First steps in marketing your start-up business Part 1

Successful Business People.You are about to open your doors to the public, whether that is literally if you have retail premises or consulting rooms, or figuratively if you are working from home and are more likely to be visiting your customers.

How will your potential customers know you are there? You will have to tell them!

There are a few simple ways of announcing your presence. I will list a few and expand on some later in this series.

  • Prepare a press release. It is very important to get this right so I will discuss this in the next chapter.
  • Have an attractive sign if you have business premises, and make sure it says what your business does. Do not leave people to guess or have to find out by peering in your window.
  • If your premises are not on the main drag get an A-frame sign board and ask a nice shop owner in the busier area if you can put it outside their place. Many will be happy to help direct customers right up your alley.
  • Give careful thought to advertising. Many new business owners get this wrong and I will help you later in a future post.
  • Plan to network. That means making a point of going out to meet people in other businesses, and perhaps get an introduction to public speaking. Don’t worry. It will only be a minute or so and you will be surprised how quickly you get used to it.
  • Make as many friends as you can who are in the same business as you. I know from experience that camaraderie with others in a similar line is very helpful and that your “colleagues” will be happy to share tips.

Starting a business can be very daunting, but also the most exciting time in our working lives. Running a business ought to be fun. Don’t you agree?

 

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More “how not to network”

English: I took this picture.

Attribution: Thesydneyknowitall at en.wikipedia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday I reported on Twitter a power supply unit failure in my office important computer-server. By the time I tweeted about the mishap my usual computer repair shop down the road had already repaired the machine and had installed a new PSU within the hour. I was a happy bunny. Great service!

However, it did not stop one of my Twitter followers, one with just the egg for an avatar, messaging me to up-sell me to their cloud systems so that I could not lose my data; as if I do not back up all my data to the cloud anyway.

Worse still, they then look up my telephone number on my website and call to press home their attempted sale.

So here is a little lesson in networking as I see it (and of course you may differ):

  • Never sell to me either via social media or face-to-face networking.
  • Try to get to know me.
  • Talk about your business in a non-salesy way and earn my trust and
  • you may get a referral or
  • I may value you enough to give you my business, but only if you never sell to me.

I never buy anything on-line or over the telephone unless I initiate the contact because I have made a buying decision. I bet you don’t either. Do you?

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Broken tools, new toys and business

Where have I got to?

Where have I got to?

Sometimes tried and trusted methods stop working, and we hardly notice because we carry on out of habit. That is what happened with me and breakfast networking.  It took a while for it to dawn on me that I was not getting business any more. Perhaps I was in denial because I always enjoyed meeting people and even running a group. However it is jolly hard work and very time consuming to run a group if you make no money in doing it.

Fortunately, my on-line social media activity and my websites do get in business. It is still all about talking and especially listening to what people need, and of course not selling. I enjoy the on-line stuff too, so it isn’t as though I have no fun marketing.

Recently it dawned on me that Google Alerts wasn’t (or weren’t) working. I have for several years used the service to spot when my name was mentioned somewhere on the web, or when my business names were mentioned and to find key special words which interest me. I find I am not the only one to have noticed and although there are reports it has been fixed, I still have not had an Alerts email for weeks even though I try to pop up all over the place. How much am I missing?

TalkWalker has been suggested as a substitute but I am not convinced so far.

Have you found trusted tools and practices can start letting you down? I would love to know.

 

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The Smart Aleck networker

iStock_000007991360XSmall cross businesswomanDo you know that person at your networking meeting? The one with the loud voice, saying “Hey, look at me”? The one who is always telling everyone how great their business is as opposed to the competition? In fact, the person who always disses everyone else as being inferior?

We try to avoid those “networkers”, don’t we? We try to get as far as possible from them as we can. We can do without those boorish opinions, and we know they will never connect us or refer us because they are too busy thinking about themselves.

It is the same in the world of social media. There are people who claim superior knowledge not just in their line of business but in every aspect of of the world. They rubbish other users of Twitter, they give their opinion of those who hold a different view within their expertise, they show their political prejudices by rubbishing certain politicians, and they have those Smart Aleck comments about any and everyone who doesn’t agree with their bigoted views.

