Category Archives: Uncategorized

Social Media is a Virtual Cocktail Party

The guy who put together this YouTube video, Jonathon Gillardi is hilarious. Admittedly, the video is a little long…11 minutes plus, which is crazy long for a YouTube video circa 2013. But it’s worth the time because he succinctly explains the entire philosophy behind social media.

Bowling for Business: Back to Blog Basics

Blog outside the box.

When my husband and I were newlyweds, we decided to enter our church’s talent show with a skit about the popular 1980s movie, Top Gun. On his day off, Brent volunteered to get supplies so we could create a makeshift F-14. But when I got home from work, there were so many cardboard boxes and rolls of packing tape crammed into our tiny one-bedroom apartment that I could hardly squeeze through the front door. It looked like the United Van Lines’ showroom had thrown up in our living room.

As I stared in horror, Brent explained that he planned on using one box for the fuselage, another for each wing, and more for the cabin, nose and tail, to which I replied:

 “I thought we would just rip off the end of a single box and stand inside of it together. Even if we were somehow able to build a full-scale airplane with cardboard boxes, how would we get it out the front door?”

Twenty-five years later, we still laugh at the memory because it taught us something about perspective. As soon as I shared my point of view with Brent, he saw the entire situation differently. When it comes to marketing small business, entrepreneurs all too often operate inside a vacuum. So, no matter how small your staff or limited your advertising budget, don’t let your ability to manage everything on your own rob you of critical third-party perspective.

For example, when it comes to developing your firm’s Internet presence, are you building a full-scale model of an F-14 when a single box would do? While websites initially served as expensive, static, copy-heavy online brochures, they have evolved into interactive forums where customers and company liaisons gather to exchange information and ideas. To find out where your website stands, ask around.

For Free—

Don’t use a website when a blog would suffice. When it comes to Search Engine Optimization, nothing beats a free WordPress blog. For one of our clients, we maintain two blogs…one which is a WordPress.org paid platform, hosted on his corporate website and another that exists as a free detached WordPress blog. Although the weekly posts are nearly identical, the free-standing platform generates 25% more traffic because Google metacrawlers love free-standing WordPress blogs.

It’s relatively easy to establish a renewed online presence using free WordPress tools:

  1. Start by asking your clients what they look for when they click on your site. Are you providing the resources they need?
  2. WordPress offers dozens of attractive templates to choose from as well as lots of user-friendly tools. Choose a design that compliments the color and feel of your brand and click “activate.”
  3. Set up your site with an “About Us” page listing your company description, contact information, relevant photos and interactive widgets.
  4.  Start uploading original content on a regular basis, which will post to your blogroll.
  5. Ask for feedback from current and prospective customers. Does your blog meet their needs?
  6. Take your old website offline and point or transfer your URL (website address) to the new blog.

On a Limited Budget—

While WordPress offers a shopping cart widget, it is currently insufficient for hosting numerous items or payment options. So, if your website features e-commerce and/or remains relevant, improve search results by hiring someone to piggy-back on your existing online presence. They can do this by building a WordPress blog or setting up active customized social media accounts for you on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. These networks have emerged as preeminent conduits for directing Internet traffic. So use them to feed pertinent information which points to your hub…whether that hub is your website or a blog.

The Sky’s the Limit—

In a perfect world, everyone would manage his or her own internet persona. But, like many business professionals, Donald Trump doesn’t have time to tweet or post FB status updates. Nevertheless, he understands the value of maintaining an active online presence. So he maintains a staff of marketing professionals to manage his brand.

As a result, his Twitter account has 1.2 million followers and his Facebook page has 391 thousand fans. So if you’re a busy business owner, take a cue from The Donald and leave your advertising campaign to the professionals. After all, marketing professionals can help you think outside the box.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business

Bowling for Business: Are Social Media Coupons Good for Business?

Could your business benefit from online group coupon offers?

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on October 23, 2011.)

I love spending time with our daughters and their boyfriends and friends and our granddaughter. But I must admit that, on Sunday afternoons, after a weekend of preparing meals, cleaning, chauffeuring and entertaining, when I assess our checking account balance, gas tank and the condition of our home, I feel a little like a farmer surveying crop damage following a locust swarm.

One of my clients described his recent social coupon experience in much the same way. The owner of a domestic referral agency based in LaVerne, he experimented with Groupon by offering discounted housekeeping services in the Inland Empire. And, as social coupon redeemers so often do, they signed up en masse for housecleaning, drained him and his staff of their time and resources and then fled to the next available online coupon opportunity.

