Sunday, May 15, 2005

Easier Link for New Blog

Here's an easier link to get to Better Local Marketing at AllBusiness.com:

www.BetterLocalMarketing.com

This will redirect to my place in the AllBusiness.com blog center. It's easier to remember (and easier to type) than the actual address!

Thanks for reading!


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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Please update your links.

I'll try to contact everyone individually, but in case I miss you, here is the new link to the Better Local Marketing blog:

http://www.allbusiness.com/blog/BetterLocalMarketing/3992/

I'd be grateful if you update your links.

Thanks!

Kevin


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Friday, May 13, 2005

A New Home for Better Local Marketing

Big news! I have entered into an agreement with the good people at AllBusiness.com to host this blog on their fabulous website.

I am now one of 12 business bloggers writing about different aspects of business for the AllBusiness.com website.

If you're not familiar with AllBusiness.com, you should take a look. It's one of the top business websites on the Internet with thousands of resources for small businesses.

www.AllBusiness.com

From now on all new posts to Better Local Marketing will be on the new website at AllBusiness.com.

Please click here to go to the new blog.

I'll leave this blog in place for about a month. After that it will fade away.

Bye for now!


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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Perfect Storm of Local Marketing

There is a new restaurant in my hometown that I just have to tell you about. Not for their food (which is fantastic, by the way) but because of their marketing. It almost leaves me speechless. (Almost, because, as my wife would tell you, I'm never completely speechless!) They've been open only a few months and I'm not sure they've ever had a slow period.

And they've done this with no advertising.

I know new businesses often have a honeymoon period where they get a lot of traffic simply because they're new. But I don't think that's the case here. Their traffic is too steady and too strong. And their customers are loyal. You see a lot of the same people there time and time again.

What's even more amazing is they have accomplished this in a new development that has not had much retail traffic. In fact, I suspect since their opening, the majority of people coming to this development are there because of this new restaurant.

How have the owners of this small restaurant reached this marketing nirvana? Well I won't claim to have all the answers but I do have some thoughts about how they achieved this.

Pure Demand

The owners of this restaurant are smart. They saw a huge demand for this type of restaurant in this location. It would have been easy to miss the demand too because the location is in an older, redeveloping area that has never had much retail traffic. By locating there they blazed a trail, of sorts. They took some risk by being first but it worked. And I don't think it was luck either. I think it was a calculated risk by people who understand their market and their industry.

Reputation

The proprietors of this restaurant own another restaurant in the area. It's well known and well regarded. So, people already knew their brand. By attaching their name to their new restaurant they leveraged the existing value of their brand.

The Buzz

They did a very good job of getting people talking about the restaurant months before it opened. From "coming soon" signs in the windows to an article in the local newspaper, they had a strong buzz going that crescendoed dramatically when they opened their doors.

Another brilliant move they made was to have two trial days. They invited people from the community to enjoy complimentary "VIP" meals as a way for them to practice before they opened. What a great way to make a lot of new friends! By doing this they created a connection with a lot of people who became paying customers.

Great Product

Since day one the food and service has been nothing short of superb. They clearly have worked hard to deliver a unique and high quality product and they have done it well. There's no better marketing than a great product!

Nice People

Like icing on the cake, this business benefits from all of the above AND the folks who run it are nice people. We've all done business with people who are very good at what they do but perhaps lacking in warmth and personality. Not so with this restaurant. The owners and employees are all genuinely nice people who seem to enjoy their work and the customers.

So, there you have it, a veritable 'Perfect Storm' of local marketing. And while this situation is not something every local business can replicate it can offer loads of lessons for us as we look at our own businesses and how to grow them with better local marketing. My thanks to the owners of this restaurant for providing us with today’s lesson!


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Sunday, May 08, 2005

Simple Marketing Ideas from Barbara Findlay Schenck

I ran across this article today that everyone who owns a small business should read. It's by Barbara Findlay Schenck who wrote "Small Business Marketing for Dummies" and it has a lot of good advice for anyone thinking about promoting their small business.

You can read the full article here.

She offer some specific ideas that make a lot of sense. I'll cover a few here with my comments.

1. Have a goal.

Know what you want to accomplish before you start planning your marketing. You need to know where you're going if you want to have any hope of getting there!

2. Know who you're marketing to.

Identify who you want to reach so you can use appropriate media to reach them. I would add that you should keep each marketing message simple and directed toward one group. Too many people try to use one small ad to reach different groups. They end up diluting their message and exposure so much that it becomes ineffective.

3. Fix your business before you start promoting it.

If you have any problems wth your product or service, quality, delivery, etc, do not begin any new marketing. Good marketing will only hasten the demise of a bad business. It's like a grocer spending a lot of money to sell rotten apples. What's the point?

4. Offer bonuses or freebies to help customers remember you.

If your business sells a low cost high volume product or service (like a drycleaner, restaurant, etc) give your customers a little extra to remember you. In the article mentioned above she tells about a drycleaner who gives people a free cup of coffee when they drop off their clothes. People love it and they probably tell their friends so the free word of mouth advertising more than pays for the coffee.

5. Thank you notes may be old fashioned but they are still appreciated.

It's so rare these days to get a thank you note yet it really takes very little time. I have to believe every one you send makes an impact. Try it for a month or two and see what happens. If nothing else, remember, you're adding a little sunshine to someone's day.

