Guiding Light: Your Business Plan

Business plans and email marketing have something in common. The two stalwarts have often been declared dead by so-called experts, yet both continue to demonstrate value to current and aspiring business owners. Despite the naysayers, business plans are the foundation of business success, for the unavoidable reason that many new businesses fail.

Of the 400,000 companies started in 2014, 44% had failed by year four and just 18% of first-time Entrepreneurs were able to launch and sustain a successful entity. As the saying goes, “No one plans to fail. They just fail to plan.” Don’t let that be you, Dear.

The primary reason for aspiring Freelance consultants and Entrepreneurs to write a business plan is to test assumptions about the viability of the business idea against credible information that reveals the likely demand for the product or service and customer groups that have the money and possible motive to buy those products and services. The potential viability of a business is revealed in factors such as the size of the market (i.e., those with money and motive to buy), the founder’s access to potential customers (a big factor in B2B and B2G sales), competitors who sell an identical or similar product or service (are they thriving or just hanging on?) and the amount of money required to set up shop and start doing business.

A second compelling reason to write a business plan is to develop strategies that provide a roadmap, or blueprint, that will guide the founder as s/he builds and launches the venture. Confirming target customers, identifying possible niche markets, choosing the pricing strategy and the sales strategy; creating the financial plan, the operations plan, a realistic business model and selecting the most advantageous legal structure will also be thought through in advance of the company launch.

During the process, the founder will make discoveries that may persuade him/her to refine certain aspects of the products and services intended to be sold, or adjust perceptions of who the ideal customers will be. This information may have the power to substantively improve the venture’s chances of success and sustainability.

A third reason that motivates aspiring Freelance consultants and Entrepreneurs to write a business plan is the need to seek financing for their venture, whether the funds will be used to launch or scale the company. The financing source may be a bank or credit union, a micro financing organization, private investment (friends and family), or even self-financing. Those holding money will use the business plan to make funding decisions, so founders would be wise to develop a realistic financial blueprint that projects three years into the future, as well as a credible marketing plan that accurately defines target customer groups and identifies key competitors.

In sum, a powerful business plan needs to be three-dimensional, so it distills lessons from the real world and allows the founder(s) to test and when necessary revise assumptions. This ongoing process will give the business the highest chance of success while also increasing your credibility with investors, your team and most of all, yourself.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: © Ubisoft Entertainment SA, artist’s rendering of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The lighthouse stood on the island of Pharos, guiding ships as they entered the harbors of Alexandria, Egypt on the Mediterranean coast. The structure was built during the reigns of Ptolemy I and II, c. 300 – 280 BC. With a height of over 330 feet, the lighthouse was so impressive that it was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Now lost, the lighthouse was a welcomed navigational aid for over 1600 years.

How Freelancers Scale Up

According to the Small Business Association in 2018, there were 30.2 million small businesses (< 500 employees) in the US and 80%, 24.3 million, were one-person ventures, i.e., Solopreneurs. Although just under 6 million small businesses have paid employees, those businesses nevertheless employ 47.6% of private sector workers, 59 million of 124 million employed Americans (factoring out government and not-for-profit organizations—schools, hospitals, social welfare agencies, the arts, religious institutions). BTW, there are fewer than 20,000 large businesses in the country—19, 464 in 2018. 2017/08/04125711/Frequently-Asked-Questions-Small-Business-2018.pdf

I suppose it can be said that in American business small is beautiful, or perhaps more accurately, small is the reality. Many of those 24.3 million Solopreneurs attempt to turn what could easily be called a Weakness in the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) strategic planning matrix into a Strength (me!) and use terms such as “boutique” to describe our business, along with marketing-spin phrases such as “personalized service” to communicate to prospective customers that the experience of doing business with us will be very positive and that no one is treated as a commodity.

Operating a boutique business is all well and good, however “boutique” can easily turn into “broke” if the proprietor continues to just scrape along, trying to bring in enough customers to pay the rent and keep the lights on. In order to make a go of being a business owner/ operator, it is necessary to scale the business. A business has successfully scaled when it can deliver its products and services to a significantly larger customer base while maintaining or improving operational efficiency and quality control. Good strategy and execution are needed to scale, but it’s often do-able. Read on and learn tactics and inspiration that will help you decide how to scale your venture.

