Notes from Jeff York

Small business marketing thoughts from a marketing small business owner

Posts Tagged ‘business

It’s a solution, not my solution

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scarybox1I was once attached to a company that actively sought out to put themselves into the following trap:

Generate a suite of business solutions that we can hang our hat on. These solutions will serve the majority of businesses regardless of their market position and valuation. By generating a suite of “off the shelf” solutions, the company will save on resources that otherwise would have to go to generating unique solutions for every new client. Furthermore, once our sales team learns the suite, they can speak very passionately and effectively about it to prospects.

That company is no longer in business. This practice was a major contributor to their demise.

Quick, name two companies that operate exactly the same. Name two companies for which an off-the-shelf solution (software, operational, marketing, or otherwise) could quickly be immediately integrated and effective. You can’t because there is none.

Every business faces different challeneges dependent on a host of variables from their marketspace to their corporate values. Two different companies that make identical widgets do so in different ways.

I recently was connected to an organization which created boilerplate new business pitches. The budget that followed the boilerplate was, of course, customized to reflect the client and project, but the majority of the paperwork was submitted untouched. If you try to play this game, you put your chances of winning the business in peril. Your proposal comes off being to generic and ends up being as ineffective as a generic cover letter.

It takes work to get work. Anything worth having is worth working for. By taking the extra time to generate proposals and solutions for each individual situation shows that you are earnest when you say “I want to work with you. I want to do work for you.”

Written by Jeff York

October 16, 2009 at 2:27 pm

You CAN get there from here.

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signpostFrom when I was young, I remember a TV commercial where someone stopped for directions to Bar Harbor, Maine. The reply came in a very thick Maine accent: “You can’t git therah from hereh.”

The phrase has popped up in my life from time to time. But it’s when it pops up in my professional life that I get most disturbed.

The idea of “it can’t be done” or “you can’t get there from here” is very foreign to me. I recently fielded a call from a new client. He knows that I touch all types of marketing, but already had established a relationship with a graphic artist before we started working together. To his credit, he wants to remain loyal to his vendors. That’s why that graphic artist got the call when his company decided last minute to place a full-color ad in a nationally distributed magazine. The client was very clear in what he wanted and the graphic artist tried his best, but ultimately submitted sub-par work stating that there wasn’t enough time to carry out the request and that “it can’t be done.”

The client and I are of like mind. To use his words, “If you throw enough effort or resource into something, it can get done.” That’s right, Mr. Client. You can get there from here, no matter where ‘there’ and ‘here’ are.

He called me on a Thursday night. I had approval of the ad by Monday night and it went to print.

I’m not trying to brag (although, maybe I am just a little). I’m trying to illustrate that there is ALWAYS a solution to be found somewhere. If you have a clear definition of the destination and you’re creative enough, connected enough, and/or savvy enough to build the path, you can make it happen.

Easier said than done? Sure. That’s why when you do it, the client loves you. That’s why when new competition knocks on your client’s door, your client calls you to laugh about it.

Are you prepared for the next fire drill? What are you doing today that will allow you to deliver superior service tomorrow? Are you networking and meeting new vendors? Are you researching new concepts and technologies?

Do you have a success story that you’d like to share that we can all learn from?

Wanted: The best and the brightest

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canonical-ubuntu-help-wantedYou know how important good employees are to your organization. In fact, before you started your own business, it’s likely that you were a good employee to someone yourself.

On the flip side, adding a staff, or even starting a staff, is a very scary and expensive proposition. The employee sees the net on their paycheck and that’s how much they cost, right? Of course not. You have all those extras you have to pay for: self-employment tax, workspace expenses, benefits. The list goes on.

So, you need a staff, but you know that hiring the wrong people is a very expensive mistake to learn. What do you do to ensure that you minimize that risk?

Much of it depends on the type of position you are looking to fill. Is this a front line person that needs basic skills and needs to be dependable? Is this a manager that is going to generate leadership and drive a department? Is this someone that you might need as your right hand person with the possibility of having as a partner.

Ads in the paper for front line employees have become a very last-century activity. In fact, many papers are just a fraction of their former selves due to the acceptance of the Internet as a tool for job seekers and the lack of advertising/classified dollars. You have to post your position(s) where the most eyeballs will be. Monster and Careerbuilder are just two of the possible ways you can look to fill your positions. I’m a strong advocate of posting positions on your own website regardless of the level of the position. People who are really interested in your company are more valuable than those simply looking for a job.

It’s helpful to start to network to find a strong manager for your company. Talk to people you know and place feelers out there in your connected community. Let people know you’re interested. People that know people are often an excellent source of information about a candidate beyond what you might find on their resume.

But don’t let any of this work and expense be the reason for not adding to staff. If you’re growing your sole proprietorship, then you’re likely at the ceiling point where you might not be able to grow your business any further. Besides a second set of hands, new employees can also be an extra set of eyes and another prespective on problem solving.

