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.

Bowling for Business: How to Succeed in Business by Really Trying

Why networking is a "no-brainer."

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 13, 2010 and in the Biz Press on September 15, 2010.

At 18, I didn’t understand the subtleties of the musical How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. So I unsuccessfully lobbied our director to produce the far more popular and ever racier show, Grease. As a senior in high school, I related more to the naïve, love-struck Sandy than to the part I begrudgingly landed… matronly secretary Miss Jones. Ironically, I now realize I should have taken notes from my role.

In the climatic show-stopping scene, Brotherhood of Man, lead characters J. Pierrepont Finch and Miss Jones sing about the common business practice of networking by joining groups like the Elks and Shriners. If “How to Succeed” were written today, the lyrics would likely also include references to social networking websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

In the two and a half years that I have owned my own advertising agency, I’ve learned one indisputable fact: If you want to succeed in business, YOU HAVE TO TRY. My take on the best use of your time and talent might come as a surprise. As a marketing professional, of course I believe in the power of a well-conceived advertising and public relations’ campaign. But, when it comes to business success, in the real world as well as cyberspace, there is no substitute for networking.

By networking, I mean more than attending mixers or posting status updates on Facebook. Real networking involves investing yourself in the lives of those around you. Only this kind of venture will produce dividends in business as well as life. But don’t take it from me. Some of the best business minds in the world agree:

Jeffrey Gitomer:

How important is networking? If you’re trying to be successful, it’s the difference between mediocre and big.

Dale Carnegie:

You can be more successful in two months by becoming really interested in other people’s success than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in your own success.

Keith Ferrazzi:

You don’t just network when you need it. You don’t network just to get something from someone. The goal is not to get from others. It is to give.

Dr. Ivan Misner:

Networking minus follow-through equals a waste of time.

If you are ready to raise the stakes with your business—to really try to succeed—get started networking today. Here are a few budget-friendly ideas to get you started creating and contributing to communities, in the real world and online.

For Free—

Check out Free Networking International, which provides information about networking opportunities across the globe. But this organization heavily promotes a $40 course to teach you how to network. So you might be better off heading to the park and striking up a conversation with strangers.

Though some have tried charging for access to community websites in Cyberspace, the best the Internet has to offer is still available to everyone for free. So if budget is a concern, take advantage of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which allow you to fan, friend and follow folks who share your interests, goals and religious or political leanings. And when you join communities, do so as a thoughtful collaborator instead of as a bombastic broadcaster.

 

On a Limited Budget—

Hire someone to establish and maintain your social networking accounts so you can use your time to attend events in the real world. Make sure you are a fixture at chamber of commerce mixers, community events and networking get-togethers. One group I recommend is BNI, which is the largest business networking organization in the world, offering members the opportunity to share ideas, contacts and business referrals on a weekly basis.

 

The Sky’s the Limit—

Don’t just attend networking events. Sponsor them. Take a cue from the Business Press, which hosts the annual Inland Empire’s Largest Mixer as a service to the local business community. This year’s effort is especially intriguing as reporters will conduct and record brief interviews with interested business men and women and provide participants with a flash drive for upload to their websites. By taking an active interest in and providing for the needs of their target market, the BP is building a network that would even make J. Pierrepont Finch and Miss Jones proud.

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

Bowling for Business: Info on the Go

Provide info-on-the-go to potential and current cilents and customers.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 16, 2010 and in the Biz Press on August 18, 2010.

After borrowing my sister-in-law’s mobile phone in 1988, I was convinced that cell phone technology would never gain much of a following. As attractive and portable as a cinder block, it came with a 42-page instruction manual that was as user-friendly as the directions for programming the clock on an early-model VCR.

I noticed a sharp contrast while hosting a garage sale last weekend. Several customers walked up and down the makeshift aisles while feverishly tapping on tiny touch screens. When I asked one girl what she was doing, she said she was checking eBay to compare prices. It’s a brave new world.

Today, well over 250 million people in the United States use cell phones on a regular basis, which puts the mobile saturation rate at 82.4 percent. I have constant and immediate access to such statistics courtesy of the Information Superhighway delivered directly to my trusty Blackberry Smartphone.

Gone are the days of painstakingly searching for answers in reference books at the local library. If you have a question, just key it into your PC, laptop or handheld device and the answer will appear within seconds. Unlike a browser such as Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, which power keyword-based Internet searches, Q & A sites like ChaCha are designed to answer very specific questions via Internet and/or text message.

