Category Archives: Strategy

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The Best Marketing Strategies Won’t Help You if You Can’t Afford Them!

This is a guest post from Gary Barzel.  Gary is the manager of business development for FastUpFront, FastUpFront offers small business loan alternatives based on future sales.

In an ideal world, as you ramp up your marketing activity, you’d see an accompanying increase in revenues which would clearly justify any increase to your marketing budget. But many times, even where significant effort was made, marketing can be a hit or miss predicament. To be effective, promoting your business’ products and/or services is a flexible process that involves frequent consideration and evaluation in order to keep up with changing attitudes and trends, weed out the productive efforts from the unproductive ones, and refine those strategies that are already paying off.

But in the cash-strapped world that many small business owners are operating in, knowing how to balance marketing expenses with a tight operating budget can be a challenge. So how can you tell if that killer marketing idea is sustainable? Here are three vital points to consider:

1. Setting up a marketing budget. While there is no set rule for what percentage of revenues you should dedicate to your marketing activity, you still need to make sure that you will have enough cash flow to keep your business operations going. In some cases, it may even be appropriate to borrow money to pay for your marketing plans. It really depends on the kind of business you are running as well as how long the business has been in operation and what your expected payback is. A newer business, for example, may have to spend more marketing dollars at the beginning to get its name out.

And a final point… make sure you budget for your time as well. Time is money after all, and some marketing initiatives may be bigger draws on this precious commodity than others.

2. Prioritize your marketing goals. Whether you plan on hiring a marketing consultant or taking a DIY approach to promoting your business, you need to decide early on what your marketing goals will be. You also need to determine how realistic these goals are given your business’ setup and the amount of resources you are dedicating to each marketing strategy.

These benchmarks which include things like amount of traffic to your business or website, the number of customer inquiries, the sales conversion rate, and a count of repeat customers, can help to keep your marketing efforts focused. If something that you are doing isn’t bringing you closer to your goals, then it’s time to stop and re-evaluate the initiative.

3. Set up systems to evaluate ROI. ROI, or return on investment, is a term in finance that refers to the actual payback an individual or group receives from any given investment of resources. While it may be hard to put a concrete value on some kinds of marketing activity, such as sponsoring a local event, almost any initiative can be attached to some kind of measurement- even if it is anecdotal. You need to ensure that the resources you are putting in, are giving your business something adequate in return.

In short, the most important takeaway from all of the above, is that you need to be monitoring your marketing efforts with an eye towards seeing which ones are bringing your business more brand recognition among your target market and ultimately an increase in revenues. Without these processes in place, you might as well as be throwing your time and money in the wind.

Cooking up a Killer Referral Strategy Using Social Media

This post is part of a “Blog Carnival” that’s being hosted by Tea Silvestre from The Word Chef Blog.  The theme of the carnival is “Building Business Relationships” it’s part of a series of posts on the subject from a variety of small business experts.


Building referrals is just as important now as if was in the past.  In fact, I think it’s much easier and more cost effective now to develop and build those relationships than it had been in the past.  What I think is more difficult is keeping those referral conversations alive and focused.

Social media tools make it infinitely easier to find and connect with people, but because so many social media tools use a “timeline” format you can see and start a conversation one minute and forget about it the next simply because the screen has been refreshed with new conversations and posts.  This makes it difficult to move referral and opportunity conversations forward.

Here’s my killer time-saving and stress-reducing recipe for cooking up new business using a social media based referral strategy.

Total Time: About 2 hours to create social media accounts and generate list and about an hour per day managing your system

Yield: Profitable New Opportunities and Customers

Difficulty: Easy Peasy if you stay with it

Ingredients:

  • No more than 3 specific marketing goals
  • Twitter account – in your name, brand name or company name
  • Facebook account
  • LinkedIn account
  • Try Nimble.com as a tool to integrate your social media conversations and create action items from those conversations
  • A list of about 200 names, you can create a list or just go down your email address book and pull the people you think can help you get referrals

Directions:

