Selling to Small Businesses

While billion dollar revenue enterprise companies, along with disruptive technology focused start-ups and their Millennial Generation hoodie-wearing founders receive overwhelming attention in the business press, let’s remember that America is a nation of primarily small and medium-sized business ventures.

As documented in a 2018 report published by the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 27.9 million privately run businesses in the U.S. and 23 million are owned and operated by Solopreneurs.  SMBs employ 47.9 % of the private workforce (non-governmental, for-profit organizations), 58.9 million people. Twenty million SMBs have fewer than 20 employees; the median income of self-employed owners of incorporated businesses in 2016 was $50,347 and the median income of self-employed owners of sole proprietorships was $23,060.

The majority of SMBs have limited budgets for what some owners perceive as non-essential services—marketing, advertising, or IT, for example. Yet, SMB owners will from time to time of necessity feel the need to purchase such services. Timing most likely plays a big factor in your ability to make a sale but should the opportunity land in your lap, you must handle it skillfully. Selling to the SMB owner is a delicate business.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Demonstrate excellent value

Nevertheless, there is money to be made in the SMB market. The social media marketing company HubSpot and Google have made untold millions in profits by targeting SMBs. In your sales pitch, detail the story of a client who shared a similar goal or faced a similar challenge, so that the SMB owner can get a clear picture of how your product or service can help him/her achieve goals.

If you can provide a link to a case study that’s on your website or social media, so much the better. SMB owners are usually worried about how they can cover expenses and simultaneously make their desired profit and they are cautious about spending money.  Show your SMB prospect that your product or service will solve the problem or see to it that the goal is achieved.

Describe how your product or service can help grow the business

Profit, growth and financial stability are the big goals of SMB owners. If you want the sale, identify preferably tangible benefits that will enhance one or more of those metrics. New customer acquisition and customer retention are also important benefits to emphasize.

Deliver results in the near term

Whatever your product or service, the faster that some portion of the ROI can be documented, the better. Too many SMB owners are concerned about cash-flow and they need to see that their investment in your product or service delivers the expected results ASAP.  When considering whether to pursue the SMB market, evaluate whether your product or service can deliver benefits quickly, at least in part.

Follow up and follow through

When selling to the SMB owner, you would be wise to under-promise and over-deliver. Your enthusiastic sales presentation must carry forward into enthusiastic customer service as well. If there is difficulty with the implementation of the product or service you sold them, meaning that the ROI cannot materialize within the expected time frame, your SMB client may very well discontinue the service and cancel future orders if you do not quickly rectify the problem.

But if you are knowledgeable, transparent and dependable, you will be positioned to  receive repeat business from your client and referrals to colleagues in his/her network.  SMB owners are often part of a community of trusted fellow business owners and most will be happy to spread the word about your good work.

Thanks for reading,



Photograph: The Arthur Anderson Barber Shop in Mattoon, IL circa 1920. Mr. Anderson is standing at right, and employee Sidney Williams stands at left.                                 Courtesy of Eastern Illinois University

Finally Figuring Out Social Media

Consider, if you will, that you are using all of your company’s social media platforms like a naïve amateur, no matter how long you’ve been active on Facebook or how quickly you jumped onto Twitter and Instagram.  Chances are you do not have a realistic definition of social media marketing campaign success.  You cannot demonstrate meaningful ROI for the strategies you’ve employed.

The fact of the matter is, you are using the wrong measurements to document social media marketing campaign success.  You have been misled and you are confused.  Followers, shares, comments and likes are widely considered the gold standard social media metrics, but does that “engagement” correlate with or generate sales revenue and referrals? Let’s lift the curtain and sort this out.

It’s time to think about social media marketing in the way you do traditional marketing campaigns, including advertising and sales strategies, and apply the same expectations.  Social media campaigns are marketing campaigns, too, and not a stand-alone entity.  Please shift your social media marketing goals and objectives to what is tangible and measurable and bring real value to your customers and organization.  Various social media platforms can take a credible supporting role in the following marketing goals, for example:

  • Raising brand awareness
  • New product or service launch
  • Lead generation
  • Increasing sales
  • Special events promotion
  • Facilitating and/or improving customer service
  • Obtaining donations (not-for-profit sector)
  • Recruiting volunteers (not-for-profit sector)

Once you’ve identified your marketing goals, determine which platforms seem most suitable for your message and which will reach the selected target market groups.  Then, select the content—blog, tweeted updates, YouTube videos, Instagram photos, announcements on Facebook, for example—that will most effectively communicate your message and resonate with your target markets.

