Bowling for Business: Invasion of The Pod People

Invasion of the Pod People

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 21, 2010

I’ve always been rather horrified at the sound of my own voice on tape. It’s not even close to what I hear when I’m talking. I wish it was raspy and sultry, or even just hoarse like actresses Lauren Bacall, Kathleen Turner or Sophia Bush. Instead, in recordings, I sound like a slightly older, less feminine version of Potsie from Happy Days.

And though I didn’t used to mind posing for pictures, in recent years I’ve noticed that cameras no longer catch my actual likeness. Maybe it’s due to changes in digital technology? It’s a mystery to me. But, whatever the reason, cameras add wrinkles, gray hair and weight to my reflection. So whenever someone shows up with photographic equipment, I flee the scene.

All that said, despite my profession, it’s little wonder I have been reluctant to jump on the podcast and video broadcasting bandwagons. If you share any of my phobias, I have a simple suggestion for us both. Get over yourself and join the revolution!

Whereas blog writing demands at least a cursory understanding of how to string together words in order to form a complete sentence, with only a modest investment in time and equipment, virtually anyone with a larynx and carcass can run a podcast or a video blog.

The first system to enable the selection, automatic downloading and storage of serial episodic audio content on PCs and portable devices was launched in September of 2000. But podcasting might never have hit critical mass were it not for the near simultaneous release of a free music-sharing program called Napster.  Motivated by a desire to procure and share free music, millions of people tapped into their inner geeks to learn how to upload and download MP3 (Audio File Format/Extension) content.

In late 2000, the courts ruled that Napster had to restrict access to copyrighted files. While this was a death-blow to the young network, it buoyed the Apple Inc. introduction of iTunes in 2001, at Macworld. The rest, as they say, is history. According to an article in CnetNews, by 2005, as many as 22 million American adults, or about 11 percent of the U.S. population, owned iPods or other MP3 players.

Once MP3s became main stream, it didn’t take long for video to follow. Three former PayPal employees created the now infamous video sharing platform, YouTube, in February, 2005, and, in 2006, sold it to Google Inc. for $1.65 billion. YouTube did for video what Napster did for audio. Suddenly, anyone and everyone could, and did, create and share video files.

Today, entrepreneurs and nonprofit directors can use these platforms to create and share their messages regardless of budgetary or technological limitations.

For Free—

Blog Talk Radio is probably the easiest way to enter the podcasting arena. All you need to join the ranks of podcasters like Vehicle Vibe and FlyLady is a password and a cell phone. Once you create your online account, you call to login with your cell phone and speak directly into the microphone to broadcast your show. Sound easy? It is. But bear in mind that the sound quality of a podcast done using this method leaves a bit to be desired.

On a Limited Budget—

For under $300, you can buy all of the equipment you need to turn a rank amateur show into a professional podcast or video program. Miniature cameras like the user-friendly $129 Flip Camcorder or a $149 USB condenser microphone can be used to record and effortlessly upload to video broadcasting sites like YouTube or Vimeo.

The Sky’s the Limit—

The hottest ticket in the world of Internet marketing today is the viral video. The first video to go viral was a webcam recording of a stout young man singing Numa Numa, which has been viewed more than 35 million times. The popularity of unprofessional, humorous videos on YouTube gave advertisers the idea to create short video commercials to try to capitalize on the growing trend. The first company to do so on a grand scale was Blendtec, with their viral video campaign, Will It Blend?

The only drawback to creating a viral campaign is that it takes a lot of money and talent to make a video appear to have been produced by rank amateurs. Also, since the public is fickle, it’s not easy to predict what they will embrace. Might I suggest a thin, throaty-voiced columnist discussing the Invasion of Potsie and the Pod People?

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

Bowling for Business: Don’t Ignore the Voices in Your Head

Your Marketing Strategy Should Feature Social Media

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 25, 2010.

