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 Trouble with Trifle

In baking and marketing, be careful with substitutes.

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on December 28, 2009.

By Kathy Bowling

Several years ago, my daughter, Lauren, and I followed the Food Network Paula Deen’s recipe for Gingerbread Pumpkin Trifle for a holiday get-together. Not only was the delicacy beautiful, but it was well-received by our Christmas guests. So, this year, foolishly, I decided to try to recapture the magic of that festive dessert.

To prepare, I sent my husband on a mission to fill a laundry list of ingredients. Despite the fact he had to go to three different stores to find Cardamom, he victoriously returned with paper grocery bags filled with $7,000 worth of cake mix, Cool Whip and vanilla pudding. After baking, cooling, mixing and layering, Lauren and I were sure that this year’s Christmas treat would rival our best efforts.

And that might have been true, if only the trifle had been edible.

It turns out that there is an important difference between pumpkin pie filling and canned pumpkin. While pie filling is yummy, full-bodied and sweet, pumpkin is nasty, runny and bitter. In fact, it turns out that, unadulterated, the resemblance between canned pumpkin and primate excrement is more than just visual. And as I scooped the entire contents of the crystal serving bowl into my aunt’s trash can on Christmas night, I vowed never to repeat the mistake of confusing canned pumpkin contents.

In baking and in business, small substitutions can lead to big mistakes. So, as we close the book on 2009 and strategize about how to succeed in 2010, I would like to take this opportunity to point out the three tools for which you should accept no substitutes.

Marketing Tools for 2010

1. Electronic Communication

If you’ve put off building or upgrading your website, make 2010 the year that you join the 21st century by investing in an easy-to-navigate, direct response Content Management System website. Unlike pricey printed materials that become outdated as soon as they roll off of the press, a CMS site is exceedingly cost effective for sharing your message in real time. And since 74% of people who live in the United States use the Internet prior to making any type of purchase, making the most of Cyberspace will keep your company connected and current.

Even if, until now, you’ve somehow managed to escape the inevitability of carrying around a Smart Phone, 2010 is the year of the PDA. Readily accessible and affordable, this tool will keep you constantly connected to the office, like it or not. Although you might be trying to buck the trend, your competitors’ availability in a downed economy will give them a leg up on anyone who irrationally tries to maintain a distinction between work and family life. Now that you can buy one for less than $100, it’s time to make the jump to a hand-held.

2. Public Relations

It would be impossible to talk about marketing in 2010 without referencing social media. However, despite the fact that most businessmen and women are desperate to turn it into a direct marketing tool, in truth, most professionals agree that social media belongs to public relations.

As noted by pundit Brian Solis, “(Social media is owned) by your customers and influencers (who) own and define it. And, without guidance or participation, they steer the impression and perception of your brand.” So, by all means, use social media. But put down the bullhorn you’ve been using to blast your message and, instead, join the conversation. If you use social media networking sites to provide valuable content to your target market, you will gain trust and, ultimately, improve the bottom line.

3. Networking

Although there are countless ways to network, in Cyberspace, arguably the most important professional networking tool is LinkedIn. Although developers of other free sites like Plaxo and Xing try to pretend to offer the visibility and benefits of LinkedIn, to date, there is no other professional social media website that offers the ease of use, search engine optimization and networking afforded by LinkedIn, which launched out of the living room of co-founder Reid Hoffman in the fall of 2002. According to Nielsen Research, LinkedIn has grown a whopping 319 percent since 2007. More importantly, LinkedIn is where the influencers are. The largest percentage of users boast six-figure incomes, are college graduates and have portfolios valued above $250,000.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll examine other business essentials. But, in the meantime, implement the above, being careful to avoid substitutes, and your professional life might be a trifle better than the rest. Happy New Year! Until next week, I’ll be 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: 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.

Bowling for Business: Lurk Alive

man at a desk
Are you and Internet Lurker?

by Kathy Bowling

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on October 12, 2009.

