My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs

Strangely, reality TV has fostered a golden era of business-focused television. Whether it’s Lori Greiner detailing why a product is “a hero or a zero,” Marcus Lemonis cutting through complicated shareholder agreements or Gordon Ramsay refocusing managers on the primacy of the guest experience, small business owners have opportunity for a free (and entertaining!) business education just by turning on the television.

1. Shark Tank

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs

This show is an obvious choice for my list, and I hope my entrepreneurial readers already watch it. ABC’s hit venture capital series offers useful advice to inventors, start-ups and small businesses.

2. Beyond the Tank

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
Shark Tank shows the exciting deal-making element of business, but Beyond the Tank delves into the day-to-day operational and marketing struggles of companies that made a deal with a shark. Watch this show to become inspired to implement!

3. The Profit

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
In this CNBC series, Marcus Lemonis takes over promising businesses that are failing due to operational issues, marketing failures or bickering owners. Not every business experiences success, which makes this show even more instructional.

4. Hotel Hell

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
We all know Gordon Ramsay’s “exploding chef” persona, but he’s also a stellar businessman. His perfectionism comes from a desire to deliver the absolute best guest experience. In Fox’s Hotel Hell, he guides struggling hotels/restaurants to profitability. It’s similar to his previous show Kitchen Nightmares (but with more mold infestations).

5. Nathan for You

My Top 5 TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
Reality business programming has become so popular, the genre has earned a parody show. In this Comedy Central spoof, Nathan Fielder brings terrible advice to unsuspecting small businesses. The opening credits reveal his qualifications in booming tones, “I graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools with really good grades.” Perhaps this show isn’t truly educational, but you are going to love it.

Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate

Precise language is one of my joys. It’s exhilarating to find exactly the right word that communicates in the best way possible.

Which is why it pains me to admit that accuracy isn’t all that important if it’s boring. For marketing communications, you must be interesting first and precise second. To catch a customer’s attention, it’s best to spark their curiosity with memorable content.

Words become boring through overuse. When a word is ubiquitous in the culture, customers start to overlook it, like static in the background. Sometimes, these words are useful descriptors of what your company does, but it doesn’t matter if customers have grown accustomed to ignoring them.

Instead, choose words that are easily understood but unique in the context of your business. Compare these two marketing campaign approaches from Mosquito Joe and JH Mosquito Control Services. Mosquito Joe takes a friendly approach that is much more interesting and memorable than JH’s technical description of its service special.

Mosquito Joe – Outside is fun again.

Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate

JH Mosquito Control Services – Mosquito Control Special!

Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate

Some Terms that Might be Accurate, but are Terribly Boring:

  • Solutions
  • Collaborative
  • Communication
  • Service
  • Special
  • Alignment
  • Outside the box
  • Cutting edge
  • Turnkey
  • Innovative
  • Expert

Perfection is Illusive, but Keep Working on It!

True marketing magic happens when you find precisely the right words that also perfectly describe what you do and why customers should buy from you. I advocate striving for that goal!

In the meantime, though, you have to keep marketing and selling. “Don’t let perfection become the enemy of good,” is a powerful business adage. As you move forward, infuse more interesting and unique language into your marketing. You’ll attract customers’ attention, and they will allow you more time to explain accurately what you do.

Teaching Children the Value of a Nickel and a Dime

It’s rare that I’m pleased to receive direct mail marketing, but I eagerly opened the nicely-designed piece sent from the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. They have some exciting shows this season, including adaptations of Alice in Wonderland and Tarzan.

But I found one aspect of their season ticket pricing off-putting. A “Season Infant Lap Pass” costs $1 per show.

Season Infant Lap Pass - $1

That’s right, if you need to bring an infant along to a performance, you have to pay one dollar for the privilege of holding a squirming baby in your lap.

As it Turns Out, Dollars are More Valuable than Nickels or Dimes. Lesson Learned!

There’s no reasonable business case for this strange charge. The Children’s Theatre might generate up to $20 in revenue per performance from the fee. That hardly seems to offset the risk of annoying customers by making them feel nickel and dimed. If even one family decides not to purchase a season ticket package because of this policy, the theatre loses money. (Also, if the theatre is trying to dissuade families from bringing infants to performances, this seems a heavy-handed approach).

From the theatre’s website FAQ’s, it appears the change is new to this season:

“Starting in the 2016-2017 season, every person, regardless of age, will need a ticket.  Children ages 0-1 year old who do not need a seat and will sit on your lap will be required to have an Infant Lap Pass for $1 for each show in every seating location throughout the theater.”

