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The Power of Face-to-Face Networking

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: July 12, 2012

 

Every day, like many of you (or hopefully most of you) I network—from the comfort of my home or my office. I spend a good part of my day participating in social media, posting on Facebook, LinkedIn and mostly Twitter. One of my business partners also posts our content on other social media platforms.

Networking online has served me well. I’ve met lots of interesting entrepreneurs, cemented existing relationships, marketed my work and even found a few clients. But a recent trip to Delhi, India for a conference for women entrepreneurs, DWEN (Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network) sponsored by Dell reminded me that, though it might sound quaint, there’s still a lot to be said about-and gained from- face-to-face networking.

Are you one of those people who think networking is a waste of time? It’s not. Essentially, all else being equal, people do business with people they know, like and trust. Networking enables you to meet people you otherwise would not come in contact with, and establish a foundation for a lasting relationship.

To be clear, I am not suggesting you give up your social networking efforts. But, similar to incorporating social media into your overall marketing plan, you’ll be better off if you have just one cohesive networking strategy.

If just thinking about walking into a room full of strangers makes you break out in a cold sweat, here are some tips to make networking easier, more effective and maybe even fun.

Establish goals. Like any business effort, you need to set measurable goals so you can determine the best networking strategy for you. Do you want to make X number of new contacts per month? Do you want to obtain X number of qualified leads? Do you want to find a new supplier or vendor for a particular item? Having goals is also key to determining how you'll assess the success of your networking efforts.

Create a strategy. Now that you know what kind of people you want to meet, figure out what organizations and events they are likely to attend. Are there key industry trade groups whose conferences you should be attending? Would you benefit from local groups such as your Chamber of Commerce? How about niche groups such as networking organizations for women or minority entrepreneurs? There are also groups organized around specific topics, such as sales lead generating groups or finding financing.

Make the time. Figure out how much time you need to devote to networking to achieve your goals, and how much time you can realistically spend. Depending on your goals, you may want to focus on one organization or spread your efforts among several groups. Whatever you do, don't take a scattershot approach. Give each group at least two or three tries before you decide how valuable it is.

Do your homework. When you attend networking events, be prepared with plenty of business cards and your best elevator pitch,  a brief one- or two-sentence description of your business that clearly conveys what you do and is intriguing enough that people want to know more. Bring pens for jotting notes on the back of business cards.

Mingle. Of course it’s easier to attend an event with a friend or colleague, but if you do, make sure you split up. Spending all your time with people you already know defeats the purpose of networking. Networking is kind of like cold calling: The more you do it, the less scary it becomes. If you’re nervous about being rejected, try finding other newcomers; they'll be eternally grateful.

Be a good listener. Listening is the secret to making sales, and it's also the secret to successful networking. When you meet someone new, ask questions and really listen to the answers. When you listen carefully, two things happen. First, you'll spot needs that your business can fill. Second, you'll gain a reputation as a great conversationalist, which will make more people want to approach you.

Be a leader. If you decide to join an organization, don't just sit there. Join a committee or take a leadership role. By doing so, you'll learn more, meet more people, and make yourself memorable.

Follow up. You can go to 20 networking events a month, but if you don't follow up on the contacts you make, it's all for nothing. Within 48 hours after each event, follow up on your new contacts in some way, even if it's just a quick e-mail saying how nice it was to meet them. Take action on what you talked about at the event—if you discussed meeting for lunch, follow up with a specific invitation; if you suggested talking by phone, set a time for the call. Acting within 48 hours helps cement you in the other person's mind and starts building the relationship.

Integrate online and offline. Incorporate your real-world networking contacts into your social networking efforts. When you meet someone at an event, follow up with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Similarly, meeting up with your online contacts offline can be a great way to take those relationships to the next level. Try organizing a meetup of one of your most useful online networking groups.

Be persistent. The key to successful networking is persistence. It's kind of like that principle of compound interest that our math teachers explained to us all when we were kids. As you get to know more people and maintain and grow those relationships, your circle expands exponentially. As you do business with your new contacts, your business will grow exponentially, too.

This was my second trip to the DWEN conference. At last year’s event in Brazil, I met many new people, and reestablished some important relationships. I even forged a business partnership. This year the conference proved even more fruitful.

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

How to Get More Tweets, Likes and Other Shares on Your Blog Posts

By smallbiztrends, Guest Blogger
Published: July 5, 2012 Updated: September 23, 2016

One of the questions I’m frequently asked is how to get more traffic to your company website. I always mention blogging as a key technique, of course. You set up a blog as a section of your website. You publish compelling content on the blog. People come to the blog to read it. While on your blog they can learn more about your company, and may jump over to other sections of your site to check out your products and/or services. And if they are impressed by your content, they may share it with their circles of influence, leading to more people visiting.

