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Bowling for Business: How to Up the Ante in Your Ad Campaign

One of the first advertising campaigns I ran was my own bid for junior class senator at Columbine High School back in the Dark Ages. I’m not sure whether the buttons, posters or personal appearances did the trick. But, remarkably, despite the pathetic slogan: “Put the Luck of the Irish in Senate. Vote Kathy O’Brien,” I won. The experience led not to a love of politics but for the intoxicating ability to influence public opinion through promotion. Although the budget for my high school senatorial campaign was minimal, advertising paid off…as it always does.

Advertising Age conservatively estimates that ad spending in the United States exceeds $149 billion a year. Marketers in key categories for 2010 were:

  • Automotive
  • Retail
  • Restaurants
  • Wireless Carriers
  • Beverages
  • Beer
  • Prescription Medications
  • Personal Care
  • Household Products
  • Movies
  • Credit Cards

Admittedly, the lion’s share was spent by corporations. But small business owners and nonprofit directors continue to invest despite the economy because advertising in virtually any form pays off. If you currently sell a product or a service to one or more people, whether you know it or not, you are already advertising whenever you—

  1. Sell a great product
  2. Provide a service
  3. Tell someone at a party what you do for a living
  4. Hand your business card to a client
  5. Give someone your phone number
  6. Post to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter

Whether you run a one-man or one–woman show or a multi-national corporation, the key to increasing revenue is to amplify your existing advertising efforts:

For Free—

  1. Sell a few more units of your product.
  2. Improve customer service.
  3. Instead of casually answering questions about your occupation, take a genuine interest in the people you meet. And look for opportunities to mention how you might be able to help them achieve their professional goals.
  4. Give clients two business cards so they can share one with a friend.
  5. Place your business name and phone number in a free online directory like Yelp or Google Places.
  6. Post a promotion on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

On a Limited Budget—

  1. Instead of spreading advertising efforts too thin, promote just one of your products. By focusing on a single strategy, you will be able to effectively measure the effectiveness of your campaign.
  2. Reward employees for superior customer service. Let your clients know about your commitment to meeting their needs.
  3. Join an active referral group like BRG, BNI or I Take the Lead. These organizations encourage lead generation among their members.
  4. Run a copy of your business card in the local newspaper or phone directory. Test and measure before upping your ad budget.
  5. Experiment with Pay Per Click (PPC) to improve website search engine ranking.
  6. Invest in Facebook PPC, display ads on LinkedIn and contests on Twitter.

The Sky’s the Limit—

  1. Having access to a healthy ad budget will enable you to try several types of advertising so you can test and measure the effectiveness of each.
  2. Run a customer service contest to reward clients who post reviews and take surveys. Clients who care enough to write reviews should be encouraged.
  3. Seek out a leadership role in your local chamber of commerce or professional organization. While this will require a considerable investment of time, it is well worth the effort because you will emerge as a leader in your field.
  4. Increase your current Internet campaign to increase visibility and gain social media friends, fans or followers.
  5. Buy promotional items featuring your company logo, phone number, website address and slogan. Encourage employees to distribute the items.
  6. Google is constantly changing algorithms to rely heavily on social interactivity. And few business professionals have the time or desire to comment to blog posts, comment on Facebook or tweet. So, if you haven’t hired a professional agency to manage your social media yet, do so today. In fact, call Kathy O’Brien Bowling at Mountain Marketing Group and put the luck of the Irish in your campaigns!

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

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Bowling for Business: I Advertise, Therefore I Am

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

I advertise, therefore I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Free—

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

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

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

On a Limited Budget—

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

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

The Sky’s the Limit—

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

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

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

Bowling for Business: Business sucks? There’s an App for that.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on March 14, 2011.)

I was required to take a torturously boring class in high school circa 1982 called Data Processing. (The fact it was held in the math department should have been my first clue that I was in trouble.) Since I try to block out the most traumatic experiences in life, I remember very little about the course. But I do recall the day that it was my turn to stand in the computer lab waiting 45 minutes for the bulky, loud modem to connect to the server via rotary telephone, so it could send back a string of useless numbers. After the incident, I was certain of only one thing: computers were a ridiculous waste of time.

