Survey Discussion: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Today we have recommendations on how Freelance consultants and small business owners can implement as needed the results of a survey of 1,700 of our peers that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners http://FreshBooks.com .

Given the limited time that Freelancers and small business owners have available to devote to new client acquisition and once we’ve accepted the fact that the pool of new clients must be constantly replenished, it is essential that what we do has a very good chance of delivering the necessary results.

The survey indicates that devoting one’s marketing activities to tactics that are ranked as highly effective across all three age cohorts and then diversifying the tactics utilized, has the potential to reap tangible benefits for all age cohorts, despite the fact that each has a clear preference for certain activities and an ROI track record to defend those practices.

Exceeding client expectations of the work you are hired to do is the recipe for obtaining referrals from satisfied clients. Building relationships with peers that you meet at the chamber of commerce, on volunteer boards, at the gym, or at your religious institution, for example, is often a highly successful marketing and business development tactic for Baby Boomers, with 67% relying on referrals to find new clients. The ability to obtain referrals from business and personal relationships will become more accessible to Generation X and Millennials over time, as their personal and client relationships expand.  There is no more effective advertising than word of mouth.

Millennials have made hay with content marketing tactics and 42% of the age cohort use that marketing tactic. I will guess that a certain percentage of what is called email marketing, which has an adoption rate of 24% across the three age groups, overlaps with content marketing because email is how newsletters are sent. Generation X and especially Baby Boomers are advised to step up the use of content marketing if for no other reason than several surveys have demonstrated its satisfactory ROI.

Content marketing is poised to surpass the use of paid advertising because it seems that B2B prospects find advertisements insufficiently credible or engaging and they have gravitated to the brand story approach that is content marketing. Commissioning a marketing case study to put on one’s website and can be used in other marketing activities, is another highly effective method of content marketing (but it is not inexpensive).

Public speaking in the form of teaching, speaking, training (and I will stretch to say it also includes podcasts, webinars and appearing on a panel as speaker or moderator) is acknowledged by 39% of  survey participants across all three cohorts as being a highly effective marketing tactic and I respectfully suggest that you adopt the practice if you have not already done so.

It may be a little intimidating for Millennials to assume the role of expert, but appearing as a guest on a webinar or podcast seems less of a stretch than teaching business courses or speaking at professional association meetings. Your diarist is in the Baby Boom generation and I’ve done a fair amount of teaching and speaking over the years, but I’ve never directly received either a client or referral from any engagement. Rather, prospective clients are always seem impressed when I mention those activities, so be advised that you may see your teaching and speaking ROI indirectly.

Finally, since the survey explored financial management, we might pause and consider that topic as well. While only 20% of survey responders financed their businesses with bank loans, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need help managing the business finances (and their personal finances).  One third of the responders has a relationship with a bank and yet 52% report that they feel big banks are not a good fit for small business owners and Freelance consultants.

Survey findings indicate that Freelancers and small business owners with the greatest financial acumen operate the most successful ventures and enjoyed self-employment the most.  That description applied to 25% of responders.  Overall, responders are wary and uninformed about new financial software that might help them better understand and optimize their financial record-keeping data and learn how to use either what they already own, or software they could buy, and learn to understand and manage the financial aspects of their businesses.

The FreshBooks people recommend that Freelancers and small business owners invest in financial management training.  Courses are either regularly or sporadically available at adult learning centers, libraries, business networking groups, professional associations and the Small Business Administration.  https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/manage/manage-your-finances-business-credit

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Falmouth (MA) Road Race August 21, 2016 courtesy of Joseph Cavanaugh

 

 

 

Advertisements

Survey Results: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Hello everyone and welcome to post-summertime reality.  We’re heading into the fourth quarter and whether or not you’re on track to meet your 2017 earnings goal, the time for a big push to help you end the year strong has arrived.  Marketing will play a big role in your revenue-generating strategy, but as was discussed in my August 15 post, do what you can to create a marketing budget so that your clever strategies and tactics will make it off the drawing board Your Marketing Plan Is Meaningless Until You Assign A Budget

In this post, I’ll share the results of what appears to be a credible survey of 1,700 Freelancers and small business owners that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud-based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners  http://freshbooks.com.  Let’s look at what the folks at FreshBooks have to tell us about the practices, priorities and challenges of Freelance consultants and small business owners:

Who were the survey participants?