Be aware that unlike traditional marketing methods, which fly at 30,000 feet, social media outreach is an ongoing conversation and the best way to attract and retain visitors and followers who might convert into your customers and referrers is to get personal.  Use social media to speak directly to your audience.  Answer questions that will help to familiarize them with your products and services and understand their features, advantages and benefits.  Display visual images of your brand and what it stands for. Include audiovisuals that let influencers give testimonials.  Solve problems, deliver timely information.  Be a cool and helpful friend.

To help you schedule and manage the integration of multi-platform social media campaigns and ongoing outreach across various departments in a larger business organization, investigate Buffer and Hootesuite, or other social media management services.

Now, to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns.  On your own, you can record selected Key Performance Indicators that immediately precede your revised social media strategies.  In six months and then again in 12 months, revisit those KPIs.  Additionally, Google Analytics is a useful tool to sort through social media activity on all of your channels and report on engagement that leads to a sale processed on the company website, event registrations, signs-ups to receive your blog or newsletter, not-for-profit organization fundraising donations received and requests for additional product or service information, for example.

When you approach social media marketing campaigns correctly, you can receive lots of actionable information.  But in order to receive information that will make a difference in you company’s bottom line, you need to ask the right questions and apply the right metrics.

Thanks for reading,


Photograph: Teletype operator (circa 1941-1945) courtesy of the National Archives           Teletype technology allowed typed messages to be transmitted electronically from point to point to a single or multiple recipients, including sent and received messages. The teletypewriter evolved through many upgrades, starting in 1835 and it was adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1938.  Essentially, teletype was early email.

Portfolio Style Consulting

The typical Freelance consultant offers to the marketplace a flagship tangible or intangible professional service that is accompanied by several quasi-related supporting services that s/he is qualified to deliver, according to the needs and budgets of clients.

Freelance consultants find it necessary to create multiple revenue streams generated from an array of  services as a way to make the Freelance life financially and professionally rewarding.  Even in the best of times, consulting projects can have infamously long sales cycles and Freelancers must guard against significant revenue gaps. Furthermore, offering more services is a way to attract more clients and billable hours.

While some Freelancers are able to make a good living in consultation with just one or two clients, an arrangement that is no doubt considerably less stressful and time-consuming than juggling several responsibilities, each with its own location, decision-makers, deadliness, cultures and invoicing rhythms, that is nonetheless a very vulnerable position.  Just as the tide comes in, it eventually recedes; any client can choose to decrease billable hours or terminate the relationship altogether, just because.

So we spread our eggs amongst several baskets as a way to appeal to a broader range of clients and mitigate risk.  We must be aware, however, that explaining our various competencies in trust-inspiring language that successfully bundles everything together under one inclusive brand umbrella is perhaps the greatest challenge of marketing and selling the services of a Freelance consultancy.

Like it or not, clients tend to pigeon-hole the consulting contractors that they know, to make it easier to remember whom to call when the need for external expertise arises.  As a result, the Freelancer has two self-branding promotional tasks that will help clients understand how and when our services might be useful:

  1. Position oneself as a highly knowledgeable and trustworthy expert.
  2. Become known as the go-to consulting expert for a given competency.

Convincing “verbal packaging” is urgently needed.  I’ve recently seen the term portfolio suggested as an elegantly simple way to describe how Freelancers help clients to achieve mission-critical goals.  The portfolio system allows Freelancers to present our unique skill sets, the sum of our experience and judgment and the outcomes we regularly deliver, packaged similarly to financial services products, a format that is familiar to your prospects.

Your portfolios will contain marketing, rather than financial, strategies but that does not diminish their value. Plus, clients will agree that diversified portfolios provide the smartest investment solutions and that is what the successful Freelance consultant delivers, every time.

Like a financial services expert sells the advantages of his/her investment portfolios, assign value to and spotlight the ROI derived from the services available through the portfolios contained under the umbrella of your consultancy.  Introduce the portfolio system to your consulting practice by first categorizing and grouping your services into distinct portfolios and then articulating the benefits and outcomes associated with each.  Develop “verbal packaging” to tie them together in a way that helps prospective clients to understand how and when to do business with you.

Thanks for reading,


Social Media—Not?

It is by now standard operating procedure for business owners and other self-employed professionals to have a visible presence on one or more social media platforms,  in addition to an online presence provided by a website.  We’ve  internalized the assumption that there is no way to either launch or sustain a viable business without an active online presence spread over an array of platforms.

