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5 Steps to Finding Your Ideal Target Customer

5 Steps to Finding Your Ideal Target Customer

When you start a new business, finding your ideal target customer is one of your biggest challenges.  Here’s a great post from John Jantsch telling you how.

How to Discover Your Perfect Target Customer in 5 Steps

By John Jantsch

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One of the most important elements of a marketing strategy is the development of an ideal target customer profile. Effectively understand who makes an ideal customer allows you to build your entire business, message, product, services, sales and support around attracting and serving this narrowly defined customer group.

Image See-ming Lee SML via Flickr CC

When working with businesses that have an established customer base I can generally identify their ideal customer by finding the common characteristics found in their most profitable clients that also refer them to others. I’ve written about this kind of ideal client discovery here.

Today, however, I want to address the needs of the start-up or business with very little customer experience. Finding and serving an ideal customer is equally important for a business just getting started and establishing a focus on discovering a narrowly defined ideal client from the very beginning will save months of wandering in the dark trying to be all things to all people.

The 5 steps below can put you the path to discovering your ideal target customer.

1) Start with the Smallest Market Possible – This may feel counterintuitive to many just starting a business, but you have to find a group of customers that think what you have to offer is special. When you’re just getting started you may have very little to offer and in many cases very few resources with which to make sufficient noise in a market for generic solutions.

Your key is to find a very narrow group, with very specific demographics or a very specific problem or need and create raving fans out of this group. You can always expand your reach after you gain traction, but you can also become a big player in this smaller market as you grow.

2) Create an Initial Value Hypothesis – In the step above I mentioned the idea of finding a narrow group that finds what you have to offer special. Of course, this implies that you do indeed have something to offer that is special.

You must create a “why us” value proposition and use that as you hypothesis for why us. If this is starting to sound a little like science that’s because it is. You must always stay in test and refine mode in order to move forward.

Many people get caught up in trying to execute their business plan when the fact of the matter is the market doesn’t care about your business plan. The only thing that matters is what you discover and apply out there in the lab beyond your office.

3) Get reality in Discovery Test Sessions – Established, thriving businesses have the ability to learn a great deal every day from customer interaction. Since start-ups don’t have any customer interaction they have to create ways to test their theories initially and on the fly.

The key to both making and affirming your initial assumptions is to set-up what I call Discovery Test Sessions with prospects that might easily fit into your initial smallest market group. These are essentially staged one on one meetings.

This can be a little tricky since you have no relationship with said prospect. I often find that there are industry or trade groups that may contain your initial target market and by joining these you may have an easier time gaining access to this group.

Another possible option is to offer free sample products or beta test relationships to those willing to provide you with agreed upon feedback.

The main thing is that you start talking to prospects about what they need, what they think, what works, what doesn’t and what don’t have now. This is how you evolve your business, your features and your assumptions based on serving a narrowly defined target.

4) Draw an Ideal Customer Sketch – Once you’ve trotted out your hypothesis and tested it with your narrow group, you’ve got to go to work on discovering and defining everything you can about your ideal target group.

Some of this information will be commonly understood, such as demographics, but much of it will be discovered in your test sessions and though some additional research in more behavioral oriented places such as social media.

This is a great time to start your CRM thinking by building custom profiles that include much richer information than most people capture. I wrote about the new breed of CRM that is making this easier to do than ever.

5) Add Strategy Model Components – the final step is to apply this new ideal customer approach to other elements of your strategy.

The thing is, when you discover your initial ideal client it should impact the thinking about your basic business model and overall business strategy. All great business models are customer focused and now that you have a picture of this customer it’s time to consider how this alters the other aspects of your business.

Consider now how this discovery might impact your offerings, your revenue streams, distribution channels and even pricing.

Consider how you can reach this market, who you can partner with and what resources you either have or need to have in order to make an impact in this market.

I can tell you that my experience suggests that you’re never really done with this exercise. As your business evolves, as you learn and grow, this model will evolve as well, but perhaps the continual process of discovery is just as important as what you discover.

If you want to see more articles on small business success, sign up for my email series in the right hand column

 

10 Reasons a Small Business Blog is Worth it

10 Reasons a Small Business Blog is Worth it

As small business owners we wonder whether blogging is worth the time and effort.  After all, our days are filled with enough activity as it is.  Here’s a great post by Jeff Charles giving you 10 great reasons why you need to do this.

10 Important Reasons to Work Seriously On Your Small Business Blog

Jul 19, 2016 by Jeff Charles In Marketing Tips 2

 


10 Important Reasons to Work Seriously On Your Small Business Blog

 

How the heck do they do it?

You know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about those successful small business entrepreneurs who get tons of business and engagement online.

Sure, they hustle just as much as you do. They attend the same networking events. But there’s a difference.

They seem to have much more business than you do. They’re closing more deals. They’re generating more leads through their website.

So what’s the difference between you and them?

They’re probably blogging. They’re probably using their small business blog to build an online audience that is engaged with their brand.

If you’re a small business entrepreneur or solopreneur, you have probably heard of content marketing, right? No doubt you’ve heard of the importance of creating valuable content for your website. But maybe you haven’t taken that first step yet.

