5 Perfect Times to Ask for a Referral

5 Perfect Times to Ask for a ReferralAsking for referrals makes many small business owners and salespeople uncomfortable. However, if you do a great job for customers and they are happy with you, customers are usually pleased to help you succeed and give you a referral. But customers often won’t think of referring your small business without prompting. You have to ask.

The most effective way to overcome reluctance is to build asking for referrals into your regular habits. Here are five ideas you can consider as “triggers” to asking for a referral:

  1. When a customer submits a glowing customer service review
  2. In the middle of a project, when the customer is most involved in your work together
  3. After delivery of a product, when the customer is most delighted
  4. At your anniversary date with a customer, as part of a broader “It’s been an outstanding year” message
  5. During any conversation with your customer when they are particularly pleased with your small business

As a bonus, these are also perfect times to ask for a testimonial. Why not do both?

Creative and Keepable Business Cards for Your Small Business

Take a look at your business card. If it looks like this, your card is failing at marketing your small business:

Boring Business Card

Custom printing technology has advanced to make many premium elements realistically affordable for small businesses, such as gold foil, rounded corners, double-sided printing and glorious full-color. Take advantage of these possibilities to turn your business card into a marketing asset that customers talk about and keep.

Photographer Laura Northrup of Reflected Spectrum Photography details how her business card design facilitates conversations with prospective clients:

“I use double-sided business cards as a mini-portfolio for my photography business. When I meet a new person who may be interested in my services, I can casually share my photographic style and philosophy through my business cards.  It makes a memorable first impression, yet keeps the conversation fun and friendly.”

Here are samples from three online printers to give you some ideas.

Personalized Pizazz from MOO

With all the design options MOO offers, any small business can craft a meaningful, custom design that speaks to customers. Some of my favorite choices are large-format cards and spot gloss. Find your favorite here.

MOO Business Card

Watercolors and Vintage Style from Zazzle

If MOO has you feeling a bit overwhelmed with choices, here are two interesting styles from Zazzle that draw inspiration from watercolors and vintage designs. View more of their catalog here.

Zazzle Business Card

Zazzle Business Card

Striking Typography and Patterns from Minted

The designs at Minted combine typography and patterns for a modern, artistic effect. Here are two examples (with a little gold foil thrown in). See other designs here.

Minted Business Card

Minted Business Card

Make Your Card Purposefully Creative

Your creative business card design needs to be part of your overall marketing strategy. There are many beautiful designs that won’t encourage customers to buy from you. Be purposefully creative to help customers connect your card with your brand.  Identify these goals before finalizing your business card design:

  • How your business card should be delivered. Do you personally hand it out? Do customers take it from a standalone holder?
  • What you want customers to think when they take your card. Should they think that you’re professional with deep expertise? Maybe a creative problem-solver?
  • What you want customers to do with the card. Hang it on the fridge? Share with a friend? Connect with you on LinkedIn?

Want to improve your business card design? I’d love to hear from you. Reach out to me at amanda@zooinajungle.com.

Big Businesses Just Don’t Get Customers

Small Business Maintains the Marketing Edge with Customer Engagement

In a recent poll with 58 senior-level retail executives, a mere 10% listed store associates as one of the top factors affecting their brand’s customer engagement.

Instead of the people in their stores, 63% of retail executives chose “Brand image/marketing” as a primary driver of customer engagement. Many of those executives also cited “Product choice/assortment.” Here’s the full graph of all the things big brands think are more important than their retail employees:

Big Businesses Just Don't Get Customers

I’m surprised at how out-of-touch these executives seem. No one engages with marketing communications or product choices, although those are important elements of the overall customer experience. Engagement is two-way communication that is most easily achieved with another living being.

Small business retailers are close enough to their customers to realize that in-store employees are critical to engaging customers by providing service, offering recommendations and selling products. You understand your customers, and that’s one key competitive advantage for small businesses.

