What’s important when getting started?

A young man I know is getting started in business. He provides handyman services for homeowners. In a display of wisdom beyond his years, he asked his Facebook connections for things to read and people to talk to re: business advice.

Getting started means wearing several hats

Running a business on your own means you get to do all the jobs, including:

  1. Getting organized.
  2. Deciding who you are best suited to work with.
  3. Deciding who you shouldn’t work for even if they’re throwing $1000 bills at you. Almost everyone does this at least once because we start out under the illusion that everyone can be our customer.
  4. Letting people know that you’re available to help them. This includes discussing what you’re really good at and staying away from everything else (ie: learning to say no).
  5. Pricing your work.
  6. Selling / reaching an agreement to perform work.
  7. Doing the work.
  8. Following up.

The hard work

When getting started in your own business, there’s some “hard work” that has nothing to do with your service. I say “hard work” because they’re often things you don’t want to do, don’t have the time or money for, or don’t see the purpose of.

This includes “Getting organized”, which include making sure your bookkeeping is under control, getting all the permits and licenses that you need, doing whatever is necessary to make sure you are operating legally wherever you live, and getting the proper bonding (if needed) and (definitely needed) insurance to protect you and your customers so that if and when you make a mistake, it doesn’t cost you everything you own now and ever will own.

These things will seem like a pain, but the reality is that the pain they cause is much smaller than the pain created by not taking care of them.

Marketing and sales

Items two through five may generate an “OMG, seriously?”

A few thoughts about them…

If your typical happy customer is married, lives in 59912, works outside the home, and has a spouse who travels, then you’ll want to focus on identifying and attracting those specific people to your services. Don’t waste time advertising to 100,000 people who don’t “fit the profile”.

Come up with a one page (both sides) piece of paper that tells EXACTLY what you are great at (and what you actually want to do). Include your contact info.

Get a box of your business cards made into fridge magnets. Old school, but people will leave them on the fridge forever once they trust you. Even if you’re in their phone contacts, that fridge magnet is in their face every day. Make sure the visible side has your name, phone number, name and what you do. It’s OK to make a special card for magnets.

Figure out what you need to make from each job, including the expenses you might not be thinking of, like insurance, fuel, uniforms, marketing, downtime, taxes, etc. If you do everything else right and mess up your pricing, you won’t be happy.

Be humble, but don’t be shy. If you’re great at something, simply tell people you love to do that work.

As you prepare to leave the customer’s home, ask for more work. Say “Is there anything else that you’ve been meaning to get fixed?“, then let them think long enough so they’re the next one to speak. If they say no, say “OK, I’ll be happy to come back if you something comes up.

Ask your mom, your grandma, and the moms of a few of your friends these questions:

  • “What frustrates you about repair guys that you’ve had in the house?”
  • “Who is your favorite repair company?”
  • “Why are they your favorite? What makes them so special?”

I can predict the answers, but I want you to ask anyway. YOU need to hear these words coming from folks who resemble your customers. These conversations will help you prepare to sell to the customers you want. It isn’t about convincing them to do the work. It’s about showing them you’re the right guy for them.

Do the work, follow up

I’m not going to tell you how to do the work, but I will suggest how things work while you’re at the customer’s home.

Show up in a clean truck.

In Montana, this isn’t always easy, but do the best you can. Your rig sets a first impression when you arrive. It doesn’t have to be a $60,000 diesel rig. It just needs to be clean.

Park on the street.

You don’t want to park in the customer’s driveway and drop a bunch of mud, gravel and whatever else you’ve been driving through that day. You also don’t want to be in the way when someone gets home, someone needs to leave, etc.

Show up in a clean shirt that tucks in.

This means buying at least 3-4 uniform shirts. Get your company name, your name, and your logo sewn onto them (if you have a logo). If you want to go a little crazy, put a big logo, phone number and website address on the back. No matter what, make sure your company’s name is visible through the window of someone’s front door. You want the shirt to tuck in because repeat customers don’t call you because they like seeing your rear hanging out under an untucked shirt. Enough said.

