Archives for October 2012

11 Small Business Marketing Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

Marketing Mistake Number 1: Sinking a Fortune Into an Unproven Product

Is your business idea built on market research or a hunch?

Entrepreneurs often fall in love with their products or services before they determine if there’s a real market, and they throw fistfuls of money into the venture. If you, your spouse, your uncle, and your neighbor think you’ve got a winning idea, that’s simply not enough qualified input to run to the bank and drain your savings account!

Avoid this mistake by:

  • Conducting your detective work (research).
  • Testing your business idea with the real marketplace.

Marketing Mistake Number 2: Believing That “If You Build It, They Will Come”

Do you think you have a product or service that will practically sell itself?

Trust me – you don’t.

There is a misconception among small business owners that, with the right product or service, your customers will simply “find” you when you open your doors for business. Whether you have a physical storefront on a corner lot in the busiest part of downtown, or a graphically pleasing online storefront offering easy access to your hot products and services, your customers will not find you if you do not market to them.

The day you open for business is the day you put on your “marketer’s hat” and never take it off. You must consistently move product, or schedule service time.

To stay in business you must profit.

To profit you must sell.

To sell you must market.

The good news is that, with a marketing strategy, you take the control out of your potential customers’ hands and put it into your own. If you have a product that will “practically sell itself,” then your marketing job will be easy. Just remember that the job must still be done.

Avoid this mistake by:

  • Defining your niche market and USP (Unique Selling Proposition) that differentiates you from your competition.
  • Developing a marketing action plan and strategy to reach your niche market with your USP message.

Marketing Mistake Number 3: Trying to Reinvent the Wheel

Marketing is an age-old practice with some very basic principles. Yet, I’m sure you’ve read many marketing information products that stress the importance of being innovative and creative with your marketing efforts. It’s easy to get caught up in the innovation process and forget that the REAL focus should be on results.

Avoid this mistake by:

  • Emulating success instead of trying to create something completely new. Please note that I am not saying, “copy” what others are doing. Look at the basic structure of a tactic, campaign, advertisement, or event and use the same formula as a basis for developing your own tactics.
  • Realizing great marketing ideas are used over and over again with just the right twist to make them fit a specific business. Focus on results, and choose imitation over innovation to create your own twist on a proven, winning technique.

Marketing Mistake Number 4: Over-Preparing and Doing Nothing

The fear of failure can be powerful. So powerful that we do everything we can think of to prevent it. Yet, there is a point at which we are so busy preparing, organizing, and researching to prevent failure that we never get around to the actual marketing of the business. Here are two things to
remember:

  1. Activity is not productivity.
  2. In order to sell a million of something, you have to sell the first ONE.

Avoid this mistake by:

  • Doing something! If you believe in your business and have done your detective work, it’s time to dive into the marketing pool. Start small, track results and build from there.
  • Not being afraid to make a mistake. Mistakes are the entry to success. At the very least, a failed promotion means you have SUCCESSFULLY determined what promotion does not work. And, to learn what does NOT work is a valuable tool in getting you closer to discovering what WILL work.

So, go ahead. Fail a little. It will make your eventual successes even sweeter.

Marketing Mistake Number 5: Boredom

When I was working for an ad agency many years ago, I had one client that was running an extremely successful ad campaign. After about six months, I received a phone call from the client. He wanted to develop an entirely new campaign. When I asked, “why?” he simply said, “I’m bored with the one we have.”

What?

That client may have had the money to spend on a new campaign due to “boredom” but you and I usually don’t. Yet, I’ve often seen my small business clients switch promotions for the same reason. This is detrimental to your business!

“Losing money” is a reason.

“Boredom” is not.

Avoid this mistake by:

  • Remembering that, what is old to you, is new to an untapped target market. If you have a promotion that is consistently getting you results, stick with it until results show you its time for change.
  • Testing new promotions without abandoning the current one. Then track results. Never swap a current promotion with a new one that hasn’t been tested.


Marketing Mistake Number 6: Relying on Networking to Generate Sales Leads 

Joining the Chamber of Commerce and schmoozing at association meetings can put you in contact with vendors and possible joint venture partners, and will be invaluable exposure for you as a community supporter – but it will rarely generate substantial sales leads.

Everyone else who attends these “meet and greet” assemblies is there to do the same thing you are. You may be able to make some valuable contacts for future ventures and promotions, but one-on-one networking is time-consuming and results are unpredictable.

Avoid this mistake by:

  • Treating networking opportunities the same as any other marketing tactic. Track results by determining your costs and measuring your payback.

