Competition Corporate America Marketing Public Relations Retail Small Business Wal-Mart

5 ways to entice customers to spend their tax rebate check at your small business

The news is full of stories talking about the things businesses are doing to try and get their paws on your U.S. Federal tax rebate check.

Wal-Mart is cashing the Federal tax rebate checks for free, making it easy to spend the money in their store.

five dollars photo credit: skippy13

Kroger, Sears and others are enticing consumers to sign checks over to them, offering a 10% bonus on the face value of the check to do so. Sears shoppers get the bonus when they convert the check into a Sears or K-Mart gift card.

So how do you compete with that?

Here are 5 ways to compete with big box retailers who want to keep your clients’ tax rebate check all to themselves.

  • Have a special tax rebate shopping event. Perhaps once a month from May through the summer until most people have their checks. Really want to push it? Make the ticket to gain entry to event be the check itself.
  • Offer a big box retail type discount, but ONLY for purchases made with the tax check. You’ll note that I don’t talk much about discounts here, but this is a special circumstance, not a weekly habit.
  • Position the purchase as an investment. For example, if you own a home improvement or hardware store, using the tax rebate check as an investment in energy efficiency for your home is a good play. You might even combine this with the tax rebate shopping event, call in some manufacturer’s reps and make it a big deal.
  • Focus on the transaction size. The checks are in various amounts, typically increments of $300. You can assemble a $300 catalog, a $600 catalog, and a $1200 catalog, for example. If you have information on family sizes, mail a “tax rebate gift catalog” of the appropriate price level to families of each size. People who get a $300 check in the mail aren’t going to be looking for “What costs $125?” Instead, they’ll be looking at what they can get for $300. Think about it. You do the same thing when you get a gift card as a present.
  • Offer to cash the tax check – yes, it’s a simple, obvious ploy to get them into your store. Big retail wouldn’t be doing it again if it didn’t work back in 2003. Note that at times your bank will downgrade your account if they find out you are cashing consumer checks (ie: like a pawn shop or money store), so be sure to consult them and make sure they understand it’s a one time deal).
  • In your marketing for the 5 items above, encourage consumers to spend the check locally – even if it isn’t in your store. Economic stimulus, the alleged reason for the checks, is going to be far more impactful when spent locally, rather than at a big box retailer. You could even put together some co-op advertising with the other local stores in your area – and even in your market niche.

Yeah, that’s 6 strategies, I figured you deserved a bonus. And I’ll be happy to cash your tax rebate check:)

What others are saying about the rebate:

Tax rebates dates
Tax rebate checks coming
Make Money on Your Tax Rebate Stimulus Check II
Printed Gift Cards Target Tax Rebate

Competition Creativity Marketing Strategy

Giving away free stuff

Does it work for you? Giving away free stuff, that is.

Today’s guest post from Church of the Customer is just plain good stuff. Short, sweet and right on point.

free 'sweet' hugs
photo credit: kalandrakas

What do you do to get people to try your products and services at no risk?

Book Reviews Email marketing Employees Internet marketing Marketing Small Business

Hiring staff to help with marketing? Start them off with these business books.

Over the weekend, one of my readers emailed and asked this very smart question:

We are hiring someone “green” to do marketing for us in about a month. I thought that starting someone from the ground up would be a good way to build someone’s skills for our business and not have to pay a small fortune at the same time. Do you have a couple of books that you would recommend for this person? I’m looking for books on both general marketing theory and on the nuts-and-bolts.

Still Life with Plato
photo credit: chefranden

So that you don’t overwhelm them on that first day, let’s go with 6 books.

That’ll start them off with a good baseline so they won’t spend a huge pile of your money and have no idea whether it was well spent or not – plus it may avoid scaring them to death:)

It’s hard to come up with a list that short until these 2 questions came to mind:

  • What books would I least want to give up if I found out they were the last copies ever?
  • What books would I want someone to have if they were going to spend a lot of my money on marketing without my oversight?

With those thoughts in mind, it was easy:)

Number 1 – your business procedures manual. (no, not the HR policy manual, ugh)
I’m sure you have one, right? I mean, we’ve ALL read Michael Gerber’s E-Myth (that was sneaky wasn’t it?), so we know how important that procedures manual is. I’m talking about the manual that your newbie assistant manager would use to run the place while you are off on that romantic cruise that you promised someone about 15 years ago. It has all the vendor contact info, how to turn off the alarm, how to lock up for the night, how to Z out the cash register (and when), how to do all the things that someone has to be trained for – step by step, so you don’t have to be a dozen places at once, or interrupted 72 times per day.

Number 2 – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. Doesn’t seem like a marketing book from the title, but it’s critical path brain food for someone who will be coming up with copy, headlines, emails and so on. Both practical and theory, this one is a keeper.

Number 3 – The Ultimate Marketing Plan by Dan Kennedy. Mostly practical. Dan isn’t much on theory, instead he relies on results. Not very thick, not very expensive, but worth a ton.