I suspect this policy will not be popular with customers, and it will be interesting to see how the Children’s Theatre reacts. In the meantime, small businesses should take a lesson from this example. Evaluate your pricing structure to see if customers might have similar reactions to your fees. And remember, a dollar is always more valuable than a dime!

Your Receptionist May Be Your Most Important Employee

In Small Business Marketing, Receptionists Are on the Front Line

Your Receptionist Might Be Your Most Important EmployeeReceptionist positions are often considered entry-level with high turnover. Small businesses don’t spend much time training the receptionist, sometimes just giving her an admonition to be friendly and punctual.

But from your customer’s perspective, your receptionist just might be your small business’s most important employee! An effective receptionist:

  • Is a customer’s first impression of your company
  • Develops meaningful customer relationships
  • Keeps customers happy
  • Is a key source of business intelligence

Everytime the phone rings or someone walks through the door, your receptionist is the spokesperson for your business. Customers will evaluate your business based on their interactions with the receptionist. More often than anyone else, she is in a position to execute your marketing strategies.

Receptionists are also in a position to uncover important business intelligence that should inform your small business marketing strategies. They talk to customers all day long. Through skillful conversation, they can identify how customers learned about you, what competitors they evaluated and problem areas in your products or services.

Does your receptionist know how important she is to your small business? Help her understand her professional role, and you’ll welcome a new, valuable member to your marketing team.

Data Disaster: 24% Never Back Up!

Someone arbitrarily decided that June is Backup Awareness month. Let’s celebrate with this pie chart from Backblaze:

Backup Frequency Chart

It’s hard to believe that almost half of computer owners never back up or only back up once a year. These users are headed for a data disaster because storage media always fail. On average, here’s the lifespan of common storage media:

  • 5-10 years: flash drives
  • 3-5 years: hard drives
  • 2-5 years: CDs and DVDs

I’m in the 8% that backup my files daily, and just last year I added secondary remote backups to my routine. I simply can’t afford to lose my clients’ valuable files and data.

As a small business, it’s critical you develop a backup routine. Losing even a month’s worth of files can significantly harm your productivity and success. Consider losing the last month’s billing cycle, the new spreadsheets you spent hours on, the countless emails exchanged and all the minute changes made to your documents.

Backup utilities automate the process of backing up. Once you configure the system, you’ll hardly have to think about it again– until you need the backup!

Save Your Marketing Budget with Negative Keywords

Almost every pay-per-click advertising campaign has room for optimization. Today, let’s focus on one simple way to save money with your Google AdWords campaigns: adding negative keywords. A negative keyword prevents your ad from being triggered by a certain word or phrase.

For instance, it’s incredibly important to list negative keywords for my clients who are professional speakers. Otherwise, our ads would display for searches such as “Sony speakers for sale,” or “Public speaking tips.”

How to Add Negative Keywords to Your Google AdWords Campaigns

First, you’ll need to identify which keywords result in undesirable clicks to your ads. Fortunately, Google has a tool for that. In the Keywords tab, look at the Search Terms sub-tab, shown below:

Save Your Marketing Budget with Negative Keywords

Google describes this report as follows:

“Learn how customers are finding your ad. With the Search terms report, you can see the actual searches people entered on Google Search and other Search Network sites that triggered your ad and led to a click. Depending on your keyword match types, this list might include terms other than exact matches to your keywords.”

When I ran this report for a veterinary hospital, I found a few stray clicks from searches for things like “cat declawing” and “ear cropping” – services my client definitely doesn’t provide!  Also, several searches indicated clicks that might not results in optimal clients, such as “free vet clinic.” And there was a weird “def leppard” result. (Sometimes running this report can be really funny– except your advertising budget isn’t laughing.)

To add the negative keywords, click on the Negative Keywords sub tab, then click the big red +KEYWORDS button:

Save Your Marketing Budget with Negative Keywords

All done! Enjoy your savings.

Suggested Negative Keywords to Get You Started

Different industries usually require different negative keywords, but here are a few general suggestions I use for most of my clients:

  • Cheap
  • Free
  • DIY
  • How to
  • Learn to
  • Profanity and explicit language

Add some negative keywords and watch your AdWords reports to track your results. You should save money and also receive more relevant clicks from potential customers.

Blogging is Not Dead. It’s a Vital Marketing Tool.

Blogs increase traffic 77%Blogging has been around since the 1990’s, and the practice has been fairly universally panned ever since. In the early days, detractors sneered that no one wants to read what bloggers ate for lunch (before the rise of foodie blogs proved them wrong). Today, blog belittlers insist that businesses should stop blogging and focus solely on social media.

