3 Recession-Proof Marketing Techniques For Small Business Owners

We are now officially in a recession and what does this mean for small businesses? If you are going to cut your marketing budget just because you are experiencing lower sales, you are getting it all wrong. Marketing is the element that can directly attributed to sales. Cutting your marketing budget will not help increasing the bottom line of your business at all because marketing is all about retaining current customers and acquiring new ones.

Without customers, your business will hardly survive. In this small business marketing article, I am going to share with you three recession-proof marketing techniques that will bring considerable results without having to break your bank account.

Marketing Technique #1 Social Media Marketing

The development of Internet, particularly in the field of social media has opened a wide range of opportunities for online interaction. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube act as a medium for web user interaction via different methods. People love to go to these sites and spend hours trying to meet like-minded people as well as learning more about a subject that they are interested in.

These sites also house millions (billions in total) of members. You are placing your business, products and services in front of these eyeballs if you start to upload content in the form of articles, videos, podcasts or documents onto these platforms.

Apart from providing the free content that will help to position you as an expert in your industry, you can also connect with your target market by solving problems that they have or by adding value to the relationships through giveaways of special discount codes to followers of yours on these social media platforms.

Marketing Technique #2 Customer Leads Collection

Do you have contact information of your previous and existing customers? These are leads that can play a crucial role in retaining customers to secure future sales. There is another type of leads that can be categorized as prospects, which are people that are likely to turn into customers after you follow up with them, either through phone calls or emails.

Collection of leads can be done easily with the Internet. There are a lot of autoresponders and email marketing services that seek to provide you with solutions on lead collection. Often times, people collect leads by offering their site visitors with free information. As mentioned above, you can also retain the email and contact information of your customers after they contribute to the sales of your business.

Marketing Technique #3 Organic Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization, like social media marketing, requires little or no money to get the intended results. One can employ a search engine optimization agency to perform link building and website optimization tasks for them. If you are on a tight budget, you can always learn about important optimization factors from search engine marketing blogs and resources all over the Internet.

Search engine optimization often includes keyword research to find out keywords that a potential customer is likely to search for using search engines. You will then try to optimize pages on your site by implementing various optimization elements for keywords that you plan to target. Link building comes in later as links pointing towards your site act as votes on the quality of your content and search engines rank sites for keywords based on the number of ‘votes’ you get.

Why is Selling So Difficult For Small Business Owners? Use These 3 Sales Management Strategies

Why is selling so difficult for small business owners? The ability to sell is necessary for every business yet it is often a neglected activity. To simplify the selling process, you need to build a sales approach into your marketing mix program. (Your marketing mix includes product, price, promotion and place – the sales activities belong in the promotion category.)

First, it is important to understand the marketing mix promotion category. Marketing promotion includes personal selling (face to face), direct mail marketing (one-to-one and via email or mail), and use of telemarketing campaigns (one-to-one and via telephone). Additionally, marketing promotion includes the advertising (for example, radio, newspapers, internet, magazines, storefront, and more), promotions (for example, trade shows, coupons, contests, point of purchase displays and more), and public relations (for example, press releases, community involvement, and more) activities.

Second, it is important to build a sales plan targeted to each product or service category, and also focused on each type of customer. If you are entering new markets, use sales contact management and sales leads software to focus your efforts. This software will also provide good sales service maintenance and follow-up support. Business process management tools help you to focus your sales activities and provide you with valuable time saving tactics. You can track and manage your activity and results for leads, prospects, and customers. You can also integrate your sales leads software with your sales management software to develop reports on customer purchases, service or product launches, price change impacts, service or product change impacts, and more.

Third, develop strong negotiating and closing skills. Always look for a win/win solution both for you and your customer. Make sure you focus on the unique value and benefits of your products and/or services and how that value will benefit your customer (solving their needs or problems). To negotiate a sale and to close a sale effectively requires a specific skill set. You need to be a very good listener and really hear what your customer is saying. You also need to be sincere – how many times have you heard pre-rehearsed closes that just turn you off? You can practice your close but when you are in front of a potential customer make sure that you can close based on what your customer just told you, what you heard, and what you believe you can deliver – in effect, how will you fulfill your customer’s needs more effectively than other suppliers?

