Doing Business Together

There are lots of ways you can do things in business.  You can learn from others, you can have others do things for you, and you can steal from/copy others.  I believe all business owners should have some hand in their business, but that delegation is important as well.  It’s not a good idea to just straight out steal from others or copy their work, because then it’s not your work and you’re not being respectful of what they’re building (having permission or being legally able to use their stuff is different).  The third one is one of my favorites, I love learning from other businesses and leaders.  Whether you read books, watch videos, take classes or watch the ads, there are lots of ways to learn from other businesses and get ideas for building yours.

What got me thinking about this?  Well, I’m rather captured by the Bud Light commercial wherein a barrel of corn syrup is delivered to them incorrectly and they travel to bring it to the two other kingdoms/factories that do use corn syrup to try to find where it was supposed to end up. With a lot of effort and traveling the corn syrup does make it to the proper destination and the people of Bud Light have saved the day.  The commercial is supposed to share the fact that Bud Light doesn’t use corn syrup (and that corn syrup is bad), but what has captured my attention is the idea that the people of Bud Light are so willing to go the distance to support the other beer makers.

I’m all about joint ventures and even just supporting other businesses, whether they’re local-to-you businesses or others you’ve connected with online.  The business world is a rapidly expanding one with lots of others who are trying to succeed just like you are.  I believe there are enough people on earth that there are enough customers for each of us to have all that we need to be both comfortable and growing.  There’s no reason to hinder another business from succeeding, in fact I’d argue it’s better for all of us if more of us are successful.

I would encourage you to reach out to another business or business owner and see how you can support each other in building a better business world, a better experience for your customers and theirs, or just give someone a leg up that you wished you had gotten or are thankful that you did get.

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Seth Godin Teaches Marketing

We’ve reached the end of February, today we’re taking a look at our business read for February, This is Marketing by Seth Godin. I often pick up Seth’s books because they’re easy to read and packed with lots of little and big insights that inspire me, remind me of something, confirm something for me, and of course give insights into being a better business owner and marketer. This book talked about many of the things that I work with my clients on and many of the things I believe can help us make business better for everyone. Let’s take a look at just a few of the lessons in it.

Marketing is about making change happen. It can be evil and it can be used to get people to do bad things like do drugs or steal or send people into foreclosure. But it can also empower people and give them the solutions and support they’re seeking. Marketing gives answers, inspires people to try things, shows what you stand for, activates curiosity, connects people with solutions, and raises awareness. it’s up to us marketers to decide if we’re going to be evil, to spam people, or respect and build on the trust they’re giving us.

Be market driven: this means that your focus is ultimately and primarily on humanity, on people. You remember that you’re marketing to humans, that every customer service interaction is a chance to wow and to care for them, that fear pops up for everyone at different points in time, that you ask people to give you their attention, that everyone is different, and you can do good things for your business by focusing on your true fans, a small audience, rather than those who don’t resonate with your work.

Finally, always be improving. Seth has written many books, and some of the ideas aren’t as applicable as they were when he wrote them. He’s learned things since he wrote his first book, yes, but the bigger impact is on the sheer amount of change that has happened in those years. You can totally go ahead and make something “perfect,” but it’s likely that that thing you make that’s perfect will be outdated or irrelevant in a matter of weeks, months or years, depending on how much transformation is happening in that industry. So instead go ahead and get out there with your well-developed product or service, and back up a not-quite-perfect offering with outstanding customer service that outshines minor imperfections and in-progress work.

What have you learned from Seth Godin?

Preparing for Changes in Business

This week one of the big conversations in the business world has been the revelation that Google+ had “a security hole highlighted the challenge of keeping its small number of users safe” which was discovered back in March. As a result of the security issue, and possibly also as well the fact that it wasn’t ever as popular as other social networks, Google plans to close the network. For some it isn’t a big surprise, and some probably don’t really remember anything about Google+, let alone used it.

But today I don’t want to discuss social networks that aren’t used or the fact that many aren’t surprised it’s closing, I want to talk about something else that we’ve talked about already this year and will talk about more over the next few years and that’s dealing with big changes that affect your business. For some Google+ was just another marketing opportunity, but some had invested quite a bit in it and are really upset that it’s closing. Other businesses are seriously being affected by disruptive businesses who are coming in and upending an industry, one of the most discussed examples being the ride-share companies (i.e. Uber, Lyft etc.) totally changing how the industry (taxis) has historically run. What do you do when things end or change?