Our house is such a cluttered mess, walking from the living room to the kitchen is like navigating landmines on the Mekong Delta. Between the dog toys, shoes, old homework papers and abandoned board games strewn across the floor, I’m lucky if I make it out the front door without spraining an ankle.

I can relate to the mother from the comic strip, Family Circus. Whenever something spills or breaks, she asks the kids who is responsible. The answer is always the same, “Not me!” And, in the distance, a little gremlin named “Not Me” flees the scene. Apparently, he heads for my house. Because anytime we ask our girls who left a bowl of cereal and congealed milk on the coffee table, they refer to him.

But the actual reason for the mess is that my home is filled with passive consumers instead of active contributors. Our kids just don’t consider it their responsibility to help with the running of our household. Many people on the Internet share our daughters’ passive attitudes. Read, research, rinse and repeat. While this tactic might work for hobbyists, when it comes to business, you need to take an active approach.

And according to Internet statistics’ pundit Jakob Nielsen, the door for action is wide open. In his heavily-trafficked online Alertbox, Neilsen says, “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.”

So where do you fall? Are you a dynamic contributor or a passive lurker? Wikipedia defines an Internet Lurker as a person who reads discussions on a message board, newsgroup, chat room, file sharing or other interactive system, but rarely or never participates actively.

In case you’re still unsure of your status, here’s a little quiz to help you figure it out.

Are You a Lurker?

1. If you read blogs but never post comments, you might be a lurker.

2. If you join chat rooms just to follow other peoples’ conversations, you might be a lurker.

3. If you sign up for newsgroups but never add to article threads, you might be a lurker.

4. If you have no need for your keyboard while you’re surfing the Net, you might be a lurker.

5. If you didn’t realize you are allowed to comment on blog posts, in chat rooms and in news groups, you might be a lurker.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, the good news is there is hope. The verb to “de-lurk” also appears in Wikipedia. De-lurk is defined as taking initiative to start contributing actively to a community having been a lurker previously. (And I’m not making this stuff up.)

So how can you turn the tide and de-lurk? Web 2.0 is all about conversation. Contributors add to the discussion by setting up and regularly posting to their own blogs. Critics respond to other peoples’ blogs, adding comments to discussion threads on social networks, and replying to online conversations.

Josh Bernoff, of Forrester Research, and one of the authors of groundswell, defines the groups, as follows:

  • 21% of online US consumers are Creators
  • 37% are Critics (those who react to content created by others)
  • 69% are Spectators.

My ad agency, Mountain Marketing Group, has discovered a similar phenomenon among our church and para-church clients. In many charitable organizations, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. So, when it comes to influencing decisions, who do you suppose has the most say? According to ICWM.net, the short answer is that the power belongs to the movers and the shakers.

Since so few people on the Internet create original content, consider the opportunity to shape the business or non-profit landscape if you have the courage to get off the bench. If you’re game, here are some simple steps to take you from lurker/spectator to industry thought-leader.

  1. Comment on this article thread. I’d be honored to be your first.
  2. Do a search on Technorati for blog-posts that are relative to your areas of interest and expertise. Read and comment on any that strike a chord.
  3. If you have not done so already, set up a free blog. For tips on how to create a blog, check out the Bowling for Business post.
  4. Once you’re on the map, set up a free account that will help you check out Internet conversations in real time, so you can comment at will. One well-known site for this type of monitoring is FriendFeed. Another, relatively new but highly intuitive way to do so is with backtype, which creators describe as “a real-time conversational search to surface what reputable people are saying about topics and web pages that interest you.”

Following these steps will establish your company or organization a leader in the field. All you have to do is lurk alive.

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

Bowling for Business: Getting My Tweet Wet

This column first appeared on 9-21-09 at RIMOFTHEWORLD.net

Twitter bird announceWhen it comes to games of chance, I’ve never been particularly lucky. In fact, I can probably count the number of times I’ve won contests on one hand. So it isn’t difficult recalling the win that meant the most.

