Five Steps to Conducting Great Marketing Research for Your Small Business

Small Business Market Research

We all know that conducting market research is crucial to a strong, well thought-out business and marketing plan, but with the plethora of information out there it’s tough to establish where to start and what to look for. Luckily, the marketing research process can be broken down into five simple and manageable steps:

Define the Problem and Establish your Research Objectives

Before embarking on your marketing research, you must define the problem and your research objectives. This step is the most important and you should set aside a decent amount of time to think about it. Start off by asking yourself the following questions: what’s the issue to be addressed/ problem to be solved? What do I need to learn – and more importantly, why? How will I use that information? Answering these important questions will help you focus your research and save you time.

Develop the Research Plan and Design the Project

 When it comes to this step, you need to think about questions such as: who can answer my questions? Who can answer them best? What must I ask each group – specifically? You should also start thinking about what type of research you will be conducting and what sources you will look at. Although online data are plentiful and free, don’t limit yourself to only this type of research. Other great research methods include: observational, focus-group, survey, behavioural, ethnography, and experimental. Secondary data sources include: internal sources (customer databases, sales stats, service teams, etc.), government publications, periodicals and books, commercial data, on-line associations, on-line business information, and etc.  Always do qualitative research first. Qualitative research is much more in-depth and will help you make better sense of your findings.

Collect the Information

 Good marketing research is scientific and creative. What I mean by scientific is research that it is process based, conducted in a controlled environment with variables that can be clearly identified and controlled, and has results which can be replicated. Creative marketing research comes in handy because some people may be reluctant to answer questions.  People don’t always tell you exactly what they really think and some may have difficulty articulating ideas or feelings well. Make sure that your questions are neutral enough for people to want to answer (for instance, if you are asking whether a person is a leader versus a follower, make both options sound good.) Strong marketing research is also non-biased, examines data in the correct context, uses multiple methods, realizes the interdependence of models and data, and maintains a “healthy” skepticism.

Analyze the Information

 Study the information you gathered carefully. What trends can you see? Where does the information point you? You may discover that some of your initial assumptions were completely off. This is not a bad thing! Don’t try to make your research fit your assumptions, and instead let it guide you to making new decisions regarding your business. I also recommend getting the input of other people in your company at this step. They will be able to look at your research with a fresh perspective and point out anything you may have overlooked.

Present the Findings

  Now that your marketing research is complete, it’s time to apply it to your business and marketing plan. When done correctly, your research will prove very useful in developing your business strategy (pricing, markets, etc.), developing and improving your product or service, determining a market segment, improving operations (internal, supply chain and distribution channels), as well as with employee motivation.

Conducting marketing research is not as difficult and tedious as it may seem – in fact it can even be fun. Remember to take it one step at a time, determine exactly what you need to find out and why, get the input of others, and analyze your findings carefully. Happy researching!

An Annual Marketing Timeline For Your Business [Free Download]

Annual Marketing Tiemline Excel Download Free

Creating a marketing plan for your small business is a must.

Unfortunately most business owners go year after year without a formal marketing plan.  Each week they make “gut decisions” on how to market their business, and most experience poor results.  This sort of reactive marketing opens you up to poor decision making, deceptive sales practices from friendly ad salespeople and leaves you without a clue as to prepare for each of your selling seasons.

Every Fall, I sit down and review what worked and what didn't in terms of the current year's marketing efforts.  I then sit down and create the next years plan, hopefully doing a little better in terms of marketing efficiency than last year.  Because that is what marketing is, small improvements made over time.

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.  ~John Wanamaker

When I'm done creating my annual marketing plan, I add key dates to my Google Apps calendar to remind me when it's time to take action.  While this method works well for me, as a visual learner, I wanted something where I can visually see all my marketing activities in a single timeline and to share with my team members.

A visual timeline of my marketing efforts helped me see a entire years worth of marketing at a single glance.  I find it helps me to see when my busy marketing periods are, which activities overlap, and if there are time periods where I need to ramp up my marketing efforts.

Below is the link where you can download it free of charge.  It's one of many useful tools I have as part of my Small Business Operations Manual.  Feel free to use it, share it, customize it, or use it as a guide for creating your own.

I hope you find it useful for your business.  If you find yourself struggling with your marketing efforts, contact me here.

Annual Marketing Timeline (Download)

Visualize your small business marketing plan

5 Ways To Connect With Your Customers

Connecting with customers memeDo you give your customers a reason to connect with your business, to get excited about your business?

Every business wants to have loyal and engaged customers, people who will buy from you simply because they love you and your business.  In order to do this, you need to give them a reason to feel this way.

Some businesses wish they had “raving fans”, while others go out and make them.  Creating a loyal and connected customer base takes work and involves you going out and giving people a reason to connect and engage with your business.

