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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.
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.
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:
- Start by asking your clients what they look for when they click on your site. Are you providing the resources they need?
- 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.”
- Set up your site with an “About Us” page listing your company description, contact information, relevant photos and interactive widgets.
- Start uploading original content on a regular basis, which will post to your blogroll.
- Ask for feedback from current and prospective customers. Does your blog meet their needs?
- 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
(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:
- The business owner works with social coupon site representatives to craft a great deal.
- The sales associate recommends offering a product or service “at least a 50% off” to generate rabid consumer interest.
- 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.)
- The social coupon site emails the world and posts announcements to promote the deal.
- Consumers pay the coupon site and rush to redeem the special.
- The entrepreneur struggles to meet demand.
- 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:
BuyWithMe (which has recently absorbed several direct competitors)
GoogleOffers (coming soon)
LivingSocial (a major player)
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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:
- Would you like to receive the same gift? If not, why would your vendors, customers and cohorts want one?
- 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.
- 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.
Make sure you network the right way in the right place.
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:
- Shut up and Listen.
- Kill the Agenda.
- 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.
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.
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:
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.