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How to Manage Your Small Business Marketing Options
Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash
You slam your desk in frustration. Another day, another marketing email or business article. It makes you wonder,
Are my marketing efforts paying off? Do I have an effective way to measure my ROI?
Does my marketing plan need an overhaul?
What are my business marketing options?
We get it. Today’s economic volatility and threat spurs all of us to reexamine our marketing strategy. Consider the following to avoid common mistakes and wasteful marketing spending in 2021.
Not all marketing options will likely work for your business. You really should think carefully about your plan—your goals and how you intend to achieve them. Then include only the most promising options in your plan.
Why do you do what you do?
What are your general business goals?
What is your mission?
Strategically, answers to these questions, even if not published online, should guide everything else that you do. Your answers are your brand.
Who are your ideal clients or customers? You should communicate with them, in terms of tone, style, and platform(s), that they expect.
How do you propose to achieve your goals, your mission?
For example, do you need to emphasize attracting new clients? What about retaining current clients? What sort of balance works best for you?
Do you sell a physical or virtual product, or might you offer a service?
Do you sell your product or service directly to customers (as in eCommerce)? Or do you primarily target other businesses?
Your answers will shape the type of website that you set up and the specific social media platforms that you use.
Obviously, an eCommerce website differs from a service-oriented site.
For example, LinkedIn might be more appropriate for promoting professional or technical services than for eCommerce products while an email funnel campaign may work best for long-game conversion.
Stage of Business
What is the developmental stage of your business?
If you are just starting out, you probably need to focus on creating awareness and attracting new clients. Building email subscription lists and followers of your social media platforms will be priorities. In the process, you will need to establish your business as authoritative and trustworthy.
If you are more established, you might prioritize retaining current or past clients over attracting new ones. After all, retaining current clients costs less than prospecting for new purchasers. And current clients, through testimonials and reviews, can act as a marketing asset in their own right.
Of course, the specific features of your business might require that you pay equal attention to new and current/past clients.
In truth, too many variables influence a marketing plan to allow detailed advice here. The number of stakeholders involved, the available resources, the size of your business, the competitive environment—these and other factors will affect your planning process.
Nevertheless, any plan must specify which marketing tasks will be accomplished in-house and which will be outsourced.
Large firms with abundant resources and expertise will probably choose to keep as much as possible in-house or, alternatively, to retain a full-service marketing agency. Their primary goal would be to maintain maximum, overall control.
Smaller firms might decide to delegate coordination of marketing efforts to an in-house manager who, in turn, can outsource specific tasks or projects as needed. Such an arrangement can achieve close coordination while it limits overhead expense.
Solo entrepreneurs fill every role themselves. They coordinate all marketing efforts but may outsource specific marketing tasks.
Regardless of the size of your business, you should create and use a marketing calendar to plan and track every marketing initiative. A complete calendar will help you anticipate staffing and other needs, and it will allow you to monitor marketing costs so that you don’t overspend.
Again, size of the business, available resources (financial and personnel), and general business climate will affect budgeting decisions.
In planning a marketing budget, however, you should determine an acceptable Return on Marketing Investment that will promote your business’s financial health. As the business grows, the marketing budget should also increase, but within acceptable limits related to overall revenue or profit.
ROMI (% of Profit Due to Marketing)
Task #1 is to learn where things stand. You already know that marketing is essential to your success. Without it, no one would learn of your service or product.
Learning where things stand means knowing your Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI). The overall calculation is simple.
Task #2 entails drilling down to see how each of your marketing efforts performs. For example, are your email messages leading to high conversion rates on your call-to-action prompts?
Further, do your web pages result in high sign-up rates for your newsletters?
Again, do your discount offers pan out with increased sales?
If not, you might want to think about improving your content to bring your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) back into line for your business.
Surely, most large and small businesses find word-of-mouth advertising to be the most effective. People trust what their relatives, friends, and colleagues recommend.
Today, however, word-of-mouth has shifted to cyberspace. Online reviews and information distributed via email, social media, and websites have become crucial to business success. Some 80% of customers search for services or products on the Internet before contacting potential vendors.
If you are B2B, you can use case studies to achieve some control over client testimonials. In addition, all businesses can use software or paid services to capture client reviews.
As with any other campaign, you need to think about the message that will gain the best reviews for you.
You must still decide about which platforms you need to invest in.
Your website is your virtual business card, especially if you’re looking to attract new clients. Your landing page, for example, should be one of your best conversion tools.
Whether you manage your website yourself or hire a developer to do so, pay regular attention to the following:
- Content—both words and images—should provide what clients need to know and be updated regularly.
- Old fashioned design will brand your business as out of date, frumpy. Conduct a design overhaul (or have someone else do it) every couple of years.
- Since 75% of visitors to your site are likely to use a mobile device, be sure that your site is responsive to smart phones and tablets.
- Pay attention to SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This can become technical, and Google’s algorithms change continually.
- Tone should be appropriate to your business: more professional for B2B, more conversational for B2C or eCommerce.
Email marketing for new and current clients remains the most lucrative marketing investment: average ROI is $38 for every $1 spent.
For convenience and compliance reasons, it pays to retain a reputable email vendor, of which there are many.
A good email vendor should provide the following services at minimum:
- Maintain accurate, up-to-date subscription lists
- Segmentation of subscription lists according to your criteria
- Handle all opt-in and unsubscribe events
- Create and manage automated campaigns and responses
- Offer templates for images and layout
- Provide reports of messages sent, delivered, opened, and clicked-through (and conversions if feasible)
Several vendors also offer to host websites, landing pages, and other services.
Nearly all large and small businesses maintain a presence on social media, and for good reason: billions of people worldwide use social media to research and purchase goods and services.
LinkedIn has become a premier platform for professionals and businesses. The most basic service is free, but paid subscriptions open several useful opportunities for communicating your message.
Whether you set up only a personal account or add a company page, LinkedIn will help you if you follow these suggestions:
- In addition to friends, former colleagues, and acquaintances, connect with others who are relevant to your business and experience.
- Respond to others’ posts with a comment if possible.
- Interact with individuals or company pages daily or at least 3 times per week.
- Post content of value to others as often as possible, usually at least 3-4 times per week (Tuesday through Friday is optimal).