Social Media—You Know You Need To

I made a critical error in judgment last week. Despite reports from the National Weather Service that a nasty storm was on its way, I threw caution to the wind and headed down from Running Springs to Riverside for a professional development luncheon. Having once slid into a BMW on Kuffel Canyon (Yeah. That’s right. It had to be a BMW), I would normally err on the side of caution and stay home rather than risk a return ride on potentially icy roads. But since I’m on the board of directors, I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to the group.

I made it down the mountain and to my meeting without incident. But, on my way home, two tiny harbingers of danger appeared on my dashboard in the form of flashing batteries and brake lights. So, instead of driving straight home, I stopped by my mechanic’s. Adhering to Murphy’s Law, the very minute I pulled my car into the bay, the idiot lights went out. Just to be safe, the repairman ran diagnostics and determined that everything was fine.

After I left, about a block from the repair shop, the warning lights reappeared, and remained lit until my car died just above the middle passing lane, right before a curve, away from all of the rest of the traffic in the dead of night in the middle of a blizzard on Highway 330. Without cell phone service, and with a very full bladder, I reluctantly abandoned my vehicle and accepted a ride from a kind man who was, thankfully, a realtor from Big Bear instead of a serial killer. He drove me up to a clearing and I awkwardly loped home through 3 feet of fresh powder in soggy leather clogs.

By the time I stumbled home and called Auto Club, I discovered that my car was already en route to a storage facility in town. To retrieve it, I would have to wait for the storm to pass and cough up a $380 towing fee, as well $50/day for storage. As I write this, three days later, my husband is shoveling about 7,000 pounds of snow from our driveway so we can pick up my 4-wheel drive, chain-clad, very dead car.

All of the above could have been avoided if only I had listened to the still, small voice that prodded me to skip the meeting. Because I ignored it, my husband and I will be reaping it for some time to come. I share this story because business professionals so often silence the voice of reason when it comes to advertising. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this disclaimer, “I know I really need to advertise, but…”

One local entrepreneur, who shuttered her restaurant after three unprofitable years, wondered aloud, “Maybe things would have been different if only I had advertised.”

Indeed, I wish she had come to us for help. Marketing is as essential to business success as a working vehicle is to safe travel. But don’t take my word for it. Last year, business owners in America spent nearly $61 billion on advertising. They allocated resources to marketing because they understand the importance of advertising for—

  • Making your presence known to potential customers, colleagues, associates and competitors.
  • Maintaining your relationship with current clients by reminding them about the value of your product or service.
  • Strengthening your call to action and message.
  • Introducing new products and services.

Although most business men and women intuitively understand the value of advertising, since budgets are tight, they talk themselves out of doing the very thing they know they need to do. The result? At an alarming rate, Inland Empire businesses are failing to thrive. In fact, experts put the percentage of new businesses that fail, nationwide, within the first five years, somewhere between 50%-80%. The solution? Invest in the advertising strategy that offers the most bang for your buck. And, no matter the budget, in today’s technology-driven environment, that method is social media.

For Free—

The great thing about social media is that the only required investment is time. The top three social media platforms, in my opinion, are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you focus on these, and post valuable content to each account multiple times each day, you can achieve virtually every advertising objective necessary for business success.

On a Limited Budget—

While social media can be done without access to tons of cash, to be competitive, you have to be willing to find valuable information relative to the interests of your target market and post it on a daily basis. The problem is that most business owners don’t have time to do research and post status updates and informational links up to 90 times each week. Some actually want to spend time running their businesses! So, if you can swing it, spending money on social media management is worthwhile. Most of our clients report an average tenfold return on their investment after just 12 weeks of service.

The Sky’s the Limit—

The nice thing about having cash in reserve is that you have the luxury of paying experts to manage all of your advertising efforts, which frees up a considerable amount of time. Even so, we recommend that every client maintains a connection with their social media friends and fans. Our most successful social media clients post personal messages and stay connected to their contacts to supplement our efforts on their behalf. For ideas about what to post, might I suggest listening to the voices in your head?

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

Bowling for Business: The Write Stuff for Website Copy

Mean what you say, say what you mean/One things leads to another.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 18, 2010.