Fast forward 24 years. I use computers and the Internet more often than toilet paper or toothpaste. In fact, I have to admit that in the glorious days since Verizon started selling and supporting the iPad and iPhone, I spend almost every minute of the day wired in.

At home, if I’m not checking available points in my Weight Watcher’s tracker, I’m logged onto Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, reading an iBook or eMagazine, playing Mahjong or balancing our checkbook with Quicken. At work, I’m almost always updating blog posts, tweeting on behalf of clients or evaluating website analytics.

And, although, admittedly, as a marketing and social media professional, I use technology more than the average bear, I’m hardly alone when it comes to relying heavily on technology. In fact, according to InternetWorldStats.com, almost 361 million people use the Internet multiple times each day. As an entrepreneur or non-profit director, don’t make the mistake of ignoring this trend.

For Free—

Whether you use a device supported by Google, RIM or Apple, and pretty much no matter what you want to do, there’s an App for that. (But I should reveal that Apple owns the rights to that phrase.)

Purportedly struggling in the darkness to escape from debris, stranded Android users in Japan downloaded Flashlight Apps some 50,000 times in the hours immediately following the recent tsunami and resulting earthquakes.

For business professionals, there are literally hundreds of thousands of apps for virtually every need:

But not all Smartphone apps are so utilitarian. Consider:

On a Limited Budget—

There is a Vook App for $9.99 for struggling business professionals called Help! My Business Sucks! The app offers marketing ideas to save virtually any company, though the results are not guaranteed.

A recent study by cnet Reviews revealed that 42% of Americans use a Blackberry, iPhone, Palm or Google Smartphone. Even if you, like my own husband, have somehow managed to escape the lure of purchasing your own handheld or tablet computer, consider the buying habits of your target market when you are making marketing decisions. Savvy business professionals won’t ignore the fact that a high percentage of people will try to access website content using their phones. So enable your site for mobile viewing. Doing so is relatively simple and very affordable.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If you can swing it, hire an app developer to create a customized application that will provide value to your target market. The epitome of interactive product placement, apps that integrate your brand through a fun game or useful tool could propel your product or service sales to new heights. Some corporations are already leading the charge:

  • Papa John’s offers a free iPhone app that lets users build electronic and order actual pizzas.
  • Spin the Coke provides Facebook integration so you can virtually play Spin the Bottle with friends.
  • Home Depot has a Toolbox that allows users to quickly measure objects with a virtual Caliper
  • The MGM Hot Tub Time Machine Soundboard promises to “get you out of any situation past, present, or future.” A chance to revisit Data Processing in 1982 and change my own early opinion of computers? At $1.99, that might be worth the price of admission.

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

Bowling for Business: Marketing Lessons from Oscar

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

By the time you read this column, the 2011 Academy Awards will be history. And while the events that unfold at each Oscar ceremony don’t affect most of us personally, there is much we can learn about marketing by studying the annual affair:

Image is everything—more viewers tune in to see beautiful people modeling glamorous fashions than because they care about who wins the award for best sound editing in a documentary. This might not be true if the dress code was “Come as you are.” Celebrities dress up (or down…remember Bjork?) because they understand the importance of defining, projecting and protecting their brand.

Entrepreneurs who understand this concept are able to leverage it for increased brand name recognition, customer loyalty and, ultimately, higher sales. When we sign a new website client at Mountain Marketing Group, the first order of business is to create or refine the client’s logo and slogan since these steps are foundational to effective advertising and public relations.

Membership has its privileges— while all members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences cast votes, only a small percentage receive invitations to attend the event. On the other hand, if you aren’t a member, your chances of attending are zip… unless you want to be a seat-filler.

This is also true for business owners and non-profit directors. If you don’t belong to the local chamber of commerce, you won’t be invited to mixers or educational seminars. And if you don’t attend business events, you won’t be able to hobnob. And if you don’t rub shoulders with people in the community where you do business, you won’t be able to build valuable relationships that might very well lead to business opportunities. Other memberships to consider include country clubs, professional associations and service organizations.