- Refrain from direct selling; be personal, engaging, informative in your posts.
- Include relevant hashtags to attract attention from potential clients and to research other opportunities.
- Consider using LinkedIn’s paid messaging, advertising and recruiting services as needed.
Most B2C and eCommerce businesses use Instagram and Facebook to connect with clients. Even professional services in law and health care are doing so now.
- Create a company page linked to your personal page.
- Both platforms feature “stories” for longer posts with text and video
- When you use features such as polls or question box, their search algorithm will increase visibility of your business.
- All posts should include images or video along with appropriate hashtags.
- Solicit service or product reviews from clients.
- Respond to all comments or other interactions from followers.
- Consider using paid ads to boost reach and to target audiences.
- Organic (non-paid) ads/posts produce limited results.
- When using paid ads, be careful about budgeting daily costs.
Twitter is a fast-moving platform that can direct traffic via links to your website or blog content. It is very useful for posting company news, limited-time offers, or announcements.
Remember that Twitter is conversational: self-promotion should be take a back seat to engaging others.
All tweets should attach an image or video to attract attention. Text in each tweet is limited to 240 characters (including spaces).
Engagement on Twitter should occur a few times daily to maintain an effective presence.
Using social media to best advantage consumes a great deal of time and energy. If you run a small business, consider hiring an in-house or freelance social media manager. When you do, monitor performance to make sure that all messaging reflects your brand’s mission. If you handle social media yourself, be sure to set aside time each day to keep your brand visible.
With limited resources, you may need to prioritize whether you’ll pursue an email funnel campaign or concentrate on your social media efforts. Your decision should be fueled by strategy first and tailored to your current business model and goals. When you decide to pursue a marketing strategy, produce the most useful or relevant content that you can. Your audience would rather have that than a half-hearted effort over all the digital platforms.
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What I Learned from My Plumber
What I learned from my plumber, even before COVID-19, was to keep my hands out of my mouth like he did. But that’s not what this post is about.
What I really learned from my plumber is to know who you are and what you’re about if you want your business to flourish. You see, my plumber (his name is Wayne) doesn’t do any online or print marketing. He doesn’t need to. He gets all the business he can handle simply by word-of-mouth and his name in small letters on the side of his truck.
How does he do that?
He does it by always living up to his well-earned reputation. You see, Wayne knows his place—in business speak, his brand, his niche. He knows that providing great customer service to his clients wins every time.
Our Plumbing Story
My wife and I came to know Wayne when our upstairs bathtub drain clogged. Like many homeowners, I tried a plunger, commercial drain opening chemicals, and even a plumber’s snake. Nothing worked. We couldn’t use either upstairs bathroom and that meant not showering. Ugh! Stinky!
We called a large, well-known plumbing firm. They sent a guy right out. After looking at the drain and the connecting pipes in the linen closet, the guy shrugged his shoulders and called his boss. Not a good sign.
The next day, a supervisor came out. He poked around, found an old drum trap (look it up) that was blocking the snake. He said they’d have to cut out the trap. To gain access to do so would require cutting a large hole in our dining room ceiling. Estimated cost for the plumbing alone: $1,300. Who knew what it would cost to repair the ceiling?
We had no money. So I decided to do it myself. I bought a new drill and special bits to remove the lid from the drum trap. After more than a day’s drilling, the lid was still solidly in place. That meant I couldn’t get my snake down the drain to loosen the clog. Total impasse and disgruntled spouse.
That’s when our neighbor across the street rescued us with a referral to Wayne. He’d known Wayne for years and called Wayne to tell him of our plight. He also cautioned us that Wayne liked to tell stories.
Wayne came out the next day, took a look at the drum trap mess that I’d created, and said that he could cut out the trap, unclog the drain, and install a new trap—all for $600. And no hole in the dining room ceiling!
The next morning, Wayne showed up on time and went to work, telling stories about previous jobs all the while! It was quite a show. He was on his hands and knees, head in the linen closet, and the stories never stopped.
But then Wayne was stymied too. On day two, even after he had replaced the drum trap, his longer snake couldn’t reach the clog. He didn’t give up.
He went to the basement, opened a cap in the drain there, snaked out the clog (along with a lot of nasty water) and triumphantly declared, “That hair must have built up since the house was built 50 years ago!”
Total cost, even after several hours of unplanned work: $600. Now I’m sure that the story of the stupid homeowner who made a big mess when he should have called Wayne to begin with has now made it into Wayne’s repertoire of tall tales. Other than that, we felt that we’d escaped unscathed.
What My Plumber Taught Me
The first and most important lesson for me is not to fart around but to call Wayne when I need him.
Beyond that, Wayne taught me some lessons that every business owner or manager should heed.
- Keep your client informed and show up on time (provide good customer service).
- Know what you can and cannot do or offer (know your technical skills or product).
- Quote a fair price and stick to it (don’t price gouge).
- See the project through; don’t give up (solve your client’s problem).
- Treat your client with respect (be client-centered).
- Clean up after yourself (go beyond what is expected).
The result for Wayne was another satisfied customer who would refer others to him. And we did. Enthusiastically!
Cost of that sort of marketing: $0
Value of that sort of marketing: Priceless
I hope you heed what I learned from my plumber: strengthen your brand, focus on your client’s needs, provide great customer service, deliver value beyond what is expected, conduct yourself with integrity.
Do those simple things, even if you must do other kinds of marketing, and you’ll thrive. Oh, and please keep your hands out of your mouth.
How to Manage Your Small Business Marketing Options
What I Learned from My Plumber
Grow Your Business: Humanize Hiring
Grow Your Brand: Be Generous
The Value of Taking Care
Let Your Standards Be Your Guide
Case Studies without Stories?
Grow Your Business: Watch What You Eat
Grow Your Business Beyond Your Niche
Grow Your Business: Find Your Place
Want to Grow Your Home Business? Rescue a Pet!
Save the Open Internet!
Where Have All the Members Gone?
Marketing with Lots of Words? Sometimes!
Marketing Without Words? Not Quite!
Help Wanted for Job Descriptions!
Battle Boredom, Improve Decisions!
Wrong Words vs. Right Words
Oh, Those Narrow Scottish Roads!
Grow Your Business: Humanize Hiring
Organizations should humanize hiring and promote themselves at the same time.
