Novice guide to inexpensive small business offline marketing ideas.
Marketing can be simple and fun!
Humor and Creativity
These two factors are much overlooked in the marketing world. You cannot teach someone how to have a sense of humor, or how to be creative. You can teach them the importance of going with an idea even when it seems a little bold or unusual though!
Humor and creativity cannot be quantified. You cannot give examples of ways that someone else can be creative, because true creativity is unique and totally original. All you can do is give examples of what other people have done, and hope someone gets a clue of what they can do. True humor is also unexpected and original, and unquantifiable. This makes it difficult to really state their importance or teach them as viable concepts.
Humor is a powerful relationship marketing tool. But it has to be humor that actually appeals to the target audience. If you do something that they consider to be off color, you’ll offend them. On the other hand, if you tickle their funny bone, they’ll go away with a warm feeling about your company.
A good example of humor can be found in the TV ads that are run during NASCAR races. The best ones are very humorous. They span a range of humor types, but aim at a general target audience – people who like excitement, speed, and who love practical joking. There is a bit of redneck humor in there too, because the audience is also willing to laugh at themselves. When a new ad rolls out, the entire NASCAR fan world talks about it, if they think it was funny.
Creativity applies in two ways: If the ad is unexpected, but appropriate, it will appeal to the audience. But if you put an idea for using your product into the ad, and it is fitting, but unexpected, you’ll also catch people.
I operate a Home Business forum, and it is always such fun to brainstorm on there. Someone will say, “I market this item. How do I reach an offline or online market?” And the ideas will pour in. One person will suggest things from one perspective, and someone else will suggest something from a totally different perspective. Then someone will take what those two said, and suggest a twist on their suggestions. Pretty soon, the person who asked the question has a whole batch of new, fresh, and creative ideas, which they alone could not come up with.
Brainstorming with knowledgeable and experienced people can often spark a wonderfully original exchange of ideas. You won’t be able to do them all, but you’ll be able to pick up on a few.
For example, when a woman asked about marketing scrap booking items, she got the following suggestions:
- Add decorative hand touches to her business cards to make them reflect the product.
- Hand out items at events that were useful, but that were created using a tool, instead of handing out a sample product. (This encourages purchases more.)
- Take a digital camera and mini-printer to events, and offer small single page scrapping kits so people could take a picture and make a page right there.
- Talk to various hotels in town to see about renting a room for a class or seminar.
- And a bunch of other ideas that she had not thought of.
The cool thing was that no single person had all that inspiration. It came from the discussion. One person would suggest something that triggered an idea in someone else. And in fact, some of the ideas that the woman decided to run with were not suggested by anyone in that form – they just triggered another idea in her.
You don’t have to be highly creative yourself to add creative touches to your marketing. If you can find a group of people who will brainstorm with you, the synergy of the group will provide what your own brain cannot. I find that I am very limited in imagination when left to myself, but in a group of rapid-fire ideas, I can easily hold my own.
Be willing to have some fun with your marketing. Be willing to be different and original. Be willing to be a little silly at times, and to appeal to the sense of fun in your customer. Those elements, when done right, can go a long way toward setting you apart, and above, the competition.
Good marketers follow up with the customer in a variety of ways. They return phone calls, send polite reminders, ask questions about satisfaction, and provide gentle reminders that not only are they interested in getting your business, but that they are concerned with whether or not you got what you wanted after the sale.
You have to actually DO something to make sales, or to earn. You cannot just build a site and then expect money to come. You have to promote it, register it, and then continue to market it.
A marketing plan is the beginning. If you do not actually DO what is on the plan, you’ll fail. And then you have to assess, and follow through with what the assessment tells you is a good idea.
When you encounter prospects, you have to actually continue through with the dialog until it results in a sale, or until you are sure it WON’T result in a sale.
Opt-in lists are one way of doing this, but they are not the only way, and not necessarily the BEST way. The BEST ways of following up with clients are personal, and creative. They are ones that are specific to the mentality of your average client. Just because the tactic is wildly successful for someone else does not mean it is going to work for YOUR business, or YOUR customers.
People like to know that someone cares about them personally. And they like to know that you are interested in more than just making a sale. A personal touch in your follow up will often make the difference between window shoppers, and lifelong customers.
Probably the primary reason for failure on the part of new businesses is the failure to DO. They read about what they should do, they may actually make a list, and even perhaps venture into trying it out once or twice. But most marketing methods (especially free or low cost ones), take many repetitions. Getting one link placed is only a start, and it won’t get you far. Posting once to a forum is a little help, but unlikely to result in any increase in business.
Follow through often includes developing systems (routines) for repeating marketing tasks. Establish a customer list, and devise a routine for regular mailings – then DO it. Set aside a certain amount of time each week for getting web links – then DO it, EVERY week. If you use pay per click ads, then set aside a little time each day to assess the stats, and determine which ads are bringing sales, and which are bringing browsers, then reassess and adjust your ads, keywords, etc. Actually devote that time EVERY day to tweaking them until they bring results that you are satisfied with. Write an article a week, or two articles a week, and post them to a specific number of article databases. Make sure they get posted EVERY WEEK.
Devise the routine, then stick to it. KEEP sticking to it, and don’t quit. Regular marketing tasks are essential, and can be the difference between success and failure. Follow up with potential customers, and follow through with marketing tasks. It does pay off!
Quality is a difficult element to quantify. Search engine companies have been trying to develop algorithms that detect quality, but since a computer cannot speak or understand language uses or meanings accurately, they have failed to do it. I am not sure I can do any better, because while I know quality when I see it, quality is often a characteristic of personal perception as much as it is a specific criteria.
High quality marketing messages, products, information, and support are all important to successful marketing. You have to present it well, and then follow through.
Quality has some common elements:
- It is not sloppy. Even with a casual target market, spelling is correct, grammar meets the standards expected by that group, graphics are clean and easy to view, text is readable, and the websites are organized well.
- It is not rude or defamatory. Now, there are certain audiences who like rudeness, crudeness, and profanity or obscenity. But those audiences are not welcome everywhere, nor are sites which promote them. So I do not offer information for them, I encourage that which is clean and decent instead. So keep your content clean, and polite if you want it to gain ground in the generally accepted marketing venues.
- It is intelligent. It does not glorify stupidity, nor does it exhibit stupidity in content or assumptions.
- Information is accurate, and solid, it is not hasty or ill-researched. Quality content does not make sweeping conclusions such as “everyone needs a vitamin supplement to be healthy”. Such a conclusion is not scientifically supportable, and readers know it. Quality allows for individuality, and has evidence to back up conclusions when conclusions are controversial.
- It is unique in some way, and has original character. Quality is not sterile or impersonal, it welcomes people in, and provides something they cannot get elsewhere.
- It is genuinely useful. Quality instructions actually teach. Quality products actually work. Quality entertainment entertains without harming.
Though quality is difficult to quantify, people know it when they see it. When they associate your name with intelligence, accuracy, helpfulness, usefulness, and kindness, they remember, and they stay. When they see haste, sloppiness, stupidity, or avoidable errors, they go away. They only remember you if someone reminds them, and then they remember the error, not the good.
Set your standards high, and then keep them there.
Meet high quality standards in all aspects of your business, and your marketing efforts will pay off far better.
If you have a corporate business, where the company IS the personality, then presenting a unified image is the important thing. But if you have a personal business or informational site, injecting a bit of personality into the site can make a world of difference. People love visiting a site where they feel they can identify with the presenter. They will buy when they feel they have something good in common with the seller of a product.
Some people are afraid to be themselves on their website and in their promotional literature. Other people hire someone else to do their writing, and all feeling of humanity is stripped out by someone who is writing strictly for accuracy and not for appeal.