Networking is non-negotiable— in Hollywood, they call it “walking the red carpet.” In the real world, networking involves having actual conversations with real people who aren’t holding microphones or asking us who we are wearing.

Profitable business networking requires an investment of time and attention. When you attend a networking event, I challenge you to close your mouth and open your ears. Most of us prefer to spend time with good listeners than with people who never shut their mouths. American financier, stock-market speculator, statesman and political consultant Bernard M. Baruch summed it up well when he said,

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

Social Media matters—As soon as Justin Bieber gave a small clear box of his hair to Ellen DeGeneres, the Twittersphere went into overdrive, with nearly all of the 7,686,188 people who follow Bieber tweeting about the event as if it was the most important story in the world. The highest bid for the teen singer’s locks is currently at $12,000.

The Academy Awards’ ceremony is no longer simply broadcasted on television but streamed, celebri-tweeted, posted, blogged, checked in, stumbled upon, connected and fed to millions of eager viewers, followers, friends and fans. The reason any of this should matter to small business owners is that it’s all about buzz. If you want to take advantage of social media, don’t miss the groundswell. Create a Twitter account and set up a Facebook Fan Page for your organization. Today.

Everybody loves a party—more than the Academy Awards’ ceremony itself, I wish I could into the Governor’s Ball or one of the after-parties hosted by Elton John, James Franco or Madonna. It isn’t that I want to see movie stars up close and personal. It’s that I would love to dine on party fare prepared by the likes of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.

If you want to generate interest in your product or services, host an event and serve great food. Then, once your prospects have eaten, wow them with your professional offerings. People are more likely to respond favorably to sales pitches when they have happy tummies.

Nobody likes a windbag—the best Oscar speeches have been brief:

Jack Nicholson

I guess this proves there are as many nuts in the Academy as anywhere else.

Kim Basinger

I just want to thank everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life.

Benicio Del Toro

I won and I get to scream and jump a little. But I got to go back to work tomorrow.

Steven Spielberg

Am I allowed to say I really wanted this? This is fantastic.

James Cameron

I am the king of the world!

If you are giving your Oscar acceptance speech and the music starts, you need to shut up. The best advertising campaigns have also been brief:

Brylcreem

A little dab’ll do ya.

De Beers’ diamonds

A diamond is forever.

Florida Citrus Commission

A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.

Rice a Roni

The San Francisco treat

Florida Citrus Commission

Wheaties: Breakfast of Champions.

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

Bowling for Business: Top 11 Marketing Tips for 2011

How to Market Your Business in 2011

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 20, 2010.

I have to admit my personal New Year’s resolutions for 2011 are the same as they were in 2010—lose weight; save money; be a better wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, neighbor and friend. I long for the day when I achieve my nebulous goals so I can draft a fresh, new list.

When it comes to business, I find it easier to establish innovative objectives. So please allow me a departure from my usual column-format to share what I believe to be the top 11 marketing strategies for the New Year:

1. Public Relations

Admittedly, I might be prejudiced, since this is my field. But I maintain the single most important tool in any entrepreneurial chest is public relations. After all, PR is about projecting a positive image, so it is universally applicable.

But how should you approach PR in 2011? Perhaps counter-intuitively, to market in the modern era, you need to return to an old business stand-by: the press release. Retooled as a Social Media Release, this approach remains the single most effective way to boost Search Engine Optimization. Because you can select keywords for each release and post to an online newsroom, Social Media Releases are far superior to the standard press release model.

2. Email Marketing

Although some pundits predicted that social media marketing would replace the use of this time-tested tool, don’t expect email marketing to go away. It is still the best way to reach your target market. In 2011, make sure you’re using the new tools provided through most email marketing companies, such as surveys, bounce-reports and social media tie-ins.

3. Social Media

For those of you who were waiting for the demise of social media, it’s time to give up the ghost. We’re living in a brave new world where Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are as much a part of the landscape as business cards and email addresses. So, if you have somehow managed to avoid setting up a social media account for your business up til now, do so in 2011.