However, blogs present a chicken-and-egg situation.  To get people to see and read your posts in the first place, you have to somehow make them aware of your blog. In other words, blogs can bring you more traffic, but you first have to get traffic to your blog! 

That’s where social media can play a huge role.  Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are excellent for raising awareness of – and developing an audience for – your blog.  So then it becomes a question of how to get more people sharing your blog posts more frequently.  In other words, how do you get more tweets, Facebook Likes, Google +1s, Pinterest pins, Stumbleupon stumbles, and other social shares?  Here are seven tried and true ways:

1)      Create share-worthy content - This sounds basic, but do not skip over this point. Without content that is interesting and worth the reader’s time, your blog will never really grow. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes: who wants to share a boring article that tells you nothing new or of value? For inspiration, check out these 36 blog topic ideasTip: If you don’t like to write or don’t have time, hire a freelance writer or see if one of your staff is a good writer and has an interest.

2)      Make content shareable – Make it EASY on readers to share your content. People are more likely to share if it takes just a click or two while still on your site. Put a small number of sharing buttons on your site for each post (top, bottom or side – just make them obvious). Two good choices for most small business blogs are the official Twitter tweet button and the Facebook Like/Share button – but you may need to experiment to see which social venues your audience frequents.  Tip: Don’t offer too many sharing buttons. When people are overwhelmed with choices, they tend to click away without sharing.  Four is a good number; 14 is too many. Or use a single sharing service that opens up to multiple choices, such as Add This or Share This.

3)      Become a sharer – Share every one of your own posts on social media. There is nothing wrong with that, provided you don’t limit your social activity to promoting your own links exclusively.  It’s a good idea to share the posts of others, too.  At first this may sound counterproductive – after all, aren’t you promoting competing posts?  But you can gain much goodwill by sharing others’ content.  Think of it as a form of networking. Tip: When you share someone else’s posts, try to call the person out by using their Twitter handle (as in RT @[Somebody]) or mention their Facebook profile, etc.  You are more like to get their attention and they will probably check you out (and your site), too.

4)      Increase the amount of content you publish – The more blog posts, the more chances to be shared.  That’s simply a matter of numbers. Unfortunately, the majority of small business blogs do not publish content frequently enough. It’s hard to build an ongoing audience when you publish infrequently – quite simply, people forget about you. Set a goal to double the current frequency of publishing. If today you publish once a quarter, make that twice a quarter. If you publish twice a month, try to increase it to four times a month. Tip: Don’t go overboard. You’re not running a news organization. You don’t have to publish nearly as often as big news blogs like Mashable. Once or twice a week is a decent goal.

5)      Network with those who have small to medium follower circles – If you are trying to attract the attention of those on Twitter via sharing their content or engaging with them, don’t focus on Twitter accounts of celebrities or news organizations with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers.  They are getting hundreds of mentions an hour and the likelihood they’ll even notice your mention is slim. Network with people with smaller followings, who will notice and want to network back with you and share your content. Tip: Try to find like-minded people or those in similar industries or who fit your customer profile.  Remember, the average Twitter account has well under 500 followers; don’t obsess over high follower counts. 

6)      Pay attention to the details – Make sure your sharing buttons are properly configured and actually work. Try them out periodically yourself. Even if they worked OK to begin with, sometimes there’s a change that breaks them. Make sure that Facebook and Google+ buttons are configured to capture the image from the post – an image calls attention to the shared item. For Twitter buttons, set them up to include your Twitter handle.  Tip: Stay under 140 characters and leave room for “RT @[yourhandle]” in Tweets.  If people are forced to rewrite your message to make it short enough to retweet, it reduces your retweets.

7)      Find optimal sharing and networking times – Engage with people when they are most likely to be online and on social sites.  That’s the best way to call attention to any tweeting or conversing you do.  Sharing posts at 2 am on Saturday morning is not, for instance, an optimal time. But 1:30 pm Eastern on Wednesdays may be. Tip:  Don’t blindly follow a statistic about the best time to tweet that you found on the Web. Experiment until you find out what works for your market – your experience may be the same … or different.