There are more good ideas in the article. Take a look and then pick a couple to implement this week. Let me know how it works for you!


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Monday, May 02, 2005

Don't Be Like Needle Nose Ned

In the 20 years since I was in college I have read a lot of books and articles on how to sell and I've attended a lot of sales classes and seminars. I've even taught a few classes and I've written a few articles about it. In this time I have seen a lot of different theories on how to sell.

One theory of how to sell has never worked for me. I call it the "Needle Nose Ned" school of selling. It's named for the pesky insurance salesman named Ned from the movie "Groundhog Day". If you've seen the movie, you no doubt remember Ned. No matter what your situation is Ned will try to sell you insurance. And if you already have insurance, he'll try to sell you more.

In Ned's world, everyone needs what he's selling, whether they need it or not.

It seems there are fewer of these salespeople around these days (thank goodness) but they do still exist. They are only concerned with selling you what they have available. Somewhere, sometime, someone told them the way to sell is to ask everyone they see if they want to buy what they have. They don't worry if that person would never, ever have a need for what they're selling. They just ask, ask, ask. as if the act of asking will somehow make people want what they are selling.

I know in the past I have said you need to ask for the order. And you do. But, the "Neds" of the world take it too far because they ask everyone regardless of their interest or need.

The key in selling anything is to spend your time with people who have an interest in what you can do for them. Notice I didn't say need. A need that is ignored might as well not even exist. For someone to buy from you they first must be interested in what you have to offer.

There are two easy ways to know if someone is really interested in your product or service.

First, if they ask you questions, then they're interested. It doesn't mean they're ready to buy but it does show interest. Usually, the more specific the questions become, the more interested they are.

Second, if they are willing to commit to something, they are interested. If they will commit to meeting with you, it's a good sign they are interested in learning more. If they commit to giving you information about themselves or their business, then they probably have some interest. Or, if they are willing to do some work, such as putting together some information and bringing it to your meeting. That's a very good sign they're interested in what you might be able to do for them.

Once someone is interested in your product or service then you need to determine if it's right for them. You ask questions and get to know them. When you determine your product or service can do what they want done, then you ask for the order.

Asking for the order any sooner than that tells people you either don't understand your role in the sales process or you don't care enough to help them accomplish their goals.

Either way you're sending the wrong message.

The world has changed. People are more informed and more assertive. They want help in accomplishing their objectives. They want help making better decisions. They want you to earn their business by bringing real value to the table.

So, if you're involved in selling (and most of us who own or manage businesses sell something), don't be like Needle Nose Ned.


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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Better Local Marketing Gets Reviewed by PowerBlog Reviews

If you have not yet read Small Business Trends, you should. A few minutes there each day keeps you up to date with ideas and trends affecting small businesses.

Plus they have a great weekly feature called PowerBlog Reviews which they describe as follows:

We call them PowerBlog Reviews. "PowerBlog" because these weblogs really are powerful. Many of them are downright superb. Each of them that we link to here at Small Business Trends offers something unique -- a fresh perspective, useful insights, great writing, or "heart."

Lynne Meyer who is part of the team of wizards at Small Business Trends recently reviewed Better Local Marketing as a part of their PowerBlog Reviews.

Among other things, she had this to say...

Truth in advertising is a rare these days. That's why what you'll find at the Better Local Marketing blog is so refreshing. True to its name, the contents really are all about better local marketing, with tons of real-world tips.

You can read the entire review here.

Then do what I did. Bookmark their blog and visit it regularly. It's well worth the time.


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Perfect Example of Great Local Marketing

This weekend I was treated to a perfect example of very good local marketing at work. It worked well. It was not complicated. And it didn't cost a lot.

The marketing genius behind this success story is a neighbor of ours. She held a garage sale this weekend and despite the weather being cold and windy (lousy weather even by Minnesota's standards) they had a steady flow of shoppers that would make any retail store owner jump for joy.

The sale was held on Saturday and people lined up before they opened and they were still showing up after they were closed. And most people we saw leaving with their arms full.

What was the magic behind this residential retail success?

Signs.

Very good signs in good locations. And a lot of them.

First, her signs were well done. They were easy to read with the words "Garage Sale" in big black letters on a white background. And the letters were done with a computer, not hand written so they were clear.

They had big red arrows on them that always pointed the right direction.

Our neighborhood is in a secluded, heavily wooded area. So, getting people here is always difficult. We usually tell our friends to use Mapquest so they don't get lost. But her garage sale signs were so well placed they just drew people right in to the neighborhood.

In short, this garage sale guru did a good job in delivering her message ("Garage Sale") to a lot of people and then made it easy for them to get to the sale.

Because she used a lot high-quality, professional looking signs they were easy to see, easy to read and they gave people a positive impression so they could assume this was a quality sale. And since all the signs were the same and they were well placed, there was no confusion about how to get to the sale.

As far as I can see, she met most principles of effective local marketing and it worked. Bravo!


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Friday, April 29, 2005

The Power of Perspective

A good friend sent me an email yesterday. It noted how two news sources reported the same information in completely different ways, based on their perspective. One source cited our 3.2% annual growth rate as a positive development, a sign that our economy is still growing. Another said it showed how bad our economy and that things are slowing down.