A small business blog is one of the most-used and effective content marketing tools at your disposal. Simply put, if you’re not blogging, you’re leaving money on the table.

Here’s some stats for you:

  • Marketers that use blogs get 67 percent more leads than those who don’t.
  • 81 percent of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs.
  • Companies that blog have 97 percent more inbound links.
  • 61 percent of U.S. online consumers have made a purchase based on recommendations from a blog.
  • 60 percent of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content on its site.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to consider how you’re connecting with your audience. Since you might not have the huge marketing budget of a mega-corporation, you will have to use other means to build and connect with your audience.

One of the best ways to do this is by blogging. It’s been shown to be highly effective at generating quality leads for your business.

Many business owners overlook the potential rewards that blogging can provide. But you’re a savvy entrepreneur, so you’re not going to make this mistake, are you?

This post is going to give you ten benefits that a small business blog can provide for your business. When you read through this post, you will learn various ways you can use your blog to generate more business, earn more credibility and make it easier for prospects to find you online.

Why You Should Have a Small Business Blog

1. Market Research

Having a blog with many articles allows you to more effectively understand what your audience really wants. From the back end of your site, you can spy on what pages people are viewing the most, and this gives you an idea of where their interest lies. When you know what types of content perform the best, you know what types of content to continue to create.

Also, you can use your blog to request feedback from your audience. If you have an engaged following, it’s very likely that they will be happy to answer the questions you have.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

As you probably know, there’s not much of a point to having a killer website if nobody can find it. One of the biggest keys to getting more traffic is making sure that people will find your site when they use search engines. As a  matter of fact, search engines are the no. 1 driver of traffic to content websites! SEO is something that you can’t ignore if you want to have a viable online presence.

The more relevant content you have on your website, the more likely it will be that you will rank for certain keywords. This is where a small business blog comes in. Consistently publishing high-quality content on your blog will do wonders for your search engine optimization efforts.

When you produce useful content, Google’s algorithms will rank your site higher. Over time, your site will make its way to the front page of search results. Not only that, but when people read high-quality content, they’re more likely to link back to it. Earning quality backlinks from other high-authority blogs will do wonders for your SEO efforts.

3. Customer Engagement

Engagement is immensely important for any online business. It’s not enough to just create great content. You also need to interact with your audience as much as you can. You can’t have any success by just talking at your audience. You need to have ongoing conversations with them. It will help you know your audience better. It will help your audience know you better.

That’s what you want.

If you enable comments on your small business blog, you can discuss topics and get feedback directly. This can tell you a lot about your customer base. Not only that. It shows your audience that you are interested in interacting with them. This will increase loyalty and help you form a deeper connection with your audience.

4. Communicating Your Mission

One of the most important components of effective branding is purpose. Connecting with your audience means embracing a unique brand perspective that can give your audience something they can connect with on an emotional level.

This is where blogging comes in.

Your blog is a place where you can communicate your brand purpose. This is important because establishing a strong brand is an important part of encouraging customer loyalty. When you communicate a brand purpose that goes beyond what you sell, it helps you stand out from your competition.

For example, if you are a business that sells vegan meat substitutes, you can express your brand’s purpose by posting animal welfare material on your site. This shows your audience that your company is focused on something more than just making money.

5. Communicating With Customers

If there’s something going on with your service — for example, there will be a planned outage or lack of availability — you don’t have to keep your clients in the dark. Having a centralized place to post announcements is extremely important because people don’t always read their email.

6. You Can Offer Promotional Material

A small business blog is also a great place to offer occasional promotions. If you already have an engaged audience that consumes your content, they will be able to see what discounts or promotions you are offering. It’s a great way to keep your customer base informed.

Sure, you can spread your coupons around Facebook, but it’s better to get into the habit of compelling your audience to visit you at your own site, especially if it’s an ecommerce site. Keep them coming back for more by posting your promotions on your blog.

Here’s a caveat: you don’t want to overdo this. While blogs can be great for offering promotions, it shouldn’t be used solely for this purpose. Most of your content should focus on offering informational value to your readers. If you only post promotional content, your audience will not continue to visit your blog.

7. Showing Your Human Side

People want to know that there are actual human beings behind the business that they buy from. Post some personal stories and talk to your customers through your blog.

This is an opportunity for you to let your personality shine through. When you’re writing blog posts, don’t smack your reader in the head with a bunch of “corporatespeak.” Nobody wants to read that. No really, they don’t!

It’s much better to write in an informal style that people can relate to. When it comes to blogging, it’s not just about what you say, it’s about how you say it.

8. You Can Become a Source of Value

The key to effective blogging is providing value. Nobody is going to read your content unless they get something out of it, right?

If you want to build influence, you have to be valuable. You can do this by providing helpful information to your readers through your blog.

Arjun Reddy, the founder of Super Baby, builds credibility with his website’s “resources” section by giving actionable tips to his visitors.

“Our visitors are parents who are looking for fun ways to help their children become smarter. The advice we give in our resources section is designed to provide helpful parenting tips for our readers.”