Personality is especially important in informational sites, sites that sell custom products or which are uniquely crafted by the seller, or in marketing materials which have to compete with other similar marketing, such as article marketing.
Like dating, the best policy is often to just be yourself. I mean, sure, you try to be polite, and you try to be considerate, but if something strikes you as funny, you can still laugh about it! Inject a bit of humor into things, tackle subjects with examples of your own experiences, and write in a way that is close to how you would talk to someone.
Give your reader someone to identify with.
You won’t attract everyone, but that is ok! You’ll attract people that other writers don’t, and that is enough. The old phrase that if you try to please everyone you end up pleasing nobody is true in this instance.
In the process of networking and building relationships within business, you have to make a personal connection of some kind with people. Now, I am not going to be able to identify well with a 30 something single career woman. But I CAN identify with a young mother, with a mother of teens, with a homeschooling mom, or with women who are trying to pull themselves up on a shoestring. So when I just be myself (and use those kinds of experiences in what I am presenting), I can appeal to those people with whom I CAN identify. The ones that I can’t reach will go somewhere else, and that is ok, because the person THEY identify with WON’T be able to reach the people that I can either!
In article marketing, there are some sellers out there who are promoting PLR articles as a way to get easy articles to market. Unfortunately, they are banned by every marketing venue, but they have another huge flaw. They are utterly sterile. They have no distinct opinion, no character in their wording, no humor, no strong emotion. They just present commonly available, indisputable information that is colorless and dry. This makes them uninteresting, and uninformative, and therefore, valueless.
On the other hand, even an article with a few grammar errors or spelling typos can catch on and be appreciated when it presents information that people like, that has a definitive conclusion, that takes a stance, informs, entertains, or has recognizable character that people like. When they read something, and feel like they’d like to meet you because they like what you said, then they’ll forgive your errors because they like you! But no matter how perfect your grammar, if you fail to be a real person to them, they won’t like you or what you said anyway!
Personality is something that no one else can do for you. It has to come from your own heart, and is something you offer to your site visitors as a gesture of good faith. Be sincere, and they’ll respond.
Volunteering is something you do from the heart, but it has the potential to benefit your business too
I’d never recommend that someone volunteer just to help their business, but for those who struggle between the lack of time to do everything, and the desire to help as often as possible, I’d encourage them to take the time when they can to give services or time for free, with the reassurance that it DOES come back to them.
I do several things as a volunteer. I moderate a group online, I own a few groups online, I donate web services to a few non-profit corporations, I am an assistant den leader for Cub Scouts, I have served as coordinator for a local event, and I frequently offer web assessment and improvement recommendation services to startup businesses. I donate used computers to local families that need a computer also. I have created printed items for good causes, and donated other web and graphical design services also.
Those are pretty small things. There are not a lot of formal opportunities out here, so I do what I can within the limitations of my life. But those things have helped me to establish my expertise, along with giving me the chance to give, which I enjoy.
Even a non-profit organization won’t trust an idiot. They won’t accept services from someone who is not professional. And donating my services got my URL on the bottom of every page of their site as the creator, which helped my page ranking and helped me build my reputation when I was trying to re-establish my business.
Giving away computer systems locally has helped to establish me as THE computer expert, and the person to go to for computer needs. Donating services got my name around even though I did not do it for that reason.
I am also a firm believer that in order to get, you must first give. Volunteering is not only an indication that you are kind, it also invokes the law of “what goes around comes around”. I truly believe that the kinder you are, the more blessed you will be. It has proven true in my own life. I have seen amazing blessings come as a direct result of something I did just because I felt I ought to, even when I wasn’t sure I had the time to.
You do have to balance your time, and you ARE in business to make money. But time taken to volunteer to do whatever you can that is reasonable really does benefit your business in surprising and unexpected ways. Go with your intuition – when something in you desires to do it, and there is a way that you can, then dive in and give it your best with no thought of return.
It isn’t just the human thing to do, it is also wise and intelligent.
I have strong convictions about the importance of integrity in business. So much so that I founded an organization to promote it, and I include a chapter on integrity in every book I publish that deals with business topics. So rather than write it all over again, I’ll just quote from that. If you have read my books, or visited my Total Integrity Business Group site, this stuff will all be familiar repetition.
Honesty and integrity are not just a moral issue, they are good business.
Consider the following situation: You set up a business. You decide that you can cut some corners where no one will notice. You pay a lot for aggressive marketing, and your first customers come in the door and make a purchase. Weeks later your product fails to perform in one way or another, and the customer is dissatisfied. They not only do not come back, they warn their friends. You spend more money trying to get more customers. Eventually business dwindles and you have spent much of your profit trying to get customers. You are forced to start over and build another business. Where is the logic in that?
There is a saying, “You can shear a sheep many times, but only skin it once.” There is a lot of wisdom there. To shear the sheep, and get the wool, a rancher has to care for the animal in between shearing. It is a win-win situation for both of them. If you skin it, you may get a little more once, but then you gotta go buy another sheep and raise it to be big enough to be worth skinning. Which do you think is more efficient?
One of the really cool things that happens with a reputable business is that over time it gains momentum. This happens because at first, you are educating people about who you are and what you do, and persuading them to give you a try. If your product is sound, and your customers service and return policy is good, people will come back. In fact, some customers will even come back after an error if you are strictly honorable. You don’t have to spend nearly as much to keep a customer as you do trying to get one in the first place. That is a statistical fact.
The only way you can start with nothing and build a business, is on a firm foundation of honorable work and reliable customer relations. Momentum won’t build if you take liberties with other people’s satisfaction. Scammers spend months building up their scam, then they spend money on marketing their scam. It has one wild flare of frenzied success, and then it fizzles, and they are forced to start over. That doesn’t happen with a reliable merchant. In fact, they can start with no marketing, and build slowly over months, and their business will grow and grow, and never dwindle and die. It can, in fact, be hard to STOP if you want to close the doors!
Customers expect integrity in all aspects of your business.
And integrity filters through all the areas that the customer sees, and the areas that the customer does not see. You need to be honorable in paying taxes that are due, and keeping needed licenses up to speed. Tax penalties and licensing penalties are counterproductive, and will hamper your ability to make a profit.
Integrity has been described as “doing the right thing even when you think nobody is looking”. And it makes good business sense. Being honorable in your conduct with your customers is one of those things that you may think no one will ever know about if you fudge on little things. But they do. It is apparent in your attitude about things that you don’t realize are connected, and customers who are on the ball will feel uneasy if you are not scrupulously honest.
Sometimes you get into a situation where one customer is dissatisfied though no fault of your own. It is important in those times that you take the responsibility to make it right anyway. One dissatisfied customer may be the means of preventing many more from purchasing, and it just isn’t worth it. Some people will never be satisfied, no matter what you do. But if you have tried in every way that is reasonable, then you can at least present your side to anyone who questions, and reasonable people will understand.
Honesty is now considered to be a optional indulgence. It is not. It is an essential element in growing a stable business that will last.
Businesses tend to build momentum over time, where marketing gets easier and less costly. One of the reasons this happens is because the greater your customer base, the more you can leverage it to your benefit. Leveraging is nothing more than using success in one area to make success in another area more likely.
When I built my first website, it took a year or more to get any kind of response. Partly because I was green and did not know how to properly market it, but also because I was starting from a base of nothing.
Once that website was established, I could use it not only for what I had originally intended, but I could use it to promote anything new that I wanted to start.
This is leveraging at its simplest. Using an existing advantage to create an additional benefit.