If a job trashes a shirt for the day, change into a clean shirt before arriving at your next job. Yep, you might have to carry several clean shirts with you. Pro athletes don’t take the field in dirty uniforms and neither should you. Show up looking like a pro every time. Meanwhile, you’re a walking billboard.

Buy a box of those silly little shoe booties.

If you walk into someone’s home leaving a trail of muddy, snowy footprints, I guarantee you won’t be asked to come back. Yes, it’s a bit of a hassle to pull them on and pull them off repeatedly, but it beats losing a customer you worked hard to get. You want to be the service they choose first. When some other handyman asks for their business, you want them thinking “Nope, never using anyone but (that guy).

Make it like you were never there.

After you’ve left a customer’s home, you don’t want them to find any evidence you were there except for the repaired item, a receipt, and a business card. If you made a mess, clean it up. If you tracked something in or the job generate a mess, be sure you have the stuff needed to clean it up. If someone has to clean up after you, they’ll never ask you to come back.

Sign up for Square

… or a similar service that lets you get paid via card using your phone. Many competitors will take credit / debit cards. Yes, it will cost you a few percent of your sales, but it will get you sales as well. Be sure to put the card logos on your business card and one page brochure.

Find customers that can help you during lean times

One of the frustrating aspects of managing rentals is dealing with maintenance. Become the dependable guy for people who own rentals, or rental management firms and you’ll have business that keeps feeding you when you aren’t sure where your next gig will come from. Think about other opportunities similar to this.

Follow up

Call or text the customer the next day and ask them if everything is ok. Leave a voice mail if they don’t answer. Almost NO ONE does this. You will stand out by doing so. 1000 handyman services might read this and STILL, few of them that don’t already do it will start doing it habitually. If things went well, it’s a natural time to thank them and remind them that your business depends on referrals from satisfied customers. If they didn’t go well, it’s a chance to save that customer. Sure, you have to hustle a little, but people refer vendors who took great care of them.

Get some help with Facebook marketing

Your business is ideal for marketing to people on Facebook. Despite all the noise about Facebook data in the news, it’s important to know two things:

  • Most data was given with implicit permission that was granted when someone took a poll on Facebook.
  • This data has been collected for 100 years. Facebook’s is a bit easier to use.

For example, you can ask Facebook to put your ad in front of homeowners who live in the 59912 zip code who have a household income of $xx,xxx. You can optionally have them echo the ads to Instagram. You can have them eliminate homeowners who aren’t married and otherwise filter out people who don’t fit your ideal customer profile.

Few other advertising mechanisms can put your smiling face in front of *exactly* the right people, much less charge you only for the ones who click on your ad.

 Photo by Wonderlane

Forest fire communication can burn you

Now that the Reynolds Creek fire is 65% contained, there are two myths to squash:

The fire is almost out.

Not true. Ask anyone close to the fire teams and they’ll likely tell you that only a season-ending snow will likely knock it out completely. Even so, if you let this cancel your 2015 Glacier National Park visit, you’re probably making a mistake.

There’s not much to see with the fire burning.

Not true. As I noted online numerous times over the last several weeks, the park’s still open, the Going-to-the-Sun road is mostly open, 99.97% of the park is not burning and it remains more than capable of wowing (and challenging) your mind and body. Thankfully, news organizations, Inciweb, GNP, various tourism groups and others are communicating this message so that visitors don’t cancel their plans.

Allowing these two perceptions to percolate in our guests’ minds without updates is dangerous not only for this year’s success, but for future years as well.

What else gets burned in a forest fire?

Forests aren’t the only thing that are burned by forest fires. Profitability, traffic, cash flow and our well-laid plans can also go up in smoke.

When we have a fire, it’s all but certain to hurt tourism – particularly if you depend on someone else to set your visitors at ease.