What does this have to do with local marketing, you might ask?

The first thing that connects this to marketing your local business is that your perspective tells people a lot about you. If you tend to see the glass as half empty much of the time, that probably shows in many ways. And, people sense that.

Remember, people tend to do business with people whom they like. In my world, a person with a positive outlook (glass half full) gets much more of my time and attention than someone who constantly sees bad news everywhere. I simply would rather spend time with upbeat, happy people than with the frowners and downers. And, I think most people feel the same way.

Also, I think it's fair to say that much of the news and information we get (whether it's from news media or individuals or other sources) tends to have a negative spin. I can't tell you why but people seem to focus more on the bad things that happen in our world than on the good things. (If you disagree, please let me know.)

This creates an opportunity. If you are constantly a bearer of good news, you can stand out. You can be a beacon of light on an otherwise dark and stormy sea. By choosing to keep your attitude positive and upbeat you give people one more reason to do business with you. You can put the power of perspective to work for you.

The nice thing is, it's easy and it's free. Just start seeing the good side of every situation. Start looking at how everything in your life has some value. And, there is value in just about everything we experience, though you sometimes need to get creative to see it. Remember what my brother-in-law used to say:

"Some people brighten my day by walking in the door. Others brighten my day by walking OUT the door."

So, think about how your perspective is affecting how people view you and your business. Is it working for you or against you?


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Are You Selling or Marketing (or both)?

As we think about how to improve our marketing it helps to define our activities so we use the right tool for the right job.

With a lot of local businesses, the line between selling and marketing is blurry (if it's there at all). But, I've always found it helpful to look at it this way:

1. Marketing involves anything you do that gets you in front of someone who is interested in what your business can do for them.

2. Selling involves personal communication between you and your potential customer that helps you both decide if doing business together would be a good thing.

Anything you do that creates awareness of your business is marketing. When you talk with someone directly who has expresses interest in your business, you are selling.

NOTE: when I talk about "selling" I do NOT mean an arm-twisting type of selling that focuses on closing and commissions. Rather I mean a professional type of selling that focuses on an exchange of information so both people can clearly see if it makes sense to work together.

So, as you plan your activities, think about these differences. They have different outcomes and therefore require different tools.

(We'll discuss this more in future posts.)


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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Great Marketing Resource from the US Postal Service

I was thrilled a couple days ago to find a great online resource to help make our marketing a little easier.

It's a new service from the U.S. Postal Service that lets you setup a mailing online and they will handle all the printing, folding, stamping, etc. I did several mailings this week and the total cost was about what I would have paid just for the stamps.

The service is called NetPost Mailing Online and you can see it by clicking here.

What I like about this is that it saves a ton of time doing small mailings and your jobs are saved online so you can easily mail them again. And we all know, repetition is a key to effective marketing!

Take a look at this next time you need to do a small mailing.


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"Improve Your Marketing" Workshops

If you're in the Twin Cities, you can join me every month at our new "Improve Your Marketing" workshops.

Since starting this blog and writing a marketing email newsletter I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who want to improve their marketing. I guess it's a hot topic. So, I decided, let's have some workshops and see what happens!

In May we are starting these monthly workshops. These will be one-hour workshops where you can get expert help with any aspect of marketing for your business. The workshops are free but are limited to 10 people. (If demand warrants we'll expand them.) No matter what kind of business or organization you have, if you'd like to get better results from your marketing, these workshops would be a great way to start.

The first workshop will be on Wednesday, May 18 from 8 to 9 am. We'll meet at Mugs Coffee Shop in Burnsville (10 E. McAndrews Rd - NE corner of Nicollet & McAndrews). Please call (952-960-9090) or use our send an email using the contact form on our company website.


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Monday, April 25, 2005

More Lessons. This Time from Myrtle Beach

The business I own is a franchise. One of the benefits of being a franchise is that we have semi-annual conferences where we get together and share ideas and learn from each other. (We've also been known to do the "chicken dance" at Joe's Crab Shack but that's a different story for a different time!)

Our most recent conference was in Myrtle Beach, SC two weeks ago. This was perhaps the only time of year when 48 of our 49 other states had better weather than we did in Myrtle Beach! Which was okay since we didn't even see a golf course except from 20,000 feet up.

What we did do was share a lot of great ideas on how we can grow our businesses and help our customers do the same. Here are some of the ideas I came back with that you might find useful.

Talk to a lot of people

This sounds simple and it should be simple. But it's easy to get distracted and focused on other things. Most of us (and our businesses) can benefit from connecting with a lot of people. The more people who know us and what we do, the more good prospects we'll have in our sales pipeline.

Ask for the order

Again, this sounds so simple that it should go without saying. But, as imperfect people we can easily forget simple and basic things like asking people to do business with us. It's not hard and it does work. (Good advice from my new friend Rhonda.)

Make it easy to do business with you

The busier we get the less we tend to think about how easy or hard it is for people to do business for us. We tend to think about things from our perspective, not our customers. If we want people to keep working with us, we need to focus on their needs.