No doubt you’re familiar with the game of telephone, where you whisper something to the first person in a line and then wait to hear how the message gets scrambled on the other end? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the current record-holding “telephone game” whisper is, “They inherited the earth and then the army came and scorched it.” The final words passed on were “Mayfield College.”

I’m confident the folks at Guinness would reevaluate the record if they came to my home, since we unintentionally play the game on a daily basis. My husband’s instructions to Kaitlin to “Clean your room” are heard as, “Watch television all day long.”

My requests to Lauren to “Take out the trash” are interpreted as, “Make brownies and destroy the kitchen in the process.”

As a family, we’re working on refining the communication model. Brent and I have recently discovered that while communication theories like repetition, parroting and paraphrasing do no good, threats yield results. Miraculously, the girls accurately discern messages like, “Vacuum the living room or hand over your cell phone.”

The reason our teenagers pay attention to this type of message is because we have made it relevant to their world. By engaging them on their terms, we make them an active part of the conversation. I’m embarrassed it took so long to adopt the practice at home since we do it all of the time when it comes to writing website copy for clients at Mountain Marketing Group.

In real life and Cyberspace, effective communication boils down to understanding and speaking to your audience from their point of view. When it comes to marketing, this relatively simple concept is revolutionary. Instead of designing and writing a website that looks like a billboard, remember that the reason people go online is to gather information. That’s why it’s called the Information Superhighway. Your site should provide help, not hype.

For Free

If finances are tight, write website copy, yourself, using the following tips—

1.     Personalize your message and involve readers.

  1. Be friendly. Use anecdotes. Don’t talk down to your audience.
  2. Let your passion about your product or service come through.
  3. Prominently feature testimonials.
  4. Be real. Avoid overly-technical explanations and corporate-speak. If you mean to say, “If there’s a problem,” don’t write, “In the event of an unsatisfactory experience.”
  5. FOREGO EXCESSIVE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS, BOLD TYPEFACE AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!
  6. Talk benefits instead of features. How will your product or service improve your clients’ lives?
  7. Leave your mission statement off of the homepage. Visitors don’t care.
  8. Include a guarantee or free trial.
  9. Proofread everything at least three times. Errors undermine credibility.

It’s exceedingly difficult to look at your own copy with objectivity. Left unchecked, your greatest asset, familiarity with your offering, can be a liability. So, after you’ve written the copy, run it by other people so they can give you their opinions. Be aware that friends and family will be biased. They already have at least a rudimentary understanding of what you do. So, try to get the verbiage in front of someone who has no preconceived ideas of your product or service.

On a Budget

Hire a writer who specializes in creating direct response copy, which is designed to solicit a reaction that is both specific and quantifiable. An experienced writer will understand how to do all of the above and will be able to skillfully provide interesting information as well as a seamless call to action. And this is of paramount importance. After all, what good is a great website if it fails to improve the bottom line?

The Sky’s the Limit

Hire a professional website development team, which will make sure your copy is stellar and that the artwork matches the tone and feel you wish to convey. A web team will eliminate the potential for your message to get lost in translation. And, unless you want to challenge the current record in Guinness, that’s a very good thing. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Clear the Clutter

Clear the Clutter from your Marketing Strategy with Pay Per Click

This column appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 10, 2010 and in the Business Press on January 20, 2010.

Cleaning House with Pay Per Click

On the heels of the holiday season, our house looks a bit like a war-torn country. Half-eaten plates of cookies, broken candy canes and stale cinnamon rolls crowd the kitchen counter. Torn tissue paper and abandoned gift bags pepper the living room floor. Opening a cupboard is like preparing for a bomb blast, requiring deft “duck and cover” maneuvers to guard against plastic Del Taco cups and Tupperware that fall like mortar.

The reason for the disarray is simple. We have too much crap. (Sorry for the vernacular. But there is really no other way to describe how much junk my small family somehow manages to accumulate.) Every January, to combat the onslaught, we schedule an informal “Clean up the Crap Day.” We spend hours sorting through our possessions and arranging them into piles to throw away, donate or stow. And whenever we take on the task, I wonder how, in a single calendar year, one family could have possibly made so many trips to Wal-Mart.