When headhunters lop off your head, bad things happen to you: high stress levels, shredded self-esteem, loss of appetite, overeating and drinking, lack of sleep, autoimmune maladies, etc.
Of course, you might be among the fortunate folk who have up-to-date skills and experience that attract offers meant to entice you to leave your current employer. For the great unwashed, however, the job-hunting and hiring process is too often brutal. It doesn’t have to be this way.
If you’ve searched for employment lately, you surely know the drill. The Internet is filled with advice to job seekers about how to insert specific keywords that will attract attention from electronic search engines that scan the thousands of résumés submitted each day. If the algorithm scores your résumé highly, a human being might spend 30 seconds looking at your credentials list. Otherwise, into the slush pile you go.
Or you might fill out an online application on a company’s website or an Internet job board. Be sure to put the right information into the correct boxes and check off all of the skills listed in the job description. A single omission or attempt to explain something might doom your chances. And where do you put such an explanation anyway? Always remember that your cover letter, should you be allowed to submit one, will be read only if the rest of your application scores highly.
Despite all, if you make it to an interview, you’ll have a chance to make your case, right? Not necessarily. Last week, I attended a presentation by a headhunter who advises large corporations and federal agencies on how to interview candidates. He recommended controlling the interview completely by asking the same questions of all candidates and assigning a numerical score to each answer. No exceptions.
I get it. Headhunters, recruiters, human resource officers, and hiring managers all cite the impossibility of sifting through hundreds or thousands of applications manually. Without electronic screening, they wouldn’t be able to reach hiring decisions within a reasonable time. And without scoring applications and interviews, they would be unable to maintain objectivity and fairness.
Question: Is objectivity an important value in hiring? At all? If so, how does objectivity survive all of the networking and personal referrals that lead to most actual hires? What really counts in this process?
Torture by Silence
Communication with job applicants, if it occurs at all, remains inhumane. You know the drill: press “Send” on your electronic application, receive a brief acknowledgement of having successfully submitted your application, and then . . . silence. Nothing. Not even crickets. I call this torture by silence.
Even after an interview, you will usually wait days, weeks, for any feedback. I once checked with the hiring officer following what I considered to be a successful interview only to be told, “We hired someone else last month. I’m sorry if we failed to notify you.” (Please note the conditional apology.)
Most but not all of my experience with hiring has been on both sides of the table in academia. Hiring procedures in colleges and universities are notoriously drawn out. Searches for senior administrators and faculty routinely take 6 to 9 months, sometimes longer. Search committees often conduct more than one interview per candidate. For very senior positions, an outside consulting firm is added to the layer. Even with all of that attention, each candidate’s status remains trapped in a black hole. Although businesses and other organizations might not take as long to make a decision, their record of communication with applicants is also abysmal. Most apparently forget that the hiring process is another marketing opportunity. Research has long shown that a person who has a negative experience will tell many more people about it than about a positive experience. Do organizations really want to burnish their negative image?
How to Humanize Hiring
About ten years ago, I published the following suggestions about how to humanize hiring procedures in academia. I think they still apply for most organizations.
- Acknowledge having received every application. Most organizations do this, but not in a personal or friendly way.
- Provide every applicant with contact information for a person within the organization to whom questions or problems can be directed. (I can hear the howls of protest: “We can’t afford that!” Baloney. Corporations are making record profits; universities typically waste enough money to cover the extra cost of complying. Find the resources.)
- The hiring officer should personally inform every unsuccessful finalist of the results of the search and offer to discuss it if necessary. This chore should not be delegated to some subordinate.
- Notify every unsuccessful applicant of his or her fate immediately after that decision has been reached even if the search has not been completed. No more torture by silence.
- Provide constructive feedback regarding an improved résumé, application letter, skill set, references, etc., for finalists who request it; suggestions need not be lengthy or detailed, but they can help dispel the suspicion of discrimination. (Organizational lawyers might object to this offer, but research in the health professions field has shown that clients who are treated respectfully are less likely to sue.)
- End all forms of illegal discrimination (let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that it does not occur).
- Do not discriminate against the unemployed or persons who have recent gaps in their employment record (there can be good, private reasons for both, and neither automatically justifies the inference that their skills are not up to date).
- Eliminate demeaning “interview” questions such as, “Why do you want this job?” or “Tell us about your 2 best strengths and your 2 worst weaknesses.” It would be better to outline a problem or challenge actually facing your organization and ask an applicant how he/she might approach it.
- Do not presume that an “overqualified” applicant will become a disgruntled employee; such a person might be quite grateful for the position (otherwise, why would he/she have applied?).
- Above all, ensure that you and your team treat every applicant with the same courtesy, dignity, respect, and considerateness that you would like were you, instead, the one applying for a position with your organization.
Nearly everyone complains about the lack of information, unaccountability, anonymity, and the ego-crushing nature of the hiring process. As a society, we can do better, and we should. If you have other suggestions to humanize hiring, please share.
Grow Your Brand: Be Generous
What does it mean to be generous?
When I say, grow your brand, you probably think of developing your voice, building your network, and cultivating your social media presence. All worthy pursuits. So, how can you be generous?
First, you should understand your brand. Your brand is Y-O-U.
Even if you work for ABC Marketing Company, you have your own brand.
You advance your brand by the way you work. It’s your #1 asset.
Whether you want to stay with ABC Marketing Company for the next twenty years or start your own organization, you’ll need confidence to survive the long haul.
When did everyone become so competitive? Human nature dictates this to a degree, but company cultures that thrive on toxicity don’t help. If you’re really looking to grow your brand, I suggest you leave any organization that would demand you to compromise it.
So what do I mean by, “the way you work?”
You might tell me some of the following:
You’re always on time. Usually early, even. Great.
You always meet deadlines. Wonderful.
You have a professional demeanor. Excellent.
You come to work ready to produce. Well done.
These are all part of your core work ethic. But what about when a new person joins the team and they make you wonder about your own position or future with the company? Be generous.
Understanding Group Dynamics
Perceived threats to the established group and company culture have baffled executives for some time. A 2015 article from Harvard Business Review discussed the challenges of hiring new employees, especially at small-to-mid-size companies.