We avoid that sort of person when eating our bacon roll at the local breakfast meet, and thank goodness we can un-follow them on Twitter and un-friend them on Facebook once we see the cut of their jib.

I don’t reckon the Alecks and Alecksandras get much business from their networking, but they are too arrogant to understand why.

Don’t you avoid them like the plague?

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Taking our business network leaders for granted

A Breakfast venue

A Breakfast venue

Getting the boot

I belong to a monthly networking group that has recently been unceremoniously ousted by the venue which has hosted us for a couple of years. It was not that we were a rowdy bunch. They just didn’t think they were making enough money out of us for the room we hired. No doubt they conveniently overlooked the amount we were spending in their pricey bar and café.

Our chairman had to find a new venue at rather short notice. His first attempt (and where we had our February meeting) was not a huge success. Not his fault. It turned out that other visitors made a considerable noise next door so that we were hardly able to hear each other. This is the sort of venue issue which only comes to light when you actually try it out rather than visit in the middle of a quiet morning.

Anyway, apparently we have a new venue for March and our leader thinks it will be a success. Let us hope so, but remember that he has spent a considerable amount of time researching and visiting potential meeting places. We owe him a vote of thanks.

Not a sausage

I have until recently been a long-time member of business breakfast clubs. I led one for a couple of years. The first venue went out of business and didn’t tell me or anyone else in the group. We turned up at 7 one Tuesday morning with the temperature at -4 Celsius (not a detail one forgets) and waited in the cold for about half an hour while we tried to find out what was going on.

In the glasshouse

I then had to find a new venue who would let us meet, serve breakfast and leave us alone for our meeting. It was difficult and I spent a lot of time on the telephone and then visiting possible meeting places. We stayed at the first place I chose for about three months.

We got great personal service but the room was noisy due to being rather open to other people coming in and out, and also because when it rained on the glass roof, no one could have much conversation without shouting. It seemed we would have to move again.

Out of the frying pan

I moved, partly at the request of a couple of members, to a posh new hotel on the seafront. The environment was better, but the service was corporate and therefore less personal except when one particular young lady was on duty, and who took the meaning of customer service seriously. We soldiered on until circumstances meant I had to quit as leader.

It would have been great to be thanked by everyone for all the hard work I put in in dealing with the venues, collecting the money and paying them, leading the meetings, thinking what was topical and canvassing members, keeping the records and generally contributing much more time than the weekly hour and a half. Yet when I stopped, only a couple of members took the time, and I had absolutely no thanks whatever from the group brand owners.

I did my best. I could not have done better in the circumstances, I don’t think. I made no real money from my efforts but that was never my intention. I am not complaining. It was an interesting experience. I would have just liked a bit more appreciation.

Do remember to thank your network group leaders for their efforts. They deserve it. They do it for you so that you can get more business. They are certainly not in it for the money that you pay each week, nearly all of which goes to pay for the meeting room and catering.

You would not want to deny someone that nice warm feeling one gets from being appreciated and thanked, would you?

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The trouble with breakfast networking

An English breakfast

An English breakfast (Photo credit: Riggwelter via Wikipedia). Hold the beans, please!

Sleepy time

A few days ago I went to breakfast networking meeting. It is several months since I last went to one and I wondered how I used to get up every week at such an unearthly hour to get to my breakfast networking group. I now seem to have a job staying awake if I have to get up at crack of dawn or even before.

Just the same I have a long history of breakfast networking. Nearly a decade ago when I first started out with my own business I joined BNI. There were very few breakfast networking groups then.

Halcyon days

I enjoyed BNI and although in my sort of business I didn’t get dozens of referrals unlike the florist who benefited from the “desperation referrals”, I did pick up some useful business, and most importantly one great referral which kept my wife and me out of the poor house.

BNI was good for me. Most of the members were fairly new business owners, but one of the important rules was that we were supposed to refer a particular type of business to a member of BNI rather than a business owner we knew elsewhere. We were not supposed to belong to any “rival” group. There was also some quality control via the membership committee in that they followed up on referrals and made sure that if we got business we delivered the best service we could. I am sure we did in the group, being mindful of our own reputations.

