Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Five Low-Cost Marketing Activities for Small Businesses during a Recession

With the recession gathering steam, 2009 looks to be a tough year for small businesses. Belt-tightening on marketing budgets is a natural reflex to diminished sales. However, it would be a huge mistake for a small business to shut down marketing in a recession because marketing is essential to surviving a downturn. And fortunately, there are effective marketing activities that can be conducted for little or no cost to help keep your sales alive.

Marketing promotion doesn’t have to cost a bundle to yield results. Some of the most effective marketing activities are inexpensive and require little more than investing your time to make them work for your business.

Here are five inexpensive marketing activities a small business can do to keep existing customers coming back while creating new ones:

  1. Fine-tune your Website. Go over your site from the perspective of a first-time visitor. Are visitors able to discern what your site is about and why they should do business with your company within the ten seconds that you have to capture their interest? Is the site easy to navigate – can visitors readily find what they are looking for? If your business is selling online, is the purchase process simple to use and fool-proof? Do you offer complementary items for sale during the checkout stage? And finally, have you at least performed basic search engine optimization by including meta, alt and header tags, as well as populating your page titles and textual content with keywords relevant to each page? If that sounds like gibberish to you, check out sites like www.WilsonWeb.com to get helpful non-techie site tuning tips. Take an hour or so to perform an audit of your Website – it will ultimately yield big returns for your business!
  2. Nurture your customers and prospects with a monthly email newsletter. Use “push” marketing through an email newsletter to stay in touch with your customers and prospects. Gain their ineterst by providing valuable information. This allows you to promote your products or services directly to potential buyers. Include incentives and create a sense of urgency. Insert click-through links to special pages on your Website that are germane to any offers or subjects promoted in the newsletter. Use low-cost ($30-$50 monthly online services like www.ConstantContact.com which offer professional newsletter templates and email list management. Just remember to “drip, drip, drip” on your clientele to remind them of the value your business provides.
  3. Include your Website address on all correspondence, especially business cards and emails. Add a tagline to emails under the signature block that promotes your business. For example, “World’s Largest and Most Affordable Supply of Custom Widgets.”
  4. Do press releases. These can be simple one-page releases announcing new products or services offered by your business, your latest achievements, new employees, management changes, new markets, discount programs, etc. – basically anything of public interest. Press releases are free advertising! Distribute them online to targeted geographical locations or audiences by using inexpensive services like www.PRWeb.com ($80). Don’t worry - these services show you how to set up the release. Make sure to include a link back to your site to provide interested readers with more information or drive traffic to an online sales funnel. And since online press releases get picked up by other Websites, newsletters and blogs as “filler content,” they help to create one-way links to your Website from a variety of complementary sites, thereby enhancing your search engine ranking. Don’t forget to mail your press release to local hard-print publications as well!
  5. Advertise weekly or monthly promotions on your Website and in your newsletter to generate new sales and keep your customers coming back. If appropriate, you can even get a unique Website address (e.g., BigSale-TailorMadeSuits.com) for about $10 that points to a page in your Website where the promotion is presented in detail along with possible online purchase options. You can also add this unique online address to flyers or small ads in your local paper or industry periodicals.

With a little effort, your small business can have an effective marketing program for minimal expense. And now is the time to try new things and learn new marketing skills while you may have some slack. If you master the above activities, they will continue to provide a foundation for inexpensive marketing once the economy recovers. So make an investment in your future by starting with just one of these proven marketing techniques. Then tackle the others. You will be surprised and pleased with the results!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Small Business Marketing During a Troubled Economy

Is there any doubt in your mind that we are entering a deep recession, perhaps the worse one since the Great Depression? How will your business survive this downturn? Bet that question has been keeping you up at night!

When the economy tightens, there is often a natural inclination among small businesses to cut costs across the board. This can be a healthy move. Certainly, there are business expenses you are now incurring that could be curtailed or eliminated. However, drastic cuts in marketing is not one of them.