  • 65% male and 35% female
  • 51% Baby Boomers (age 50 + years);  34% Generation X (age 35 – 49 years);           15% Millennials (age < 35 years)
  • 65% have earned at least a Bachelor’s degree
  • 55% operate as Sole Proprietors, with no formal legal business structure
  • < 10 employees in the business
  • 15% in business < 2 years
  • 42% have no retirement account (median survey age was 50 years)
  • 23% earned < $20K in 2016
  • 23% earned $21K – $50K in 2016
  • 29% earned $51K – $100K in 2016
  • 24% earned $101K + in 2016

What kinds of marketing tactics are most often used?

Tactics considered most effective:

  • 67% ask for referrals, from clients or personal relationships
  • 47% have referral partners (e.g., at business association networking groups)
  • 39% speak and/or teach
  • 23 % use content marketing (especially blogs and newsletters)

Tactics considered somewhat effective:

  • 51% attend industry/ professional association events
  • 48% join business networking associations (e.g., chambers of commerce)
  • 44% entertain prospects (anything from coffee to drinks and dinner)
  • 44% use social media marketing
  • 24% use email marketing

Tactics considered least effective:

  • 32% purchase ads in print or online publications
  • 19% post on industry online forums (e.g., LinkedIn groups)

Age has a statistically significant impact on the types of marketing tactics employed and on the success rate of those tactics.  Baby Boomers have a much better success rate obtaining referrals, probably because they’ve lived long enough to develop those types of relationships.  Millennials have great success with content marketing and social media, no doubt because they grew up with the internet and they’re comfortable and adept with online communications.

Millennial Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 42% Content marketing
  • 30% Social media
  • 30% Referrals

Baby Boom Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 47% Referrals
  • 26% Content marketing
  • 22% Social media

Finally, marketing and sales are the mechanisms that promote market share and revenue growth and put the venture on the road to earning the desired profit margins that will secure its financial standing.  Yet, small business owners and Freelance consultants devote little time to business development (i.e., prospecting for new client acquisitions). which is supported by the right marketing strategies and tactics.  Most feel that signing new clients and retaining them is difficult:

  • 65% feel they need to find new clients
  • 85% consider business development a challenge
  • 75% devote less than one-quarter of their time to business development
  • 51% feel that they’re too busy with client work to prospect or sell
  • 40% devote one-tenth or less of their time to prospecting
  • 37% are uncomfortable selling
  • 25% feel they’ve found the right balance between making sales calls and performing client work

In order to build and sustain the business, it is necessary to attract and retain clients that you can reliably bill at a certain minimum amount; figure out how to describe and sell a value proposition that makes your services appear desirable to a critical mass of clients; performing client projects that you can price to ensure the desired profit margin; and effectively managing the business’ financial strategies.  As was discussed in my August 22 post, Only Those Who Have Money Can Borrow Money , the survey also examined the access to capital that Freelance consultants and small business owners have, or don’t have:

  • 20% used bank financing to launch their ventures
  • 25% were turned down for business
  • 52% feel that big banks are not designed to serve the needs of Freelancers or small business owners

Next week we’ll weave together the threads laid out here,  examine and analyze the picture that emerges and use some small data to help our respective business ventures get big ROI as we enter the fourth quarter.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Japanese surfer works his plan to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics   Photograph: Kyodo News (2017)

 

 

 

Take Command of Your Online Brand

“Reputation, reputation, reputation. Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” (Cassio)  Othello Act II, Scene 3

According to WebpageFX, a digital marketing and SEO company headquartered in Harrisburg, PA, about 25% of a company’s market value is directly based on its reputation.  Along with word-of-mouth reviews, which are indisputably powerful but nevertheless comparatively limited, a company’s reputation is significantly impacted through online sources.  Management of your organization’s online reputation, which is part of your brand, is a must-do.

The online reputation starts with the look and content of the company website and also encompasses reviewing sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List and Trip Advisor and the array of social media platforms from Snapchat to Facebook.  If you throw in content marketing campaigns that are distributed through email marketing, I wonder if the 25% impact figure is generous enough?

WebpageFX also reports that organization leaders now take online reputation management very seriously and 15% of organizations have followed through on an online reputation management strategy and 87% agree that managing online reputation risks is even more important than managing strategic risks.  Think about it—strategic risks are potentially costly, but when paid and unpaid haters flood the comments section of an influential site, the hapless company that perhaps has done no real harm can be shoved into the abyss.