Written by Jeff York

September 8, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Go ape with your marketing

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StreetTeam2Not that I necessarily advocate this type of marketing, but it’s likely you may have heard about it so I thought I would spend this week’s post educating you about it.

It’s called Guerilla Marketing. Depending on the type of business you are, this might be a viable option for you as long as you understand the ramifications behind it.

The term Guerilla Marketing is used to cover a number of different marketing activities, but at the essence it’s a very active in-your-face type of marketing. It might be street teams hired to go out into crowded shopping/tourist areas and hand out samples of your product. It might be people walking down the sidewalk handing out leaflets on your business. It might be a hot air balloon with your logo flying over a local event. Or it might be completely transforming an ordinary bus stop using product that your store carries.

The common theme among these examples is the desire to be so different and non-traditional that the acts serves to cut through the clutter with a chainsaw. These are often highly interruptible forms of advertising forcing you to stop and experience the brand. If done in a positive way, this can be a very effective form of marketing. However, much also depends on the kind of business you are. I’ve seen this work exceptionally well for a Top 40 radio station, but it would be highly detrimental to the brand of a more upscale type business (can you imagine Swarovski Crystal trying something like this?).

Think about your ideal new customer for a minute? Would they mind if you shook them out of their daily routine to experience you? Would they embrace the event you’ve planned? Will the event work in concert with the other marketing that you are executing?

Have you done guerilla marketing in the past? Have you experienced success? Do you have stories you can share with us?

Written by Jeff York

July 27, 2009 at 4:23 pm

How much is that little doggie in the (virtual) window?

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ers7lrgI love electronics. Like oh-so-many other guys, I like going into my local electronics retailer and picking up and playing with the gadgets. I may not buy them, but they’re fun to play with. I remember one year telling my wife that I was going to take my birthday as a vacation day from work and spend the morning at Best Buy.

You’ve done it yourself I’m sure. You’ve gone into a Best Buy, Circuit City, Fry’s, CompUSA, or any of the other brick-and-mortar electronics retailers and just played. You might have gone in for something specific and just got sidetracked or maybe you were just going in to have fun and kill some time. But you’ve tinkered.

Then came the Internet. And with it, ease of comparison shopping. Then the brick-and-mortar that you visited just became the playground to test out new gear. You figured out which model you wanted and then went home where you could find it online for the cheapest price from a company that you hope wouldn’t drop it too many times before it shipped.

What happened to the brick-and-mortar stores? Circuit City is gone with its brand sold to a company that maintains an online-only presence. CompUSA is gone as well. Even market leader Best Buy is reporting in 1st Q 09 a domestic segment increase of almost 1%, but comparable store sales decline of 4.9%.

What does all this mean to you, the small business owner?

You know all that overhead you endure month after month? The salarys, the building and maintenance cost? The inventory? Know how you work so hard to generate positive foot traffic so people come in?

Ask yourself, if you were in your customer’s shoes, would you buy from you?  Is there a compelling reason for someone to buy from you rather than just play with your floor models and then go home and order it?

Of course there is. You know all the reasons as well as I do. First and foremost, the item’s already in the customer’s hands. Why let them put it down and then go home? They have have it TODAY. Despite the rigors of the current economy, we’re still a nation of “gotta have it now” people. Secondly, your staff is there to support you if you need to learn how to use it, need to select a better one, or return it. No need to ship it off to some post office box. Just bring it back and you’re happy to help. Thirdly… Fourthly… Fifthly…

You know all the reasons. I don’t need to tell you. But you do need to tell your customers. Before you become a Circuit City, CompUSA, or Ritz Camera, you had better make sure that your marketing and branding all position you against your competition correctly. And don’t forget, your competition includes all those faceless retailers that don’t even have a storefront.

It’s on sale

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L4-77782As I write this, today is one of the major national holidays: Independence Day. Around many of the holidays, many retailers (and other small businesses) decide to take the opportunity to go into sale mode.

On a fundamental level, just what is a sale? It’s when you take your goods and/or services and discount their price point in hopes of spurring buying behaviors.

Is this a good idea? To help you decide, let’s take a look at both sides of the equation.

Pro:

Lowering your price is the perfect reason to ramp up your marketing efforts. You have an intrinsic reason for advertising. Your advertising takes on a more active voice rather than branding-oriented and compels immediate action. Generating more traffic to your business increases the likelihood that customers will buy more than what they came for. Decreasing the price of certain merchandise helps move that product making way for new items for which you might want to dedicate shelf space.

Con:

Lowering your price implies that you’ve been overcharging all along. Having sales increases foot traffic which demands that you increase staffing to accommodate. Creating a sales mentality with your customer base may create a situation where they will not buy an item until you place it on sale. Lowering price means you have to sell more product to realize the same profit.

Before going into sale mode, determine if the reasons for having a sale benefit you in the long run. If your product/service is currently priced correctly, then there might not be a need for lowering it. Having a sale is often a good short term cash flow fix which in turn creates long term branding issues.

Written by Jeff York

July 4, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Can you manage to be a leader?