Below are 5 simple, yet underused ways you can reach out and connect with your customers as well as potential customers.

Start a Blog

Yeah, yeah, everyone tells you to start a blog.  The thing is, it works.  The problem is, most people give up on it way before they can ever realize the benefits of it.  A blog is a great way to speak directly to your customers.  No self-serving advertisements or cheesy calls to action to get in between you and your customer.  Take the wall down between you and your customer and start talking to them as a person, not a business.

Resources

Art of Blog: How to start a blog from start to finish

Hubspot: How to start a business blog

Copy Blogger: Sign up for their free online marketing course

Create a Podcast

This may not be for every type of business, but podcasting has really taken off in recent years.  You can thank the iPod and iPhone for that.  Millions of people are turning to podcasts as a learning and education tool.  They would rather listen to something of value while they work out or take their morning commute.  If you have a good natured personality and enjoy educating others, a podcast is a tremendous platform to drive an entirely new type of customer to your business.

Resources

Smartpassiveincome.com: Starting a podcast

Authorityenigne.com: Your Business+Podcast

The Podcast Answer Man

Libsyn: Great place to host your podcasts

Use Video

Video is not hot, it's En Fuego!  Adding video messaging to your website can take things to a whole other marketing level.  People love to watch videos, at least quality one's with a great message.  Video is not only applicable to your website, you can create personalized video messages that you can email to your customer or create a video training series on how to use your product.  Lots of potential and lots of platforms available to get your message out.  Idea, create a FAQ page answering everything in video.

Resources

Wistia: Great video hosting and awesome learning center

The Distilled guide to video marketing

KissMetrics: The Youtube Marketing Guide

Get Creative With Email

Did you know that email marketing still delivers the best ROI out of any other marketing platform?  Did you know that 99% of business are awful at email marketing?  Do you see the disconnect and the opportunity here?  Personalized, value based emails can turn potential leads into raving fans.  Create an engaging and valuable auto-responder series, send personalized “thank you” emails (add a video message!) and start getting some mileage out of this highly profitable marketing channel.

Resources

Mailchimp: Email marketing field guide

Copyblogger: Growing your business with email marketing

Copyblogger: Creating an email autoresponder

Use Social Media

If done right, social media is a great way to connect to current and future customers.  I think where many small business owners go awry in this space is because they treat it as just another marketing platform.  It's not, at least not in the sense of traditional marketing.  Social media is more of a cocktail party rather then a networking event.  A great way to connect with your customers is to be the first person promoting their content on social media.  They are your customer, but you are their fan.  Give shout-outs to your customers, share interesting content and be really helpful.  See, a different way to do market your business.

Open Forum: Business guide to social media

Blog Tyrant: Social Media simplified

Social Media Examiner: Selling with social media

Try one or try them all

As you can see, many of these methods overlap.  Try a few and see which one's will work for you and your business.  Creating multiple ways to reach out and connect to both current and potential customers is a sure fire way to reach them through methods your competitors aren't using.  They are probably still sending out mass mail postcards and hoping for the best.

6 Ways To Sell Your Products Beyond Your Store Front

Running a business, especially one with a traditional store front is a lot of work.  Your overhead is high, you have to maintain your store, as well as physically man it during operating hours.

The other thing is that there is only one place where people can buy your stuff…..at your store.

But what if people want to buy from you, but they don't live near by?  What if they don't want to travel to your store to get what they want?  You want to make it easy for people to buy from you and you want to reach as many of your customers as you can.

So why not bring the products out of your store and get them out where your potential customers like to hang out?  Whether it's offline or online, finding places other than your store front to sell your goods can have a tremendous impact on your business.  No longer do you have to try to figure out how to get people into your store, you bring the store to them.

Here are 6 ways you can get your products out of your store and in front of potential buyers.

Ebay stores for small business

Ebay

I think pretty much everyone knows what Ebay is, with some people being totally addicted to buying there.  I've purchased everything from flooring nailers to coupons on Ebay over the years.  Why not take some of your inventory and start listing it?

You can list products as an individual, or if you sell a lot there, you can open up your own virtual store front.  The upside is that there is a huge marketplace of people looking to buy just about anything on Ebay.  The downside is that if you sell something, the fees you pay are pretty high, around 10-12% of the value of the sale.  Great place if you have higher margin items to sell.

 Amazon for small business

Amazon

Selling on Amazon is a bit like selling on Ebay, with less of a flea market feel to it.  There are two things you can do on Amazon, at least that I know of.  You can sell your products on the Amazon Marketplace as a third party individual or business, where your products show up as part of the Amazon store and you are listed as an additional Marketplace seller.  The other option is advertising your products on Amazon and actually have people click on your product ad and go directly to your website, sort of like Pay Per Click marketing with Google Adwords.

