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STOP IT - 5 Ways Small Businesses Sabotage Themselves


Attention small business owners 

You know that terror that seems to consume you, that fear that the world is out to steal your customers, lower your revenue and destroy your hopes of retiring to the mediterranean?

Well, you can stop worrying about it, because the great news is, your worst fear has finally been identified.

It's you!

Now, before you roll your eyes and bemoan the waste of 10 seconds of your life, let me explain ...


1. You think that growing your business is about keeping everything secret and making your customers pay for everything



Sound familiar?  Small businesses start with a bright idea and a passionate founder.  In my experience the age of the entrepreneur plays a big part in determining what happens next.

According to the FT, record numbers of over 50's in the UK are starting their own business.  Often it's their first experience of life as the boss and they approach their new challenge with a mindset shaped by years in corporates, smothered by layers of bureaucracy.

Today, customers expect companies to be generous.  We search the web for information, read reviews, look for star ratings and generally form our opinions about brands based on third party endorsements and discussions.  Businesses can no longer be faceless entities, they need to have personalities.  People still buy from people, but now we can do it virtually so perception counts more than ever.  Do you want to spend your money with the mean, hard to deal with company, or the benevolent and helpful one?

Think about what you could give away to gain visibility and ultimately more customers. It doesn't have to have a physical value - kindness, time and effort all count  Just as free samples draw the crowds at the farmers market, downloads, tester kits and trial sessions give customers a chance to experience your brand without risk and hopefully keep them coming back for more.


2. Your marketing is stuck in a time warp



- It's all about you
- You never contribute of even mention third parties
- There's no need for a marketing plan
- You equate professionalism with business speak

You know who you are.  Once upon a time, all a company needed was a website.  This gave them a one way system, to tell the world all the fascinating product features that would have them lining up to buy. Fast forward a few years and a website is the least you should have, customers are self educating and only third party endorsements will persuade us to part with our cash.

The best ideas need visibility and an audience if they're to spread. Your story is not about you anymore.  It's about your customers - their wants, their needs, their values. This brave new world means that companies need to think in terms of the problems that they solve, answering frequently asked questions, showing how they compare with the competition and demonstrating beyond any doubt, that your product is the only one worth buying.

Despite multiple examples to the contrary, marketing should not be regarded as another name for sales prevention.


3. You've got a Facebook page/Twitter account [insert any social platform here] but you don't know why or how to use it.



This is you, if your Facebook page is only liked by your mum and your Twitter icon is an egg.  I exaggerate a little, but we've all seen those social media pages with all the signs of a well intentioned new years resolution - one post and minimal details.  Encouraging? I think not. Would you leave your shop window empty?

Social media provides a set of new tools to do old jobs.  In the past you might have kept a journal, now you blog.  You used to call friends to share news, now you post a Facebook update.  It's all just human to human interaction, so stop worrying and start engaging.

Consumers use social media to make conversation and connections, to follow trends and to find information. What does your company provide in response?


4. You never measure or monitor your results - what is analytics anyway?



Guilty as charged?  Then how do you even know who your customers are?

Having any form of online presence (website, Facebook page etc.) means that you can now collect and use data to understand what's working and what's not. This is commonly known as analytics and every social platform provides them.

Spending money on your business and not measuring the return on that investment is madness, especially since it's now so easy to access. You may not consider yourself to be a data dude, but spend twenty minutes a week looking at the graphs, charts and numbers available and you'll be amazed by your new found knowledge.

These are really helpful articles to get you started.

Facebook Insights
Google Analytics (websites)
Twitter Analytics 
Pinterest Analytics
Google+ Analytics


5. You always undervalue what you've created



If you've recognised your business in any of the points above, there's a good chance that you're not as confident in your abilities as you should be.

Smaller companies are often scared to grow.  They apologise for their size and lack of knowledge rather than doing anything about it.  They expect customers to overlook bad design, lack of attention to detail or poor customer service, because they're a new business, or a freelancer or a family firm. Endless excuses mean that great products are overlooked and undervalued, so nobody wins.

Remember the passion that caused you to start or join your company and think about all those things which make you buy particular brands over others.  Tiffany jewellery is just as famous for the little blue box as it is for the diamonds inside.  Make sure your customers appreciate what you've produced and stop selling yourself short.


Time to take action?



I work with businesses of all shapes and sizes and love helping them understand and use marketing to grow.  You can leave me a comment here or ask me your burning marketing questions on Twitter @VLindsay.


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4 Easy Steps to a Great Marketing Plan




For those of you smug enough to have done your 2016 marketing plan pre Christmas - high five, you can stop reading now.

Still with me?  You're not alone. In my experience, most marketing strategy is reviewed in January, while resolutions are fresh in the mind and energy levels high.  That means that it's also the perfect opportunity to develop your marketing plan.

Here are the four simple steps to departmental greatness.

Step 1 - Ask


What does your business want to achieve this year and how can marketing contribute to meeting those goals?  Your marketing plan should support the company strategy.

Define specifics, (marketing will do XYZ) and then tactics, which are the tools to make XYZ happen (social media, direct mail, campaigns etc). Asking what your business needs from marketing, makes it far easier to choose tactics and show your contribution month on month.  The result might be something like - increase sales by X% in Y timeframe across Z geography.  With this goal in place you can weigh up the options to decide which marketing activities will have most impact.  These objectives are the bare bones of your marketing plan.

Step 2 - Agree


Make sure everyone in the organisation knows what to expect from marketing by agreeing specifics in advance.  The devil really is in the detail, so make sure you include timelines, budget/resource constraints and a definition of what success looks like (perception setting).