Online attackers spew a shocking amount of vitriol and their diatribes seem to have a million-year half-life.  Blackmail can be involved as well.  I’ve personally witnessed the strong-arming of the General Manager of a lovely B & B by –are you ready for this?– a retired police officer who faked a problem in his guest room, refused to be placated by what most would accept as fair settlement for the “inconvenience” and threatened to ruin the business with bad Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews if his request for a free two- night stay (worth $450) was not granted.  Rumor has it that he’s played the game to the detriment of several small guest houses across the country.  A shoot-out at the OK Corral might be easier to win.

WebpageFX data showed that 91% of consumers search businesses online.  When I’ve gone to meet new clients, in particular someone who has been referred to me and whom I’ve not met,  they frequently mention that they’ve read this blog and viewed my website.  80% of consumers (presumably B2B and B2C) changed their mind about doing business with a company and 67% will not buy from a company that has received from one to three negative reviews.

Regarding social media sites, participation on the various social media platforms is a given for most Freelance consultants, business owners and corporate and not-for-profit leaders. The extent of your B2B client’s social media engagement as regards their external labor force along with your time and inclination, will determine which social media platforms that you’ll use. Maybe you’ll use one or two platforms, plus publish long-form content sent out as an ongoing email marketing campaign.

Just because you don’t use every available social media platform doesn’t mean that you should ignore those that you don’t use. To the contrary, claim all business listings and social media platform addresses, so that a competitor or imposter cannot assume your identity.  Start with your website. Your business name should belong to you alone. Protect your business and buy when possible your business domain name in the .biz and .net formats.  if there is a name that is similar to your company name and it becomes available, buy it and save yourself the potential for headaches down the road. Ensure that an imposter cannot claim your name and make sport of you, bear false witness, or commit other devious acts.

On your preferred social media platforms, maintain a reasonably active and consistent presence as you bring value to your readers.  Post content that will benefit your organization’s reputation and sales revenues.  WordPress allows posting to LinkedIn and my 100 or so connections expect to hear from me every Tuesday.

Finally, if you should receive any negative feedback online, respond quickly and diplomatically. Demonstrate that you regret the mishap and you intend to make amends.  As you publicly clean up the mess, you may win a few customers who like the fact that you’re human and you care.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

IMG_0015    Tall Ships Parade in Boston Harbor June 16, 2017

Social Media Platforms: Review and Reassess

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March – April 2016, 68% of all U.S. adults use FaceBook; 28% use Instagram; 25% are on LinkedIn; 26% use Pinterest; and 21% use Twitter.  I’d consider that a compelling reason to ramp up your social media game, that is, if your can expect your customers to respond.  Not only that, participating in social media makes your business more appealing to the all-powerful Google algorithm and your place on the list is guaranteed to rise.  You might even land on page one.  Visibility, coupled with a story that resonates, is what marketing is all about.

The secret sauce of social media for your business is first, work with platforms that allow you to reach your customers and second, supply the style of content that will effectively tell your brand story and hold the attention of your customers, while using media formats that you have the time and money to produce.

Theoretically, social media is free advertising that lets you promote your brand, but there are costs associated with its production.  Time is the largest cost and if you include videos now and again, there will be video production costs.  Also remember that when in business, your job is to find and maintain clients.  Social media have a greater or lesser place in business, depending on your products and services, but it’s not the center of the universe.  If social media play a pivotal role in your marketing strategy based on the ROI generated, consider outsourcing the function to a fellow Freelancer.

Pinterest

The Pinterest platform allows members to “pin, ” that is post, photos and videos to what is called a pinboard and the format has made Pinterest an excellent vehicle to tell a brand story in visuals.  If the products or services that your company provides can tell and promote your brand story in a series of lovely photographs or catchy short videos—florists, fashion designers, interior designers, restaurateurs, pastry chefs and special event planners —then this platform is ideal for you.

As of January 2017, there are 150 million Pinterest users and 80 million are outside of the U.S.  Just over 80% are female.  The practice of “re-pinning” favored postings helps content to go viral and pushes you to the top of Google searches that could result in your name appearing on “trending” lists on sites like Yahoo News.