Both are great options as you are tapping into the biggest online marketplace on the planet. The downside being, like Ebay, the selling fees tend to be high, with an average selling fee of 8-15%.  If you have higher margin products, you can move a lot of stuff on Amazon.

Local flea market to start business

Your Local Market

The real world model that Ebay was spawned from.  Not all flea markets are created equal, some are just plain crap while others can offer a great opportunity to get in front of potential customers.  Every town has some sort of weekly marketplace or farmers market, check your local government to find out about available opportunities.

The good side is that renting a stand at one of these markets is pretty inexpensive.  The downside is that someone has to man the table, which is usually over the course of a weekend.  If you can keep your costs down, selling at a flea market can be a great boost in revenue.

Craigslist

Craigslist & Kijiji

I have a friend who sells water purification systems strictly on Craigslist, he generates over 200,000 in revenue a year from this free online classified site.  Talk about building a business on the cheap!  People assume Craigslist or Kijiji (a popular Canadian version of Craigslist) is for buying and selling used stuff.  This is true, but there are also thousands of sales made every day by retailers selling goods and services in this online marketplace.

It's a great place to list products and services for free, the downside is that you are limited in where and how many times you can post an ad at any given time.  Also, depending on your brand strategy, selling this way may not bring you the brand recognition you're looking for.

Starting your own ecommerce store-logo

Your own Ecommerce Store

Starting your own Ecommerce store can expose you to a whole new audience and expand your reach in a way your physical store could never do.  Ecommerce is one of those things that can be really hard to get right, but if you do, it's totally awesome.  I recently wrote an article on getting started with Ecommerce, you can check it out here.

The upside to starting your own online store is that it's your own online real estate which you own and operate, much like your physical store.  Opening an online store is liking opening a second location without the overhead and headaches of a physical location, though it comes with it's own challenges.  Dealing with the technical aspects of a more complicated website like an Ecommerce store can be a challenge, as well as trying to sell something virtually, without a great salesperson present to close the deal.

Start a popup store

Open up a Popup Store

A Popup Store, made popular in dense urban cities like NYC and Tokyo, is when you open a temporary store in an vacant location or even inside another store for a short period of time to take advantage of busy foot traffic and buzz around that location.  Typically you will make a short term lease commitment, anywhere from 1 day to 3 months and try and make the most of this short term selling opportunity.

Some of the reasons you would open a Popup Store would be when launching a new business, taking advantage of a prime location in an area your business doesn't serve, or piggybacking off of a popular business by opening up a “store within a store”.  Lots of great ideas for this concept.

The upside is you can make a quick “hit and run”, taking advantage of a short term opportunity without any long term commitments.  The downside is that it's temporary and people may forget about you once you are gone, so be sure to let them know about other ways they can buy from you.

Get out of your store and start selling

So here are 6 ways you can get your products out of your store and into your customers hands.  I personally like the online opportunities better as you're not chained to one location for any period of time, but all are great options if you're willing to put in the work.

The Secret Formula for Crafting Click Worthy Email Subject Lines

If you’re struggling with email subject lines – and who isn’t – here are a few tips to create ones that will entice recipients to open your email, read it and most importantly, act on it.

Email Headlines Mobile Devices

The secret formula for subject lines has three ingredients:

  1. Define a clear, simple objective for your email
  2. Align subject line, email content and landing page
  3. Split test subject lines

(This formula is no secret, in the sense that it consists of best practices. On the other hand, it is a secret in the sense that few small businesses use it.)

Let’s talk generally about these three points and then get into specific examples.

 

  1. A Clear, Simple Objective

What do you want recipients to do after they read your email? In general, your conversion goal (sorry for the marketing lingo) is one of the following:

  1. Buy something now
  2. Investigate buying something
  3. Become more disposed to buy something

A clear and simple objective presented with a clear and simple subject line is vitally important. First, recipients have short attention spans; if your subject line is vague or confusing, few will have the patience to decode it. Second, clear plus simple equals persuasive; if you ask the recipient to do or read something complicated, your email will go to the bottom of the “to-do” pile or straight into the trash folder.

 

  1. Align Subject Line, Email Content and Landing Page

A basic principle of online marketing is that users should see exactly what they expect to see when they click on a link. Your email subject line is a promise. If, for example, the promise is an offer, the body of the email must explain it, and the landing page you take readers to must reinforce the explanation and enable them to obtain it.

For this reason, avoid sensationalized subject lines that exaggerate or have little relevance to the email’s content. You may get a lot of opens, but once the recipient is burned – i.e., your promise goes unfulfilled — he or she will never open another email from you.