I know you’re busy. It’s peak season, or should be. Even so, the Reynolds Creek fire should have you thinking about a few things:

  • How does your business react when red flag conditions are present?
  • How does your business react when that first fire of the season hits the news?
  • How does your business react when the first wave of cancellations comes in?
  • Are those reactions planned? Have they been rehearsed / tested?
  • If you’re away from the property (perhaps your parent is sick), will these plans be executed as you wish with the type of messages you want delivered?
  • Do you have all of the steps in place to communicate with your visitors in order to minimize the damage to your business?

Yes, this is all about communication.

The first thing you might ask is “Which visitors do we communicate with?“, but don’t forget that what you say is as important as who you say it to.

Which guest needs which information?

My suggestion would be “All of them“, but that’s an incomplete answer.

When a fire (or similar event) happens, there are several groups of guests impacted – and their decisions will affect you and your business. The better prepared you are to keep them up to date with calm, consumable information, the better they will be able to make well-considered decisions. The last thing you want to do is (intentionally or otherwise) convince them to continue their trip only to have them deal with circumstances that cause them to never return to your area.

Sidebar: You are doing your best to get them back on a recurring basis, right? Sorry, I digress.

These groups of guests include:

  • Guests currently at your property
  • Guests in transit to your property
  • Guests with reservations in the next couple of weeks
  • Guests with reservations a month out or longer
  • Guests pondering making reservations for next year
  • Guests whose reservations must be cancelled because of an evacuation order
  • Guests wondering if they can get into your place due to cancellations

I’ll bet you can think of a few other groups of tourists, guests, visitors – whatever you call them.

Each group to make a decision about their visit, but the message each group requires is not the same. If you’re communicating with all guests with the same information, it’s likely that you are not helping them make the best decision for them and in turn, it’s costing you business.

Rules of the road

I suspect you have the ability to communicate with these groups easily using email. Please don’t send one generic email to 746 visitors. Many of them will not receive it and the “tech savvy” ones will find it aggravating.

You should also have their cell number so you can catch them in-transit or in the area.

You should be able to get a personal message to each person in each of these groups without a lot of hassle.

By now, you may be wondering why I left a lot unsaid. That’s why we have next time.

Consistent communication is essential

Tomorrow’s post is in part about consistent communication, so this catch by Kelly Kautz about 2 tweets from Delta this weekend seems like a good intro.

DeltaMardiGras

When your message is not consistent, you can expect the unhappy reactions found in the comments to that tweet.

Communicating while considering the conversation going on in the minds of your clientele is essential, but you’d better be sure all of them are part of the conversation.

 

 

How to segment your customer list

Have you heard that you should “segment” your customers before marketing to them?

Ever wondered what that means, much less how you’d do that?

We’re going to talk about that today in simple terms, but before we do that, you might be wondering …

Why should I segment my customers?

Good question.

You want to segment your marketing is to achieve something called “Message-to-market match“.

Let me explain with an example. Let’s say your company sells women’s underwear.

Would you advertise the same underwear in the same way with the same photos and the same messaging to each of these groups?

  • Single women
  • Pregnant women
  • Newlyweds
  • Moms of girls approaching puberty
  • Dads of girls approaching puberty
  • 50-plus women
  • 80-plus women
  • Women under 5′ 6″ tall
  • “Plus sized” women
  • “Tiny” women
  • Very curvy women
  • Not-so-curvy women
  • Women who have survived breast cancer
  • Significant others

I’ll assume you answered “No”.

Message-to-market match” means your message is refined for a specific group of recipients so that it’s welcome and in-context, rather than annoying and out of left field.

A lack of message-to-market match is why people tune out ads and pitch so much mail – the message isn’t truly for them. If it happens enough times, everything you send them is ignored. Ouch.

Like the recycling bin

When recycling different materials, the processes required to break down cardboard (shredding, pulping, etc) will differ from the process that prepares glass, plastic or animal manure for reuse.