I was just five years old. My favorite television show was a local children’s program called Noel & Andy. Noel was a talented artist; Andy, her puppet counterpart.

I got up early every weekday morning to watch Noel & Andy because, as a kindergartner, my social calendar was pretty light. What’s more, this was long before the days of cable or satellite. Thus, there were only four shows to choose from at any given time.

So I was eager to enter a contest to win an invitation to Andy’s televised birthday party. The morning Noel randomly chose my entry, I ran to the kitchen to tell my mom the great news. In my world, Noel & Andy were bona fide stars. This was the big time.

The day of the taping, I was anxious to meet my television idols. But I never got the opportunity. Twenty other lucky Denver-area schoolchildren and I met the producers, who led us into an empty studio. They told us to have fun, eat cake, and smile at the cameras. Noel & Andy couldn’t be there, they explained. But they would want us to celebrate. Then, they turned us loose. The result was cacophony.

When the birthday party aired, it looked like a scene out of Plant of the Apes. Unlimited sugar and lack of supervision had turned otherwise mild-mannered five-year-old kids into an angry mob. At one point, I was standing on a table, singing and waving at the camera.

To this day, I’ll never understand why Andy didn’t attend his own birthday party. But the event reminds me of my journey on Twitter…full of promise, chaos, and opportunities to rub shoulders with important people and puppets.

Twitter Promise

I first heard about Twitter at a seminar sponsored by the Inland Empire Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Speakers Brian Solis and Sally Falkow, recognized thought-leaders in my field, invited us to follow their tweets. It sounded exclusive and, admittedly, a bit odd.

But I was curious. Imagine having access to valuable industry tidbits, in real time?  With this kind of connection, we wouldn’t have to wait for the next professional development luncheon for inside information.

So, like many of my peers, I rushed back to the office to boot up my computer and join the conversation. Mind you, this was before resources like The TwitterBook and TwitterPower hit the market. So I didn’t know that it is better to set up an account with your actual name instead of a pseudonym. That’s why you won’t find my tweets if you do a search for Kathy Bowling.

Twitter Chaos

As @bowlingirl, I searched for @briansolis and @sallyfalkow and followed them. But I didn’t know what I was doing. Millions of disorganized people seemed to be yelling into the Twittersphere, much like my wild Noel & Andy party-going friends. One user posed a question,

“How can I syndicate my blog?”

But instead of an answer appearing next, random, un-related comments streamed by.

“I hate Wednesday mornings. Hump day should be abolished.”

“State politics blocks budget. It is playground politics.”

“We cannot do great things – only small things with great love- Mother Teresa.”

I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what was going on.

This is Wikipedia’s definition,

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website or external applications.

In other words, Twitter is controlled chaos. It’s a place for people to share their philosophies, sell their wares, deliver news, develop a fan base, and converse…all at the same time.

Twitter Opportunities

At Mountain Marketing Group, we encourage our PR clients to dive right in by setting up a free Twitter account. The next thing we advise is that they take time to listen. In the same way you wouldn’t walk up to a group of people who are chatting and interrupt them all by loudly announcing that you want them to buy your product, it is not considered polite to tweet first and listen, later.

As noted by one of the most influential Tweeps today, @joelcomm,

“Twitter is a two-way communication tool—and that’s very important.”

In his book, twitter power, he observes,

“Twitter provides instant access to smart people 24/7.”

By listening and getting a feel for the flow, you will understand what, if anything, you have to contribute. In this age where Internet users actively search for the information they want instead of being force-fed (pull instead of push-technology), providing valuable content is tantamount to establishing a credible voice in Cyberspace. You can’t play if you don’t bring anything to the game.

After you observe, find people to follow who have something to offer. I follow PR and marketing influencers like @mashable and @chrisbrogan so I can distill relevant information to share it with my friends, family and clients with a direct quote, retweet or link. Evangelizing is something I’ve done my entire career. But now, I am able to share what I learn with a wider audience.

