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Archive for the ‘Start-Ups’ Category

For decades, companies have mailed “thank you cards” to their clients and colleagues. Expressing gratitude is both a nice thing to do and a sound business practice. In fact, I still recommend this traditional tactic in certain circumstances. However, many  “greener”, cheaper, less time consuming and more modern versions of the Hallmark approach are now available online.

Let’s look at Twitter as an example. Assuming you’ve joined the “great cocktail party” called social media and opened a free Twitter account, there are four basic “thank you” tools immediately at your disposal. (These tools also serve other purposes which I will address at another time.)

The “Retweet” (RT)

(e.g. RT @jslconsulting)

Nothing says “I hear you” quite like the retweet. When someone posts a comment or link that you like, sharing it with your followers is a compliment. The RT is a great way to say “I agree with you…and thanks for providing good content” to a fellow tweeter. I assure you that RTs are appreciated, remembered and often returned.

#FollowFriday (#FF)

(e.g. #FF @ConsultJohn)

Without question, my favorite day to tweet is Friday. The # symbol is called a “hashtag” and it is a method of categorizing Twitter content. When people mention your Twitter handle after typing #FF, they are proclaiming to the world that you are a good “tweet” to follow. They are thanking you for your content and engagement as well as recommending you to their “friends”. Many “real world” business relationships and friendships have developed because of #FF “shout outs”!

Direct Messages (DMs)

RTs and #FFs are viewable in the public “tweet stream”. For a private and more personal approach, you can send a quick note to individual tweeters. DMs are essentially Twitter’s email. Recognizing someone’s efforts is always a good thing, but I would caution you not to promote yourself in the process. (e.g. Don’t “pimp your blog” in the guise of gratitude.) I would also remind you that if someone has 30,000 followers, they may have a backlog of DMs to review. Still, when used properly, kind DMs are generally well received.

Lists

A relatively new tool provides users with the capacity to organize, and share with the public, categories of tweeters. The Twitter “list” feature allows your current and prospective followers to quickly scan areas of mutual interest and see who you recommend in any given niche. Listing individuals by category is most often considered a compliment and reason for continued engagement.

RTs, #FFs, DMs and Lists can be deployed together to bolster your brand and build a following. Use them, (at least in part), to show your gratitude, nurture relationships and spread “good karma” on Twitter.

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Ah, the cry of the Twitter newbie! I’ve heard it several times now. At first, I just smiled and offered some basic tips; but when I thought about it for a while, I saw some deeper relevance.

Where are you going? That’s a really important question to ask yourself or your company before you start “tweeting”.

Are you on Twitter just to see how it works? Are you just scouting the competition? Are you hyping a new product or service? Are you running for office or conducting personal promotion? Do you want to focus on events only? Do you have a target audience in mind? Is your company special in any way? How do you want your “brand” to be perceived? Are you willing to “engage” or are you just planning to “broadcast”. (I don’t recommend the latter, by the way.) What “value” do you bring to the table?

In short, why are you doing this at all? You must be able to answer that question with some degree of specificity or you will waste precious time and resources on a long, winding road to nowhere.

Social media is revolutionizing the marketing business. I believe it’s one of the greatest tools currently available for both B2B and B2C communications. But without strategic planning and careful tactical implementation, “Web 2.0” is far from a panacea. In fact, you can do a lot of damage to your company or brand if you don’t use this powerful medium correctly.

So whether you’re thinking of using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or any of the others, take the time to first ask yourself what exactly you’re trying to accomplish and why it would benefit your target audience. Focusing on the “what?” and “why?” will help you choose the “how?”. It will limit the parameters of your social media policy, prevent costly mistakes and increase the overall effectiveness and efficiency of your campaign.

Like kids who always ask “why?”, Twitter newbies sometimes say the “darnedest” (and, however unwittingly, “profoundest”) things!

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Research indicates that our attention spans are getting more and more limited. It’s absolutely pervasive. Are you still there? Probably not, but for the three people who are still reading, please bear with me.

Without getting into all the causes, let’s deal with the reality. Nobody has the time or inclination to read a mountain of papers explaining the intricacies of your business. Not prospects, investors, bankers, employees or clients. According to a recent study, if you are pitching a new business concept to venture capitalists, you better have them hooked in the first 42 seconds (source: Growthink) or you will probably never see a dime, even if you have the greatest idea in the history of the planet!

If you do nothing else today, create a great elevator speech–a concise, interesting “sell” that will convince a contact that there is good reason to spend valuable time investigating the merits of your company or cause. What do you stand for? What makes you special? Why are you better than or different from the competition? Why should I spend another second with you?

Want an example from current events?

Like him or hate him, Barack Obama had a highly effective, well delivered elevator speech. He repeated it constantly for two years. I’m NOT George Bush. CHANGE. YES, WE CAN! John McCain had no elevator speech and even tried to borrow the word “change” from Obama. He did little to differentiate himself from Bush OR Obama.

The country bought Barack’s elevator speech and, for better or worse, he is now called President Barack Obama.

Remember, customers buy your marketing first. Good products and service will help you retain them, but you have to get their attention. Ask yourself why anyone should do business with you. Research the competition. Set yourself apart. Be ready to tell a short but compelling story next time you bump into someone in an elevator. If you do this properly, you will have laid the foundation for all future advertising, marketing, sales, HR and community initiatives.

This process may not be easy at first…but it’s truly worth the effort. If you think you can’t do it, don’t give up…I say: “YES, YOU CAN!!!”


