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Bowling for Business: Lighten Up

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on May 24, 2011.)

My husband and I have a standing breakfast date on Saturday mornings. So I usually try to show a little effort by running a comb through my hair and dabbing on a bit of mascara. But, this weekend, we wanted to make sure we got to Belgian Waffle Works before they stopped serving biscuits. So I skipped the makeup and threw on some sweats, an old denim shirt, and a pair of fashion-forward Crocs; and off we went.

An hour later, when my good friend, Kelly, called to say that she was in town and wanted to introduce us to her fiance, I almost chocked on my multigrain waffle. I hung up the phone and stared at Brent.

“This will be the first time I’ve met Keith. And I didn’t even brush my teeth before we left the house. My shirt has paint all over it. And I’m not even wearing socks.”

His response put everything into perspective: “I am wearing white socks…with sandals!”

Brent and I have been happily married for nearly 25 years. And the secret to our success is laughter. We agree with Peter Ustinov’s philosophy:

“It is our responsibilities (not ourselves) that we should take seriously.”

I often wish I could train clients to embrace the idea. But since money is tied to success and success is linked to business, too many entrepreneurs have lost their sense of humor, especially in this economy. And that is anathema to effective advertising.

Leo Barnett once accurately summarized the field of marketing: “Great advertising can be boiled down to three simple messages: ‘Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it will do for you. Here’s how to get it.'”

But how do you capture the attention of your target market so you can tell them what you’ve got, what it will do for them and how to get it? Most of us are too busy to focus on anything for more than a few minutes. So how can you cut through the noise? Take a cue from the most memorable and successful marketing campaigns of all time. Make ’em laugh. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

The great thing about hilarity is that it’s free. You can incorporate humor into your ad campaigns on any and every marketing budget.

 

For Free—

In social media, pay attention to the types of posts that stimulate feedback. Currently appearing on my own Facebook wall is a video of a talking dog, a video of a stick figure trying to sell social media and a Baby Dancing to Beyonce…hardly fodder for members of Mensa. Even when your purposes for using platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are business-related, remember that your goal is to get your message in front of three-dimensional decision-makers—not pod people.

On a Limited Budget—

If your product is Tums, you can afford to hire writers, directors, actors, famous NASCAR drivers, a professional production crew and special effects editors to create comical videos about food fighting back. But most of us have to settle for a more modest approach.

If funds are tight, invest in a great, short video script and produce it yourself for free (or almost free) on the user-friendly comical movie-making website xtranormal. Then, post a link to it on all of your social media sites.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Experiment with levity. Hire someone with a sense of humor to come up with a trial campaign for your product or service. Once you’ve approved the angle, give it a fair shake by cross-promoting it on your website, social media sites, and in print ads and press releases. Then test and measure online metrics against more formal takes of the same campaign. Some tools I recommend for this include:

Any marketing professional worth his or her salt will show you the results of market research. You can also send a brief survey with a link to your campaign, asking recipients for their opinion. Sample question: When meeting someone for the first time, which is worse? To dress like an unemployed painter or to wear white socks with sandals?

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

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Bowling for Business: I Advertise, Therefore I Am

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

I advertise, therefore I am.

Last week in the restroom at Costco, I managed to activate the automatic soap dispenser, which efficiently delivered one gallon of foam onto my waiting hands. But, as is typical, despite flailing my appendages wildly in front of the sensor at numerous angles, I failed to convince the faucet that I was an actual human being in desperate need of rinsed hands.

Since the paper towel dispenser was also an automated model which refused to cooperate, I kicked open one of the stall doors and grabbed 57 toilet seat covers, which popped out in one solid chunk, and tried, in vain, to wipe the liquid coating from my hands. Then, I watched in horror as a tiny five-year-old girl approached the sink and navigated all of the automated equipment entirely without incident.

Looking back, I remain convinced my troubles were not the result of any mental defect or motor skill-related disability but simply a matter of perspective. I failed to trigger the sensors so they were not aware of my presence. Are potential customers aware of yours?

I often meet entrepreneurs who wrongfully assume that their existing advertising campaign is working simply because they have an ad campaign. But where you are advertising is just as important as the method you are using. And, while my marketing columns don’t usually delve into metaphysics, this aspect of marketing begs the question of unperceived existence, first posed by philosopher George Berkeley, who is believed to have authored the now-famous riddle:

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Don’t make the mistake of investing big bucks in a marketing plan that might never reach your target market. With a little research on the front end, you will be able to maximize your Return on Investment with any marketing budget.