4. Videos

My family and I finally caved in and purchased the new TiVo Premiere. I am blown away by our newfound ability to watch YouTube videos on our living room television set. We no longer have to crowd around a PC to access music videos, podcasts and MP3 files. The drawback to this type of technology is that the inferior quality of amateur videos now stands in sharp contrast to professionally-produced commercials and short films. So hire a professional to write, direct and post videos that have the potential to go viral.

5. Promotional Marketing Items

Everyone loves gifts…even you. So don’t underestimate the value of providing people with nifty trinkets that show you care while promoting your brand. Unless you’re rolling in the dough, think simple and cheap. Favors can be very inexpensive—something as simple as pen with your logo on it, a pin or sticker, or an individually wrapped chocolate. For just a few pennies per item, you will make a great impression.

6. Branding

Don’t stop at giveaways. Use every available opportunity to build your brand online and in the real world. Make sure your logo and slogan appear on everything from your email signature to the sign outside of your shop.

7. Website Strategies

If you haven’t already done so, convert your website so it no longer functions merely as an electronic brochure. Shoot for an update that encourages website visitors to interact instead of passively peruse.

8. Direct Marketing- Knock on More Doors in the New Year

The shine is off the penny for teleconferencing and Go-to-Meetings. Since, by now, most businessmen and women understand how to navigate the world of the webinar, to stand out in 2011, you will need to abandon all things electronic and at least offer to give your clients some face-time.

9. Support your Community

This topic is so important that it actually merits its own column. So we’ll cover it more in detail in time. But suffice to say it is imperative you support the businesses located adjacent to your own. Buy local and encourage others to do so. Join the Chamber of Commerce. Volunteer to serve in leadership positions wherever you are able.

10. Do Pro-Bono Work

Again, this is critical. So we’ll discuss the topic more in future posts. Demonstrate your personal commitment to support causes that matter. Pro-bono work shows that you care about more than your own bottom line.

11. Have Fun

Try not to take yourself too seriously. Try to remember why you went into business for yourself in the first place. If you aren’t having any fun, it will show in your product or service. And if you take steps to make changes in 2011, you might be able to come up with a new list of business resolutions for 2012. Happy New Year!

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

Bowling for Business: Holiday Gift-Giving—Think Outside of the Box

There is value in sending personalized holiday cards to clients

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 6, 2010 and in the Biz Press on December 8, 2010.

Making a trip to the post office during the holiday season used to be an exciting venture. Eager to read hand-penned personal greetings and catch up on news about family, friends and business associates, I braved the crowds and returned home to tear into elegant, foil-lined envelopes with quivering fingers.

Such is no longer the case. These days, pre-printed postcards, generic newsletters, stamped signatures and email blasts communicate one central theme—that the sender is too busy to take time to communicate directly to me.

So when it comes to sending a Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa greeting this year, I have one recommendation for you: make it count.

Rest assured you can do this regardless of your budget.

For Free—

Although you can create an email card for free, in this case, the adage applies: “You get what you pay for.” After all, if you are able to do a quick Internet search to locate free e-cards, so can your intended recipients. And do you really want to communicate to them that they are worth nothing to you? Better to skip the holiday greeting altogether.

If, instead, you opt for an inexpensive gift, set a realistic budget and stick to it. But don’t be cheap. Giving away pencils that cost .19 apiece communicates that you are either a skinflint or in dire straits, neither of which is your likely goal. Better to send a nice card than a cheesy trinket.

It’s perfectly acceptable to opt for a greeting card. Just take the time to personalize it instead of assigning the task of rubber-stamping your signature to a junior staffer. While it’s not necessary to invest both time and money to create a holiday greeting, you should do one or the other.

Boxed gift cards are available at just about every possible price-point and in just about every discount mart, supermarket and drugstore. Select something that is both professional and appropriate for your line of work. For example, if you own a restaurant, you could send cards that feature mouth-watering photos of food. But this is probably not the case if you own a string of laundromats.

On a Limited Budget—

Since we live in an increasingly electronic world, there is nothing wrong with sending an e-greeting, as long as it has been customized for you. This is especially appropriate if you own an Internet-based business. If you decide to go this route, don’t go it alone. Instead, hire a designer to incorporate your company logo, slogan and personal sentiments.