He is hardly alone. In 2010, the owner of a bakery and café in Portland, Oregon called Posies wrote a now infamous blog post recounting her own similar experience:

“(Using Groupon) was the single worst decision I have ever made as a business owner thus far,” she wrote, also revealing she lost $8,000 as well as the good will of many of her existing customers because of the flood of Groupon users and the exorbitant percentage required by the service provider.

How can this be? After all, theoretically, group coupons supposedly benefit everyone—the site, consumer and the business owner. Consumers are said to benefit from lower prices by way of collective bargaining. The business is supposed to gain new patrons. And the site gets a cut from all of the sales. Win/win, right? Not so fast.

I realize that there are slight differences between the many social coupon services. So please allow me to generalize in order to explain the social-couponing process:

  1. The business owner works with social coupon site representatives to craft a great deal.
  2. The sales associate recommends offering a product or service “at least a 50% off” to generate rabid consumer interest.
  3. The business owner agrees to not only deeply discount his or her product or service for the offering but also to pay the coupon site 50% of the final take. (In other words, business owners who offer specials on social coupon sites are usually agreeing to do business at approximately 25% their usual rate.)
  4. The social coupon site emails the world and posts announcements to promote the deal.
  5. Consumers pay the coupon site and rush to redeem the special.
  6. The entrepreneur struggles to meet demand.
  7. Rinse and repeat.

Groupon is arguably the best known in the business, having been declared by Forbes as: “the fastest growing company ever.” But it is certainly not the only company or even the first to come up with the concept of providing coupon savings to groups of people who purchase discount tickets for products and services in advance. Here are a handful of similar sites:

Bloomspot

BuyWithMe (which has recently absorbed several direct competitors)

CheapLocalDeals

CrowdSavings

DailyDealster

EverSave

EWinWin

FlyCoupon

GoogleOffers (coming soon)

HomeRun

LivingSocial (a major player)

SocialBuy

Twongo

YipIt

I believe the ones who benefit most from group coupon sites are the sites themselves, evidenced by the fact that new ones pop up each day. I will admit there is one exception to the rule. If you purchased 9 million more American Idol figurines that you want to unload, you might benefit from selling them through an online coupon site. Otherwise, you’re probably better off to avoid the platform altogether. Although I don’t normally share my personal prejudices about marketing tools, in this case, I feel compelled:

  1. Group coupons destroy profitability within various markets

Once you run a 50% off campaign in your local area in your industry, you will be hard-pressed to get anyone in your sector to return to previous pricing levels. So, if you are comfortable operating at 25% of your current asking prices, then just drop your fees and leave online coupon companies out of the mix entirely.

Otherwise, in effect, you destroy profitability not just for yourself, but for everyone in your field. According to a recent study of Groupon, only 25% of redeemers buy additional products beyond the ones offered through the coupon and only 15% of coupon users come back.

  1. Over time, discounts will erode service levels and undermine customer satisfaction

Even if you can withstand a one-time coupon offer where you collect just 25% of what you normally receive, sustained couponing will ultimately eat into profitability and compromise service levels. With poor service, customer satisfaction will likely decline and you could stand to lose not only unprofitable coupon users, but all of your clients.

  1. You stand to destroy customer loyalty

Offering one-time customers the best deals rewards them instead of your existing clientele. Instead, why not tender loyalty incentives to keep good clients coming back? Besides, do you really want to be known as the cheapest game in town? Is that the best you have to offer?

Instead of focusing on price alone, provide superior customer service and build a reputation based on trust, loyalty and the uniqueness of your brand. If you go that route, you’ll generate plenty of buzz without having to resort to online coupon sites. And that should keep locust swarms and crop damage to a minimum.

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

Bowling for Business: Marketing Lessons from Oscar

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 28, 2011.)

By the time you read this column, the 2011 Academy Awards will be history. And while the events that unfold at each Oscar ceremony don’t affect most of us personally, there is much we can learn about marketing by studying the annual affair:

Image is everything—more viewers tune in to see beautiful people modeling glamorous fashions than because they care about who wins the award for best sound editing in a documentary. This might not be true if the dress code was “Come as you are.” Celebrities dress up (or down…remember Bjork?) because they understand the importance of defining, projecting and protecting their brand.