Follow up right away

Even with all our high technology, people still slip through the cracks. The best way to follow up with a new contact is to do it right away. To this end I've started keeping postcards and stamps in my briefcase. After each meeting I jot a short note on a postcard and drop it in the nearest mailbox. Thanks for the idea Rod!

Have fun

See my last post for details.

Be present

Too many emails, phone calls, meetings and tasks. Too many deadlines and too many plans. Our days are filled with too many ways to prevent us from being in the present. Often we need to stop and stand still mentally for a moment and just be present right now, right here. Forget everything else and just focus on the moment. It's a nice change!

Sometimes the other person is just having a bad day

When you think you're doing a lousy job because the other person is not buying what you're selling, maybe they're just having a bad day. One of my colleague recognized this in a selling situation that was quickly going nowhere. So, she used her special brand of New York humor to break the ice. And, in an instant the ice melted, they connected and she closed the deal. Nice job Theresa!

We can all use a "Whack on the side of the head".

When I was in college (was it really 20 years ago?) I read a memorable book by Roger Von Oech called "A Whack on the Side of the Head". It's a classic on how to be more creative. While walking back to our conference center after lunch one day I rediscovered this wonderful book thanks to a conversation two of my fellow franchise owners (who also went to college in the 80's). Thanks guys!

I'm sure there are many other valuable ideas I brought back from Myrtle Beach. Some were new and others were rediscovered. Either way it was a lot of fun and well worth the airplane ride. Plus we got to hear a brief history of Myrtle Beach from Larry the cab driver. What more could you want?


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Remember to Have Fun

Too often we get so busy and focused managing our businesses that we forget life is supposed to be fun. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. Running a business is serious work so we seem justified by keeping our noses to the grindstones. Unfortunately, when we do that we often forget to enjoy our businesses and our work.

And that's too bad because after spending 42 years on this planet I am convinced that we are supposed to have fun on a daily basis. They say laughter is the best medicine & I agree. I think we all know that enjoying what we do is healthy for our minds and bodies and our spirits. But, it's also good for our businesses.

Remember, people like doing business with people they like. And, there's no one more likable than someone who is clearly enjoying themselves. Nothing brightens my day more than someone with an easy smile and a ready laugh.

Think of the people you spend time with (regardless whether for business or personal reasons). No doubt there are one or more people who always bring a smile to your face just by being around them. Do you think they affect others the same way? Do you think they have customers who enjoy them as much as you do? I'd bet they do.

So, what do you do when you're NOT enjoying yourself? If you're feeling stressed and harried and your blood pressure is rising, what can you do? Here are some things that always work for me. Maybe they'll work for you too:

1. Laugh out loud. You might want to be in private when you do this but try it, it really works.

2. Smile. No matter what the situation, just smile. It simply feels good.

3. Call or visit a friend, your spouse or anyone who is guaranteed to bring some sunshine to your day. (My wife is great at this.)

4. Find a dog to pet. Dogs are naturally happy, their joy is contagious and they like everyone.

5. Take a walk. Exercise, fresh air and a change of scenery are great ways to pull you out of any slump.

6. Help someone. Few things in this world feel better than taking time to do something for another person. Plus you generate good karma!

7. Pay someone a compliment. Of course it should be sincere but it's usually not hard to do if you think about it.

8. If you're stuck in an office, look up some good jokes on the Internet. I'm partial to Steven Wright, so here is a link to some of his humorous thoughts.

9. Meditate. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and clear your mind. Here's a website with some tips.

10. Write down 10 good things about your life. Once you get started, this is easy.

So, there you have my Top 10 ways to keep your spirits up. No matter what you do, be good to yourself and your business and have some fun every day.


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Monday, April 18, 2005

Blowing Our Own Horn

Over the last weekend we were the lucky subjects of an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, one of two major metro daily newspapers in our Twin Cities. You can read the article by clicking here or open the pdf version here.


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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Marketing Lessons from 'The Apprentice'

Yes, it's true, I watch 'The Apprentice'. And, while I'm not a fan of so-called reality shows, this one does catch my interest.

No matter how you feel about reality shows or Donald Trump, there are some lessons we can learn from this show. Here are a couple that have come to my mind recently.

Know Your Market

Last week the project was to design hi-tech clothing (obviously aimed at a younger market than yours truly). One of the teams went right to clothing stores and talked to kids who were shopping there. The other team picked what they thought kids in this demographic were looking for.

Well, right away, we can see who failed the first test. Clearly we need to communicate with our potential customers to discover what they want, what they think, how they feel about what we're offering them.

It's easy for me to sit back and watch someone else make the mistake and think I'm a genius for seeing their error.

But, I know many of us are guilty of the same thing. We get so focused on what we're doing and we get tunnel-vision. Because we're 100% focused on our (make that OUR) product, we can forget that our customers might have something different in mind.

So, lesson one is talk to your potential customers. Get inside their heads BEFORE you decide how to promote your product or service to them.

A Good Presentation Pays

At the end of the project, the two teams presented their clothing. From what I could tell they looked pretty equal in quality and style. But the losing team fell apart when their presenter choked. She was hesitant, unsure of herself and exuded no energy or confidence as she presented their products. It was painful watching her.