In one CEO’s experience, the employees who needed the most relief also most resisted hiring new people to ease their burden. That’s not really puzzling if you consider the way social groups function, even 2nd grade classrooms.
Workers feel overloaded but they also feel needed. They prefer the idea that ABC would crumble if they did not carry the weight of all four pillars. This equates to job security in their mind. Honestly, this boils down to poor communications management.
Many executives, as a result, believe that they need to take more care when hiring so as not to disrupt the status quo. They wring their hands to find the right fit.
The right fit for whom?
To what end?
Sometimes the group needs a disruptor. Sometimes the group needs someone who will make them stand up and take notice.
The only reason any support employee or mid-level manager feels threatened is for the same reason my 8-year-old niece does when a new teacher’s aide comes to her class; she developed a safe relationship with the teacher and this new person might ruin that.
As a manager or an executive it is your job to reassure the group that their job is not in jeopardy every time someone new walks in the door. It is your job to create an environment where employees can exchange new ideas without being penalized.
The Toxic Cycle
Have you ever been in the following type of situation?
You left ABC to work for XYZ because the offer was better. The interview went well but your first week is a disaster. You find out that the CEO favors your manager and has turned her into a three-year-old who runs to the CEO every time something is not going her way.
You know the feeling. “Excuse me. I’m too busy walking on eggshells to do my job.”
You also find out that your co-worker with whom you collaborate on a regular basis does not think you should have been hired. You come to realize that he’s worried you might have been hired to replace him. Instead of helping you acclimate at XYZ, he focuses on petty ways to get you in trouble or make sure that you fail by giving you the wrong information.
Besides the above, there’s no real training or onboarding process to help you succeed. Sink or swim!
In this scenario, a couple of different things might happen.
- Despite people urging you to be “mentally strong,” you’ll realize that you need to leave XYZ. You’ll be responsible about it and secure other employment first. Perhaps you’ll contact ABC (your old firm) and tell them “I miss you guys,” or you might even start your own business.
- You’ll stay at XYZ because the pay is better and you just bought a new condo. You’ll hate it but you’ll survive. You’ll learn to play along to get along. Then in two years when your manager hires a suspiciously competent person, you’ll treat them the way that your co-worker treated you.
Either of these options will not help you grow your brand. Whether you’re an entity (ABC, XYZ) or an individual.
If you work for a company and you claim to care about that organization (and you should because they write your checks), then you will have confidence and help everyone on your team succeed. Unless your co-worker does not want the help or refuses to do any work.
Naturally, a percentage of new hires will not work out. And you should not invest in people who will abuse you for their own gain. But make sure that you’re not just convincing yourself that your new comrade is a “bad fit.”
Create Your Own Brand
Here a few examples of the sentiments I’ve run into while coaching clients to grow their brand.
“The new person doesn’t really fit in with our culture.”
All organizations need to be infused with new ideas and ways of problem solving. As long as the person respects your organization’s shared memory, they are potentially a fine fit and you can’t determine that in their first weeks.
“The new person dresses in expensive clothing so they don’t need this job.”
Freedom is a beautiful concept. While you may spend your money on vacations and eating out, this person may spend it on clothing. They may have struggled to find a job and invested everything they have in this clothing to make a good impression and elevate their brand.
My friend, Erin, has worked at same organization for 15 years. She’s an expert at her craft, but not a model employee. In her earlier years Erin was often late or had limited availability due to personal circumstances. Coworkers resented her because the culture demanded that everyone put in the same amount of sweat and in the same way.
It became obvious to Erin and everyone else that management had hired replacement after replacement in order to fire Erin. Instead of freaking out, Erin treated her potential replacement with respect. She taught them the ropes.
Erin realized her manager might fire her since her replacements did not have children or other responsibilities. Instead, in each instance, Erin’s great attitude and her special talents (we all make special contributions – that’s our brand, too) made management realize that she was in fact the right fit.
Eventually ABC stopped trying to replace Erin and promoted her. Once her personal life improved she became a model employee and stuck around through the worst financial downturn and even did the job of three people when necessary.
During the years Erin was afraid that she might be sacked, she confided in me that she would remain true to her brand—and grow it on her own if she had to. She knew that she had value even though she felt awful about they way her company treated her.
Think about all the time her manager wasted by not communicating with the group effectively and reducing the need for competitive behavior. The manager always touted group effort above individual achievement, anyhow. Erin could have benefited from a realistic schedule and the manager might have provided group enrichment to bring the team closer together.
Most of Erin’s coworkers were fired because they were simply collecting a paycheck in the end.
Erin created a brand. Her brand.
When you create an environment that encourages newcomers to flee every 3 to 6 months, you’re costing your organization opportunities and money. Every person you onboard is an investment.
If you develop these bad habits while working for someone else, you will not be successful at running your own business one day.
Generosity promotes prosperity.
Be a teacher and a humanitarian. Be generous. Unless you want your brand to scream: I’m desperate.
Pushing others down to “increase” your worth is a guaranteed way to sink your brand. And yet people do it for short-term gains. Perhaps we might all remember the lessons of a bull market?
The Value of Taking Care
Do you wonder what is the value of taking care?
How often do you become annoyed when you discover that your new jacket had a button fall off before you could get it home?
How much do you take for granted that your 5-year-old dishwasher works perfectly, every time?
In both instances, we’re dealing with the value of taking care (aka, “quality control”). With your new jacket, that value is lacking. In the case of your dishwasher, the value is present but not acknowledged. That seems to be the way it is: the value of getting things right is noticed most when things go wrong.
Purchasers of products or services generally presume that things will go right, that the provider of a product or service is taking care. Online reviews, testimonials, and personal referrals assure potential customers that a particular vendor takes care that their product or service functions as intended. You can count on that.
The value of taking care applies to individuals too. Over the years, I’ve read many cover letters from job applicants. I’ve found it ironically amusing when an applicant claims to pay attention to detail in a letter marred by egregious typos. What’s the likely outcome for that applicant?
Take Care Now to Avoid Complaints
When things go wrong, customers typically complain to the customer service department. Increasingly, many businesses don’t bother taking care to get that right. They hide behind a complicated phone tree or excessively long wait times; or they simply make it impossible to contact a human being. Perhaps they could afford a modest customer service operation and reduce the frequency of refunds if they took greater care to get things right in the first place by emphasizing quality control.