After all, no matter how altruistic your holiday benevolence, recognizing your customer-base during the holidays is, at its core, a marketing endeavor. After all, gifts (which are not considered to be entertainment) are legitimate, tax-deductible business expenses. Please check with your accountant or tax professional for details and limitations.

Another popular budget-friendly idea is to donate to a charity. Give your clients a list of three or four charities you’d like to donate to on their behalf and let them pick the one they like. This way, the business gets the tax write-off. So it’s a win/win for everyone.

Again, I make no claim to know anything about business accounting. So, where tax deductions are concerned, please check with someone who knows what they are doing. I recommend Ron Drake of TABS.

The Sky’s the Limit

If you choose to purchase gifts for your clients this holiday season, select something that will expertly promote your brand while appealing to the kid in all of us. Granted, this is a tall order. But nobody ever said it was easy to play Santa Claus.

The same rules apply to gift-buying in the business world as they do at home: it’s the thought that counts. So think through your options before slapping down your credit card:

  1. Would you like to receive the same gift? If not, why would your vendors, customers and cohorts want one?
  2. Is the idea fresh or stale? Several years ago, the “it” gift of the season was a digital picture frame. These days, even the electronically-challenged have figured out how to upload their SD Card to create slide show screen savers on their PCs or laptops. So try to select a gift that is timely.
  3. Some gifts stand the test of time because they are good. Don’t be afraid to buy something your clients might already have.

Case in point? Pens.(Pun, intended.) Sure, everyone has one. But there is no such thing as having too many writing utensils. They are easy to personalize, simple to store and inexpensive to mail. In fact, the perfect pens might be just the ticket for reviving frenzied holiday-trips to the post office.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Mountain Marketing Group. Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Forget the Fine Print

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 22, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 24, 2010.

When writing promotional copy for your product or service, less is more.

When I was in sixth grade, Mr. Khouri called my parents for a conference because, although I was excelling in Honors’ English, I was failing math. Since he wrote math problems on the chalkboard, he and my mother and father decided the solution was a giant pair of gold-rimmed aviator eyeglasses that made me look like John Denver. Not a fan of that particular fashion statement, I often “forgot” to wear my glasses or “accidentally” dropped them behind the back tires of our Pinto or “absentmindedly” flushed them down the toilet.

Unfortunately, there was a seemingly endless supply of hideous replacement frames at LensCrafters, which arrived in rapid succession…each pair unbelievably more hideous than its predecessor. This pattern continued until I finally earned enough baby-sitting money to buy contact lenses.

The horror of it all is probably why I refuse to acknowledge my increasing need for reading glasses. For months, I have been complaining to my family that every food manufacturer, magazine publisher and pharmaceutical company has recently, inexplicably reduced the size of the printing on their products.

Unwilling to consider that the problem might lie with me, I decided the logical thing to do was to start ignoring instructions. After all, at my age, I already know how to lather, rinse and repeat without having to read it on the bottle. Turns out, I am not alone.

With so many things competing for our time and attention, most of us are too busy to breathe. Rather than enjoying the luxury of leisurely pouring over every detail in each article that lands in our email inbox, we are lucky if we have time to skim headlines.

But, ironically, when it comes to creating content for others to read, most business professionals write website content and brochure copy as if their readers have nothing but time. So, if you have something you want to say to current and prospective clients, customers, guests, diners or donors, eliminate the fine print.

For Free—

When money is tight, you might be forced to do your own marketing. If this is the case, be brief. Without benefit of a professional writer or editor, and since you’ll be writing about something with which you are intimately acquainted, you will probably be prone to ramble. So here are a few words of advice:

  • Write whatever you want in a stream-of-consciousness style. Don’t even worry about adding punctuation or breaking your thoughts into paragraphs. Just get it all on paper.
  • Tear up what you wrote. That’s right. Toss it. Don’t worry. You know the material. Creating a disposable first draft will help you stay on track with your second.
  • After you finish writing your second draft, reduce it by at least 50%.
  • Then, get a second opinion from someone outside of your industry, who can alert you if you unwittingly used insider terminology.
  • Use plenty of headlines, sub-headings and bold print to divide copy. Nothing turns off readers more than an endless sea of words.