But the truth is that blogs remain a vital small business marketing tool.

Why Blogs are Great for Marketing Your Small Business

  1. When you write with focused keywords, blogs are great for SEO. Search engines value websites that are regularly updated.
  2. Interesting blog posts provide content for your social media campaigns, while directing customers to pages that promote your brand in the best way.
  3. Packaging one or two interesting blog posts with your promotional emails increase open rates and customer engagement.

HubSpot published a helpful article last year, “21 Essential Strategies for Growing Your Business with Inbound Marketing.” Included is helpful research showing how blogs increase your small business marketing effectiveness, such as:

92% of all online experiences begin with a search engine 61% of people say they prefer content

If you’ve been neglecting your blog, start it up again! Try posting one interesting piece of content each week, including posts, videos or pictures. To keep on schedule, follow my tips for creating an editorial calendar.

A Really Limited-Time Offer

The department that writes marketing campaign headlines at Walmart clearly isn’t the same department that designs the automated app marketing:

A Really Limited-Time Offer

Make Mom Happy! Until Saturday, that is. After Saturday, Mom will have to fend for herself.

Consider this weekly ad from Walmart a friendly reminder to always test your automated marketing, mail merge settings and other customer communications before they reach your audiences.

The Case Against Bing Advertising

The Case Against Bing AdvertisingBing Ads serve the Bing, Yahoo! and MSN search networks. According to most statistics, these networks account for around 36% of web searches. Basic math indicates that to reach a third more potential customers, you should advertise on the network.

But “searches” don’t equal “individual searchers,” and evidence suggests Bing may have significantly fewer users than searches. I recently discovered that Bing doesn’t throttle search traffic from automated bots that scrape websites for mass amounts of information. Google does. Bing may be becoming popular with firms that deploy search bots. There’s no way to know how many searches are initiated by people and how many are initiated by bots.

Which means there’s no way to be certain if your advertising is being clicked on by a customer or a computer. Small business marketing budgets aren’t limitless, and you don’t want to risk wasting advertising dollars on robots.

So…

Should You Advertise on Bing?

My answer to this question may seem frustratingly obvious: Advertise on Bing Ads if they work, and stop advertising on the network if it’s not working.

Identifying success metrics are critical to determine if Bing Ads are “working” for your small business (or if any other marketing campaign is working, for that matter). Without measurable results, you could be wasting a significant amount of money. Here are some examples of success metrics you can measure from your online advertising:

  • Number of visits from Bing Ads that directly result in sales
  • Length of time Bing Ads visitors spend on your website (indicates if a visit is automated or a real person)
  • Phone calls received from customers who located you with Bing Ads
  • Engagement with interactive elements of your website, like quizzes or polls

For instance, I tested eliminating Bing Ads with one of my clients, and our success metrics didn’t change. We simply spent less of our marketing budget. That’s merely one anecdote, but it serves to show that all small business marketing professionals should scrutinize Bing Ads’ effectiveness.

If you try out Bing Ads, let me know about your experience. Are there any major small business Bing Ads success stories out there?

For Better Marketing, Get to Know Your Customers

Marketing can be simply defined as the ways you influence customers to buy from you. And to influence effectively, you should understand your customers. Knowing your customers will help you communicate with them in meaningful ways and choose media channels they will actually see.

For better marketing, get to know your customers

Here are checklists of the kinds of demographic and characteristic knowledge you should have about your customers.

Customer Demographic Checklist

Understanding facts and figures about your customers is the first step to designing marketing campaigns that will appeal to them. You should know:

  • Size of your target market
  • Your current share of this market
  • Geography – where your customers live and work
  • Percentage of your customers who are men vs. women
  • Percentage of your customers at various ages/stages of their lives
  • Which media channels they find most compelling, i.e., radio, Facebook, Yelp, magazines, etc.

Customer Characteristic Checklist

Demographics are only the start, though. They can help you choose where to place your messages, and give some guidance on where to start with message development. For instance, a Boomer woman near retirement will generally require a different marketing approach from a Millennial man who just started a business.

To truly influence and persuade customers, you need a knowledge of their personalities, preferences and characteristics. Things like:

  • How do products/services like yours affect their lives?
  • What do they love about your industry?
  • What do they hate?
  • When do they make purchasing decisions?
  • How much research do customers complete before they buy?
  • What makes you special to your customers and differentiates you from competition
  • Who is your indirect competition? What different products/services might a customer buy instead of yours?

If you know less than half of the items on my checklists, your marketing strategy needs more research! Start talking to customers, and let them tell you how to persuade them.