Now, I'm not saying we should focus everything on the presentation. In Texas I believe they describe that kind of person as being 'all hat and no cattle'. But, if you have a quality product or service, it deserves a good showing. And, if you have a mediocre product, a dazzling presentation can do wonders for it.

For my money, the lesson here is, make your presentation appropriate to your market. Dazzle them if the market wants to be dazzled. If the market is more conservative and subdued, then present accordingly. In general though, all presentations (whether in person or through media) should show confidence and energy.

Show Your Product in Many Ways

This season, I have noticed some of the commercials during the show tend to promote the same company or product the teams are working on. I have heard some media critics whine about this as a sign of "selling out".

I disagree. I think it's a great idea. If the teams are working on a product for Pepsi, why not promote Pepsi products during the show. One week they were selling pizzas. And, of course, many of the commercials airing were promoting pizza. Do you think more people ate pizza that night than on an average Thursday night?

This concept goes to the heart of local marketing. The more ways your potential customers see your product, the more they will remember it. And, the great credibility you develop with them.

So, our third (and final) lesson for today's show is to deliver your message to your target market in as many ways as you can within the constraints of your budget.


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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Patience Can Be Profitable

I ran across an article yesterday that does a wonderful job reminding us that patience is a virtue when trying to attract new customers. It's by Mark Munday and you can read it here.

In the article Mark talks about how often people get frustrated because they're not closing enough sales. He aptly reminds us of a study done by the National Sales Executive Association that found only 2% of all sales take place on the first contact with a new potential customer. In fact, 80% of sales require from 5 to 12 contacts before the prospect becomes a customer.

I like this for a couple reasons.

One is because it reminds us that patience is a virtue. In our instant gratification world we sometimes forget that most things of any value take time. They don't happen overnight.

Another reason is because it's a good reminder that nothing of value comes easily. You want to accomplish something? You have to work at it! This is what separates the winners from the rest. Or, as they say, there is no free lunch.

Being in Minnesota, I was a fan of Kirby Puckett when he played for the Twins. Kirby was well known for being a consistently good hitter. I remember once when a reporter asked him what his secret was. He said it was simple. He swung the bat as often as possible. Every opportunity he got, he'd swing at pitches. He said the more he'd swing, the more he'd hit.

Marketing is no different than anything else. If you want results, you need to work at it. The more times you put your message in front of someone, the more likely they will remember and recognize you. The more likely they will call you rather than your competitor.

So, no matter what kind of business or organization you have, make sure your marketing enables you to deliver your message to your prospects in multiple ways. Make sure your getting that 5-12 contacts with your prospect so they begin to trust you and will consider doing business with you.


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Sunday, April 03, 2005

3 Years of Lessons

On April 1 (yes, I know, Aprils Fool's Day) we celebrated our third anniversary of being in business. Although I've owned and managed a number of businesses it seems this one has taught me much more than the others. Or, maybe as I have aged I have become more open to such learning.

Either way, here are some things I've learned (or have been reminded of) over the last several years.

Be of Service

In all you do as you run your business, make service to others your priority. If you truly work to do things for others, the world will respond in a like manner. Like Zig Ziglar says: “You can have everything you in life you want if you will just help enough people get what they want.”

Time x Activity = Results

This seems to be the magic formula for accomplishing something. Whatever you're trying to achieve if you do the right things for long enough, you will achieve your goal.

Manage Inputs and Monitor Outcomes

Since we cannot control outcomes why spend much time worrying about them? Sure we need to monitor them but that's all. Don't spend a lot of time trying to control something you can't (like outcomes.) Instead, focus on the inputs or the actions that will lead to the outcome you desire. Manage that well and you'll see the outcome you want.

Do the Right Things Every Day

Figure out what you need to do to to make your business work and then do them every day. By building this discipline into your daily routine you create a little more value each day. Before you know it you've built something wonderful.

Have Faith

I'm not sure I can add any clarity or value to the meaning of those two words, so I won't even try.

Be Patient

Nothing of value ever happens over night. Focus on the long term not the short term.

Lead, Don't Push

Help people by understanding them and then applying your talents or knowledge to their situation. Share with them your vision and how it relates to them, how it will help them. Make it real. Make it honest and make it relevant.

Surround yourself with good people then let them do their thing.

Apologize, Fix it, Move On.

When the excrement hits the rotary oscillator and you find yourself explaining to a customer (or vendor or employee) why something went wrong, use this simple formula. First apologize. That reduces the emotions and helps everyone work toward a solution. Then find a solution and do it, without hesitation. Finally, move one. We all make mistakes so there's no reason to agonize over something or let it ruin your week.

Honesty is not the best policy. It's the only policy.



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Saturday, April 02, 2005

On Chasing and Being Chased

I was reading an article recently by Perry Marshall where he said "I don't chase customers anymore, I let them chase me". (Or something along those lines. My apologies to Perry if I have misquoted.)

This concept (of being chased by rather than chasing a potential customer) resonated with me. I hear and read an awful lot about it these days. Many marketers say it's the 21st century way to sell. The dynamics of the buyer - seller relationship has shifted and this is one of the outcomes.

As I was reviewing our sales for last month. I did a quick calculation of where our new business for the month came from. I found that 79% of our new business could be traced back to the customer calling us rather than us calling the customer.