On a Limited Budget—

Hire a freelance writer. If you are preparing a newspaper advertisement, find someone who specializes in writing punchy ad copy. If you are producing a corporate brochure, commission a professional who specializes in formal business writing. Few writers excel at all styles. And the benefit of using contracted professionals is your ability to hand-pick the right people for every project.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Hire someone to create a campaign centered on a very clear message. The more you try to say, the more you will dilute your message. Take a cue from these successful ad campaigns, and associated short-slogans:

  • Nike: Just do it.
  • Mountain Dew: Do the Dew.
  • Kay Jewelers: Every kiss begins with Kay.
  • Burger King: Have it your way.
  • KFC: Finger-lickin’ good
  • Taco Bell: Think outside the bun.
  • Bounty: The quicker thicker picker-upper
  • Subway: Eat fresh
  • BMW: The ultimate driving machine
  • Avis: We try harder
  • AT&T: Reach out and touch someone
  • Visa: It’s everywhere you want to be
  • Skittles: Taste the rainbow
  • Yellow Pages: Let your fingers do the walking
  • Miller Beer: It’s Miller time.
  • Home Depot: You can do it. We can help.

And, my personal favorite—LensCrafters: Eyes love LensCrafters. (Hey, I never said a slogan had to be true in order to succeed.)

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

Bowling for Business: The Pay it Forward Proposition

It pays to pay it forward.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 8, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 10, 2010.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more depressing movie than Pay it Forward.

Spoiler Alert: Although the premise of doing things for the sole purpose of making the world a better place to live is one I support, I wish the screenwriters would have framed the story in something other than the murder of a 11-year-old cherubic everyman played by Haley Joel Osment when he was still adorable (before his voice changed).

With that said, paying it forward is worthwhile not only in Hollywood but also in the real world…especially in business. The general idea is to selflessly give to three people without expecting anything in return. Then, the three people you help should do the same until the impact is felt in large scale. It’s a small but revolutionary idea. And I can’t think of a better time than the holidays to give it a try.

I propose you use whatever line of work you are in to pay it forward in your own little corner of the world. If you take the time to open your eyes, you’ll discover that opportunities abound. And they come at several different price-points:

For Free

One of the services we offer at Mountain Marketing Group is ghost-writing for social media accounts such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Our goal is to build a foundation and then teach our clients how to build on it by maintaining the accounts on their own. Although many choose to retain us in lieu of riding solo, most enjoy the process of learning how to provide industry-specific, valuable content to the folks in their target market.

But we usually have to repeat our social media strategy numerous times before it actually starts to sink in. Experts in my field agree the ultimate goal of social media is to contribute and engage instead of directly selling. But providing something for nothing is counter-intuitive to savvy business professionals who generally measure success by terms like ROI and “the bottom line.”

Like it or not, we are living in a brand new world, where we can no longer pretend we have cornered the market on anything! The Information Superhighway has made it necessary to honestly represent your offerings. But don’t worry; sharing information will not make you irrelevant. On the contrary; you will emerge as a leader in your field. For example:

  • If you sell soap, write blogs about secret ingredients and tools of the trade. Don’t worry; you won’t reveal anything that isn’t already posted online.
  • If you teach Latin, tweet key phrases and uses for the dead language.
  • If you make blankets, provide Facebook status updates when fleece and flannel go on sale.

According to a September 2010 Study by Pew Research, 54% of people conduct online research before buying anything…regardless of whether they end up making the actual purchase in the real world or in Cyberspace. So providing information to fuel their inquiries is a great way for you to pay it forward.

On a Limited Budget

Use some of your profits to fund a charitable organization. While I can’t show you a ledger to prove the value in contributing outside of your own firm, I can personally testify to the benefits (both personal and financial) of paying it forward by giving. Since we are near year’s end, perhaps the idea of donating is a tad more attractive now than at other times? Whatever it takes, go with it. Put your money where your mouth is.