Think of your messages in the same way. If the message a customer receives doesn’t make any sense because it’s out of context, it’s like recycling something with the wrong process. The money, time and energy invested in creating and delivering the wrong message will be wasted. Worse yet, the wrong message can alienate your customer and/or make your business look clueless.

Ever received an offer “for new customers only” from a business that you’ve worked with for months or years? How does that make you feel?

You might think a generic piece of news is received the same way by everyone – when in fact that news might excite some customers and annoy the rest. The time spent considering this and segmenting your announcement can save a lot of pain.

Your First Oil Change

Look at the groups listed for the underwear business. That’s customer segmentation.

If you sent “The Single Dad’s guide to helping your daughter pick out her first bra” to the entire customer list, how many would think “This is exactly what I need”? Only the single dads group. Most others would hit delete, unsubscribe, click the “Spam” button or just think you’re not too swift.

The smart folks sending the “first bra” piece would break it down further by sending a different guide to the moms than they send to the dads.

Need a simpler version? Chevy vs. Ford vs. Dodge. Harley vs. every other bike. You shouldn’t have the same conversation with these groups, even if you sell something common to all of them, like motor oil.

Think that list is broken down too much? Don’t. I just scratched the surface.

Why people think they can’t segment

– They don’t have or “get” technology.

Whether you use a yellow pad or a fancy customer relationship management (CRM) system, you can make this work. If not, consider a better way to keep track of things.

Long before computers, savvy business people would sort customers into the “blue pile, red pile, yellow pile” before putting together a marketing piece. No technology is no excuse.

– Their media doesn’t offer segmenting.

What if your chosen media doesn’t provide a way to target a specific segment? They don’t deliver special Yellow Page books to single people, retired people, CPAs or car dealers – so how do you segment your message?

You can segment those media buys by message since many vendors are unable to deliver a different book, newspaper, magazine or radio/TV ad to different types of customer – which should also improve ad ROI.

You might be getting pressure from internet-savvy staff (or vendors) to drop old-school media. If it works now (do you know?), dropping them makes no sense.

– They don’t have a customer list

Start creating one today, even if it’s on a yellow pad. Figure out what differences are important to you and record them.

The Amazon Prime Directive

Moving away from the light....and into the darkness of night
Creative Commons License photo credit: mendhak

What did you learn from – and change in your business – after Amazon launched Amazon Prime?

If you aren’t aware, Amazon Prime is a membership-based service that provides access to Amazon video-on-demand and free Kindle books from the Kindle lending library – but more importantly, it upgrades all purchases to from regular ground shipping to free two-day shipping.

The question remains – what did you take away for your business from the launch and subsequent success of Prime? Did it provoke you to change anything about your business and how you work with customers?

Even if you don’t do retail, there are lessons to be learned from what Amazon is doing.

The Fresh Prime of Bel-Air

Plenty has been written about the success of Prime and what it’s done for customer loyalty.

One quote from the Small Business Trends piece (linked above) that might get your attention – a comment from a Morningstar analyst who researched Prime:

What we found is that, generally speaking, last year Prime members spent about twice as much as non Prime members. (emphasis mine) They spent about $1,200 dollars compared to $600 for non Prime members. What’s also interesting is that the average person shopping online last year spent approximately $1,000. What that says to us it that Prime members generate more incremental revenue per than non Prime shoppers. They are doing most of their online shopping on Amazon as opposed to going to other sites. Prime members generate more income.

Recently, Amazon took the service a step further with the introduction in Los Angeles of Amazon PrimeFresh, which expands upon their Seattle-based test program.

What can you take away from this and implement at your business? Do it for them. Deliver it for them. Automate it for them, as appropriate. All with more personal touch than Amazon can afford to do *in your community* and *in your market* with *your customers*. Yes, automation *can* result in more personal touch.

The key is the emphasis on your community, your market, your customers. I’m not suggesting that you try to clone Amazon.