This is why you have to be consistently updating your own business, aware of and considering ways you can innovate or transform what you offer, and not rely on one product or service or marketing tool. I don’t recommend trying every option or implementing every innovation or trying to market through every resource, but I strongly advise against only being locked into one option. Yes, there are companies who will survive through the end or change, for instance there are still some companies that sell records and record players (1880’s-1980’s were their prime years), but those companies are few and far between because there’s just not enough demand to sustain many companies.

What can you do to prepare your company for the eventual transformation of your industry and how you do business?

The Business of Relationships

Today I thought we’d talk about something that some businesses are interested in but others haven’t hopped on the bandwagon yet: creating a better relationship with your customers. Some businesses are happy to just get a customer, and have designed their business to be a limited number of transactions between them and a specific customer, maybe even as few as one, or a couple with quite a few years between. That’s OK, it certainly works for some businesses, and often the case is that those products or services cost more as a result. However, in most cases businesses want to have more than one sale with a customer, and statistically it’s cheaper to sell again to one customer than to gain a new one. So let’s talk about things that impact building a relationship with a customer.

Regular communications are the first place to start. Sometimes this is necessary to gain a customer in the first place, but it’s also key to developing a relationship with a customer and getting them to come back for more sales in the future. There are several options to how you can do this, from local events to social media to an email newsletter to a print newsletter to a blog. Once you’ve chosen the method of communicating you have to consistently follow through, whether it’s daily/weekly social media posts, weekly blog/newsletters or monthly events, or whatever schedule you choose to follow that is consistent and frequent enough to keep you top-of-mind, but not too frequently that it’s overwhelming or annoying.

The other thing to consider about building a relationship is about customer experience. If customers know they only have to deal with something once they’re willing to put up with a less-than-perfect website, pushy marketing, and even possibly some rudeness or poor customer service. However, if you want to build a relationship with a customer, the website should be up to date and have colors that are easy for people to view without being overwhelming, customer service should be responsive to all questions or queries, and care should be taken to both creating products and marketing materials so there aren’t obvious spelling or grammar issues, outdated information or so little information they have no idea what’s going on.

What about your business? Are you working on building a relationship with your customers or just working to get the sale?

Mastering Permission Marketing

Marketing is one of the biggest challenges to being a business. Things are constantly changing, growing and evolving as to what’s most effective, what’s got the lowest cost, how to reach the most people, and ways you can reach people, so while even many of the tried-and-true practices have stuck around, there are many others that are new and great opportunities for marketing. But perhaps the biggest issue is that it typically has to be done consistently and with quality to be most effective, which takes time and effort.

One of the types of marketing you can do is called permission based marketing. As you can imagine, this means that the person has given their permission to you to market to them. They’ve given you that permission where they’ve given you that permission for one of two reasons: one reason is that it’s the only way they can sign up for marketing from you (for example you only have a Facebook page, you’re not on any other social sites and don’t have a newsletter or blog). The other reason they gave you that permission where they gave it to you is because that’s how they prefer to be marketed to.

As someone who does and consults on marketing I’m very intentional about what I choose as far as marketing. One of my favorite ways to be marketed to is email because it’s one I have the most control over. This week I received two emails from people I signed up to receive emails from, emails with two very different messages. One told me that they were going to send maybe an email a month and the rest of the updates I could get on Facebook in groups. The other explained that they wanted to make some additions to what they send but wanted to give us (the subscribers) the ability to choose what we each do/don’t receive. I found one email to be incredibly frustrating and the other exciting.

As a side note I should mention there’s a difference between changing what you send (i.e. just product/service updates to tips) and how you send it (Facebook to Twitter). Yes, surveying your customers is a good idea if you’re going to change the content, but it’s not typically as big of an issue as changing how you do the marketing.

As mentioned earlier, the thing to remember about permission marketing in situations where you give your customers or visitors the opportunity to choose from a variety of marketing opportunities (newsletter, blog, podcast, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.), is that the person who gave their permission specifically indicated how they wanted to be marketed to. If you’re venturing into new marketing options and want to see if they would rather receive updates that way, let them know! Give them the ability to subscribe to their preferred opportunity, and unsubscribe from what they don’t enjoy too.

There’s a cost to all marketing so I understand that a business may choose to go in a direction where they get more bang for their buck, but the best part about permission marketing is that a business has the ability to ask their existing subscribers how they want to be marketed to, and to invite people to unsubscribe/subscribe where they prefer. This gives your customers the ability to cut your marketing costs and tell you exactly what their preferences are.