Marketing Mistake Number 7: Doing What Your Competitors Do

It’s important to be aware of what your competitors are offering, but do not let it dictate the strategy you use for your own business.

If your competitor wants to be the low price leader, let him. Don’t try to become the “lower price” leader. Chances are this will lead you to financial problems because it will thrust you into an ugly price war. If your competitor wants to tout low prices, then you focus on value.   Bargain hunters don’t necessarily want the lowest price. They want the best VALUE. Make what you have to offer something of value.

Avoid this mistake by:

  • Finding an unmet need or want of your target market, and fill it to differentiate your products and services from your competitors.
  • Giving customers a reason to choose you over your competitors. Define your USP, and identify your niche market


Marketing Mistake Number 8: Not Targeting a Specific Market  

If you believe your market is “everybody,” you will struggle to attract people who will buy from you. The value of target (niche) marketing is one of the toughest sells I make to my clients. They understand the logic of it, but the “fear of losing a potential customer” gets the best of them.  Avoid this mistake by:

  • Viewing the practice of niche marketing as inclusive, not exclusive.

Think of your business as part of a person’s support group. It’s logical to say, “Everybody needs a support group so my business should attract everyone.” But, will it? People – your customers – want to go to a support business that understands their specific concerns, needs, and wants. Make sure you ARE that business by targeting a niche market.

Marketing Mistake Number 9: Targeting a Market You Can’t Reach or One That Can’t Afford You

Targeting a niche market is the smartest way to market. Yet, targeting a market that is too specific will limit your ability to succeed long term. For example, a market that might be too specific would be: female pilots under the age of 35 who fly ONLY New York to London flights. That’s a pretty narrow market to sustain your business in the long term unless you can capture the ENTIRE market with a product or service that has a high profit point and customers need to use or replace it often.

In that same vein, a market that is begging for the service or product you have but cannot afford it will also be a business impossible to sustain. Never compete for someone’s rent money. Your target market must have the means to buy your products and services.

Avoid this mistake by:

  • Creating your customer profile to identify characteristics of your potential buyers,
  • Identifying a niche market,
  • Examining the long term potential for new and repeat sales.

Marketing Mistake Number 10: Focusing On Acquiring New Customers Instead of Promoting to Current or Previous Customers

When you first start a business you have little choice but to focus on gaining new customers. The cost of finding those new customers can be expensive, which is one reason it is so important to really target a specific niche. However, once you’ve made just one sale, you’re ready to start looking at other marketing options.

Wouldn’t you like to:

.. slash your marketing costs by half or more?
.. reach proven buyers for your service or products?

That little goldmine of proven buyers available to you “on the cheap” is already yours in the form of current and previous customers.

Any respected marketing guru, past or present, online or offline, will tell you that the biggest asset your company has is your customer base.

Avoid this mistake by:

  • Realizing that, when a sale is finalized, it is the beginning of your relationship with that customer, not the end.
  • Offering additional products or services to current customers. If you don’t have your own to offer them, then develop a referral, joint venture or product bundling program so you can reap profits from your already-interested (and buying) customers.

Marketing Mistake Number 11: Not Systematically Following Up on Leads

The least expensive part of business is making the sale. The most expensive is generating leads – finding the people who are interested in what you have.

Once you find people who express an interest in what you have to offer – whether they buy from you or not – you MUST develop a follow up system that will keep marketing to those interested prospects. A person who has expressed interest in your products and services is far more likely to eventually buy from you than someone who did not respond at all!

Avoid this mistake by:

  • Curbing the tendency to become obsessed with generating more leads until you have exhausted the ones you already have.
  • Developing an easy, systematic follow up for leads, designed to convert a “maybe” into a “yes.”

Susan Carter is the author of SPLASH Marketing for Overworked Small Business Owners. She can be reached via email at susancarter@successideas.com or visit her web site athttp://www.successideas.com.

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What will get your email blocked ?

When thinking about tips for successful email deliverability, let’s first look at the inverse – what will get your email blocked or junked by an ISP or other receiver?

There are 6 primary ways an ISP (let’s focus in them for simplicity) will block or filter your commercial messages.

Primary ways to have your message fail the deliverability test

1)Technical/Authentication: Most ISPs now require that your messages are authenticated using SPF and increasingly DKIM. Other technical aspects such as a misconfigured sending infrastructure and X-headers can cause blocking.

2)ISP Protocols: Each ISP has its own rules on things such as the number of emails they will receive per hour from a sender; the need to build up a reputation on your IP address before they will allow you to send high volumes, etc.

3)Content/Coding: While becoming less of a factor, most receivers still incorporate various rules related to content (certain spammy words, ratio of image to text that is too high, etc.) and improper HTML code.