To be successful in business, you need to either be successful at selling or be able to hire a great sales person because no matter what you have to sell (product, service, idea or something else), you will have to sell it to someone. Learning how to sell effectively is possible but you need to enjoy it. If you dread the idea of selling, don’t do it (your customers can perceive your discomfort and you will find it even harder to make the sale). Hire someone who loves to sell to do it for you (you can hire an employee, or sales agent, or contract worker, or broker but it is likely that employees will be most committed to you and your business). Customers and potential customers will resist buying from someone who isn’t comfortable with the sales process, and while you might get some orders, hiring someone who is good at selling will free you up to do what you’re good at… a much more effective use of your time and resources.

Overcome the challenge of developing small business sales skills:

  • learn to focus on developing a marketing mix promotion that includes building service or product differentiation and positioning features and benefits that help you to increase sales successfully;
  • learn to build an effective sales plan and use software and business process tools to help you manage the plan;
  • make sure you develop strong negotiating and closing skills and
  • learn how to manage your own efforts, or the efforts of others.

Learning how to sell effectively is of critical importance to your small business sales growth; and just as important is recognizing when to hire someone to do the selling for you.

Avoiding the Most Common Errors of New Small Business Owners

The most common errors made by people when they are just starting out revolve around three central themes: preparation/research, time/money and customer relations.

Common Errors In Preparation/Research:

A. Going into business for the wrong reason(s): So many people go into business for themselves based on misconceptions and myths. Before you go into business for yourself you should look into the top myths of home businesses to try and avoid the common traps.

B. Not knowing enough about the business that they are going into: it is important to know about the business you are attempting to start. You should know: what qualifications/legal considerations could affect you, is there a market for your business, who is your competition, how much money can you expect to make from this business, how much money do you need to start the business, etc…

Common Errors In Time/Money:

C. Spending too money: The inclination for some new business owners is to throw money at a new business – to buy all the toys and tools they can get their hands on. This can quickly lead to a cash crunch, which in turn can lead to the failure of your business. There are many great products and services out there to help you with your small business – but it is important to manage your spending – especially during the start-up phase.

D. Spending too little money: Like many things in life – opening a business often requires some investment. The person who sets up a company and then never spends the money to promote and market it – will probably fail. The hard part is figuring out what things are important to start and grow your business and when you have reached the stage in your business when you should be spending money on the important things.

E. Bad cash budgeting: Without proper cash budgeting many small businesses not only fail but lead to personal cash flow problems and bankruptcy for the owners. Before starting a business you should perform a cash budget, which you should update periodically.

F. Errors in setting your product prices and consulting rates: If you set your rates/prices too low then you will not be able to afford to stay in business. If you set your rates/prices too high then you will not be able to get any business. Therefore it is important to do your research and set your rates and prices accordingly.

G. Not optimizing your business processes through continuous improvement: Nobody starts out in business doing things perfectly – the best way to be successful is to make sure that you not only devote time to working on your products or services but also invest the time to improve your business processes – whether it is finding a better way to find clients or a cheaper way to deliver your products or services – it is so important to always be looking for ways to do things better.

H. Working too much and burning out: Many new business owners think that you need to work around the clock in order to make your business work. The smart business owner knows that ideally your business should be making you money 24-hours a day BUT you should not have to work 24-hours a day to accomplish this.

I. Not investing enough time in your business: generally starting a business requires a lot of time and effort. Neglecting to give your new business the time it requires to build it into a legitimate business and maintain it – will quickly lead your business to enter a downward spiral.

Common Errors In Customer Relations:

J. Saying ‘yes’ to every client: some clients are just not worth the trouble, some jobs are not worth the time and some contracts are not worth the cost of the paper that they are written on. It is important to properly vet your customers before entering into a relationship with them. One bad debt or shady client could lead to the downfall of everything you’ve worked for.

K. Turning down too many jobs: While it is inadvisable to take every client and contract that comes your way – you need to balance this caution and selectiveness with a healthy understanding of which clients and contracts you need to take in order to stay afloat and grow your business. For me this has led me to develop two separate lists – the list of things I want from clients/contracts and the things I need from clients/contracts. This means that I will work for clients/accept contracts that do not have all the things I want (for example maybe it involves working long hours temporarily or traveling extensively) but I don’t take contracts that do not give me everything I need (for example if I have doubts about the integrity of the client then I will NOT take the job).