In an economic downturn, continued marketing is key to survival. It's simple - without sales, you go belly up, and effective marketing generates sales even in a recession. The key to survival is to step back and re-orient your marketing dollars to activities which contribute to cost savings while still effectively maintaining visibility among targeted audiences.

For example, if you run ads in a trade periodical, just start running smaller ads if this medium is critical for your business. If you do television or radio ads, cut back to just those time slots that generate the most sales.

And most importantly, invest your valuable marketing dollars where you get "the most bang for the bucks." In good or bad times, this means placing an emphasis on Internet marketing. Why? Just consider:

  • Internet marketing reaches a worldwide audience on a 24x7 basis. And over 70 percent of people now surf the Internet when looking to buy a product or service. A Website and domain name costs about $60 annually. Figure another $1,000 to $6,000 (depending on complexity) to have an experienced pro develop a site for your business and optimize it for Internet search engines so it eventually bubbles up on the first or second page of Google for your keywords. This is a pretty cheap price to gain a worldwide sales vehicle that works around the clock for your business.
  • Flyers, direct mailings and hard-print advertising in newspapers and magazines are expensive...very expensive. On the other hand, online pay-per-click (PPC) advertising (when done right) delivers high-quality sales leads for pennies or a just a few dollars each. A typical medium-size newspaper ad might cost $600 or more for a short run. For the same amount, you could run PPC advertising for one or two months. Hard-print advertising is a shotgun approach whereas PPC advertising targets potential customers at the exact moment when they are looking for a product or service just like the one you offer. And, you are only charged when a prospect actually clicks on your PPC ad. Otherwise, it's free advertising! Plus your business gains immediate Internet visibility while your Website gains search engine ranking.

So don't cut your own throat by discontinuing marketing during this economic downturn. Rather, make your scarce dollars go further by shifting promotional activities to Internet marketing. But employ a professional to help your business. As many before you have discovered, you'll get results sooner, avoid costly pitfalls and save money overall.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Time to Start a Home Business?

Maybe you are wondering if it's the best time to start a home business, what with the ailing economy and all. The answer is that it is always a good time to start a home business IF you have done your homework first.

Here are some tips:

  • Don't just jump in - take time to do your homework. Research your target market. Scope out the competition. Determine how you will differentiate yourself. Identify the risks and how you will deal with them. Develop a launch plan - what do you have to accomplish and in what order? Develop some financial projections - what can you realistically expect in terms of costs, revenues and profits? Fortunately, the Internet is a wealth of information. The more time you spend on this step, the more pitfalls you will avoid and the less costly your start-up phase will be.
  • Plan on developing a Website. You need a Website today to be credible. Ideally, your Website should be an online marketing platform for generating business. But it's not enough today to just put up a Website and sit back. Unless it is optimized for search engines, your Website will remain invisible on the Internet. Also, make sure to add Google Analytics to the Website so that you can analyze visitor behavior and make tweaks accordingly. Go to www.smallbizsmartmarketing.com if you need help. We'll give you a free consultation.
  • Market your business. Take advantage of the free online listings offered by Google, Yahoo, Kudzu and SuperPages. Look for inexpensive advertising opportunities in your local press. Do an online press release with an embedded link back to your Website. Distributed free articles about your business subject online (again with an embedded link back to your Website). Send flyers or postcards to your local target market. And add a free online newsletter subscription box to your Website - email newsletters (in which you can promote your business) cost less then a penny each to distribute.
  • Lastly, monitor your progress, and make changes as necessary based on the feedback you receive. Be sure to compare your actual financials to your projected financials. Are you on plan, or do you need to make changes? Are your expectations proving true?

Running a home-based business during retirement is a great way to generate supplemental income! But don't be fooled. The planning and start-up phases take a lot of work if you are going to be successful. Don't be in a rush to launch your "great idea." The more time you spend upfront in the planning phase, the better your odds of success.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Do the Business Plan First!