On a local (offline) basis, I began with offering computer services. Later, I started a local newsletter format newspaper (there is no news service here). That newspaper was built on the foundation that my computer business formed. Then the newspaper became a marketing tool for the computer business, and for additional endeavors.
I now own over 30 separate websites, and am able to leverage them to benefit my entire business in all sorts of ways. I can also use them to help other businesses get a foot in the door, though link exchanges or low cost ads.
There are many ways in which you can leverage once you get started. Some of those ways include:
- Cross linking websites. This is a very simple way of using the pagerank and established search engine listings of one site to jump-start a new site.
- Cross promoting your businesses. Even if you have totally unrelated offerings, you’ll still have crossover customers or viewers. You can use marketing campaigns in one line to benefit another.
- If you cross link your sites, then you can use Pay Per Click on one site, and it can often increase the traffic to other sites as well.
- Joint Ventures. Once you have a customer base, you have something to leverage against someone else’s customer base. You can join with other business owners to help one another. Look under Collaborations on this site for details.
- Combine two separate displays in an offline event, by sharing a booth for multiple business lines. You need to keep them at opposite ends of the booth if you do this, but it can save you the cost of two booths or separate events.
- Create a doorway site to market multiple websites with a single promotional URL. This helps you consolidate your advertising, and it can bring in crossover customers.
- Create a double sided business card. Put a different business on each side. This can also bring in crossover customers.
- Participate in viral marketing projects. For many, if you make multiple contributions, you can promote multiple URLs. For very little extra time, you can promote a single viral marketing item through several of your sites, and promote multiple business lines.
The catch to it is, that you have to build a little bit of a base from which to leverage, before you can use it in these ways. It takes about a year of hard work to get to the point where you have enough of a base to use it to any real advantage. But once you have it, it will grow consistently, and sometimes exponentially.
When you have more than one line of business, look at your marketing methods, and consider how marketing one item might be used to benefit others. Sometimes you can greatly reduce your overall marketing costs just by setting things up so that one marketing method spills over into another business line.
Get the right types of marketing, combined with the right cross promoting tactics, and your business will develop an awesome marketing power.
These are hard to get at first, but once you develop a little bit of a reputation, they will walk into your life, and you may have to be choosy about what you do. Guest appearances allow you the chance to promote yourself for free, or even while being paid, and they provide the best possible type of promotion – it builds credibility, expertise, and begins the process of relationship marketing.
With guest appearances, it is all about your reputation and name. If you have made a name for yourself, you can expect to be paid for them. At first though, you do free guest appearances, strictly for the promotion.
There are far more opportunities for these than ever before. With the technology available to startup businesses, someone is always running a teleclass, webinar, or podcast where they need guest speakers. If you are comfortable speaking, it is a good way to start out.
Many are conducted in interview format. Some interviewers will allow you to prepare, some want the interview to be more spontaneous. You’ll occasionally have a live audience, and that can be very unpredictable.
When possible, prepare by writing down some answers to questions you are likely to be asked. You may or may not have the opportunity to refer to your notes, but even if you don’t, you are more likely to remember details and points of importance if you have previously written it down and gone over the responses.
To prepare for live speaking engagements, you’ll need to practice. You can practice in front of a mirror if you’ll be visible, or just go over your material while speaking it out loud.
Written words and spoken words often use a slightly different phrasing. So actually speaking responses out loud is important, because it helps your tongue and lips practice saying phrases that may be awkward. This may be especially important if you use technical terms that must be said in the right way, or if you have product names that must be exact.
If you want to be able to do public speaking, you have to do two things:
- Develop the skills. You can join Toastmasters, or you can just get lots of practice other ways, but do SOMETHING to learn to speak comfortably in public. I have taught classes in church to people of all ages, as well as having taught a few public school classes, I have made presentations to our Town Council, and had the opportunity for a range of other public speaking opportunities, so when I was first asked to do an interview, I was nervous, but knew I could speak well and confidently. My major concern was being able to properly frame my words and descriptions – since I usually write, I don’t have to come up with spontaneous instruction, I can usually think about the best way to say it.
- Develop the reputation. No one is going to ask you to speak if you are a nobody. You have to get your name out there, and you have to have good information that they want. You don’t have to be THE expert in your field, but you have to have some experience in the area that they want to know about, and some evidence that you do have that experience. For me, this came as a result of having written instructional materials on my websites, and from having contributed to a book that was published by a trade association. Tell the truth, give valuable information, and market it, and eventually someone will ask you if you want to do a guest appearance.
You’ll have to be willing to start small. At first, when you make a public appearance – in person or just voice – do not expect people to mass to the event. You may get only one or two people in the audience. Your host may themselves be just starting out (otherwise they’d get someone more prestigious). The lack of an audience may seem somewhat humiliating, but you’ll need to focus on other things.
For one thing, many voice shows and engagements are recorded. People may have the opportunity to hear you long after the event has ended. In fact, this may be one reason that they are not listened to very well – if people know they can hear it later, they may not feel the need to tune in at the time.
Focus on growth, not on the moment. Each appearance is a stepping stone. And it may take many appearances before you can see any difference in the quality of the opportunity. If you want to make these a significant part of your marketing campaign, then deal with it, it is a necessary step. Do your homework, prepare well, and deliver your best even if you don’t think anyone is listening. Long term, it is well worth it.
Targeting Your Market
In marketing, there are two approaches, often referred to as the “shotgun” approach, and the “sharpshooter” approach. Now, while I do not think that customers are prey to be hunted, there IS some wisdom in this analogy.
The Shotgun approach is when you do a lot of cheap ads, that scatter a lot of marketing over a group of people, in the hopes that one might be interested and buy. It is a form of “non-targeted” advertising.
The Sharpshooter approach is when you aim your ads directly at people whom you know are already interested in what you have.
In the internet world, there is little excuse for NOT targeting your ads! There are ways you can do it that do not even involve research or expense. Merely choosing to advertise using smart keywords, or putting your ads on sites that deal directly with the topic of your site is a means of tightly targeting your ads.
Targeting starts with WHERE you advertise, but it also includes HOW you advertise. Your incentives need to be related to your product, your marketing messages need to appeal to the people who are most likely to buy your product.
You’ll notice that when you get your newspaper, there are circulars inserted into it. There will be ads for cars, pizza, groceries, etc. You’ll notice that the ads that are included in there are for things that pretty much EVERYONE needs. With those items, there is no need to target.
If, on the other hand, you sell replacement parts for laptops, a circular insert is NOT a good idea. You’ll pay for every one of those ads that gets thrown away, and there is a greater chance that they WILL be thrown away since they are not targeted. If you mailed the same insert though, to readers of a computer repair professional magazine, the numbers would be quite different! The percentage that got thrown away would be far fewer.
The same rules work online. And they are the reason that Traffic Exchanges, Safe Lists, and Announcement Lists do not work. Everyone is there to SELL, not to buy! No one is interested in your product! And marketing to people who you KNOW are not interested is just a waste of your time or money.
On the other hand, if you use article marketing, that delivers VERY highly targeted marketing, because you can write an article about a topic which directly pertains to your business, and attract people who want what you have. Some writers don’t seem to get that though – I see articles about cats and dogs which are written by people who have a web marketing business. Where’s the connection? As a reader, I’m not interested in clicking their link!
With marketing, it is much better to be a sniper. Aim your marketing at the people who logically WANT it, not at people who could care less.
To truly benefit from trade associations, you have to know how to use them, and what to look for in one. They serve two basic purposes, and understanding what those purposes are, and how they work, is the difference between disappointment, and benefit.
The first purpose is to allow business owners to network together, and to provide an organization that helps to promote the trade itself – not necessarily the individual businesses. Networking with other business owners is NOT a means of advertising!
