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: Follow the Money

Follow the Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Free—

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

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

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

On a Budget—

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

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

The Sky’s the Limit—

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

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

Bowling for Business: Everything but the Kitchen Link

Full Spectrum Unity Holding Hands

The Top 10 Steps to Use LinkedIn for Business

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on 10-05-09

I’m often on the Internet for work. Really…it’s for work. So it isn’t my fault that I was so engrossed in posting to social media accounts last week that I failed to wake up my 13-year-old daughter for school. At least that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

Unfortunately, the argument didn’t hold much weight when Kaitlin bounded up the stairs at 9:30 with both barrels loaded, screaming, “Mom, what are you doing? Did you forget about me? You made me miss the bus.”

And then the bombshell, “Are you playing on your computer again?”

Now, admittedly, I spend a lot of time on my laptop. And when I’m not on it, I’m usually developing arthritic cramps in my fingers by typing on my tiny Crackberry keyboard. But there’s a reason for my obsession. Like most boutique advertising and public relations agencies, our firm is all about communication. We help people connect with current and potential customers and business associates by linking them with tools of the trade such as brochures, fliers, press releases and websites.

But my favorite method for communication is social media. I look forward to updating and reading posts and checking out photo uploads from friends on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. And, when it comes to business, it’s all about LinkedIn.

“What is it you do all day on the computer, anyway?” Kaitlin continued her somewhat justifiable tirade, while looking over my shoulder, “Are you on MySpace?”

“No. This is for professionals. It’s called LinkedIn,” I countered.

“Looks like MySpace to me,” she said. “Photos, groups, comments…”

“Well, it’s not for teenagers. Most of the people on LinkedIn are 40 years old and have household incomes of more than $100,000 a year,” I explained. “Besides, look at the pictures. People are wearing suits. Their posts are boring. And very few of them are smiling.”

“True,” she admitted. “So it’s sort of like MySpace for old people.”

To end the argument, I relented, “Exactly.”

But, in reality, there is a lot more to LinkedIn than my daughter’s rudimentary assessment. Launched in May, 2007, the site is the largest professional network in the world, with 25 million members representing 150 industries.

According to Krista Canfield, public relations manager for LinkedIn, “Basically what LinkedIn does is [to] help professionals accelerate their success.”

Consider this assessment of the site by the folks who brought us the Social Media Bible, “Anytime there is a tool that millions of people in one place at one time all with common interests are clamoring to use, you, as a businessperson, need to understand and take part of it.”

But where do you begin?

The Top 10 Things You Should be doing on LinkedIn

  1. Create a profile. Like other networking sites, LinkedIn has a user-friendly platform. So you don’t have to be a computer prodigy to follow the step-by-step tutorial in order to set up your free account. Just login to LinkedIn and get started.
  2. Complete your profile. Incomplete profiles send the wrong message. Make sure you list current and previous employment, education, honors and awards, even if you are not looking for a job.
  3. Invite friends and associates. LinkedIn is all about connections. Remember the classic Faberge Organic Shampoo commercial where Heather Locklear (yes, it was her) asked us to tell two friends about our shampoo so they would tell two friends…and so on, and so on? With LinkedIn, you will be able to connect with “first-tier” associates as well as connections’ connections, and so on, and so on…
  4. Seek Introductions. People debate the ideal number of connections. Some say that a list of more than 100 is too difficult to manage while others argue the more, the better. While the jury is still out, according to noted author and social media guru, Guy Kawasaki, “People with more than 20 connections are 34 times more likely to be approached with a job opportunity than people with less than five.”
  5. Write Recommendations. Take a few minutes to recommend your colleagues. When you post your referral, LinkedIn will send it for approval, asking the person you recommended to write a recommendation for you. This is worth the investment because, as I’ve learned from my membership in the SBBE chapter of BNI, the largest networking group in the real world, givers always gain.
  6. Join groups. Whatever your expertise or interest, a LinkedIn group exists. And you can join up to 50 of them. I recommend you connect with a couple of key professional groups as well as alumni groups, both from college as well as high school, as well as past companies. When your membership is approved, you get to display the group logo on your profile. How cool is that?
  7. Invite group members to join your network. Once you’re admitted to a new group, seek out strategic connections inside that group.
  8. Micro-blog. Called “Status Updates,” LinkedIn allows for short posts. Most people learned, early on, not to use this feature to report their breakfast menu. Instead, use it to provide industry info and relevant links. Posting once or twice a day is generally considered polite etiquette in LinkedIn Land.
  9. Look for a job, a sale or a partnership. According to communications guru Guy Kawasaki, “Most people use LinkedIn to “get to someone” in order to sell their product or service, form a partnership, or land a job.
  10. Participate in discussions. Follow group discussions. This is your chance to share your two cents and to learn from others. You can also take advantage of your connections by asking for advice.