L. Trying too hard to look like a big business: This is an error on two fronts. For one thing many people go into business for themselves in order to escape the confines of the corporate world – working too hard to show yourself as a professional can put you right back where you started. The second way that this can hurt you is that it takes away the ability for you to connect with your clients honestly and openly. If you are projecting this persona then you never connect to your clients on a personal level – even worse when they find out that you are a “one-man show” they can feel misled and deceived.

M. Appearing too unprofessional: The flip side of the last point is that you cannot behave too unprofessionally. Most clients want to know you as a person but some topics should always be out of bounds. Further it is important to show your clients that you take your job seriously – things like having business cards, answering your phones professionally and delivering things on time and on budget are very important.

N. Not creating a business that adds values to your customers: if your services or products do not make your clients’ life better then they will not pay for it. Your business must be focused on adding value to your clients’ personal or professional affairs.

O. Bad customer services and after sales support: many small business owners complete a job and never look back – but great customer service and after sales support means return customers and great word-of-mouth – these are the most valuable forms of advertising out there. A flyer delivered to 1,000 may deliver a few clients who are curious about your business but someone who has dealt with you before or had you recommended to them is “pre-sold” – they already trust you and want to work with you.

The final issue to consider and one of the most common errors made by small business owners effects all three of the categories listed above.

P. Not doing things your way: people frequently get into business in order to “do things their way” and make their own decisions but quickly drop this attitude when confronted with the challenges of working for themselves. It is important to stay true to your own vision, your objectivism your values and follow your “gut” and intuition. This may be hard in the interim but it is critical to establishing a business that works for you.

Marketing Methods That Immediately Grow Your Small Business, Part 4

Press releases are one of the most effective ways of getting free publicity for your small business. Many small business owners fail to capitalize on this method because they just don’t know how to write or successfully submit press releases. This article will show you exactly how to do this so you can add this method to your lead generation and customer acquisition tools, immediately.

What is a press release?

Let’s start by stating what a press release is not. A press release is NOT an advertisement or thinly veiled sales pitch for your small business. Instead it is an informative, newsworthy piece, submitted to the media with the intention of it being included in their publication or programming.

Why should I use a press release?

When published, press releases can draw the attention of your target market to events taking place at your company such as a new product launch, a sale, or a new venture. A successful press release can peak the interest of your ideal prospects and have them beating a path to your door.

You can also use press releases to establish yourself as an authority or expert in your field, an excellent strategy for building credibility in the eyes of your audience.

What can I write about?

The short answer is you can write about anything newsworthy that would be of interest to editors, journalists or producers of publications and programming for your target prospects. Here are seven of my favorite, tried and tested, newsworthy events to spur your press release ideas:

  • Events related to current affairs and news
  • An amazing, incredible and/or unusual story
  • Results of survey or study
  • Customer case study
  • Community events and involvement
  • Lists, related to timely news
  • Timely “how to” information

The most important thing regarding the subject of your press release is to be sure that it is newsworthy material your media contacts will want to publish. Never, ever submit blatant advertisements or sales pitches for your products, services, or business as press releases. You may create an unfavorable representation in the mind of the media professional that may prove difficult to overcome.

How do I write a press release?

When writing a press release, this first and foremost thing you should have in mind is your audience. Remember: your primary audience is NOT you target prospects. It is the media representatives who publish or produce programming for your target prospects.

As in all marketing, you write with your audience in mind. In the case of press releases, you are writing to editors, journalists and radio or TV producers. Your media contacts must find your release compelling or your target prospects will never see it. Therefore, the better you target your message to the media, the more likely you are to have your press release published.

Once you have determined what you are going to write about, that is, the point of your press release, you need to state it in a compelling way in your headline. Your headline should grab the reader’s attention and entice them to read more. The principals of writing headlines for direct marketing work beautifully here. If you need help in this area, drop me a line, I’ll be happy to send you some free resources to assist you.

After the headline, comes your introductory paragraph. The goal of this section is to draw the reader into the rest of your release. After your headline, the first 15 words of your introductory paragraph are the most important words of your entire release – choose them wisely.