For additional reading, see:

Social Media Tune-up for Your Website

10 Often Overlooked Ways to Get Traffic to Your Blog

About the Author:

smallbiztrends
Anita Campbell

Guest Blogger

My name is Anita Campbell. I run online communities and information websites reaching over 6 million small business owners, stakeholders and entrepreneurs annually, including Small Business Trends, a daily publication about small business issues, and BizSugar.com, a small business social media site.

How to Market Your Business at Summer Events, Fairs and Festivals

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

 

Summer’s here and for most communities, that means the season of outdoor fairs, festivals and other events is underway. For a small business, community events like these can be a great opportunity to market your products and services to local residents and other event-goers. Here are some steps to get you started.

Research what events exist in your community and nearby communities. Your options might range from local “fun runs,” chili cook-offs or classic car shows to surfing contests or music festivals that bring in attendees from all over the country. If you’re new to event marketing, you’ll probably want to start at the smaller end of the spectrum.

Find the right match. Figure out which events are likely to bring the kinds of customers you want to target. Consider the city where the event is held, the target audience and the activity. It’s best to start with an event that has a track record in the community since the organizers will be better able to give you an estimate of attendance and audience breakdown.

Get the details. Contact organizers to see what opportunities exist. This could range from sponsoring the event (contributing money in return for getting your name on banners, fliers, programs, etc.), having a booth at the event to give away information or samples, or actually selling products at the event. Ask about costs and requirements.

Talk to others. Events don’t always live up to their hype, so find other business owners who have participated in the events you’re considering and ask them what they liked and didn’t like. Were fees and registration costs worthwhile? Did they get qualified leads or make a lot of sales from the event? Would they recommend it or not and why?

Be prepared. If you’re working a booth or selling products, plenty of advance planning is required. If your goal is collecting leads, make sure you have enough samples and literature to give out. Make it easy for attendees to give you their information, say by dropping business cards in a fishbowl or filling out a quick form. If you’re selling products, be sure you have enough stock on hand, an appealing display and several ways to accept payment (a mobile credit card reader like Square can be great for this purpose). Either way, make sure you have several friendly, well-trained and energetic staff members to work the event.

Assess results. Like any marketing effort, you need to track results to see if the event was worthwhile. Set goals for how much you want to sell, how many prospects you want to talk to or how many leads you want to capture. Track them and assess your results afterward. Fine-tune your approach depending on what you learned.

For smart small business owners, summer events can be a way to capture new leads and sales—while having some fun in the sun, too. 

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

4 Tips for Getting the Sales Department to Buy-In to Your Next Marketing Campaign

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 14, 2012 Updated: August 18, 2015

Are you the person in charge of running your small company’s marketing campaigns? Ever get a sense there’s a disconnect between what the Marketing team and the Sales team are doing?

Large and small businesses alike deal with this challenge on a regular basis. Marketing is busy planning and executing campaigns to generate new leads, while Sales is off pursuing its own goals and even devising its own campaigns! Successful marketing cannot happen in a silo.  This is especially true for small businesses, where success hinges on campaign buy-in and follow-through across the entire organization.

If you want your sales teams to generate leads and close deals based on your campaign activity – whether it’s following up with attendees who participated in your latest event or webcast or identifying cross-sell opportunities among new customers – then you’re going to have to motivate them. This doesn’t always have to involve blackmail or bonuses!

Here are four tips for gaining buy-in from your Sales team for your next marketing campaign.

Engage Sales Early

One of the most effective strategies for gaining buy-in on any project (marketing or otherwise) is to identify and engage the right stakeholders early. No one likes having a project or campaign dropped in their laps, particularly when they’ve had no input into its development, and especially if they are expected to be partly accountable for its success.

If someone from Sales isn’t in your Marketing planning meeting helping you formulate your plan and align it with company objectives, then it’s going to be difficult to engage the Sales team when the campaign launches. 

So bring Sales in early. This includes Sales leadership and Sales reps, who both can drive creative thinking and offer valuable strategic and tactical input about your target markets and what they will and will not respond to.

Plan for Regular Campaign Updates and Mutual Action Items

Once Sales has bought into a campaign, maintain a regular line of communication. Give the team regular campaign status updates and be clear about what you expect them to do, and expect the same from them. You need to hear how the field is responding to your latest campaign. Do you need to tweak your message or adjust your target?

Now you are really working as a team!

Recognize Sales Reps Who Excel

Keep Sales teams motivated by introducing some healthy competition and target-based incentives to make the campaign successful. Keep score, and have some fun with a leaderboard and pit sales reps or teams against each other. Give credit where it’s due to those who reach or exceed their campaign targets with monetary-based rewards if you have the budget, or non-monetary rewards (think Flex Fridays, use of the boss’ parking space, or time off). Don’t forget to reward those who also put in the hours to support the campaign, or who advocate for your marketing campaign in other ways such as encouraging business partners or channel partners to spread the word.