How does your business take care of getting things right for your clients? Have you figured out a way to quantify that value? What seems to work for you?
Let Your Standards Be Your Guide
What do we mean by let your standards be your guide?
After sending a client what we mutually considered the final draft of a grant application a few weeks ago, the client returned a totally reworked version. At first, we were stunned. Our immediate reaction was to let the client’s draft stand if that’s the way he wanted it. We would be paid regardless of whether the application was successful.
Two hours later, we had second thoughts. After all, we should act to further our client’s best interest which was to obtain funding. So we took a day we did not have and produced yet another draft that seemed to address the client’s concerns but in a way that would provide the best chance for a successful outcome.
Shortly after we sent our new draft, we received a phone call. The client acknowledged having put us in a tight spot since the application’s deadline was only a day away. He thanked us for not just acceding to his version, for taking the time and effort to produce the best draft that we could. Upholding our standards earned our client’s respect. Your values add value.
Case Studies without Stories?
Our Instagram World
It’s official: we now live in an Instagram world as far as marketing is concerned. For B2C marketing, this has been true for some time, perhaps even before Facebook acquired Instagram. Products marketed online depend on visual branding, sometimes in ways completely unrelated to the items that are hawked. Consider the Cialis™ bathtub images. What do they have to do with a medication to treat ED? But we all associate the bathtubs with pills anyway.
Visual branding has now taken over B2B marketing as well. Many B2B vendors now communicate their message in infographics, pictograms, photos, and charts. The prevalence of “responsive web design” that allows a website’s content to be displayed on any device, desktop or mobile, furthers this trend. After all, reading several paragraphs of text on a smartphone is taxing. The result? Anything over 30 words is long-form. People want short, snappy, and cute.
Increasing use of mobile devices also produces more demand for video. With video, information can be combined with visual imagery but in a format that doesn’t require reading. Advertisers benefit from being able to convey 2-3 minutes of information while holding the viewer’s attention. But what if they need to convey more information? What if the information is technical or complex?
The Threat to Case Studies
In the distant past, B2B companies used case studies to establish credibility and explain how their products or services work. Many even created longer white papers, and they still do, especially in extremely technical fields such as engineering. Anyway, case studies usually consisted of 2-3 pages of text with no images except, perhaps, a logo. They were intended to be read by prospective buyers.
Neil Patel cites research showing that long-form content marketing still produces great results. But when I click on links for “case studies” on many websites, I encounter screen-wide banners containing photos or graphics accompanied by pithy phrases or a single sentence. The information conveyed is very simple and focused on product or service features. No stories are told. There isn’t any room for narratives. Such “case studies” are merely product feature sheets in digital form.
The Value of Success Stories
What do B2B buyers want? Laura Ramos of Forrester reports that they want 3 things: customer/peer examples, content from credible sources, and short content. They don’t want lists of product features.
Marketers have long known that purchases happen on the basis of emotion, not just on information. B2B buyers, especially, want to know how a product or service will solve their problem, ameliorate their pain. When they come across examples of how peers have overcome their challenges by using a particular product or service, the prospective buyers become engaged.
In even simpler terms, buyers crave stories—stories that reflect their own challenges and how those challenges can be successfully addressed. Telling stories stimulates ideas and solutions because they focus on real people and specific events. Stories move us all.
Success stories are especially powerful marketing tools. They provide concrete details and help others imagine solutions to particular problems. Lists of product or service features cannot be substituted for stories that show benefits.Without returning to nothing-but-text case studies, how can we tell success stories in a connected, compelling way in our digital age? Perhaps we could design “curated success stories.” That is, tell connected narratives, complete with accompanying visuals, in chewable chunks, like better museums do. What do you think? Any suggestions?
Grow Your Business: Watch What You Eat
What’s Keeping Your Business from Growing?
Surely, it couldn’t be what you eat, could it? Well, if you have a growing mid-section, low energy, or are on the verge of having a chronic health condition, what you eat might be holding you back. Sound crazy? Read on!
About 45% of Americans (144 million people) suffer from at least one chronic condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and lesser-known conditions like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, or Crone’s disease. These conditions cost billions in health care expenses, lost productivity, and low quality of life. And most are related to what we eat one way or another.
What does this have to do with growing your business? To answer that question, we need to tell our story.
The “Mickey-D” Days
When Jenny and I first got together long before we thought about starting our own business, we ate what we considered to be a well-balanced diet, including occasional fast food. Okay, who are we kidding? We ate out a lot, sometimes 3-4 times a week. Picture Mickey-D’s cheeseburgers, fries, pasta, processed foods, ice cream, high sugar desserts, and red meat with an occasional side of broccoli.
What the hell, it was fun, and cooking in our tiny apartment was a pain.
We congratulated ourselves when we chose healthy “happy-ending” ice cream sundaes at Friendly’s™ or chicken platters at Applebee’s™. We’d heard our whole lives that a healthy diet comes from a combination of portion control and exercise.
Not only that, like most in the Westernized world, we had a hectic schedule. And it felt socially inclusive to eat out. How could you have a proper date night without take-out or the occasional fancy dining experience?
The “calories in, calories out” theory presented no problems until we lost our ability to function. Jenny’s longtime migraines began to intensify in magnitude and frequency. She slept for hours and would become exhausted from a trip to the store. Sometimes Jenny had to call Bill at work to walk their rescue greyhound because she couldn’t withstand or control an 80-lb dog on a leash. She would crawl rather than walk to the bathroom. Clearly, Jenny’s ailments rendered her unable to work a full-time job. Most days she lacked the energy to cook or enjoy life, let alone run her own business.
Rabbit Food Regimen
Neither of us was overweight when we got married despite Bill’s having
struggled to maintain normal weight for years. But about a year later, we both developed a puffy face. Trust us, puffy does not equal pouty or more Instagramable. Our waistlines bloated and Bill developed an embarrassing double chin.
More critically, Jenny’s health issues rendered her disabled despite her young chronological age. Medical professionals did not take her concerns seriously.
Bill, though much older, enjoyed relatively good health. Sure, he took Lipitor™ to control genetically–predisposed high cholesterol, and Prilosec™ to control reflux. Yearly physical exams, however, presented new problems: high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar (pre-diabetes), decreased kidney function, and arthritis.