  1. Set your marketing goals and objectives. These goals should look like something like this: “Launch a webinar series targeting pet shop owners in March” or “Find 5 market research contacts at big box stores who want to use our online survey tool”.  Setting clearly defined marketing goals will guide your social media networking strategies.
  2. Create a list of 200 referral contacts. Use your email database to create a list of 200 people with whom you want to have referral relationships.  Go through that list and label people “friends and family” then “partners” and finally “influencers”.   As you are labeling and grouping your contacts, you might get ideas about the ways in which they might be able to help you achieve your goals i.e. “Introduce me to the CEO of company X”.  I’d recommend that you write that next to their name while you are thinking about it, it will save you time later.
  3. Work your LinkedIn Contacts.  Go through your list of 200 and find everyone on LinkedIn.  If you are not connected to them, connect with them.  If they do not have a LinkedIn account, then you will have to manage that relationship via email and face-to-face methods only.  As you are doing that, you can send them an email message touching base and asking to schedule a catch-up call to discuss what they’ve been up to and how you can help each other.  You can also share what you’ve been up to and what you are looking for – they might respond with a connection or introduction on the spot.    Another great idea is to leave an endorsement for people as you check their presence on LinkedIn.  Leaving an endorsement for them will prompt them to leave one for you and to get in touch with you to catch up.  It’s a wonderful surprise and great “gift” to receive.
  4. Search Twitter for conversations around your goals.  Notice what the conversations are and who is having the conversations.  Create a Twitter list of the people labeled “Networking” or maybe even around your goals such as “market research” (to use our previous example).  Take 15 minutes a day to monitor the conversations on that Twitter list and engage in conversations with those people.  Follow their links, re-tweet their content, comment on their links and articles.  Of course, don’t forget to search for your list of 200 on Twitter and add them to your Twitter list.  This way you are tracking their conversations as well.
  5. Use Facebook to Network with Friends and Family.  Many businesses are hip to creating Facebook Fan pages, but your personal page may be more powerful as a networking tool.  I recommend posting pictures of what you are up to around your business and sharing with friends and family.  A friend of mine is in the promotional items business and often takes pictures of creative T-shirts and other items at trade shows that he things are very effective.  It tells us where he is that day and it gives us ideas that we can use for our promotional projects.  If you own a restaurant, take a picture of the daily special, if you are making a sales call or want to connect with someone, just ask your friends and family.  But don’t oversell on Facebook, it will be perceived as spamming and can backfire.
  6. Check out Nimble.com. My new favorite social media and sales management tool is Nimble.com.  It was developed by Jon Ferrera, the CEO of the successful sales CRM tool Goldmine in response to his peeve of having referral and opportunity conversations fall through the cracks.  Nimble will integrate your email, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and show all the conversations in one stream or separate streams.  What I love about it is that it allows you to see all these conversations in one place and then you can also create an action item for yourself around that conversation.  Nimble is basically a social CRM tool that increases the value and ROI of your social media conversations.

Now, you might think all this will take an entire day’s worth of work.  Well, I won’t lie to you – the set-up probably will.  In reality, you can spend a day planning and strategizing your referral system – but once it’s done and you’ve focused your efforts, all it will take is about 15 to 30 minutes a day of working your system to keep those relationships and sales opportunities flowing your way.

This post is part of the The Word Chef Blog Blog Carnival hosted by Tea Silvestre.   Join us for a fun and informative  1-hour Tweet Chat about Business Relationships, how to build them and nurture them on Thursday, September at 1 pm Eastern / 4 pm Pacific.  Your participation in the Tweet Chat enters you into a drawing for a $50 Amazon Gift Card.

A Lesson in Patience and Customer Service From Host Gator

You haven’t seen anything new on Strategy Stew because I had been moving the site from one server to another.  It’s usually an easy thing to do – except that this time — everyone could see the sites except for me.  I couldn’t see the sites, I couldn’t log in and I couldn’t do anything.

This was a technical issue that no one had really seen or pinpointed.  And the resolution didn’t come from some amazing technical tool  – it came from collaborative problem solving and open listening.

The HostGator customer service team must have some amazing human relations training in addition to the standard technical smarts that come with the job.

These people never stopped listening to what I was saying.  They didn’t try to get me off the chat.  They didn’t try to put the problem on someone else — other than to check every avenue for a solution.  When we were at our wits end trying to figure out what the problem was – Charles could have gotten me off the chat by saying — “I don’t know, you are on your own, it’s not my problem – it looks good from here” — and any number of things.  He never did that,

Instead, he let me go through the case and narrow down the different failure modes and he and I went back and forth from the beginning.  We induced.  We deduced and then he said — ok – go to the site now.  And AMAZINGLY – it was there and looked fine.

If he had rushed me off or put me off to someone else — we wouldn’t have gone through that reviewing and debriefing chat where we went through the logic of it together.  If he hadn’t listened – HE wouldn’t have figured out the problem. The problem could have only been solved by going through the discussion we had — and he had the patience to do that.

Don’t Just Train Customer Service to Solve Problems – Train Them to Listen

It seems to me that HostGator has either figured out a formula to hire amazing listeners or they have a heck of a customer service training program.

Don’t skimp on customer service human relations and listening training  - it can make all the difference to your business.  I assure you that if HostGator’s customer service people were anything less than what I had experienced – I would have moved IMMEDIATELY.