After clean up day, we breathe a collective sigh of relief and vow never again to repeat the practice of letting things spiral out of control. We agree to live simply, cut out the clutter and streamline our household so that we won’t have to spend needless energy sifting through excess in order to find what we really need.

In this economy, the same might be necessary for your current advertising strategy. It might be time to clear the crap. And if you’re going to get down to brass tacks, consider implementing one of the best advertising options available today, Pay Per Click.

Also known as Pay Per Ranking, Pay Per Placement, Pay Per Position or Cost Per Click, Pay Per Click (PPC) is an Internet advertising model used on websites, in which advertisers pay their host only when their ad is clicked. When you enter a word or phrase in the search bar using an engine such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, two different sets of results are returned… organic (or natural) and sponsored (or paid). When I explain this phenomenon to Mountain Marketing Group clients, I’m surprised at how few are aware of these two very different categories.

Organic results are purported to be completely non-biased—meaning that the engine will not accept any amount of money to influence the rankings of an individual site. This is quite the opposite of paid advertising which appears in “sponsored” or “featured” search engine results, in which higher positions are rewarded to the companies willing to pay the most per visitor. You can tell the difference between the two types of search results because sponsored keywords appear in shaded areas just under the search bar and at right.

The nice thing about PPC is that you pay only when a searcher clicks on your listing and connects to your site. By using PPC, you pre-qualify your audience, since they were actively searching for your product or service or they never would have found it in the first place.

For Free—

Although it is not possible to advertise for free using PPC, I have managed campaigns for clients who have set campaign limits at $10, just to see if their keywords generate any activity. When you consider the cost of advertising using other mediums, where you have to pay regardless of the effectiveness of the ad, PPC is a great alternative. There are simply no hidden costs.

On a Budget—

Keywords cost anywhere between .05 per click and several dollars, depending on competition. The most expensive keywords relate to the mortgage industry, where people pay up to $40/ click. Our clients pay an average .75 per click. If your product or service is highly competitive, there are still plenty of ways for you to utilize PPC without having to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. One is via Facebook, which offers PPC ads which are different than Google AdSense, Yahoo Search Marketing or Bing Search Ads. On Facebook, you can create an ad, which includes artwork, for free, set campaign limits, handpick your audience and leave thousands of impressions for only a few dollars per month.

The Sky’s the Limit—

One of our clients spends $2,000 per week on Pay Per Click advertising. The reason he is willing to invest so much is because he is happy with the results. If an advertising strategy had the potential to change the game for you, would you consider it? PPC might not be the best marketing method for everyone. But, for many, the strategy is the single most cost-effective way to hunker down and cut the crap.

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

Bowling for Business: Trimming the Fat

Cut the Fat from your Advertising Strategy

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 2, 2010 and in the Business Press on January 13, 2010.

Make Sure You Have the Right Advertising Strategy for 2010

Like most other Americans, on the heels of holiday indulgence, I spend January exploring diet trends. When I find one that sounds promising, I head to the grocery store with a laundry list of weird, expensive food substitutes. Last year, I tried the Flat Belly Diet. It appealed to me mostly because it allowed rather large quantities of dark chocolate and peanut butter. And here’s a shocker—it didn’t work! But it did manage to give me acne.

For no discernable reason, I decided to share my dilemma with a chubby checker at Stater Bros. She recommended I purchase a Wii Fit since she’d owned one for a week and was certain it would work. So, I convinced my husband that the magic bullet for sustained weight management was to spend $300 on the at-home convenience of a Wii Fitness system. And I actually used it for several weeks before pulling a muscle doing virtual yoga.

Over the years, I’ve tried pretty much every diet and fitness regime. And while you won’t likely see my face on the cover of Prevention Magazine or Muscle and Fitness, I do manage to trim a few pounds every time I lead my family into nutritional purgatory. And I shudder to think of how large my frame would be were it not for my annual January dietary ritual.