 

  1. Split Test

Email subject lines are incredibly challenging because people are incredibly unpredictable. The only way to find out if a subject line works is to test it against another subject line and see which one wins (i.e., produces the best open rate). The winner becomes the benchmark; the next step is to test it against a new challenger – so on and so forth.

Split testing can be a challenge for small businesses if their house mailing lists are small or of poor quality. If your email goes out to only several hundred recipients, or to recipients who are not familiar with your firm, it is unlikely to provide statistically reliable results: The difference between two opens and three opens on a small base doesn’t tell you anything conclusive. Nevertheless, testing anyway is worthwhile, since one subject line may produce substantially more opens than another.

 

Subject Line Examples

Below are pairs of subject lines that could be tested for different types of objectives:

Direct Offers

  1. October Savings on Tree Trimming
  2. October Only: Tree Trim + Cord of Aged Oak Firewood

Loyalty Rewards

  1. New: Earn Value Points with an October Tree Trim
  2. Save with Our New Preventive Maintenance Plan

Benefits

  1. Get Those Squirrels Off Your Roof
  2. 10 Ways to Keep Your Trees Healthy and Beautiful

Education

  1. How Tree Trimming Protects Your Home
  2. Why Does Tree Trimming Protect Your Home?

 

A few comments/composition tips about these examples:

  • Direct Offers. Subject lines for direct offers are strongest when they are specific and descriptive. Note, too, that timing is everything with offers — a Valentine’s Day special in October would fall flat. Time limits also convey a sense of urgency.
  • Loyalty Rewards. Companies often err by gearing offers only to new customers. Reward existing customers and they will keep reading your emails no matter what the subject lines say!
  • Another basic marketing principle is that customers are more interested in themselves than in you. Subject lines that speak to their problems or aspirations are far more appealing than ones that drone on about your capabilities and expertise. Once you’ve convinced recipients you can help them, they will be more inclined to do business or discuss doing business.
  • People always want to get smarter — especially to protect their assets or save money. Once you’ve established you can help them in this way, recipients will be more inclined to do business with you whenever they need what you sell.

 

Bottom Line: Keep It Simple

If you remember nothing else about subject lines, remember this: Keep it simple Companies are always tempted to squeeze multiple messages into the subject line, but doing so only squeezes out their effectiveness. One simple message delivers far better results.

 

Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of Straight North, an Internet Marketing firm with headquarters near Chicago. Straight North’s services include email marketing, display advertising, and SEO.

You Can’t Automate Your Customer Relationships

,

hug-your-customerAn acquaintance of mine called me last week for some advice.

Usually when someone asks you for advice, all they really want is for you to confirm to them what they have already decided on.

This friend is in the insurance industry and wanted to know what technologies she can use to create stronger relationships with her best clients.  She wanted to figure out a way to use automation to help this along.

I asked how many clients does she have that she would really want to build a strong relationship with over the next year.  She said she has about 50 that make up the majority of her business and would love to strengthen her relationship with each of them.

I asked her what these clients were worth to her.  She said from a few hundred dollars a year to a few thousand a year.

I suggested to her to that she should consider blocking out 2 hours a week to dedicate to this venture.  One hour each week should be dedicated to calling or emailing 1-3 of her clients to start the connection process and to make these non-sales oriented communications.  For the other hour, I suggested she sit down and write out about 5 handwritten, personalized customer note cards (who doesn't get excited for mail that isn't a bill or an advert?) that she could mail out each week to her clients.

That would be about 8 hours a month and connecting with over half of her clients each month.  Over the course of the year, she would be personally connecting with her top clients at least 6 times a year for a minimal amount of work.

The response?

No, I think you misunderstood what I said, I want to know how I can automate this whole process so I don't have to do all of that.  Can't I create some sort of automatic email that looks like it's being sent from me personally?  And I have a friend at the office that uses a service that sends out these greeting cards to clients that will make it look like it's you own handwriting.

That's when I did a…………..facepalm-stupidity

So what she really wanted was not to build a relationship with her customers, but to act like she cared about her client without doing any work.

Technology is a great thing, but it still cannot replace you building a relationship with your customer.

I think the real business winners going forward will be the ones that take the customer relationship seriously.  They will use technology as a tool to enhance their relationship building, but they won't abdicate customer relations to technology.

While everyone is making the rush to automate the shit out of everything, you can go old school and give your customers a taste of old fashioned relationship building.

It's funny how things go full circle.  A decade ago the competitive advantage in business was to automate everything, freeing up your time and allowing you to run your business with less employees.  Now the competitive advantage is how deep you can take the relationship with your customer.

If you're a small business, this might be calling or visiting your customers on occasion.  It might be sending them an article you found that might be useful to them.  Maybe it's having a party for your customers, just to thank them for being awesome.

If you're a bigger business, maybe it would be holding live meetup events where you can mix and mingle with your customers.  What about monthly webinars where your customers can speak directly to the head honchos with their opinions.