4)Bounces: Too many emails sent to bad email addresses is a sure way to find your emails in the junk folder.

5)Blocklists/Blacklists: Most ISPs have their own “blacklists” or “blocklists” but some also incorporate external lists such as those maintained by MAPS and Spamhaus. Senders are placed on these lists for a variety of issues including recipient complaints and sending to “spamtrap” email addresses.

6)Abuse (Spam) Complaints/Reputation/Relevance: Now the most important factor in their algorithms, ISPs are increasingly looking at the engagement level of each individual recipient with your emails. The idea being that if one recipient never opens or clicks on an email, the ISP may filter the sender’s emails to the junk folder for that recipient. But for another recipient that engages with the emails, the emails would continue to be delivered to their inbox, even if there was a relatively high spam complaint rate for a specific message. But spam complaints remain the key reason your emails will be filtered.

So assuming you have: A) Properly configured your emails; B) Correctly authenticated them; C) Are using proper HTML code and regularly run your messages though a code and content checker; and D) Are conducting regular list hygiene; then your focus should be on increasing engagement and minimizing spam complaints.

Increasing Engagement & minimizing complaints

1)Managing Expectations: The top reasons subscribers hit the spam button is: The emails are irrelevant; Come too frequently; and they don’t trust the unsubscribe link. So the beginning of the relationship is key: tell subscribers what they will receive and how often during the opt-in process. Reinforce this with a welcome email or series that reinforces what they will receive and the benefits of the email program.

2)Providing value: Make your emails relevant by collecting their preferences and delivering targeted content. Use triggered emails based on their individual data (e.g., birthday, anniversary) and behavior (recent purchases, links clicked, etc.) to deliver truly relevant content. Don’t just sell, provide content that adds value, surprises, educates and helps the recipient solve a problem.

3)Making it Easy to Change the Relationship: If you know going in that some subscribers will want your emails less frequently or their interests will change, make it easy for them to modify their email relationship through a preference center that also makes it easy to unsubscribe (the alternative being the spam button). Also make these options known within the emails and welcome program.

Guest post by Loren McDonald of Silverpop

New Short Sales Program Nov 1st…

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively Frannie) are requiring mortgage servicers to complete short sales under one uniform approval process, called the Standard Short Sale/HAFA IIFrannie expects this streamlined process will make short sales uniform, faster, easier and clearer. Under this new program:

  • homeowners current on their mortgage payments will be eligible for a short sale if they meet other hardship criteria;
  • Frannie will wave deficiency collection in exchange for a “cash contribution” from borrowers meeting specific financial guidelines (contribution not to exceed 20% of the borrower’s reserve funds or other assets);
  • members of the military who are being relocated will be automatically eligible for the program; and
  • Frannie will offer up to $6,000 to second lien holders to speed the short sale.

Homeowners with Frannie-held mortgages may be eligible for a short sale if they meet one of the program’s hardship criteria, including:

  • death of a borrower or co-borrower;
  • divorce;
  • unemployment;
  • disability; or
  • relocation for a job.

The new guidelines are effective November 1, 2012.

first tuesday Insight

Frannie’s newly broadened eligibility requirement for a short sale ought to be a gift to underwater homeowners current on their payments. It ought to stimulate the housing market by leaving homeowners’ credit intact, allowing the pool of employed homebuyers to remain undiminished while freeing-up more properties for sale. No penance necessary for underwater homeowners before entering into a new home loan agreement. Right?

Related article:

July Letter to the Editor: The credit score damage: foreclosure vs. shortsale

Wrong. Recent reports on the effect of the standardized HAFA II short sale on non-delinquent homeowner credit reveal that delinquent and non-delinquent homeowners who participate in this program will be given the same treatment by credit reporters. No NOD? No matter; a short sale is a short sale due to a discounted payoff of the mortgage, and that at the FICO level remains an indicator of a high-risk borrower. The homeowner did not pay the lender as agreed to in the note and trust deed — period.

Related article:

L.A. Times: Fannie-Freddie short-sale program may hurt sellers’ credit scores

Sincere agents will counsel their short sellers of potential damage these transactions will do to credit scores. To best defend their sellers, agents must ensure the loan payoff agreement on a short sale includes a provision that the lender will report the payoff to the credit agencies as “paid as agreed.” Without written lender consent in the form of a “paid as agreed provision” in the final payoff documents, the seller’s credit will be destroyed – by systemic design.

Even though this credit score penalty limits the incentive for homeowners to rid themselves of their negative equity asset, many homeowners will still choose to short sell without sensing they are “guilty” of a default if the option is given to them. All this meansFrannie’s new program will likely increase the number of short sales transactions.