Joining the conversation on Twitter has broadened my horizons, which makes me more valuable to my target market. More importantly, by underlining the biblical instruction to be quick to hear and slow to speak, it has made me a better person. And that’s the best win of all.

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

The Good, the Blog and the Ugly

This column originally appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on Sunday, September 13, 2009

blogWhenever I’m tempted to drone on in blogs and columns, I remember a particularly disturbing episode of the Twilight Zone called The Living Doll. In it, a talking doll named Tina has it out for her owner’s father, played by Telly Savalas.

Maybe her hatred is due to the fact he is bald. Or maybe it’s because he has a hideous mole on his face. Or perhaps it’s because he’s the only one who can hear her deliver eerie lines that are not a part of her programmed vocabulary. No one knows for sure.

Whatever the reason, Talky Tina spends the entire episode making Telly angry. In fact, by the end of the show, in a desperate attempt to shut her up, he forces her tiny plastic head into a vice grip and cranks away.

If nothing else, the show serves to remind me to stick to the script when it comes to writing or speaking in public. After all, the inspiration for the doll was Chatty Cathy.

But it’s hard to find the balance in blogging. The word “blog” sounds a lot like “blah, blah, blah.” And that generally communicates the idea that you should keep talking regardless of whether you have anything valuable to say.

In the early days of the blog, pioneers staked their claims with long, verbose diatribes. At the time, only a few writers were contributing to the blogosphere. Content was scarce. So people were patient.

In the intervening years, an era most social media pundits refer to as Web 2.0, the blog has became the quintessential tool for personal and business communication.

According to Wikipedia, in December 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs. At the speed of web, that number is probably into the billions by now. So how have the rules changed? Is it still important to blog? Why bother? How can that many people have so much to say?

When it comes to electronic communication in 2009, it all boils down to this:

The Good, the Blog and the Ugly

The Good

I believe it’s still important to maintain a blog in today’s business climate. Where business owners once hired professional website developers and designers to create state-of-the-art electronic brochures of their companies, and allowed those six-figure sites to rot in Cyberspace, the new order of the day is to slap something together and post it before the URL has time to rank.

Good is no longer measured in terms of a pleasant aesthetic. Today, most people are comfortable surfing the web. In fact, World Internet Usage Statistics puts the number of active Internet users at 1,668,870,408.

True, it may have taken most of us awhile to catch up with the early adapters. But we learned. And, now, we recognize that highlighted words are hyperlinks and widgets are click-able windows that whisk us from one world to another. So, we are no longer content to spend time on a single site. I call it Digital ADD.

The solution? If you can’t beat them, tweet them. Set up a website or blog as the hub of all of your information. And then, create several smaller sites that point back to the hub. In our advertising and public relations agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we explain the strategy like this.

Your blog should serve as a large body of information, like a lake. Social networking sites are like tributaries and streams that ebb and flow back to the lake, which is the source of your information. Since people want to click, let them spend their time clicking inside your site. And while they’re there, the best way to share your point of view is with a well-constructed blog.

The Blog

How do you write a blog that people will actually read? When she first started blogging her way through Julia Child’s cookbook, now acclaimed author Julie Powell said that it felt as if she was sending her initial posts into a giant abyss. Was anyone reading? Did anyone care?

This is the litmus test for whether or not you have anything worthwhile to say. Is your heart beating? If so, then you have what it takes to create content. You are uniquely you. Only you can tell your story. Only you can sell your product.

So be bold. Blog. Be short and sweet. Talk to your readers as though they were sitting across the table from you. Tell them what you would if you were chatting in person. My clients hear this charge, often.

Be who you are in the real world. Just do it in Cyberspace.

The Ugly

Now that I’ve (hopefully) emboldened you to blog, let me touch on what not to do.