Big or small, it can be done.

But first you have to care about your customers.

 

Using The Principals Of Persuasion For Your Business

the small business playbook classic adHow persuasive are you?

Are you the type of business owner who can turn a random passer-by into a loyal customer with a 5 minute conversation, or do you struggle to effectively  convince potential customers to give you a try?

Robert Cialdini, author of the bestselling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion writes about 6 key principals of human behavior that can help you in understand the key influencers that can turn potential customers into real customers.  Often times, people will see these principals as somewhat manipulative, when in fact, it's an important understanding of human principals that every business owner should understand about people.  Below are the 6 principals and some ideas on how you can use them for your business.

Reciprocation

People are obliged to give back to others who have given to them.  What do you do when you receive a Christmas card from someone you forgot to send one too?  You send one back right away because you feel both bad and obligated to return the kind gesture.

What you can do

Give a small gift to potential customers as a thank you for trying your services.  Send hand written notes to your customers, thanking them for being a trusted and loyal customer.  If you give without expecting things in return, good things usually happen.

Consensus

People decide what is appropriate for them to do in a situation by examining what others are doing there.  We do this all the time with clubs and restaurants.  If we are unfamiliar with a business, we look to see where the crowds are gathering and take that as social proof that it's a good place to be.  What do you think when you walk into a restaurant where you've never eaten before and it's empty on a Saturday night?  Exactly.

What you can do

Next time you run an open house or event for potential customers for your business, make sure it's busy!  Call down past customers, friends, neighbours to come down and be part of the action.  That busy and festive atmosphere you create will help with creating that “social proof” that you are a rockin' business.

Authority

People rely on those with superior knowledge or wisdom for guidance on how to respond.  When people are unsure about something, they look to someone who is sure.  That's usually someone they believe knows more about the subject than they do.  People defer to experts all the time, take your doctor for instance (though you should't always trust experts)

What you can do

Become an expert and the go to person in your industry by keeping up to date with the latest trends.  Speak and act like you know what your doing, it's not only knowing alot that matters…..its conveying that to others with the way you carry yourself.  Be loud and proud about what you know.

Consistency

Once people make a choice or take a stand, they will encounter personal and interpersonal pressure to behave consistently with what they have previously said or done.  This is the concept behind announcing your goals aloud to your friends and family…….it puts pressure on you to follow through on your bold claims that your going to run that half-marathon you've been bragging about doing.  Most people don't want to admit they were wrong, even if evidence later proves otherwise.  It's an ego thing.

What you can do

Get people to say “yes”.  The more you can get your customers to say yes and to agree with little things, the easier it will be to get the bigger yes (closing the sale) at the end. Getting agreement from a potential customer early and often is critical to closing the sale.

Scarcity

Opportunities appear more valuable when they are less available.  The Home Shopping Network made billions off of this principal.  When the spokesperson hocking that set of silicon bake-ware on TV tells you “Call now, we only have 200 of these left, if the phones are busy…..keep calling!”.  Guess what?  Hundreds (or thousands) of people run to their phones, hoping they haven't lost out on that “killer deal”.  That's creating perceived scarcity, whether it's actually scarce or not.  And yes, they have plenty in stock and you will be able to get through if you call.

What you can do

When you are running special offers, put a small window of time on which to act.  Often times, people need a little pressure in order to take action so don't be afraid to let your customers know (as long as its truthful) they will lose out if they don't act fast.

 Liking

People prefer to say “yes” to those they know and like.  People like to buy from people they like, even if the quality (to a certain degree) is less than that of a competitor that offers a similar product or service.  Mom and pop shops all over America are still in business today, not because they are cheaper or offer more than their bigger competitors, but their customers enjoy the conversation and experience they get out of visiting these little shops.

What you can do

Make you business a pleasant place to visit.  Do you train your employees to find out more about your customers?  Do you take the time to learn your regular customer's names?  Make visiting your business like visiting a friends house and turn your business into a place your customers don't want to leave.

 

What do you think about these principals?  Do you use them in your business?

 

How To Earn More Referrals Every Month

Become hub for your clientsReferrals are your best source of business.  They come with recommendation in hand, looking to do business with you based on the advice of someone they (hopefully) know and trust.  A wonderful source of business.

Many professional services industries, like real estate agents and accountants,  live off of referrals from current and past clients.

But what happens when you're not getting enough referrals to grow or even sustain your business?

This usually happens when…..

  • You're a new business and your customer base isn't big enough to generate a meaningful amount of referrals yet
  • You're generating referrals, but not enough to grow your business bigger than where you are now
  • You're an existing business but don't generate many referrals (big red flag for you)

While referral business is the holy grail of lead generation, it's not something that happens by chance.  Businesses that thrive off of referral business work hard at building relationships and are proactive in generating them.

