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Do you meet my needs?

I read an article recently which stated that customers were generally 60% through the sales cycle before they engaged a sales person. Its called self education, or in plain english, the online researching, discussing with friends and family, article reading and general background checks we do, to convince ourselves that our money will be well spent.
In marketing terms it's the consideration phase and it's important. You've got a need in mind and you want to know that the company/product/service you choose, will help you meet that need. So, how do you evaluate? In a word - positioning.

Positioning sounds rather old fashioned now, but it's simply creating ideas, images and feelings in the mind of your customer. Some examples of great positioning
  • answering the questions your customer is likely to have through web content, tweets and facebook discussions, before they need to ask them directly 
  • recognizing the bigger reasons around a need and playing to them i.e. I want a watch but if I get a Rolex all my friends will know it cost a lot and be jealous. Rolex play to the idea of prestige rather than the ability to tell time 
  • creating an emotional link to a brand i.e. John Lewis (never knowingly undersold), gives the impression of being on the customers side and having their best interests at heart. They are selling integrity as well as merchandise 
Of course the most obvious example of positioning is whether you consider yourself to be a Mac or a PC. Apple positioning their products in the world of Art, free thinkers, rebels and creative geniuses. The Apple brand has created a loyal fan base who will sleep outside to be first in the queue for the latest gadget. They're convinced of greatness as soon as they see the icon. Now that's positioning.

Ask yourself

  • Who is my product/service for?
  • What do they expect it to do for them?
  • Will my product/service meet my customers needs better than the alternatives they can choose from? (in other words help customers choose you over the competition)
Thinking as the buyer rather than the seller will help you position your offering and see where improvements can be made. If you don't position yourself, others will, so make sure it's your choice to gain maximum advantage.

Now, Pret or Subway for lunch?


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Do I know what you do?



I wrote an earlier post on the first question which we all ask when making any kind of purchase decision, "have I heard of you?" and "do I know what you do?" is the logical next step.  These days we're all time poor, and if we don't understand, its easier to walk away than take the time to learn.


Telling the world what you do starts with a simple business description.  It's the text you need to fill your profile page on LinkedIn, or Twitter or Facebook (assuming you've build a business page).  It should be clear and concise and free of jargon.  Think of this step as a foundation stone.  Your business description/profile should be the facts without frills version of what you do, but attracting customers means taking a step further and building familiarity.
  1. Think about your ideal customer.  Who are they?  What age are they?  Where do they live?  What do they do?  How much spare time do they have to hear your message?  What are they reading your message on?   The language you use to describe your business is key.  Which words would your ideal customer use to describe what you do? (It's often helpful to get a friend or family member to tell you what they think your business does.  If your mother doesn't understand your description, there's a good chance no-one else will).
  2. Does your company produce products/services which mean the same to everyone? If you sell ice cream then most people know what that means.  If you're an applications developer then explaining what you do to a technical audience, requires the use of terms they understand and would expect you to use for credibility.  An applications developer pitching to the marketing team needs a different slant.  Don't leave any group to assume they know what you do.  Tell them.
  3. Familiarity comes from meeting your ideal customer where they already are.  Often I hear SMEs moaning about the uphill battle to attract customers.  These days we all have so much choice that its unlikely we'll go looking for the next big thing unless it comes to find us.  Having worked out who you want to target, consider where those people are now.  e.g. Twitter is a great tool for finding others interested in what you have to say.  Type relevant words into the Twitter search bar and it will return lists of those already talking about that subject.  Also think about the publications/blogs they might read.  If you know who's already influential to their world, you can work on a plan to be seen in the same space etc.
  4. Be there when people are looking for you.  Seems like the opposite of what I've just said above, but now that we're all so google dependant, make sure that you can be found when someone types in a search term relevant to your business.  It seems so obvious, but without visibility there can be no familiarity.  Your google rankings is a whole other blog post though.
Have you guessed what I do yet?
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4 Traits of the small business owner

The advice I would give anyone who has made a resolution to start a small business? You will need curiosity, kindness, stamina and a willingness to look stupid.

> Curiosity because the internet is full of wonderful, free tools and advice to get you started. There are groups to join, blogs to read, sites to bookmark, you just need to be interested enough to go looking for them. Feel free to ask for recommendations.

> Kindness because your first steps into the small business world are about building trust. No one has ever heard of you. They don't know what you do. Be prepared to give away some of what you know, take time to network, whether its on the school run or at a designated event. Since people do business with people, kindness is a rather under utilised way of differentiating your brand from the rest of the noise.

> Stamina is self explanatory. There will be ridiculously late nights and early mornings. Moments when you think its just not worth the effort. Days when you're fed up self motivating. Just keep going. Having a small business is a labour of love.
> The willingness to look stupid comes from the daily revelation that no matter how long you've been in business there is always something you won't be prepared for. In my case this always surfaces around tax return time.

I'm in my third year of being a 'solopreneur' now and I'm still working on each of these traits but I know I'm not alone. Go on, you know you want to.


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Generalist

A morning coffee with some fellow freelancers kicked off the generalist versus specialist debate. Which is best and does it matter? Should one be more expensive than the other?

On reflection both attributes carry equal weight and we all need to balance the generalist and specialist elements of what we do for the companies and products we represent.

Generalists because
  • everyone needs a level of education to make sure you're not assuming anything e.g. top of the funnel* marketing messages designed to set the ground rules 
  • customers want value for money, knowing about lots of different areas, how they interact, what to consider, where to prioritise etc. before making further investment. Think wikipedia versus squidoo pages
  • wisdom is gained from experience and generalists tend to have a wealth of experience to draw from, earned from a number of years of 'doing' 
*in the spirit of not assuming anything, top of the funnel refers to the lead generation or sales funnel where lots of potential customers start the sales process and the aim is to retain as many of these as possible through to actual sales.

Specialists because
  • audiences like 'boxes'. She's a social media expert, he's a copywriter etc. Putting a label on who you are and what you do is essential to finding and retaining your audience 
  • the devil is in the detail. Specialism drives differentiation (giving your customers a reason to buy your product/services over the available competition) 
  • narrowing your focus ensures you can keep up with the latest developments in your field, spotting the opportunities, increasing your usefulness in a particular area and as a result the likely success of the endeavour. 
As to whether one should be more expensive than the other, I think your customers will ultimately decide.
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