Notes from Jeff York

Small business marketing thoughts from a marketing small business owner

Posts Tagged ‘small business

Wanted: The best and the brightest

leave a comment »

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

Say that again…and again

leave a comment »

shouting1Having an on-target message is only part of the formula you need for a successful marketing campaign. What good is a solid, well-crafted message if no one hears it? Putting it into the right channels (tv, radio, etc.) to reach the right demographic is crucial. But if you ever have the chance to talk shop with a media buyer, you will hear them talk about reach and frequency.

Reach is putting the right message into the right channel to reach the desired people. If you’re a mom-and-pop business with a small local hardware store, do you really need to spend the money reaching across the entire state or will a local campaign be more effective?

What I wanted to talk about this week is the importance of frequency. It is often the most neglected part of the media buy. Failure in mass media marketing often comes at the hands of well-intentioned, but inexperienced media reps that overestimate an advertiser’s goals or budget.

The narrative often starts with a sales rep that makes a living from selling one form of media and one single channel (one group of radio stations, one newspaper, one tv channel, etc.) and a neophyte business owner. They have been trained and know the power of their particular offering. They have a meeting with a business owner who is looking to grow their business. They may not need to buy the entire coverage area that the sales reps offers, but that’s all the rep can offer. The campaign starts, it’s more expensive than the business owner needs (the business owner is paying a premium for reach without any benefit from it) and pulls the plug on the whole program early, thereby ending all frequency. Even in the areas where the message would have had effect, the ending of the campaign early ends all chance of success.

In today’s ultra-saturated media world, you have to reach your desired audience over and over again just to start to penetrate the clutter. It’s not enough to state your message and disappear. You have to repeat it over and over again. Say it enough times, and people start to recall your message on their own. Say it enough times in a respectable medium and it will have legitimacy.

Say it enough times and it will be effective.

Put a face on that

leave a comment »

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.

The Peer Posse

with one comment

open_signYou’re a small business owner. Every day you wrestle with problems and challenges that impact your business. When a new situation arises, you call upon your background and muscle through the situation as best you can. You know you’re not the only small business. You have to think that you’re not the first person to deal with these particular problems.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could find someone like you that’s been in this situation before? Wouldn’t it be great if you could find a like-minded individual that you could bounce ideas and thoughts off of?

You can.

Growing up, my parents owned a small business. It was a small store in a medium sized city in Connecticut. For the first decade, my parents rarely interacted with other store owners or even other business owners. They belonged to the chamber of commerce, but I don’t know why. They never took advantage of anything the chamber offered. Every time a new challenge presented itself, they struggled with it as if it was the first time this situation ever appeared in business. They had a brain trust of two, each other, in which to put towards a solution.

Then, they started talking with other business owners. And not just any business owners. They started talking with a few people that owned exactly the same kind of store they did. Something very interesting happened then. They stopped feeling isolated. They started working with the other stores as a collective group. If we were out of an item, the other stores would sell it to us at cost knowing that in the future, we will do the same. We started buying from distributors collectively driving the cost of goods down. Had I been a teenage marketing wizard, I would have been able to help them all with their advertising with solutions that no one store could have been able to afforded or executed on their own. But another interesting thing happened. My parents stopped feeling isolated. Their problem-solving brain-trust increased. There was a larger experience base to draw from.

By now, you have to be thinking that my parents got lucky. They did. After all, other businesses are called competitors for a reason. I’m not advocating that you start sleeping with the enemy. But I am hopeful that you will stop acting as if you’re on an island.

Want to know the easiest way to speak with other business owners and to find help in working through challenges that confront your business? Peer groups. Networking groups. These people have joined these groups for two reasons: to generate new business leads and to discuss small business topics with other people…people exactly like you.

I’ve found the best way to get started is to join your local chamber of commerce. Most chambers have meetings designed for just this purpose. Today, as a small business owner myself, I belong to exactly the same chamber group my parents did. However, I am much more active in the chamber’s events than they were. It helps me be more at ease with working crowds, it helps me generate new business leads, and just as importantly, it provides me access to other small business owners would are facing or have faced the same issues I do.

Your days of being alone in this are over.

