service businesses

A Quick, Easy Small Business Marketing Plan For 2010

The New Year is just around the corner and if you're not already thinking about it, you should be outlining your marketing plan for 2010. If you're like a lot of small businesses, you're coming off of a rough 2009 without a lot of free cash to dump into new marketing. I hear you loud and clear...so here's a plan to boost your marketing and go easy on your wallet.

What Highly Successful Entrepreneurs Do That You Don't, And What to Do About It

I spend a lot of time studying and interacting with highly successful entrepreneurs from a variety of industries. If you were to come along with me and meet these "superstars" of business you'd have a hard time figuring out what they have in common. Sure they're all driven to succeed...that's a given. Some are educated. Others are not. They are a mix of men and women from every ethnic background. Most come from modest means, but a few come from money. Some look the part of the "dot-com" ultra-hip entrepreneur...most look like regular guys and gals.

But they all share one behavior that I know is the secret to their success...

They implement FAST!!!

The time between when they have an idea and when they act on it is very short and they're always trying to make it shorter. This is THE one success secret for a very simple reason. My entrepreneur friends make and IMPLEMENT more decisions then their less successful colleagues.

So in a year's time they have implemented 200 ideas, while "normal" business owners might analyze and agonize and only implement 20 ideas. Let's assume that in both groups the hit rate for ideas is the same...say 10%. So normal business owners might have 2 hits during the year, but the entrepreneur will have 20. The entrepreneur is more successful just by virtue of the numbers.

So let me give you a few examples of what I mean by fast implementation from my own recent experience.

• Driving back from South Florida earlier this week I was on the phone with a friend discussing his marketing. We had the idea to host a teleseminar to generate leads for this business. Within 5 minutes of birthing the idea, we chose a date (two weeks out) and a topic.

Today, we'll be reviewing his rough draft of the presentation and approving the postcard that will be mailed to promote it. It's been 34 hours since we decided to do the teleseminar. That's what I mean by speed.

• Last month I attended my CEO mastermind group (I meet with 12 other CEOs for one day a month to discuss opportunities and issues in our businesses...a very valuable exercise that I'll write about in a future article). I presented my opportunity and one of the members gave me the name of someone that could help me with our idea. On the next break (not when I got to the office, not the next day...the next potty break), I was on the phone with our local Economic Development official asking for an introduction to this person. Not only did I get the introduction, but I got a meeting set before the end of the day.

• Last month an entrepreneur friend got an email from the editor of his local business journal publication asking if he'd write an article for the upcoming issue. He responded with a phone call within 60 seconds...the editor said "I've never had anyone respond so quickly before." My friend turned that quick response into a monthly column in the journal which positions him as the expert in his field and is driving leads to him as a result.

Here's the real magic...successful entrepreneurs who implement fast have a HIGHER hit rate than slow implementing business owners. Why? Because opportunity is fleeting. By the time the slow business owner finally does something, he's often missed his chance.

Now for the good news. Fast implementation is a BEHAVIOR you can install in your life. Write down the following on a 3 x 5 index card and carry it with you for the next 21 days (it takes 21 days to create a new habit): "I will implement ideas FAST."

Read it in the morning when you wake up and several times during the day to remind yourself to speed up. When presented with a decision, idea or opportunity, do something about it immediately. Do anything...taking a first small step will start the ball rolling and you will gain momentum with each small step.

Going back to my teleseminar example. We had the idea and immediately said "let's set a date". We gave ourselves two weeks. If we had not set the date for the event right then it would have taken us a month or more to do the teleseminar. We took one very small step, picking a date, and it set the whole thing in motion.

What idea did you get while reading this article? Post a comment to tell us what first small step you're going to take...then go do it. Now!

Friday Feature: How to Lead Your Tribe

Marketing is about gathering together people who want what you have. You, the marketer are the leader of this group...and people are dying to be lead. There are too many choices and too little time to analyze every decision, every purchase. So we all rely on leaders to filter the choices for us. Your job as a smart marketer is to become the leader in your market. The expert who's opinion is valued, who's concerned with the well being of your 'tribe' as Seth Godin describes in this Friday Feature video.

