‘Weird Al’ Takes on Marketing

A good parody makes the audience somewhat uncomfortable, even as they laugh. The humor has to hit close to home to be truly funny. As you watch “Weird Al” Yankovic’s music video for “Mission Statement,” which buzzwords are a little too familiar to you?

To avoid using jargon in your marketing messages, see my tips in “Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate.”

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.

When Competitors Copy You

If your small business is at the leading edge of your industry, chances are competitors regularly copy everything you do. From innovative products to customer service standards to something as simple as the headline of an advertisement. Here’s one blatant example I found while flipping through Cincinnati Magazine of a competitor copying my client, Paramount Lawn + Landscape.

When a Competitor Copies You

How do you feel when you find instances like this? Maybe you feel frustrated, indignant or cheated. That makes sense. But what you should really be feeling is excited and validated.

If a competitor copied you, that means you’re doing something right. Something that works. You understand the market in a way the “other guy” doesn’t. That other guy can’t think of anything better, so he will always be one step behind you.

But you can’t rest on your laurels.

When competitors copy you, it becomes harder for customers to tell you apart. Perhaps customers can’t tell who will “Light Up Your Night!” best. It’s time to implement an even better marketing strategy and leave your competition, once again, in your dust. Until they copy you again, that is…


Stop Griping. Start Being Awesome.

Just as the phone camera became good enough to replace small point-and-shoot models, and that industry appeared close to being obsolete, Nikon fought back with two new models that showed consumers needs they didn’t know they had.

The Nikon 1 is a simple-to-use, compact camera with expandable options like lenses or a flash. Nikon’s goal is to help people take pictures and videos that look good without the added weight and bulk of an SLR camera.

Nikon Coolpix CameraThe Coolpix AW100 is geared for action photography where one wouldn’t want to risk damaging his phone or SLR, promoted as being “waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof.” As my wedding photographer friend explained, “Nikon has shown me a need for a third kind of camera!” And, indeed, who wouldn’t want a camera to bring when they go kayaking/biking/snowboarding?

Compare Nikon’s attitude with the music industry ten years ago (or even today…)– embroiled in legal battles and legislative efforts trying to preserve an old-fashioned business model that anyone outside the business could see was going to die anyway.

Instead of trying to stop phone companies from including cameras, Nikon simply became even more awesome.

So when you’re faced with competition that seemed to come out of nowhere, take Nikon’s path. Stop griping, and start being awesome. It’s the only way to survive.

Small Business Marketing as Entertainment

Can witnessing the inner workings of small businesses be exciting? Anyone who operates a small business certainly knows it can be. Watching ABC’s Shark Tank is a fascinating study in small business marketing, business analysis, financing and negotiation. If you haven’t seen the show, here’s the premise:

“Budding entrepreneurs with big ideas can still make their dreams come true and ABC is about to give them the chance to make it happen. Each week a group of self-made millionaires [Sharks] from all corners of the business world take their own hard earned money and offer everyday people their one true shot at making their dreams a reality. Some will sink, some will swim and some will be eaten alive.”

The show’s investors (or “Sharks”) are start-up and entrepreneurial experts. Small business owners can learn a wealth of free knowledge from these investors.  In the final episode of Season 2, watch some interesting and instructive entrepreneurs as they wheel and deal with the sharks. There’s a custom jewelry artist trying to take his designs to the masses. Another woman has patents for a brilliant shoe design that lets women change the uppers while using the same sole– perfect for traveling.

In this clip, a woman makes the case to reposition her maternity clothing brand in face of a declining boutique women’s market. But, as the sharks adeptly conclude, this strategy will require as much investment as building a new brand from nothing (and in a still-persistent tough economy, no less):

From a marketing perspective, it’s interesting how many entrepreneurs benefit from the show just by making the pitch and explaining their innovative products to television audiences. These entrepreneurs might make a deal, or they might not, but the exposure does wonders for their marketing. It’s a good strategy, and I recommend it for charismatic entrepreneurs selling a great consumer product.

Having all those sharks devouring her desserts helped Daisy Cakes‘ founder Kim Daisy sell a lot of cake. And Rebecca Rescate of CitiKitty may not have overly impressed the sharks, but her great presentation certainly won over many cat lovers, causing shipping delays from the high order volume. Watch her presentation below:

I definitely recommend this show to small business owners. It’s rare that you get free advice that’s worth more than you pay for it.

Marketing Podcast- Startup Marketing

After writing about marketing for startups a few weeks ago, I had some new ideas for the topic that I shared with the radio audience of “Getting Down to Business.” Host David Weatherholt and I gave marketing tips to small businesses who are short on marketing history – and short on cash. Our advice centered on easy ways to use connections to build your customer base and reputation.