This doesn't mean they are pushy when it comes to asking for referrals, though there's nothing wrong with making it clear you'd love one, it means they put themselves in a position where it's natural for others to recommend them.

What is Referral Marketing?

Simply put, it's creating and executing marketing strategies that will lead to people referring you. It's many of the  activities that you are probably doing now, except that now you have a clear outcome in mind and you've created a plan to deliver those activities on a consistent basis.

Referrals don't always come naturally

Even if you're awesome at what you do, most people won't refer you to their friends.  Why?  It's not in their nature.

Ever read reviews online?  Almost all of the reviews you read on Yelp or Amazon, come from a small fraction of people that buy and use those products and services.  They are people that like to share their experiences with others, good and bad.

The others?  They simply use whatever it is they purchased with no thought about sharing it with others.  It just never occurs to them.  They need a nudge, they need you to put them in a position where it's almost impossible for them to not refer you.  Just doing a great job and hoping for a referral doesn't work with these people.

So what do you do?

You create a plan.

It starts with making the decision that referrals are a real part of your marketing strategy and not something that is left to chance.  It's about being proactive in your efforts, doing activities that will put you in prime position for a referral.

I think the most important part of creating a referral plan to is create consistency.  Many of the activities we'll talk about below you're probably already doing, but not consistently and without a clear outcome in mind.

Below is what I do when it comes to positioning myself for a referral.  You may do things a little differently and may add or remove some activities, the main point is that you have a plan and remain proactive in generating referrals for your business.

Organize Contacts

The first step is to organize yourself.  This is hard for me.  I love to organize, the trouble is that I try and use too many things to organize myself, pen and paper, several different apps…..I'm like a digital squirrel storing information randomly across platforms and can rarely find information when I really need it.

I don't need a full fledged CRM, I've tried several times in the past and it never stuck.  Now I use two tools, Gmail (actually the business version, Google Apps) and Evernote.

Inside Gmail, I use the Contact manager to store my contacts and to organize them.  The Contact manager inside Gmail is actually pretty powerful.  Some of the highlights are:

  • Create custom fields inside each contact, sort of like a tagging system, so you can easily search through your contacts based on the Tags you've created
  • It uses Google's powerful search platform to accurately find what you're looking for inside your contact list
  • You can create Groups for your contacts and add each contact to a single or multiple Groups
  • If they have a Google+ profile, it will automatically populate the contact page with their G+ info
  • You can call your contacts directly from the Contact manager

As you can see, there are lots of powerful features inside the Gmail Contact Manager, I haven't listed them all, just the highlights.

The way I organize my contact list is to create different Groups to organize my list.  You can organize your groups how it will best work for you.  For me, I create my groups based on location for my clients, specifically by country.  From there, I create custom fields (or use the dozen or so standard choices in Gmail) and add Tags to each client based on how I will need to pull up my list as needed.

An example is using the Birthday field in your contact list.  If you wanted to send a birthday card to your clients for next month, you can simply do a search for “Birthday March” and Gmail will pull up a list of contacts that have the “March” Tag under the Birthday field.  You can basically set this Tagging system up anyway you like as Gmail lets you create your own custom fields.

When it comes to Evernote, I use it to find, store and share useful information I find for my clients.  If you've never used Evernote, it can be a game changer in how you organize not only your business, but your life.  It takes awhile to get into it, but once you make the decision to “jump in”, you'll probably never go back to anything else.

So the way I use Evernote in this case is to save useful articles and items I find on the web that would be useful for my clients.  Evernote lets you “clip” items from the web from your browser, phone or tablet with the push of a button. I save useful articles (organized in several “Notebooks” in Evernote) that I find on the web that may be useful to my clients.  Once saved in Evernote I can then share these resources with my clients when I want to reach out to them.  It's part of my strategy of becoming a resource for my clients, even outside of our business relationship.

An example of how you would use this is to save articles you find related to one of your clients industry.  Maybe they missed this information and would appreciate that you're looking out for them.  You can also use it if you know what hobbies or sports teams your client likes, share information you find that they might have missed.  It's a great reason to connect with a client besides the old boring line of, “Hey, just calling to see how you're doing”.

Don't waste people's time, if you're going to reach out, be useful.

Be a Resource

Like I mentioned above, part of my strategy is to become a resource for my clients, even outside of our business relationship.  Being super useful to them helps to create bonds that outsiders won't be able to break without a sledgehammer.  It protects your relationship and gives you some peace of mind knowing a “cold call” to your client from a competitor is easily deflected.

The more you can “give” to your clients, the more they will be willing to “give” back to you.  I read somewhere once, don't remember where, that you should give 20 times to someone for every time you ask for something.  The key here is to keep giving value non-stop to your clients so when the time comes for you to ask, they're ecstatic for the opportunity to help you.