My business partner and I take similar steps when it comes to trimming the fat from the advertising strategy for Mountain Marketing Group. At year end, we redo brochures, order giveaways and finish advertising contracts, with an eye to re-evaluating and re-prioritizing after the first of the year. I must admit that doing so is about as much fun, and as necessary, as dieting.

For Free

When times are tough, some entrepreneurs make the mistake of ceasing all advertising. While this may, initially, appear to improve the bottom line, it’s a lot like shooting yourself in the foot. Unless you plan to shutter your business, lean times call for more, not less, decisive advertising action. If your business is in trouble, make 2010 the year you turn things around. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Place an ad on Craigslist. You might be surprised at how much interest a free advertisement on this website may generate.
  • Include your company on every available free directory listing. Since funds are tight, you need to be diligent to stay on top of these sites, since new ones pop up daily.
  • Consider affiliate advertising. Assuming you maintain a credible website and/or blog, (which are mandates for anyone in business in the 21st Century), you might consider allowing affiliates to advertise on your site.

For example, CollegeRecruiter.com pays affiliates a $100 commission whenever a visitor to one of their sites clicks through and buys something— anything— within 365 days of that initial click-through.

On a Budget

When cash flow is tight, carefully evaluate your Return on Investment. It is possible to completely revamp your entire advertising strategy without spending a penny more than you already do. Just make sure you see a direct response from each of your efforts.

One of our clients was shocked when we pointed out that his $300 monthly Yellow Pages’ outlay yielded a meager 2 calls per month, which meant he was paying $150 per lead. By shifting his budget to pay per click ads, we multiplied his ROI tenfold.

The Sky’s the Limit

If you have cash on hand, take advantage of new media. Imagine the advantage that business owners had when they first realized the potential of advertising on television. The USA’s first television advertisement was broadcast on July 1, 1941. The watchmaker Bulova paid $4 for a 10-second spot, accompanied by the voice-over, “America runs on Bulova time.”

By today’s standards, the $4 price point is laughable. The same will likely one day be said about the current cost of digital advertising. So, instead of waiting for everything to shake down before you make your move, go for it. After all, even if your results are not typical, advertising online won’t likely lead to acne.

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

Bowling for Business: The Top 10 Marketing Tips for 2010

New Year's Marketing Tips

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on December 21, 2009

I don’t know why I even bother writing down my Near Year’s resolutions. Instead, I should just make several copies of the same list, because the items on it never change.

  1. Lose weight.
  2. Eat healthy.
  3. Watch less television.
  4. Read more books.
  5. Spend more time with my family.
  6. Stay on top of the laundry.
  7. Exercise.
  8. Clean out the pantry.
  9. Spend less. Invest more.
  10. Actually implement my New Years’ resolutions.

When it comes to business, I have compiled another list, which I will be happy to share. It is my idea of the top 10 marketing tools for 2010. Now, by recording these, I know I run the risk of being compared to Nostradamus, whose predictions are always menacingly scrawled across the front of scholarly journals like the National Enquirer. But I think it’s important to note that my ideas are not based on dreams. Nor are they presented in quatrains. But, they do appear in print. So, you never know…