Behavioral shifts

There’s much more to this than automation allowing you to buy produce via your web browser. Customer behavior is central to what Amazon does.

When Amazon saw that Prime members behaved differently, then they could work differently with them. Simply by buying a membership in Prime, a buyer is telling Amazon “I am going to buy more, more often.”

If your customers could send you a signal in advance like that, how would you use it to improve what you do for them? How do you care for your best customers? How do you encourage new customers to take advantage of what you offer like your best customers do? How do you make buying friction-free and easy?

Now reverse that. If you look at customers who buy more and more often from your business, what are you doing to take care of them? What if you did those things for more of your customers – would it turn some of them into Prime-like customers?

Amazon, WalMart, You

We’ve talked repeatedly about “When Wal-Mart comes to town“. Amazon’s taken WalMart’s game and made it more convenient and logistically efficient.

Take from them what makes sense for your business and implement it a step at a time, even if your implementation looks completely different. The lesson is doing what matters for your customers, rather than blindly cloning what Amazon or WalMart do.

For example, let’s say you sell high quality, organic meats that your area’s chain grocer doesn’t carry.

Do your customers forget to stop by your place? When they’re at the grocery, do they grab something there because it’s in front of them? That convenience can cost you a $25 sale. How many can you afford to lose each week?

While you probably can’t afford to provide same-day delivery like Amazon does in Los Angeles, you can serve your neighborhood or small town in a similarly convenient way. Maybe you deliver on Thursday evenings so people have their weekend meat supply for campouts and family gatherings in advance of their weekend grocery shopping. A part-time employee could deliver their pre-paid orders.

You don’t have to cover the whole state 24 hours a day, just your market area (or part of it) as convenient.

Make quality, local buying easy. That’s the local Prime Directive.

What are your customers doing online?

I mentioned the Meeker internet / technology trends report last week on Facebook, but I thought I should summarize a few important nuggets from it for small businesses, particularly small software businesses.

  • 30 percent growth in mobile users in the last year.
  • 50% growth in bandwidth use by mobile devices. Specifically, 15% of all internet bandwidth use is mobile, up from 10% last year.
  • Tablet use continues to expand quickly. Apple sold more iPads (140k) than iPhones (60k) last year.
  • More tablets shipped in the last quarter of 2012 than desktops, despite being on the market only 3 years.
  • Photo sharing is on pace to double since last year. Last year, about 375MM photos were shared per day. This year, users have already shared more than 500MM photos per day on average.
  • Wearable device usage is doubling every month so far this year.
  • More people access the internet via mobile device in China than via desktop – in a population of over 560 million internet users.
  • 45% of Groupon transactions are now online. 2 years ago that number was 15%.

I recommend you check out the whole slideshow, even if you aren’t in the technology business. This stuff affects almost everyone in almost every business.

Tell your fish story, Mr. Limpet

Salmon

During a recent trip to Oregon, our journey took us to a dockside seafood restaurant in Newport.

As you can see from my photo, this restaurant offers fresh local seafood in addition to meals made with the local catch.

Take a close look at the sign used to describe this salmon.

We know that the fish was caught locally by a real person who had to reel it in, on fishing vessel (“F/V”) that employs local people. The sign tells us it wasn’t farmed, pitched into a freezer with 30,000 other fish, much less frozen and shipped in by truck or rail from 2,000 miles away.

The sign’s details drive home that this slab of salmon is fresher and thus (probably) better than salmon in the chain grocery down the street that has a sign saying “fresh salmon”. You know details about this particular fish’s path to the refrigerated case that you rarely know in an ordinary grocery store that doesn’t really specialize in seafood.

I’ll bet that if I had asked the lady behind the counter about Two Sisters, she could have told me about them.

Fresh and local is a particularly critical for fish and produce, but the effort to describe whatever you do in rich, honest detail is critical – particularly if you’re selling against commoditized products and services that tend to be compared solely by price. The goal isn’t to be flowery and cover up what you do with fancy wallpaper – it’s to help someone who cares understand why your stuff is what they really want.