The majority of my colleagues and competitors spend rather a large amount of time  researching and writing newsletters,  tweeting,  Instagramming, or linking with and friending sometimes 500 + “connections”. But really folks,  what is the demonstrable ROI of most of this effort?  Beyond a certain point,  I respectfully submit,  social media produces very little beyond siphoning off a chunk of scarce time and money.

How does social media provide a demonstrable ROI for Freelance consultants, who typically provide an intangible service? Our ventures run on referrals based on trust and reputation—how can that resource be communicated electronically? Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting and author of numerous books that address the consulting trade, including Million Dollar Consulting (2009), has for several years offered to split his (large) consulting fee with anyone who shows him how to acquire a client purely through social media or website channels and he signs a client as a result.  To date, there have been no takers.

The reality is that most of us in business are afraid to dial back the social media and so the practice continues. We fear that if we don’t participate,  our competitors will eat our lunch and customers will abandon us.  I’ve observed that in certain businesses and organizations,  social media and website marketing yield a good ROI.  A large collaborative of Boston artists and galleries has recently hired me to edit a newsletter and perform PR functions for an ongoing monthly event plus an annual special event and that is money well spent for the group.  Performing artists,  clothing designers, restaurateurs and professional organizations come to mind as excellent candidates for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to provide outreach / engagement with past, present and future patrons.

Nevertheless,  there is a group of social media and website holdouts and at least a handful are making a good living.  Maybe they possess valuable competitive advantages,  such as excellent word-of-mouth,  always the best form of advertising,  and exceptional skills? Among that group are two interior designers who have more clients than can be handled (in three or four cities, mind you) and the owner of a small neighborhood breakfast and lunch restaurant that is always packed.  Three of the six most successful Freelance consultants with whom I’m acquainted do not even show up on Google.  Author Otessa Moshfegh,  a member of the internet-obsessed Millennial Generation,  has eschewed both website and social media and her debut novel is selling nicely.

I’ve learned that Ms. Moshfegh has a professional publicity team and that gives her a significant edge. Her team portrays her as elusive and not given to crass displays of self-promotion and that is good publicity (!). The consultants once worked for larger consulting firms and like any hairdresser, when they went out on their own, they stole clients.  Nevertheless,  they continue to grow their client lists without websites.  The interior designers seem to be known by the right people and receive lots of referrals. On an a laptop or tablet,  they have a few photos to show their work to prospects.  The restaurateur has been in business for 20 years,  a Starbucks opened across the street at least a decade ago, but he continues to prosper.  Patrons started Trip Advisor and Yelp pages for him and patrons control the reviews on those sites.

You may wonder how my website and blog perform for my venture? I did not work for a consulting firm, so the website I feel helps me look legitimate.  However,  no one has ever hired me as a direct and exclusive result of visiting.  This blog has shown prospective clients that I have a solid knowledge of business topics and that I have a certain writing proficiency. The blog has been a factor in my hiring, but the clients were a result of referrals and not this blog alone.

I do not advocate that Freelancers and business owners close down their internet presence.  Rather, I respectfully recommend that you consider the ROI of your investment and take heed of the analysis.

Thanks for reading,







Marketing Metrics That Matter

Every business that aims to be sustainable must engage in some level of marketing activity, whether traditional marketing that utilizes retro resources such as press releases and print ads or content marketing, that makes use of social media, blogging and the like. But the benefits and ROI of marketing campaigns are often devilishly difficult to evaluate. How does anyone know what the organization is really getting from the marketing campaigns (and budget) and what is the value of whatever that might be? Furthermore, what are the outcomes that matter in marketing? Let’s ponder the benefits that marketing campaigns have the potential to generate.

Since recent data is available, we’ll focus on content marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 85% of B2B and B2C organizations participate in content marketing, yet only 21% of those who devise content marketing strategies are able to measure the ROI. Among the elements that marketing execs usually design their strategies to influence are:

  • Brand awareness and loyalty
  • Customer engagement
  • Lead generation
  • Referrals
  • Sales
  • Up-selling

Before campaign focus decisions are made, it is advisable to select which of the above elements—may we call them objectives?—that your organization would like to impact. To make those calculations, one must understand the value and expected ROI of the chosen objectives. They are not of equal value.

Promoting brand awareness and loyalty is a wonderful objective and if yours is a B2C operation, it is much easier to achieve. Can a typical B2B Freelancer who sells a service ever build a brand that is truly distinctive? Rarely, I will guess. Usually the brand is a cult of personality that a well-connected person has been lucky to attain, typically through family or  industry connections. Or maybe it’s the home town high school football hero who goes into business and benefits from his playing field reputation, subsequently known as his brand.