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I have met with many business owners over the years, and one of the most important questions I’ve asked them is: Who is your target audience? Unfortunately, the answer I have most often received is: “Whoever will buy my stuff!” This response is both insufficient and dangerous.

Targeting is a crucial element to any advertising, marketing, PR or HR campaign…especially in difficult economic times, when resources are limited. If they are to survive, companies need to focus expenditures on the right prospects in the right areas. They must identify need, “pain” and price points. They must analyze margins on specific goods and services and gear their communications toward attracting the customers to these profitable items. In short, they must do their homework.

Targeting is both art and science, and effective targeting requires research and effort. It’s not enough to hang a shingle and hope people will come to the shop. It’s not enough to build a web site and wait for orders. Well before the “grand opening” (preferably), businesses must KNOW who their ideal customers are, why these individuals need their products or services, why they are different or better than the competition and how they plan to reach and influence key prospects over time.

Targeting, repetition and exposure are the keys to great communications and recruiting campaigns. If a business fails to perform its due diligence on the targeting component, the entire equation is skewed–this will lead to wasted time, energy and resources…and eventually to another vacant storefront or unvisited web site!

Most start-ups fail. Data varies, but the numbers generally exceed 80% within the first three to five years of operation. Why does this pattern hold true in good times and bad? Business owners tend to know their own product or service, but generally have NO MARKETING EXPERTISE. And when they find out what business consultants or agencies charge, they balk immediately and choose to skip the most important meetings they will ever have.

Strategy must precede tactics. Do your homework. Get some help from experts if you know how to make a pizza but have never written a business plan. Identify your real target audience and have a well researched, cost effective strategy to reach them in a way that is consistent, memorable and persuasive.

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Many business clients want to “try things out” in an attempt to grow their companies. I hear things like:

“Let’s run an ad for a month and see what happens.”
“What if I did a video–would that be a good idea?”
“What do you think of  ‘Constant Contact’?”
“Should I join BNI?”
“I need better web site content–can you write something up for me?”
“Should I pay for search engine optimization?”
“How about Facebook–could I get some business there?”

While I certainly can help with specific tactics, and will charge for my time, I prefer to give my clients a chance to succeed so they will recommend me to their friends! That’s why I provide a complimentary initial consultation and a strategic analysis of current communications. I then formalize this “back to basics” approach with a framework called “B.R.AC.E.”, which stands for Budgeting, Research, Action Plan, Communication and Evaluation. Absent this type of exercise, clients tend to waste money on poorly targeted initiatives that are difficult to quantify.

How much money have you budgeted for external communications?

What about staff?

Are you reaching and engaging the right people (and how do you know)?

Do you make a compelling argument for using your business?

What are your short and long term goals and objectives?

What’s your plan and how will you decide if it is working?

A cost effective communications plan is well researched, repeatable, flexible and measurable. And, particularly in difficult times, it is absolutely essential.

Using “B.R.A.C.E.” as a foundation will simultaneously reduce your costs and increase your market share.

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In a difficult economy, it’s important for companies to take the time to reassess their business strategies. Time and time again, I have encountered sole proprietors (and even some CEO’s!) who rush to tactical measures before having any good reasons to do so. The inevitable result is a complete waste of time, effort and resources.

“I need to get up on Facebook and Twitter.”
“We need to fix and optimize our web site.”
“I want to run a TV ad for a week or two to see if it works.”

The list could go on indefinitely, and all these tools could be effective–but STOP BEFORE YOU SPEND and ask yourself some basic questions:

  1. Why should anyone do business with me?
  2. How is my company different or better than the competition?
  3. What is my target market?
  4. Who are my current customers?
  5. Why do these customers stay with me?
  6. What kind of human and financial resources do I have at my disposal?

Start with these as an exercise. You would be amazed at the number of business owners who simply cannot answer “101” level questions.

Without value propositions, a solid business plan and a marketing strategy based on sound research, all the tactics and tools in the world will not solve your problems. Get back to basics first. If you don’t, you are building a house on a foundation of sand.

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If you’re looking for angel investors or an infusion of venture capital, here are a few tips:

1. Regardless of your product, service or invention, experience is critical. You need to prove that your MANAGEMENT TEAM has a track record of success. If you’ve never run a business, your chances of securing funding from any source (including banks, friends and family) are extremely limited. Assemble a team that has taken companies from start-up through exit stages.

2. Understand the marketplace. You need to convince investors that your idea will work in all market conditions and you must demonstrate the SIZE, BREADTH AND GROWTH POTENTIAL of your target audience. This takes research and resources. Do you have enough seed money to start the process?

3. You must DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF AND YOUR IDEA. For example, if you have a technological innovation, is it patented? Investors need to know how and why they will make money, and they are searching for niche offerings that are not easily duplicated.

4. You must have well researched, professionally prepared and detailed BUSINESS AND MARKETING PLANS geared toward the financial/venture capital audience.

5. You must have an ELEVATOR SPEECH and a CONCISE (no more than ten slide PPT) PRESENTATION to capture the attention of investors. Why should they give you money? How will they make money in the short and long term? What makes you special? No investors will look at your detailed plans if you don’t first peak their interest and imagination.

6. Show PASSION for your idea. In some instances, potential investors or strategic partners will be bored with your specific proposal but excited by YOU and your enthusiasm!

These are just a few basics, but they will start you on the right track.

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