The Sky’s the Limit

Sponsor a charitable event. Since sponsorship usually comes with PR-related perks like corporate attribution and public acknowledgment, some may argue this is not a true “pay it forward” activity. But I maintain you are paying it forward whenever someone else is the beneficiary of your benevolence. So select any organization that makes sense to you.

Call the executive director to set up a meeting so you can determine the needs and availability of the organization. Now more than ever, non-profit groups are in need of folks to pay it forward. According to SiloBreaker, due to the recession, donations to our country’s 400 largest charities declined this year by 11%. And that figure is even more depressing than fictionalized homicide.

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

Bowling for Business: Miscommunication Situation

Communication is critical in all forms of advertising.

Make sure you network the right way in the right place.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on October 25, 2010 and in the Biz Press on October 27, 2010.

While saving money to return to college my sophomore year, I did a short stint as an international flight attendant with a little-known charter airline called Arrow Airways. I was delighted to work one particular flight from Denver, Colorado, to Gatwick, England because one of my fellow crew members was a hunky Italian named Alberto.

When we landed, I quickly accepted his invitation to join him for dinner. Although his accent was thick, I was sure he said he would be taking me to an Italian restaurant called Apple Luigi’s. So imagine my surprise when we arrived at our destination in downtown London, which was not a fine Italian eatery called Apple Luigi’s but a gay men’s club called Harpoon Louie’s.

Why would I share this humiliating story? Because the lessons I learned apply to successful networking for business:

  1. Shut up and Listen.
  2. Kill the Agenda.
  3. Check your Six.

Shut Up and Listen

Instead of just waiting for your turn to talk, pay attention when you are chatting with someone. If you practice active listening, you will stand out because most people approach networking events with mouths open and ears shut. If I had spent more time listening to Alberto instead of trying to impress him with flirty banter, I might have ascertained that he was not a viable romantic prospect.

More recently, I participated in a speed-networking event where organizers asked participants to rate fellow networkers. The top three had this in common: they listened more than they spoke. If you want people to think highly of you, listen to them.

Kill the Agenda

Entrepreneurs often have “Type A” personalities who like to manage everything, often to their own peril. The reason I was surprised by Alberto’s revelation is because I came to the party with my own romantic agenda. But even though my time at Harpoon Louie’s isn’t what I had expected, I ended up meeting lots of interesting people. So, even though I had to find my own ride back to the hotel, the evening wasn’t a total waste.

Try to make the best of your circumstances because you never know what might unfold. Buckminster Fuller called this phenomenon the Processional Effect. As a Christian, I call it the Sovereignty of God. Whatever your belief system, try to let things happen naturally instead of trying to control the world. You might be surprised to make a friend, land a new client or learn something new.

Check your Six

Make sure you’re in the right place. Although you should go with the flow no matter where you end up, try to start off somewhere that makes sense. Before selecting networking groups to join and events to attend, figure out if regular attendees fall into your target market. Since I was interested in meeting someone I could date, Harpoon Louie’s was not an ideal location.

The good news is you don’t have to learn these lessons the hard way. Take a tip from me and network for maximum results on any budget:

For Free—

When it comes to finding places to network, think outside the box. Networking opportunities don’t occur only at official mixers that are labeled “Networking Event.” You can meet potential clients, customers and associates literally anywhere and everywhere…in the real world as well as Cyberspace.

For those who regularly read my columns, please allow me to repeat myself. The most effective way to network for free is online. Join and maintain social media accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And, above all else, remember to be the same person you are online as you are in the real world.

On a Limited Budget—

In this troubled business economy, when time and money are often in short supply, carefully select which networking groups to join. Instead of spreading yourself too thin by signing up for several organizations, start small. Join one group and take a leadership role. Arrive early and stay late. Volunteer to help set up and clean up so people see you as an active member.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If the funds are available, sponsor your own networking event. This will position you as a leader in the business community and enable you to hand-pick attendees from your own target market. And you can host the event wherever you want…from Apple Luigi’s to Harpoon Louie’s.

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