Bill’s doctor wasn’t particularly alarmed.
She assured him, “People your age should expect these symptoms. Just watch your diet and continue to exercise and if that doesn’t work (and frankly it usually doesn’t), we’ll put you on a drug to manage these diseases.”
Despite piles of medical evidence and Bill’s stubborn attitude about not “getting old,” our old habits would have persisted were it not for a financial reversal that prohibited us from eating out. To save money, we began to cook all of our meals at home. At last we utilized our remodeled kitchen.
While researching recipes, Jenny also noticed the high sugar content of most processed foods. She began to purchase organic vegetables at Whole Foods along with processed foods made with organic cane sugar.
Our grocery bill skyrocketed (what they say about “whole paychecks” rings true), and Jenny still suffered from flare-ups of diverticulitis. You might be asking whether we considered going back to the Mickey-D days if our new healthy diet didn’t help. We reasoned the opposite. If we went back to white bread, high fructose, and MSG, we’d probably die.
So we persisted in the organic lifestyle until Bill’s physical revealed abnormal blood sugar numbers. It was time to reassess our diet yet again.
Jenny began to read the fine print on every food label. She would not buy anything with over 10 grams of sugar per serving. Not only were organic chocolate chips and cheesecake banned, but so were Bill’s favorite jelly and brown-sugar baked beans.
We continued to eat whole grain pasta and bread. Initially we felt better. We took control and Jenny was determined to have a positive report after Bill’s next physical. We each dropped 5 to 10 pounds. Yay! Winning.
But Bill’s blood sugar levels remained at pre-diabetic levels. Jenny felt defeated.
Her migraines worsened into a fibromyalgia-like condition, with seizure-like episodes. She suffered a nearly deadly attack of diverticulitis and medical practitioners debated whether to remove sections of her intestines, given her age.
We halted travel plans; life stopped.
Jenny’s blood-sugar fluctuated so fiercely that she would transform from Jekyll to Hyde (in a matter of seconds) if she didn’t eat every two hours. It then got to be every hour. For this reason, Bill does not laugh at “hangry” jokes.
Jenny lamented to Bill, “Why is this happening? We followed all the rules—went for hikes, cardio workouts, didn’t eat a single friggen’ chocolate chip cookie—for 6 months.” As a scientist, and former athlete she couldn’t reconcile the data.
By that time, we sorted out our finances but also realized that eating out presented too many challenges. Bill barely warded off mandatory sugar control meds even though we cut our sugar intake by 80% and suffered the indignity of brown rice in our stir-fry. So how could we manage restaurant food?
Gluten-Free and More!
During the summer of 2015, Jenny noticed a pattern to her extreme belly pain. After eating, her belly would swell and ache. She recalled reading a blog that mentioned “wheat belly” but didn’t give it much thought. She also began complaining about a bitter taste after she consumed bread. She whined, “What have they done to bread? I’m going to a real bakery where they use ancient whole grain flour.” Despite a price tag of $9 per loaf, the bitter aftertaste continued. She finally asked Bill if he had heard the term “Wheat Belly?” He responded, “What’s a wheat belly?”
A Google search quickly turned up Dr. William Davis’s book, Wheat Belly. (You can find more information about Dr. Davis (a cardiologist) and his program of grain-free diet on his website, Wheat Belly Lifestyle Institute.) Since we both had a protruding belly, Bill purchased the book. What happened next was transformative.
Bill read Wheat Belly within a week while Jenny investigated online sources (to each their own, right?). After learning that gluten acts like a drug and a “super sugar” on a cellular level, we decided to go gluten-free just before we began a week’s vacation in Maine. Disaster briefly ensued.
Jenny experienced a full-blown panic attack. She called Bill at work after having what can only be described as a fainting spell. She declared, “I will starve! I eat bread all day. It’s the most important part of my diet. What can a person even eat if they can’t have bread? It’s the very sustenance of life. Bread and water.” After 10 years of marriage, Bill was accustomed to Jenny’s rants and mild exaggerations. He calmly stated, “I’m going to do this with you every step of the way. Let’s just take this one day at a time, together.” Jenny remembered why she loved Bill so much but still resented the change.
But then she had an epiphany in her dazed state. Why am I so upset about not eating bread? Am I addicted to bread? Because I’m sure as frig acting like an addict. Jenny climbed off the couch and went to the pantry. She had just eaten spelt crackers with her egg salad. “Siri,” she asked her phone, “What is spelt?” Turns out spelt is another name for wheat. What? So she hadn’t been gluten free for the last couple of days.
By the time Bill arrived home, Jenny had emptied 90% of the pantry contents into the waste bin or donated what was unopened. She repeated, “Wheat, wheat, wheat, it’s in everything we eat!” Bill noticed a new determination and hoped they wouldn’t regret this madness.
But shopping for gluten-free foods in Maine turned out to be a pleasant new experience. We discovered vegetables at a local co-op and fresh meats from the butcher.
Halfway through the week, we began to notice significant changes. We experienced higher energy levels. We even climbed Mt. Battie in Camden, Maine, by going up the most difficult slope—something we would never have attempted previously. A mental fog lifted, and we no longer craved food or snacks between meals. There were many more surprises. Our mood improved and our indigestion ceased. Bill thought he might throw his anti-reflux pills away.
These changes persisted after we returned home. We were more alert and began to go on hikes in nature preserves near our home. Jenny’s migraines became less frequent and severe, and her digestive problems subsided. She began to suspect that gluten was a trigger for her headaches and intestinal difficulties. Craving food, especially bread, stopped.
We both began to lose weight. After 2 months, Bill had lost 30 pounds. His glycemic index and blood pressure numbers were still too high, but continuing with a low sugar, gluten-free diet gave him hope. When his physician suggested medication to control his blood pressure, he asked to try just the diet for a while longer. Within another 6 months, both blood pressure and glycemic index dropped into the normal range. Pre-diabetes was no longer a threat. His cholesterol levels stabilized, and he dropped to the lowest level dose of his statin. Arthritis pain also subsided.
By Christmas, Bill told Jenny that he wanted to retire from academe and start a writing business. Our bodies and minds rejoiced at our new anti-inflammatory diet. Ideas flowed.