In other words, almost 80% of our new business chased us last month while we chased about 20%. And, as I look at our customers over the past three years, this ratio is pretty consistent.

What amazes me is that our service is one that typically is sold almost completely by salespeople knocking on doors (chasing the customers).

Unfortunately this leads me to more questions than conclusions.

However one conclusion I have is that Perry and the others are right. Buyers are doing more chasing than ever before. which means (I think) they are less responsive to being chased. It means they prefer to have more control over the entire buying process than in the past.

And, it's good for us that they do want more control. It means they're more invested in the process of buying what we're selling. It means they place a higher priority on it. It also means we can do business differently. It means we can enter into higher value relationships that are more information-rich and more service-rich than ever before.

As we think about how to promote our local businesses, we need to keep this in mind. Do we want to chase, or be chased? They are different goals and they need to be handled in different ways.


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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

What Are You Advertising?

The good and bad of local advertising is that you pay the same whether your is effective or not. An ad that gets people's attention and produces the desired response costs no more than one that people ignore completely.

So, if you are going to buy local advertising, it makes sense to take steps to make sure your ads are the ones getting the results. Leave the duds for someone else!

Yesterday I had a perfect example served up by one of my favorite advertisers. Their ad just started running and the business owner showed it to a friend to get her feedback. The friend's response was "I have no idea what you're selling when I look at this ad".

The ad in question had the company logo big and proud at the top. Underneath the logo, in relatively small type was a tagline about what service they were offering. And, since their company name does not clearly indicate the type of business, this ad made it hard for a reader to easily understand what was being promoted.

With the help of her forthright friend, this business owner could easily see how to correct the ad to make it work better. But, examples like this (and worse) abound in local advertising. And many of the unfortunate advertisers never have a clue why their ad didn't produce the results they wanted.

When you create your ad, make sure anyone who reads it will find it easy to instantly understand who you are and what you're promoting. Keep it obvious and simple. And, get a 2nd or 3rd opinion. Have several people look at it. It's best if they are completely outside of the ad creation process so they bring a fresh viewpoint.

Do this and you'll find you get better results. And you won't pay a penny more!


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Monday, March 28, 2005

Affiliate Programs Don't Work in the World of Local Marketing

Last week I had a local retailer “offer” me the “opportunity” to become an affiliate of their store. Their offer entailed my company giving them free advertising in our publication. In exchange, they would pay us an affiliate fee on any sales they could track back to their ad in our publication.

As you can see by my use of quotes I consider this to be neither an offer nor an opportunity. (I'd call it a waste of time but, that would be rude.)

On the surface it might seem like a good deal. If the ad really works well we could generate more in affiliate fees than we might have received in advertising revenue.

And, of course, this type of deal is done routinely on the Internet so people have grown accustomed to it without thinking it through.

But if you take a little time to think about it, this deal fails to pass muster in several ways.

One is that it fails what I call the business model test. In local print media, the business model is this: 1. The publisher pays the production, distribution and marketing costs to produce the publication. 2. People read it. 3. Advertisers pay to be in the publication so they get exposure to the people who read it.

The risk a publisher takes is that they will not get enough paying advertisers to cover their costs at the time of publication. It's the primary risk in the publishing business. And, every business carries a similar risk. As business owners, we front the working capital required to start a business and we plan to generate enough revenue to cover the costs plus our time and some profit. It's part of doing business.

As a business owner, that's the risk I have planned to take. I am not interested in adding another risk to my plate. However, this affiliate advertising deal puts a whole new risk on the table. It's the risk that not enough people will carry in my ad to this store and buy enough product to cover the cost of running the ad.

So, I have increased the risk I am taking without increasing the upside in any meaningful way. Plus, the risk I have added is one I have no control over. No thanks!

The other test it fails is the local marketing test. If a local retail business is doing their marketing well, their potential customers should hear about them in a variety of ways. So, each ad they place actually works with the others to build awareness of the store among local shoppers. Over time this can develop a steady flow of new customers to a store like this.

But, in an affiliate program, all the ads are competing with each other for the affiliate fee because only one of them will earn the fee on any given sale, even if they all helped bring the customer in the door.

So, you see, a system like this does not fairly compensate the advertising vendors for the service they are providing to the retail store.

The fallacy here is to think the only value the store receives is when a customer walks in the store, hands them a coupon and makes a purchase.

That line of thinking completely ignores awareness generated by the exposure the store gets from the ads they are running. That's like saying every time you exercise you should expect to lose weight, or it's not worth it.

This thinking fails to account for all the work that goes into building something before the result can be seen. Most things take time to build. Fitness and health come from exercising and eating right over time. Successful careers develop over many years. Relationships blossom and mature through many shared experiences.

With most situations what you see on the surface is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the water is a lot of work and effort that made it possible for the iceberg to break through the surface. So, it's foolish to think you can just pay for the tip and ignore everything that lies beneath the surface.

I won't do business with someone who wants to pay for just a small part of the service I'm providing. Neither should you.


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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Can You Really “Brand” a Small Business?

I got an email this week from Perry Marshall, a well known marketing consultant. Perry's a pretty sharp guy and usually has a lot of good stuff in his emails and articles, which is why I enjoy reading what he sends me.