Making the decision to stop one type of marketing or start another is a big decision, one that is not only about you but also about your customers. I encourage you to not make the decisions for them, unless you’re left with no other option (for example the site is closing down).

Are you practicing permission marketing, and if so what have you found works for you and your customers?

Beyond Boring Businesses

One of the things that you hear from business owners is that they want to go viral, or be super popular, but let’s face it, there are some businesses that just aren’t naturally built to be celebrated as some are. Even a business that has difficult and boring days like a vet who has to put pets to sleep or give them shots will see at least one cute animal they can share with their community each day and week to include in their marketing. But what about the businesses that don’t really have the greatest built-in marketing opportunities?

The first thing I would say is that the business is as boring as you make it out to be. Second, even if you do have one of the most boring businesses in the world, it doesn’t mean that you should treat your customers poorly, not be passionate about your offerings, or be lazy and inconsiderate about the experience you offer. Regardless whether your business is the most exciting or the most boring in the world, you are offering something that is of value, something that people need, and you should be proud of that.

One example of a boring industry is the home/car insurance industry. It’s really not that interesting, few of us deal with them other than to pay a bill. And for those of us that deal with them it’s not really interesting or exciting to talk about your house being robbed or being in a serious car accident. Those are moments we would rather forget. But as we’ve seen through the many Farmers Insurance commercials, there are some crazy stories that go along with insurance claims, and they’re true! While the crazy is, I’m sure, a very small percentage of the claims they deal with, they’ve brought those stories to the forefront to illustrate that if they can deal with the crazy they can surely handle the boring.

No, it’s not always the right choice to find the crazy to highlight, but there is always an emotion that you can speak to with your customers, and there are almost always stories you can share to show the community that you support ranging from the heart-wrenching to the sweet. Don’t worry about going viral or being the most interesting business in the world, focus on helping your customers feel recognized, that you understand the different situations they’re dealing with and showing them that you can help make their day even just a little better.

What are your tips for navigating the boring parts of business?

The News on Newsletters

One of my favorite marketing tools (and communication tools) is email. Before you groan let me explain. In 2018 a newsletter can include podcasts, videos, articles, and many other things, so don’t think it has to be all/mostly text (unless that’s what you and your customers want it to be). It’s an opt-in opportunity to know that you’re speaking with people who are actively interested in what you’re offering. It’s one of the lowest cost, most direct, most consistent opportunities to connect with your people. It’s a way to build trust and become top of mind with your people. Let’s talk about what you can do with a newsletter and getting people to sign up for yours.

Before you can send anything, you have to get them to sign up. While I understand that a newsletter is a free gift in and of itself, it’s usually easier to get people to subscribe if you offer some bait. Whether this is a discount, special report, opportunity to talk with you or helpful resource, offering something like this is a great way to encourage people to sign up (make sure to take into account GDPR and privacy policy changes when planning this).

The other thing to take into account when trying to get people to sign up is what you’re offering. Way too often I see a newsletter subscription box at the bottom of the site and nothing except the phrase “sign up for our newsletter.” Why?! Why would I want to sign up for another email? There’s nothing convincing about that phrase. Make a clear and concise statement about what you offer that makes people want what you’re offering.

As far as what you’re doing with a newsletter, it’s a great way to provide exclusive content and insights that people can’t get from your blog or offers you don’t want to share with the world on social media. It’s also a great opportunity to dive a bit deeper into stuff you’ve shared on social media.

What about you? Do you put out a newsletter? Which newsletters you subscribe to are your favorite?

The Message in Your Marketing

Over the past few years there have been a lot of issues raised in the marketing community, the most recent being GDPR. While I think it’s ultimately a good thing to help consumers be more aware of their options and have some control back, it has presented some challenges for businesses in implementation because many aren’t in line with GDPR type standards already. Other issues that have been raised in the past and continue to be an issue are spam, fake news and clickbait titles/articles. A recent experience has prompted me to write today about some of these topics as well as the bigger topic of marketing.