HostGator has shown me that there is so much more to web hosting than moving files virtually – there is a human component that is sometimes even more important.

I don’t know yet about the quality of hosting my sites with HostGator — but I can tell you that their customer service has won me over.

Are These Top 5 Deathbed Regrets Killing Your Business?

One of my friends shared an interesting blog article on Facebook the other day.  It was called “The Top 5 Regrets People Make on Their Deathbed” and it occurred to me that these regrets applied not only to their life, but to those who might be running a business and wearing many hats.

What I’m trying to say is — that if you addressed each of these regrets in your life and your business, you will not only be (and die) happier, but possibly richer as well.

  1. I wish I had the courage to be true to myself. This is the regret of a life lived by someone else’s playbook and not your own.  The nurse who authored the article talked about people leaving so many of their own dreams unfulfilled because they made choice to meet the expectations of others.  When I think about applying this to your marketing strategy, I think about doing things because “that’s how it’s done” and not because this is what might blog your customers away.  Fulfillment and success in marketing your business lives in the space of expressing yourself that intersects with meeting a genuine customer need.  You’ve had moments in this space, from now on — work toward making your life and work live in that space.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. I read a book that said that people like to work hard.  It’s when the working hard isn’t self-generated or chosen that creates a problem.  It’s working hard at the wrong things that don’t bring value.  I often like to say that good marketing isn’t really hard work, it happens naturally and it’s fun — almost play.  To someone else who doesn’t share your passion, it might be working hard, but to you — it’s pure self expression.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. There we go again — doing what we THINK is the right thing or what others might expect.  I have a friend who has a very unique way of presenting information.  She hates powerpoint and prefers telling stories.  One time she got up in front of the management team to give a presentation and she did what was “expected” — it was TERRIBLE.  Real excellence comes from creating your own special sauce of doing things.  It’s worth the effort to find that balance between what is an expression of you and what works.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Staying in touch with friends, staying in touch with customers.  Another expert said that humans are really only happy when they are in good relationships with others.  Being in contact with others and interacting is what makes us happy.  These days there are so many tools and systems you can use to stay in touch with friends and customers that if you don’t it’s because you choose.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier. Happiness is a choice.  You don’t become happy, you BE happy.   As Dr. Phil likes to say behave your way to happiness.  First you decide to be happy, then do the things that happy people do and you will HAVE all the joy that no amount of purchased, worked-hard-for bling can bring.

Interesting isn’t it?  That when our time on Earth is done, we suddenly get very clear on things.  I like this article because it shows us that we can CHOOSE today, right now, to be all these things.  There is no process involved, no magical formula to do.  Just choose.

Are You Ready for Mobile Marketing

Are you getting the most marketing juice from your mobile device? Most small businesses aren’t.

We are all fairly savvy about downloading apps and checking email, but what if you could actually use your mobile phone to get and keep customers?

In my latest post to American Express Open Forum, I cover 6 easy marketing strategies for mobile marketing.

A “Stew” of Seasonal Strategies – Selling Christmas Trees in May?

i haven’t spent a lot of time on seasonal businesses, but if you’ve got a seasonal business, you are no stranger to the hurry-up-and-wait mentality.  In this insightful articles, one of our readers shares her strategies for succeeding with a seasonal business.


When it comes to running a seasonal business, you can’t help but think about the extreme highs and lows of your fiscal year. Sure, many companies go through a high and low season, but for those of us in seasonal companies, the term “off-season” is more often applicable than “peak season”.

But before we start, let’s define what a seasonal business really is. Enotes.com defines “seasonal businesses” as either a business that is open only certain months of the year, closing or shortening hours during its off-season, or as a business that actually depends on the season, i.e., summer or Christmas.

I have been working for an artificial tree company for several years now, and there hasn’t been a year without a short but intense peak season balanced by a comparably turtle-paced off-season. This business has taught my colleagues and I to have respect for tried and true methods while trying to adapt these older techniques to changing times. And, as my grandfather always told me, through hard work comes success. Here are some not-so-secret, but dependable tips and tricks to keeping your seasonal business alive during the (nicely put) “slower” months of the year:

  1. Off-Season Discounts
  2. If you have overstock and are not sure if your products (or services) will still be in style next
    season, then host a fantastic sale to keep your stock moving. Offer deals that are enticing, but
    don’t drop prices so low as to lose profit. By doing this, you create a loyal customer base while
    attracting those sale vultures and possibly new clients.

