests, diners or donors, eliminate the fine print.

For Free—

When money is tight, you might be forced to do your own marketing. If this is the case, be brief. Without benefit of a professional writer or editor, and since you’ll be writing about something with which you are intimately acquainted, you will probably be prone to ramble. So here are a few words of advice:

  • Write whatever you want in a stream-of-consciousness style. Don’t even worry about adding punctuation or breaking your thoughts into paragraphs. Just get it all on paper.
  • Tear up what you wrote. That’s right. Toss it. Don’t worry. You know the material. Creating a disposable first draft will help you stay on track with your second.
  • After you finish writing your second draft, reduce it by at least 50%.
  • Then, get a second opinion from someone outside of your industry, who can alert you if you unwittingly used insider terminology.
  • Use plenty of headlines, sub-headings and bold print to divide copy. Nothing turns off readers more than an endless sea of words.

On a Limited Budget—

Hire a freelance writer. If you are preparing a newspaper advertisement, find someone who specializes in writing punchy ad copy. If you are producing a corporate brochure, commission a professional who specializes in formal business writing. Few writers excel at all styles. And the benefit of using contracted professionals is your ability to hand-pick the right people for every project.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Hire someone to create a campaign centered on a very clear message. The more you try to say, the more you will dilute your message. Take a cue from these successful ad campaigns, and associated short-slogans:

  • Nike: Just do it.
  • Mountain Dew: Do the Dew.
  • Kay Jewelers: Every kiss begins with Kay.
  • Burger King: Have it your way.
  • KFC: Finger-lickin’ good
  • Taco Bell: Think outside the bun.
  • Bounty: The quicker thicker picker-upper
  • Subway: Eat fresh
  • BMW: The ultimate driving machine
  • Avis: We try harder
  • AT&T: Reach out and touch someone
  • Visa: It’s everywhere you want to be
  • Skittles: Taste the rainbow
  • Yellow Pages: Let your fingers do the walking
  • Miller Beer: It’s Miller time.
  • Home Depot: You can do it. We can help.

And, my personal favorite—LensCrafters: Eyes love LensCrafters. (Hey, I never said a slogan had to be true in order to succeed.)

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