Implications for Your Business
Our story doesn’t end here, and it’s not universally applicable. We continue to refine our lifestyle, bur more about that later. Our story can help those of you who are coping with many chronic conditions that sap your energy, your time, your productivity, and your financial resources.
For instance, Americans eat out a lot. We did too. And they pay a lot of money to eat out. Most Americans dislike the cost of eating out more than for any other thing in their lives, but they still do it. Why? Because it’s convenient, it usually tastes good, and it offers a chance to connect with others.
But consider how many more resources you could devote to your business if you prepared your meals at home. Sure you’ll spend extra time in the kitchen, and more money on groceries, but we stand by the adage “work smarter, not harder.” (For more, see our other “Grow Your Business” posts.)
Because of poor eating and lack of exercise, most Americans suffer insomnia, sleep apnea, IBS, and lack of energy to name a few. Let’s be clear. Weight gain alone is not the issue. We don’t care if you have a wheat belly. But an expanding midsection is directly tied to health conditions, which will prevent you from reaching your true potential.
To recover alertness, to better manage or reverse chronic health problems, to gain more control over your business and have the energy to promote and expand it, try a low sugar, gluten-free, and mostly grain-free diet. We eventually gave up dairy and nightshade veggies too, but we don’t want to overwhelm you all at once. This has been a 3+ year journey for us.
We don’t consider our choices to be a fad diet. They’re a lifestyle.
You don’t need to give up terrific flavor or variety in your meals. Spoiler alert: you’ll be able to eat spices again without the acid reflux. But you will no longer crave eating to the point of over-indulging. And you’ll feel better almost immediately.
We’re not saying that you won’t need regular exercise, but you’ll get more benefit out of less. Twenty minutes, 5 days a week on the elliptical helps us feel energetic and maintains muscle tone. Don’t forget to stretch and meditate too. We don’t need to “burn” calories and we couldn’t begin to outrun our hangry-cravings anyhow.
So we’ve convinced you to join us in a new lifestyle?
Hold on. We really appreciate your support, but this will be one of the greatest challenges you’ve ever faced.
For one thing, we’re all social creatures. We break bread with friends and family. We celebrate our most important milestones in restaurants or at home with cake.
If you live in a major city, you’ll have more options like dedicated gluten free and paleo joints. You’re probably thinking that most restaurants offer gluten free options nowadays. What they don’t tell you is that very few take measures to prevent the dreaded “cross-contamination.”
A word of caution: the longer you’ve been off gluten, the more even a trace amount will make you sick. You can view this two ways. One is to say emphatically, “Screw that; I can’t live that way.” The other is to admit that gluten acts like a narcotic in your body and avoid it.
Science doesn’t lie. But you can use your “gut” too. Why are you melting down at the thought of giving up gluten at this very moment? And why would a trace amount start off a chain reaction that puts people out of commission for days if your body treats it as a healthy substance?
That’s why you must act now. Give up gluten and all its nasty cousins, like processed corn and rice, for good.
Also, you’ll have to plan meals ahead and tell your office mates that you don’t eat pizza or subs anymore. They’ll mock you for being anti-American. And if you’re not American, they’ll still mock you. Maybe this will become a perfect opportunity to start your own business!
Let’s start a healthy revolution, anyway. Shall we? Your body deserves better. You wouldn’t pump unleaded gas into a diesel engine, would you?
We’ve read countless articles written by doctors who warn people against the “gluten free” diet craze. You’re probably reciting some of their arguments now as you’re dreaming of eating your second breakfast bagel slathered with cream cheese. Partly, we agree with those doctors. If you’re just going to eat gluten free bagels and pizza, you won’t be any better off. This is about eating basic foods—mostly veggies, fruit, limited meats, and lots of nuts, and healthy fats.
And now you’re thinking, “Bill and Jenny are crazy or sadistic. I’m never giving up all my favorite foods because that’s not balanced, and I can barely get my laundry done let alone cook.”
Or you might be thinking, Jenny had extreme health issues and I don’t have those issues. But don’t forget about Bill. He lived a disease-free life until after 55. Then he experienced the same health issues as 80% of the population in that age bracket. And Jenny’s health issues are becoming more common, even among young people. How many people do you know who need a colonoscopy before the age of 40?
We never said it would be easy. You have to be committed to making your business grow. If I told you that you had to spend 3 hours a day posting on social media, you would not bat an eyelash. Does your health and your healthy brain count any less?
The benefits will outweigh the inconveniences. Promise.
We believe you can work smarter not harder and that this lifestyle will create time, energy, and alertness that you never knew you had.
Expand your business like the alert, competent professional that you really are. Get control of what you eat and quit being enslaved to your inner gluten zombie.
Remember, when you eat to live a fuller life, your relationships will improve, your zest for adventure will increase, your feeling of achievement and control will zoom.
When wheat and sugar addiction ruled our lives, we weren’t aware of the debilitating effects. Try it for 3 days – no cheating. You can do anything for 3 days right?
Disclaimer: This is not intended to be medical advice. If you have a serious medical condition, check with your health provider and follow the advice of your health professionals.
Proceed with Caution
Grow Your Business Beyond Your Niche
If you are new to freelance copywriting or are thinking of starting your own freelance business, experts tell you to find and develop your niche. “Write what you know,” say the experts. Sound advice—except when it’s not!
Perhaps you possess technical expertise in engineering, software development, medical research, or some other applied field. If so, you will likely be in high demand for technical writing projects, white papers, and case studies. Your main challenge will be attracting and retaining clients. In that case, polish your LinkedIn profile, network, and stop reading this post. But if you lack that kind of technical expertise, read on!
How My Horizon Expanded Unexpectedly
Looking back, I realize that my career continually involved moving beyond a narrow area of expertise. After several years of teaching religious studies at the college level, I moved into academic administration and was compelled to develop a completely new set of skills. Institutional budgeting, resource allocation, strategic planning, organizational management, personnel management, student and faculty recruitment, fundraising, and marketing exploded my previously constricted view of higher education. The world and my life suddenly became more complicated and intensely more interesting.