My experience indicates that the average B2B Freelancer should approach (personal) branding activities and brand awareness with a grain of salt. Keeping one’s name in play is an admirable ideal, but business is mostly garnered through referrals and not through the number of times that potential clients see your name.

About customer engagement — do you have the staffing to seduce those with too much time on their hands into bonding with Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook feeds from your organization? Beware the Pandora’s Box that customer engagement can become. Giving information and getting uncensored feedback is great. Ongoing dialogues with the bored or self-important are a waste of time that you cannot afford.

Lead generation keeps the sales pipeline filled, but what is the most effective marketing strategy for a service-providing Freelancer to influence that objective? As far as I’ve seen, viable leads are created face-to-face. Potential clients may read your blog or newsletter, watch you on YouTube or read your case studies, but they are highly unlikely to hire or refer you unless they meet you in person and even then, they prefer a personal endorsement of your work from a trusted source. Content marketing is not so effective here. Get on the teaching and speaking circuits to allow potential clients or referral sources to hear what you know and develop trust that can lead to some business.

After all is said and done, encouraging referrals, sales and up-selling must be the prime objectives of any marketing campaign and they are the only metrics worth measuring. The number of social media followers, website page views, newsletter sign-ups and blog post comments are vanity metrics and meaningless, because they do not correlate with revenue. Those people are just a bunch of hangers-on.

Successful marketing campaigns pave the way to revenue generation, meaning sales. Savvy marketing makes your operation look desirable and trustworthy and persuades those with money and motive to take a second look. Marketing messages can be used in sales presentations to continue the theme. A well-conceived marketing message will also open the door to up-selling and add-ons.

Referrals are a different animal, though, and for both B2B and B2C ventures are most directly impacted by your organization exceeding expectations and creating a cadre of satisfied customers who sing your praises to other potential clients.

In sum, B2B Freelancers can forget the vanity marketing objectives and focus on creating campaigns that enhance the perception of your expertise, along with the services that you provide. Marketing messages that address the usual client hot-buttons and position your business as the solution are the most effective. Nevertheless, word-of-mouth referrals are the best way to bring in business and that process is independent of marketing.

Thanks for reading,


Marketing Commute: Inbound and Outbound Traffic

It is now a given that every Freelance consultant and business owner will develop an inbound marketing strategy that will support sales and diminish the need for cold calling, which is getting increasingly difficult to do successfully in the face of the wall that prospects are able to build around themselves. Inbound marketing consists of quality content that is designed to  “pull in” prospective clients who will be able to understand how your products and services can be of use to them. Outbound marketing often refers to any print or online information and promotion about your business venture (and that includes your social media accounts), advertising, press releases sent, your speaking and teaching assignments, webinars you headline and local charity drives in which your business participates or sponsors.

Inbound marketing makes a more direct appeal to your target markets and has the potential to reduce the amount of cold calling that a Freelance consultant or small business owner must do. However, be aware that inbound marketing aims for the more distant future, whereas outbound marketing aims for a more immediate time frame. Inbound marketing tends to have the longer ROI cycle; most businesses would starve as they waited for sales generated primarily from inbound marketing. Consider it your lead generator. Outbound marketing has the potential to produce a noticeably shorter ROI cycle. Today, both marketing formats are synergistic and necessary.

When creating content for your inbound marketing choices, be mindful that you must periodically speak to potential clients as they travel through the various stages of the buying process—and be aware that it is the buying process and not the sales process that presently rules the day. Some prospects will have a low-level interest, more like window-shopping. Others are more seriously contemplating a transaction, to take place in the more-or-less near future. Still others will need your product or service right now, because proposals are being accepted, or there is an emergency and they need a remedy ASAP.

The types of inbound marketing content and the way you choose to broadcast it depends on what your potential clients respond to. Compelling information is what they value and nothing more. Trial and error may be the way to choose your channels: weekly blog or monthly newsletter emailed to contacts; Twitter, Facebook or Instagram posts; white papers posted to LinkedIn and your website; YouTube videos or SlideShare infograms uploaded to social media accounts.

Reaching out to the various segments of your audience in different ways matters. In a truly comprehensive inbound marketing campaign, text, audio and visual methods of outreach will be represented. Once you’ve figured out your inbound marketing channels, then decide on the content to present and how often you will do so. Relevant content is a must; consistency is required; over-exposure is not recommended.

So many business owners are vying for attention. The noise causes many potential clients to shut down. B2B clients are usually over-worked and have little time for what is not immediately necessary. Unfortunately, many operate on a short-term vision.