The reason Reddy is enjoying success is because he’s providing value up front. When you do this, you show your potential clients that you are valuable to them. That’s why content marketing works. When you’re creating content, you should be asking yourself what your reader is going to get out of that particular piece of content. Each piece of content should be designed to inform, educate, or entertain. If possible, you should do all three!

9. Networking!

When you have built an audience and gained some notoriety, it can attract other entrepreneurs to you. For an entrepreneur, networking is important, isn’t it?

If you’re able to grow your readership effectively, you will gain more credibility. This will attract other influencers in your niche. You never know who might be paying attention right?

This could lead to other opportunities for your business. You might be able to take advantage of the key relationships that you form through your small business blog.

10. Building Credibility

Having a small business blog gives you a presence in your niche. A blog is a record of quality value and experience that you are bringing to your audience. This will give you instant “street cred” when someone finds your content.

Lissette Palencia, CEO of Sleeping Angels has built a steady stream of clientele by using her blog to provide valuable information to her website’s visitors.

“As you can guess, when you run a nanny agency, your clients are parents who are concerned about the safety of their children. They want to do the research first. When they visit our website, they find tons of valuable information that helps them make the right decision for their family. Not only does it inform them, it makes them more comfortable with doing business us.”

This is essential for your business. Your blog is a tool that you can use to establish credibility in the minds of your potential clients. Prospects will read your content and gain value from it. Then, they will become far more willing to buy from you because you have already given them a significant benefit through your blog.

Conclusion

Here’s the thing. If you’re looking to expand your online presence, you need to be creating high-quality content on a consistent basis. A blog is one of the best ways to do this.

These are just a few reasons to keep a blog if you’re an entrepreneur, but there are much more. Just remember that anything that can bring value to your audience is something that you should consider adding to your business.

If you’d like to see more on this and other topics for small business owners, just sign up for my emails by filling in the form in the right hand column.

6 Simple Steps to Starting Your Own Business

6 Simple Steps to Starting Your Own Business

Ever wanted to start a small business?  It can be the most fun you’ve ever had.  Here’s a great post telling how to do it it in 6 simple steps.

 

A Simple 6-Step Process to Starting a Small Business

Image credit: Shutterstock

Matthew Toren

MATTHEW TOREN

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Serial Entrepreneur, Mentor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com

 

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AUGUST 6, 2015

A great small business always starts out as an idea, but you have to transform that idea into action. That’s where many individuals can start to feel overwhelmed. It’s understandable to freeze up at the deluge of things that are required to get a business started, but getting going is actually easier than you might think.

Like any big goal, if you start by breaking it down into smaller tasks, you’ll be able to tackle enough of the actions necessary to get started. Here are six ways to break down the process and simplify getting started with your own small business.

1. Write a one-page business plan.
The key to a successful small business, especially in the startup phase, is to keep things simple and costs low. Costs don’t just mean your monetary costs, but also your time.

Many would-be small-business owners fall into the trap of trying to create the world’s biggest and most robust business plan. You’re only going to need that if you’re seeking investment or financing, and even if you will be seeking either of those things down the road, I always recommend small-business owners start out with by testing their ideas first before investing lots of time and money.

Related: Why You Must Really Know Yourself Before Starting a Business

So to get started, create your own simple, one-page business plan that is a high-level overview of the small business you’re about to start.

Define your vision. What will be the end result of your business?
Define your mission. Different to a vision, your mission should explain the reason your company exists.
Define your objectives. What are you going to do — what are your goals — that will lead to the accomplishment of your mission and your vision?
Outline your basic strategies. How are you going to achieve the objectives you just bulleted?
Write a simple action plan. Bullet out the smaller task-oriented actions required to achieve the stated objectives.
That’s it. It might be longer than one page, but it will surely be more organized and shorter than a full business plan, which could take weeks to write. If you need more information on the one-page business plan, or want to write out a full-blown finance-centered business plan, you can check out the book I co-wrote with my brother that has a robust explanation of both, Small Business, Big Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market From Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who did it Right.

2. Decide on a budget.
While I highly recommend you keep your costs as low as possible, you’ll still need to determine a budget to get started and how much you’ll be able to spend. If you’re self funding, be realistic about numbers and whatever you anticipate your budget to be. I’ve found that an additional 20 percent tacked on for incidentals is a realistic overage amount that helps you plan your burn rate.

Your burn rate is how much cash you’re spending month over month. It’s an important number for you to figure out to determine how long you can stay in business before you need to turn a profit.

You should set up your business with profitability in mind the first 30 to 90 days. It’s possible. But have a budget reserve so you can survive if things go leaner than expected.

3. Decide on a legal entity.
Filing paperwork to start a business costs money. Often, depending on your state, it can be a lot of money. You’ll need to account for city or municipality licensing, state incorporation or business entity fees and more. Do a thorough search ahead of time to determine what the filing fees are for your city, county and state before starting any business.

Often in the initial “test” phase for your small business, it can be wise to start as a sole proprietor, as it means less paperwork and up-front expenses. That can save you some big-time cash while you determine the viability of your business. Do be aware though that acting as a sole proprietor can put you at personal risk, so you’ll want to weigh the benefits vs. risks and then speak with a local attorney or tax professional to decide which is smarter for your short-term vs. long-term goals.