Infographics, those pictures, charts and graphs that also include text and give you yet another way to utilize visuals that help readers to quickly understand your narrative. are a great fit for Pinterest (and also Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn).  If you have the ability and time, use Photoshop to create a customized infographic, but do investigate the several free templates available as you evaluate what could be suitable for your story.  Much depends on the information that you’d like to share.  Some data will look best in bar graphs or pie charts; other elements of your brand story could be more captivating if presented in storyboard format.

Snapchat

Here it is, the platform that millennials love.  As of January 2017, the typical Snapchat user is female and under 34 years old (70% for both parameters).  41% of the 18-24 age group in the U.S. check into Snapchat every day, mostly on their smartphones. The platform has 300 million users worldwide (November 2016).

Your content will self-destruct in 24 hours, so your text and images must be memorable because tomorrow they will be gone.  But that’s sort of the fun part.  Snapchat is meant to be fun and ephemeral, like champagne bubbles in a pretty flute.

Restaurant owners can post photos of the daily specials.  Art galleries can post a piece or two of an artist’s work and announce his/her exhibit that will happen that evening.  Retail stores can advertise one-day sales.  Florists can can use their smart phones to make a short video on of themselves and the flowers that they’ll bring into the shop from that morning’s flower market.  Food trucks can send a photo of where you can find them for the day.

Twitter

As of January 2017 there are nearly  320 million users tweeting around the globe and 82% of those users are on a mobile device when they do.  Users skew slightly more female and the demographic sweet spot is 18-50 years.  Twitter revolutionized social media and along the way, impacted how many of us communicate, thanks to the 140 character limit on tweets that caused us to pare down and condense our sentences.  Twitter has also taken part in social revolutions, most notably the Arab Spring of 2010-2012 that rocked from Tunisia to Persia.

Use Twitter to give real-time updates from an event you’re attending.  Send photos, videos, or links to articles and share your professional insights.  Invite readers to respond with their opinions and create the opportunity to engage with your audience.  Add Twitter to your PR campaign and send out news of your speaking engagements.  Include Twitter in your customer service protocol and invite customers to make suggestions that might improve service and help you better understand how to meet or exceed expectations.  A few might even thank you for a job well done and make you look good to many prospective customers !

YouTube

One billion global citizens post videos to powerhouse YouTube and 180 million of those aspiring videographers are in the U.S. (January 2017) and many of the posted videos are of high quality. Thousands of YouTube users have created their own successful channels that sometimes rival network and cable television shows.  The platform is overwhelmingly about entertainment, but if you conduct tutorials and workshops, you might be able to build for yourself a nice little paid speaking career by posting a few of your workshops and picking up subscribers to your channel.  Maybe 23 minutes of education and 5 or 6 minutes total of intro and recap would work?

If you don’t mind being on camera for extended periods, you can hire someone to film  a behind-the-scenes view of you at work, especially if you do something that has the potential to capture viewer interest, like planning a wedding—talking to the couple (anonymously, of course), speaking with vendors and doing whatever it takes to efficiently pull together a lovely and memorable day.

You may want a system to help you manage your content across platforms and for that I recommend Hootsuite, that is if you’re inclined to invest $20/month in a service that allows you to schedule and track your many forms of content from one dashboard.  Pulling all the threads together will allow you to see the big picture, make it easy to see where you can re-use content and can only improve your social media strategy, impact and ROI.

In closing, I’ll remind you of social media best practices and encourage you to create content that can be expected to have value for the followers.  Pace the delivery of your content and do not overwhelm.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Social Media Platform Review

Unless you are an incredibly well-connected Freelance consultant who is out there making a killing and maybe even turning business away (yes, I know a half-dozen people who fit that description but it ain’t me!), social media plays some role in your branding and marketing strategies.  Each platform has its uses and will be a good fit for some businesses and maybe not so much for others.  The platforms are all free, but remember that time is a valuable and limited asset.  No matter how responsive to social media marketing your venture is, Freelancers and small business owners cannot maintain a presence on every platform,  unless you outsource the function (but if the dollars are there, then it could be worth the investment).

As carefully as you manage your money, likewise manage the time you apply to the social media portion of your marketing strategy (and I mean portion, because social media is not the alpha and omega of marketing).  Get started by first asking yourself what you would like your broader marketing strategy to achieve and then what each platform can do to support that aim.

Everything always starts with your clients, your target markets.  Who are they and what kinds of social marketing might they respond to? B2B clients will require a different approach and will have different expectations than B2C customers, for example.  Next, think about what you would like social media outreach to do for you?