I'm constantly amazed by how many entrepreneurs just jump in and start spending money on websites, marketing, etc., without having first accomplished their homework. Then after several months and maxed-out credit cards, they turn to someone like myself to help them understand why they are not getting any leads or generating any business. In almost every case, these fledgling millionaires failed to complete a business plan before leaping into the unforgiving world of commerce.

A business plan forces one to apply logic and rationale to "bright ideas." Done right, it highlights the risks, tests assumptions, helps to identify winning strategies (if there is one), and presents the expected return on investment in cold hard numbers for different scenarios.

Completing a business plan before launching a business will not guarantee success, but it will give you a much better chance of succeeding. Rushing to market without a business plan almost always results in expensive surprises and ultimate failure.

Having a business plan provides a targeted roadmap and benchmarks against which progress can be measured. It also alerts you to "bailout" opportunities if things are not going as expected. And it will help you to avoid costly pitfalls. In short, preparing a rigorous business plan upfront will more than pay for itself.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Launching a Home Business Offer Many Benefits

In today's economy, many people start a home-based business or work part-time to make ends meet. Regarding the former, having a home business offers many benefits besides additional income.

First, it is exciting to start your own business, to pit your experience and wits against the world and become successful. It keeps you engaged with the outside world and the business community. You learn new things; you meet interesting people, and you continue to grow.

And there are considerable tax benefits too. Did you know that health insurance costs are deductible? This is a great way to take the sting out of the high cost of health insurance for Baby Boomer retirees who are not yet 65 years old. And your home computer equipment, automobiles, supplies and even home office space are fully or partially deductible too! Of course, you should check with your accountant or use a package like Intuit's Turbo Tax for Home and Business to confirm the exact deductions to which you are entitled.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of launching a home business is the gratification one receives from being the captain of your own ship. You control your time. You get to plan your own strategy and make all the decisions. It is invigorating and yes, even fun. When you're doing something you enjoy, it's not work.

Need help with mastering online marketing? Take a look at wwww.smallbizsmartmarketing.com. We can help. Baby Boomers who are thinking of starting a home business should look at www.babyboomerlifeboat.com to get an idea of the how to approach it and the challenges they can expect.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Baby Boomer Lifeboat

Several "Baby Boomer" members of our organization (Pacifica Endeavors LLC) have expressed concern about the impact of the economy on their ability to retire. On June 24th, their fears were confirmed:

The decline in home values has reduced the prospect of comfortable retirements for the majority of near retirees, according to a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) .“This extraordinary destruction of wealth will have tremendous implications for millions of families as they enter retirement,” wrote report co-author Dean Baker. “Coupled with a very low personal savings rate, this means that many people will only have Social Security and Medicare to rely on in their retirement."

As many as two-thirds of Baby Boomers in their 50's and 60's are believed to fit the above profile. Sure, most have some savings, but for the majority their retirement plan was anchored by presumed home equity.

So, after much hand-wringing and a few drinks, the question among my colleagues quickly became, "Is it possible for Baby Boomers to comfortably retire if they do not have a large 401K, a big pension, an inheritance, or an executive golden parachute to sustain them?"

Being Internet Marketing professionals, we decided to do what we do best - research the subject....and the answer is "Yes." BUT, Baby Boomers with financial shortfalls have to be willing to make changes in their life styles to do so.

We discovered a wealth of information and Websites that can help Baby Boomers on their journey to retirement. So much information in fact that we decided to consolidate it in a new Website: http://www.babyboomerlifeboat.com/.

Pacifica Endeavors will maintain this site as a public service for fellow Baby Boomers. God knows, it looks like the majority of us will need it!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A CRM Solution for Small Businesses

Managing customers, conducting marketing campaigns and achieving timely follow-up on sales leads is a vital process that can overwhelm a small business. Keeping promises, storing correspondence, managing sales and being able to quickly determine the status of accounts is crucial to success. Having a single, integrated solution to accomplish all this makes the lives of small business people so much easier and more productive.