Being a member of BNI was not cheap in terms of upfront outlay. With joining fees, annual membership and the meeting costs including breakfasts we paid out about £1,400 (S2,200 in today’s money) or so in our first year and £1,000 annually thereafter. It was worth it though in terms of business.

Falling from grace

I enjoyed BNI while it lasted for me. However even an easy-going chap like me ultimately fell out with the franchise owner. Never mind.

In more recent years I enjoyed other breakfast groups. I have been a serial (not cereal) breakfast networker. I even ran a group for a while, but nowadays there are so many groups meeting at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning. Unlike the group I ran, most are not run on the BNI principle of exclusivity where there is only one of each type of business in the same group.

There are also many “free” groups which do not even have formal membership. This means that people tend to belong to a number of groups and are torn between members of different ones when it comes to referrals. Maybe they are so confused they never give any and forget the important tenet of networking, which is helping others.

In my most recent breakfast networking I did not find it very profitable. I met some nice people, but because of the sheer number of groups and divided loyalties, I think the age of profitable breakfast networking is over. Except maybe for those who swallow hard and stump up for BNI.

I would love to know what your experience is as a current or former breakfast networker? Does it still work for you?

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Wasting our most valuable resource – time

Am I wasting my time?

Neighbourhood watch

One of our neighbours – and I hope he doesn’t read this – spends hours of his time and quite possible six to eight hours a week cleaning and polishing his car. He seems to get a new car every year. I am sure anyone would find it satisfying to have a lovely shiny new car outside the house, but why spend all that time? No one will notice from any distance the odd speck or two. He won’t preserve the value any better. It seems a terrible waste of time.

Of course, it is not for me to say what he should do with the extra six to eight hours, but that is practically a working day a week. He could make something if he were good with his hands. He could do voluntary work. He could make some money with an eBay business. He would still have a nice shiny car and achieve something valuable for himself or for someone else.

Hot breakfasts

Our neighbour is not the only one to waste time. Many of us do it. I have been wasting time going to weekly breakfast networking meetings until the last year or so. They were not always a waste of time, but the environment for referral networking has changed. My business has changed too, so that the value of the meetings has become much less.

For me the weekly local breakfast meetings stopped working for me. I carried on too long because I enjoyed them, but in business terms that is not enough. We are in business to make money for our families. I gave a lot in terms of time, even ultimately running a networking group, and a lot in terms of referrals but with dwindling returns.

There was a point when the meetings ceased to be of much value at all. I think they do help new business owners starting out if only in overcoming shyness, as they helped me when I started a decade ago. I have stopped going to any morning meetings except the occasional local authority ones, which do at least provide an insight into local planning as it affects businesses.

Spreading our wings

My clients are now not just spread around the country, but also around the world, though rather scattered. The service my business provides is not just something which needs to be done locally. I do not need to meet every new client. We have Skype to talk, and we have Dropbox (I like Dropbox) or Google Drive or other cloud resources to exchange large documents where email does not quite suffice, and my web-based content marketing attracts the work. In addition on-line networking and social media provide opportunities for me to refer my friends and clients as well as receive referrals.

Although I have cut down local networking it does not mean I have no local business. I value my local clients and my main source of local new business is referrals from them and from the old-fashioned medium of paper advertising. I have one ad that works, and one only. The secret is that it appears in a monthly publication every single month, so that if potential clients have thrown away the last edition, they know they can find my business in the next one.

Bringing home the bacon

Not going to breakfast meetings saves me twelve or fourteen hours a month, which I use for paid value-sold work and in on-line marketing. I could use some time saved to clean my car, but not that many hours a month.

I think we all need to watch out for work time slipping into a black hole of waste. How can we make our businesses more efficient? What isn’t working for us?

How have you saved time in your business?

Content marketing and specialist articles

 

Content in my niche

Free stuff?

I read in various places that content marketing doesn’t work for specialist businesses. I beg to differ.

I run a specialist business, which advises on tax.  In fact I have a niche within the tax business. I have a particular interest in property; that is real property.