Entrepreneurs who understand this concept are able to leverage it for increased brand name recognition, customer loyalty and, ultimately, higher sales. When we sign a new website client at Mountain Marketing Group, the first order of business is to create or refine the client’s logo and slogan since these steps are foundational to effective advertising and public relations.

Membership has its privileges— while all members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences cast votes, only a small percentage receive invitations to attend the event. On the other hand, if you aren’t a member, your chances of attending are zip… unless you want to be a seat-filler.

This is also true for business owners and non-profit directors. If you don’t belong to the local chamber of commerce, you won’t be invited to mixers or educational seminars. And if you don’t attend business events, you won’t be able to hobnob. And if you don’t rub shoulders with people in the community where you do business, you won’t be able to build valuable relationships that might very well lead to business opportunities. Other memberships to consider include country clubs, professional associations and service organizations.

Networking is non-negotiable— in Hollywood, they call it “walking the red carpet.” In the real world, networking involves having actual conversations with real people who aren’t holding microphones or asking us who we are wearing.

Profitable business networking requires an investment of time and attention. When you attend a networking event, I challenge you to close your mouth and open your ears. Most of us prefer to spend time with good listeners than with people who never shut their mouths. American financier, stock-market speculator, statesman and political consultant Bernard M. Baruch summed it up well when he said,

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

Social Media matters—As soon as Justin Bieber gave a small clear box of his hair to Ellen DeGeneres, the Twittersphere went into overdrive, with nearly all of the 7,686,188 people who follow Bieber tweeting about the event as if it was the most important story in the world. The highest bid for the teen singer’s locks is currently at $12,000.

The Academy Awards’ ceremony is no longer simply broadcasted on television but streamed, celebri-tweeted, posted, blogged, checked in, stumbled upon, connected and fed to millions of eager viewers, followers, friends and fans. The reason any of this should matter to small business owners is that it’s all about buzz. If you want to take advantage of social media, don’t miss the groundswell. Create a Twitter account and set up a Facebook Fan Page for your organization. Today.

Everybody loves a party—more than the Academy Awards’ ceremony itself, I wish I could into the Governor’s Ball or one of the after-parties hosted by Elton John, James Franco or Madonna. It isn’t that I want to see movie stars up close and personal. It’s that I would love to dine on party fare prepared by the likes of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.

If you want to generate interest in your product or services, host an event and serve great food. Then, once your prospects have eaten, wow them with your professional offerings. People are more likely to respond favorably to sales pitches when they have happy tummies.

Nobody likes a windbag—the best Oscar speeches have been brief:

Jack Nicholson

I guess this proves there are as many nuts in the Academy as anywhere else.

Kim Basinger

I just want to thank everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life.

Benicio Del Toro

I won and I get to scream and jump a little. But I got to go back to work tomorrow.

Steven Spielberg

Am I allowed to say I really wanted this? This is fantastic.

James Cameron

I am the king of the world!

If you are giving your Oscar acceptance speech and the music starts, you need to shut up. The best advertising campaigns have also been brief:

Brylcreem

A little dab’ll do ya.

De Beers’ diamonds

A diamond is forever.

Florida Citrus Commission

A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.

Rice a Roni

The San Francisco treat

Florida Citrus Commission

Wheaties: Breakfast of Champions.

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

Bowling for Business: Show and Tell

For maximum marketing impact, use copy as well as images.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 3, 2011.

My favorite day of the week in Mrs. Stanley’s first grade was Friday because that’s when we got to do Show and Tell. Since we had three dogs, a turtle and several fish, and because I loved having an excuse to bring pets to school, I was set for weeks. But my love of the activity extended to other classmates’ treasures as well:

  • Brian made a belt out of paperclips, which he fastened to his chair as a sort of makeshift restraining device.
  • Dawn had a watch with interchangeable face plates and bands, to match every outfit in her extensive closet.
  • Chad routinely forgot to bring anything from home, so he often stuffed part of his lunch into his boot before recess so he would have something to share later in class.

As we begin marketing in 2011, I contend the most successful advertising and public relations’ campaigns will hearken to this elementary-school standby. After all, it is widely believed the use of pictures along with words increases brain activity and aids learning.