Kathy Bowling’s Predictions of the Top 10 Marketing Tools for 2010

  1. Food—People will continue to eat this. So I suggest that you find ways to use it to promote your business. You can do this either by printing your marketing message on candy wrappers or by bribing potential clients with pizza.
  2. Money—No matter the economy, people like cold, hard cash. So if you want them to pay attention to you, I recommend giving away dollar bills while you speak.
  3. Freebies—if you print your name on virtually anything and give it away, people will take it. I can attest to this because we have an entire drawer filled with corkscrews, potato chip bag clips, visors and refrigerator magnets, many of which are emblazoned with logos of companies which have long been out of business.
  4. Telephones—this might seem an antiquated suggestion. Most business owners actually have at least one phone line. However, to their peril, some have forgotten how to use it. I encourage you to make 2010 the year that you abandon the impersonal practice of replying to every note with a text message or email. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call your clients and vendors. It might take them awhile to find the phone. But when they uncover it, they’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear the sound of a human voice on the other end of the line.
  5. Cell phones—when cell phones first went public (Yes, I am old enough to remember this), they were about as convenient to carry around as a bale of hay. They are now quite small and weigh considerably less. So consider purchasing one. A note of caution, however. Once you buy one, it won’t be long before it attaches itself to your ear like a parasite. When people know they can reach you 24/7, they will try to reach you 24/7.
  6. Face-to-Face Communication—even better than a phone call, personal interaction is the best way to do business. People are more likely to abandon etiquette when they can hide behind technology. So, as often as is practical to do so, try to do as much business as possible in person.
  7. Computers—while some business owners hide behind technology, others reject it. If you are stubbornly refusing to accept the fact that Cyberspace is here to stay, I recommend that you pry the cold, ballpoint pen out of your frigid fingers and invest in a PC.
  8. Ads—some folks have traded costly advertising campaigns in favor of “freely” pitching their products via Twitter, Facebook and the LinkedIn. I caution against this practice. While the majority of social networking sites provide direct lines of communication between buyers and sellers, these tools lend themselves more to public relations than to direct marketing. Put down the bullhorn and grab a cup of coffee. Listen to the conversation and earn your right to participate. When it comes time to advertise, you will need to ante up, just like in the old days. The difference is that, after interacting with your target market, you’ll better understand how to use or alter your product so that it addresses your target markets’ needs and concerns.
  9. Charity Sponsorship—with belts so tight, donations have lost their allure. Even so, it will always make sense to share resources with those who are less fortunate. Holland Lowe, director of Operation Provider, says that donations are at an all-time low and requests for help are at an all-time high. Consider a year-end gift, which will not only help your organization at tax time, but will demonstrate your commitment to something beyond improving the bottom line.
  10. Networking—once known as relationship marketing, the practice of getting to know people as individuals instead of potential customers is the best way to grow a business, and, more importantly, enrich your life. Find a group that encourages friendship and active referring. My membership in the San Bernardino Business Elite Chapter of BNI has multiplied my own success, exponentially. And, in the infamous words of Clarence the Angel, Second Class, in the classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life:

“No man is a failure who has friends.”

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

Bowling for Business: Cash Flow is King

How to Increase Your Cash Flow

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 14, 2009 and in the Business Press on January 7, 2010.

Although I’m not an economist, based on the checkout lines this week at Target, I would surmise that consumer confidence is on the rise. My first clue should have been the parking lot. I drove around aimlessly for hours, finally settling on the only empty spot I could find…in Texas. After I hiked in, the chaos at the front door reminded me of the mob scene in the cult classic, Soylent Green.

The checkout line snaked all the way back to the frozen food section. Now, if you’re not a Target shopper, this may not mean much to you. But suffice to say it was not unlike a gas station circa 1970. The good news is that some people appeared to be bonding in line. One young couple who met near the dog food aisle got engaged and married by the time they reached the checkout.

Now, ordinarily, any reasonable, rational person would take one look at the crowds and walk right back out the door. But this is the holiday season. So sanity is in short supply. For my part, I was willing to brave the crowds because, in so doing, I would save $4.75 on a Christmas gift for my husband. As I said, sanity is in short supply.

I share this with you because we, as Inland Empire business owners, should pay careful attention to economic indicators like overflowing parking lots and long lines at discount stores. While there is no telling how remorseful shoppers will be once their credit card bills arrive in January, for now, people are willing to throw caution to the wind. So I say, Carpe Diem!

But how can you seize the day if your company doesn’t offer inexpensive trinkets that are easily wrapped and placed under Christmas trees? It all boils down to a lesson you probably learned in high school economics…supply and demand. Figure out how you can reasonably supply what is in demand, without rewriting your entire business plan and altering your mission statement. Then, focus all of your advertising efforts on that item or service.