You can always file for a business entity once you’ve proven in the first three to six months of business that you’ve got a viable, sustainable model.

Related: When Starting a Business, Beware All the Taxes and Regulations

4. Take care of the money.
Whatever business entity you decide on, keep the funds separate from your personal accounts. This is a big mistake that makes tax time and financials so confusing. It’s really easy to set up a free business checking account with your local credit union or bank. All you’ll need is your filing paperwork, sole proprietor licensing information and an initial deposit to get set up from most financial institutions.

Don’t pay for an account or get any kind of credit lines yet, just get a holding place you can keep your money separated from your personal accounts. This should take you no more than hour at the financial institution of your choice.

5. Get your website.
Regardless of whether your business will be brick or mortar or online, you’ll need a website and that means securing a URL. Popular domain sites such as HostGator and Go Daddy will allow you to search for the website domain address of your choice and purchase it for as little as $9.99.

If you’re starting an online business, you can tie your domain to an online shopping cart and store front such as Shopify for a low monthly fee, or you can build a basic website yourself on top of your URL with do-it-yourself drag-and-drop site builders such as Weebly for a low fee. Both are less than $100 a month.

6. Test sales.
You have enough of a foundation now that you can start testing some sales. Try to spread the word in inexpensive and creative ways.

If you have a service-based business, get involved with your local chamber of commerce or small-business chapter immediately and ask what resources are available for you to speak, present or share information about your business. If you have a product-based business, test the viability of your product at local swap meets, farmers markets or other community events to test what the public really thinks (and if they’ll purchase) from you.

Drive traffic to your website through simple Facebook Ads with capped budgets, or set up a simple Google AdWords account with a budget cap to test if traffic is going to your site.

You can follow these six steps by yourself for not a lot of money. It’s a fantastic way to test the viability of your small business before throwing all your time and money into an unproven idea.

Related: The 5 Daily Essentials for Building a Successful Online Business

 

Starting a Small Business? Here’s Step 2

Starting a Small Business? Here’s Step 2

Congratulations!  You’ve decided to start your own business.  You know just what you want to do.  You can’t wait to get started.  You’ve answered all the questions I posed in my previous blog. (Click here if you haven’t read it).

http://successfulcm.com/2015/12/10/want-to-start-…ness-read-this/

Hold on there, kiddo!  Before you quit your day job, there is a lot of thinking to do.  And…yes, more questions to answer.

“Oh, come on,” I hear you say.  “I answered a bazillion questions last time”

True.

But…Wait, there’s more.

Remember I said if you are going to be successful you have to know where you are going?  I want to expand on that.

There is a simple six step formula for being a success at anything.  Here it is.

  1. Know where you are
  2. Know where you want to go.
  3. Take action
  4. Evaluate the results of that action.
  5. Based on what you found out in step 4, repeat the action, modify the action, or try something different
  6. Repeat steps 3, 4, & 5 until you get what you want.

“Really,” you say.  “Huh, six simple steps.  Who knew it was that easy?”

Yes it is that easy.  But (ah yes, there’s always a but) you have to apply the six steps, with brutal efficiency.  You cannot let anything get in your way.

And…remember Murphy’s First Law, “Nothing is as easy as it looks.”

Let’s look at the six steps.

I’m assuming you have completed Step 1.  You know where you are.

Step 2 is know where you want to go.  This step actually contains two elements: A Business Plan; and an Operations Manual.

Why Do I Need an Operations Manual?

Two good reasons:

  1. Even if there’s only you, it forces you to think about how you are going to handle your customers and/or clients
  2. An operations manual standardizes policies and procedures for your employees.  They will know what to do if you’re not around.

Building an Operations Manual is easy.  Get a three ring notebook.  At the top of each page list a topic.

One topic might be customer relations.

Under customer relations you might list: “Answering Telephone Calls.  The script is: ‘Good (morning)(afternoon)This is Fred, how may I help you today?’”

Now as things occur to you, get out that notebook, creating topic sheets as you go, and adding items to them.

My point is, you don’t have to write the whole operations manual in one sitting.

The same is true for the business plan.  You do need a plan.

What? A Business Plan Too?

Here is the challenge with a business plan.  You sit down and spend a week on it.  You wind up with a 50 page document, complete with graphs, Xcel spreadsheets, and time lines.  Now you think you’re locked into it.  Every action’s evaluated by how it fits into the plan. Then something goes wrong.  Now what?  Do you sit down and rewrite the whole thing?

General George Patton, the famous WWII Tank Commander once said, “The best battle plan in the world isn’t worth a damn after the first shot is fired.”

Here’s this quote from Dwight Eisenhower: “The plan is useless, but planning is essential.”  (Berry, Tim (2008-08-01). The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan (Kindle Locations 214-216). Entrepreneur Press. Kindle Edition.)

Let me put this another way, the plan is not the battle.

You have to stay flexible.  Don’t plan too far ahead.

This is where the six steps come in.

The first page of the business plan is your success statement.  You should have this from the last blog.

This is your goal.  From now on, with everything you do, every action you take, you should be asking yourself, “How does this support my goal?”

This also is Step 2 from the list above.