  • According to Head First Labs, “When words appear within a picture, or there is a combination of words and a picture, our brains try to make sense of how the words and the picture relate. When more neurons are firing, there are more chances for your brain to get that this is something worth paying attention to.”
  • Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine found that pictures allow patients with very mild Alzheimer’s disease to better recognize and identify a subject compared to using words alone.
  • Swish Video contends that people remember merely 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see and an incredible 70% what they hear and see. So, to effectively promote your product or service, no matter your audience, make sure you do both—show and tell.

For Free—

If you are handling your own marketing and public relations, make much of pictures. Many entrepreneurs understand their own products to a fault. Don’t forget to “dumb down” technical jargon when marketing your product or service so it makes sense to the buying public. One way to do this is with pictures:

  • With blog posts, for example, upload an image and restrict copywriting to a caption. This will remind you to be brief. As a rule, blog posts should contain a maximum of 700 words.
  • Include a photo or illustration with every press release you write. If you have not yet mastered the art of uploading a jpeg from your desktop to an online platform, figure it out. Like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. So don’t let technology stand in your way.

On a Limited Budget—

  • Pay a little extra to include artwork in your advertising. It will be worth it. In fact, if you only have enough cash to buy a small ad, ax the text. No one has time to sift through a sea of words anyway.
  • Experiment with video. You can get a hand-held video camera for about $100. Buy one. Take it to work and start filming anything and everything. Then, edit and upload short, educational bits to YouTube.
  • If the idea of making a video is overwhelming, start with a slideshow. Use a platform like Vimeo, Animoto or Kizoa, which will enable you to use still photos to create short video pieces set to music.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Zappos.com recently reported a 6 to 30 percent increase in sales on items that are accompanied by a video. Quality video content, with correct tagging and intelligent distribution online, has tremendous power to reach wide audiences for two reasons:

  1. Video is a powerful medium for contacting and communicating on a human level.
  2. Video is a powerful tool for engaging search engines.

So hire someone to produce, tag and post short, professional videos for use with press releases, ads, websites and social media platforms. But make sure you keep the clips short or they will likely go un-clicked.

Still unconvinced? Imagine how much more interesting this particular column would have been if it had been accompanied by a video of Show and Tell in Mrs. Stanley’s first grade class circa 1969.

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.

Bowling for Business: The Pay it Forward Proposition

It pays to pay it forward.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 8, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 10, 2010.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more depressing movie than Pay it Forward.

Spoiler Alert: Although the premise of doing things for the sole purpose of making the world a better place to live is one I support, I wish the screenwriters would have framed the story in something other than the murder of a 11-year-old cherubic everyman played by Haley Joel Osment when he was still adorable (before his voice changed).

With that said, paying it forward is worthwhile not only in Hollywood but also in the real world…especially in business. The general idea is to selflessly give to three people without expecting anything in return. Then, the three people you help should do the same until the impact is felt in large scale. It’s a small but revolutionary idea. And I can’t think of a better time than the holidays to give it a try.

I propose you use whatever line of work you are in to pay it forward in your own little corner of the world. If you take the time to open your eyes, you’ll discover that opportunities abound. And they come at several different price-points:

For Free

One of the services we offer at Mountain Marketing Group is ghost-writing for social media accounts such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Our goal is to build a foundation and then teach our clients how to build on it by maintaining the accounts on their own. Although many choose to retain us in lieu of riding solo, most enjoy the process of learning how to provide industry-specific, valuable content to the folks in their target market.

But we usually have to repeat our social media strategy numerous times before it actually starts to sink in. Experts in my field agree the ultimate goal of social media is to contribute and engage instead of directly selling. But providing something for nothing is counter-intuitive to savvy business professionals who generally measure success by terms like ROI and “the bottom line.”

Like it or not, we are living in a brand new world, where we can no longer pretend we have cornered the market on anything! The Information Superhighway has made it necessary to honestly represent your offerings. But don’t worry; sharing information will not make you irrelevant. On the contrary; you will emerge as a leader in your field. For example:

  • If you sell soap, write blogs about secret ingredients and tools of the trade. Don’t worry; you won’t reveal anything that isn’t already posted online.
  • If you teach Latin, tweet key phrases and uses for the dead language.
  • If you make blankets, provide Facebook status updates when fleece and flannel go on sale.

According to a September 2010 Study by Pew Research, 54% of people conduct online research before buying anything…regardless of whether they end up making the actual purchase in the real world or in Cyberspace. So providing information to fuel their inquiries is a great way for you to pay it forward.