For Free—

Trial and error is the best way to test advertising strategies when you are counting pennies. The method is so effective, in fact, that even corporate giants, who have access to millions of dollars, rely on it. Like casting a line and waiting to see if anything will bite, if you are using the right bait, you can try several different places to fish until you discover the perfect spot.

And, no matter your product or service, the best place to start testing your advertising is in Cyberspace. Why? Almost 78% of people who live in North America are online each day, according to the World Internet Usage Statistics website. Where else could your advertisements boast that reach?

  • According to Pew Research, only 39% of people read a newspaper each day.
  • The Association of Magazine Media say that while 85% of American adults read at least one magazine per month, most are opting for the electronic versions of their favorite publications.
  • MSNBC reports that teens and young adults spend more time online than watching TV.

On a Limited Budget—

A little market research can go a long way in helping you pinpoint your online audience. Where Neilsen was once unchallenged in the sophisticated collection and evaluation of television viewing information, Forrester is emerging as the gold standard for Internet market research.

You can pay either of these or lesser-known, less expensive firms on retainer or per project. Although spending money on research might not thrill you, the promise of discovering your target market’s habits so you can effectively communicate with them should.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If you have the luxury of doing so, cover all of the bases like the big guys:

And, lucky for them, they manage to do it all without getting their hands dirty.

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: Pushing Past the Papaya

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 17, 2011.

I couldn’t have been better prepared for our stint on Supermarket Sweep than I was on the morning the cable game show taped in 1991. My teammate, Donna, and I had brushed up on trivia and even memorized the layout of the studio grocery store so we would be able to quickly fill our carts with high-ticket items so we would make it to the all important Big Sweep. Then, inexplicably, when the cameras started to roll, I choked. Like a deer in headlights, in the first round, I stared blankly at the host and then proceeded to do everything in my power to embarrass my unborn children.

Question: What fruit has a green rind, red flesh and black seeds?

I was the first to buzz in with my incorrect answer: Papaya.

Question: Which melon features orange flesh and tan seeds?

My Answer: Papaya.

Question: In what month do most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving?

My Answer: Papaya.

To this day, I have no idea why I had papaya on the brain. I don’t even really care for papaya. I also have no idea how, despite my mistakes, Donna and I emerged victorious, taking home a grand total $1,103 for our efforts. But I appreciate the relevance of making sure Mountain Marketing Group clients push past this type of brain freeze when it comes to advertising.

For many, the ability to seize the potential of using social media for lead generation is stifled by one thing and one thing alone: an outdated mindset. Somehow, most of us still think that advertising is advertising and social media is something else. But, in truth, advertising and social media are the same thing. They are both content.

The moment we realize that all marketing equals content, we will finally be able to break through the brain freeze and find new ways to fuel powerful brand interactions so they will lead to sales transactions and charitable donations. And we can do this regardless of budget.

For Free—

The first step to creating valuable content is to understand the shared interests and motivations of your target market. Once you recognize what they need, you can start crafting content to fill those needs. And that content can be created for free. For instance, if your product is hairspray, the most obvious shared trait of your target market is that most people who use it have hair. And while your endgame is to get them to buy your product, first, you must provide them with interesting information.

Content for people with hair might include Facebook posts about healthy hair care tips or hair styling trends. Once you have proven yourself knowledgeable and helpful regarding everything hair, your client base will learn to associate your brand with their haircare-related needs. Just don’t make the mistake of using your voice to hard-sell from the start. In an age where people actively search for content instead of passively listening to whatever you have to say, share-of-voice has to be earned.

On a Limited Budget—

Develop an email newsletter. You can either create the publication in-house using a free or low-cost service such as Constant Contact, RatePoint or MailChimp, or hire a professional to produce content-rich information to distribute on a regular basis. But beware of the most common pitfall to this practice—believing you will have time to do this chore yourself, in addition to running your business or nonprofit organization. The road to social media success is paved with good intentions.

Another budget-friendly, content-heavy idea is to blog. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of writing 300-500 word articles and then pointing to the posts via social media websites. If your tweets and status updates are content-rich and optimized, you will be well on your way to establishing yourself as a trusted leader in your field. And trust is the foundation for establishing lifetime relationships with customers, donors and friends.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Don’t forget about the real world. As reliant on technology as we have become, most people still prefer the warmth of a handshake to the cool touch of a keyboard.