Now comes Step 3.  Look at your goal.  Ask yourself, “What is the first thing I need to do in order to achieve my goal?”  Write it down. Then ask “What is the next thing?”  Keep asking until you have five or six things on your list.

Now, take action.  Do the first thing on the list.  What happened?  Was it a success?  If the answer is yes, then repeat the task.  If the answer is no, what did you learn?  Can you modify the task, and repeat?  Should you abandon that effort and try something different?

I know this sounds overly simplistic.  But here is the point.  If you just begin, one task will lead to the next.  If you stay focused on the goal, as you complete a task, the next one will appear to you.  If it doesn’t, ask yourself “How can I accomplish …?”  Be still.  The answer will come to you.  It may not be instant.  It may take an hour, a day, a week, or a month.  But…it will come.

Keep going.  No matter what happens.  Stay focused.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other. You will achieve your goal.    

“Oh, come on,” you say. “Nothing is that easy.  Something is bound to go wrong.”

What to do When Things go Wrong!

Yes, indeed.  Something will go wrong.  Murphy’s Third Law says: “If it can go wrong it will.  And, at the worst possible time.”

So what?  Napoleon Hill, in his Laws of Success series of books teaches that in every adversity, there is the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.

Notice I said seed.  That seed, like all seeds, needs nourishing.   Sometimes, the benefit is simply finding within yourself strengths and abilities  you never knew you had.  But, the seed is there.  If you nourish it, you will overcome whatever obstacles are in your path.

Do you know what this means?  You can’t fail. Or, the only way you can fail is by quitting.  Remember, success is never a straight line.  There will be mistakes, dead ends, blind alleys, disasters of all kinds for you to learn from.  These only make you smarter.

Thomas Edison ran over 10,000 trials before he found the right material for the filament in the electric light bulb.

Here’s the hard part.  (You knew there had to be hard part, right?).  The hard part is sticking to steps 1 through 6.  These steps seem simple and they are.  The challenge is in sticking to them, sooner or later we become bored.  Once boredom sets in, we become distracted.  Once distracted, we forget to focus on the goal.

How can you combat this?  The best way I know is to read your goal out loud to yourself at least twice a day.  Why?  Because it will keep the goal upper most in your mind.  When distractions arise, you will ask, “How will doing this move me toward the goal?”  If the answer is, “Not much,” you will drop it.

Follow these simple steps.  And…remember this quote from Winston Churchill.  “Never, Never, Never, Never, give up.”

So…there you have it.  A simple way to build the necessary plans to use as you get ready to launch your new business.

By the way, I think “The Plan as You Go Business Plan” is an absolute must read for anyone starting a new business.  You can buy it here, just by clicking on the link below.

The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan
by Tim BerryTrade Paperback
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How to Sell Without Selling

How to Sell Without Selling

We all know the ability to sell our product or service is crucial to the success of our business.  When I talk to small business owners, the biggest complaint I hear is,”But, I’m not a sales man (or woman)!”  I have studied the art of selling for many years. (Yes, it is an art.)  Here’s the good news.  At its core, selling is really all about listening.  Here is an excellent article explaining just how that works.

Death of a Salesman: The Art of Selling Without Selling

 

 

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Death of a Salesman

As a small business owner, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “I’m not a salesman (or woman), how am I supposed to market myself or product?” The beauty of marketing is that you can sell without actually selling.

But how can this be?

I’m going to focus on social media marketing for the sheer fact that I’ve had many small business owners say to me, “I post my products on Facebook, but no one seems to care.” People don’t care because you haven’t given them a reason to care.

Let’s use a real life example. Let’s say it’s the first time I met you and all I did was talk about myself and what I wanted you to do for me. Would you continue to talk to me? I’m not a gambler, but I think it’s safe to bet that the answer would be no.

Give your audience a reason to like you

In social media marketing, or really any form of marketing, you rarely want to talk about yourself. This might seem counter intuitive but if you talk about things your audience cares about, educate them about the topics you are an expert in, and let them speak their minds, they will be much more willing to listen to you when you do talk about yourself.

Remember, you are an expert in whatever you do and your audience knows that. This gives you the opportunity to show off your expertise and build relationships with your customers. For example, if you are a hair salon owner, offer a daily tip about how to do your hair. This can be anything from “Tip: If you’re going to curl your hair, make sure you do not wash it for 12 hours before curling,” to a video tutorial about how to style your hair for a black tie event.

When you show off your expertise, your customers will appreciate you for educating them about the things they’re interested in. Also, the next time they are looking for a hair salon, they’ll think of you first because you gave them such great tips on how to do their hair at home.

Let your audience talk about themselves

People love to talk about themselves. This is no surprise to any of us, so tap into that urge. Ask your audience questions related to your brand or create a poll and let them participate. The best thing about doing this is that you’re not only increasing engagement but you’re learning who your audience is, what they’re interested in, and what they’re looking to learn from you.

Let’s go back to the hair salon example. Why not ask your audience, “What hair style have you tried at home but can’t seem to get right?” This question allows your audience to interact and participate with you, and (this is a big AND) it helps you understand what your customers are struggling with. You can then take this knowledge and create a workshop or tutorial to help them with that tricky hairstyle or simply make sure you’re offering that specific service.