In his email this week was a statement that got me thinking about a topic very near and dear to my professional heart. Here's what he said:

...“I noticed that he kept using the word "brand" in our conversation
about their advertising. I said, "What your marketing people understand is Madison Avenue Branding. That works for billion dollar companies, but it's absolute nonsense for small ones.
This whole notion about 'getting your name out there' with your advertising, for a small company, is like a teaspoon in the ocean. It's a waste of money because it doesn't bring you sales leads."

In many situations, this statement is absolutely true. But, in the context of Local Marketing it does not always apply.

If you own a local business, and your market is well defined as a certain local geographic area, then you can “brand” your small business in a way that makes sense and helps you accomplish your marketing goals.

Remember, branding is about your reputation. Your brand, if created well, will instantly tell a person what you do and why they should do business with you. It will help them remember you rather than your competition. It will tell a potential customer how you do business and why you're a better choice than the others.

The key in building your “local brand” is to saturate your target market with your message so your intended audience hears your message from a variety of sources over and over again. Your goal is to expose your audience as many times as possible to your consistent (and simple) message. It's best if you commit to a certain time frame (at least one year) and you need to commit resources to the effort.

Using a variety of media is the most effective way to build your local brand. And, if you use some creativity, it doesn't need to cost a fortune. Every community has a number of inexpensive ways to reach people. From community papers to flyers to bus benches to newsletters published by community organizations to school teams, etc. When you start thinking about it, the possibilities are almost limitless.

So, as you plan your local marketing, don't be afraid to think big. Find ways to get your name out and make your business famous in your community. You'll love the results.


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Thursday, March 17, 2005

If It's Not Broken, Don't Fix It

I had a good conversation today with a customer. He provided a great example of a lesson we should all remember.

This gentleman (who is both intelligent and educated, no shortage of brain-power here) ran a local ad that worked very well. His return was fantastic so he decided to ramp up his advertising substantially by expanding to other similar media.

The problem was he changed the ad. And, unfortunately, the new campaign underperformed dramatically. I wouldn't say it was a bust but his overall ROI was a fraction of the campaign he had used as a test.

In retrospect it's obvious that he should have kept the ad the same. And, as an outsider looking in it also seems clear that the constant was the ad and the variables were the additional media channels.

But, these things happen a lot more than we realize. Why? I think it's because we get busy. Our attention or focus is not always 100%. We make mistakes. It happens.

The important thing is to learn from it and remember the simple yet important lesson: If you test an ad and it works well then don't change it as you expand its use in similar media.

If we're smart we'll learn from this person's experience so we can avoid a similar one of our own. And we'll thank him for sharing this lesson for our benefit.


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It's All About Awareness.

A couple weeks ago I had a conversation with a guy who runs an auto service business. Their company has a good name in town and I believe they do a pretty good business. He hit the nail squarely on the head as we were discussing local advertising.

His observation was that he really wasn't sure which of their ads were bringing in the most customers. And like many small business owners he felt they spent too much on advertising for what they got in return (at least for what return they could track).

But, he said they keep advertising because they understand the need to keep their name out in front of local people who would need their services. They understand the need to build their brand in their community. "It's all about awareness" he said.

This company has done a great job building their brand equity. For years they have invested a lot of money to keep their name in front of their current and potential customers. And it shows by how well recognized they are in this area.

Do they spend too much on advertising? Do they spend too little?

My answer would be that if they are seeing the level of sales they want given the advertising budget they have committed to, then they are spending the right amount.

You never know for sure. But by committing resources to building awareness and then sticking with it over the long haul, this company has developed a huge amount of brand equity which translates to value for their business.


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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

How to Get More Calls Returned

This came from a post on Jim Logan's website (www.JSLogan.com) discussing voicemail. Jim mentions (correctly) that many calls never get returned because the caller does not give a compelling reason for the other person to call back. They'll say something like, "call me back when you have the time".

If I get a voice mail like this I'm probably not going to call back unless it's someone I really want to talk to or if we have something important in the works.

Too many people use this weak and wimpy line in their voice mails. I know because I'm as guilty of it as anyone.

If you are taking time to call someone then it must be important, to you and to them. If it's not important, don't make the call in the first place.

So, assuming your call is important, then act like it and SOUND like it. When you leave your voice mail message, let them know it's important (and why). Use words and a tone that tell them you're expecting a call back soon. You don't have to be abrasive or overbearing, just assertive and confident. Put some energy into your voice.

Also, here are two other tips to get your calls returned.

First, let them know the phone call will be short. We're all busy so people who respect our time are more likely to get some of it. Second, remember to WIIFM ("What's in it for me"). Always try to let them know that you're calling with something that will benefit them (not the other way around).

Oh, and one last tip. When you leave a voice mail, give your phone number at the start of your message and again at the end.

Just a couple ideas that have worked for me. Thanks for reading.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Focus Your Marketing Firepower for Better Results

I got an email today from Jeff Mayer (SucceedinginBusiness.com) about how important focus is to succeeding with your business. He's right, of course, and I appreciate the reminder.

But his email also reminds me of how important focus is in promoting your local business. The more you focus and concentrate your marketing, the greater impact your message has on your intended market.

