Jim's Marketing Blog

Marketing ideas to help you grow your business

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This is why you need to step outside your business

Sometimes we work so hard within our business, that we find ourselves missing the bigger picture. We get so wrapped up in what we are doing, that we lose track of where we are going.

outside perspective

Looking at YOUR bigger picture

Take some time out today, to look at your bigger picture. Here are just a few things to consider:

  • Are you on course to achieve the goals or targets you set for your business in January?
  • Is your cash flow looking OK? How about 3 months down the road from now?
  • Are the fees or prices you charge keeping up with inflation or are your profits slipping?
  • Are you getting more referrals from your clients than last year or fewer referrals?
  • Are you retaining more clients than you were last year?
  • Are you attracting the right type of clients or too many time wasters?
  • Are you working too many hours?
  • Are you working too few hours?

It’s all too easy to mistake movement for progress. That’s why it makes sense to regularly step outside your business and see if you’re on course or not.

A small adjustment today could save you from a much bigger problem in 6 months time!

How a Special Offer went badly wrong

cheapIt’s possible for a special offer to go spectacularly wrong, if you fail to look at the offer from the customer’s perspective. Allow me to explain.

Messages and subtext

My wife received an offer from a local restaurant via Facebook. It was an incredible offer, genuinely worth around 90% off the price of a meal for two, with no strings attached. The problem with the offer, was that it was too good. The cost cutting was too steep.

Because of this, the special offer message carried a subtext: A message behind the surface message of the amazing offer.

The first thing my wife said after reading the offer was, ‘that offer sounds like an act of desperation’. She then called me to look at her Facebook account, where her friends who had already been sent the offer, were already chatting about the imminent demise of the restaurant. The restaurant was then on Facebook, trying to reassure people they were not going broke, which made things even worse.

Poorly crafted offers can backfire

The reason this offer created so much negative attention, is that the subtext of the special offer spoke far louder than the actual message. The over generous discount caused people to assume that the restaurant was in trouble. The net result of that offer is that their customer base are openly discussing alternative venues, now this one is probably going broke.

In reality, the day before the restaurant made this offer they could have been in a strong position. Today, they are scrambling around Facebook almost begging people to come back. This now DOES make them look desperate and reinforces the (probably false) assumption, that they were in financial trouble when they made the very special offer

If you are thinking of slashing prices or offering to give free consultations, consider how your offer looks to the marketplace. Does it look like a generous offer from a financially strong business or the final, desperate actions of a business on the brink?

The price slashing problem

Generally, you are more likely to experience this type of problem, when you use price cuts as your special offer. This is because, when something is in great demand, there’s no need to slash prices. As a result, especially if the price reduction is big, people often assume there’s no demand. Such offers seem less like a regular marketing move and more like a panic measure.

As a general rule of thumb, you tend to find far fewer problems with special offers, which are based around providing additional value, for the same price or fee. These offers are usually a lot more profitable too, as the price or fee isn’t being heavily reduced. Price slashing also trains prospective customers to wait for the next offer, making it a lot harder to sell anything at full retail.

In short: Before using a special offer, think about the way the offer will be seen from the perspective of your customer / client and the wider marketplace.

Human Billboards? Really?

billboards, promotional products

Most small business owners miss out on great, free exposure, because they fail to advertise their products or services, to the people who see them each day.

For example, their car is seen daily by lots of people, yet they have nothing displayed on their car to promote their business. They wear a t-shirt during the summer, but don’t think to get one with their company logo on it. So, they drive a car that has a rear window sticker, promoting the dealership where they bought it and they wear a t-shirt that has the logo of the shirt’s manufacturer on it, but nothing anywhere to promote their own business.

Cyclists and the human billboard effect

The idea for this post came after I picked up my mountain bike from the shop, following its annual service.

As I waited for the shop owner to get my bike from the workshop, I noticed a cycling jersey for sale. It was extremely expensive and had 9 advertising logos and slogans printed on it, from companies who sponsor professional cyclists. In their desire to look like their professional cycling role models, some amateur cyclists will pay a hefty fee, to turn themselves into a human billboard. So, they not only give these huge companies free advertising, they pay money out of their own pocket, for the privilege of giving them the free advertising.

By the way, cyclists offer great, free advertising:

  • Most cyclists are in great shape and look extremely good in their cycling apparel. These healthy, fit people create a superb image, for the brands they advertise.
  • They often travel huge distances on their bikes, massively increasing the number of people who see the advertisements they wear. If they cycle in large towns or cities, thousands of people will see them.

We are all human billboards

Whilst amateur cyclists are the most extreme human billboard example I can think of, we are all human billboards to some extent.

The computers we use, phones we use, cars we drive and clothing we wear, all carry a logo. For instance, as I write this post in my local coffee shop, anyone walking past can see the Lenovo brand displayed on the lid of my notebook. If they look at my shoes, they will see the Nike Swoosh on them. I’m a human billboard for these brands right now. Look around you and you’ll see logos or brand names on the items you wear or products you use, too.