Make your audience laugh

So many people are afraid to post things that are not directly related to their brand. This is a fear you need to overcome.

Again, we return to the hair salon. You can post a picture of a dog having a bad hair day and have a caption that says, “Looks like Fido should have come into the salon today.” You can also go a little further off topic but make sure to bring it back to your audience. TheConstant Contact Facebook Page has a ton of great examples of this…but here’s one of my favorites:

Constant contact funny Girl Cube

Use the 80/20 rule

This does not mean that you can’t promote yourself. By building relationships with your customers and ensuring 80% of your content is for them, you can then throw in 20% about yourself without the fear of scaring them away.

Now that you’ve engaged your customers with the valuable information they’re looking for, allowed them to talk about themselves, and entertained them, they’ll be willing to listen to your promotions without feeling like they’re just another person you’re selling to.

Your promotions don’t have to feel “salesy” either. There are ways to talk about your new product without saying, “We have a new brush…come buy it now!” Never say “buy it now.” This is a pitch your customers will run from. Instead, why not post a picture of that new brush with the brand name below and a caption that reads, “It’s waiting for you!”

No salesman allowed

Not a salesman? That’s perfect! People don’t want to be sold to. There are numerous ways to spin your content so you are selling them without making them feel like you’re selling them. This is the key way to build engagement and relationships.

Just remember, if you read your content and realize you’ve been talking about yourself more than 20% of the time, it’s time to change your strategy. Take a step back and interact with your customers. You can sell without selling!

What steps have you taken to sell without selling? Have you seen an increase in your customer engagement? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

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How to Build a Good Story

How to Build a Good Story

In my last few posts, I have been emphasizing the importance of using stories about your small business to engage potential clients and customers.  People love stories.   And they will remember stories long after your pitch about your product or service is forgotten.  Here is another great article on how to tell a good story. 

Harness the power of storytelling to appeal to new customers

In today’s world, which is crowded with messages, businesses need to create a brand with an authentic story

Hands holding roasted coffee beans
 If you know the farmers who produce the coffee you sell, include them in your brand’s story. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

For brands, and the marketers behind them, the idea of telling stories to win over hearts and minds is nothing new. But in today’s world, which is crowded with messages and largely devoid of trust, it has never been more challenging, or more valuable, for a brand to win loyalty.

How does it do this? There is a well-known proverb that my former boss used to use, “tell me a fact and I will learn, tell me a truth and I will believe, but tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” We remember narratives and journeys over facts.

When you’re thinking about your business, you shouldn’t only think that you’re selling a product or a service, you should think about how your brand is appealing to people’s emotions and how it fits in with their lives.

The good news is, storytelling is cheap. The bad news is it isn’t easy. It requires emotional intelligence, cultural insight and a lot of craft.

So what do we mean by story? Simply put, a story unites your idea with an emotion, it makes your product personal. Think about your customer and get under the skin of what they believe in.

Forget your product momentarily, it’s the context you’re trying to articulate. Telling people what to believe will fail, but showing you understand how they already feel – that is how brands get ahead.

Take a brand like Ella’s Kitchen. The founder, Paul Lindley, who I was fortunate to work with for a number of years, crafted an entire brand on the authentic story around his personal experience of encouraging his daughter to eat healthily. He created a world for kids filled with fun and experimentation. It is a story that taps into the emotions of parents and families across the world and is expertly woven into every element of his business, from the font used in emails to the design of their packaging and their adverts on TV.

Crafting your story can take time, but the important thing is to be authentic – consumers can tell if you’re not. It is unlikely your story will appeal to everyone but that’s fine, if you aren’t turning some people off, it’s unlikely you’ll turn anyone on.

How to use your story

  • Show, don’t tell – in the world of Vine, Instagram and Twitter, you don’t need to tell people that you make your leather bags by hand, or that you know the farmers that produce the coffee you sell, you can show them. Sharing inspiring content can be the most effective way of winning over consumers and proving that your story is authentic.
  • Let your customers do the talking – customers are as important in creating a brand’s story as the business itself. Start a conversation with them, ask them to be part of the story. Think about Coca-cola’s personalised cans – the customers did the hard work here, Coke just produced the product.
  • Bring it to life – live events and experiences can take your story to the next level. So, if you’re telling a story about being adventurous, then you should be engaging with customers in a way that shows them that you are. Think about the way Red Bull hosts live music and extreme sports events. They’re giving something meaningful back to a highly engaged audience.
  • Use the press – your story should be a “red thread” throughout everything you do with your business and using PR can be the most effective way to really strengthen your brand story. Being in the right media, with the right messages and at the right time can position your business in a way that allows people to see what you stand for.
  • Be authentic and consistent – no matter what, your story has to be true and you need to make sure you are committed to it. As a startup it can be tempting to take every opportunity that comes your way, but ask yourself each time whether it fits in with your story and vision. From which shops stock your products, to where you advertise and the people that represent your brand – make sure it all fits into the wider story.

Nicole Green is a communications consultant and runs PR workshops for startups. She tweets at @nlgreen

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How to Tell Stories For Fun and Profit

How to Tell Stories For Fun and Profit

In my last post, I included an article on the importance of telling the story of your small business to attract customers and clients.  You may have read that post and said, “All well and good, but HOW do I do it?”  Here’s a great article I found that explains just that. 