Scale the Brand

The process for scaling your Freelance business starts with knowing, articulating and communicating your Brand. To attract more clients so that you can double or even triple your roster over a 3-year period, for example, you must communicate in various ways—client testimonials, case studies, LinkedIn recommendations, social media, company website, your newsletter or blog and other marketing channels—that you are highly competent, trustworthy and dependable. You deliver every time and you meet and often exceed client expectations. You bring value. Invent a Branding tagline to help yourself stand out from the 24 + million Freelancers in America and add it to your email signature block.

Be advised that Branding doesn’t simply refer to the colors you use for your business card or logo. Branding encompasses all client touch points during which your client encounters or interacts with you and your company, from the initial contact with you, interaction with employees, the tone of emails, visiting and navigating your website, your payment and billing systems, social media posts, advertising and everything in between. Articulating and communicating your Brand not only enhances the perception of your know-how as a Freelancer, but also makes it easier to scale your business in the future.

Scale client acquisition

Freelancers tend to get stuck in a rut of competing for projects in the same way over and over. We find a tactic that works, whether it’s cold emailing potential clients or applying for jobs posted on sites like Upwork.com and Guru.com. One will eventually figure out how to get hired on those sites, but you’ll still leave a lot of work on the table. It’s been reported that 27% of Freelancers find assignments via referrals made by friends, family and clients; 24% find projects through online job boards, email marketing and social media platforms like LinkedIn ProFinder. How can you make the most of these sources?

You don’t have to chase down all possibilities but do get into the habit of exploring alternative client acquisition methods, to get your name and expertise in front of a wider audience. Your current clients are also a potential source of referrals (I’ve been lucky enough to have that happen). Get the ball rolling by making a referral for your client first, so that you will come to mind if one of the client’s colleagues could use your services. BTW, unless you’re in IT, job boards attract clients who low-ball the money. Not only that, but Upwork now requires Freelancers to pay to submit a proposal and then pay again 20% of the fee when one is hired. I will not pay to apply for a job and that service is off my list.

Scale your network

Networking can potentially deliver significant benefits that accrue from the relationships you build. Networking helps us meet new friends, find a future spouse, get invited to join a board, learn of a house for sale when we’re looking to move, or get a job referral. Networking will also bring to you potential collaborators, for those times that you need to bring in a Freelancer colleague in order to take on a bigger project, or the gift of community support when it would be helpful (and when is it not?).

Start building your professional network ASAP, compiling connections who are Freelancers themselves and maybe also potential clients. Try connecting with fellow Freelancers in the comment section of industry blogs and industry-related LinkedIn and Facebook groups and participating in relevant Twitter discussions.

Scale your skills

Whatever one does for a living there is always training and development involved, that is, if one is lucky, because professional development is an investment in you and no one can take it away once you have it. In order to find work, the Freelancer must be considered a trusted expert. To be considered an expert, one must be better than the rest and that means your knowledge and skills must be bleeding edge current.

When preparing to scale your business you have to grow as a person and a professional and that means learning new skills, keeping up with the newest trends and learning to use applicable tech tools. This can be challenging, as well as time consuming, but what you learn can perhaps lead to new business ideas, smarter planning for the future and implementing new systems and approaches. Online education sites like Coursera, Udemy and Codecademy are a good place to start. Serving on a board, teaching and even judging a business award (I’ve judged the Stevie Awards/ Women in Business category https://stevieawards.com/women for 6 years) are other ways to keep skills current and learn new competencies (and network as you do).

Scale your creativity

To effectively scale your Freelance gig and transform it into an enterprise, you need to break out of your service-based mentality and the best way to do that is to create a product to sell. Think about it—once you’ve created your e-book, course, or physical product, you can sell it over and over, whereas you’re limited to providing a certain amount of services per week to clients.

Not only does a product give you the ability to reach many more people, but creating a product also provides you with passive income, giving you more time to work on other areas of your business. Put on your thinking cap and see what you can dream up. An e-book or online courses are probably the most accessible products for B2B service providers to produce. I don’t have an online course to sell (yet), but I’ve been teaching business-related subjects for more than a dozen years.

Scale your systems

In order to grow, one needs the tools to keep revenue consistently coming in at a steady and abundant pace. To support opportunities for that business growth, it pays to systematize certain business functions and responsibilities. Outsourcing gives you the pleasure of employing a fellow Freelancer as you devote more time to the pursuit of lucrative clients or identifying another product to sell.