What it IS, is a means of brainstorming, finding knowledgeable help, and finding people to collaborate with. Virtually any trade association can provide those benefits, but not all trade associations have members who understand that this is why they are there!
The second purpose is marketing benefits. Again, virtually all trade associations have SOME kind of marketing benefits, but the type varies greatly, as does the value. Here are some types and what they mean, and what they are worth:
- Marketing to members. Forget it unless you sell products to business owners. If you are in a trade association for soap makers, and you sell soap, and your soap ad goes out to 450 other people who are all trying to sell soap, your ad is WORTHLESS! This kind of marketing is ONLY valuable to people who are selling soap making supplies. And then only if the trade association is not overpopulated by other soap supply marketers!
- Marketing to the general public. This can be either targeted ads, or general ads, so the value can vary greatly, but it usually has far more value than marketing to members. This is a sign that your trade association is concerned with giving meaningful benefits to members, and that it is run by someone who understands the fundamentals of successful business.
- Co-op Marketing. This is marketing where you can participate in group marketing collaborations. For example, the organization will purchase a full page ad in a magazine, and you can purchase a small part of that for less than what it would cost you to purchase it individually. The value of this depends on where the ad is being placed, and who else is placing an ad at the same time. The down side is that your ad will appear on a page full of ads for similar products. If you offer something unique, then it can be valuable. If you don’t, then your ad will get lost. You always have to pay for this kind of ad, over and above your membership fee, so assess carefully.
- Events and Projects. These can be very beneficial, because you can participate in an event that gives you greater exposure, or you can get in on viral marketing projects or other types of marketing projects that help your business to grow if you participate. Organizations which offer these either as part of the membership, or at a reduced fee, are well worth considering.
Trade Associations usually have a membership fee. Some have a free trial, or a lesser free membership so you can try it out. But usually the real benefits are reserved for paid members, and it can be difficult to know ahead of time whether it really is going to benefit you.
Do not sink more than you can afford into a trade association in the hopes that it will help your business grow to pay for it. Try something less expensive first, and look for benefits that have a real potential to return higher sales, and not just a warm fuzzy feeling.
The most obvious offline marketing tool, and one of the best ones if used right. A business card is a mini-brochure for your business, and when combined with a handshake and introduction, or better yet, friendly interaction that begins the process of building a trusting relationship, they can help you be remembered better.
Business cards should not be “splatter ware”. You should not just splatter them randomly over the countryside. Rather, use them wisely. Hand them out where there is likely to be sincere interest. Keep them with you so that you can take advantage of opportunities that arise in the course of your day.
- Business cards can also be creatively used, and they can be applied in more ways than the obvious.
- Carry them with you all times. “Be the business”. Your business should be part of who you are, and when topics come up that relate to your business, this provides you with an opportunity to state what you do. You need not be obnoxious about it. Just say what you do, and let the conversation naturally go with either more interest, or to a different topic. Hand out a card if someone is very interested. Business topics may not be appropriate in all settings.
- Business cards may be mailed. Either paper clipped to a letter (so they do not get lost in the envelope), or tucked into a greeting card. They can also be tucked into slits in either letters, or cards, to keep them from getting lost.
- The back of a business card works well for a coupon, or for detailed descriptions or pricing. Double sided cards can also be used if you have multiple business lines, but if you do that, be sure you point out to the recipient that it is double sided, because this is not standard.
- A card can hold an amazing amount of information, and can use fonts as small as size 6, as long as they are clearly readable, and a dark enough color to stand out well.
- They should always have basic contact info on them, at least a URL. Just like everything else in marketing though, personal is often better, and a name that they can associate with the face that they remember will help them trust you more, especially if you are marketing any kind of services.
- Business cards may also be placed in locations in many communities where they can be distributed for you. Some of our stores, and our town hall (we are in a very small town) have card displays that hold local business cards for distribution to anyone who is interested.
- You can use business cards to enhance a distributorship or affiliate program also. A URL can be written in on a write-in line, or a referrer name can be written in on the card. You can create a printable card sheet, and upload it as a PDF file. Your distributors or affiliates can download the file, print it out on business card stock, and hand out cards to prospects.
- The same template you use for a business card can be used for a separate coupon. Coupons should also have full contact information on them, not just stating WHAT they get, but where, and how.
- If you set up a booth at an event, a business card is the minimum that you should hand out. If all you can afford to do is business cards, then at least do them. This is a very good time to combine a business card with a coupon.
- Business cards are also a very helpful item for customer support. Any existing customer should have a business card – a magnetized business card may be printed from any printer now, using magnet sheets. They can be cut with a common paper cutter. Giving your clients and customers a business card with support contact info on them builds goodwill, and helps them know that even after the sale, you are still there to help them if anything goes wrong.
No matter where your business is located, a business card can help you. eBay auctioneers can benefit from them by listing the URL to the page with all their auction listings. People marketing items online can list their URL on the card, to encourage people to visit the site – people rarely remember a URL, but if it is written down, they may go visit just out of curiosity.
The prevalent perception now is, that if you have a business, you should have a business card. If you don’t, then some people will think that you are not really serious about it.
You can print them at home, as long as you make sure the design is good quality, and the message is effective. Virtually any print software – PrintShop, PrintArtist, Publisher, etc, will have business card templates. If you need free software to do it, download a copy of Serif PagePlus SE.
You can cut your own, or use pre-perforated stock. I prefer to cut my own because it looks more professional, but even pre-perf does not have the stigma it did once, because it is so common.
Take the time to create a good card, and to make sure the marketing message is effective. It will pay off in the long term.
Freebies are highly overrated. But they do have a place in good marketing. Freebies have been overused, over promoted, and are usually low value. Many consumers consider them to be trashy, and associated with hype and scams.
This is not true of all freebies, or of all sources for freebies, but the negative perception is frequently there.
The other down side to freebies is that they often attract “freebie seekers”. These are people who want freebies, but who are unwilling to pay for value. Giving something away and attracting freebie seekers is an effective tactic for many ad-supported sites, but a failure for those that have a product to sell.
These two reasons are why Freebies are listed as a Bad Marketing Tactic on http://www.badmarketingideas.com .
In addition, Freebies can complicate the marketing picture, because you have to market the freebie, either alongside, or instead of, your website or product. They can be a complicating factor for startups, and may work better for established businesses for that reason.
So how do they rate as a “good marketing tactic”? If Freebies fit the following criteria, then they can be a powerful tool:
- If you just need to get traffic to your site, and do not rely on purchases to make your money, freebies can be a way of doing that.
- If you can offer something that has a genuinely high perceived value – not just another throw away – they can attract people and help to promote a site.
- If you can find that balance between “high enough value to attract” and “value so high it makes it unnecessary to purchase your product”, they’ll do better.
- If you can choose a freebie that acts either as a sample, or that encourages purchases, they can help your business grow.
- There is a fine line between freebies and samples. Some products simply sell better when people can honestly know what it is they are getting. If your samples are poor though, you’ll end up hurting sales.
- If you use a freebie as a viral marketing tool, it can be powerful, but it has to be genuinely valuable and reproduceable, otherwise it won’t go anywhere.
Freebies can be a very good marketing tactic. But they must be used right, and you need to track results. If offering freebies brings you more traffic but does not bring in more money, then it is not worth your time to set it up.
A business needs to be consistent. It needs to offer consistent product quality, predictable support, high quality information, and the marketing message needs to be in line with the audience they are trying to reach. A marketer needs to consistently follow up, and to determinedly press forward through disappointments.
When a business, a website, a marketing method, product or service, or the interactions between the business and the customer, are unpredictable, or confusing, they lose the advantage that comes from repeat customers, and referrals. A wishy-washy business does not gain momentum, it fails to identify itself and to develop a reputation for anything good.