There’s a story about how Shoestring Marketing was born. And, I tell my story all the time.

It’s in the “Meet Jessica” section of my website. It’s also in my ebooks. It’s in my sales-copy. When I host webinars and teleseminars, I start with the story behind Shoestring Marketing.

Why?

Because it helps my prospects connect with me.

The goal in telling my small business story is to show people that I personally know what it feels like to build a business on a shoestring budget. And that it CAN be done.

I tell my story so that I can try and convince people that if I can do it – so can they.

If you really want to stand out from the crowd, then you have to connect with people on a deeper level.

It’s not enough to tell people about the features of your product or service. Believe it or not, they really don’t care that your widget is faster than the speed of light.

And, preaching the benefits your customers will receive when they use your widget isn’t even enough anymore. Although focusing on benefits is an important part of marketing, your prospects need a reason to believe that your widget will improve their lives.

Nowadays, in this crazy, competitive world you need to connect your story to your prospect’s problems. It’s important that you show them that you have experienced what they are experiencing and that you know exactly what they are going through.

You need to connect to their pain on a truly emotional level, show them the solution and convince them to take action.

We all have a small business story to tell.  Here’s a simple 5-step process in order to use your story to add power and pizazz to your marketing:

1) Discover the personal story hidden behind your business.

Why did you start your business? What problems are you trying to eliminate? What hurdles did you need to overcome.

2) Tell your story authentically and with passion.

Obviously, your story needs to be a true rendition of what you personally experienced as a small business owner. If you are passionate about your story, your prospects will be passionate about your story.

3) Connect your story to your prospect’s pain points.

It’s vital that your story zeroes in on the problems that your prospects are currently facing. Your story should create an immediate and lasting bond between you and your prospects.

4) Show them the solution.

It’s important that once you connect to your prospect’s pain, that you immediately show them how to alleviate this pain. Show them that you have personally discovered the solution and, as a result, your problem has been solved.

5) Convince them to take action.

Once you share your story, what do you want your prospects to do? Should they call a 1-800 number? Visit your website for more information? Or make a purchase? Each time you share your story, make it incredibly easy for your prospect to take the next step.

Connection is one of the main tools for the Shoestring Marketer. So, connect with your prospects and your customers on a deeper level by sharing the story behind your small business.

And, by the way, you can read all about the story of Shoestring Marketing right HERE.

Blogging…Absolute Necessity for Small Business

Blogging…Absolute Necessity for Small Business

As a small business owner you should know blogging is a great (and inexpensive) way to promote your business.  The attached article has some great ideas on how to go about it. 

Beginner’s Guide To Blogging For Small Businesses

Traditional marketing methods, especially in the past, emphasize pushing your product under prospective buyers’ noses with one message: sell, sell, sell. In contrast, content marketing focuses on providing something of value to your current and potential customers, with the understanding that when they are ready to make a purchase, there is a good chance that they will do so from you. Why? Because you made a favorable impression, gave them something (information, e-books, resources, a laugh) for free, and established yourself as an expert in your industry.

Illustration of typewriter

Writing a blog on your business website is one of the best ways to provide content for your target demographic, whether that be specific clients or an industry. Every time you write and share a blog post, you are planting a seed in the minds of everyone who reads it about your brand—who you are and what you have to offer them.

We’ve compiled several tips for you in this beginner’s guide to blogging for small businesses: what to write about, the basics of SEO, and where to publish your blog posts.

We’re going to assume that you have, at the very least, already created a physical blog on your website, whether it’s with WordPress, Blogger, Squarespace or any other blogging platform. If not, here’s a quick read onchoosing a blogging platform.

What To Write About and Where To Get Ideas

The first thing you’ll need to figure out is what to blog about. The most obvious answer, of course, is news about your company, product or service. But to avoid coming across as myopic and self-absorbed, branch out and also write about other things. Remember the three rules of blogging: entertain, inspire, and inform. Each post should do at least one of these.

Here’s what to write about and where to get ideas from:

  • Trending topics in your industry. Give your readers a reason to bookmark your blog as the go-to site for industry information, resources or a daily chuckle. Get inspiration for your blog content by discovering what people are talking about at Twitter’s Trending Topics (the column of hashtags on the left side of your Twitter page), BuzzFeed’s Trend SectionGoogle’s Top Trends by topic, or Small Business Trends. And don’t forget trade magazines or the local paper.
  • Start with a catchy, keyword-rich title. Often times starting with a catchy title will inspire content for a full article, so brainstorm with your team for headlines or subjects. Get help from The Daily Egg’s headline formulas that convert, Hubspot’s kick-ass title formulas, and GoinsWriter’s tricks to writecatchy headlines. In addition, check out fun content ideators such asContent ForestTweak Your Biz, and Portent.
  • Be personal. Fans who are interested in your business generally tend to be interested in the people who run it. Write about the behind-the-scenes goings on in your office, exciting news about your company such as industry awards won or a company retreat (and be sure to include photos!), testimonials from your customers, and humorous posts. Spotlight a different product, customer question, or “how-to” each week. Share the experience, obstacles, and solutions that you have faced in your business.