Though not ideal, Frannie-encouraged short sales will allow more underwater homeowners to escape their negative equity. That, most importantly for the family, will free them of excessive payments for housing and allow them a fresh start toward a higher standard-of-living, which has suffered in this Lesser Depression.

The MLS result: more homes for sale in the housing market — and more fees for agents.

Some things will remain unchanged in this matrix. Demand will be reduced as the short-sale seller exits homeownership, unable to soon purchase a new home funded by a purchase-assist mortgage. They will be removed from the market, no differently than in the past, pre-Frannie hype. However, by accelerating the process of moving homeowners out of their negative equity properties, the process of recovery will also be hastened. In the meantime, the rental market can thank Frannie for growing the population of tenants.

10 Key Components of a Marketing Plan

If you’re thinking about developing a marketing program, you need to begin with a marketing plan. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be complicated in order to work. Here are the ten basic parts of a marketing plan.

If you’re thinking about developing a marketing program, you need to begin with a marketing plan. Having been in marketing for more than a decade, I have seen my share of marketing plans. Some are short and to the point, others are hundreds of pages thick and cost thousands of dollars to produce.

The irony is that many of the expensive marketing plans end up on a shelf and rarely get implemented. The simple plans, if researched and implemented effectively, have the greatest impact.

Regardless of the scope of your marketing plan, you must keep in mind that it is a fluid document. Every business needs to begin with a well structured plan that is based in thorough research, competitive positioning and attainable outcomes. Your plan should be the basis for your activities over the coming months. However, you should always be willing to enhance or redirect your plan based on what proves successful.

Marketing Plan Basics

1. Market Research
Collect, organize, and write down data about the market that is currently buying the product(s) or service(s) you will sell. Some areas to consider:

  • Market dynamics, patterns including seasonality
  • Customers – demographics, market segment, target markets, needs, buying decisions
  • Product – what’s out there now, what’s the competition offering
  • Current sales in the industry
  • Benchmarks in the industry
  • Suppliers – vendors that you will need to rely on

2. Target Market
Find niche or target markets for your product and describe them.

3. Product 
Describe your product. How does your product relate to the market? What does your market need, what do they currently use, what do they need above and beyond current use?

4. Competition
Describe your competition. Develop your “unique selling proposition.” What makes you stand apart from your competition? What is your competition doing about branding?

5. Mission Statement
Write a few sentences that state:

  • “Key market” – who you’re selling to
  • “Contribution” – what you’re selling
  • “Distinction” – your unique selling proposition

6. Market Strategies
Write down the marketing and promotion strategies that you want to use or at least consider using. Strategies to consider:

  • Networking – go where your market is
  • Direct marketing – sales letters, brochures, flyers
  • Advertising – print media, directories
  • Training programs – to increase awareness
  • Write articles, give advice, become known as an expert
  • Direct/personal selling
  • Publicity/press releases
  • Trade shows
  • Web site

 

7. Pricing, Positioning and Branding
From the information you’ve collected, establish strategies for determining the price of your product, where your product will be positioned in the market and how you will achieve brand awareness.

8. Budget
Budget your dollars. What strategies can you afford? What can you do in house, what do you need to outsource.

9. Marketing Goals
Establish quantifiable marketing goals. This means goals that you can turn into numbers. For instance, your goals might be to gain at least 30 new clients or to sell 10 products per week, or to increase your income by 30% this year. Your goals might include sales, profits, or customer’s satisfaction.

10. Monitor Your Results
Test and analyze. Identify the strategies that are working.

  • Survey customers
  • Track sales, leads, visitors to your web site, percent of sales to impressionBy researching your markets, your competition, and determining your unique positioning, you are in a much better position to promote and sell your product or service. By establishing goals for your marketing campaign, you can better understand whether or not your efforts are generating results through ongoing review and evaluation of results.As mentioned earlier in this article, be sure to use your plan as a living document. Successful marketers continually review the status of their campaigns against their set objectives. This ensures ongoing improvements to your marketing initiatives and helps with future planning.

    Michael Fleischner is the founder and President of  MarketingScoop.com. He has appeared on major media including the TODAY Show, Bloomberg Radio, and more. With more than 12 years of marketing experience, Michael has developed major brands as well as a variety of businesses in need of leading marketing programs.

 

8 Ways to Get More from Your Existing Database

Are you leveraging your existing customer database?  If you’re not, you’re losing out on a cost effective source of potential new business.  Here are eight ways you can get more business from your current customers.