Is your objective to promote products or services, or promote awareness of your brand story (that is, who you are, what motivated you to go into business, what your venture sells and something of your values and priorities as regards the business)? Might you like to build relationships and a community of customers who will also talk to each other and you? Does supporting customer service have a place in your social media objectives?

Finally, how do you want to express your story narrative? You will notice that my blog content is exclusively text (but I did include images in two posts and a video in another, a couple of years ago).  I’d like to include photos sometimes, but I don’t have time to hunt down freebies online, so I chose to research, write and present topics that you might want to read about in text format.

Facebook

The biggest of the platforms with about 1.86 billion users (February 2017) around the world, who represent an all-encompassing demographic spectrum.  There are somewhat more women users than men and the bulk of the age demographic is 25-60 years.  47% of Americans say that Facebook is their primary influencer when it comes to making purchases (Forbes Magazine).

Especially those who are in B2C and for some in B2B, Facebook will bring excellent ROI.  In-store events and promotions, speaking engagements, your workshops and other events can be announced to Facebook Friends.  Content provided in text, photos, or video can be uploaded.  You can create groups and build communities, or post a customer survey.  Share behind-the-scenes information about your business and what it takes to do what you do and in the process engage with customers, strengthen your brand and build relationships.

Does that sound like too much work and too much sharing? Then create a Fan Page and limit your presence to basic info.  Be aware that your presentation of text, photos and other content should be relaxed and welcoming, to create a personal feel (but remember that business is nevertheless the context).

Instagram

You’ll find 500 million users around the world here and 80% are outside of the U.S. On average, 95 million photos and videos are shared every day, with many accessed on a mobile device (present your content accordingly).  At least 42% of teens in the U.S. follow Instagram, with the demographic sweet spot 14-35 years and slightly skewed to female.  Instagram is about photo sharing, very short video trailers and concise text posting that includes a hashtag # that helps to spread your content.  Add a link to your profile bio.  Decide if you want a public or members-only account. Links cannot be shared.

Visual storytelling, behind-the-scenes photo montages, social selling, brand awareness, engaging with customers and creating relationships are good uses of this platform. If you are in public relations or special event/conference planning, then you will find worthwhile B2B use, otherwise it’s B2C as far as I can tell.

LinkedIn

As of January 2017, LinkedIn has 467 million users globally and it’s considered the gold standard B2B social media platform, very effective for communicating one’s personal brand.  I think most users place it at the junction of free website and online curriculum vitae. Business ventures large and small,  Freelance consultants, corporate and nonprofit leaders,  physicians and dentists, any employee who harbors professional aspirations and most college students  have a LinkedIn profile page. Recruiters use of the platform as well, to identify potential candidates for job openings and their success has motivated  thousands of companies to post job openings on the site.

LinkedIn is an excellent platform on which to build a community of professional colleagues through your connections and share with them your professional story, successes, highlights and other updates. This blog posts to my LinkedIn page and my connections receive notice of its arrival.  Your connections will also share their stories and there is great opportunity to be in touch and nurture relationships.

Professional portfolios, videos, white papers, newsletters, blogs, infographics and SlideShare presentations can be added to your profile page to add depth to your brand story.  Links to articles or studies that could interest your connections can be posted. Recommendations and endorsements let others verify your professional bona fides and you can return the favor.

In the Groups section, you’ll engage with colleagues within your industry, or with alumni of your school. Topics of interest are explored through posted questions and group members can respond and in the process get to know one another and possibly, forge  relationships that lead to doing business.

We’ll continue next week with overviews of more commonly used social media platforms.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

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”.  One of those colleaugues pays me (a modest sum) to edit her newsletter.  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-obssessed 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,

Kim

 

 

 

 

 

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,

Kim

Get Your Arms Around Content Marketing

Was it two or three years ago that the term  “Content Marketing ” entered the marketing lexicon?  I first addressed the subject in March 2013  https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/content-marketing-is-the-new-ad-copy .  Back in the day,  advertising strategy focused on which publications would reach the most potential customers at a price the business could afford.  Depending on your business,  traditional advertising can still deliver the desired ROI,  but Content Marketing cannot be ignored.  It is the conduit to engaging with customers on a granular level.  Through it,  we are able to reveal our understanding of customer priorities and challenges,  build trust and credibility as a result of that understanding and demonstrate how and when they might benefit from using our products and services  (and in that order,  BTW).