Your business and human billboards

Here’s something to ponder: How many people advertise your business, through their clothing, vehicles or tools? If you just answered ‘none’ or ‘not many’, you may want to consider changing that.

Some promotional goods can be extremely cost effective, but not if you do what most small business owners do with them. It’s not about thinking of them as freebies and handing them out to anyone, without a strategy. It requires a little more thought and planning than that.

For example, if you decide to get some t-shirts made:

  • Make sure they clearly display your contact phone number or website.
  • Don’t buy cheap. 10 good quality shirts will be seen by more people than 100 cheap ones, which look like crap and are often trashed after a few washes!
  • Give them to people who will wear them.
  • Give them to people, who you believe represent a good image for your business. Just as fit, healthy cyclists are the right image for cycling sponsors, there will be people who are an ideal fit for your business too. So, if you sell to the construction industry, give your t-shirts to tradespeople, etc.

Your mileage may vary

There are many factors, which will determine how effective this idea will be for you and your business. Your industry, the quality of your designs, your location and the ease at which your website or phone number can be remembered, are just some of the factors.

In my experience, this works best when you invest in quality. Adopting a professional approach will make your message stand out and ensure more people see it. It will also give people an insight into the quality you attach to your business.

Why isn’t my problem as important to you, as it is to me?

customer service

I had a bad customer service experience today, which contained a valuable lesson. I’d like to share that lesson with you.

It started when I needed tech support from my email provider, Mailchimp. Every encounter I have had with their support team has been poor and today’s encounter was no exception.

My Mailchimp Customer service ‘blast from the past’

Now, any support person can have a bad day. Any company can have a staffing issue, resulting in customer service problems. What’s harder to understand, is why I had the exact same problem with Mailchimp today, as I had 7 months ago. If Mailchimp cared about customer service, that’s long enough for them to improve. Believe it or not, the problem I have is communication. No one I have emailed or ‘live chatted’ with at Mailchimp is able to understand me. This is even stranger when you consider that I’m a professional communicator.

Today, as I saw the ‘live chat’ going horribly wrong with Mailchimp support, I contacted a friend for help. Within 30 seconds via Twitter, she’d done what the Mailchimp support guy couldn’t – she immediately knew what the problem was and told me how to fix it. He wanted emails from me and screen shots, for an issue which didn’t require it. If he had listened, he’d have known it was a simple matter of changing one setting. That’s it.

Customer service matters

Today’s experience caused me to remember what my old boss used to call ‘the ultimate customer question’. It’s simply this:

Why isn’t my problem as important to you, as it is to me?

Customer service should ALWAYS matter more to the service provider, than the customer. As service providers, we can either delight our customers or frustrate them. We can take ownership of their problem or shirk responsibility and hope they go away.

That old saying is incorrect. The customer is not always right. However, the customer is always the customer. Until they’re not!

A lesson from Mark Twain about Going Out On a Limb

One of the foundations of success, is a willingness to go out on a limb, when necessary. In fact, in business and in life generally, all meaningful progress is preceded by the decision to take a risk, go out on a limb and do something.

out on a limb

Out on a limb

Starting a family, starting a business, relocating – all of these life changing decisions require us to go out on a limb. One of the oddities of life, is that even though the decisions that lead to the most progress in our lives are preceded by risk, we tend to opt for certainty instead. The pull of the comfort zone is clearly too strong, for most to resist.

The challenge with opting for the mediocre decisions, is that they tend to lead to mediocre results. In our strive for certainty and security, it’s easy to justify playing it safe.

After all…

  • If we don’t state our opinions, our opinions can’t be criticised.
  • If we don’t start a business, the business can’t fail.
  • If we don’t ask that amazing person for a dance, they can’t say no.

Mark Twain and going out on a limb

Yesterday, I discovered a wonderful quote from Mark Twain, which describes the importance of going out on a limb far more eloquently than I can. As with all great writers, Twain managed to make the point in very few words too. There’s beauty in brevity.

Here’s what he said:

Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.

One of the great ironies in life is that playing it safe is one of the riskiest things we can do. The risk averse business owner places an incredibly low ceiling on his or her potential.

As Twain said so beautifully, the fruit is out on a limb. The fruit in life and business, belongs to those who are willing to go out on a limb and harvest it.

3 Ways to grow your business for pennies

A lot of small business owners are struggling financially right now. So today, I am going to give you 3 ideas you can work on, which will help you grow your business for pennies or less!

free marketing tips

1. You can delight your customers more than your competitors do

This is one of the smartest marketing investments you can make. By delighting your existing customers, they become a superb source of new, high quality business. When someone receives an exceptional level of service from you, they tell people. They spread the word about your business.

Additionally, you will find that you retain your existing customers. This is really important. Otherwise, developing your business is like filling a bucket, which has a hole in it.

The key thing to remember here, is that the process of giving and receiving starts with giving. If you want your customers or clients to tell the world about you, you need to deliver an experience that’s worth talking about, first.

