Are You a Strong Competitor?

Some small businesses are lucky enough to not have much direct competition. Maybe they’ve identified a previously-unknown niche. Or maybe they are so dominant in their market that others can’t squeeze in. But not even these small businesses are safe from a smart competitor who can sweep in and steal away large swaths of customers.

To be a strong competitor and grow market share, small businesses need to continually improve. Identify your top competitive weakness and fix them– before your competitors do! Give your customers reason to stay loyal to you, and you can reasonably insulate your business from competitive threats.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to find your small business’s competitive weak points.

Competitive Strength Analysis

  • Existing Customers: What do customers complain about? What steps have you taken to improve their experience?
  • New Customers: How many new customers did you get in the last year? The year before? Make sure you have a plan for new customer growth.
  • Product/Service Offerings: When was the last time you improved your product and service offerings? Lack of innovation leaves the door wide open to competitors.
  • Profit Margins: Do you have any “unexpected costs” that occur frequently? How do these affect your margins and what can you do to allay them?
  • Vendors and Partners: Are your partners helping you grow? Or do they promote more-of-the-same?

After answering these questions, you probably see several areas for improvement. Pick the most critical, and start working on them right away!

The Critical Last Step to Launching Your New Website (That Most Small Businesses Forget)

Finishing a significant small business marketing initiative like a website redesign is an exciting time! After possibly months of work and waiting, your new website is ready to be launched and revealed to customers.

Or is it?

The Critical Last Step to Launching Your New Website - TestingThere’s a critical last step to launching your new website that small businesses often overlook: Testing. Before introducing your website redesign to customers, test each and every functionality to make sure it’s behaving as it should. Click every link, fill out every form, watch every video and inspect every picture. Ideally, perform these tests on a variety of devices and web browsers.

Embarrassing mistakes and typos can be avoided simply by taking a fresh look at your completed site. Recently, I found that a client’s social media links were switched. Clicking on LinkedIn took you to YouTube, and clicking on Pinterest took you to Twitter. During a website review for another new client, I found their Google AdWords landing page wasn’t loading, wasting hundreds of dollars in advertising. Attention to detail matters for delivering optimal customer experiences and spending your marketing resources efficiently.

Even if your website isn’t new, take a few minutes this week and check it over. It’s better for you to find any errors than to leave them for your customers.

Is Your Small Business Tagline Great… or Lackluster?

When a business doesn’t understand its customers or know what’s important to them, it’s tempting to “throw things at the wall to see what sticks.” The result is usually confusing and bland (what a combination!). Check out this supposed tagline on a newsletter I received from an HVAC company:

That's Not a Tagline

More Choices. No Worries. Less Hassle. Time & Money Saved!

That’s not a tagline. That’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. I guarantee this tagline is not an effective marketing tool for Logan Services.

Now it’s your turn. Compare your tagline with my Small Business Tagline Effectiveness Checklist to see how many elements you can check off.

Small Business Tagline Effectiveness Checklist

An effective tagline should be:

  • Memorable
  • Descriptive of what you do
  • Pithy
  • Differentiating
  • Interesting to your customers

If you scored less than three, your tagline definitely needs help. But if you scored a five, congratulations! Your tagline is a great tool in your marketing toolbox.

 

Cut Marketing Costs, Not Effectiveness

As 2010 draws to a close, it’s time to finalize your marketing plan and budget for 2011. For next year, wouldn’t it be great to save money on your marketing efforts while not reducing their effectiveness?

I’ve found that almost every marketing budget carries some unneeded fat. An easy way to increase profitability is to make cuts where they won’t hurt.

Follow these four steps to cut costs, not effectiveness:

  1. Make a list of all marketing activities your business undertakes in a year: trade shows, public relations, advertising, sales trips, customer service training, etc.
  2. Write down how much money you spent on each item in the last year.
  3. Now write down how much revenue you can attribute to each activity.
  4. Do more of those activities that made money and less of those that lose money. Usually, this step is harder than it seems because our marketing plans are full of activities that we do from habit or to satisfy certain people in our businesses. But, for instance, if you lost money on trade shows, you shouldn’t keep investing in them, regardless of a perceived loss of reputation or “getting your name out there.”