KISSmetrics CEO Neil Patel defines Content Marketing as  “…the way for a business owner to educate your customers and potential customers about your products and services.  The goal is to offer tips,  help and education about anything that can be helpful to a customer.  This kind of information can be shared in the form of a blog, white paper, webinar, video or social post.  The opportunities are endless.”  Michael Brenner,  a Forbes Magazine Top 40 Social Media Marketer and head of strategy at NewsCred,  points out that  “Small businesses don’t have the luxury of massive ad budgets…they need to drive brand awareness and (sales) leads with limited resources.  Content Marketing is a great way for small businesses to do both.

Great.  Now let’s get you started on creating Content that’ll do some good.  First,  define the Content you should create,  i.e. the Content that your customers value,  presented in a way that will make them tune in to your message.  Think carefully and from the customer’s viewpoint about the reasons that they use your product or service: what are they trying to achieve and what information would they appreciate as they strive to examine and resolve that process?  Chatting with customers about their business goals and challenges and getting a better handle on where your products or services fit in will give you some guidance.

Shelly Kramer,  CEO and founder of V3 Integrated Marketing,  insists that you will benefit from applying what you learn from your research to your strategy and,  just as important,  commit it to writing.  “Write down your strategy.  The key is to tie your overall business goals and objectives into your Content Marketing strategy”,  she says.  Kramer is very astute as she reminds Freelancers and business owners to remember the big-picture marketing strategy for the enterprise and incorporate Content Marketing,  including social media,  in that picture.  “Social and Content have to work together in order for you to be successful….you can’t have success with Content without a robust presence in the social media space and….understanding the role that fresh,  relevant Content and social media channels play.  There is great Content being published on corporate blogs on a daily basis that no one ever sees.”

Next,  choose your delivery system.   Do customers visit your website often?  Then maybe posting a white paper once a month or writing a weekly blog will work for you.   Are customers part of your LinkedIn group,  Facebook fan page,  or do they follow your business on Twitter?  Add those icons to your email signature block and your website to make social media connections that alert customers to your Content an easy process.   A monthly newsletter is another great Content Marketing strategy.  It’s the savviest form of email marketing  (include an opt-out feature).

Fresh and relevant are your operative words,  as Kramer notes.  Volume,  value and variety are your other guideposts.  Brenner says “(Volume)….starts with this notion that you need to be present in our always-on,  always connected world.  The second thing is value.  Your Content has to be good.   I always recommend that brands identify what they want to talk about and then make every effort to produce as much valuable Content around those topics as often as possible.  The final tip is about variety.   People (and search engines)  reward those brands that deliver value in multiple ways,  so think about text-based articles,  videos,  SlideShare presentations,  research reports  (white papers) and all the different things we consume across the digital,  social and mobile web.”

How do you measure ROI and recognize success?  Patel offers 3 specific steps:

  • Track Content views
  • Use Google Analytics (free) to track which types of Content drives visits to your website
  • Measure your search traffic

Patel advises “You have to give it time.  Don’t expect great results in 3 months or 6 months,  but you will see traction.  Within the first 3 months you should see more traffic to your site.   Within a year you should start to see good results and an opportunity to monetize traffic on your site.”  Patel concludes  “Good Content Marketing builds trust.  If someone trusts you,  they are more likely to buy your products and services and more likely to tell their friends and family.”

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving,

Kim

Compelling Content Drives Inbound Marketing

Reach out to potential customers by providing content,   the new tactic for advertising and demonstration of expertise,  and persuade those prospects to reach out to your business.  Traditional advertising,   email campaigns and PR,  better known as Outbound Marketing,  reach out to a broad audience that has been vetted for the presence of target customers,  yet still includes many that fall outside of that profile.

Outbound Marketing  “pushes”  information about your company out to an audience that has not necessarily demonstrated an interest in learning about the company and its products and services.  Moreover,  Outbound Marketing assigns to the intended audience a limited role: buy the product or attend the event.  Outbound Marketing usually costs more money than time to create and ROI can be difficult to measure.

Inbound Marketing is well-suited for the digital age and its use has grown tremendously as a result.  Inbound Marketing is driven by content that functions as a  “pull”,  drawing prospective customers who are interested in posted content to read,  learn and perhaps take action.  Inbound Marketing lives on the internet.  Slide Share,  Google +,  LinkedIn,  Twitter,  YouTube,  company websites and other social media platforms receive content and those in search of information choose to visit those sites.

