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Monthly Archives: March 2009

Small Business Advertising Habits Die Hard

consultingIt is not surprising that the generally-recognized percentage of small business owners who act as their own marketing departments is well above 50%.

After all, these are men and women who have the guts  and courage to stake their own claim and compete against much bigger, more established players.

So if they think they are better and smarter than the big boys, they have no problem making the leap to assume they are better and smarter than any marketing consultant.

But, as we all know, the game has changed and the old ways of doing things are going to have to change with them.

Advertising is broken and there is no chance of it being put together again.

And the push marketing of print and TV does not translate online in spite of it being a $25 billion business.

Yet I see all the usual suspects of  our local economy advertising the same old ways they always have.

Old habits die hard.

But what will die easily is any hope for increased revenue as a result of traditional advertising.

The best example I have as to how much the game has changed is anecdotal.  The editor of well-known national newspaper had his son over for dinner with a number of his law school buddies.  There were ten young men and women in total all under the age of 30. When he asked them to tell him which print publications they subscribed to, they all had the same answer.

Zero.

And they use the internet just as we all do.

As a place to research and find information on things we already like.

Not to be advertised to.

Not to be interrupted.

To be informed, engaged, entertained.  All with the expectation that these things will be delivered for free.

If you are a small business, now is the time to consider things like content advertising and embedded placements.

There is nothing wrong with joining the conversations on places like Twitter and Facebook to promote your wares as well.  Just be sure to check the etiquette before you begin or find someone who knows a thing or two and can help you get started.

You can still do a lot more with lists you already have such as your email database.  I guarantee you are not doing enough to engage your best customers there.

This is not easy work and you are going to need help.

But first you have to get past the fact that the old ways don’t work.

Embrace the new.

It’s now or never.

Small Business Marketing: Are You Telling a Story Worth Hearing?

listenMost small businesses don’t have the time or inclination to really think through their marketing strategy.

They are so bloody busy just taking care of their customers and employees and the business itself, that any subject beyond their immediate pains and problems feels like an indulgence.

So what happens when it comes time for them to actually promote their product or service?

They haf-ass it.

They lump in marketing with advertising,  slap together an ad for a magazine or the Yellow Pages or direct mail, fill it with way too much information and call it a day.

What a waste.

Sometimes I run into businesses that claim not to need any marketing help.  Either someone took a course somewhere, or they had an advertising background or they happen to believe they are a universal genius.  They are going to do it themselves and without any outside input.

The problem is they are usually so in love with their own story that they have lost sight of the end-goal.

To communicate the benefits of your product or service in order to generate sales.

Yes, you may have been to Startup Hell and back, survived a monster hurricane, and be truly passionate about the resiliency of your outdoor patio furniture, but until you can tell me exactly why it’s going to benefit me to plunk down my hard-earned cash and buy it, I am not interested.

In the American Idol and social media era  of “personal branding“, making that point to small business owners is getting more and more difficult.

Everyone wants to be a star.

But it ain’t gonna happen.

Because the fact of the matter is that most of us are just not that interesting.

We think we are unique.  We think we are special.  But really we are pretty much reflective of the good ole Bell Curve.

A few outliers on either end and a big mass in the middle.

So get over it.

You’re a patio furniture salesman or a dentist or a scrappy inventor with an idea a minute.

You’re not Mahatma Gandhi.

Put the focus back on how you can help people ease and enrich their lives.

Communicate that in a simple, easy story with three takeaways that you can repeat morning noon and night.

Make it about them.  Make it a story they can relate to.  Make it inspirational and fun.  Seth Godin would say just make it…remarkable.

There is so much noise out there and people have gotten so much better at filtering that unless you hit them head on, you have no chance.

They’ll start listening when they hear something that makes them think of the one thing they care about more than anything else.

Themselves.

Agree?  Let me know.

OCBizBlog Loves Kean Coffee

If you are looking for a genuine coffeehouse experience, it doesn’t get any better than Kean Coffee in Newport Beach.

Founded by Martin and Karen Deidrich (who sold their Deidrch Coffee chain to Starbucks a couple of years ago) Kean offers java lovers the perfect blend of ambience, aroma and artistry.

There are many reasons why I love small businesses and this is one of them.

Kean Coffee is a rare spot where craftsmanship takes precedence over cash flow.  Not that I am against cash flow…but when that comes first in the food and beverage world, you can literally taste it.

