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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.

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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 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