Your why is just one more thing that makes you stand out because it resonates with what’s deeply important to discerning buyers.

What about what I do?

Emphasizing the upside of using local food should be an obvious win, but this sort of thing is no different for those who sell furniture, vacuum cleaners or whatever it is that you sell.

If I talk to your staff or visit your website, am I going to get why you sell what you sell, vs just selling any old thing? Do I get a feel for what’s important to YOU when you choose (or manufacture) a product, or deliver a service? Do I know what drove you to offer these services and why it might be more important to you than to me that you “fix” whatever issue my life, business or vehicle has?

I spent about 20 minutes listening to a vacuum guy compare different units for me the other day. I’m bad about listening to salespeople whether I plan to buy that day or not, because I want to hear and assess their pitch.

I got good info about the results, lifespan and repair expectations I could expect when choosing between different types / brands / quality levels of vacuums (all important stuff). I didn’t get much about why it was important to him that I make the right choice. Oddly enough, I got exactly that from someone about 30-40 years his junior – his son.

Enthuasiasts

You all know an enthusiast, and you probably are one about something. Enthusiasts will explain why you might value certain things or experiences as much as they do, either to bring you into the fold or just to explain why they care.

Coffee people will explain why a burr is superior to a grinder. People who are into furniture will ask if it is built using eight way hand tied springs. Skiers and snowboarders will wax on about tuning and wax.

Those things matter to enthusiasts who don’t want their beans scorched, crave holding an edge in the steep and deep, and want a repairable couch that will sit as nicely in 25 years as it does today. That’s why the link above explains the furniture manufacturer’s construction methods as well as WHY they use them.

The story behind what you do and how you do it is often as important as the products and services you offer.

It’s particularly critical if you’re in a high quality, high value market. If you can’t explain why you care and why your customer should, the next comparison that people will tend to make is price.

Unless you’re the box store, you’re likely to lose that comparison.

Talk is cheap, conversation is priceless

How we talk, write, stand, sit or hold our hands and arms plays a huge part in how effective we are in helping others understand what we have to say, much less keep their attention long enough to finish the message.

If they don’t get it all, at best you may as well have said nothing. Worst case, the other person could misinterpret your message and think or react the opposite of what you want.

Imagine that you make a trip to an Eastern European country.

You arrive by boat and step onto the dock with your bags in your hands.

A young Lithuanian man standing on the dock looks at your feet and says something to his friend. By the way his voice rises at the end, you’re sure he either asked a question or made a joke about your legs. Too bad he isn’t speaking your language. If he was, you would know that he was telling his friend that a camera fell out of the unzipped side pocket of your bag.

If you don’t understand the man, you might keep walking without paying attention. Once the man realized you didn’t understand, he would take another step to let you know what he was saying. He might make eye contact with you, repeat his comment and point at the camera.

As with the Lithuanian man, your business communications – from marketing messages and press releases to ads to fill staff openings – will be ineffective if they don’t use the right language and the right context, much less speak to the right person.

What is the right language?

The man’s effort to make eye contact and point is no different than speaking in a language you understand. By establishing eye contact and pointing, he brings context to the conversation – a context you care about.

The language and context you bring to conversations with your prospects and customers is equally important. The right language provokes your audience to think, act, react, remain attentive, follow your instructions (or advice) and believe in your message.

Or not.

Robert Collier famously suggested that writers “join the conversation already going on in the prospect’s mind”. Collier wasn’t encouraging you to be creepy and spy on your prospects and customers. He’s encouraging you to get to know and understand them, including their needs, desires and fears.

The right language…like the empathy that the video gets across so well… requires listening, paying attention and understanding what’s going on behind the face they put on.