One thing marketers must do is master the call to action. Like a sales call, one must know how to ask for the business, or at least how to persuade the prospect to take another step on the path to buying from you or engagement with you. Your call to action may be as simple as providing visible contact info plus an offer to give 30 minutes of free consultation. Your newsletter or blog must allow for easy subscription sign-up or RSS feed.

All marketing campaigns have the same goal: to create awareness of you and your products and services; to provide information about you and your business; to help prospective clients understand how and when your products and services would fulfill their needs; to give demonstrations of the quality of what you sell and your expertise in delivering the goods.  Marketing is how to fill the sales pipeline and helps business owners become less dependent on cold-calling, which is increasingly a road to frustration. It is up to you as a business owner to implement inbound and outbound marketing strategies that will sustain your venture.

Thanks for reading,


Boost Social Media ROI

Like nearly all Freelance consultants,   I engage in social media  (LinkedIn)  for professional reasons.   I have yet to obtain a client through social media interactions  (my business is nearly 100% referral,  since basically no one hires business strategists or marketing consultants without a personal endorsement),  but I must keep up appearances and so I keep my profile in good shape and post relevant updates to keep things fresh.

The experts say that like all marketing campaigns,  what and how you communicate through social media must appropriately reflect your brand and appeal to current and prospective clients.   To achieve the desired return on investment from social media,   it is imperative to deliver the right message to the right sites.  To accomplish that,  you must know the customer.   Who hires you and what type of social media might they trust and follow?

To help define which social media platforms to focus on,   begin with the age group of your prospects.   Are they under 35 years old? If so,  they are more likely to be very comfortable with a variety of social media.  They’re likely to  own a smart phone,  tablet and laptop.   They may very well create and copiously share online social media content in their personal and professional lives. 

Conversely,   if your typical clients are 40+ years old  (like mine),  they are less likely to be heavily involved in social media and much less likely to create  content.   They may own a smart phone,   are guaranteed to use a computer and may even own a tablet,   but should they decide to share content,   it was most likely created by someone else.  

Social media expert Judith Lewis  says that about 20%  of social media users are High Sharers and about 80%  Low Sharers.  High Sharers are almost three times as likely as Low Sharers to recommend  products or services to those in their network.   Therefore,   it is wise to create content that will appeal to the High Sharers,  who will do some  “e-legwork”  on your behalf and boost your social media ROI. 

Lewis has identified seven types of social media High Sharers and explains how their sharing style can be leveraged to target and engage clients and prospects.   Give the list a read and see how you might tweak your message and perhaps vary the sites you use:


Altruists share content out of a desire to help those in their network.  They respond well to appeals made through email and Facebook.  Altruists make up the largest percentage of social media users.


This group shares information if they feel it will be useful for a specific individual.  They usually use email to share information.   Selectives comprise the second largest percentage of social media users.


Passionates share information with those who share their intense interest in a given topic,  cause,  band,  fashion designer or whatever.  This group uses Facebook most frequently.   Also,  they are big contributors to customer review sites.


As their name describes,  this group likes bringing people together to socialize or perhaps do business.   Connectors tend to use several social media sites,  most notably LinkedIn,  Flickr,  Twitter and Facebook.


This type uses social media sites to show the world that they are on the bleeding edge of the hottest trends.   Trendspotters are compelled to build their credibility and they are busy working many social media platforms.  YouTube,   Foursquare,  Delicious,  Twitter and Facebook are favorites.   Trendspotters can be very useful for B2C  ventures seeking to increase visibility and sales,   especially in fashion,  electronics and baby products.


Bloggers often fall into this category  (but not your humble diarist).   Provocateurs like to do just that—be controversial,  cheeky and outrageous and get a rise out their readers.  In addition to their blog,  these folks tend to favor YouTube,  Delicious,  Flickr and Twitter.


This group will use social media networking almost exclusively for business purposes.   They favor LinkedIn,  but will use Facebook,  Twitter,  YouTube and Facebook as needed,  to effectively share information about their business enterprise or career.

As a postscript,   I will say that I don’t know any Freelancers who have successfully monetized their social media relationships.   From time to time I read and participate in LinkedIn Answers and there are those who swear that they get clients  (whom they have never met)  through LinkedIn.   I have my doubts.   Still,   creating some buzz will never hurt your business.  If you’re able to get on the radar screen of a High Sharer who will post a good recommendation for your services,   at the very least this may help convince someone who is on the fence to go ahead and offer you the contract.

Thanks for reading,