Consistency is manifest in a variety of ways:
- Product quality. When you produce a product that is custom ordered and made specifically for the individual, or when items are distinctly one of a kind, consistency is demonstrated in the quality of the details. When the products are mass-produced, it is demonstrated in producing identical function and features in each item.
- Service Quality. Services are often very personal, and consistency is shown in how you respond to the needs of your client. You cannot respond quickly one time, and refuse to respond another time, unless there is a sensible reason why! The service you provide must be of an equivalent standard each time also.
- Support Availability. The quality and accessibility of your support should not only match the quality and level of your product or service, it should also be consistent within its own department. You should not provide great support for one product or service, and none at all for another unless you can offer a specific reason why – for example, good support for a paid version, none for a free version. Informational resources which make up part of your support services should be consistent with the quality of the product, and with other support elements.
- Website. Your website should present a marketing message that fits your product, and it should offer support materials, contact availability, and background on your business that is suitable for the product or service you are selling. The entire site needs to present an integrated and predictable means of accessing the information that the visitor wants to access. If the site is unpredictable, or difficult to figure out, or if it presents conflicting messages, it will fail in its purpose.
- Marketing Literature. Your marketing literature can be developed to target different potential customers, but it should, all together, present a consistent message about the features, benefits, and quality of your offerings. It should be apparent, if you look at your business card, website, brochure, or other marketing materials, that they have some connection with the same company. If not, then you need to find a way to make them integrate better with one another.
- Customer Relations. You, personally, need to present a helpful and friendly demeanor to your customers and clients. Even when you are out in public, anywhere you might potentially bump into a customer or client, your behavior needs to reflect your business image. If you hire employees, then they must understand what the business is about, and be willing to help to perpetuate good customer relations in an appropriate manner. When you hire assistance from contracted workers, you need to be sure that they will assist you in that goal also, and make sure of it BEFORE you hire them.
- Follow Up. If you are marketing good service, then failure to follow up is inexcusable. If you are marketing a product which you promote on an individual basis, such as a high dollar item, then follow up is essential. Even with smaller items which are mass marketed, consistent follow up with customers is an advantage. Follow up needs to be consistent with the original message, and not obnoxious.
Consistency through your business operations and your marketing campaigns is a strong advantage in helping your business to grow. It is one of the elements in a strong foundation which encourages momentum to build, and which helps you to develop a reputation for being worth repeat patronage, and worth passing your name on as a referral.
Marketing to Existing Customers
It takes quite a bit more time and money to get a new customer than it does to encourage an existing customer to make a repeat purchase. Marketing to existing customers means more than just sending them a reminder to buy from you.
Certainly it starts with the following tactics:
- Upselling – Offering accessories or other similar items during the sale process.
- Redirecting – After the sale, redirect the customer to something else they might enjoy.
- Notices – Flyers or business cards in the box of shipped items, notifications of sales or new items.
- Courtesies – Christmas cards, personal cards, and other kind gestures that acknowledge their value to you personally.
- Personalization – This applies to how you relate to your customers – whether they take a spot in a line to get the same treatment everyone else does in spite of what their actual needs are, or whether they get a real person to talk to about a customized solution or for personal answers to how your products will suit their individual needs.
But it goes far beyond that. It also includes:
- Good support. Customers who feel that their problems were taken care of with the least inconvenience to them, will come back.
- Good guarantees. These both build trust, and keep customers coming back. I bought a KitchenAid Mixer about 10 years ago. It had a 1 year warranty. When it was 15 months old, the gears broke while making bread. I called the company to find out how to get instructions on taking it apart so I could fix it myself. The customer assistance rep told me that the mixer never should have broken, and that they would replace it free, even though it was out of warranty. Even though they KNEW that I’d not buy another mixer for another 20 years if they did their job right, they were willing to look at the long term reputation of their company. I’ll come back. I’ll buy them for my kids. I’ll recommend them to anyone who is interested.
- Giving a little more than you promise. People love little extras in the box, or a special customer appreciation gift. They like it when your product not only does what you say, it does a little better. They’ll come back to see what you’ll over-deliver on next time.
- Never being obnoxious. Please do not put an offer for another item on your Thank You page. That gives the impression that they are the victim, not that they are a valued customer. Redirect them to something else they might enjoy, or that they might wish to consider in the long term, but do not give the message, “Now that you bought, can I get you to buy even more???”. Internet marketers tell you to do this because about 7% or so of customers will make the purchase. BUT…. What about that other 93%? How many of them were annoyed? How many of them were deeply offended? I’d not risk offending 93% of my customers just to get another purchase from 7%, when more prudent tactics would get re-purchase rates that are higher than 7% in the long term! All of your “marketing to existing customers” must be presented in a way that is for THEIR benefit, not yours!
Marketing to existing customers should be based on principles of appreciation, courtesy, consideration, and personal touches. It should never be motivated out of greed on your part – no matter how you think you hid it, if you hit them up again out of greed, you’ll give yourself away, and they’ll know it. Think about things from their point of view.
What do they WANT? What do they NEED?
They don’t give a rip about what YOU want, or what YOU need. They are so inundated with ads and extravagant claims, and hype that the minute you try to push them, they turn off and go somewhere else. Answer their needs and wants, and they’ll buy. Be fair and considerate, and they’ll come back to you.
In our electronic age, business can seem a bit impersonal to people at times. We automate sales, provide instant electronic support pages, have virtual salesmen that sell virtual products through virtual stores. Sometimes people just need to know that there is a real person behind all the flicker and glow.
At the very least, a website should have a contact page, and an email link that is easily accessible from every page. Often people will be reassured, even though they don’t use it. The mere presence of a means of contact is enough.
It is polite to offer as many different kinds of contact options as possible. When you allow the customer to communicate with you on their own terms, it is a mark of consideration. Small businesses often have fewer choices – I offer email and phone contact info on my sites, because I do not have time for chat or live help, nor do I have the resources to hire those services.
Replying to emails, and being friendly on the phone also helps a great deal. Sometimes people could have found the information they wanted on the site, but there are people who just prefer to make contact by voice before committing to doing business with someone. It makes them feel a bit more secure in your humanity and trustworthiness.
A site without any means of contacting the site owner is not a good choice for building a business. There are times, and situations, where release of names or personal information is risky, but for the most part, if you are in business, that is just part of the risk you take to STAY in business. It is a trade off – if you want to succeed, you have to let people know who you are, and that you are real. This is far more important when money will change hands, or with services where there is a high degree of trust involved.
Even when you are just presenting information though, people want to know who you are, and why you say what you do. They want to know if you have credentials that allow them to feel secure in trusting you to know what you are talking about! Information is available everywhere, and someone is willing to express an opinion or write instructions on virtually every topic.
If I tell you that all the experts say that Electro Static Discharge is a major issue in working with electronics, that you can blitz a computer component from static that you cannot even feel, but that all you have to do is keep your hand or arm on the metal framing of the case when you work inside a computer, are you going to believe me? Will you believe me if I also tell you that I have worked on hundreds of computers for clients, and that I have built computers, rebuild desktops and laptops both, and have never killed a computer part with static, in a dry area where not even Static Guard can keep my dresses off my legs in the winter? You see the difference just a claim of experience can make? If I back that up with the information that my clients include corporate clients, non-profits, our town government, and dozens of little gray haired ladies (and plenty of people of other ages too!), how much of a difference does THAT make?
Accessibility means making contact information readily available, and by making it clear that a real person is behind the site. The bit about being a real person is not so important for corporations where the reputation is on the company, but with an individual, it matters a lot.