Be a Connector

To take it to the next level, don't just look for opportunities to connect with your client, look for opportunities to connect them with other valuable resources.  Great networkers are always looking for opportunities to connect people in their network with each other.  They thrive on being the person that brings others together and makes things happen.  It's in their nature and it's very satisfying to them.

Become the “Hub” in your client's business life.  Be the person that brings it all together, the first person they think about when they need help, even if it's not your field of expertise.  They contact you because they know if you can't help them, you'll know someone who can.  You've now become an indispensable resource for that client.

Ask for Help

If you've accomplished the above and have become a great resource for your clients, asking them for help should be the easy part.  People naturally want to help people they like, especially if they feel “they owe them one”.  If you've built up enough good will, they'll be more than happy to help.

People think that other's don't like it when you ask for their help, but quite the contrary.  People live to be helpful, it gives them a great sense of satisfaction knowing someone else thought them valuable enough to ask for help.  Ben Franklin knew this well.  He knew all about the power of asking for favors..

I prefer to ask for help on a one on one level, it works better when it's personalized.  I might send a dozen or so emails asking clients that I'm available to take on another client and if they knew someone who might find my service helpful, I'd appreciate any leads.  I rarely have to as many clients naturally refer me, but the few occasions I have, it worked great.

You can also ask for help en mass via social media or your email list.  Are you a Realtor with a new house on the market?  Instead of crafting a superlative laden cheesy sales pitch, why not just contact your clients and ask them for help in selling this house.  Ask them (as a favor to you) to search their own networks to see if this property will be a fit for anyone they know.  If you've built enough good will, this works.

Say Thank You

Always say thank you when someone helps you out, always.  I try for a phone call or hand written note, but an email will work too.  If they know you really appreciate it, they're much more likely to help you again in the future.  You'd be surprised how many people miss this step and are then surprised when people aren't so eager to help them a second time.

Even if their help didn't pan out for you, thank them just the same.

What do you do to earn more referrals?

The above is what I do to help earn more referrals, there are lots of other ways to do it too.  The key is to no let referrals happen by chance.  Create a plan where you become so helpful to your clients that they will do backflips to help you when call on them for help.

It’s Not About Price, It’s About Value

,

“How much?”

As a business owner, you've heard this phrase hundreds, if not thousands of times from potential customers.

How do you usually respond to this question?  Before you answer, you should first understand what that potential customer is really asking you.

When they ask “How much”, what they are really asking you is “What will I gain if I buy this product?”

There are a few things you need to understand about this loaded question that will help you to formulate a response that will help turn them from skeptical potential customer, to paying customer.

How much something costs is relative

When someone inquires about price, they are comparing it to something else, something relative that they understand.

Example; they are inquiring about hiring you, an accountant, to do their family tax preparations.  In the past, they have used a low cost tax preparation franchise which they were moderately satisfied with.

See what can potentially happen here?  If you only quote a price, they will compare that price to their previous experience (low cost tax franchise service) and assume you provide something similar, because they have nothing else to compare you to.

How to fix this

Ask the potential customer, “Have you ever used a tax preparation service before, and if so, who?”

Based on the response, you will immediately understand what you are being compared to and will now have a chance to highlight your differences and competitive advantage.  It's important to understand your competition and know their flaws so you can highlight your advantages over them in a way that, at the same time, does not disparage them.

They want to know the value they will receive for that price

If I asked you “Is 20K too much to pay for a car?”, what would you say?  Of course, the obvious response would be “What kind of car?”  At this price point a 5 year old Honda Civic would be a rip off, while a brand new Range Rover would be steal.

Most people that walk into your business for the first time have no idea what you do or what kind of value you provide.  You can't leave it up to them to make that determination, it's up to you to show them why they need your products or services.

How to fix this

Ask the customer, “Have you ever been here before or used our services?”  If the answer is no, you can say “Well welcome, let me tell you a little about what we offer”  Give them your value proposition, help them to understand how better off they will be if they decide to do business with you.

It's all about showing them the value

They don't want you to dodge the question

While you should almost never just quote a price without first demonstrating what you do and what value you have to add, you should also never dodge the price question.  That's what used car salesman do and it drives people nuts.

Make sure you answer the price question, but only after you are able to find out a little more from the potential customer and can give your value proposition.

How to fix this

When someone asks you “How much?”, tell them, “I'd be happy to give you our pricing…..in order to make sure i'm giving you accurate information, can I just ask you a few brief questions?”  If you let them know right off that bat that you will be answering the price question, and not dodging it, most of the time they will give you a minute to speak.  This is your “in” and you should use it to ask a few qualifying questions in order to deliver them that value packed response.