3 Examples of Videos for Small Business Marketing

Small businesses are particularly well suited to video marketing campaigns, as I wrote about in “How Videos Boost Your Small Business Marketing.” Usually, the founder or employees are personable characters, which result in compelling and memorable videos.

To give you inspiration, here are three marketing videos I produced for clients.

Small Business Marketing Video Example

Watch the video: What Happens if You Don’t Winterize Your Sprinkler System

In this video for TriState Water Works, the founder of the company provides a dramatic example of failing to winterize a sprinkler system.

Small Business Marketing Video Example

Watch the video: Make these 2 Easy and Amazing Treats for Your Dog

Marketing videos don’t always need to feature the founder. Often, customer-facing employees make excellent videos that customers really relate to. In Grady Veterinary Hospital’s video, a receptionist shares healthy recipes for dog treats.

Small Business Marketing Video Example

Watch the video: Don’t Let the Wealthy Widows Get Away!

Marti Barletta is a speaker, so she always looks for opportunities to have her keynotes filmed. In this way, we turn a one-time event into an ongoing marketing campaign. In this speech to financial advisors, she shares details about how to earn business from affluent widows.

These three video marketing examples are quite different, but they have something in common: they are each extremely relevant to the organization’s customer target. And because of that focus, they have been very successful elements of my clients’ small business marketing efforts.

LinkedIn Publishing Platform Yields Lackluster Results

LinkedIn Pulse Publishing Yields Lackluster ResultsLinkedIn is a critical social media tool for networking, while adding significant value to B2B marketing and sales. I recommend that every individual stay active on the network, along with regularly updating your profile. Many businesses should have a LinkedIn strategy, too.

When LinkedIn launched its publishing platform, I was excited to try it out for my clients. Here are the benefits I was hoping would result from publishing on Pulse:

  • Providing content directly to a member’s network would promote more interaction from relevant audiences.
  • Articles would get an SEO boost from being on LinkedIn.

Several months later, and tests of Pulse have yielded lackluster results. Articles of similar theme and content perform better on my clients’ other platforms than on Pulse.

The Drawbacks of Marketing Your Small Business with LinkedIn Pulse

  • Articles from small business seem to be effective only if your subject matter surrounds networking, career advancement or recruiting.
  • Posts are published live. Without the ability to schedule posts, it’s difficult to publish at optimal times for your audience.
  • SEO appears to be less effective on Pulse than other networks.
  • Only three tags can be assigned to any one article.
  • Image size and placement customization are very limited.

LinkedIn Pulse could become a useful platform for marketing your small business. But first it needs to mature by adding features and giving authors more publicity.

A Small Business Marketing Campaign that Understands the Customer

James Free Jewelers is enjoying success with a clever marketing strategy tailored for engaged couples. With any bridal purchase over $5000, customers receive a free 4-day, 3-night honeymoon cruise.

Small business marketing campaign

This offer is much more attention-grabbing and interesting than a straight percentage discount, while still preserving margin for the retailer. A full-price, 4-day Bahamas cruise with Norwegian starts at $658/couple. That’s 13% of a $5000 purchase. Considering the bad PR that cruise lines like Norwegian have received in the recent past, James Free Jewelers probably doesn’t pay full-price for these complimentary cruises, allowing them to preserve even better margins.

Changing the conversation from a 13% discount to a free cruise shifts the purchasing decision away from raw price calculations into a more imaginative realm. You can picture a couple debating about which engagement ring to buy, and one of them says, “That other jeweler may be cheaper, but they don’t offer a cruise!”

Also, the promise of a cruise could push couples to spend more money with James Free Jewelers. They might opt for an engagement ring that’s a bit more expensive to qualify for the promotion. Also, the offer might motivate them to purchase the engagement ring and wedding bands from James Free, instead of shopping around and buying the pieces from various jewelers.

I encourage other small businesses to get creative with their promotions and use James Free’s campaign as inspiration. Think of experiences or benefits that would complement your products and services, like a honeymoon cruise for newlyweds. You’ll give more of a WOW factor and likely end up spending less marketing budget.

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.

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.

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?