Invoicing, bookkeeping, newsletter or blog editing and social media account management are popular outsourcing functions because they do not require a deep knowledge of your business. Outsourcing (or automating) routine tasks gives you the time you need to work on your business, not in your business and that will enable you to scale.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: (Reuters) Master Baker Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ and star of the reality television show Cake Boss (TLC)

Combat Customer Churn

If you’re ready to greenlight a business idea that you feel has money-making potential, then it’s time to create your road map to entrepreneurial success! Learn to build a Business Plan that will become both the foundation and launching pad for your exciting new venture. We’ll take a deep dive into all the ingredients of a basic Business Plan, including how to evaluate the profit-making potential of your business idea; define your ideal customer groups; evaluate competitors; develop a savvy marketing and social media plan; and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream.  Thursdays March 28 & April 4 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here .

Every business owner works hard to add new customers to the company roster. Customer acquisition is a key component of an owner’s role, but attention must also be  paid to customer retention. It’s critical that business owners/ leaders develop a customer retention strategy for the organization—and implement it!

Depending on which study you believe and the industry you’re in, acquiring a new customer costs anywhere from 5 to 25 times more than the cost of retaining an existing customer.  Consider the time and resources utilized to recruit even one new customer, to say nothing of prospects whom you pursue and do not win.  It’s much more cost-effective and efficient to keep the customers you already have happy.

The phenomenon called churn refers to losing customers and the metric that measures the rate at which customers are lost, as compared to customers on the roster, is known as the customer churn rate. “Customer churn rate is a metric that measures the percentage of customers who end their relationship with a company in a particular period,” explains Jill Avery, senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School. The churn rate is measured during any month, quarter, or year, depending on the industry and the product or service that your company supplies.

In other words, if your business begins the quarter with 400 customers and ends with 380, the customer churn rate is 5%, since 20 of the 400 customers no longer do business with the company.  Avery goes on to say that many business owners/ leaders prefer to monitor and report churn rate’s opposite: customer retention rate, or how many customers remain. Both calculations tell the same story.

Changes in a company’s churn rate could signal that something is working well (if the number goes down) or needs addressing (if the number increases).  When you notice that an unexpected number (or percentage) of customers whom you’d expect to be more than just one-offs instead decline to do business at least intermittently, it’s time to take action and stanch the hemorrhage. The usual culprits are customer service failing,  products/ services that are not fulfilling customer expectations, or the presence of an aggressive competitor.

Churn is more than a metric to occasionally monitor. The future of your business depends on understanding why customers might leave and knowing what you can to do to retain those who may be ready to jump ship.  Avery advises that “Looking at churn rates by customer segment illuminates which types of customers are at risk and which types may need an intervention. It’s a nice simple metric that tells us a lot about when and how to interact with customers.”

Likewise, it’s important to study your customer acquisition channels. They don’t all yield equal results, so examine each to learn if customers coming through a specific channel have a higher churn rate than others.  Acquisition channels failing to deliver the best customers as you and your team define them will be discovered, so you can decide whether or not it’s worth continuing to fund that channel, or instead shift resources to channels that more consistently deliver the premium customers.

According to InsightSquared, a Boston marketing and sales analytics company, reducing customer churn by 5 % can increase profits by 25 % to 125 %. InsightSquared also found that 70 % of customers it polled leave not because of the product/ service purchased, but because of poor customer service. Further, 91 % of unhappy customers will not do business with your company again.

Other common issues to address include a lack of customer engagement or support, poor product-market fit and the user experience. It is essential to identify company weaknesses and shore up any products/ services that need to be better attuned to trends in market preferences, customer service protocols, or customer engagement that builds loyalty.

A mistake that business owners/ leaders make is to look at churn as simply a number, rather than as an indicator of customer behavior.  Questions to ask include:

  1. What is the company doing to cause customer turnover?
  2. What are customers doing or thinking that causes them to leave?
  3. How can we better manage customer relationships and diminish the churn?

That said, a high churn rate can be the result of poor customer acquisition efforts. “Many firms are attracting the wrong kinds of customers. We see this in industries that promote price heavily up front. They attract deal seekers who then leave quickly when they find a better deal with another company,” Avery says.

Finally, there is no standard acceptable churn metric. Avery cautions, “The truth is that what’s acceptable varies widely by business model and is largely dependent on how quickly and efficiently a company can acquire customers and how profitable customers are in the short and long-term. Some business models thrive despite high churn rates and others rely on low.”