Now, granted, this will require some creative thinking. But if you can come up with a strategy to get people in the door in a down economy, you can improve cash flow, which may just keep you afloat until your primary product line is back in fashion.

The following are ideas for demand-side marketing at every price point:

For Free—until we moved to the San Bernardino Mountains, I was unaware that mistletoe is a parasite capable of taking out a mighty oak. I’m embarrassed by the numerous occasions I purchased small plastic baggies filled with the fungus, which was dressed up with red ribbon and peddled by enterprising tykes stationed outside grocery stores at Christmastime. When all else fails, take a lesson from their strategy. Find something you can get for free and sell it. You might be surprised at how many people might be willing to pay. (I’ve got several trees filled with mistletoe if anyone wants to explore that trade.)

On a Budget— add and promote a secondary product line. Pam of PJ Studio cuts and colors hair and recently decided to branch out by creating beautiful winter scenes on tin stars which she sells during the holidays. Granted, the line between high-lighting and tole-painting may seem faint. But Pam did well to focus on products that share an overlapping target market. Her hair-styling clients are a captive audience who admire and purchase her artwork, which translates to improved cash flow.

The Sky’s the Limit—if you’ve ever had a hankering to diversify, now is the time for happy accidents. Consider Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton who was trying to expand his customer base by coming up with a cure for headaches. Although he failed in his attempts, in the process, he stumbled on the recipe for Coca-Cola. Since, ironically, Coke is now widely believed to cause headaches, Pemberton’s efforts have come full circle.

Thankfully, today, both Coke and Excedrin Migraine are available for purchase at Target. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Follow the Money

Follow the Money

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on December 6, 2009 and in the Business Press on December 16, 2009.

Just before Christmas when I was seven years old, my father walked with me to a small curiosity shop/drug store in our town called Rotolo’s. I was eager to spend the $5 I had earned raking leaves and doing odd jobs around the house. This was in the 70s. So he was able to wait outside the store while I walked safely up and down the aisles, searching for Christmas gifts.

I finally settled on a glossy ceramic piggy bank for my mother and a box of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls for my father. I was so excited when I exited the store, I could barely contain myself. Since I loved piggy banks and chocolate, I was certain I had found the perfect presents.

And, on Christmas morning, when they opened their packages, my parents’ reactions confirmed my assessment. They praised my taste and thoughtfulness. My mom immediately placed change into her bank and displayed it on her dresser, where it remains to this day. My father shared his treats and kept the empty package. We found it among his treasured possessions many years later, after he had died.

Only later did it occur to me that two thirty-year-old adults might not have chosen a piggy bank and packaged snack cakes had they shopped for themselves. My naïve gesture succeeded because my parents understood and appreciated my frame of reference.

However, when it comes to promoting your product or service, you can’t expect your customers to respond in kind. While it is natural to lean toward logos, colors, slogans and advertisements that appeal to your own tastes and preferences, the only way this strategy will work is if you just want to sell to yourself. If you would rather extend your customer base, you’ll have to broaden your advertising horizons.

Oddly enough, when it comes to selecting a target, many entrepreneurs take whoever they can get, however and whenever they can get them, without figuring out who they actually want to attract in the first place. If your product or service is worthwhile (and I certainly hope that it is), then you do prospective customers a service by figuring out who they are and properly communicating your message to them.

To hone in on their ideal markets, we counsel Mountain Marketing Group clients to follow the money. And you can do this regardless of the size of your marketing budget.

For Free—

Use your existing client list to get a handle on your ideal target. Create a simple spreadsheet that answers the following questions:

  1. Who buys the largest quantity?
  2. Who purchases the highest ticket items?
  3. Who frequents your store most often?
  4. What do the above have in common?

After you import all pertinent information, go straight to the source. Call or email your best customers. Thank them for their business and ask them how you managed to land their accounts. Inquire about which publications they read, programs they watch, and websites they frequent. Focus your promotional efforts on the most frequent mentions.