Upon retiring from academia, I started my own copywriting and consulting business. Although I was a decent writer (grammatically correct, and all that), attracting clients proved difficult. Businesses and colleges had no use for what I offered. No one believed that a former humanities professor and academic administrator possessed the skills or knowledge relevant to promoting their activities. I therefore returned to academia as a graduate dean for a few more years. This time, however, I paid much more attention to community networking while gaining marketing expertise so necessary for promoting my programs.
After retiring a second time, I took a different approach to my writing business. I reached out to professionals whom I had come to know and asked how I might help them cope with the challenges facing their organization. What I offered was not my knowledge, but a willingness to listen. Responses were positive, although those contacted did not quickly become clients.
Leaving My Niche Behind
After several months (none of this happens quickly!) of working on small, short-term gigs, I emailed a professional whom I had met once at a business luncheon two years previously and asked how I might help him. Three months later, he responded and wondered whether I could revise some of the content on his organization’s website. After checking out the site, I told him how I might help by rewriting a few pages with two principles in mind:
- Emphasize the benefits of his business to potential clients instead of his professional qualifications or the business’s features.
- Keep it simple by losing the technical jargon.
I revised a couple of web pages for a very modest fee, and we met to assess results. Since he had a liberal arts education and experience as adjunct professor and author, we hit it off personally. I proposed writing a few blog posts (he had no such page) to increase visibility and traffic to his site. He agreed, and we proceeded to collaborate.
Although I had supervised several graduate programs, I had no direct knowledge of my client’s business sector. To create blog posts that would interest his prospective clients, however, I soon learned how to find reliable information about a wide variety of relevant topics. After light technical editing by my client, the posts were published regularly. After a few months, the number and complexity of projects began to grow.
What have I just described? Clearly, I left my niche (whatever that was) behind. But a more accurate way of saying that is to note that by focusing on my client and his needs, I allowed him to lead me beyond my niche, my comfort zone. I am now becoming intimately acquainted with his organization’s sector (and others) in very challenging times—an immensely interesting new “niche.”
Of course, my prior experience proved useful. Over the years, I learned much about what it takes for organizations to succeed (or fail). I know something about human resource practices and marketing. But I realize now that such experience and knowledge has become my deep background—not something directly applicable to what I’m doing now. What has now become important for this client and others is that I can learn, I can do thorough research, and I can communicate in clear, simple prose. After learning about their particular challenges, I offer those skills to clients now.
Lessons for Growing Your Business beyond Your Niche
- While your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and well-designed website are important, be sure to reach out to those whom you have met, regardless of field, who might benefit from your services.
- Unless your expertise is concentrated in a technical area, focus on the benefits of your communications skills for potential clients.
- Do not presume that you know what prospective clients need or want. Ask them!
- Avoid telling potential clients that you lack experience in their business or activity. Assure them of your ability to adapt and apply your skills to help them meet the challenges that they have identified.
- Before meeting with potential clients, conduct careful research about their organization and sector. Be prepared to suggest (gently!) one or two ways that your approach might help them.
- When meeting with clients for the first time and subsequently, remember: the focus should be about them and their needs, not about you.
- Don’t be trapped by your niche. Let go of your fear. Open yourself to the new. Good things lie beyond the boundaries of your niche!
Grow Your Business: Find Your Place
You found your calling, but have you found your place? In our last blog post, Want to Grow Your Home Business? Rescue a Pet! we explored how our furry companions spark creativity, increase productivity, and make us healthier overall.
So what do we mean by find your place? In 2016, we almost put off a long-awaited trip to Scotland. A trip wouldn’t have been prudent after a tough year financially. But one of us couldn’t stop looking at Pinterest and pondering our dream vacation.
When the airfare dropped one morning, we took the plunge and have never looked back.
Despite the harrowing driving experience, this turned out to be the best money we ever invested our business. Yes, that’s right. The trip seemed to unlock some hidden potential. Business soared.
You’re probably wondering how spending a few thousand on a trip could lead to business prosperity. Sure we could have used that money to buy more Google ads, hire a social media guru, or have our website redesigned (all worthy ventures), but none of those things would help define us.
We decided to read a wee bit about Scottish history in advance so we didn’t act like typical tourists decked in our finest non-clannish plaids. Most important, we rented a car so we could take in the countryside at our own pace. We hiked, wide-eyed, in majestic forests, among towering Douglas firs with boundless carpets of moss underfoot.
Clearly we enjoyed ourselves, but inevitably our trip came to an end!
One might argue that we acquired some great memories, used up a portion of our savings, and now it was over, right?
Yes and no.
We took a piece of Scotland home with us (in addition to a few luxurious cashmere scarves). We developed a feeling of contentedness. The locals’ down-to-earth perseverance infected our psyches.
For a few days back at home, we talked of nothing else. We wandered around in a depressed daze as we returned to familiar, grayed-out American shopping centers.
We had to survive in our new reality, and run our small business. How were we ever going to manage that? We had already investigated moving to Scotland, but our business was in the States.
In order to persist, we opened our eyes to our own backyard, so to speak.
As it turns out, we live within a mile of a nature center, two reservoirs, and a mountain—all of which have extensive trail systems.
How could we have lived here for ten years, and not taken advantage of these natural wonders? Because we hadn’t been awakened to them. Scotland did that for us.
It became our proverbial place.
If you want to understand how our daily hikes helped business to skyrocket, check out this article from Business Insider, “12 Science-Backed Reasons You Should Spend More Time Outside.”
Being outdoors does so much for our bodies, and minds. A 20-minute dose of nature improves short-term memory, sharpens focus, and sparks creativity. It also boosts your immune system, which means we spent less time sniffling and more time networking.
Nature even combats fatigue. Normally most of us guzzle coffee and gulp sugary snacks to slog through the drudgery. Maybe all we need is to surround ourselves with nature and inhale the fresh air.
Not only did the trip re-order the mitochondria in our brains, but it also provided us with an array of stories. Tales about Scottish locals bumping into Prince Charles in the Highlands near Balmoral Castle and our own near-death driving experiences captivate an audience at dinner parties.
While many of us realize that successful businesses are built on the ability to tell stories, we may borrow them from others.
But they are much more powerful when they are our stories.
At Barnett Writer, we encourage you to go find your place, and live to tell your own tales. It’ll help define you as a person, and that will define your business.