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Happy05You walk into the office on Monday. You know that there’s a project due soon so you check in with key employees that have been assigned parts to find out their status and expected delivery time. You meet with other employees that you need to join the process and give them the appropriate materials and guidelines so they can start. You then head to your desk to provide a status report to your supervisor. Then it’s time to dive into your inbox and coffee while thinking how well the day has started.

Leadership or management? You might think this is an easy one, but in reality, I haven’t given you enough information to make a determination.

Leadership and management are status-independent activities. Certainly you manage down to your employees, but you can also manage up (ever have a boss that needs you more than you need him?) and even manage sideways. I’ve known many first rung employees that have demonstrated tremendous natural leadership.

Leadership comes from your actions and interactions. Leadership comes from within and is projected outward. Leadership is the ideal building block from which to build management skills that will create an environment of success.

So back to the original example. We know that our hero is managing people and a process. But was he leading?

To the first group, he took the time to understand the challenges they faced and listened to what they would need to continue forward. He worked with them to develop a feasible plan to enable them to be successful. To the second group, he shared the vision of what the project was about and what they hoped to accomplish. He invited feedback and insights into how the new group could add to the team. And he didn’t leave until they knew how they could get support from him if they needed it before the next check in.

Communication, actions, and attitude all contribute to your position as a leader.

It’s not about being soft and easily manipulated. It’s not about never making a mistake either. It’s about trying to do the best by the team at all times. It’s about having people want to follow you.

Following is always a voluntary activity. There is no such thing as a leader with no followers.

Written by Jeff York

June 28, 2009 at 12:09 am

Put a face on that

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vinceshamwowEvery so often, I come into contact with a business or a business’s ad agency that wants to explore the idea of a pitchman or spokesman. They see others doing it in their advertising and they think it must be a great idea.

It can be…or it can be a critical and expensive disaster.

Before going down this road, let’s think for a minute what you’re actually doing by adding a spokesman to your marketing. You are hoping that the equity from this famous person will translate into legitimacy for your business and product. This immediately rules out one class of spokesman: the infamous.

How big is your business? Are you currently local with hopes of going regional? Are you on the cusp of reaching into new national markets? This will also help you determine how much “celebrity” to bring on board. Why pay for a top dollar famous actor when you’re just reaching into a local market? This may seem like common sense to some, but believe me, it’s come up in conversation with business owners.

On the reverse, is the person you’re considering really a celebrity with all of your prospective clients? This comes into play often when using a professional sports figure. Recently I was part of a discussion as to using players from the local women’s college basketball team. The client loves women’s basketball. The sales rep loves this particular women’s college basketball team. Neither is part of a good reason to select a spokesman from this pool. Additionally, unless you’re grabbing one of the best off of a team, even at the pro level, it’s not likely going to be a hit.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is this spokesman willing to be on your team? Is this person in it for the check or your success? Most celebrities that I’ve worked on commercial shoots for are in it for the quick buck. They’re pros and they walk in, do what’s expected of them, and walk away. I’ve also been attached to projects where a celebrity clearly loves the client. They want the product to succeed. This invariably translates well into all of the marketing components.

Here’s another thought…create a character instead of using a spokesman. They don’t even have to be a fictious character. Dave Thomas from Wendy’s was a classic example of someone that was an immediate successful face on the business. Until his death in 2002, Dave served as a steller face on the brand and brought success to the organization not seen since the Clara Peller “Where’s the Beef?” campaign.

Tell me something I don’t know

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600px-information_iconsvgI want to share something with you. You could have found it on your own, but you didn’t. Maybe I use Internet search tools better than you do. Maybe I needed this information before you did. Or maybe I have more free time on my hands than you do. But the bottom line is you and I might have similar interests, similar levels of curiosity, or have the occasion to solve similar problems. And I have information you might want or need.

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of having to search the whole of the Internet, you could just tap into my bookmarks or my central depository of information?

Wouldn’t it be even better if you could find a group of people like us. And we’d all be willing and able to share what we know?

Like a lawyer asking a question in a courtroom, you have to know that I already know the answer.

Delicious. Or wait. Maybe Wikipedia. Or StumbleUpon. Or even my own wiki that I only let certain people have the password to. Maybe I don’t have THE answer after all since there is no ONE answer.

The bottom line is information is power and in today’s online world, people are willing to give that power away for free all the time.

Your online information gathering is so important that your OS or browser has some way of backing up your bookmarks. That information that you have deemed important enough to have it added to your browser’s database is probably very interesting to me. Let’s share.

A typical organization has vast amounts of internal knowledge and wisdom that it has gathered over the years. How is it being stored, vaulted, and recalled as needed? Do people sit around the company elders and have them spin yarns. Or is there a central database where anyone that needs the information has ready access, yet secure enough to be protected against competitor’s prying eyes.

On a personal level, how to you collect and store your information? How much are you willing to share?

At the corporate level, do you know of any positive examples where company knowledge and wisdom is collected, protected, and made available on an as-needed basis?

Written by Jeff York

May 30, 2009 at 9:20 am