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Use the “Dog Days” to Rethink Your Marketing Strategy

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: August 14, 2012

 

Is August a slow season for your small business? For many of us, business slows down as the days heat up. Fortunately, that makes the rest of this month the ideal time to use your downtime productively by reassessing your marketing strategy. Determine what’s working and what isn’t, and revamp your approach for the rest of the year.

Here are some areas to consider:

Has your target market changed? Maybe your customers are getting older, moving out of your area or spending less on what you sell. Is there a new target market you could focus on to pick up the slack? How could you adjust your product or service mix or branding message to effectively reach out to new customers, or recapture those who used to buy from you but have stopped doing so?

What’s your competition doing? Assess your closest competitors—both large and small, online and offline. How are they marketing their businesses? What are they doing differently or better than you are? What marketing tactics could you employ that they aren’t using? Are they targeting markets you’re ignoring, or are there markets they’re neglecting that you could capture?

Has your industry changed? Keeping up-to-date with your industry association’s news, training and conferences will help you stay abreast of the latest marketing trends for businesses like yours. Take advantage of free or low-cost resources your industry association may offer to help you learn the latest marketing tactics. Take note of industry best practices for marketing and learn from them.

Have your marketing goals changed? Maybe it’s time to adjust your marketing goals. (You do set measurable goals, don’t you?) What return on investment do you expect to get from each of your marketing efforts? Are certain parts of your marketing plan exceeding your goals while others fall short? Consider pulling back on the areas that aren’t paying off and putting greater focus on those that are.

What resources will you need? Do you have adequate resources (time, manpower, money) to carry out your marketing plan? If not, you’ll have to make adjustments, whether that means hiring, reapportioning budgets or changing your plans. Now more than ever, successful marketing requires turning on a dime, so be prepared to make changes to your plans quickly, and set aside a portion of your marketing budget to handle the unexpected.

What does the future hold? This time last year, no one could have predicted the extent to which mobile marketing and mobile shopping would affect the 2011 holiday season. Are there similar game-changers in store for your industry in the coming year? Think like a futurist and examine the market trends affecting your customers, your region and your industry. How could these trends play out in the next 12 months, and how will that affect your marketing?

Assessing your goals, needs and results, then adjusting your plans appropriately, will enable you to fine-tune your marketing strategy for success the rest of the year. Now, that’s a summer well spent.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades

Planning and Managing Strategic Positioning

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: July 19, 2012

 

One of the most important benefits of good business planning is strategic positioning. Especially as technology advances and markets grow constantly more narrow and more defined, positioning is vital. You can use your business plan, with regular review and revisions, to keep steering towards the right positioning.

The change in segmentation and strategy is remarkable. Take television sports as an example. We started with sports programs on network television. Now we have several mainstream sports channels, and separate channels for pro football, college football, tennis, golf, basketball, baseball and who knows what else. Restaurants are another good example. Think of how finely restaurant categories divide: not just fast food, but several varieties of allegedly ethnic fast foods, organic, local and so on.

This offers the normal small business the benefits of strategically defining a position that ropes off a set of specific target market and business offerings to enhance the relationship between business and customer. The phrase “target marketing” has been around about forever, but now it really means something.

You can use this classic positioning statement as a starting point:

For [target market description] who [target market need] [how our business offering meets the need]. Unlike [key competition], it [most distinguishing feature].  

And here’s an example:

For local small business owners who know they could optimize their business with more social media but don’t have time to actually do it, our social media services get it done for them without taking their time and effort. Unlike most social media consulting, we don’t just advise; we roll up our sleeves and do the work.

And another example:

For busy people looking for quick meals who care about local economies and their personal health and nutrition, our fast foods are organic, local, and healthy. Unlike most fast foods offerings, we use fresh local ingredients, organic, grilled not fried, with a lot of vegetables and vegetarian options, and local free-range meats

Both of those examples are old-fashioned positioning statements that show how much strategy is inherent in positioning. In both cases, the definition of target market at the opening should help the business enormously as it develops marketing messages and marketing plans because it has a more clearly defined understanding of the people it’s trying to reach. And in both cases the business offering is defined strategically to match the needs of the target market.