Cooperative Advertising

with one comment

stack-o-moneyFor many small business owners, the idea of coop advertising is foreign. Typically, it’s only something available to franchisees and those whom sell product from vendors. However, if you’ve been a long time reader of this blog, you know that as a small business owner, now is as important as ever to continue (or start) to advertise. The idea of generating a coop for advertising might be a great way for you to explore expanding your advertising opportunities.

If you’re not familiar with coop advertising, here’s how it works. I’ll explain both franchisee and vendor based coop.

Franchise owners typically have to pay to their corporation a percentage of sales. Part of that fee gets put into a pool to be used for advertising. The brand-holding corporation then can leverage the strength of those dollars to execute national campaigns, regional/localized campaigns, and secure best pricing from the media.

Vendor based coop works a little differently. A local retailer agrees to mention their vendor for a minimum of a certain percentage of the advertising message. In exchange, the vendor agrees to pay a certain percentage of the advertising costs. This helps the local business owner to defray the cost of advertising and/or do more advertising since they have more dollars to work with than their budget allocation. These additional dollars also help the business owner to use the strength of their buy to obtain best pricing from the media which can be used to maximize the campaign.

See the similarity here? In both scenarios, the business owner has the advantage of additional dollars that they didn’t have to generate themselves which puts them at the advantage when negotiating both pricing and overall campaign with the media.

Many business owners don’t know they have coop dollars available from their vendors. If you have that type of business, it’s certainly in your best interest to explore that today. Call your vendors and ask if they have any coop programs that you can participate in. Don’t think of it as asking them for money. Far from it, they want you to participate. If you sell more of their product, everyone wins.

Without metrics to back me up, I’m willing to bet that the majority of people that read this blog are not in either type of situation. Therefore, you may be asking yourself, how can I leverage the strength of coop to help my business?

Here’s where you might have to get creative. Think about your particular business. Are there similar businesses that perhaps don’t serve your region? You can advertise your goods/services regionally (instead of locally) and tag the spots with several business all participating in your coop. Maybe your business is located in a plaza or other business area. Pooling advertising together to generate foot traffic to your location helps everyone.

Not owning a franchise or having vendor based programs doesn’t mean that you can’t use the power of cooperative advertising to your benefit. You may have to get creative in how you choose partners and develop formal advertising agreements with other companies. If you’re not sure how to get started, ask your business contacts that have experience with one of these scenarios or contact a marketing company. They will be able to give you real-world expertise as to what to expect and how to execute.

What do you want?

leave a comment »

megaphoneThere is an unfortunate saying in our business: “Just because we work in communications doesn’t mean there is communications.”

Imagine that. In the very field that we work in, we are less than expert in executing the practice ourselves. Given that, how can we expect our clients to provide us with clarity in their communications. We often get frustrated by the perceived lack of clarity in message from the client.

We are the experts here. It is up to us to spend time with the client to derive from them what exactly is the message and position they want to convey to their (potential) client base. That is something our company pledges to do for our customers first and foremost for every client on every project.

However, that doesn’t preclude you, the small business owner, from having to do some homework yourself. Good marketing firms will do anything they can to help you to fine tune your message. But you need to know what it is you hope to accomplish first. Are you looking to establish points of differentiation from your competition? Are you looking to build market share? Are you launching either your company or a new product/service offering? Most marketing firms will work diligently with you to help you to figure out what your goals can be as well as what the right message and medium would be. However, if you’re reading this blog, then I’m thinking that you are possible not in a financial position to simply turn over your entire marketing efforts over to another firm. Therefore, much of this homework falls on your, the owner, to figure out.

It is difficult to have a good objective view of your company when you are internal. This is why large companies often rely on focus groups to help them gain perspective. Given that you don’t have the budget to perform any kind of formal focus group, reach out to people that know your company the best: your customers. Ask them what they think of when they think of your company. What images come to mind. The important thing here is to allow them to respond in a way that supports openness and honesty. Give them an avenue to remain anonymous.

There is a danger here. By asking only your current (and/or past) customer base, you are restricting yourself to views from people that already know your company. Seek opportunities to ask beyond that universe. The effort to gain this additional information is greater, but so are the rewards.