Until you make the effort to learn, listen and observe these things, how can you begin to join their conversation? How can you engage with them in a conversation they care about? How can you understand what they lose sleep over? How else can what you say begin to address what’s critical to their decision-making process?

All of these things help you use the right language and the right message, whether you’re on the phone, writing an email or composing text for a billboard.

You wouldn’t walk up to a few people who are actively chatting at a gathering, interrupt them and start talking loudly about something they don’t care about – yet that’s exactly what most marketing does.

It helps me to imagine that I’m speaking directly with a single person who is exactly the type of person whose needs, desires and fears my message will resonate with in the strongest possible way. Notice that I didn’t say “the group of people my message targets”, or that I said “speaking with” rather than to.

Think about how important the positioning and context of your message must be in order to move from broadcasting like someone yelling at passersby on a random big city street corner, to that of a personal conversation with a trusted advisor.

Hippity Hop

If you overheard just a nibble of a conversation about hops, you might guess that someone was talking about the communications via the internet, frog jumping competitions or rabbits.

On the other hand, they could be talking about craft beers or microbrews. You’d have to listen to more than just one word (hops) to figure out the topic – and that’s the key.

Listen. Observe. Develop empathy and understanding. Join the conversation.

Disclaimer: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

Famous Last Words: “We can’t afford to market our business.”

Tyres!
Creative Commons License photo credit: mickyc82

This past weekend, I took one of my favorite drives of the year – that first drive after removing studded snow tires.

I enjoy the feel of a performance tire in a tight turn and that’s something studded tires just don’t offer. As I waited for my tires to be swapped and munched on Les Schwab’s complimentary popcorn, I looked forward to that first drive.

While I waited, a friend who works there mentioned a new restaurant in town – a place he’d first heard about the day before despite the fact that they’d been open for over six months. Neither of us could remember seeing any marketing from them. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t any, just that we hadn’t seen it.

Today, I remembered something they’d done. It was a good way to introduce what they do to those likely to visit their place, thanks to an affinity with another business.

One (apparent) marketing effort in six months is not ideal and is usually the result of a single, often fatal, mindset: “We can’t afford to market the business.” The reality is that you can’t afford not to.

If cash is tight, what can they do?

Frugal but effective

First, know that there is no magic pill, despite what so-called “gurus” will tell you while trying to sell you a shovel. “Shovel sellers” is a reference to those who made a fortune selling shovels during the California Gold Rush, yet never used a shovel to work their own claim and thus learn which (much less IF) shovels are best for the job.

Marketing is steady, don’t ever stop kind of work. If you don’t have a bunch of cash to invest, you’ll need to find inexpensive, effective ways to share what you do with those who would be interested.

Getting Local

Have you filled in your business info at Google Places? How about Bing for Business? What about local business directories?

There are plenty of free and paid directories out there. These can consume a lot of time and capital, so use them wisely. Try a few Google searches to see how their results place. Talk to someone who uses the directory (they’ll be listed). Ask if they get good customers from these listings and what techniques they’ve used successfully. The most effective local directories are likely to be those run by local people, so do your homework.

Registering is not marketing

Is your business registered on Trip Advisor, UrbanSpoon, FourSquare, Facebook, FoodSpotting, Twitter and Yelp?

Registering is only the first step. Each of these outposts require regular attention. Investing five or ten minutes per site every other day (worst case) will give you enough time to answer questions, comment on reviews, post a daily tip/menu item or recognize a customer, supplier, neighbor or event (remember: give first).

The business I’m speaking of is registered in several of these places, but appears to have done little to build and maintain an active presence on them – a critical step. Remember – these sites are about attracting and engaging people who self-identify themselves as “interested”.

Keep the mobile user in mind. Encourage reviews. Reward the mayor. Reward check-ins. You don’t have to throw a pile of money at them. A free cup of coffee or a dessert is more than enough. Make them customer of the day – and find a simple, inexpensive way to make that day special. So few businesses recognize mayors (much less check-ins) that you’re sure to stand out.