Instead of fixating on a certain number, smart managers look at the churn rate of prior years and ask themselves what they might improve. “It’s really a metric that shows how well you’re managing your customer relationships, and you can usually always improve your performance in that area,” Avery says.

Before you assume you have a retention problem, consider whether the problem instead turns on customer acquisition.  Avery concludes, “Think about the customers you want to serve up front and focus on acquiring the right customers. The goal is to bring in and keep customers who you can provide value to and who are valuable to you.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: 1950s, photographer and location unknown

Market Research: Social Media Sleuthing

How many articles have you seen that counseled business owners to “deliver value”,  “know the client’s pain points”, or “create a marketable business model”?  It’s great advice, but no one tells you how to do it.  How can a Freelancer or small business owner who is not armed with a 5-figure marketing budget unearth such information quickly and inexpensively?

You already know that it’s essential to communicate to clients, in a number of ways, that you understand their needs, the results they’re trying to achieve and that you’ve got the know-how to get the job done.  When invited to speak with a decision-maker about a potential role in a project, I recommend that you turn to the company’s social media feeds, ranking sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor and the website and take notes on what you find—and you will find! Social media platforms and websites contain posts, newsletters, case studies, videos and/or audio reels that provide a treasure chest of information that you can use:

  • Marketing messages promoted to current and prospective customers
  • News about upcoming product and service launches
  • Indication of the products and services their customers prefer
  • Customer service complaints and compliments
  • Special promotional events
  • How the company positions itself against key competitors
  • Insights into whether customers skew male or female
  • The age range of customers
  • Job titles of customers if the company is B2B

Once you understand the prospect’s customers more completely, you can identify discussion topics and questions that will make you shine when you and the prospect meet. You’ll develop a winning sales pitch that speaks directly to the prospect’s needs, including perhaps matters that were not fully articulated when you first spoke with the prospect.

  • You’ll portray yourself as a highly competent, capable, trustworthy problem-solving professional who has the expertise to not only get the job done, but also to exceed expectations.
  • Your asking price will reflect the above conditions, meaning you’ll be able to command a premium price for your product or service (as determined by the client’s budget).

Now what if you are in the midst of writing a business plan to launch a new company, or conducting a business model refresh, perhaps in response to some inevitable disruption in the market place? Once again, social media sleuthing will reveal information that will ensure your business model will appeal to the evolving tastes and expectations of your target customers. You’ll be positioned to predict what factors will resonate for target customers, from their preferences regarding product or service features in your category, to the best way to express the perceived benefits and designing the ideal customer experience.

Social media postings will bring to light the big picture of your target customers and help you understand what makes them unique. You can then explore how your products and services can appeal to those distinctive attributes and conditions, in particular those needs and preferences that are either not fulfilled or are insufficiently served by competitors. Your product or service line, marketing materials, advertising and marketing campaigns, packaging, hours of operation, pricing and payment options will be structured to accommodate the distinguishing needs of your target customers.  You will capture your target market and your business will thrive as a result.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Peter Sellers in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

 

Is Your Idea a Business or a Dead End?

Ha! So you think you have an idea that you can parlay into a good business, whether it’s a cutting edge technology or a tried and true formula, like a car wash.

Regardless of the industry that you’d like to enter, there is a more or less standard checklist of factors you should consider before investing your money, time and hopes. Before fantasies of entrepreneurship carry you away, do yourself a favor and answer these questions first. You’ll know how to proceed from here, whether it means that you meet with the Branch Manager at your bank to learn about business financing options, or you take a trip back to the drawing board.

1. Who are the target customers and what is the size of the market?

Define your market demographic. Who will pay to buy what you plan to sell? Is this a product or service that is growing in popularity, or maintaining its broad appeal, or is there a shift in customer preference on the horizon as those who would be your customers learn about a new choice that may persuade them to switch to The Next Big Thing?

In addition to demand for your intended product or service, are there enough customers in your location to support the business? By the way, how are your competitors doing? Do they appear to be thriving?

2. What is the problem that target customers want to solve or avoid when they do business with companies like your proposed venture?

Understand the back story of why customers would buy the solutions that you plan to sell. What is it that they’d like to achieve or avoid? One calls a window washer when the windows are dirty because clean windows demonstrate the owner’s desire to protect and enhance the value of his/her home.