On a Limited Budget

Use some of your profits to fund a charitable organization. While I can’t show you a ledger to prove the value in contributing outside of your own firm, I can personally testify to the benefits (both personal and financial) of paying it forward by giving. Since we are near year’s end, perhaps the idea of donating is a tad more attractive now than at other times? Whatever it takes, go with it. Put your money where your mouth is.

The Sky’s the Limit

Sponsor a charitable event. Since sponsorship usually comes with PR-related perks like corporate attribution and public acknowledgment, some may argue this is not a true “pay it forward” activity. But I maintain you are paying it forward whenever someone else is the beneficiary of your benevolence. So select any organization that makes sense to you.

Call the executive director to set up a meeting so you can determine the needs and availability of the organization. Now more than ever, non-profit groups are in need of folks to pay it forward. According to SiloBreaker, due to the recession, donations to our country’s 400 largest charities declined this year by 11%. And that figure is even more depressing than fictionalized homicide.

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

Bowling for Business: Miscommunication Situation

Communication is critical in all forms of advertising.

Make sure you network the right way in the right place.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on October 25, 2010 and in the Biz Press on October 27, 2010.

While saving money to return to college my sophomore year, I did a short stint as an international flight attendant with a little-known charter airline called Arrow Airways. I was delighted to work one particular flight from Denver, Colorado, to Gatwick, England because one of my fellow crew members was a hunky Italian named Alberto.

When we landed, I quickly accepted his invitation to join him for dinner. Although his accent was thick, I was sure he said he would be taking me to an Italian restaurant called Apple Luigi’s. So imagine my surprise when we arrived at our destination in downtown London, which was not a fine Italian eatery called Apple Luigi’s but a gay men’s club called Harpoon Louie’s.

Why would I share this humiliating story? Because the lessons I learned apply to successful networking for business:

  1. Shut up and Listen.
  2. Kill the Agenda.
  3. Check your Six.

Shut Up and Listen

Instead of just waiting for your turn to talk, pay attention when you are chatting with someone. If you practice active listening, you will stand out because most people approach networking events with mouths open and ears shut. If I had spent more time listening to Alberto instead of trying to impress him with flirty banter, I might have ascertained that he was not a viable romantic prospect.

More recently, I participated in a speed-networking event where organizers asked participants to rate fellow networkers. The top three had this in common: they listened more than they spoke. If you want people to think highly of you, listen to them.

Kill the Agenda

Entrepreneurs often have “Type A” personalities who like to manage everything, often to their own peril. The reason I was surprised by Alberto’s revelation is because I came to the party with my own romantic agenda. But even though my time at Harpoon Louie’s isn’t what I had expected, I ended up meeting lots of interesting people. So, even though I had to find my own ride back to the hotel, the evening wasn’t a total waste.

Try to make the best of your circumstances because you never know what might unfold. Buckminster Fuller called this phenomenon the Processional Effect. As a Christian, I call it the Sovereignty of God. Whatever your belief system, try to let things happen naturally instead of trying to control the world. You might be surprised to make a friend, land a new client or learn something new.

Check your Six

Make sure you’re in the right place. Although you should go with the flow no matter where you end up, try to start off somewhere that makes sense. Before selecting networking groups to join and events to attend, figure out if regular attendees fall into your target market. Since I was interested in meeting someone I could date, Harpoon Louie’s was not an ideal location.

The good news is you don’t have to learn these lessons the hard way. Take a tip from me and network for maximum results on any budget:

For Free—

When it comes to finding places to network, think outside the box. Networking opportunities don’t occur only at official mixers that are labeled “Networking Event.” You can meet potential clients, customers and associates literally anywhere and everywhere…in the real world as well as Cyberspace.

For those who regularly read my columns, please allow me to repeat myself. The most effective way to network for free is online. Join and maintain social media accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And, above all else, remember to be the same person you are online as you are in the real world.

On a Limited Budget—

In this troubled business economy, when time and money are often in short supply, carefully select which networking groups to join. Instead of spreading yourself too thin by signing up for several organizations, start small. Join one group and take a leadership role. Arrive early and stay late. Volunteer to help set up and clean up so people see you as an active member.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If the funds are available, sponsor your own networking event. This will position you as a leader in the business community and enable you to hand-pick attendees from your own target market. And you can host the event wherever you want…from Apple Luigi’s to Harpoon Louie’s.

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