It gets harder as a business grows, to be able to reply personally to emails and answer the phone yourself. When that point comes, you have to phase into delegating to someone else who can represent you with the friendliness and helpfulness that keeps your customers thinking that you are still there and that you still care.
People want to know that they are more than a number. Having contact info available, and answering requests gives them the feeling that someone cares about more than just making a sale. And that is good business.
Good Copy Writing
Good Copy is NOT “power selling” copy! It is merely well written information that is written with an understanding of how the customer will feel when they read it. There is a fine line between the hype and dishonorable pressure sales copy, and the considerate, helpful, and appealing copy of a good ad that reaches out to a target market.
To tell a customer what they do or do not feel, or what they should think, is dumb. I don’t care how many people tell you that “hypnotic sales” copy is a good idea, it is not! It assumes that you have the right to control your customer, instead of giving them the respect of treating them like they can make up their own minds.
Using hype and fantasy to conceal the absence of vital information in the copy is also dishonest. People need certain information to know whether something is actually what they need, and if you leave it out, when you know that putting it in would cause fewer people to purchase, then you are being dishonest.
So when I talk about “good copy writing”, I mean copy that is totally honest, and that is respectful of the intelligence of the reader.
You have to understand the mind-set of your target audience. You have to understand what they are concerned about, and how they perceive the solution.
For example, if you know that a particular target market needs a specific electronic solution, but that they have a low level of understanding of either the need, or the potential solution, you have to find a way to explain things in a way that helps them to really know if they need what you have. That means you need to teach them to make the choice themselves, and NOT just try to bulldoze them into buying something that may or may not be what they need, or what they can use. The same is true of any other marketing copy.
The point is not just to write copy that sells a product. The point is to write copy that results in good sales, AND satisfied customers. When you describe your product accurately, in terms the customer can identify with, you end up with both.
Good copy will do just that. It will be clean, concise, and well written – it won’t have obvious spelling or grammatical errors – , PLEASE do not use “then” instead of “than” (perhaps the most common GLARING grammar error in self-published writing), and spell the word “separate” correctly (a frequently misspelled word – it has two “a”s, NOT three “e”s). Use a spell checker as you write, and have someone check it over for grammar errors before you use your ad!
Not that those two errors are any worse than other common errors, I just use them as an example of something that will lower your credibility in the eyes of the reader. When you make an error that a reader associates with low intellect, they won’t care how smart you really are. They will simply assume that you’ll be as stupid in business as they think you are in writing.
If you write with arrogance, they’ll assume you don’t care about them. If you assume you know just what is best for them and that you are qualified to make choices for them, they will feel your self-centeredness, and they’ll know you don’t really give a rip about them, you just want their money. If you write at the wrong technical level, or too casually for a formal audience (or too formal for a casual audience), you’ll lose them. They’ll not have any rapport with you, and you’ll not make the sale.
Test out your ads. Track responses, and learn which ones give you not just the best sales rates, but the best retention rates as well.
And if you hire someone, make sure they actually aim at the market you are trying to reach. A good copy writer will do that, but many professional writers are proficient in language, but ignorant of emotional appeal. Don’t let someone else set the tone for your business if they are not able to understand your product, your target market, and how to reach them honorably.
We aren’t talking about Freebies here… We are talking about time, information, help, and kindness. You can do it in several ways, including sometimes with freebies, but we aren’t talking about freebies specifically.
When you give something of yourself, in a way that seems personal, or that helps someone solve a minor problem that matters to them, it goes a long way toward starting the process of building a relationship with them.
And that is how you want to use this strategy. As an extension of relationship marketing.
This means you have to give something meaningful. You have to provide something that is hard for them to find elsewhere. Often this just means a listening ear, and a kind word or two.
Ways in which you can carry this out are limited only by your imagination and creativity. Some ideas are:
- Forum Participation. As long as you are there as a helpful influence. Just drop a signature line on your way past, and focus on really being helpful, not on trying to sell. Be real, and be friendly.
- By producing an informational site that is free to access. You can put ads on it to support it if you want. But information that is free to access is perceived as an act of kindness by someone who stumbles on the item they needed after hours of searching.
- By producing a viral ebook with genuinely valuable information. Now, the eBook market is totally flooded, so you have to produce quality, and value. Something that has the “ah-ha” factor.
- By answering emails. When someone emails you with a question, be kind and helpful. Use that opportunity to appear to be real, accessible, and show them that you see THEM as a real person with real needs.
- By providing easy to find contact information on your site. Really, it can be that simple! An invitation on your site to contact you with questions goes a long way. People don’t even need to DO that to begin to feel they can trust you, just the fact that the invitation is there is reassuring to many. Of course, you must then answer emails politely also.
- By offering good guarantees. Good guarantees show that you are willing to divide the risk fairly with the customer. They require that you be willing to give.
- By volunteering. There are many ways to volunteer that are good marketing practices.
- By providing samples and examples that demonstrate what you have to offer. If they are actually usable, they are more powerful.
This comes back to treating your customers and clients like real people – people that you’d like to get to know. Anything you can do to enhance that helps. You can give through automated methods, IF they truly help and reach out. But you cannot substitute automation for a personal touch in everything.
When your business grows, or when you reach one of those plateau stages, it is tempting to add another business line, and if you are not careful, you can fragment your business, and make marketing much more difficult. There is certainly a time to grow, and when the time is right, careful planning and intelligent strategies can help to simplify your marketing tasks, and keep your business on track.
A business can expand in two ways:
- Adding companion products on a similar theme. This would be something like having shoes as your main product line, and deciding to add socks, or shoe care items, etc.
- By developing a new, totally unrelated product line, or one that is different enough that it requires separate marketing.
If you build info sites, or join MLM or direct sales businesses, the issues are much the same. Either you are growing with similar additions, or different ones.
The marketing issues are much simpler with the first option. You can just continue to market as you have been, through the same venues, but with the addition of mention of the new items. It is far easier to keep your marketing efforts focused when you do it this way.
For some people though, expansion in new directions is a good option, and while it really can complicate marketing, there are tactics that can help to keep it more manageable.
The problem is that when you add another product line that is very dissimilar from your first, you now have to market that product separately. You can share SOME marketing resources, but not all.
If you expand in this way too rapidly, or without forethought, you can fragment yourself and your business, and find it difficult to keep up with the new marketing challenges.
To keep it more practical, you may use the following tactics:
- Don’t add something when marketing your existing businesses is already overwhelming.
- Learn when you have to just let an opportunity pass you by. Keep a file of things you think are a good idea but which you do not have time for now. When you do have time, you can refer back to the list, and choose the best option.
- Market a corporation or umbrella business. This only works in some kinds of marketing – online it works ok, because you can register a single doorway site for all of your websites. Create a home page, and then create a single description page for each one of your sites, that is linked directly to the site. Give a bit of universal or objective information besides just your business description on each page to add value to the pages, and get better search engine traffic.
- Interlink your sites. Now, there is controversy over this! But you SHOULD at least interlink those sites that are relevant to one another. This will allow you to leverage the marketing of one site to the benefit of the others. Do not just link them on a Links page – use context links when appropriate.
- Do NOT put more than two URLs into your signature line. It is best to just promote a single URL for all of your businesses in your sig line.
- Make a list of article topics you can write about. Put the most appropriate URL at the bottom of them. Use article marketing to target individual sites or pages, do NOT use it to promote a doorway site. Article marketing has the most power when used to target highly specific traffic, and it will benefit you more if you use it that way.
When you grow your business in new directions, make sure you are able to keep up with what you are doing, and the extra burdens that the new line will place on you as well. If your current business is lagging due to lack of marketing, then you need to concentrate on marketing IT, rather than fragmenting yourself by adding another line that will just falter when you neglect it too.