While I can’t guarantee that every press release will run based solely on the strength of the content of this paragraph, I can absolutely assure you that releases are rejected based on the irrelevance or other perceived weakness of this paragraph. So communicate the most important elements of your story succinctly. Keep this paragraph sort and sweet and reiterate the headline of your story.

In the second paragraph, you can summarize your point. You must be factually accurate. Discuss facts and specifics. In this section you are building credibility. Do not exaggerate, as you will appear untrustworthy.

You might cite a source or an expert to establish credibility for your story. Create a connection in the mind of your reader between your story and the credible source. You could include a quote in this paragraph, ether from the source or from a representative related to your business or from a customer or client. In this section you are building a logical, rational support system for your story. Remember, you are building credibility.

In the third paragraph, I like to inject some personality into the release. This is where you authenticate any claims made in paragraph two and communicate them with enthusiasm and passion. In this paragraph, you connect at the emotional level with your readers.

In the fourth paragraph you elaborate on your story by providing more details. The answers to who, what, why, where, when, and how are included in this section. This is a great place to add bullets to your release. Bullets make this section easy to read and scan and help the reader glean the main points of this section. You could also include some biographical information about a source you quoted earlier in your release, and perhaps extend their message with an addition quote from them.

In the fifth paragraph you can include more specialized details of your story. These details will likely be less important to the general readership as a whole, but could appeal to those interested in the granular level detail of your story.

In the last paragraph you give a general overview of your business. This is a great place to communicate your Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

Once you have written your press release, read it aloud to uncover any sticking points in the sentence structure. Next, proof read the release and eliminate any spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. Finally, have at least one other person read your release before submitting it to the media.

How do I format my press release?

Formatting your press release is simple. Forget about fancy formatting, you’re not attempting to win any design awards or dazzle the media rep. with your graphic design skills.

Start with standard, letter size paper. Incorporate at least a one inch margin all the way around the page.

Begin with your headline, in title case (NOT ALL CAPS), in a bolded 12 point font. The bold formatting will draw attention to your headline. The remainder of your release will be in the same font, only without the bold formatting. Use two spaces after each sentence.

Begin the introductory paragraph with your city in capital letters, state and date followed by a dash symbol. Then lead straight into your opening paragraph. For example: LAS VEGAS, Nevada, July 1, 2010 – The Ivory Tower Hotel and Casino has announced that…

Wherever possible, limit your release to a single page. If you must, use two pages, but never more than two pages. If you cannot tell your story on a single page, finish the last sentence on the first page and indicate the continuation of the release by ending the first page with the word “more” between two dashes, centered on the page as follows:

– more –

Once you have completed your story, include your contact information. Make it as easy as possible for the media representatives to contact you should they wish to. Include all of your contact information including: street address, phone, fax, email, and website address.

Finally, signal the end of your release with three pound or hash symbols, left justified as follows:

# # #

In the event that you plan to print and submit your release via regular mail and it is more than one page, print on one side of the paper only.

How do I submit a press release?

The best answer to this question is in whatever manner your media contact prefers it. This will depend on the organization you are submitting your press release to and the individual receiving it.

Remember, when submitting your press release you are submitting it to a person, not a machine. Therefore, anything you can find out about that person’s preferences regarding press release submissions can only serve you. Why not call the person directly and ask them? Tell them that you have a story you think their audience will appreciate and communicate the essence of your headline. This approach can create anticipation on the part of the media representative and virtually guarantee that your submission will get noticed, once you submit it.

If you are not sure of how best to submit your release, a call to the organization or a visit to their website will usually clarify this matter for you. Usually, an emailed version of your release is acceptable, even preferred. Always check to be certain.

What do I do now?

Now that you know how to write, format and submit your press release, you are that much further ahead than the vast majority of small business owners who don’t know and haven’t invested the time to find out. My suggestion for you is to schedule 10-15 minutes with yourself either now or later today and review the seven newsworthy events we discussed earlier and come up with at least three angles for your press release.

Then get to work! Pick your favorite angle, write the release and submit it to the media representatives that serve your targeted prospects.

For best results, combine this approach with the other methods you have learned in this series. Why not issue a press release regarding a free offer you are making? How about announcing a joint venture or strategic partnership? The possibilities for generating leads and adding new customers to your small business with these methods are endless. All you have to do is take action and implement the ideas I have shared with you in this series. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get to work!