3. How are target customers meeting their need today?

What businesses would be your primary three or four competitors? What factors persuade their customers to do business with them—a convenient location, exceptional product variety, discount pricing, the right relationships?

What advantage can you offer that customers might be drawn to—more convenient hours of operation, for example? Can you provide a product or service that meets a need that is valued but not currently addressed?

4. What is your solution (product or service)?

Describe your proposed product or service. You should be able to easily and clearly describe (and sell) your product. Develop an off-the-cuff sales pitch, record your delivery of it, then listen and evaluate. Would you buy this product or service?

5. How will you reach your customers?

If your business is B2C and requires a physical location, can you afford to set up shop in an area that potential customers will visit? If your business idea is B2B, do you have a plan to access customers and referrals? If your plan is for e-commerce, how will potential customers learn about your website?

6. Do you have the credibility and credentials to do business in this industry?

Especially if you plan to enter the B2B sector, be certain that your education and experience will command respect and trust. If obtaining certain licensing, certifications, or an educational degree is vital (even if not required), investigate the process, plus the time and money involved.

7. Do you have the funding to launch the business?

Research the expected business start-up costs and think objectively about how long it might take you to start making sales you can live on.

Pay your bills and get your credit score. Build up your savings. Whether you expect to self-finance, ask to borrow from friends, family, or your retirement account or apply for outside funding, you will need a lump sum of cash on hand when you launch a business.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Financial District, Boston, MA. Kim Clark, September 23, 2018

Exit Loyalty, Enter Relevance: The New 5 P’s of Marketing

Which quality best supports and encourages B2B buying decisions? In the 21st century, that quality is relevance.  According to a recent survey by Kantar Retail Consulting, whose North American division is based in Boston, MA, 71% of B2B and B2C customers feel that loyalty-incentive marketing promotional programs do not cause them to feel more loyal toward a company.  It has become evident that regardless of your industry, customers are doing business with you based on the perceived relevance of your products and services to their needs and priorities.  Attempting to buy loyalty with discounts, rebates, rewards, or swag bags is not as effective as it used to be.

A 2017 study by the global consulting firm Accenture found that U.S. businesses lose $1 Trillion a year in annual revenue to competitors because their (former) customers no longer consider them to be relevant.  The study results appear to indicate that to succeed, businesses must be perceived as fulfilling customers’ immediate needs as they occur. Personalization is helpful, but it is best applied in support of relevance.  The authors recommend that companies structure the customer experience  to deliver as does a butler or concierge.

So how do business leaders navigate the paradigm shift? Joshua Bellin, Robert Wollan and John Zeally of Accenture recommend that organization leaders move on from the former gold standard of marketing, the 4 Ps—Product, Place, Price, Promotion.  No disrespect to the 4 Ps, they served companies well for decades, but customer behavior and expectations have changed over the past 10 years or so.  The 4 Ps are unfortunately rather narrow and product-focused for our times.  Today, it’s about delivering customized solutions, especially for B2B customers.

Furthermore, a close reading of purchasing data indicates that the usual product-focused market segment labels, e.g., discount, luxury, or environmentally conscious consumers can no longer consistently predict purchasing choices.  The needs of all consumers, regardless of socioeconomic status and sociopolitical ideology, vary according to their immediate priorities and context.  In response, Zeally et al. suggest that companies expand their marketing guideposts to include these updated 5 Ps:

Purpose:           Customers feel that the company shares and advances their values.

Partnership:    Customers feel the company relates to them and works well with them.

Pride:                 Customers feel good about using the company’s products and  services.

Protection:        Doing business with the company makes customers feel confident.

Personalized:  Customers feel that their experiences with the company are always  tailored to their goals, priorities and needs.

The “what have you done for me lately?” mindset has replaced loyalty, to a large degree. Perhaps it’s a sign of the entitled and narcissistic culture in which we in the U.S. live.  Customer preferences are in constant flux. Short-term strategies and goals are often the norm.

Some companies are able to thrive in this environment, perhaps most notably the global retailer Zara, founded in Galicia, Spain. “Fast Fashion” is the guiding force.  In the 1980s, the company invested heavily in design, manufacturing and distribution systems capable of reacting to market trends very quickly.  As a result, Zara is on top of nearly every trend in women’s, children’s and men’s fashion and customers eat it up.  As of March 2018, there are 2,251 Zara boutiques in 96 countries.