Collaborations (Joint Ventures)
I really hate the term “Joint Venture” sometimes, because it has become a catch phrase for something quite a bit less than what it really is. I have chosen to use the word “collaboration”, because it encompasses a lot more than just a collaborative event or narrowly defined cooperation.
The whole point is, that you can cooperate with your associates, and even with your competitors. Some people are paranoid of cooperating with competitors, but when you do, you end up with a benefit to BOTH of you, instead of harming your business as you fear. It works especially well if you are each targeting a slightly different niche, or if you have related but not directly competitive products, but even direct competitors can cooperate to succeed. Any trade show is exactly that – everyone groups together to make a bigger splash than they could make on their own.
To make them work, you have to think outside the “internet marketing” box. It is not all about swapping email lists, nor is it all about giving away freebies. The truly effective joint ventures go way beyond that, and have far more power than just getting subscribers from a bunch of people who are used to ignoring emails and just want the freebies.
All a joint venture is, really, is two people agreeing to cooperate for mutual benefit. It can be very small, or it can be very large. In its infancy, it is a link exchange or ad trade. All grown up, it is an event, product launch, marketing plan, project collaboration, etc.
Joint ventures depend on relationships. You cannot approach someone for a collaboration that involves trust (even if it just means trusting you to follow through with your part of the work) unless they know something about how you work, communicate, and whether or not they feel they can depend on you. And that means finding ways to associate with others within your marketing arena.
Collaborations and Joint Ventures can come in any flavor, and are limited only by your creativity.
Some types of collaborations include:
- eBooks – You can join with others, either by cooperating as co-authors, or by requesting contributions from other authors in return for giving them credit. The eBook can be sold, or given away for viral marketing purposes.
- Ad Trades – These can be small, or large, and can take place in a wide variety of mediums.
- Projects – Development of products, launch of products, etc.
- Websites – You can collaborate with someone else to build a joint website.
- Events – Online or offline events are usually organized by one or more business people, and then other businesses are solicited to cooperate and participate. This is a joint venture on a large scale, and with several levels of participation.
In order to spot opportunities, you have to get out there and get to know people. Once you do that, you’ll start getting an idea of people with whom you can cooperate successfully, communicate with well, and work together with for mutual benefit.
Market Differentiation: Niche Marketing Defined
A niche is nothing more than a specialization – it can be a broad specialization, or a very specific one. A niche can be formed around a product, a specific group of people who buy that product, or the way you sell the product.
It is really just a variation on what has been called “Market Differentiation”. The concept here is, “Why would I buy from you instead of from the other thousands of people who are selling an identical product?”
Recently, the term “niche” has come to mean finding keywords that people want, but which have lower competition. As though, by applying a simple formula, you can guarantee business success. It is not nearly that simple, nor that limiting.
The scope of niche marketing is more than that. It has to do with making your business different in a way that appeals to a specific group of people who are under served. Sounds easy, but there are some catches to it.
- People who need what you have, may not know what to call it. They may be searching for it under the same terms as everyone else uses for a broad category that is not meeting their needs. For example, they may be searching for “Natural Diabetes Control”, and only able to find sites where someone is selling some herbal product, when what they really want is a pure informational site that is produced by an objective third party. How does one search for that, as different from the typical?
- Similar to the first problem, but distinctly different – You may have to use the same keywords as people who are not offering what they say they are – for example, in the work at home world, I have to use the terms “legitimate work at home”, because that is what I offer. BUT… thousands upon thousands of work at home sites, all of them with more powerful marketing budgets than I have, are using those same terms. And they DON’T mean what I mean. They advertise the same old half-scams which don’t work. Even if you target exactly who you want, you may have competition that makes it difficult for you to be found in the masses.
- Even when you have the right niche, and the right product, and the right keywords, you will still have competition. In our world, it is virtually impossible to create a site that does NOT have competition. If it did not have competition, it would not have good demand either… the nature of marketing. So niching is only a solution to more accurately targeting your market and finding the people who need what you have, it is not a means of eliminating all competition.
- If you create soft dolls in a unique way, and that is an overcrowded niche, but creating stuffed pigs is an under-served market, it does you no good if your particular brilliancy is in soft dolls! Sometimes what we do well enough to succeed at is just IN a crowded market. There may be ways that we can nudge it into a further specialization that narrows the focus some, but often there is not. I produce work at home information. Talk about a crowded niche! I am not competing with thousands, I am competing with millions. But that is what I am expert at, and that is what people who know what I do WANT me to do – there IS a demand for it, but it is still hard to compete. There would be no point in switching to a less crowded market if I am not good at actually creating the materials for that market. If you have to choose between what you are good at, and what the numbers say you should do, and you cannot find a balance, then go with your gut, and do what you do best.
- Your keywords have to target what you actually HAVE. A woman has a website that gets the number one search engine placement on a specific phrase. She uses that phrase in a unique way. Unfortunately, it is an industry term that high end developers are using in a different way. They come to her site, and do not find what they want, and they leave. She gets LOTS of natural search engine traffic on that one phrase, but she does NOT get customers, because they are not finding what they want. She occupies the top of the niche, but she is not able to get customers because they want something different than what she is offering.
- You have to market where your potential customers are. If you are using a net in the ocean, and you are trawling randomly, you may catch a fish or two, but you won’t do very well. If, on the other hand, you search out the schools of fish that are clustered together, you can dip in your net and bring up a haul. People are not fish, but they do tend to congregate in predictable groups. Find a way to market to groups of people who need what you have, and you’ll do much better than if you just blast ads at random.
Targeting a niche market is more than just picking keywords or deciding that you want to do a specific thing. It is reflected in everything you do, from the design and layout of your site, to the wording of your marketing materials, to the packaging of the product or service and the way you interact with your customers or clients.
Market differentiation or niching has some strong points too:
- You can form a niche around any uniqueness. Some potential niches are: unique product, unique service, better product, better service, higher value (more than just price), better service, more hand-holding in technical sales, lower price (not a good choice), for specific personality types (humorous, academic, busy, etc), for specific problem solving (hard to find size, health related, niche career problems, beginners, etc).
- You can choose a “crossover niche”. These can be very powerful. My Natural Diabetes Control site is a good example, because it hits the Diabetes niche, and the Natural Health niche, combining the two into a more specific niche that gets very good traffic.
- You can set up a website to target a broad niche, with individual pages that target more specific elements of that niche. A well-laid out site can draw visitors in from any page. Each individual page targets a certain topic, and is optimized for its own keyword set. Again, my Natural Diabetes Control site is a good example, because it has pages on Cinnamon and Diabetes, Aloe and Diabetes, etc. The site has about 60 pages of specific content, and only about 1% of the traffic comes in through the home page. The vast majority comes in through other pages, which are each targeted to a different mini-niche.
- You can build multiple websites, each with a slightly different focus. I have a website for Work at Home Moms that addresses the issues of balancing home and family, another that has step by step instructions, another that has work at home reviews, one that has step by step instructions for building AdSense sites, and a series of sites on marketing, web design, and business tactics that relate to the topic in one way or another. Each one of those sites targets a specific niche within the broad topic. And because I have more than one site, even though the competition is very stiff, people who come into one site are likely to look at another site of mine if they don’t find what they want on one of them (they are cross linked with relevant sites).
This concept applies no matter what you are selling. Even if you bought into an MLM or Direct Sales company, you still have to find a way to convince your prospective customers that they want to buy from YOU, and not from any one of the other distributors. You have to learn what makes your product unique, yes, but that is not enough. You, as your own individual company, need to find a way to set YOURSELF apart from the other distributors, especially if you intend to market online.