For many of us – especially those in service businesses – our existing and previous customers are vital for three reasons:

1. They have already bought from us, so providing they had a good experience, they might buy from us again.  We also know that getting a new customer is much more expensive than selling to an existing customer, so by continuing to sell to them, we are really saving ourselves some money.
2.  They can give us invaluable feedback on how we did.  Was our service good enough?  Did we delight them or were we ‘just ok’.  Did our product meet their expectations?  Was it good value for money?  And so on.3. They continue to save us money because they should be our major source of referrals and new business.   So through them, we get access to new clients who already know about us and have a positive opinion of what we do.

Most clients I meet are not leveraging their existing customer database, and by not doing so, are losing out on a cost effective source of potential new business. Many receive referrals – for which they are grateful – but it’s not because they actively sought the referral, or had a strategy in place to ask for it.

Here are 8 ways to maximize the value from your most valuable asset:

Delight your Clients
Anyone with half a brain can satisfy a customer. But only when you continually delight customers will they keep coming back. You should aim to exceed your customers expectations on every interaction that they have with you. Do this consistently, and you will have a customer for life.

For example, you think your loyal client could benefit from reading a section of your ebook or an article you’ve written? Surprise them and make it a gift. Sure, you could say, “I’ll give you a fifty percent discount.” Forego the money. Give your client a reason to stick around and spend a thousand dollars instead.

Personalize, personalize, personalize
“We are entering an era where one size no longer fits all-or even a few. We are entering an era where one size fits one. It is highly personalized, customer-centric, customer-driven.” (From One Size Fits One: Building Relationships One Customer and One Employee at a Time).

Known variously as customer relationship management (CRM) and one-to-one marketing, personalization is being practiced by businesses large and small across all sectors of the economy. The message here is simple: you want to lavish personal attention on customers who are going to reciprocate by being consistently good purchasers of your product or service.

Give these customers an incentive to share information about themselves that you can use when you contact them next. The more your customers feel as though you are treating them individually, the more likely they are to continue their relationship with you.

Provide Guarantees
A guarantee is a powerful tool for keeping your customers when they might otherwise go elsewhere. With a good guarantee, you tell your customers where and how to complain, and that complaining is worth their time and effort. It also shows that you care. A good guarantee is unconditional, easy to understand, meaningful, easy to invoke and easy to collect on.

Ask for Feedback
If you don’t know what your customer thinks about you, your business, your product and your services, then you might as well close shop.

People will endorse your business not because they think it looks good, but because they know it is good. If they have problems with your services, customers are the best source of objective advice on how to make improvements. So have a process in place where you regularly ask them for feedback. And once they’ve given it to you, let them know how you are going to use it. They will begin to feel involved in your business, and are more likely to send other people your way.

Reward them for being Loyal
Loyalty marketing programs are designed to engender loyalty and increase sales from your best customers. When properly designed and executed flawlessly, loyalty programs provide a vital link between your business and your customers, improving customer satisfaction and increasing sales. Here are some commonly used ideas for creating your own loyalty program:

  • preferable rates for loyal customers
  • provide bonus product or service if they have bought before
  • programs that promote multiple purchases (buy 3 and get the 4th free)
  • Points program – each purchase is worth points. When they amass a certain number of points they get a reward of some kind

Keep in Touch
Keeping in touch with your customers is about maintaining relationships. Customers are most likely to keep buying from you if you have a strong relationship – if they trust you and your product/service. Your keep in touch strategy should consider:

  • the best way to stay in contact (email, telephone, hardcopy newsletter etc)
  • frequency (monthly, quarterly event-based), and
  • what to talk about (what your company is doing, industry information, tips and hints, useful resources etc)

A Keep in Touch program is not the place for a hard sell. Keep it information based, concise and interesting

Implement a Referral process
Be very clear about who you want as a referral and why. The quality of referrals you receive depends on how well your customers understand what you are looking for. The best way to do this is to write it down for them, or discuss it in some detail – don’t assume they already know. At the conclusion of every sale, ask them if they know of any other people who would be interested in your service.

Thank them for referrals – every time
Finding a way to thank your customers for referrals lets them know that you value them for their efforts. It makes them feel recognized, and it reinforces the behavior so they consider referring to you again. A thank you can be as simple as a hand written card, sent through the mail, to a set of movie tickets, a voucher, or even just a phone call.

There are so many ways that we can go one step further with the people who already buy from us. Make this a focus of your marketing efforts and you will soon see the rewards come back in the form of increased referrals and increased sales.

Megan Tough, MBA, Qualified Coach
Director Complete Potential
www.completepotential.com