Internet-based customer relationship management (CRM) and contact management solutions offer significant advantages. Typically, they are more affordable for small businesses because there is no software to buy or maintain. Equally important, online CRM solutions are accessible from any Internet connection by authorized personnel, providing a good centralized answer for both far-flung sales forces and company management. Too, online CRM solutions circumvent the danger of viruses accessing or destroying vital company data. And most solutions do not require a long-term contract, so it’s easy to get started and companies are not locked into a solution that may not be right for them.

I recently helped a client modify his Website to communicate with AppShore’s online CRM and contact management solution. I was impressed by what I saw.

Why? First, AppShore is designed for small businesses, a market that my own consulting service targets. Having tried other online CRM solutions myself, I am familiar with their functionality. What struck me right away about AppShore is how simple it is to use. Things that seem complex in competitive Internet-based solutions like Salesforce.com or desktop packages such as Goldmine are straightforward and fairly easy to understand in AppShore. I believe this reflects the background of the AppShore team, which consists of seasoned software professionals experienced in start-ups and small businesses.

Speaking as a small business person myself, here are some things that I particularly like about AppShore:

  • It has an intuitive design and offers functionality that is a good fit for small businesses rather than enterprise-level companies. I didn’t have to spend hours studying a manual to understand the function of each tab or how to use it.
  • It employs “mouse over” technology to give you a quick overview of accounts and leads, as well as the ability to edit them.
  • Accounts and leads can be imported using csv files. This means your Outlook Contacts and ACT! files, for example, can be easily imported to AppShore.
  • Relevant documents, such as proposals, agreements and RFQ’s can be uploaded and stored for fast access and management.
  • AppShore even offers a means to seamlessly transfer captured data from Website forms into the AppShore “new leads” database and then automatically notify you via email. This is a terrific time saver that ensures that Web-generated sales leads never fall through the crack!
    The ability to prioritize tasks by customer or prospect helps you to focus on activities that generate business.
  • Opportunities are easy to track and (by assigning a probability and dollar amount to each) provide a basis for forecasting sales. Setting up a sales funnel with different stages is straightforward and beneficial.
  • Versatile reporting capabilities facilitate management of marketing and sales functions, as well as providing fast looks at expected revenue.
  • AppShore includes a convenient outbound Webmail function that allows you to send email using your domain name. Emails can be linked to customer and prospect accounts for easy retrieval and reference.
  • The ability to set up and use templates with multiple “insert” fields for outbound email marketing campaigns and customer/lead follow-up is available with the premium plan. This is both convenient and effective, allowing small businesses to be responsive and conduct inexpensive marketing campaigns. Just be sure that emails are sent only to valid contacts to avoid violating CAN-SPAM laws and provide an “unsubscribe” capability if you use this feature to send email newsletters or promotions.
  • A “dashboard” tab allows you to quickly review upcoming activities, your latest leads and top opportunities.
  • Password-based access and a separate Administrator function provide adequate security. AppShore databases are also backed up on a regular basis. Having vital customer and sales information located offsite also facilitates disaster recovery.

Overall, AppShore is an excellent solution for a small business. It’s not too much, nor too little. Like any CRM package, however, set-up and terminology may be a little confusing for small businesses that have never used a CRM package before.

What would I like to see more of? The AppShore solution is surprisingly lacking in online tutorials and a Help tab to provide quick answers for “how to” questions. This oversight is balanced by AppShore’s free personalized training, set-up assistance, and excellent telephone support (I know because I tried it!). And, AppShore will release a new version in June 2008 that includes a searchable FAQ (answering “how to” questions), user manual downloads and online problem ticket submission.