No matter what you do, whether you sell products, services, information, or whether you profit from advertising, you have to find a way to make your offerings unique and desirable, and to get them found. Targeting customers, marketing where they are likely to be, and providing something special is what sets the wannabes apart from the successes.
Some “experts” on free marketing will tout press releases as though they are a magic bullet. As another highly overused and abused marketing tactic, they are difficult to write well, and hard to get printed. When they do, they work very well, when they don’t, they are a waste of time.
The biggest hindrance to the effectiveness of press releases is narcissism. And it hinders not only the egotistical business owner, but it also makes it harder for all the honest and sensible ones!
You see, with a press release, there is one major concept that seems to elude self-centered business owners:
In order to get something printed, it must be NEWS!
Just because it is exciting to you, does not mean it is news. It needs to be interesting to OTHER people. Glorified ads aren’t interesting, they are trashy.
News is something that people WANT to know… That means it has significance to them aside from its relation to your business.
A business opening is usually news, IF the business is unique. Nobody cares that you joined an MLM and now have a product to sell. If you do something unique, and needed, then that is news.
If you are sponsoring an event that helps other people, that other people want to know about either to apply for help, or to assist in helping, that is news. If you are holding a sale and calling it an event, it is not news, it is advertising.
And even when something happens that IS news – you were honored with an award (makes your community look good too), or you got a contract that will allow you to hire more people, it is only news if it is the BEST news that can be found that day.
Timing is a fickle element that intrudes on press releases. It isn’t hard to get upstaged by someone else who did something bigger than what you did.
Crafting a good press release is a skill, and getting it noticed is even more of a skill. Since every single small business submits press releases, and since 99% of the press releases submitted are trash, you have about 5 seconds to persuade the reader that yours is NOT trash.
Now, I don’t submit press releases. I don’t have the time to bother submitting things to someone who is pretty certain to decide that someone else is doing something more important than what I am. But then, I live in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. There is no local press here. It is all in nearby towns, who are more concerned with what is going on THERE, than with what is going on here. Perhaps twice in 8 years of being in business, I have had an event that was newsworthy – I started a local newspaper – I revised and expanded the town website (twice, actually). But they would not care about the little triumphs, and I am smart enough to know that. So I don’t waste my time. I do things that have a far better chance of actually working.
Don’t think of press releases as free advertising. Think of them as someone to share truly important news with, and only expect them to appreciate the sharing if it makes their job of finding REAL news easier. When you use them that way, they can get your business name into the public eye in a way that gives you great credibility.
There seems to be a lot of confusion among new business owners as to what, exactly, networking IS. The most common misconception is that it is a whole new bunch of people to market to….. WRONG!!!
Networking consists of two facets:
- Getting to know people who have business experience and business knowledge or assets, which they are willing to use for mutual benefit, or which they are willing to share in the interests of kindness. You network in trade associations, business professional forums, MLM groups, and other gatherings of business people, to learn from one another, and to find prospects for joint ventures and collaborations.
- Participating as an expert in forums for people who need knowledge that you have. You do this to build relationships with prospective clients, but you HELP, and give good advice FIRST, and marketing is only a secondary (abstract) facet of that. You never market to them, you never advertise to them, you just be helpful, be a real person, and drop your signature line as an afterthought in case they want to contact you professionally.
You need to choose the networking venues with your purpose in mind. If you market to either one of these, you’ll fail! If you spam them, you’ll get kicked out. If you try to sell to people who are selling the same thing you are, you’ll not make any headway.
When people talk about how good a marketing tool networking is, they are not referring to some quick fix. They are talking about learning, developing relationships, collaborating, getting great ideas, and helping people who eventually become a customer. But the helping, the collaboration, and the giving happens FIRST.
If you just advertise to your networks, you’ll not have good results. It sounds faster, but is actually a dead end. The seemingly slower course DOES take time! But it pays off in solid and lasting dividends that are SO worth it.
I have met some people on forums that have truly benefited my life. At its simplest, we traded links. Some people put links to my new sites on their sites just because they loved the content, without asking for a return link. Someone on a forum asked me to be a guest speaker for their radio show – this was many months after I began to participate in the forum. I learned some new marketing and web design skills from conversations on one forum. I got a couple of web design contracts from another forum, but I did not ONCE offer outright to build a site for anyone! In fact, the only time I mentioned that I built sites was when someone asked me directly what I did to earn, or in a signature line (and my signature line varies with the topic). I have gained many lifelong customers from forums, but it was from polite and kind offers of help, not from advertising. I was offered the chance to participate as co-author in a viral eBook, given the opportunity to moderate a forum that helped to set me up as an expert, and I have been publicly praised for my expertise on forums. I have gained confidence to move forward with a new site venture from comments from other business owners on forums, and I have developed many personal friends.
Now, some forums are too chatty for me. I don’t need to hear that someone’s dog got sick, and I don’t need to read forwarded emails on my forums. I want information and conversation that helps me to succeed. Friendship woven into it is fine, but I don’t need the bulk of the mail to be frivolous topics. So I choose forums that don’t waste my time. Otherwise I could spend all day chatting and answering emails instead of working. That would not help me.
I choose forums that deal with topics that I need to learn, or that I can help someone else learn. I choose my trade associations and other networking venues the same way. They have to offer me something of value, and they have to have the potential to interact with other business owners in a way that benefits my business, instead of wasting my time or money. Networking, in that context, is very powerful.
Is it fast? No. Nothing truly good ever is! And it’s a bit of work, but no so much that it drowns you. Offering a sincere and helpful bit of information takes just 5-10 minutes.
Is it worth it? On every level, yes.
Even if your business is 100% online, offline events can still have a powerful effect. Not for all online businesses certainly, but for many. If you do an offline event correctly, you can do a great deal to help to establish a reputation that leads to sales and contacts later.
I think the most effective thing I ever did in the small town I am in is to participate in a local craft and business fair. I set up the crocheted doilies and banana bread on one end of the table, and the computers and business cards on the other end. My kids sold banana bread and crochets, and I talked to people about my computer and website design business.
Ever after, people in town associated me with computers. Even if they had not actually talked to me, they remembered me with that computer at that event. When they needed a computer service, they thought of me. In fact, that association was so powerful that even five years later, someone will still call me out of the blue here, and ask me if I still fix computers (I do only for local people now), because they remembered me there.
Events are a great way to get your face and a quick business message in front of a large number of people at one time. You can reach potentially thousands from a single effort. That is pretty amazing. And every single person who approaches your table does so because of interest.
You can gain one of two things from an event:
- Sales. Sometimes we go to an event to sell things. We set up a booth and a cash register and cash in on impulse buys. This works well for a range of businesses.
- Exposure. For service or large item retailers, you rarely make a sale at an event. You make contacts instead. You build relationships and create a presence. It is just as powerful as making sales on the spot, even though you may not see those results for a long time. The full effects of an event for a service business may occur over years.
Go prepared. If you have products, you need to have enough, but not so much that you get stuck with a bunch of unsold stuff. If you have a service business, go with plenty of brochures, business cards, and other handouts.
One of the keys to successful event participation is to give them something to remember you by. If all you can afford is a business card, then hand those out. If you can afford to hand out other kinds of bits, then do so. Events are a good place to hand out pens, keychains, magnets, etc. Save the more pricey stuff though for places where there are likely to be people who are really interested in your service.
Shake hands, be friendly and not pushy. Be a real person. Find a way to connect with the people who come to your booth. Enjoy the interaction, and people are more likely to respond to you.
Leave them with a good memory if you can, and with something tangible. If you manage that, you’ll reap the benefits for years beyond what you think they’ll ever remember.