So, on my next status update, I’m going to pose a question, “Where is the best place to buy an alarm clock for a sleepy teenager?”

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.

Bowling for Business: Website Monkey Business

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on 9-07-09 at 4:13 p.m.

By Kathy Bowling

I grew up in the 70s. So, in my children’s eyes, that makes me roughly the age of dirt. Considering how much change I’ve witnessed in the field of technology over the past 30 years, I see their point. Consider the evolution of communication.

In the “old days,” if you wanted to contact someone, you had three options. Send a letter, place a call, or get up off of the couch and travel to meet them, in person. As a young girl, I lacked resources like postage stamps and a driver’s license; so I grew up with a rather pathetic dependence on the phone.

So, when my best friend, Lori, found out she was moving to the country, to a town that was a 30-minute drive away from my house, we panicked. How would we stay in touch?

Apparently deficient in our ability to reason, we came up with a sure-fire plan. We would adopt a monkey, which we would share. Our strategy was simple. Joint custody would mandate that our parents drive us to each other’s homes on a weekly basis.

Even then, I was surprised that my mother allowed us to peruse the phone book in our quest. After all, neither of us had any money. And primates are not exactly known for being easy to control.

What my mother knew that I did not was that there were only three pet stores located in the Metro Denver area. And, as Lori and I quickly ascertained, none of them carried simians. So, we had no choice but to abandon the scheme.

Had the situation unfolded today, things would have been much different. A Google Search on “Cheap Monkeys for Sale” returns 33 million hits in .26 seconds. If Lori and I had access to the Internet, the two of us might still be sharing custody of a 145-pound chimpanzee.

monkey business pic

Thanks to the World Wide Web, information is instantaneous. Location is moot. Possibilities are endless. If you want to buy a product or service, you will have more trouble narrowing your search than uncovering options. If you want to sell a product or service, the world is your oyster.

In our Lake Arrowhead advertising and public relations agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we encourage our clients to strike while the iron is hot. Whether you want to share a political perspective, recipe, timely message, or a new invention, the best way to do so is by posting it in Cyberspace.

So why doesn’t everyone advertise online? The following are the objections I most often hear:

I don’t have enough money to invest in a website.

If you are waiting until money flows like honey so you can build a state-of-the-art website, you are losing valuable time you could be using to build your brand. While you sit on the bench, your competitors are already in the field, establishing a seasoned Internet presence that you will be hard-pressed to catch.

You don’t have to develop the “be-all-end-all” website on your first attempt. In fact; whatever site you create, you should always consider a work-in-progress. Instead of a static corporate brochure converted to an electronic medium, your online persona should be dynamic, interactive, and constantly evolving.

There are thousands of inexpensive, user-friendly, template-based website hosting-services available, like the one I used to get my feet wet.

If free is the only budget that works for your company or ministry, set up a basic blog using either Blogger or WordPress. And don’t let the word, “blog” scare you away. While a blog is a weblog or journal (which we’ll discuss in future columns), these free blogging programs are really just simple, user-friendly websites.

I think most people still use the phone book.

According to an August 13, 2009 report released by Marketwire,  a WhitePages’ survey found that 78.5 percent of US adults prefer using online directories, their inner network of friends and family, search engines, and social networks over the white pages phone book.

Even though ads in the phone book/real estate magazine/newspaper /fill in the blank are ineffective and expensive, it’s the way we have always done it.

I can’t make pot roast without thinking about the well-known parable of a young housewife who cut off both ends of the meat before roasting. When her husband asked her the reason, she didn’t know. So she called her mother to ask.

Her mom told her, “I don’t know. That’s how Grandma used to make it. Let me check with her.”

When the grandmother was asked, she explained, “I had to cut off the ends because our pan was too small for the roast.”

Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Be intentional with your advertising strategy. If you’d prefer to sit back and wait for the “next big thing,” take notice. Social media IS the next big thing. And you can’t join the conversation until you’ve set up a virtual shop.

Take it from Forrester Research executives and authors, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, in the social media book I highly recommend, groundswell.

You cannot ignore this trend. You cannot sit this one out. Unless you are retiring in the next six months, it’s too late to quit and let somebody else handle it. The groundswell trend is unstoppable, and your customers are there. You may go a little slower or a little faster, but you have to move forward. There is no going back.

Thirty-eight years later, Lori and I remain friends. Although neither of us owns a pet monkey, we keep in touch, mostly, via the Internet. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

This article was first published on RimoftheWorld.net Friday, September 4, 2009 at 4:13 pm.