Best of all, AppShore is affordable for small businesses, with prices starting at just $11 monthly per user after a
thirty-day free trial. Moreover, there are no long-term contracts, so companies can export their data and discontinue AppShore at any time if they are dissatisfied. But from what I’ve seen, small businesses will be pleasantly surprised by the positive impact on their bottom line once they start using AppShore CRM.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Having a Pricing Strategy is Key to Success

Many businesses give little thought to their pricing strategy. Most do a cost mark-up, and then make adjustments when the competition pushes back. Many have little or no idea if their pricing generates sufficient margin to have a profitable, growing business.

Pricing should be an intricate part of your business strategy. Are you pioneering a new market and want to lock up market share before competitors enter your niche? Do you have a product with an edge that supports premium pricing? Are you trying to penetrate an established market? Will you be selling products internationally? Each of these situations requires a different pricing strategy.

It is important to understand your target market(s). What is the buying power of your prospects? Is financing required? Who are your competitors and what do they charge for similar products or services? What differentiates your offering from the competition, and does this support premium pricing or require you to compete with lower pricing?

The good news is that if you can answer these questions and have thought your pricing strategy through, your business has a much better chance of success. Why? Because you understand your market and have a business plan. And this is the basis for creating a good pricing strategy.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

PPC Advertising Is Not For Novices

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a challenging, dynamic endeavor. You can't just set it up and walk away from it. PPC advertising requires constant monitoring and tweaking to be effective.

Those who first launch a PPC advertising campaign are usually disappointed by the results. Expectations are high; results are low. That's because the initial launch parameters are just a starting point (i.e., your best guess based on keyword research, etc.). From that point on, be prepared to make adjustments to inch towards desired results.

The tools to refinement are provided by the PPC vendor. Google, for example, has excellent tools...if you know how to use them. For example, what ads and what keywords are giving you the best results? Narrow down your market attack to get more bang for your advertising dollar.

Here are some other parameters to employ in optimizing your advertising campaign:
  • Set up your ads to run during daylight hours (why spread your budget over ad impressions in the middle of the night?).
  • Focus your ads geographically (city (also by zip or radius from a zip), region, country, language, etc.)
  • Unless you are selling consumer products or really know what you are doing, avoid settings that display your ads on other Websites, but do take advantage of having your ads appear on major auxiliary search engines (e.g., AOL).
  • Target your keyword bids to get your ads to appear in positions 3 to 5 - your money will go further and you will still get good results.

Of course, the purpose of PPC advertising is to sell something or capture a sales lead. Hence, your real measurement of success is not how many ad clicks you get, but how many of those click-throughs turn into useful conversions that lead to more business.

Most PPC advertisers take the clickers to the home page (or an internal page) of their Website. What happens thereafter, nobody knows because there is no easy way to track clicker behavior. Most wander around and leave the site because material germane to the reason they clicked on the ad is not readily apparent. And there is no way of knowing how many ad click-throughs turn into customers or at least prospects. So, these advertisers spend a lot of money without any means of determining whether their advertising bucks are worth the effort.

That's why it is critically important that you have special landing pages where ad clickers find content relevant to the ad AND the ability to make a purchase or fill out a form to acquire an incentive. Completing this desired process is the goal of your campaign, and by arriving at a "thank you" page afterwards, you can measure how many ad click-throughs actually result in achieving this goal. Inserting special code into a "thank you" page allows the PPC vendor to report how many conversions your campaign is achieving and the cost for each. This is the real cost for your PPC advertising.

By tracking your PPC advertising results through the entire sales process, you can measure your return on investment. For example, if you sell Widgets at $10 each and the PPC advertising cost to achieve a sale is $1, then it's working for you. If PCC advertising costs $10 per resultant sale, then you probably want to re-think your marketing strategy.