Do you agree with Seth? Do you think he's full of #$@%&. Post your opinion in the comments below.

One of the best tools for gathering together your tribe and communicating with them is social media. We've put together a 24-page guide to using social media in your business. Download it free.

Happy Friday!

Marketing Secret #6 – 3 M’s of Marketing – Your Message

Our last marketing secrets post discussed media to deliver your message. This week we will discuss your message.

What will you say to your prospects? How will you define your company, services, expertise? YOU WON’T! Do not send anything out listing your services, how long you have been in business or how great you are. Nobody cares! Yes, I know that sounds mean, but I am about to save you a TON of money.

When you’re send your marketing message to your prospects and clients, make it all about them. Yes, they are dialed into “What’s In It For Me.” Your message to the prospects and clients should be focused around how you are solving their problems.

The next most important aspect of your message is the “call to action.” Ingrain that into your brain – Call To Action. We want our prospects and clients to read our message and take an action.

The action could be to request a free consultation, free report, attend a webinar and so on. Even if they are not ready to buy today, we want to capture their information. In your business, what can you “give away” to your customers in return for getting their name, phone number and email address?

If you can’t think of anything, think about what knowledge you can share with your prospects. What can you teach them? For example, if you are in the Architecture business, you could teach your prospects about green building, what it might cost and how it would benefit them. You want to give away information that corresponds to the services you offer. The free report is not a sales pitch, but a learning tool for your prospects.

The message also has to take into account the characteristics of the market. One very important aspect to the message is using the prospects’ “vocabulary.” If you are marketing to an industry with their own terms, make sure you use the same terms in your message so your prospects know you are one of them.

All that’s left now is to draft your message and send to your prospects!

Marketing Secret # 4 – 3 M’s of Marketing

Market, Media and Message are three keys to making your marketing efforts more successful. In this week’s Marketing Secret, we are going to talk about Market. The market you are selling your services to is the most important piece of the puzzle. You have to know your market inside and out, understand what the market is looking for and how you can deliver to the market.

You also have to define your market. The worst thing you can do is say, “we provide widgets for everyone/anyone.” If your provide something to everyone, you sell to no one. So, get specific about who you are selling to. For example, if you are an architecture firm, you could specialize in schools. Now, that does not necessarily mean you only sell to the county school boards. You could sell to church schools, military schools, universities/higher education, pre-schools and so on.

When you start to define the characteristics of your customers, you start to create an ideal client mold. Knowing what your ideal client looks like will save you THOUSANDS of dollars in wasted marketing money, not to mention save you time.

A good example of a target market description is: land developers who have less than 20 employees, work in Texas, have annual revenues over $2 million dollars and specialize in commercial buildings. If you cannot get your description of who you want to sell to down to specific characteristics, you will be hard pressed to find what you are looking for.

Stay tuned! In next week’s Marketing Secret, we will discuss Media – how to reach your prospects.

The 12 Essential Techniques of Power Networkers

1. Don't try to sell. For most people it all ends tragically here. They mistakenly stroll into the industry conference or chamber of commerce meeting with the idea that they need to find someone to sell to. Don't do it. It gives people the creeps. And it kills your real opportunity at these events--finding strategic partners.

2. Give before you get. Don't go with your hand out empty to your network. Not until you've made some deposits in your good will account. Build up your account first, by giving referrals.

3. Understand that it's net WORK. I hate to say it (and I'll probably lose half of you reading this now) but power networkers WORK at it.

They cut up the newspaper and magazines to send articles of interest to the people in their network. They set aside time to think about who they know and how people in their network can help each other.

The bad news is that it takes work. The good news is that a small amount of work will yield big results.

4. Be interesting. Everyone says you need an elevator pitch to use when you meet someone at a networking event. But the way MOST people do it is, frankly boring.