Summary

As you can see, they key to answering the “How much?” question is finding out more about the potential customer and having the opportunity to give your value proposition.  You want to do this in a way that is not rude, is brief, and lets them know that you are not trying to dodge their price question.

For most business owners and salespeople this is too much work.  Most of the time they will quote a price with the attitude of “If they want us, they know where to find us”.  This is the reason most people are so blunt with the “How much?” question in the first place, they are used to being treated in a blunt manner.

Take that extra time to ask questions, formulate a response and show the value you have to offer. You may find that you'll be able to turn some of those blunt price questions into a valuable customer relationships.

 

 

 

How to Create Mouthwatering Content when You’re Thirsty for Ideas

“An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.” – Gilbert K Chesterton

For content marketers, generating new and compelling content can feel like an all-engulfing daily undertaking.

Where do I start?
What if I don’t have any good ideas?
How can I be sure readers will like my topic?

These are all the right questions.

For small businesses looking to engage in effective digital marketing, asking these questions is a solid first step.

From here you can transform your blank screen into one that dances with content that animates and retains your readers!

An Adventure is an Inconvenience Rightly Considered

When sitting down to brainstorm ideas for a new blog post, infographic, video or image, the most important thing is to keep a positive attitude.

Content creation is an adventure!

Adjusting your outlook is the first critical step towards hydrating an otherwise arid reservoir of ideas.

1. Question time

There are no boring topics, only boring content creators.

Start by thinking about your audience and their needs.

What information would be most useful to them?

Ask yourself the classic who, what, when, why, how questions.

Create content that caters to a specific need within your market. This magically transforms your content into a topic of avid interest for readers and will ultimately lead to more site traffic and conversions.

How to do it: Jot down every possible variation of your topic. For example, if you are writing about light bulbs come up with a series of questions to help guide your article topic: Who invented the light bulb? What are some unusual uses for lightbulbs? Where are the most lightbulb sales globally? Why light bulbs and not light cubes?

Steve Jobs said that creativity is just connecting things.

Make connections between ideas and, like devising a ground-breaking headline, determine which concept catches your attention the fastest. From here it’s just a matter of pulling these ideas together in the form of a useful reference for your audience.

2. Creativity train

Environmental factors play a huge role in your ability to produce consistently good quality content.

Although conventional ideas point to the need for space and silence to meet deadlines, some of the best copywriters and content creators manufacture copy in an environment that treads a fine line between chaos and control.

Multiple studies have looked into the ideal time to brainstorm content ideas, revealing that the best time is actually when you’re feeling unfocused and lacking creative direction.

How to do it: Those quirky colleagues aren’t there to serve as a creative distraction, they’re actually here to help erode your mental levees!

Embrace the chaos.

Use their alarming anecdotes and other office frivolity to propel you into an unchartered creative space. You might be surprised by some of the ideas you come up with!

3. Topic of conversation

A quick topic fix can be as simple as typing your subject into sites such as Quora and Soovle or performing a basic Google suggest search to see whether people are talking about it.

google-search-lightbulbs

If your proposed topic is already generating wide interest and online chatter it’s much easier to piggy-back onto these conversations and to build a discussion around your content.

Distinguish your content by injecting an unusual, interesting, helpful or controversial message that is useful and informative for your readers.

How to do it: Ask readers what questions they would like answered, cross-reference proposed topics with current events and think about adopting a journalistic approach.

When you look in the right places the possibilities for great content topics are virtually limitless.

4. Contradictions and consistencies

Challenge yourself to dream up new and interesting ways to enrapture readers.

Contradictions are one of the most stimulating ways to do this. Nothing delights a reader more than the momentary mental somersault sparked by two opposing ideas.

Part of the thrill of modern marketing is the fierce competition to be heard over thousands of competing headlines that demand your reader’s attention.

How to do it: Revel in the unconventional. Keep readers guessing with unexpected content and headlines. This shows a novel and exciting side to your brand that serves to build relationships and increase your conversion rates.

Some examples to consider:

A snowy summer’s day.
The statement below is false.
The statement above is true.

5. Clarity is key

Move people to open your emails and read your content by delivering your message in a clear and accessible way.

How to do it: Pivot your content decisions according to whether you would like to read something on the topic you are posting about.

If not, move on to something else.

These are our top tips for how to stay inspired. Change the way you think about creating great content and the ideas will overflow.

Got any other great tips for creating mouthwatering content in a topic drought? Then hit us in the comments below.

 

Sarah LynchAbout the author: Sarah Lynch content manager and all round creative spark at TWiZ, a Digital marketing agency based in Sydney, Australia. To hear more social media and marketing musings from Sarah you can catch her for weekly installments on the TWiZ blog or follow her on Twitter.