Doing The Legwork

Keep your customers informed without the hard sell. Stories evoke interest.

Start an opt-in email list and make it worth reading. Send postcards or a monthly flier/event calendar to locals so you stay on their radar – same as you would by email. Print up plain paper menus and drop them off at local retailers and motels.  Offer the front desk/register staff a sample tray now and then so they can make a legitimate recommendation. Listen to their feedback.

Follow Tourism Currents and similar rural / tourism / local marketing resources. They frequently talk about strategies and tactics other small rural businesses have used and offer valuable tips about connecting with locals and tourists.

None of this is free, but all of it is inexpensive.

If you don’t market your business, how will your situation improve?

The woman with the Jay Leno chin

While I doubt it was their intent, the soap makers at Dove created something that perfectly illustrates the power of one of the best sales and marketing tools you can use.

It might be the best demonstration of that tool I’ve ever seen.

The experiment

The Dove “Real Beauty” experiment has three parts:

  • First, an experienced police artist draws a woman’s face based solely on her features, as she verbally describes them to the artist. He asks her about hair, eyes, chin, nose etc and she provides what she thinks the world sees in her own words.
  • Second, a stranger describes that same woman to the police artist and again, he draws her face based solely on the verbal description.
  • Third, the woman compares the portrait drawn from her verbal self-image to the one drawn based on the stranger’s description.

I suspect the results are obvious: The stranger thinks the woman is more attractive and/or less “flawed” than the woman views herself.

The reveal

When the woman compares the two portraits, they describe what each one looks like to them: Emotions, looks, age, features, mood, and so on. In each case, the woman sees a more attractive, happier, friendlier face in the portrait based on the stranger’s description. If you look at the drawings, you’ll likely see the same trend.

What I found interesting was that the stranger did a better job of providing details that resulted in a realistic portrait – whether that realism was flattering or not. You knew that drawing went with that woman while some of the original ones were a bit off the mark due to the woman’s self-described facial characteristics. Some of them clearly felt much worse about themselves than they really looked.

Obviously, the experiment has quite an impact on the women, but what does this have to do with your small business?

The experiment describes a situation that plays out in sales every day: the stranger’s drawing acts just like a powerful, believable testimonial.

A believable pitch

If you listen to the women describe themselves, you’ll hear one of them say something about her big chin. While she didn’t say it, it was hard not to wonder if she was thinking “I’m ugly, because I have a chin like Jay Leno.”  Later, the stranger says she has a nice normal chin and moves on without commenting further – and the stranger is right. The portrait’s chin matches hers.

When the women viewed their portrait based on the stranger’s description, it might have been their first chance in years to honestly see themselves through someone else’s eyes. You didn’t hear a single one say “Oh, that’s not what I look like. This is all wrong.” None of them appeared to need convincing that the drawings accurately portray how the world sees them.

They believed the story that the second drawing tells because it came from someone who had nothing to gain from describing it that way – just like a testimonial should.

Suddenly, they were the friendlier, more attractive, happier woman – and it was possible to believe it by hearing it from someone else.

What’s in a chin?

“I couldn’t use that system. It’s too hard to learn” sounds quite similar to “I’m ugly, because I have a chin like Jay Leno.”

For the woman who thinks she could be Jay’s chin sister, a single stranger’s unbiased view changes everything.

For the prospect worried that it’ll take months to learn a new system, a comment like “I expected it to take months to learn how to use their system, but I got started on my own in about 30 minutes. A few days later, I felt like an expert.”  has the same effect on a buyer that “She has a normal chin” has on a woman.

So how do you get the perfect testimonial for the person who is worried about learning to use what you sell?

Ask good questions

You’ve probably been asked a meaningless question like “Rate your buying experience from one to ten.”

It’s meaningless because numbers mean nothing except at the extremes. Even then, a ten doesn’t help others decide even if they share the same pre-purchase concerns.

The right answer to the right questions can help many make the right buying decision.