Smaller companies and Freelancers cannot come close to being able to match the power of Zara, but it is possible to leverage relationships and personalization to encourage your current and prospective customers to share what is important to them and discuss how you can meet their needs today and in the future.  You probably already know that all too many of your customers will move on and do business with another company that seems to offer a better mousetrap without even discussing their needs with you first.  It is discouraging, I know.

The best defense is to be found in the 5 Ps.  Start with Personalization and move to Purpose, so that you can make it known that your company can advance the customer’s goals.  Segue next to Protection and use the trust that you develop to encourage prospects to feel confident about doing business with you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Lurch (Ted Cassidy), the Addams family butler, in an episode of The Addams Family  (1964 – 1966, ABC-TV)

Marketing 2.0: How and Why You Measure Results

Marketing is an essential function of every business.   Smart organization leaders understand that continually reaching out to current and potential customers,  with objectives to create loyalty and trust in the company,  its products and its services and building a brand,  are integral to sustaining a healthy enterprise.  Like all business initiatives,  marketing objectives and strategies must be periodically evaluated,  to monitor and measure results and determine how to adjust and optimize the program if results do not meet expectations.  Choose your marketing activities based on your knowledge of customer behavior.

The measurement of marketing results can be broken down according to a method recommended by Joseph Raymond Roy,  a marketing consultant based in Meredith, NH,  who gives us the acronym DATA:

1. Defining,  identify the result your marketing will promote (increasing the number of potential customers)

2. Assessing,  measure the dollar value of your marketing program (look at the number of customers and gross revenue)

3. Tracking,  determine if customers came to your business as a result of your marketing activities (ask new customers how they found you, or all customers in a survey)

4. Adjusting,  if it is obvious,  do more of what produces the desired result and less of what does not produce results.  In other words,  optimize your marketing activities.

Begin the measurement by calculating the amount of money invested in your marketing activities.  Obviously there is also time involved,  which should be taken into account,  but  it is usually difficult to attach an appropriate dollar figure to one’s time.  How much is the time you spend networking worth?  What is the time spent on social media worth,  or producing your monthly newsletter?

You may develop good relationships with potential referral sources,  but it may take 5 months or 5 years to receive a referral.  Speaking engagements and webinars  are easier to evaluate.  A well-respected venue always has value,  whether or not you receive referral business or meet a future client,  because the very act adds value to your curriculum vitae.  Calculate ROI by deducting the value of resources spent on marketing activities from revenues generated by customers who have come to you as a result of marketing activities.

Tracking  (i.e., forward tracking),  the process of building an identifying mechanism into each marketing activity before it is launched,  so that you can measure the results derived.  If you present a webinar,   the registration of participants,  which includes an email address for each listener,  is a most accurate tracking mechanism.  Responding to a product offer with a special code is another excellent tracking device.   The marketer will be able to identify which customer was not only impacted by a certain activity,  but also will know if that person eventually does business with the company.

There are various types of tracking methods,   including Point-of-sale tracking,  conducted when new customers arrive by asking them how they heard about you.  You will also use point-of-sale tracking when you tally up the sales results associated with the purpose of your marketing program,  be it bigger ticket items,  referrals,  or other customer actions.   Reverse tracking  is the process of going through your customer list and documenting how current customers became your customers.

If you write a blog or newsletter,  measure your reach by counting the number of subscribers,  email forwards and followers.  Point-of-sale tracking  will let you know if demonstration of your knowledge and expertise brings customers into the door.

The ROI of PR should be measured in at least two ways:  first,  through Media impressions,  in which the marketer counts how many media outlets wrote a story or made a radio or television announcement in response to a press release that was sent (a follow-up phone call will likely boost the response rate).   Second,  through Content analysis one can evaluate the accuracy of what was broadcast as a result of the press release and the prominence of item placements in the chosen media outlets.

Online data analytics systems  will track all visits to your website,  customized to your needs.  How many potential customers abandon your website and how many follow-up with inquiries or engage by clicking on your newsletter or blog? What is the impact of your social media outlets on your marketing objectives? Here is how you’ll know.

The ultimate marketing metric is the percentage of your customer base that result from marketing activities,  or Marketing Originated Customers.

