If America’s Economy Is Winner-Take-All, Why Are Some Smaller Businesses Thriving?

Niche Marketing

This article discusses how the retail landscape has changed over the last 30 years.  However, it points out that margins have increased and that many small businesses are thriving by providing a better customer experience, a niche product or serving a hard to serve market, points that I make every day to my clients.

See the complete article at https://hbr.org/2017/09/if-americas-economy-is-winner-take-all-why-are-some-smaller-businesses-thriving?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+harvardbusiness+%28HBR.org%29

10 Ways to Avoid the ‘Elephant in the Room’: Not Getting Paid

How to get paid faster.

This article discusses some basics to help you collect money from your customers faster thereby improving your cash flow.  I think clarity is most important.  You want to be sure your invoice answers all of their questions, specifically by having enough detail.  Also, depending on what type of business you have, you can consider shortening your payment terms (for example, make the invoice due 15 days from the bill date rather than 30 days).

See the complete article at https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/251076

Getting More Customers – Using Viral Marketing

Viral Marketing

Viral Marketing is the process of motivating your existing customers to refer others to your products or services in large numbers.  In the startup world, going viral means that every customer you acquire brings with them through referral at least one other customer.  When you get there, you have exponential growth!  Just be sure you have scaled your product or service for this level of growth before you get there.  See my page on scaling at http://apollogr.com/scale-processes-and-technology-to-support-growth/.  I have worked with lots of companies that called me after they rapidly expanded, then fell back because they could not scale up to meet that demand properly.  Not only does this damage your reputation but can leave you with too much fixed cost and too little revenue.  Now we can be talking turnarounds.  You can see my page on this at http://apollogr.com/achieve-a-business-turnaround/ .

Viral marketing begins by creating a viral loop that works for your customers and then getting customers into the loop.  A basic loop can be as simple as (1) a customer is exposed to your product or service, (2) that customer tells other potential customers and (3) those potential customers are exposed and some portion buy from you.  Then the process continues with the new customers.  That’s the loop part.

There are different types of viral marketing:

Word of Mouth – This is the old fashion kind.  The product or service is so great that customers just want to tell all their friends.

Inherent – The customer only gets value by inviting others.  Think of Skype or Snapchat where the product is not useful until the people you want to communicate with are also customers.

Collaboration Based – The product may be useful for a single user but is much more useful when used in a group context.  Think Google docs or sheets where multiple people can edit at the same time and see each other’s changes.

Imbedded in Communications – This is where the use of the product makes others aware of the product.  Think about sending emails from your phone and having Sent from my iPhone or sent from Verizon appended to every message.

Incentivized – The customer gets an incentive to tell others.  Think about Airbnb, where you can get account credit for a referral.

Imbedded Buttons or Widgets – The supplier embeds buttons or widgets in the product that make it easy to share.  Think Facebook or Twitter.

Social Networked – The customer’s activities (including the use of a product) are broadcast to others.  Again, think Facebook.

So what does viral mean?  Well, if the number of others that each customer recommends who actually sign up is greater than 1, then you have viral growth.  That is, you get one or more additional new customers for each customer you acquire.  That is going to be really fast growth.  If you get one additional new customer for every two customers you acquire, that will be very helpful but not viral.

The other thing that affects your growth rate is the speed at which the loop occurs.  Your growth will be markedly different if the cycle time is 3 days or 3 months.  You will need to do everything you can to shorten the cycle time and to keep people from dropping out of the loop.

So to be effective using this channel, try to build a loop into your product or service.  Then make it easy (reduce friction) so people don’t drop out and make it as short as possible.

Getting More Customers – Using Email Marketing

I am sure you get lots of email with offers and enticements.  They sit in your in box right next to emails from your friends, colleagues and relatives.  Email is a very personal sales channel.  As a result, the more personalized your message is, the more effective it will be.

The first step is to develop an email list of potential customers.  The best way to do this is to build it through your other marketing efforts.  You can capture it on your website in return for something such as special offers, access to premium content such as white papers or how to instructions, at the bottom of your blog posts or by offering something free such as a short free seminar or video.  Please don’t be tempted to buy bulk email lists and send to them.  This is spam and hurts your reputation and your company in the long run.  Also, be sure to give recipients an easy way to opt out and give yourself an easy way to keep your list updated so you don’t get into legal trouble.

You want to engage your customers with email to the point they become a customer.  The first thing to understand is that you want the recipient to understand the value of your product or service.  Why else would they buy or recommend you?  One way to do this is to send a sequence of emails that reveal important features and those features’ value.  You want to establish what your customer needs to know to get value from your product and be sure all of these topics or steps are understood through your emails.

Besides using email to get new customers, you also want to use it to stimulate repeat buying or recommendations to others.  Remember, it is much easier and less expensive to get a happy customer to buy again than to acquire a new customer.  The focus of these types of emails should be to get customers to feel good about their purchase on an emotional level.

Another use of email is to up sell customers.  In particular if you have different versions of a product (with differing features) that are bought repeatedly or different versions of a service, again with differing features, you can use email to be sure customers know about the additional features and understand their value and how it affects them.

Finally, you can use email to stimulate your customers to refer your company’s products to others.  This is often accomplished by offering some incentive such as a discount that they can use or that the person they are referring can use.