On a Budget—

In many marketing circles, the shine is off the penny for email marketing campaigns. In fact, some pundits say that email marketing results have declined by 10 to 40 percent over the past five years. On the other hand, email survey campaigns are all the rage. If you have more than a handful of customers, the most efficient way to find out about their preferences is to write a customer survey email.

Perhaps anticipating the winds of change, email newsletter services such as Rate Point and Constant Contact offer user-friendly tools to create and distribute brief surveys. Since most people appreciate knowing that their opinions count, you probably won’t offend anyone by starting the practice.

The Sky’s the Limit—

When your firm can afford it, I recommend you hire someone to conduct market research. Ironically, although this is a crucial step for effective advertising, it is the tool most often overlooked by business owners. This is a shame, since good market research eliminates the unnecessary outlay of ill-spent ad dollars. And, as we all know, a penny saved is a penny earned…and sometimes stored in a high-gloss piggy bank.

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

Bowling for Business: The Business of Being Thankful

The Business of Being Thankful

This column appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on November 22, 2009.

Several years ago, my mother-in-law decided to make life easier on herself by preparing the turkey on Christmas Eve. That way, she would be able to slice and store it in broth so she could just re-heat it and relax on Christmas Day. But while she was resting the roasted bird on the oven door so she could get a firmer grip, the weight of the turkey broke the door, spilling 25 pounds of white and dark meat and a gallon of drippings all over her newly mopped floor.

She and my father-in-law spent the better part of Christmas Eve cleaning turkey grease out of the hinges and off of the slick linoleum. They jerry-rigged the door and saved as much of the meat as they could, grateful that the rest of the family was taking care of the side dishes.

But, the next day, while my husband was carrying five pounds of mashed potatoes to the car, he inexplicably dropped the Crock-pot on our tile entryway. The crack that emanated from the broken pot and mess was audible to the entire neighborhood, including both of our dogs, who scurried to the scene to lick up as much as they could before being pelted with throw pillows, slippers and car keys.

Despite the mishaps, we somehow survived the holidays that year, instant mashed potatoes and inevitable surges in blood pressure. And, in the end, we realized that what mattered most hadn’t changed. We were safe, healthy and had a lot to be thankful for.

This holiday season, I encourage you to take time from your business, and in your business, to focus on what really matters. If you feel more like Ebenezer Scrooge than Tiny Tim, let me take this opportunity to help you remember that, no matter the condition of your business, there are still plenty of things to appreciate.

If Business is Bad, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. According to poll results released on May 4, 2008, by CBS News and the New York Times, “America’s view of the condition of the national economy has never been bleaker.” And that was 18 months ago…when the unemployment rate was lower and Circuit City was still in the black! So why would I suggest we should remain thankful, nonetheless?

I think American Author Napoleon Hill said it best: “The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”

If Business is So-So, no matter how small your profit margin, then take solace in the fact that you remain in the fortunate minority. According to a report by the SBA Office of Advocacy, 14,300 small business owners in America declared bankruptcy in the first quarter of 2009. If you weren’t among them, then pat yourself on the back. Though you might feel like you’re hanging onto the roots of a blade of grass on the edge of the world, try to be thankful that you have anything to hang on to at all.

English Football Coach and former player Steve McClaren summarized the reason we can look forward with hope in tough times, “I survived ultimate failure. Now I fear nothing.” Remember, also, that even Genghis Khan lost some early battles.

If Business is Good, then prepare for greatness. If you are kicking business butt in a bad economy, imagine what you will be able to achieve when economic conditions improve.

Instead of passively taking it all in, leverage your position to stimulate the local economy. Take a tip from Benjamin Franklin, who encouraged his contemporaries to do well by doing good, often noting that “he is ill clothed that is bare of virtue.”

Express your gratitude for business success by

  • Creating jobs
  • Mentoring a new business owner
  • Purchasing locally made products
  • And, most importantly, using your super powers for good instead of evil.

Until next week, I’m thankful to be Bowling for Business.