Let’s start with my recent experience. I’ve owned my car for quite a few years now and over the years I’ve gotten calls, emails and letters from the car company letting me know they would like me to sell the car back to them (so I can buy a new one). While slightly annoying it has been almost an expected thing, but not something that has really annoyed me or made me dislike the company. Recently I made an appointment for service and a couple days before the scheduled service I got a call from someone at the dealership/service facility and they said that they would like to ask me a few questions when I came in for service. That’s it. There wasn’t any clue whatsoever regarding what they had questions about or why they even had questions for me. Turns out it was a sales person at the dealership who wanted to talk with me about selling back my car. I made it clear to them that the part I appreciated least about their contact was the lack of specificity.

Here’s the thing. Marketing is a tool, a resource, a trust building exercise, an awareness raising opportunity and something we as business owners really need to be respectful of. I’m supportive of many of the changes that the industry has been making because I don’t feel that enough business owners are truly treating marketing with the respect, and reverence almost, that it deserves. There’s a definite line between raising awareness and bashing people over the head with your message. The obnoxious intrusions need to cease. There’s been plenty of recent research done that has indicated that people are interested in interacting with companies and receiving marketing from them, but not in a way that’s disrespectful, rude, invasive, pervasive or blind. There’s also a line between teasing your customers with what’s to come and being completely vague.

This week I encourage you to take a look at your marketing. Are you being specific, relevant and in line with what your customers want? If not, I’d be happy to talk with you about getting things back on the right track so you effectively connect with your customers. It’s time we start making marketing good for everyone.

Refresh for Spring Success

With spring officially arriving even if we did have a snow storm where I live this week, I thought we’d talk about some ways that you can bring new life to your business.

1-add a new product or service. I get emails from companies on a regular basis announcing new collections they’re offering, new partnerships they’re doing or seasonal offerings they’ve got. There’s something exciting for both the customers and the company when a new product is added, whether it’s planned to be a permanent edition or just a seasonal or short term opportunity.

2-refresh your marketing. Maybe marketing isn’t something you’ve been consistent with for your business, or you’re just not happy with the marketing you’re doing. Spring is a great time to redesign your newsletter email, recommit to marketing consistently, create and implement a new strategy for marketing on social media, do more local marketing (yes, even if you’re just an only business), or make some updates to your website.

3-clean up. If you’ve got a physical location that customers come to, or a location where you spend a lot of time working or store products, spring is a great time to do a deep cleaning of your location, move things around, throw things out and put a fresh coat of paint on the place.  Customers will appreciate the space being neat and clean, and so will you!

4-education. Spring is also a great time to learn a new skill or get some education, both for you as the business owner as well as your employees. Whether you’re interested in expanding your services and need some education to do that, or you want to give your employees some opportunities to be more proficient or work in other areas that they currently don’t, sometimes some education can be just the thing to get you refreshed, renewed and bring new life to the business.

So what will you do to put some spring in your business?

Building a 4 Leaf Clover Business

With St. Patrick’s Day this weekend I thought today we’d talk about 4 aspects of business success in honor of the 4 leaf clover. We’ll first take a look at the 3 things that appear on all clovers (in all businesses) and then we’ll look at one that only appears on the 4 leaf clovers:

People:
However you want to look at what you offer, without someone to buy what you offer, there’s really no point to being in business. It’s essential that you take care of all your people if you want to stay in business, let alone become one of the few beloved companies who lasts the tests of time.

Product/Service:
Every business needs at least one product or service that has value, addresses a need or solves a problem for people. Once you’ve got the concept for your product(s) and/or service(s) you have to decide what type of quality you will provide, and whether to differentiate yourself by price, or serve only a specific location or try and reach the masses among other things.

Marketing:
Once you’ve got a product and/or service you’ve got to tell people about it! There are tons of ways that you can market your business and what you’re offering from social media to blogs to newsletters to TV ads to radio ads to joint ventures to affilates. Marketing today has evolved from just product/service awareness to creating experiences, educating potential customers, and interacting with them in real time all in addition to product/service/brand awareness.

Purpose/Mission/Vision:
As I said, most businesses do their best to attend to the first 3, like any clover, but some business go the extra mile and give the extra effort to do things on purpose and with purpose. I had a business owner ask me recently if they really needed to have a purpose/vision/mission because they were “just selling a shirt.” Yes, you can differentiate on the exact product you sell, price and marketing you do and the people that fit your niche, but if you really want a tribe, if you want people to come back again and again and have a passionate investment in your business you need to have and follow a purpose/mission/vision.

So what about you? Are you just working to sell a product or service, or are you working to create an experience for your customers, one that they want to invest in, be part of and share with others?