  3. Plan Q may work better than Plan A or B
  4. In an article by Jennifer Walzer of Entrepreneurs’ Organization New York, she praises the idea
    of a backup plan, and I agree. In today’s climate, you never really know what will happen -
    between the hype and the truth, many seasonal businesses are frozen in action or closing
    down. A back up plan maintains momentum while ensuring a future for your company. I like
    to keep a running list of at around 5 different plans for each fiscal year. It’s a great help to
    anticipate possible failures and successes; if one plan doesn’t go as it should have (or better
    than you had hoped) you can always fall back on the next with confidence.

  5. Reach Out and Touch Somebody
  6. If your business is generally only relevant to 1-3 months of the year, then you have to show
    people you’re still there during the off-season. Break out of the box and introduce your
    products to a new demographic or market them in a completely new way to your loyal
    customers. Promote costume parties and movie nights, or whatever you need to make your
    presence known and relatable. Your business can also pursue international sales like WindRider
    International
    did, to attract a wider audience and a different demographic. Also, market
    yourself as an expert on your product or service to press and conferences. This allows you to
    become well known in the industry, letting people associate your name or brand with quality.
    By marketing yourself and your brand creatively, not only will your customer view your services
    in a new light, but you will too!

  7. Keep an Open Ear
  8. It is so easy to interact with customers using social media and networking, but despite the ease
    of modern communication, you need to make each interaction count. When creating a website,
    set up a forum or a discussion board so that they can air their woes or slather on the praise, and
    be sure to promptly respond in kind in a professional yet personable manner. This makes the
    buying experience on your site a favorable one so that they come back, or at least recommend
    you to friends and family. Keeping a mailing list is also a good idea, letting you offer customers
    news about the company or products. With social media and rating sites being all the rage (I
    myself recently Yelped about a rather excellent dinner out), the experience(s) each customer
    has is quite possibly the most important.

By marketing yourself creatively and revisiting the basics, you create a sure-fire way to keep sales up and steady.

Isabella York earns her living providing customers with high end artificial christmas trees on behalf of Balsam Hill, an online purveyor of pre-lit Christmas Trees.

How Do YOU Keep Up With Blog Content?

This icon, known as the "feed icon" ...
Image via Wikipedia

Is it me?  Or are you overwhelmed by how much information there is out there — and how much MORE information you’re actually looking for?!

Small business owners and executives are always asking me how they can keep up with all the information and have time to generate good information that their customers will value?  Over the last few years, I’ve learned that you have to change up the way you collect and gather information at least once per year.

Email – RSS – iGoogle or Something Else?

When blogs first started becoming popular, everyone was using RSS feeds (Really Simple Sindication)  That’s the orange symbol you see on each blog.

At first, I couldn’t STAND RSS because I hadn’t developed the habit of visiting an RSS reader to see content.  So, I registered for all these blogs and requested an email every time there was an update.   That was fine for a while – but then my inbox exploded with content and I just couldn’t keep up.

Then I discovered iGoogle!  I loved iGoodle because I could create a digital newspaper that contained all my favorite feeds and get all feeds on a single page.  That was super.  I used iGoogle for a couple of years.  but then it, too became so overwhelming that I started ignoring it.

What’s the Best Way to Consume Blog Content?

I’ve heard people say that RSS readership was down because most people were using Twitter and Facebook to link to interesting articles.  I do a fair amount of blog reading by following social media links – but that doesn’t give me the breadth I need for all the topics I need to track.

Today, I’m back to Google Reader.  I open the reader and quickly scan the articles and “start” my favorites that I might use as inspiration for articles or articles I might want to link to in an article.  Another reason why I love Google Reader is because I have a Google Reader App on my Android and I’m able to read through and track articles while I’m away from the computer as well.

How are YOU getting through blog content?  Got a tool you love or a way to process lots of content quickly — PLEASE SHARE

I’ve given up on iGoogle for now, but who knows, I may be back to that as well.

An Interesting Take on Naming Your Store

About 15 years ago we were trying to think of a great way make sure people would take the time to stop by our trade show booth.  There were a few things we knew about our audience of engineers.  The first was that they actually came to these shows with a shopping list — in the same way that you might have a list going to the grocery store.  But unlike in a grocery store, trade show floor layouts weren’t like grocery stores — the exhibitors got to PICK where they wanted to be, and that means that the eggs could be next to the soda — if you get my meaning.

Our bright idea was to have a big sign and a balloon that literally just said “Check Valves” — it was a very early attempt at search engine optimization before the internet.  The idea was that our target audience – the design engineer had check valves on his shopping list and when he got to the show – all he would have to do is look and he would see our bright balloon that said CHECK VALVES!  BRILLIANT!  It worked.

And this weekend, I saw this ridiculous video that reminded me of that trade show strategy.  So does it make sense to sacrifice brand for getting found?