As with all the other sales channels, it is essential to A/B test every aspect of your emails: the subjects, formats, images, timing, differing personalization strategies, etc.  You want to see what works and go with that.  Open rates and conversion to purchase should be tacked.  Timing is all important with emails.  You can use tools to track when emails are opened individually by each customer and then send batches of emails to your customers at the times they are most likely to read them.  While this is complicated, I have had helped customers do this and I can tell you that it was incredibly effective.  One final tip, do not send anything from a no reply email.  Remember, this is personal.

Busting 5 Myths About Small-Business Lending

This article gives some practical information about small business lending.  It mentions that for most small business, the business owner’s personal credit score is often most important.  But there are other factors including cash flow, a marketing plan or a business plan.

I would like to add to the article by pointing out that most business owners need to guarantee a small business loan so you are on the hook either way.  So go for the cheapest lending source (which might be a personal loan) unless you want your company to establish credit itself.  Even with a company credit history of ten years or so, you are still most likely going to be required to guarantee the loan personally so that is a very long term goal in the life of a small business.

See the complete article at https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/248445

Getting More Customers – Using Content Marketing

Content Marketing is all about using the content on your site to get more customers.  The idea is to have content on your site that people feel is useful and share it with others so much so that the content is spreading on its own.  If you are blogging or have white papers or useful tools you want to get hundreds of comments which lead to free publicity and results in lots of shares.  This is massive engagement and this leads to massive growth.

The secret of having shareable content is to write about or provide information about some problem your potential customers did not know about or could not put their finger on.  To get started with blogging for instance, you need to come up with topics of interest and blog about them.  Then you can try to find some online forums where your topics are being discussed and do your best to contribute.  You can potentially take this to the next level by doing some guest posting in these forums.

As time goes on, you should monitor social mentions of your posts and use analytics to identify which types of posts are getting the most attention.  This way, you can provide more content that your audience will respond to.

The big benefit of using this channel is that it positions you as a leader in your space. When you are a leader, you get a voice in your industry and opportunities for even more influence and engagement through conferences, press releases, being quoted by journalists, etc.  It also complements other things you are doing in other sales channels such as Search Engine Optimization.

Boost Your Small Business Tech Innovations

This article suggests some ways to get more customers and use common applications to boost productivity.  I especially like the use of software in the cloud which I recommend rather than buying locally installed software.  This facilitates access from anywhere and eliminates the headaches of backups, software upgrades, etc.

See the complete article at https://socialnomics.net/2017/08/07/boost-your-small-business-with-these-tech-innovations/

Getting More Customers – Using Print, Radio and Other Offline Advertising

Today, advertisers spend more on offline advertising than online advertising.  It works for lots of companies but not for all companies.  There a lots of types including Radio, TV, magazines, newspapers and direct mail.

The demographics of each advertising medium are the single most important thing to consider when using offline advertising.  That is, where is the audience, what is their age, income, occupation, gender, race, etc. and how does it map to your target audience.  All the companies that sell advertising can tell you this.

How do you figure out where to advertise?  A good place to start is to ask your customers and go from there.

The biggest factor in the cost of advertising is the reach – how many people see the ad.  To be successful you need reach and frequency.  Your potential customers need to see your ad as many as six times before they even reach out and engage you.  If you are in a hurry, you need to have your potential customers see you every day, every week or even multiple times a day.

One of the biggest problems with offline ads is that the results are harder to track than online ads that mostly have good tracking mechanisms built in.  So you will need to be creative and try using special offer codes, tracking websites, special phone numbers, etc.

Print advertising has so many options, it can be used by most businesses.  In many cases, it offers precise targeting of an audience that might be one of your key target audiences.  For this to work you need great ads.  A compelling ad will have a great attention grabbing headline, an eye-catching picture or graphic and a crisp tagline or description of the benefits of your product or service.  It also needs something that gets your customer to do something now!, that is a call to action.

Direct mail can take many forms – letters, cards or even catalogs.  These can work but again you need to be smart about it.

For small business, radio advertising can be very effective though TV advertising is usually too costly to produce and show.

With all the ways to get more customers, I recommend that you find inexpensive ways to test out the method and increase effort and spending on what works.

Getting More Customers – Using Display and Social Ads

Display ads are those ads that appear on websites all over the internet and often appear at the top or side in a “banner” area often referred to as banner ads.  Social ads are the ads that appear on social sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

The biggest use of display and social ads is to improve the awareness of your brand or keep your brand top of mind.  Top of mind is important for companies that rely on repeat customers (e.g. stores) as well as companies that you only buy from occasionally (e.g. car companies, flood damage repair).  Sometimes these ads are used to elicit an action such as signing up for an email or to begin some other customer engagement.

Most display advertising is purchased from advertising aggregators that gather up (buy) advertising space across thousands of websites and sell it to companies like yours.  The big names are Google’s Display Network, Advertising.com, Tribal Fusion, Conversant and the like.  I happen to use adroll.com.  There are other ways to place ads such as on niche ad networks that focus on specific audiences or by going directly to site owners and ask to place an ad on their site for a fixed price.

The best thing about this type of advertising is that it brings brand and sometimes product awareness to people not really looking for it at that moment.  This of course does not mean that they might not want or need what you have in the near future.

Social ads are used to start a conversation with potential customers, engage them and eventually to convert them to actually be a customer.  For this you need compelling content that people actually want to read and share.

The major social sites are of course Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Foursquare, Tumblr, reddit, and YouTube.  LinkedIn is very useful for business to business marketing.  In fact, you are most likely to be reading this because you saw this posted on LinkedIn.  Foursquare allows small local businesses to target a hyper local population.