To go back to the example, increasing sales by X% in Y timeframe across Z geography, could mean you need to attract more new customers or make existing customers more profitable.  The timeframe set might coincide with a product launch or quarter earnings release and the geography target should build on work done in previous years, or gain first mover advantage. 

Step 3 - Build


Produce a detailed marketing plan.  A month by month overview of marketing activities will highlight any gaps or clashes with projects from other departments.

Remember to show who each activity is aimed at (existing customer, new lead, internal audience etc) and what you expect the target group to do as a result of each marketing activity.  Setting the scene will help your business feel informed and open communication channels. Without this, sales teams (and others) often develop their own materials, leading to all kinds of mixed messages (aka random acts of marketing). 

Think of your marketing plan as a story.  What do your potential customers need to know about your company, to help them choose your product over all available alternatives? What are the frequently asked questions you need to address?  How will they perceive your brand? Focus on delivering consistent, relevant and personal information to the waiting world.  Build trust first and then sell.

Step 4 - Engage

  • Plan marketing to flow like a conversation between your company and your audience.  
  • Build brand recognition, off and online, by using the same fonts, tone, colours and imagery.  
  • Create messaging and employ tools which meet the needs of your audience. 
  • Consult with sales and customer services before crafting content to ensure best fit. 
  • Spend time creating content that resonates with the groups you're trying to reach.  
  • Show how your product/service solves a problem or provides a benefit.  
  • Think about why customers might use/buy your brand rather than alternatives.  
  • Make it clear what makes your product unique. 
  • Listen for feedback from your customers, fellow employees, bloggers, social media etc.

For new businesses much of the above will involve educated guesswork using one of the many free tools available to better understand your target market.  Established businesses can use the raft of analytics available to fill in any customer information blanks.

A marketing plan is a living document, so expect it to change as you learn more about your market and its needs.  Having something to chart your progress and measure your results against, will give you and your business confidence and purpose.  It also let's you know when to crack open the champagne, so make sure you've got one, or ask me to help you develop one.

Questions?




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Trust - The Foundation of Great Marketing


T
Tune in.
Who cares about your business?

Be specific about your niche.
Prioritise 3-5 groups who really need you.
Find out who or what influences these groups today (hint - search via social media)
Look at what your competitors are doing - your customers have choices ...


R
Reassure.
Do your customers know your brand?

Be consistent in imagery, colours and typefaces.
Choose a tone which resonates with the groups you'd like to attract.
Make sure you're recognisable both off and online.
Optimise your marketing for search.
Make your content shareworthy.


U
Understand.
Why do/would customers buy from you?

What do your audiences want and need?
Which problems do you help them to solve?
What does your customer consider to be valuable?
Remember, it's not about you, it's about them.


S
Stand for something.
What makes you different?

What one trait do you want your business to be known for?
Does your message resonate with the groups you're selling to?
Does your product/service/store live up to your brand claims?
Give your brand a personality.
People buy from people.


T
Timeline.
Plan to make an impact.

Know what you're trying to achieve.
Build a content calendar to check progress.
Always be transparent and responsive.
Educate, collaborate, entertain and inform.
Think of it as a conversation rather than speed dating.


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More haste, less speed for Marketers - 3 easy steps

According to Benjamin Franklin “if you want something done, ask a busy person”.  He may well have been talking about a marketer or indeed a whole marketing department.

Though I work with organisations of all shapes and sizes, in this age of constant communication, I've come to the conclusion, that all marketing departments now fall into one of three categories of ‘rushed’.

Treadmill rush
These groups are driven by fear.  They feel they can't afford to switch off in case they fall behind.  That risk of not being able to catch up again, means that they're likely to be the only ones with 20 days holiday still to take on the last day of the year.  Other symptoms include the compulsion to reply to an email that woke them up at 3am.

To do list rush
It might be an excel spreadsheet, a computer monitor smothered in post it notes or a series of panoramic white boards ramping up the pressure.  To do list marketers are driven by achievement, although they never really stop to enjoy their success because there is always something to add to the list and there are never enough hours in the day to complete everything.

Put out the fires rush
I recently spoke to a head of marketing, who had brilliant ideas for their product line but never got round to implementing any of them, because of all the urgent things which ate the well meaning hours of each day. Such marketers are driven by the need to control, though their hurry blinds them from making any real progress. Sound familiar?

In truth we all have our moments in each camp.  We won't stop being busy people, but we can take steps to make sure our efforts are more fruitful.

Know what you're trying to achieve by understanding what success looks like in your company

Is it a certain number of leads by the end of the quarter, a capacity crowd at your next webinar, a 100% positive rating on ebay?  Set goals for your marketing so the rest of your business understands your contribution. This also helps justify your time and budget spend, when multiple projects are competing for your attention. If you aim at nothing, you're bound to hit it.

Make time to stay up to date

There's something new to learn every day, but the good news is we're all struggling with the same volume of content (email, social media, press, events etc.) and no-one knows everything.  Set up google alerts for those terms and phrases you really need to stay on top of. Log articles to your reading list (that little pair of glasses icon on your dashboard). Bookmark pages and download ebooks.  Anything that helps you self educate, will make you feel more confident and efficient.

Make marketing a business driver not a cost centre

What are your company objectives this year, or even this quarter? Measuring your marketing so that you can show how you're supporting the overall organisation, helps colleagues and customers alike.  Every social media tool now comes with analytics and even the simplest website can provide a host of metrics. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it, so take control and see where your time is best spent.

If you're still struggling, remember Neil Young once sang ‘it's better to burn out than fade away’. Perhaps he was a closet marketer?


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