2. You can outsmart your competitors

Creative thinking costs nothing. By improving your creative thinking skills, you can get ahead faster and fly higher. You can spot opportunities that most people miss. You can solve problems faster and with better, more profitable answers.

Some people claim they are not creative, which is factually incorrect. We are born creative. However, to tap into our creativity and get the best results, we can all use a little help.

That’s why I have written dozens of creative thinking articles for you, on my creative thinking website. It contains dozens of free articles and videos, to show you how to think creatively, generate ideas and solve problems.

3. You can engage with your marketplace & learn what matters to them

Social networks make it easier than ever to connect with your future customers or clients. The majority of small business owners use these networks to sell or they automate their activity. They treat social networks as a broadcast medium, rather than a communication medium.

The smartest people use a human approach to social networks. They build relationships with people and listen to the needs of their marketplace. My best advice is to reach out in a human way. It works!

Where is your next breakthrough going to come from?

Today, I want to talk with you about your next breakthrough and where / when it will come to you. I also want to share some advice, which may help you reach your breakthrough faster.

Fog lifter

Fog lifters

One of my colleagues used to call coffee, her ‘early morning fog lifter’. She said that a cup of coffee in the morning would lift the fog, help her think more clearly and get her brain working. She claimed that many of her breakthroughs followed a cup of coffee. I pointed out once, that she tended to read great books when she drank her coffee. She smiled and said yes, but that it was the coffee that opened her mind to the book.

Where are your fog lifters?

Part of our personal and professional development, is to actively seek out our own fog lifters. I’m talking about the books, seminars, teachers and audio products, etc, which give us the clarity required to see what was previously hidden from us.

I can’t tell you where or when you will find your next fog lifter. All I do know, is that the fog tends to lift more often, when you feed your mind with rich, mental protein. For me, that’s when the ideas flow and the breakthroughs come.

Small business owners: Do not let this happen to you

I want to share something with you, which is responsible for the demise of so many small businesses. I’m also going to show you how to avoid it happening to you.

plan to fail

I witnessed an independent coffee shop self-destruct recently, just as the owner planned it to. Yes, although the owner said he wanted his coffee shop to succeed, his planning was all about failing. He literally (not figuratively) planned for failure.

Planning to fail

The owner set the business up in such a way, that his risk and financial investment was as close to zero as possible. That way, if it failed, his losses would be minimal.

So…

  • The scruffy looking building he moved into, stayed scruffy. He refused to fix it up or pay someone to. He said he thought it wasn’t important, even though he was serving people food and drink!
  • There was no investment in advertising or promotion. As his coffee shop was located in a small town, at the quietest part of the high street, no one knew the place was there.
  • He set the business up legally, so that there would be very little liability when the business failed and very few costs. He wasn’t going to lose his home or go bankrupt when the worst happened. This is smart, unless, as in this case, it was used as a comfort blanket to stop him from trying to succeed.

With no investment in making the business work and no penalty for failing, he did indeed fail – and extremely fast. You see, whilst he was playing at being in business, his hungry competitors outworked him and outsmarted him. Business today is extremely competitive and competing retailers are working damn hard to make their businesses work. Going into that marketplace, without the willingness to work hard or invest the money required, he could never have succeeded.

Giving  a business 100%

Every small business owner claims they give their business 100%. What many of them really mean, is that they give their business 100%… of the things they find easy to do. The things that require little risk. The things that keep them from leaving their comfort zones.

  • They hire a cheap accountant, rather than a good one. No one can afford a cheap accountant. No one.
  • They write their own marketing material, rather than get it written correctly so that it converts readers into clients.
  • They automate their social networking accounts, rather than invest the time needed to build relationships with people.
  • They ‘save money’ by having a crappy website that loses them business, rather than pay for a great site, which attracts clients.
  • They let their business plateau for months or years, rather than invest in the help they need to go to the next level.
  • They do 100% of the easy stuff, rather than 100% of what’s required.

The lesson here?

Business has never been more competitive than it is today. As we navigate the worst economy in living memory, it’s not enough to do the easy stuff. Everyone does the easy stuff. It’s easy! It takes courage to invest the time, effort and money required for our business to succeed, but the alternative is to ‘half try’. The demanding marketplace and our hungrier competitors will ensure that ‘half try’ attitude can’t prevail.

Those who succeed

The smartest small business owners have already figured it out. They know that success comes from doing the things, which the majority are not prepared to do. They understand the meaning of, ‘Go hard or go home!’

  • They think big, because they know it’s the only way to make big things happen.
  • They give it their all.
  • They make commitments, then follow them through.
  • They take action when it’s easier not to.
  • They look for progress, not excuses.
  • They make it as hard as possible for their business to fail.
  • They work hard. Really hard.
  • They know that shortcuts are almost always costly detours.
  • They plan their work and work their plan.
  • They refuse to starve their business of the resources it needs.
  • They leave work each day, knowing they gave it their best.

That’s the mindset you and your business are competing against. That’s the way the best people in every industry operate, including yours.

It’s also the most rewarding way, in every respect, to run a business.

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