First, remember, your goal is to deliver your message as many times to your target market as your budget will allow. You are buying exposure to a certain audience.

Second, the more we are exposed to a message, the more of it we retain. We've all heard the saying, you need to be exposed to an idea eight to 15 times (or more) to remember it. Repetition enhances retention.

And, third, the more channels the message is delivered through, the more believable it is. Diversity delivers credibility.

So, focus and concentrate your advertising by using several media to deliver your message to the same audience. You'll get a better return than if you spend the same amount of money delivering your message fewer times to a larger audience. Lay it on nice and thick rather than spreading it too thin.

In my business I often talk with people who complain their advertising is not worth the money it costs. After some Q&A I usually learn they have bought ads that deliver their message to a large audience one or two times. A typical example might be a direct mail piece that goes to 50,000 households in an area with a 10 mile radius around their business.

For the same money they could buy different media that delivers their message 10 to 15 times to a smaller audience, maybe in a three mile radius.

The smaller market gets more repetition of the message and they see or hear the message from multiple media. It's more likely they remember and believe it.

So, as you plan your local marketing, remember to focus, focus, focus. You'll be glad to did.


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Better Local Marketing with Google

Many thanks to John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing) for letting us know about Google's local search engine. A while back Google began offering local searches so people could more easily find businesses in their community. They started by including businesses listed in the phone book.

Now, they have added the ability for anyone to list their business. Or, you can make changes to your listing if it's already in Google Local. There's no charge so there's no reason not to get your business listed ASAP. Go to Google Local to do it.


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Monday, March 14, 2005

Repetition vs. Impact. Know the Difference.

Often when I meet with a local business owner to discuss their advertising, they'll tell me how they've run ads in a direct mail piece that comes out monthly or quarterly (or something in between). Usually the piece features a lot of coupons from restaurants, drycleaners, tanning salons, etc.

Their hope is that the direct mail piece will drive them business because it gets delivered to a large number of households. And, ostensibly, their ad will be seen because many people look in such direct mail pieces for discounts and deals.

When they tell me about their results from this ad I can predict almost exactly what they're going to say. "We got a decent response the first week or so but then it really died out after that" is typical of what they tell me. And, invariably they seem disappointed in the results because the response drops off so fast.

I think their disappointment is because the next mailing doesn't come out for another six to eight weeks so they suffer a roller coaster effect if this is the only advertising they are doing.

If you own or manage a local, retail business, understand what you're buying and how it fits your goals, when you buy advertising.

A big mailing that drops every couple months will give you a big impact all at once but you'll have ups and downs in your new business flow.

You can smooth out that roller coaster by adding some repetition. Buy some low impact advertising that keeps your message out in the community all the time, day after day, week after week. This keeps your name and message in front of your potential customers on an ongoing basis. It fills the gaps that fall between your big direct mail drops.

Remember, with advertising you are buying exposure.

Think of it like buying a case of beer or soda. You can drink it all at once and then it's gone and you go thirsty until next month. Or, you drink just one can a day and you get to enjoy it all month long (well, almost all month).

With most local businesses, a balanced combination of impact and repetition is the best way to meet their marketing goals. Keep this in mind as you consider your local advertising purchases.


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Long Term vs. Short Term, You Choose

A while ago I was talking with a realtor about advertising in our publication, Coffee News. It's a weekly paper people read in restaurants and it's designed to deliver low impact, high repetition exposure for its advertisers.

This realtor made a great comment on how he could use advertising like this. He said it would be an easy way to put himself all over town so he could (virtually) stay in touch with people who knew him, so they would be reminded that he was still around and still selling real estate in their community.

This is a guy who understands how to grow his business.

As a professional selling a high value service that most people only use every 5-10 years, he understands his marketing needs. His marketing goal is not to get an immediate and direct response, like a tanning salon or drycleaner might.

His outlook is long term. He builds his business by building awareness of himself in his community, by letting a lot of people know who he is and what he can do for them. Then he continues to deliver his message again and again so people think about him when they need a realtor.

This is not something you accomplish in a couple weeks or months. This timeline is measured in years.

This particular realtor has been in business for close to 20 years by the way and he's doing very well.

Is there a lesson here?


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Friday, March 11, 2005

Is Advertising an Impulse Purchase?

Yesterday I was talking with one of the very talented people who help make our company successful and she said something that really got my attention.

"Advertising is an impulse buy for a lot of small business owners."

I had been thinking this for a long time but I never put it to words. Good thing I have smart people around me!

It's a little disturbing to me that there is a LOT of truth in this statement. It's disturbing because for most small business owners advertising is critical for them to grow their business. They need to reach out to people in their community in a broad way. Yet they often have little time to do much direct promoting or selling themselves.

Like my dear old dad (who has helped hundreds of people grow their businesses) likes to say "if you don't have revenue, you don't have a business". Of course, you only have revenue if you have customers.

And you need to promote your business if you want to get customers. Aside from having the money and time to invest in starting a business, there is nothing more important than marketing your business. Yet, many small, local business owners buy much of their marketing on impulse rather than as part of a plan.

I wonder why this is. Would Sir winston Churchill call this "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma"? Or am I just a little fuzzy this morning because I haven't had my second cup of coffee yet?

Please let me know what you think.


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