Content production usually costs more time than money to create and ROI is much easier to measure.  Relevant white papers,  useful videos and podcasts,  research results,  surveys and your blog or newsletter form the basis of high-quality content that delivers your message and your professional acumen wrapped in a package that prospects want to open.  Prospects must take an active role and engage with Inbound Marketing content. They initiate and control the interaction.

When planning your Inbound Marketing campaign,  be advised that it is not necessary to either provide a wide variety of content or post content onto numerous venues.  The type of content provided,  frequency of postings and selected platforms will be guided by target market preferences.  Develop Inbound Marketing goals and devise an appropriate campaign strategy.  Brand awareness, customer acquisition / retention and lead generation will no doubt top your list.

Be mindful that Inbound Marketing content is based on giving and not receiving (despite your goals).  Prospective customers are hungry for knowledge and those who provide high-quality content will obtain trust,  respect and top-of-mind status that is reflected when decisions are made to purchase your category of product or service.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Highlights of The Social Business Benchmark Study of 2013

Last year Leader Networks,  a Boston area consulting firm that specializes in B2B social media and the global not-for-profit think tank Society for New Communications Research,  teamed up to conduct a comprehensive and global study of the usage of social media for B2B interaction.  Fifty-five mostly for-profit organizations of various sizes participated.  The study examined the following topics:

  • How organizations are currently leveraging social business efforts
  • The use of social media tools,  internally and externally
  • The readiness of organizations to utilize social media tools
  • Intentions of social business strategy
  • Social media marketing strategy and the ability to leverage and operate same as social business initiatives

Companies studied were mostly present on LinkedIn,  Twitter,  YouTube,  Facebook,  Google+ and their company-sponsored blog,  in that order.  The study distinguished between social media marketing,  which it defined as the use of social media platforms for marketing and social business,  defined as using customer information gleaned from social media marketing to enable more efficient and effective decisions,  actions and outcomes within the organization.  The study also developed a continuum of social media use:

  • Socially Familiar- organization is present on at least one platform and has policy guidelines;  the organization is experimenting to learn what works
  • Socially Present- organization has minimal or limited social media staffing, strategies,  or policy guidelines;  brand advancement forms the core of information communicated
  • Socially Enabled- social media platforms form the basis of customer outreach;  moderate to significant levels of budget,  staffing,  policy guidelines and strategies are in place and utilized optimally
  • Socially Integrated- organization has significant use of the above indicators;  communication is two-way,  with much customer engagement;  information gleaned is incorporated across the organization

Companies usually approach social media involvement through a few Socially Familiar staff members who experiment with various platforms to figure out what works best for company objectives.  After about 3 – 6 months,  those staff members will present their findings to direct-report management and request approval to advance to the next level.   At the Socially Present stage,  selected social media platforms are used to broadcast brand awareness messages and marketing campaign information.  Communication is primarily one-way.   This period usually lasts 6 – 24 months.

At the Socially Enabled stage,  communication is primarily two-way and information is deemed actionable.  Social media staff gather and disseminate information from social media communications deep within the organization,  where it impacts R & D,  customer service,  technical support,  marketing campaign strategies,  sales distribution choices and other functions.   Social media may play a role in nurturing relationships with organizational partners and suppliers.  Tangible social media ROI is recognized.  The final stage,  Socially Integrated,  is only rarely achieved at this point.  In fact,  this stage may not fit the objectives of most businesses.

Insights brought forth from the study were what one would expect.  C-suites executives are rapidly accepting the inevitability of social media and budgets are being made available to support staffing,  which is based in marketing departments.  Social media strategies are being developed and social media guidelines are being drafted (by legal departments).  Brand reinforcement,  rather than customer engagement,  is the primary goal of B2B social media strategies at this time,  but lead generation (sales departments),  R & D and customer service (operations departments) are emerging as important players.  Linking the social media strategy to business needs and performance metrics to measure ROI is becoming more common.

Nevertheless,   in most cases,  funding for social media initiatives remains low.   More than 50%  of respondents reported that their companies spent 5%  or less of their IT budgets on enabling social media platform tools.  23%  reported that their organizations had no plans to spend on social media.

Thanks for reading,

Kim