This four-step process is simple, if you’re able to track the results of your marketing efforts. But do you have difficulty attributing revenue to each item? Here are some tips to track the effectiveness of your marketing channels in the future.

  • Unique toll-free numbers. There are services available to provide different toll-free numbers and track the calls you receive from each. Assign a different number to each advertising channel: radio, print and web. For more granularity, assign a different number to each campaign type.
  • Website analytics. If you haven’t already, install Google’s free Analytics on your web site. You can track the effectiveness of your pay per click advertising, other sites referring to your site, search terms visitors use to find your site, the geographical location of visitors and more.
  • Ask your advertisers. Advertisers should be able to provide results from your campaigns. Ask them about it.
  • Coupon codes. For any special offer you provide customers, use a unique coupon code you can use to track redemptions.
  • Lead tracking. When you record a new contact, track where the lead came from. Usually people don’t mind being asked, “How did you hear about us?” Store this information on a spreadsheet, contact application or lead manager like salesforce.com.

Some marketing efforts don’t have a clear return on investment, like training your receptionist to help customers find information or encouraging your sales staff to develop better relationships with customers. Fortunately, most efforts that have an unclear ROI also cost the least. And personal interactions have the biggest impact with your customers because customers will remember a phone call with a member of your team more than they will remember an advertisement they saw in the newspaper. When planning your marketing budget for 2011, cut costs, not effectiveness and promote interactions over impressions.

Small businesses, do you know where you want to go?

Knowing your small business’ future is the most important thing you could be working on today. And yet so many small business owners don’t have a solid idea of where they want to take their businesses. Other, more immediate issues demand your attention every day – like how to solve your biggest customers’ problem with shipping or approving a purchase order for new office chairs. These decisions seem (and are) so important. But you’ll never know if you’re making the right decision unless you have a strategic framework of where you want to be in the future.

It may seem daunting to plan your business’ future. I recommend first developing a picture of success, then filling in the details based on how to paint that picture. This method was developed by Yastrow & Company, and we’ve used it for all of our joint clients.
The picture of success has two components. The first is a deadline, such as three months from now or in the next five years. The second is financial. What business results do you hope to enjoy?
Ask yourself, “Where do we want to be one year from today?”
Asking this question may yield answers such as:
We successfully introduced our products into three new markets and now 10% of our revenue comes from these new sources.
Revenue has grown 20% from our financial customers.
Sales from our new product category have grown 50%, as we’ve educated our existing customers about them.
We diversified our customer base so our largest customer no longer accounts for 30% of sales. This stability will allow us to take advantage of new opportunities.
Once you have envisioned your picture of success, you need to assemble the tools that will enable you to create it. List what customer actions have to take place and how you will facilitate those actions. Think about the big picture and what will have to change, such as product offerings, sales efforts or reporting systems. Also think about what must stay the same, perhaps your key philosophies or an unavoidable business reality.
Then apply your picture of success to all the details of your day. Before making decisions, determine how the outcome will affect your goal. Don’t be afraid to say no to new opportunities that won’t help you to reach your goal. Small business owners face a barrage of options every day – Should we advertise in this new publication? Should we start selling this new product? Should we enter into a referral partnership with another business? By keeping your picture of success front and center, these decisions become easy.
You won’t be able to reach your goal alone, which is why my next article will focus on involving your team in your picture of success. Your team includes employees, partners, vendors and everyone who will need to cooperate to reach your business goals.

It may seem daunting to plan your business’ future. I recommend first developing a picture of success, then filling in the details based on how to paint that picture. This method was developed by Yastrow & Company, and we’ve used it for all of our joint clients.

The picture of success has two components. The first is a deadline, such as three months from now or in the next five years. The second is financial. What business results do you hope to enjoy?

Ask your small business,
“Where do we want to be one year from today?”