Looks Do Matter

Hollywood is not the only place where looks matter. In a world of high expectations and short attention spans, getting your entire blog post read is no simple feat. Make it easy and pleasurable for readers by using effective and pleasing-to-the-eye formatting.

  • Headers. When you click on an article only to be hit with a massive wall of densely-packed black lettering that covers every inch of your computer screen, it’s a little overwhelming. Break up the text into digestible paragraphs and start each section off with a header in bold typeface to make it stand out. That way, people can scroll through the article and immediately get a sense of what the full content is.
  • Bullet points. Using bullet points and numbered lists is another way to make your blog post easier on the eye. In fact, the list post (also known as a “listicle”) is one of the most popular types of posts and are very effective for driving traffic. These are great for compiled statistics, tips, or ideas and usually include the number in the title. For example: 7 Tips For Taking the Leap To Full-Time Freelancing
  • Proofread. If you think that grammar and spelling are not important, you wouldn’t be the only one—but that’s no excuse to be sloppy. If your business is blogging, it behooves you to be the epitome of professional—and that means immaculate spelling and grammar. People notice mistakes and awkwardly-phrased sentences, and they judge a business for making them. If you can’t even hire a good writer or editor, they assume (rightly or wrongly) that this will also be reflected in the craftsmanship of your product or service.
  • Images. The Internet is more visual than ever, as evidenced by the popularity of Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr, because a good picture can communicate an idea instantly. Considering that 44 percent of people are more likely to engage with brands when they post images, try adding one or two high-quality photos or graphs in your posts. If your budget doesn’t have a lot of leeway, use one of the many royalty-free photo websites out there, such as PixabayUnsplashPhotosByPeople, or Compfight. Just make sure to always use quality images, not those that look like they were taken in the dark on a cheap smartphone.

The Basics of SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) makes it easier for people to find your website. Using the same keywords on your website that people would type into Google when looking for your product or service helps the search engines discern what your site is about and point people to it if appropriate.

Here are several ways you can help the search engines—and thus people—find your blog:

  • Update your favicon. This is that little 16×16-pixel image associated with the brand that appears on a web browser tab next to the website’s name. For example, Facebook’s favicon is the blue square with the white “f”, Twitter’s favicon is the light blue bird. Without your brand’s favicon, you’ll stand out as an online newbie. Here’s a 2-minute video that shows you how to add a favicon to your WordPress blog.
  • Customize permalinks. A permalink is the permanent URL to each blog post (or any specific web page) that you publish. As soon as you create a new post, it generates a permalink and if you don’t change it, it will look like this:



    https://www.hiveage.com/blog/?p=100



    If you customize it, it will look like this: 



    https://www.hiveage.com/blog/2015-irs-mileage-rates-guide/



    Not only does customizing it look better, but it improves search engine optimization. Be sure to include your target keywords (those words and phrases that a person might type into a Google search) and if possible insert them at the beginning of the title and permalink. Change your permalinks in WordPress in the dashboard under Settings > Permalinks.
  • Meta description. This is the 156-character snippet or preview of the website that displays on the list of page results when someone does a Google search. Besides making it simple for searchers to see what the website is about without having to click on each link, it increases your chance of appearing on the first page of results. Find this box just below the window in WordPress where you write your blog post.
  • Body content. This is the text of your blog post. Place your keywords or key phrase within the first paragraph. It’s no longer necessary to scatter your keyword throughout the content ten times; using it once early on is all that search engines require in order to figure out what your page is about.
  • Blog post length. To further help optimize your blog, most posts should be at least 1500 words. Obviously quality is just as important as quantity when it comes to word count, so shorter, excellently-written posts are fine, too. But if you want to rank better in the search engines, try for longer, well-sourced articles.

Where To Publish Your Blog Posts

So now that you have come up with some fantastic ideas with catchy titles that are well-written in an easy-to-read format, what do you do with them after you’ve posted them to your blog? According to online entrepreneur Pat Flynn, 50 percent of a blog’s success happens after it is published.

  • Share to your social media platforms. The first thing you ought to do is share your blog post from your website straight to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter (which means you’ll have to embed social media icons on your site). After sharing it to your business’ social platforms, share to your personal profiles as well. Don’t be shy about asking your friends, fans, and followers to re-share if they like what they’ve read.
  • Engage, respond, and thank. Make sure to turn on the alerts in all your social media to notify you via email as soon as someone comments on or shares one of your posts. To let them know that you are not an indifferent company, reply to all comments, answer all questions as soon as possible, thank everyone who shared your post or favorited your tweet, and otherwise engage with people. This goes a long way towards the success of not only your blog posts, but your overall brand.
  • Post to other sites. To further get your blog read, consider posting it to such article publishing platforms as MediumEzine, and Examiner. There are numerous general and industry-specific platforms to repurpose your content, so pick a handful that work best for you and get your blog posts out there.

When it comes to successful blogging, there is a lot to learn. But if you start with basics in this beginner’s guide to blogging for small businesses, you’ll have a leg up on the other newbie bloggers out there!