It usually goes like this "Hi, I'm Bob, I'm an accountant..." or "Hi, I'm Bob with Enormicon, we specialize in scaleable solutions to strategic problems by finding synergy with customers, suppliers and partners"...Yuck! If you're doing this, you're boring and forgettable.

For our real estate services and surveying business, my partner has used "I give good land..." and "I measure the Earth..." She always gets a laugh and a follow-up question from the person she's talking with. It starts the conversation and people remember.

5. Set goals. Never attend a networking event without deciding how many strategic partners you're going to meet. If you're just starting, commit to two. As you get better, increase the number. When you hit the number go home, knowing you succeeded.

6. Throw a rolodex party. Networking and sales guru Greta Schulz throws "rolodex parties" with key contacts every few months. Agree with your key contacts that you'll meet for lunch and everyone will bring their contact list. You share lists, looking for people you can be introduced to.

7. Be interesting. This one's important enough to mention twice.

8. Make it easy to refer to you. So you've succeeded and you found a strategic partner who wants to refer people to you. She asks you "Who's a good prospect for you?" And you say "Anyone who does ____________." You've just killed your opportunity for a referral.

Instead, make a "Top 10 People I'd Like to Meet List" and give it to your strategic partners. On the list put specific people or specific positions within specific companies such as "Chief Software Architect, Microsoft."

By focusing your partner, you'll get exponentially better results and you'll get them faster.

9. Play matchmaker. Your job in networking is to match up people who can do business with each other or who can refer business to one another. Spend some time each week (put it on your calendar) to think about who you can match up within your network. Then make the introductions. I suggest a minimum of two each week.

10. Say thank you. If you get a referral or introduction from someone, say thanks. Send a personal note ( you get bonus points for cookies or Starbucks cards).

11. Test alliances quickly. Don't waste time on people who don't understand that networking is reciprocal. If you're giving and giving and getting nothing in return cut the relationship.

Often you can determine how the relationship will go during your first conversation. If you're asking all the questions and the potential partner doesn't show interest in what you do...politely move on.

12. Have a system. Make your life easy and have a system for starting conversations, for meeting with partners the first time, for following up and for making introductions.

Having a system does not mean you have to be rigid, just that you follow a defined set of steps. You'll be more effective if you're not reinventing the mechanics of networking at every event you attend.

What techniques work well for you?

How To Use The Pyramid of Influence To Beat The Recession

Last week I was listening to a talk by marketing and PR guru Paul Hartunian. In his talk he reminded me of the Pyramid of Influence described by Dan Kennedy and others for decades. There are four levels to the pyramid:

1. The Generalist - My Business is a Commodity

The generalist is known for knowing a little bit about alot of things. Or, probably better stated, is not known for anything in particular. The generalist is the lowest level of the pyramid.

Here lives your family dentist, the local insurance agent or your business attorney. Most businesses large and small sit at this level.

They sit there, not because of some market force, but because they have not chosen to be "special." You can identify a generalist business anytime you here the owner bemoan the fact that what they sell is a commodity.

2. The Specialist - See me if you need the right answer

Moving up the pyramid, with much more influence than the generalists are the specialists. The obvious example of this is your doctor. If you break your leg, you don't want your general practice doctor...you want an orthopedic specialist.

If you have a termite problem at your house, you don't want any old bug man, you want the Termidor certified specialist.

By specializing in the solution of one specific problem for a specific type of client you reduce the number of people who are prospects for you. And, you increase the magnetism of your solution to that smaller group.

Because you're speaking right at them and their specific problem, you have greater influence. You're the expert after all.

3. The Celebrity - I don't know much, but I've got your attention

In our modern world of 12,617 TV channels, YouTube, blogs and Twitter, you don't have to look far to see the influence that celebrities enjoy in our society. They shape our decisions on fashion, hair styles, cell phones, music...the list goes on.