Positioning like this is a good reminder of how strategy is as much a matter of what your business doesn’t do as what it does. Both of these example businesses should be able to focus better on their particular piece of the larger market pie.

As part of your business planning process, your positioning doesn’t have to take any particular form. In planning, like in most of business, form follows function; doing the actual format doesn’t matter. I don’t think of business planning as producing a single written document, but as a process of regular review and revision. Let the positioning statement be a slide, a paragraph, pictures, a presentation, or whatever … the key is that when you review your planning, every month, you take a few minutes to go over your positioning. First, you remind yourself of your strategy. Second, you take a few minutes to consider changes in the market, and changes in your assumptions, that might require changing that positioning.

Positioning reminds me of my favorite marketing quote, which is actually from Bill Cosby, who was talking about a lot more than marketing:

“I don’t know the secret to success, but I do know that the secret to failure is trying to please everybody.”

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

How to "Pull Your Head Out of the Sand" and Use Social Media in Your Small Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: July 19, 2012 Updated: September 27, 2016

Social media is one of the fastest growing channels for businesses to connect with existing and potential customers. However, taking that first step or next step can be a challenge.  How do you find the time for it? How do you build a following and engage with your audience? What social media platforms are the best for your business?

If any of these questions have crossed your mind, you’re not alone. During this year’s National Small Business Week Conference in Washington, D.C., in May, hundreds of small business owners posed these and other questions to a panel of experts from Twitter, Yelp, Google, GrowBizMedia and Constant Contact during a well-attended Social Media Forum.

Despite the cultural and marketing phenomenon that social media has become, many small business owners still struggle to juggle the demands of business and justify the effort it takes to engage social media, despite the opportunity social media represents – or as panel moderator, the Wall Street Journal’s Brian Moran observed: “ … stick their head in the sand and pretend social media isn’t there!”.

If this sounds like you, here are some social media best practices shared at the event that may inspire you to pull your head out of the sand!

Getting to Know Your Customers Again

Why is social media so important to small businesses?

Panelist Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBizMedia, sees social media as an opportunity for small businesses to reignite what they once did automatically in the past, before the advent of big malls. Today, those traditional small town relationships are harder to build.  But “…social media lets you have a relationship with existing and potential customers… you’re not just some anonymous business owner to them.”

Luther Lowe, director of Business Outreach at Yelp agreed: “…social media is an extremely powerful way to retain existing customers… and keep that person educated about why they should continue to use you as a small business.”

Jenna Golden, a member of Twitter’s Public Affairs and Public Outreach team, stressed the importance of not thinking about it as a digital relationship, but something as something that can actually turn into an in-person relationship.

Which Platform is Right for Your Business?

Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest—the list goes on. But which are right for your business? There is no silver bullet when it comes to answering this question.

As Lesonsky explained: “...find out where your customers can be found, go there first, and then spread out from there… if you run a restaurant, yes, you probably should be on Twitter, but you should really be on Yelp first.”

Erica Ayotte, social media manager with Constant Contact, recommends businesses start with one channel test it and nurture it. Erica also recommends a little diversification, suggesting you “spend a little time each week exploring new platforms and figure out if they might be for you.”

Reaching the Right People

A fundamental challenge for small business owners is finding the right people to follow and engage.  

Twitter’s Golden stressed the importance of asking yourself who it is you want to reach? “If you have the right people following you, you can count on them to re-Tweet the information and really get it out further.” In this case, quality of followers is often more important than quantity.

The panel also recommended using search tools to identify and follow people who are influencers in your industry. For example, if you are in the restaurant business, identify the food bloggers in your region, give them a follow, and slowly you’ll start to build and grow your followers and influence.