Position the Campaign in the Wider Context of Business Success

Few business leaders regularly share their vision for their business with their staff, many of whom are often left to perform their day-to-day duties with little awareness of how their contribution fits into the bigger picture.  Keeping staff abreast of how the business as a whole is doing against campaign targets, thanks to their help, can be hugely motivating.

That’s why marketing campaigns are a perfect opportunity to align company goals with individual goals. Whether it’s a rebranding campaign or diversification into new product lines or markets, set definite individual team goals, explain why the campaign is important, track results and share them with your team.

What tips have worked for you when it comes to gelling sales and marketing organizations? Leave a comment below or in the SBA Community below.

Related Articles

 

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 to Set a Marketing Budget that Fits your Business Goals and Provides a High Return on Investment

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 4, 2012 Updated: January 9, 2013

Whether you run a small business or a multi-million dollar corporation, marketing is essential to your profitability and growth. Yet many small businesses don’t allocate enough money to marketing or, worse, spend it haphazardly.

I recently got to know a business that was investing heavily in developing a hip, niche product to add to its already very cool product line. Seemed like a sure winner. However, it quickly became apparent that product development had occurred in a silo, while sales and marketing were off doing their own thing. The result? The week before launch, the business found itself with a fantastic product on its hands, but lacked a go-to-market plan or promotional material for the new product. 

In a panic, an expensive PR firm, social media strategist, and marketing consultant were all pulled in to help drive awareness of the new product. Within a few weeks, the budget had run dry and the business had to quickly revisit its overall operational and sales and marketing strategy, while moving forward on a shoestring.

Products and services don’t sell themselves. By ignoring marketing until it’s too late, many small businesses risk hitting a brick wall and, quite possibly, failing. A hip and trendy product line shouldn’t rely solely on ongoing product investment and word of mouth.

But how much money should you allocate to marketing? And how can you spend it wisely? Here are some tips that can help you do both:

How to Calculate your Marketing Budget

Many businesses allocate a percentage of actual or projected gross revenues – usually between 2-3 percent for run-rate marketing and up to 3-5 percent for start-up marketing. But the allocation actually depends on several factors: the industry you’re in, the size of your business, and its growth stage. For example, during the early brand building years retail businesses spend much more than other businesses on marketing – up to 20 percent of sales.

As a general rule, small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should allocate 7-8 percent of their revenues to marketing. This budget should be split between 1) brand development costs (which includes all the channels you use to promote your brand such as your website, blogs, sales collateral, etc.), and 2) the costs of promoting your business (campaigns, advertising, events, etc.).

This percentage also assumes you have margins in the range of 10-12 percent (after you’ve covered your other expenses, including marketing).

If your margins are lower than this, then you might consider eating more of the costs of doing business by lowering your overall margins and allocating additional spending to marketing. It’s a tough call, but your marketing budget should never be based on just what’s left over once all your other business expenses are covered.

Spending Your Budget Wisely

Knowing how much you have to spend on marketing is critical; even more critical is how you spend it.
This means having a plan.  Your small business marketing budget should be a component of your marketing plan, outlining the costs of how you are going to achieve your marketing goals within a certain timeframe.

To get a sense of what your plan should include, take a look at this article from SBA guest blogger, Rieva Lesonsky: Does Your Business Have a Marketing Plan? Also check out How to Cut Your Marketing Budget and Build Your Brand Profitably.

Revisit Your Plans Often and Track ROI

Once you have developed your marketing plan and budget, remember that it needn't be fixed and inflexible. There may be times when you need to throw in another unplanned campaign or event. At the end of the day, knowing whether it your spending is actually helping you achieve your marketing goals is more important than sticking to your budget.

Have a plan in place for measuring your spending and the impact that activities have on your bottom line. Compare tactics, analyze seasonal effects – was one quarter more profitable than another? Why? Above all, have patience and follow through on all your marketing efforts across the organization – it takes a village to build and grow a brand.

Some tactics are hard to measure, like the efficacy of print collateral, but you need to consider the impact of not having these branding staples in your tool kit before you reign in your graphic design and print funds.

Marketing plans should be maintained on an annual basis at a minimum, and revisited if you launch a new product/service, or if the market landscape changes.

Helpful Resources

 

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

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