  • Don’t pretend to know everything. You don’t. And everyone knows it. When they read your blog online, they are only a click away from checking every detail that you share. So be authentic.
  • Don’t write long narratives without breaking up the copy with images, videos, hyperlinks and bullet points. If all your readers see is a sea of copy, they will quickly click away.
  • Don’t forget that your words will live on in infamy. One of the authors of groundswell, equates trying to remove something from the Internet with attempting to retrieve pee from a swimming pool.

Don’t ignore your readers. Provide a place for comments. And when readers write, give the courtesy of a reply.

Whatever you do (and this is probably the most important tip of all), don’t irritate Talky Tina.

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

Bowling for Business: The Internet Imperative

Using the Internet to Advertise is Imperative

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on August 31, 2009

My first experience as an entrepreneur dates back to 1974, when my best friend, Lori, and I opened a lemonade stand. Typical, I know. But our approach was not. You see; we lived on a pretty quiet street in Englewood, Colorado. After our first two days in business, we realized that the only regular traffic was the mailman and my father.

Not content to wait for customers to come to us, on day three, Lori and I took a more aggressive approach. We decided to sell lemonade door-to-door. You might be surprised at the relative success of our new strategy. Since this was 35 years ago, admittedly a much simpler time, not only did most people answer the door and take pity on us by forking over 10 cents a glass, most of them probably actually drank the beverages they purchased.

Ever since, I’ve been a staunch proponent for assertively pursuing market share. I guess that’s why I went into advertising. It’s also probably the reason I was so quick to jump on the Internet bandwagon. No matter whether Al Gore helped invent it or not, I believe Cyberspace to be the single most important invention for business since the coffee break.

While it was once necessary to set up a physical shop in order to be taken seriously in business, the “must have for business” in 2009 is an Internet presence. Not yet convinced? Consider the following:

According to the World Internet Usage Statistics website—

  • 251,735,500 Americans (73.9% of the population) have access to the Internet.

According to a report released by Nielsen Research

  • Among Internet users in the United States, 94% have shopped online.
  • Globally, 875 million people have made at least one online purchase.
  • Two-thirds of the world Internet population participates in social networking or blogging sites.

According to an article posted in the April 2009 issue of NZ Business—

  • Today more than two thirds of new business enquiries begin online.

Remarkably, at our Lake Arrowhead marketing and public relations’ agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we still spend a considerable amount of time trying to convince our clients that their business success is closely tied to the presence they allow us to help them establish online. And Lake Arrowhead is no Mayberry RFD.

I think the reluctance to embark on an Internet marketing campaign is tied to fear.

  • Several wonder about the potential Return on Investment.
  • Some worry that they will lose touch with their existing customer-base if they start courting buyers online.
  • Many are intimidated by the sheer number of electronic advertising and social networking platforms that are available.
  • A few are still waiting, maybe even hoping, that the Internet craze will pass.

With this column, I hope to alleviate these fears by shedding light on how easy, effective, and necessary it is for business owners and non-profit directors to get busy online. Not just for beginners, we’ll also highlight industry tips and trends designed to improve Internet performance for seasoned Internet pros.

This week, let me assure you that, like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. So why not embrace it? Learn about it? Exploit it? If the thought of setting up your own website is daunting, consider taking advantage of the plethora of free platforms waiting for you to enter a unique username and password. Even if you’ve hosted your own interactive website for years, these sites offer valuable back link opportunities, which drive Search Engine Optimization. We’ll cover back links and SEO in the weeks ahead.

Far less time-consuming to create than an original website or even a blog, these free directory listings help define your organization’s online persona because they are credible, established accounts. So even new businesses and non-profits included on them are immune from what’s known as the Google Sandbox, an otherwise unavoidable waiting period every new site must endure before Meta Crawlers recognize their existence on the Internet.

There are dozens of available free, directory sites. But these are the ones I recommend:

Google Directory

MerchantCircle

Rim of the World

Wikipedia AboutUs.org

Yellow Pages.com

Invest a little time online today to list your company, business service or non-profit in the free directories, above. As some unaccredited author once wrote, “A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.”

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business