In fact, according to MSNBC New.com, “People prefer colonoscopies to computer upkeep.” So don’t relegate all of your marketing efforts to the Internet.

Here are some real world ideas:

  1. Sponsor a workshop, conference or industry event.
  2. Accept invitations to speak in public about your area of expertise.
  3. Produce an informational brochure. But resist the urge to use the piece to promote your product. Instead, simply provide content along with your logo, slogan and contact information.
  4. Papaya.

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: 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.

Bowling for Business: Set Yourself Aside

Consider your target market's perspective.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 30, 2010 and on the Business Press on September 1, 2010 and the Press Enterprise on September 4, 2010.

It was a bonehead move for my counselors at Summer Fun Day Camp to take a van full of impressionable seven and eight-year-old kids to see the 1971 Vincent Price horror movie, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Filling my nightmares for years, the film featured a disfigured physician methodically killing the surgeons who had failed to save his wife following a car accident.

One scene in particular sent me repeatedly running to my parents’ room in tears. Dr. Phibes juiced Brussels sprouts and drilled a hole through the ceiling above his victim’s bed so he could pour liquefied vegetables all over her body. Then, he sent a swarm of hungry locusts to crawl down a tube, where they devoured her entire body.

I recently purchased the movie so I could face my fears some 40 years later. Instead of a hideously scary, realistic portrait of terror, as I had recalled, my second viewing revealed a hokey, campy farce. The Brussels sprout scene, in particular, is absurd. The locusts ate all but a cheesy plastic skeleton and her entire head of hair. It was all so preposterous that, as an adult, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

It all boils down to perception. Teenage counselors probably didn’t realize the movie choice would freak out their campers. To select more suitable fare, they should have looked at the field trip from our perspective. This is a concept I share with clients, who often choose advertising campaigns based on their own opinions and experiences instead of the needs, ideas and prejudices shared by potential clients and/or donors.

“I like this kind of advertising. So I’m sure my clients will like it, too,” explained one Mountain Marketing Group client.

“That’s fine,” I told him. “But let me ask you something. If you didn’t own the company, would you be in your own target market? Is this a product that you would buy?”

“Well, I have an iPod.”

“Yes. You have an iPod. But is your best customer a middle-aged white male who will buy one or two sets of headphones in his lifetime, or is it someone else?”

“I’m not selling to the end consumer. I’m selling to wholesalers who buy in bulk. And most of the buyers are girls in their 20s and 30s.”

It was then that he had his aha moment, realizing that the methods that persuade him may not be the same as strategies designed specifically to reach potential customers in his target market. A typical entrepreneur, intimately involved in every step of the business, from conceptualization to manufacturing to marketing, Rick found it difficult to set aside his own frame of reference. But once he agreed to do so, we were able to launch an effective social media campaign that catered to his customers instead of to him. And you can do it, too.

For Free—

To gain fresh perspective, ask for outside input. You can do this even if you run a one-man (or one-woman) show. Just make sure you ask the opinions of people who fit your Ideal Client Profile (ICP).

In The E-myth Revisited, Michael Gerber says business owners are often too close to their own enterprises to accurately identify the best overall picture of their own ideal clients. So make sure you ask around. It might take some detective work. And bear in mind that it’s entirely possible your current customer list does not yet include your ideal client.

On a Limited Budget—

When funds are tight, take advantage of books on tape, DVDs and webinars, which provide ready access to the best business and marketing minds in the world. Here are a few authors I recommend:

Ken Blanchard: The One-Minute Entrepreneur

Seth Godin: Free Prize Inside

Guy Kawasaki: The Art of the Start

The Sky’s the Limit—

With effective market research, you can determine the need for your service, a product’s likelihood to sell, target-market demographics, and desirable storefront locations. There are numerous ways to uncover this information—from online research to focus groups to counting customers. When money is no object, the most effective method for determining and catering to your ideal client is to hire a market research firm to compile data and prepare a report.

Here are a few options:

Market Research.com claims they have the best research offerings and expertise to make sure you get the right report every time. They do.

Vizu offers a full suite of customer-focused online market research survey solutions.

Polldaddy—software for data collection, which is more affordable than hiring a market research firm to handle everything for you. Polldaddy gives you the ability to collect data about virtually everything, from how to promote your product or service to evaluating age-appropriate entertainment options for skittish seven-year-old campers.

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