Celebrities have more influence than specialists. Our last election is a great education on that point. Regardless of your politics, recognize that Barack Obama, the celebrity, beat two of the most powerful political specialists of the last decade in John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

4. The Celebrity Specialist - I know my stuff and the media thinks I'm cool

At the top, the people with the most influence in our world are those people and companies who become celebrity specialists. This group combines the specialized knowledge of the specialist and the public presence of the celebrity.

Examples:

  • Dr. Phil (specialist - relationships, added celebrity with Oprah appearances)
  • Suze Orman (specialist - personal finance, appears on Today Show, CNBC, bestselling author)
  • Dr. Oz (specialist - all things health and medical, on Oprah, Larry King, best selling books)

So you're probably thinking...great, how am I going to get on Oprah so I get to the top of the pyramid. My answer: if you can get there...do it.

But you don't need to.

Let me tell you about my friend John Curry. John is a financial planner. Not very remarkable, right? But John specializes in helping state employees here in Florida plan for there retirement in the Florida Retirement System's pension program.

John wrote some articles on how to have a secure retirement if you're in the Florida Retirement System. He got the articles published which led to an appearance on a local Sunday morning news talk show.

The talk show appearance has now positioned him as the celebrity specialist for the Florida Retirement System. Lots of financial planners can help you, but only John is on TV talking to all of the soon to retire state employees in the state capital.

How can you become the celebrity specialist in your market? Do it and you won't have to worry about the economy.

7 Reasons The Billable Hour Is Killing Your Business

If you're in just about any service business, you probably bill some, if not all, of your work by the hour. The practice is most sacred with our lawyer friends, but engineers, accountants, plumbers, even elevator inspectors charge by the hour.

Heck, I did it in my business for years. Then I realized that there were only two paths to growth in this model and neither are very appealing... The first is the "pyramid scheme". In this strategy you get to the top of the pyramid by owning the firm. Then you add layer upon layer of labor under you, building a pyramid. Each new layer needs to be bigger than the one before it to support the weight of overhead and promotion and salary growth of the layers above.

The second is the "hour expansion" model. In this model you and your billable labor must work ever increasing numbers of hours. In law firms, young associates fall into a pecking order based on billing 2000, 2500 or 3000 hours per year. The problem with hour expansion is that you have to sleep sooner or later. And as your labor force grows up, they increasingly choose to spend time with, of all things, their families (the nerve).

In most successful hourly billing businesses both models are employed simultaneously. But there's a limit to how far these businesses can grow. And if you can't grow, you die. So here are the 7 reasons hourly billing is killing your business:

  1. You limit your income - only 24 hours in a day...and only so many suckers you can get to work them all.
  2. You put quantity of work ahead of quality of work. Most of you billing by the hour will vehemently disagree, but you pay for quantity...you get quantity.
  3. You create distrust in your client relationships. Here's a secret--client's hate hourly billing, because they never know if they're getting fair value for the result.
  4. You eliminate the incentive to innovate. This affects you, the business owner, and your staff. Why get faster...we'll get paid less.
  5. You create a conflict between your desire for profit and your client's desire for rapid, successful resolution.
  6. You force yourself to treat your staff like mere machines, not intelligent, creative, problem solving PEOPLE.
  7. Your leaving BIG BUCKS on the table. By attaching your price to a unit of time, rather than the value you deliver, you're often going to under charge for your service. Your losing money! And, when you bill more by the hour than the total value of your service...you're pissing off your client. In both cases YOU LOSE.

Bonus #8: You're leaving a HUGE marketing advantage on the table. If you're in an industry where everyone bills by the hour, it's a great opportunity to stand apart from the crowd.

Take a stand like the folks at Valorem Law Group where they invite clients to adjust the fee to equal the client's view of the value delivered.

Most owners will see this as a huge risk (but not our steely-eyed readers). No. You see this for the marketing coup it is.

I'll bet Valorem almost never sees any ink on the "value adjustment line", but I'm sure they can count every dollar of business they've gained since they started doing it.

The bottom line is this: billing by value keeps you on-your-toes. No value created, no profit received. If you can't successfully charge for value, you've got other problems to fix.

Do you agree or am I off my rocker...spout off below!