I am told by others in my business and closely allied businesses types such as accountants that if we write articles giving away our knowledge for free then no one will come to us and pay for good advice. Yet, think about it. Don’t we all trawl the web for information on almost anything? The internet is the greatest tool for research that has ever existed. And yes, many people will take our stuff and try to use it. But they won’t use it in quite the right way without experience or with so much confidence as we would have.

Mind the traffic

Like every other business using content marketing I look at my web traffic pretty much daily. I notice how many hits I have on each article. That gives me an idea what is hot news and popular among the visitors.

I try to be very informative. Do you know what? I get business from writing my articles. For the time invested it is very well worth it, even though technical stuff takes a while to write because it has to be accurate. The same article or article theme brings business over and over again. That is because we gain trust by writing since potential clients can see we know what we are talking about.

Plenty for us

Never mind the visitors who come and take a little away from us. There is plenty to go round and no one can be an expert just by reading but without actual hands-on experience. Others will be happy to pay us for solid gold knowledge

If you need to know more about the power of content marketing, Heidi Cohen can tell you, and if you want to see a content marketing specialist in action, see The Sales Lion (not affiliate links).

I will just keep on dishing out the tips on my websites. What about you?

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Reputations, referrals and let-downs

If we get a referral from a colleague or fellow business person, it is very satisfying of course, but we have to live up to the recommendation. If we run our businesses as efficiently as we can and offer a great service that distinguishes us from the rest then we have no need to worry about letting anybody down. We have a duty to the referrer as well as to our new customer. After all, the person who has referred the work has put her reputation on the line by recommending us.

I have had a good and reliable service from one of my suppliers over about eight years. I thought nothing of recommending that supplier to one of my favourite colleagues in my network. Apparently my supplier has let her down. I feel bad about this because it is as though I have let her down. I gave the referral in good faith. My reputation was potentially at stake.

My friend is philosophical about it and says I shouldn’t worry. I still feel let down, and I would hesitate to refer the supplier again.

Reputations are precious. Mine is. I refer people I think are good, but I will be even more sparing with my referrals in future.

Have you been let down like this by someone in your network? What did you do?

Do I deserve to be whipped?

Out and about

I am about on social networks mainly for marketing purposes. At least that was how it was in the beginning. However, having built relationships on-line, some become friendships on-line or off-line.

I enjoy discussions in various forums, whether business or social. I like to express my opinion., otherwise why would I take part? Very occasionally I might say something to which another person might take offence, but certainly I would not set out to upset anybody, and I hope I would be ready to apologise. As I have said before, our on-line reputations are important and easily damaged with a loose comment. If someone is hurt we have to “kiss them better”.

Taking the flak

We have to accept that our views and, I guess our morality, are not shared by everyone else. The other day I expressed an opinion in response to a forum question. That opinion was that stealing from the Government by fiddling one’s tax returns was wrong. It is not a particularly controversial view I would have thought, but some apparently believe that the Government should have higher priorities than catching the small scale tax dodgers. Perhaps they do need to prioritise, but that is no reason to let anyone get away with it, at least in my opinion.

If you have been free with your opinions you have to take some flak. It is fine for people to disagree with me. At least they take notice. Having a opinion and expressing it is better than firing quotations of the great and the good into the internet ether as some do to boost their Klout score.

For thinking this small-scale tax-stealing was wrong, I was called “holier than thou”. I was rather hurt. In fact I was rather more hurt than when I was called without provocation a very bad word in a private forum long ago. That was more about networkers I was seen as being associated with. Being called “holier than thou” was more personal.

I felt less hurt after I reasoned that maybe it was a back-handed compliment about my adhering to my beliefs.

Following our path

What we have to do is to be wary of damaging our reputation but carry on with what we believe. We have to be out there with our marketing, and we need to participate in forums to maintain our reputations, and because we are intelligent opinionated people.

Whipped

We have to take a whipping now and again. Maybe I deserved it. At least I got noticed. The pain was probably worth it.

Here is a relevant quotation from Leo Burnett, and early twentieth-century advertising executive which I promise not to tweet:

“If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything. You just have to be noticed, but the art is in getting noticed naturally, without screaming or without tricks.”

So that’s all right then. Or is it?

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