Number 4 – The Secrets of Successful Direct Mail by Dick Benson. Not just about direct mail, if you look closely. Definitely a must have for anyone who sticks an envelope in the mail. The list at the front is worth the price of the book.

Number 5 – My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. These come in 1 volume, so I counted them as one. So there. Claude was marketing like a master before your parents were born, or most likely so. Even this many years later, something to have on your marketing nightstand.

Number 6 – Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples. That’s Caples as in Ogilvy, Caples and other world-class folks from last century.

Total expenditure: About $94 or so new, even less if bought used.

PS: Being the shy person I am, I would have recommended a 7th one: Business is Personal – The book, but it isn’t out yet…

In fact, it was a little hard not to include a handful of others on this list, but this will get you started. Next time, perhaps I’ll limit it to books written in this century:) And besides, I don’t think Gary Bencivenga has a book:)

Advertising Creativity Internet marketing Marketing

Marketing winners and losers: Pope Benedict XIV’s visit to the U.S.

Several of my friends, a bunch of my Scouts, and some of my readers are Catholic, so this has been an exciting week for many of them due to the Papal visit to America.

One of those friends does a great job of providing insight to lesser-known things Catholic, including stuff about Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to America. Things I wouldn’t normally know, perhaps even if I were Catholic. Last night, he told me something about tradition involving the Pope’s visits to other countries that really surprised me. It got me to looking around and I found a couple of related things to point out here (Imagine that).

Of course, there’s a marketing angle here…

piazza duomo in lecce - salento
photo credit: paolo màrgari

So here are the biggest marketing winners and losers from the Papal visit to America:

Losers: The U.S. airline industry. Including FlexJet (and every other fractional jet service), Bombardier, Gulfstream, Lear and any other luxury jet manufacturer, along with every U.S. airline.

Why? My friend tells me this:

Historically, the country that hosts the Pope has some airline that comes forward to bring him home. For this particular trip, no U.S. airline came forward. That’s pretty much unprecedented.

OK, so you’re a fractional jet service flying nice, luxury jets around and you happen to have one that isn’t doing much right now. Paint a big logo for your service on the side of it and take the Pope home. If nothing else, call yourself the official Return To The Vatican airline of the 2008 Papal visit, at least until someone says you can’t:) PS: Get lots of photos of the Pope with (and on) your plane. Oh…too late.

Folks, this was a public relations opportunity of a lifetime. Our entire airline industry missed it.

Winners: GoDaddy. While Bob Parsons’ video blog “Top 10 things the Pope should know about the Internet” might not make the evening news, it was a classic example of how to use the news in your marketing.

PS: If you’re Catholic and found this blog post because of a Google search, you might want to check out Ian’s Catholic goods store over at It’s tough finding great small retailers. When you do, use em.

Blogging Marketing Productivity Social Media Technology Web 2.0

Your blog can show your clients “How to”

Today’s guest post is from The Brain. No, not your brain, The Brain.

photo credit: moujemouje

The Brain is a software product that allows you to organize, relate and search info to other info. Typically, we’re talking about things that don’t make this easy – especially across media and thought processes.

Showing your clients how to get more value out of your products is a very good use for a blog. I got several ideas from this post, even though I’ve used the Brain for years.

How can you use this technique in your blog, for your products?

Blogging Media Photography Positioning Small Business Social Media Word of mouth marketing

Best Seat in the House shows why you should be blogging

It may not be clear from the things I talk about here, but I enjoy photography. I shoot some scenic stuff, like the photo at the top of this page and I shoot a lot of sports and community stuff.


When it comes to sports, I’ll shoot baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, football, etc – and I don’t really mind how young or old the participants are. I’ve been on the field to shoot major college football and basketball, and I’ve been on the field to shoot the Columbia Falls 6th grade football team.

As a result of the photography thing, one of my favorite blogs is Best Seat in the House by Seattle Times sports (mostly) photographer Rod Mar.

This post about golf, Caddyshack and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Seattle was typical of Mar’s fun and informative (to photographers) posts. I suspect that if you asked Rod, he’d say that he isn’t a writer – and that’s my point.

In order to blog, you don’t have to be an expert writer with 12 books under your belt (that’d be uncomfortable, much less unsightly).

Instead, you just have to have a conversation with your readers.

When you educate, annoy, incite and entertain your readers, you develop a personal relationship with them (more accurately, they develop one with you).

Isn’t that what you want your customers to have with your business and your staff?

Advertising Automation Corporate America Marketing Media

How to react to the news in your marketing

Just rolled back in from the Billings coaching group meeting and noticed that the big news was about General Electric (GE) missing analyst predictions and that it has driven the stock market down 250 points.

But something else caught my eye. An impressive feature of this MSNBC news page.

A Scottrade ad, of all things.

Notice 2 things:

  1. This is today’s news. Not news from last month. “Updated 7 minutes ago”.
  2. Look at the ad at the bottom. Did they place this ad this morning after hearing the news? Not likely. Instead they built an ad widget that senses the context of the ad ( General Electric ) and they have a graph showing the drop. Nothing specific about the reason, other than asking you to reference their site to figure it out.

Pretty smart.