Kean just opened a new location in Tustin.  Click on the link above for more info.

No Digital Strategy? Good Luck With That

OCJobTalk Runs Into the Rule of 150

cocktailparty-thumb-300x247When Justin Moore-Brown of Mobo Media (and the man behind the design of this site) told me he wanted to experiment building a social network, I told him it would be a fun project to do together.

About a month later, over coffee, I said to him “OCJobTalk”, and a couple of weeks after that, we launched the site.  A little more than a month later, we have 153 members who have created profiles, posted jobs, links, blogs and photos, all in an effort to help each other find work in a tough economy.

Having both read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, we were aware of the notion that 150 appears to be a magical number at which most social interactions for human beings are maximized.  After 150 people, there is a change in the dynamic.  In cognitive psychology, the concept is known as channel capacity.  It’s the same reason why phone numbers are seven digits.  After seven digits people have a tough time memorizing numbers.

The relevance for us is what is known as a social channel capacity, which was put forth by anthropologist Robin Dunbar.  Dunbar found that 150 appeared to represent the number at which you could have a genuinely social relationship.  In his research, he found the number coming up time and time again.

He looked at 21 different hunter-gatherer tribes worldwide, that have historical records and found the population average to be 148.4.  The same pattern holds true for military organizations.  Military planners all seem to agree that functional fighting units should not exceed 200 people.  And then there are the Hutterites, a religious group living in self sufficiency for centuries in Europe.  They maintain a strict rule which declares that every time a colony reaches more than 150, it must split and start a new one.  They know, intuitively, that as groups get too large, something is lost that can never be regained; that smaller groups are closer, more effective and more successful at community life.

We see all of this in effect at OCJobTalk.  It is a small, high-quality group.  We are easily able to engage with most members in a timely manner and we have already had some early successes helping people find work.  We feel like a part of the group and not above it or out of it.  And we want it to stay that way.

At the same time, as business owners (and competitive guys) we like to set benchmarks and measure growth.  So we are a bit torn.  We want to grow.  But we don’t want to lose what we have right now.  So we have been encouraging our members to join our industry groups and so far that looks to be successful.

We shall see.

We are hoping to create something that can actually be effective and deliver on its promise.

If we can help people find work, then we are easing and enriching lives…not a bad thing.

But if it just becomes a numbers game for the sake of numbers, we will most likely fall on our face.

It’s still an experiment.

And so far we haven’t blown up the lab.

What do you think?

Does the Rule of 150 even apply to online social networks?

The Hard, Dirty Work of Making it Through 2009

obama1President Obama’s announcement yesterday made some small business people perk up just a bit.

Then they went back to work.

Easing a credit squeeze afflicting small businesses by buying up to $15 billion of securities that are linked to SBA loans is definitely a good thing, but there are a lot of folks in the trenches right now who won’t be affected by this at all.

They are the ones who sell directly to consumers who don’t have much cash on hand.

Consumers are hurting, the businesses that sell to them are hurting and the businesses that sell to businesses are hurting.

It’s a Game of Pain.

If you sell B2B, unless you can truly contribute to cost-saving measures or revenue-generating programs, you need to re-think your offering.

Forget how fun you think your product is, or “how much of a difference” it can make, you need to prove it.

And offer it up to your prospect on a trial basis until it generates real results.

Gulp.

That’s right.  No more upfront fees.  No more shady promises.  No more sounds too good to be true.  If you want to be in businesss this year and next, you have to work with the kind of passion and integrity your kids would be proud of.

work_hard_graphic_2When I meet with small business owners I feel like I am carrying a pick and a shovel.

The shovel moves out all the BS in the room and the pick goes to work to get to the heart of the matter.

Where’s your pain?

What are you hiding?

What don’t you know that is killing your business right now?

Find that and fix it and you can keep their lights on and yours too.

Be value added.

Be a mensch.

Don’t allow yourself to overpromise and underdeliver.

It’s not easy.  It’s hard work.  But it has to be done.

Yesterday, I walked into a client’s office and he showed me a stack of unpaid bills from customers.

He said that he was tapping into savings just to pay his employees and stay afloat.

I had a great CRM program that I wanted him to implement but tossed the presentation aside.

We talked for the next 15 minutes about collections and who I knew that could help him out and then I left.

That generated a little goodwill that will translate into dollars eventually.

It’s going to be more work for less right now.

We just have to get used to it.

It won’t last forever.