It may take a service provider 6 – 12 months to have results to measure.  Obtaining a contract from a new or returning client is a longer sales cycle than selling ice cream cones.  Metrics make it possible to know which marketing activities yield the best results and that knowledge will give you the opportunity to optimize your marketing efforts.  You will do more of what works,  perhaps launching an advertising campaign during a particular season or increasing your participation in certain business or professional groups.  Other activities may be diminished or dropped altogether.  Gross sales will give a dollar value ROI to your marketing program when compared to the pre-marketing program value.

Marketing metrics ensure that you receive a solid ROI on your marketing activities.  Appropriately chosen and implemented marketing activities that are tracked and optimized will always pay for themselves.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Marketing 2.0 : How and Why You Do It

All those with a product or service to sell must institute a marketing program that promotes those products and services to target customers.  Marketing programs consist of strategies and activities that derive from promotional objectives you would like to achieve for your products,  services,  or the company overall.  Advertising;  writing a blog, newsletter, or book;  speaking at business associations;  teaching a subject that showcases your expertise;  making an in-kind donation to a local charity event;  presenting a webinar;  nominating yourself for (and winning!) a business award;  writing a press release to announce to local media that you are presenting a webinar,  have won a business award or published a book;  networking to meet new colleagues or reconnect and build relationships; and presence on social media are examples of activities that carry out your marketing strategies and have the potential to ensure the achievement of marketing objectives.

For most,  the goal of marketing is to increase sales  (that is, revenue)  by increasing awareness and trust in the company and its products and services and in that way increasing the number of its potential customers.  Marketing is a way to fill the sales pipeline,  as is prospecting for potential customers  (wear your sales hat when prospecting,  although prospecting is not quite selling in the same way that marketing is not exactly selling).  Generally,  marketing strategies are created to produce one or more of these results:

1. Awareness,  so that target customer groups will learn of the existence of your company and its products and services.

2. Perception,  so that target customer groups will think of your company and its offerings in a certain way.  This is the core of brand development; trust and confidence are the primary attributes that you must persuade customers to associate with your company and its products and services.  Depending on your business,  other attributes you may want to attach to the brand are luxury,  practicality,  innovativation or quirkiness.  Reputation management and crisis PR are under this heading.

3. Behavior,  so that target customers will be persuaded to take action.  Your objectives may include attracting new customers;  encouraging repeat business from existing customers;  encouraging sales of higher-ticket items or premium services;  or stimulating referrals by persuading customers to recommend your products and services to others.

Because time and money are limited resources for business ventures large and small,  it is a big advantage to know which of your marketing activities works and if possible,  to also know which activities are effective for certain customers.  Further, it is essential to know how many customers come to your business as a result of marketing activities.

To measure the return on investment ROI of your marketing program,  one must venture into the realm of marketing metrics,  from data analytics to Big Data.  Next week,  we will look at simple yet revealing marketing metrics that will evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing and guide your future marketing activities.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

What Business Are You Really In?

Every business starts with a proposal to deliver certain products or services to those would be their customers.  The business model encompasses operations processes,  sales distribution and early stage marketing messages.  But over time,  the business owner or marketing team must achieve a more sophisticated knowledge of target customers and use that understanding to advance from exclusively dwelling on the functional aspects of items sold and the obvious benefits.

Successful products or services become  “brands”  by marketing the intangible essence that is associated with what they sell.  Brands connect with an unspoken motive of the customer and promote reputation,  image and aspirations.  Luxury brands like Neiman Marcus,  Chanel and Jaguar sell the image of wealth and status.  Nike sells the image of the focused,  independent,  athletic ideal self.  Puma,  another athletic shoe company,  avoids the athletic angle and sells urban cool along with their sneakers and other apparel.  Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt  (1925 – 2006)  described this phenomenon and its implications in  “Marketing Myopia” ,  his seminal article that in 1960 appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

Brands rise above being mere purveyors of products and services,  otherwise known as commodities.   Getting a handle on the  “je ne sais quoi”  unspoken  mission of your products or services as perceived by customers is the only way to achieve break-out success.  Delivering high-quality products and services via the optimal business model is how to build a following and earn a good reputation.  Being known as trustworthy and dependable are integral elements of building a brand.  But it is only the beginning.  Consider this: a film studio does not function to merely make and promote movies.  A film studio’s real business is entertainment.