PPC advertising is not for the novice. You can burn through a lot of money very quickly with little or no results. In the long run, small businesses are much better off by employing a professional, such as Pacifica Endeavors, who understand the pitfalls and can fast-track PPC advertising while saving them money. The result can be a dramatic growth in sales within one-to-two months, which more than compensates for the advertising expense.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Get More Mileage with Internet Marketing Compared to Traditional Marketing!

I'm often surprised by how many small companies haven't yet grasped that Internet marketing is far more economical and yields much better results than traditional hard-print marketing. Compared to the latter, online marketing yields a significantly higher ROI.

Having a good Website that is optimized for search engines is a first step. Once accomplished, ongoing expense is minimal. Email newsletters cost less than a penny apiece compared to about $.50 each (minimum) for direct mail pieces. And online press releases reach a larger audience than hard-print coverage. Moreover, pay-per-click advertising costs only a fraction of - and is much, much more effective than - newspaper or magazine advertising.

In short, Internet marketing is the perfect answer for small businesses on a budget. Done right, it can dramatically increase sales while saving a bundle over traditional marketing. Contact Small Business Smart Marketing for a free consultation.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Close Sales with Testimonials and Reference Letters

Never underestimate the value of a customer testimonial or reference letter. Whether you sell a product or service on the Internet or by direct sales force (or both), these are gold!

Prospective customers feel more comfortable making a "buy" decision if your business has glowing endorsements from existing customers. In their eyes, this reduces the risk of selecting your company as their vendor. So, always ask for a reference letter or testimonial upon completing projects or transactions.

If your business has performed as agreed, there will be no problem getting this endorsement. You can actually ensure this by writing it yourself and then emailing the "draft" to the customer to get their blessing, asking them "if they want to make any changes."

Place one-to-two paragraph testimonials in conspicuous places on your Website. If you have a direct sales force, make sure customer reference letters are printed on the customer's letterhead and signed. Often, a prospect will even forego calling references if your sales people give them high-caliber endorsement letters at an appropriate stage in the sales cycle. These are great closing tools!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What You Need to Know About Google PPC Advertising

Google pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a great way for small businesses and start-ups to acquire sales. After all, Google owns 70 percent of the search engine market, and your prospective customers are likely to us it to hunt for a product or service just like yours. While PPC advertising can help your company, there are also major pitfalls to avoid.

Let's start with the major advantages:

  • You can gain instant Internet visibility while your Website bubbles up in organic search engine rankings.
  • Your ads appear right at the moment someone is searching for your product or service!
  • You are only charged when someone actually clicks on your ad…otherwise, it’s free!

But to take advantage of PPC advertising, you have to really understand how it works. In short, Google PPC advertising is not for novices. Trust me, if you just follow Google directions and recommendations, you can blow through a lot of money really fast with minimal results.

The major mistakes small businesses and start-ups make when using PPC advertising are:

  • Not setting objectives, a strategy or computing break-even economics.
  • Failure to perform keyword research; bidding primarily on popular (costly) keywords.
  • Not using negative keywords to optimize your budget.
  • Poorly written or misleading ads which result in ineffective clicks.
  • Failure to incorporate keywords in your ads
  • Clicking on an ad takes the user to your Website Home page where they get lost and quickly move on. Either take the clicker to a specific page in your site or (preferred) a landing page related to the ad content.
  • No lead capture or purchase mechanism.
  • Failure to actively manage campaigns.
  • Unable to measure return on investment.

And you can't master Google PPC advertising without devoting considerable time and, yes, money in the process. The industry is full of horror stories about first-timers who tried it and were shocked at the bill they received on their credit cards. Hiring a knowledgeable, experienced person to launch and manage your PPC campaigns is worth every penny. In the long run, you'll save money while profitably grow your sales.

If you wish to proceed on your own despite this advice, for God's sake set a minimal budget so you can play with the PPC variables and learn the Google ropes without breaking your bank. If you want affordable professional assistance, give us (http://www.smallbizsmartmarketing.com/) or a knowledgeable consultant a call. You won't regret it.