Asking this question may yield answers such as:

  • We successfully introduced our products into three new markets and now 10% of our revenue comes from these new sources.
  • Revenue has grown 20% from our financial customers.
  • Sales from our new product category have grown 50%, as we’ve educated our existing customers about them.
  • We diversified our customer base so our largest customer no longer accounts for 30% of sales. This stability will allow us to take advantage of new opportunities.

Once you have envisioned your picture of success, you need to assemble the tools that will enable you to create it. List what customer actions have to take place and how you will facilitate those actions. Think about the big picture and what will have to change, such as product offerings, sales efforts or reporting systems. Also think about what must stay the same, perhaps your key philosophies or an unavoidable business reality.

Then apply your picture of success to all the details of your day. Before making decisions, determine how the outcome will affect your goal. Don’t be afraid to say no to new opportunities that won’t help you to reach your goal. Small business owners face a barrage of options every day – Should we advertise in this new publication? Should we start selling this new product? Should we enter into a referral partnership with another business? By keeping your picture of success front and center, these decisions become easy.

When each decision you make fits your picture of success, you will succeed. To make your deadline, be proactive about the most important factors affecting your success, and start making improvements to your small business today.

Small Business Marketing Test

In my last post, I presented 5 small business marketing rules. Based on these rules, how does your marketing stack up? Take the test to find out!

To add up your own scores, take the test below. To use the automatic calculator, take the Small Business Marketing Test here.

1. Be easy to do business with:
Do you make your customers go through hoops?

Many small businesses don’t realize how their processes affect their customers’ experiences. Answer the following questions to identify if you are “easy to do business with.” Feel free to create your own questions to suit your particular business.

  • Does our billing cycle consider the customers’ schedule? Or is it based solely on our convenience?
  • Are we open when customers want to buy?
  • When a customer calls, does a person answer the phone?
  • Has a customer ever said something like, “I love that you are a small business. It makes things so much easier for me.”?

On a scale of 1-10, with ten being the best, how would you rate your company in this category?

2. Communicate with your customers in ways that are meaningful to them.

If you don’t communicate with customers in ways that are meaningful to them, your messages will be ignored. Evaluate your communications with the following questions.

  • Do you know how different customers like to be contacted? Which ones prefer email? Which ones prefer phone?
  • How is the response rate on your print/TV/radio advertising? Are you settling for the industry averages, or do you outperform?
  • When you communicate with your customers, does the message resonate with them? Be wary of messages such as, “We have the best technology!”
  • Do customers receive consistent messages from your company?

Based on your answers to these questions, how would you rate your company on a scale of 1-10?

3. Know where you want to go – What are your business goals?

If your company finds communicating with customers difficult, perhaps it’s because the company doesn’t have a future vision. Answer the following questions to determine if you know where you wan to go.

  • What should your revenue be in three years?
  • Are you planning on introducing any new products or services?
  • How much do you want to grow, and what resources will you require to do it?
  • What steps have you taken today to help achieve your company’s future success?

On a scale of 1-10, how well do you know your company’s intended future?

4. Involve your team

“No man is an island.” If you have employees, they should understand your business and should participate in communicating your marketing message to customers.

  • Can you remember an instance where an employee came to you with an idea, and you let her run with it?
  • Do you share financial information, like revenue projections, with your employees?
  • Do your employees feel that they will succeed if the business succeeds?
  • Do you help your employees focus on the big picture, or are they always caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of their jobs?

Rate how well your employees are engaged in your business, on a scale of 1-10.

5. Keep at it – How are your implementation skills?

We all know the best plans are worthless if they aren’t implemented.

  • In the past year, how many initiatives have you started? How many have you finished?
  • Have you ever heard an employee say something like, “Oh, we’ll never finish this project. We started something just like it last year, and management got bored before we finished.”?
  • Once you make a decision, do you monitor its progess during implementation?
  • Do you ever have follow-up reports on your initiatives to measure their success?

Are you an implementation novice or master? Rate your company from 1-10.

Add up your scores. How did you fare? If your company scored less than 50, there’s work to do.