The panel also stressed the importance of connecting your social media activity to your already loyal email subscriber list. Send them an email to let them know about your social media presence and quickly generate new follows from those who are already engaged with you.

Get Ready to Engage

Engagement isn’t always easy; it takes time to build up a loyal following of like-minded people.

Starting with information that is perceived as interesting is one step. Jeff Aguero, head of Local Marketing for Google, encourages small business owners to “…start with quality content, something that you do really well, and then use social media and web tools to amplify it.”

Web chats, contests and surveys are also great ways to engage, but the panel cautioned small business owners new to social media to resist this form of heavy interaction until their network has had time to grow. “Once you’ve established awareness and trust, then look to step up your approach,” suggested Constant Contact’s Ayotte. “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress,” she explained. “It can take some time to figure out what content is going to resonate with an audience… Try something new if no one responds to your Facebook posts.  It’s OK.  Tweak your posts until you find your sweet spot.”

And last but not least, authenticity is critical. “Try to use your authentic voice,” stressed Twitter’s Golden.

For more tips, information about tools that can help you manage your small business social networks, check out the video archive of the Social Media Forum online.

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How a Business Email Address Can Hurt or Help Your Financing Efforts

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: July 17, 2012

We can all agree that email is another tool used for exchanging information. But when it comes to business, it plays a much greater role then many people seem to realize.

Unfortunately, one of the most common mistakes business owners make is obtaining a business email account from one of the many free email services available on the Internet. While a free email services does serve a purpose, it can give a bad impression to a potential customer or even hurt your chances for obtaining credit because some creditors require a dedicated business email account.

You can help your business by obtaining a business email account that clearly shows that your company has a personalized domain name. The email address you set up should have @yourbusinessname.com. Not only does this look professional, but it also shows that you are a “real” company with a dedicated communications system.

The first thing you will need to do is register a domain name for your business with an approved domain registrar.

Once you visit the site, you will need to conduct a domain search to see if a .COM for your company name is available. I strongly suggest that you obtain a .COM because it adds another layer of credibility and professionalism to your business as opposed to a .Biz or .Net name.

If your company name is not available as a .COM, then consider searching for a .COM with the extension of your structure title as well. For example, ABC Company.com may not be available, but try ABC CompanyLLC.com as an alternative.

Be prepared to supply the following information when setting up your business email account:

  1. Name, company name, address and phone number
  2. Administrative contact information
  3. Technical contact information
  4. Domain Name System (DNS) server details

The DNS server is usually provided by the web hosting company that you use to host your website. If you don’t have a website, you can have your domain name parked on your registrar’s servers until you set one up. This can be done afterwards and you can always contact their tech support for additional help.

Once you register a domain name, you will be able to set up a business email account associated with your new domain name. When you select an email address, keep it simple because you will be supplying this information on all your company documents, applications, registrations and so on.

If you decide to establish multiple email addresses like ceo@abccompany.com, support@abccompany.com and sales@abccompany.com, make sure you use only one of these email addresses on all things related to the business credit building process.

It’s essential that you understand how lenders and credit providers assess the creditworthiness of a business. Even though it may seem like a minor detail, having a dedicated business email account does play a role in the decision making process. Small details like this that get overlooked can cause problems for you later on.

About the author

Marco Carbajo is CEO of the Business Credit Insiders Circle (http://www.businesscreditblogger.com), a step-by-step business credit building system providing credit recovery, lines of credit, business credit cards, trade credit, and funding sources.

About the Author:

Marco Carbajo
Marco Carbajo

Guest Blogger

Marco Carbajo is a business credit expert, author, speaker, and founder of the Business Credit Insiders Circle. He is a business credit blogger for Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, the SBA.gov Community, About.com and All Business.com. His articles and blog; Business Credit Blogger.com, have been featured in 'Fox Small Business','American Express Small Business', 'Business Week', 'The Washington Post', 'The New York Times', 'The San Francisco Tribune',‘Alltop’, and ‘Entrepreneur Connect’.

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