One mobile question & answer website I often reference is ChaCha. My kids use the word as a verb, as in “I cha-cha’d” this or that, which might sound strange. But so once did “googling.”

ChaCha was founded in 2006 by a disgruntled Jet Blue flight attendant who purportedly cussed out a passenger, cracked open a beer and activated the emergency slide to make his escape. When he launched ChaCha, the site joined the ranks of popular Q & A platforms such as Yahoo! Answers, WikiAnswers and Ask.com.

These sites are significant for small business and non-profit managers because they offer cost-effective vehicles for interactive target-marketing. Let me explain. If someone wants to know why bug bites itch, they can enter the question on Ask.com. Immediately, organic (unpaid) search results appear in response. Then, immediately thereafter, related, paid text advertisements show up by companies including Terminix and BedSBug.net. And relevant, colorful banner advertisements appear at right. The smartest Internet advertising strategy includes all three.

For Free—

Build SEO so your website ranks high in organic searches. The most effective way to do this is to set up and regularly post to social media websites such as a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Resist the urge to use your social media sites to do direct sales. Instead, provide relevant, frequent content to your target market, so the name of your organization will appear when potential customers, clients or donors ask questions related to your field. In this way, you earn your position as a noted expert.

On a Limited Budget—

Pay for text advertisements that appear underneath natural results. The great thing about this type of marketing is that you only pay when someone clicks thru to your website. Ad rates for sponsored results are usually set by silent auction. The more competition there is for any given phrase, the higher the price. If you want to investigate this option, check out several Q & A sites, since rates vary greatly. Some sites to compare:

  • AnswerBag
  • Askville
  • LinkedIn Answers (Business-Focused)
  • Lycos
  • Minti (Parenting)
  • Point Ask
  • Trulia (Real Estate Research)
  • Yedda

The Sky’s the Limit—

Develop colorful banner ads so visitors can click-thru to your website. The term “banner” comes from the general shape for such advertisements, which is a short, wide strip that is usually placed at the top of a webpage. In his book, How to Grow Your Business on the Internet, Vince Emery says that a click-thru rate of 1 percent is normal, while 10 percent is outstanding.

Although display ads are considerably more expensive than either text-based or social media positioning to gain Search Engine Optimization, no one can argue the appeal of sharp graphics and a clever turn of phrase. But then again, Internet advertising probably won’t ever really catch on.

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

Bowling for Business: The Sky’s the Limit

How to get your company in the news.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 1, 2010, in the Press Enterprise on August 7, 2010 and in the Business Press on August 16, 2010.

The first time I saw my photograph in a newspaper, I was mortified. I was eight years old. My brownie troop produced a float for the Christmas parade in Englewood, Colorado. And after dutifully decorating for weeks, I was chosen to ride on top of the float instead of walking next to it.

To prepare me for the cold three-mile route, my mother insisted I cover my beautiful fairy princess costume with a humongous white down coat and a giant furry hat. When a picture of the event landed on the front page of The Denver Post, I looked like a tiny Russian immigrant who had been swallowed by the Michelin Man.

So it’s somewhat ironic I would enter the field of public relations, which is all about generating media coverage. In the early days as an intern, I wrote press releases in long hand, using felt tip pens on yellow legal pads. Once the copy was approved, I submitted it to the office secretary, who would type the document to be mailed to media outlets.

Since press releases were directed to newspaper staffers, the only way to successfully solicit exposure was to curry favor with members of the media. In the glory days of the newspaper, editors had the luxury of tossing aside submissions that failed to follow the right formula. Releases had to be written using an Inverted Pyramid and Five Ws. At the time, the most a media relations’ manager could hope for was to catch the attention of an editor, who would assign the story to a reporter. By the time any given story made it to print, creative control was lost.

To the dismay of the newspaper industry, times have changed. The Internet has effectively stripped publishers and editors of their roles as gatekeepers and given it directly to anyone with a word processing program and access to the Internet. That’s good news if you are a business owner or nonprofit director who has a product or service to promote. Instead of laboriously searching for a newsworthy angle to pitch, you can write and publish just about anything you want. Here’s how:

For Free—

To create a Social Media Press Release, start by setting up a free account with an online distribution service such as PR Log, PR.com or Free Press Release.com. Requirements vary depending on the service you use. But, generally, here is what your press release should include:

  1. Headline—interesting, relevant information to attract your target market. Grab their interest with the headline and deliver what you promise in the body of the release.
  2. Subheading—further details relating to the headline
  3. Summary—press release contents in short order. This can be written in narrative form or broken up into bullet points.
  4. Body—the meat of your release. Here is where you can use the Inverted Pyramid and Five Ws if you are a traditionalist. But even if you opt for a more conversational style, make sure all essential information appears in this section.
  5. Multimedia Links—directs Internet traffic to photos and videos. The surefire way to generate lots of interest is to attach a video link. If you don’t yet feel comfortable creating media of this type on your own, point visitors to one of the millions of videos already available on YouTube.
  6. Relevant Hyperlinks—Internet links that relate to your article. Include your company’s website, social media accounts and other relevant information.
  7. Tags—often neglected, this step is probably the most important for generating traffic to your release. Whereas old school press releases were written for editors, social media releases should be directed to end users.

On a Limited Budget—

If the above list overwhelms you and your budget will allow, hire a professional writer. Most freelancers charge between $35 and $125 per hour. But bear in mind that, at this price point, distribution will fall to you.

Full-service social media release agencies are pricey but effective. So, if you can swing about $500 per release, use a service like PR Newswire, Business Wire or Marketwire. These companies produce, distribute and store social media press releases. But since they specialize in making anything and everything buzz worthy, be prepared to see your image splashed across the Internet…whether you like it or not.

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

Bowling for Business: Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Satisfaction Guaranteed

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on March 29, 2010 and in the Biz Press on April 17, 2010.

Several years ago, we stayed at an international hotel chain in Northern California. When we arrived, we were surprised that there were no pillows in our room. When we called the front desk to ask for a few, the staff informed us that they were out of pillows because, prior to our arrival, several other guests had requested extras. And, naturally, the maids thought it best to raid our room in order to meet the demand.

After we unpacked, we rode the elevator to the lobby. Brianna leaned on the metal railing, knocking it to the ground, slamming it against her exposed toes. Brent bent down to extract the fallen metal edifice from our daughter’s swollen feet and encountered screws and sawdust, which had apparently fallen from the disheveled elevator ceiling.

Ordering food in the restaurant was difficult because the waitress informed us the kitchen was out of, well, food…bread, fruit, coffee, lettuce and milk. Later, the combination of loud party-goers in the atrium and thin walls made us desperate to see the light of day so we could finally end the misadventure and check out of Hotel Hell.

While I don’t normally complain about poor service, when our trip was over, I wrote a letter to recount our experience to hotel management. In addition to a letter of apology, we received a refund for our visit as well as vouchers for a free two-night stay. The next time we were in the area, we threw caution to the wind and booked a suite. Construction was complete. A gift basket welcomed our return. All was right with the world.

I share this story because I believe the Holiday Inn Sacramento Northeast did things right. We live in an imperfect world. Stuff happens. Odds are if you are in business long enough, you will one day inadvertently provide less than stellar service or inferior products to unwitting clients, customers or donors. What matters is how you prepare to respond to the challenge.

For Free—

Establish a customer-centric procedure for handling complaints. Once upon a time, virtually every business man and woman adhered to the adage, “The customer is always right.” Since this is no longer standard procedure, your company will gain favor by letting potential clients know that they matter. For ideas, take a cue from brands that are known for superior customer service such as Nordstrom, Four Seasons, Apple and General Motors.

For what not to do, look to the third annual study done by MSN Money, the Customer Service Hall of Shame. AOL, Comcast, Sprint Nextel, Capital One and Time Warner Cable head the list for what avoid when it comes to handling customer concerns.

On a Limited Budget—

Once you develop superior customer service policies, leverage them in your advertising. Come up with a campaign slogan that includes the details of your customer satisfaction guarantee. Then repeat the slogan in every form of marketing. Add it to your business cards, website, stationery, and the signature line of your email.

Internet users who enter “100% customer service satisfaction” in Google search bars stumble upon otherwise little known companies such as Oak Plus Furniture, Cigna and Fieldhouse. If your business has yet to make its mark, what better way than by guaranteeing satisfaction to otherwise wary would-be consumers?

The Sky’s the Limit—

Entrepreneurs sometimes hesitate to guarantee satisfaction for fear the policy will be costly. But according to a recent study done by McKinsey & Company, “Companies that have a strategic approach to customer satisfaction and make technology investments to support specific business and financial objectives are likely to achieve high rates of customer retention, fast growth, and increased profitability.”

In other words, if you invest on the front end to guarantee customer satisfaction on the back end, you will reap the rewards of more traffic, repeat business and a better bottom line.

And with the increase, you will be able to pop for the little things that make a difference…say, for example, food for your restaurant or pillows for your hotel.

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