The show was fun and educational, so I think you’ll enjoy it.

Marketing for Startups

Download the startup marketing MP3 file here. (4.7 MB)

Let’s get started!

Small Business Marketing for Startups

Yesterday, an acquaintance asked me for advice on his startup company’s marketing. He just didn’t know how to get started with his first customer. He wanted to know what kinds of brochures, business card or website he needed to get people interested.

I told him, “Decide who you want your customers to be.”

He replied, “Oh, you mean middle class or upper class?”

“No, I mean decide which specific people in which neighborhoods should be your customers. Get to know them, how they talk and what their needs are. Then you can start selling. Then you will know what should be on your website.”

When people first start looking for customers, their instinct is to look for large groups of people and hope to convince a few of those people to hire them. The idea is, “If I aim for all middle class families, surely I’ll get a couple of customers.” But this instinct is wrong. The more people with whom you try to communicate, the less each one will pay attention to you. For example, I imagine you rarely pay attention to the loudspeaker at the grocery store. It’s just not that meaningful to you because the grocery store is trying to communicate a general message to the entire store. When you try to be meaningful to everyone, you end up being meaningful to no one. Generalization for the masses is the worst way to sell a new (or any) product.

To find its first customer, a startup needs to get specific. Instead of selling to groups differentiated by demographics, sell to individual people. Talk their language and address their needs.

On a related note, marketing expert Steve Yastrow wrote two very helpful newsletters on how to differentiate your customers as individuals instead of groups– Do Differentiation Differently and How to Do Differentiation Differently. Steve’s essential message is:

“Your customer doesn’t really care if you are different. But he will be blown away if he sees that you think he is different.”

Showing your customer you think he is different is more work than blanketing a city with flyers- but it will also yield more results. As counterintuitive as it may seem, startups (and all companies) will find more customers if they focus on fewer people.

Stop micro-managing. Start empowering.

Micro-managing is the pitfall of too many small businesses. It may be counter-intuitive that you must let go a little for your business to grow. After all, perfection can only be achieved if you manage it, right? If your team has the power to make decisions, won’t they only screw things up?

Wrong. If your team feels empowered, they will think of ideas you never dreamed of.

Your small business will never grow unless you develop a team who share the same business vision and are empowered to make the vision a reality. I’ve seen many small businesses stagnate because their owners weren’t able to communicate, delegate and relinquish authority to their teams. Your team can consist of employees, independent contractors and vendors.

Micro-managing means managing the small stuff. As a small business owner, you should be concerned with things such as the company vision or strategies for the upcoming year. Here are some ways to avoid micro-managing. They may not seem like large infractions, but think of the time wasted that could be put towards valuable business growth activities.

  • Always think, “Is this the most important thing I could be doing right now?” Management expert Peter Drucker wrote, “Doing the right things is more important than doing things right.”
  • Unless you own a graphic design firm, don’t ever question a font again. Instead, employ designers who have the freedom to design what your customers want- not what you want.
  • Don’t spend an hour on the phone with an accounting software vendor when you will never use the software. Let your bookkeeper make these decisions. The same rule applies to any kind of purchase.
  • If your sales team has a bold new idea to reach customers, let them try it out on a limited scale. Avoid “talking it to death” at all costs.

A Tribute to Small Business Dads

Father’s Day is on Sunday, and as I reflected for today’s blog post, I realized my dad is the reason I am a successful small business owner today. My dad, Mike Kinslow, has been a small business owner since he was 22. My parents bought a car wash and soon after started a changeable letter sign operation. They opened a custom hot tub store during the infancy of the spa craze. Using his car washing expertise, my dad invented and patented a radical new idea for car washing – a glass car wash building named Lighthouse Carwash. He morphed the business from simply selling products to offering entrepreneurs an entire turnkey business model.

Why I love small business marketing

My dad taught me almost everything I know about small businesses, and he is why I love small business marketing. Over the years, I’ve learned that he is entrepreneurialism personified. Here are some of his traits that I find are common to most small business owners:

  • My dad has an incredible work ethic. Small business owners know that working hard is the answer to their success. However, one of my dad’s favorite sayings is, “Work smarter, not harder.” He would be the first to chastise anyone for laboring without first thinking about how it could be done more efficiently.
  • Before making decisions, my dad always considers how it will affect his family and employees. Family values and faith in God are of utmost importance to him, and his generosity knows no bounds. This kind of heart is prevalent with all small business owners. You don’t just want to make money. You want to do the right thing.
  • My dad has earned his living searching for ways to fix other people’s problems. Relentless pursuit of the next big idea gives him an adrenaline rush. Without this passion, small businesses could never thrive.
  • If the going got tough, my dad would just work harder. All experienced small business owners know there are lean times at some points in their entrepreneurial lives. The key is to never quit, work harder and keep up that relentless pursuit of the next big idea.
  • And, yes, my dad even has the tendency to micro-manage in order to ensure perfection. All of you small business owners out there know, deep down, that you have a micro-managing spirit. It’s the sense of pride and attention to detail that has allowed you to become successful in the first place. But be careful. Often it is better to delegate decisions that are outside your area of expertise.