Blogging Competition Entrepreneurs Internet marketing Mark Riffey Marketing Media Positioning Public Relations Strategy

Small business owners, like consultants, should be everywhere


A friend asked me the other day why I do a small business marketing radio talk show and if it had been profitable for me.

My answer? Because I need to be everywhere, and yes.

The question reminded me of a long-told story in marketing circles about the chiropractor (or whoever it was).

A famous lady chiropractor from the East Coast speaks at a chiropractic convention about her success, her practice and why she got into chiropractic in the first case. It’s a motivational piece, intended to instill “I can do it too” in the young chiropractors in the room.

When she leaves the stage, a number of people in the crowd have questions for her – a commonplace reaction at conventions like this.

One struggling young chiropractor steps up, introduces herself as Lee, and proceeds to tell her a story about her efforts to gain new clients. Lee talks about how she tries one thing and then another to get new clients. No matter what she tries, her office only gets a client or two or three with each ad that is placed.

Finally, she says “So after all of my struggles, I got really excited when I heard you say that you average 72 new clients every month…what’s technique are you using to get 72 new clients?”

The chiropractor shifts her weight and lays her hand softly on the woman’s shoulder and says “I’m sorry Lee, but I don’t know one strategy that gets 72 clients”. As she pauses, she can see confusion and disappointment on Lee’s face.

Then she shares the punch line: “However…I have found 72 ways to get one client, and I use every one of them, every month. You should try that and see how it works for you. I’ve very happy with the results.”

HotSeat Radio is one of my “72 ways”. So is the print newsletter, this blog, the email newsletter, and the Flathead Beacon column, just for starters.

“Be everywhere” is a core strategy that I teach my marketing clients, and I (as you may have noticed) put a significant effort into practicing what I preach.

If you need 50 new clients each month to make your revenue goals, do you have 50 ways in place to get 1 new client? Or 25 ways to get 2 new clients each month?

Sit down with a pad and paper (or MS Word, or whatever) and answer this question: How many ways does my business have to attract and meet future (and current) clients?

Is that enough? What other ways can you think of?

P.S. Notice there wasn’t a password on this post? The reality is that I’m collecting “evidence” for a future post. Not quite as externally obvious as yesterday’s survey, but just as important. More about that, probably next week.

Competition Entrepreneurs Personal development Small Business

What are the obstacles to making your small business more successful?

I meet all different types of business owners. Some new, some experienced and most somewhere in the middle.

They all have their challenges and their triumphs. They all indicate their success is held up by different things, and they all remark about different things that were obstacles in their past – things that they conquered to get where they are today.

I’m curious – what’s the one thing that you think is the biggest obstacle to making your business more successful?

If your obstacle isn’t on the list and you prefer to keep it private, use the comment form. Of course, you can comment anonymously below.


Survey Fly doesn’t display the results publicly, but I will publish them once I see the votes tailing off. Then we’ll talk about what the results revealed and get to work on them.

Competition Customer service Marketing

Why, even now, your business should have a toll-free number

These days, you can use Skype to call East Pajamastan for 2.3 cents a minute. Even with a phone card or a Baby Bell long distance plan, you can call in the US and Canada for 5 cents a minute.

So why in the world should you care about having a toll-free number? It’s not like the old days, when a 30 minute calls to a customer service line cost the client 10 or 15 bucks. Nowadays, it isn’t even 2 dollars.

So why show your clients a little love (hey, it is Valentine’s Day) by having a toll-free number?

First of all, it might have been about the money 20 years ago, but that was 20 years ago.

Today, it’s about convenience AND money. People call from cell phones, from airports, from hotels (where long distance is STILL $27 a minute, or something like that), from airline lounges and other places where long distance calls are still a pain.

Sure, they can get a calling card for almost nothing, but if they are in a rush, in an airport or hotel, if it comes down to dialing you vs dialing the 800 #, guess who wins? Convenience AND money.

In addition, 800 numbers are still easier to remember than 406 555 1734.

Like domain names, the best ones have been staked out for some time, but you can still get good ones and do so easily. By the way, when I say “800 numbers”, I mean 800, 877, 866, 888, and so on (yes, there are more prefixes coming).

And if you happen to print the wrong 800 number on an ad, don’t freak out and try to pull the ad or do damage control until you’ve checked to see if the number in your typo is available. If the typo’d number is available, you just learned a $49.95 lesson instead of a $49,995 lesson (or worse). It happens.

I use for this, and to easily figure out which numbers are available, whether I can spell something with them or not (my 866-997-7634 number spells out as 866-99-Profit), and best of all, the guy who runs the place isn’t a slimeball like many of his competitors. He’s an up and up guy so YOU actually end up owning your 800# and have the freedom to use whatever LD service you want with it – and easily transfer it, something the slimeballs don’t make it easy to do.

The other reason to give your clients a 800 to call? To make them more likely to call you for help. You WANT them to be as dependent on you for expert advice and assistance. Seems like such a little thing, but I can assure you, it makes a difference.

The flower photo is by Michael Jastremski of Philly, the creator of