So let’s figure out how to learn what business you are really in.  Why not start by teasing out the motives for doing business with you rather than a competitor?  Were you lucky or well-connected enough to persuade a powerful person to do business with you?  Does the coolest kid in class wear the clothing you sell?  The recommendations of thought leaders and other trusted sources are worth their weight in gold.  If a VIP gives you an assignment,  others will want to emulate that VIP and do business with you,  too.  Overwhelmingly,  people are followers and want to be seen where the  “in” crowd goes.

Keep that tendency in mind as you peel back another layer and decode the self-identity of your target customer and the image that your archetypal customer wants to project.  Get your arms around the social or professional impact of your products or services.  Who do your customers aspire to be,  whom do they emulate or identify with?  What is the underlying purpose of your product or service?

When you can decipher and describe the above,  you will discover the business you are really in.   Apply that knowledge and create marketing messages that resonate;  advertising choices that deliver the desired ROI;  design product packaging that customers respond to;  institute a pricing strategy that reflects the perceived value of your products and services;  and write a tag line that reflects the self-image,  aspirations and/or unspoken motives of your archetypal customers.

FYI here is a 1975 version of Theodore Levitt’s classic article  “Marketing Myopia”  http://www.sitesuite.com.au/files/marketingmyopia.pdf

Thanks for reading,

Kim

ID Your Target Customers

Step One in evaluating the prospects of a business venture requires that you know who is likely to become a customer.  Here are 8 smart questions that will help you gauge whether you have a viable target market for your enterprise:

1.  Who will pay a premium price for my products or services?

  • Investigate how much business those who would be your closest competitors are doing and learn what motivates their customers to do business with them and find also pricing info,  if possible.
  • Assess your competitive advantages: do you possess a  “secret sauce”  that will make customers do business regularly and pay a little more?
  • Assess the value of your personal brand: who will do business with you because they value what you represent and do?

2.  Who has already done business with me?

  •  If your business is up and running,  growing your business often means persuading those who are already customers to do more business with you.  Which upgrades and extras to your service line might your current customers buy?
  • Speak with customers you know well and ask what adjustments in service,  features or delivery system would make their lives easier.
  • Design a survey and send it out to your mailing list and also add to your website and social media,  so that you can get more opinions and validate the findings of the customer Q & A.
  • Beta test new products and services with current customers,  to gauge their acceptance and refine the concept,  packaging,  marketing message,  delivery system,  price point, etc.

3.  Am I overestimating potential demand for my products and services?

  • Hire a marketing research firm to run a focus group to estimate the size of the market for your product or service.
  • Smaller budget holders should refer to numbers 1 and 2 and figure out how much business competitors are doing and if applicable,   ask current customers which new offerings would be useful to their organizations.

4.  Am I assuming that everyone values what I value?

  • Reality test your take on the priorities of your target market by asking them,  in face to face meetings or via surveys.  Read industry blogs to confirm how customers use similar products and services.
  • Find the thought leaders and listen to what they say about the need for what you plan to sell.  Without revealing your motive,  you can write in and ask questions.

5.  Does my business model match my target customers?

  • The business model is the blueprint for positioning your venture to make a profit.
  •  The ideal customer groups for your products and services must receive the right marketing message in the right way.  Products and services must be sold in the right way at the right price,  using the method of payment that customers expect.
  •  Design a business model that inspires trust and confidence and is user-friendly convenient.

6.  Who are my main competitors and how did they get started?

  • Study three or four close competitors and learn the back story of the founders.  What competitive advantages do they possess?
  • How long have those competitors been in business and what may have changed,  or remained constant,  in the business environment that allowed them to find success?
  • Define critical success factors for your venture.

7.  How will potential customers and I find each other?

  • Hair dressers,  manicurists and employees of consulting firms have the great advantage of being able to steal future clients from their former employers.  If you are employed in the industry in which you plan to open a business,  start now to strengthen relationships with those customers who might jump ship and go with you.
  • Learn how to reach your target customers.  Which organizations do they join,   which conferences do they attend,  which blogs or newsletters do they read,  does social media for business resonate with them and where should you advertise.

8.  Do you see opportunities to expand your target market?

  •  Eventually, it will become necessary to find ways to expand your business either vertically or horizontally. Stay abreast of happenings in the industry and maintain good communications with your customers to understand what you might offer in the future.
  • Can you create a niche market or two by tweaking what you have,  or offering it under another name and advertising in different media?

Thanks for reading,

Kim