So, I dedicate this Father’s Day post to my dad and small business dads everywhere. (Don’t fret, small business moms. You’ll have a turn next Mother’s Day)

Small Business Marketing Spotlight: LMB Associates

In the marketing spotlight this week, we have Lorena Blonsky, owner of LMB Associates, a firm specializing in recruitment of information technology professionals.

She has owned the business for the last 20 years and recruits mostly in Chicago and the Midwest. Lorena started off our interview by telling me, “I love being a small business owner because of the flexibility it allows in my schedule and because I love what I do. I’m able to control the quality of the work that gets done. I am committed to quality work; I have a commitment to my clients, and they really appreciate and value that.”

(Some recruitment definitions for my readers: Clients are the companies LMB Associates represents, while Candidates are those seeking jobs with LMB Associates’ clients.)

Since LMB Associates is in its twenty-first year, I wanted to know what factors Lorena credits for her success. She was able to give a very forceful answer:

Determination to succeed is critical and most important. There never was a question that I would succeed. Sometimes other people just give up.  When I first started, someone told me that I would make a lot of money and make it very quickly. In actuality, it took me eight months to make my first dime, and it wasn’t so easy. To people on the outside, they only see the end success. But there is a lot of work that goes into creating something and making it successful.”

Lorena emphasizes that hard work and determination are crucial for any aspiring entrepreneurs:

“It’s a very important thing to know and understand before you start your own business that it is going to be challenging. I’m glad I went through this experience, although I wasn’t glad at the beginning, while I was going through the pains of starting up. The truth is the start-up time gives you an accurate, honest assessment of what you’re in for, and I think that’s very important.”

Lorena’s hard work continues, as the economic downturn has become the biggest challenge for LMB Associates. Lorena says, “It’s been a shrinking job market, and my business is very dependent on economic circumstances.” She adds that the economy has had other, indirect, influences on her business: “There’s been a lot of volatility in the market, such as clients downsizing, consolidating offices or moving technology responsibilities offshore. Understanding these market changes present challenges but can also present opportunity.”

There is another looming challenge for the recruitment industry:  the Internet. Lorena isn’t worried about the challenge from Monster or HotJobs in the long run, because recruitment web sites aren’t necessarily saving companies time or money.  Recruitment web sites offer a high volume of resumes, but they provide no quality control. She says, “Companies need more capable, human resources to put toward screening candidates when they choose that option. I offer more than bodies to fill a room or paper in the form of dozens of resumes. I work with each client organization to find the best match for their needs.”

Many companies find that using recruitment web sites can tarnish their reputations among job seekers, if they do not follow up with candidates. Lorena explains,

“Candidates often don’t get responses from the companies to whom they send their resumes.  Companies should send a letter of thanks to a candidate who has sent his or her resume. It makes the companies look bad when they don’t respond. The way a person or organization treats people is very, very important. If you treat people poorly, they won’t want to work with you and that reputation will get into the marketplace.  And if you treat people with respect, they never forget it.”

Treating people respectfully is key to LMB Associates’ business. Lorena’s marketing strategy is to treat people as individuals, learn about their needs and develop relationships with them. She says,

“Often recruiters are just looking for the next buck. I differentiate myself by treating people as people. I give people the respect they deserve. Candidates might not know how to write a résumé, so I give them my time, sample resumes, suggestions and support. Candidates can become demoralized while searching for a job. I pump people up to feel good about themselves, because they need to know that, even though the market may be tough, they bring value to the marketplace. It’s a big deal to give people a boost so that they can get out there and do what they have to do: find a new job.”

She uses a similar strategy for her client organizations:

“I listen to what my clients say they need, then I ask questions, based on the qualifications they seek, their insight and feedback. My clients have personnel issues that need to be addressed, certainly that they need to hire someone but also often beyond the job description. What my clients need from me is to maintain confidentiality, to understand their needs and to assess what types of candidates will fit into their organizations.”

From listening to Lorena, it is evident that she loves what she does:  working with her clients and candidates. Before concluding the interview Lorena added,

“I like working in technology because it’s always changing and mind-expanding, and I like working with technology people, who are on the cutting edge of that change. I like having clients in a variety of industries; it makes work more interesting. I love working with candidates, who are all different kinds of people from all cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, and environments.”

To learn more about LMB Associates, view current job openings or contact Lorena, visit LMB Associates.