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Blog dammit!

NB: This is step 5 of a 5 step series – Step into 2008 with more fun.
5 Steps for 2008

Everything I’ve outlined in the previous steps in this series points to the evolving small business concept of “marketing as a conversation.” Well, few things are as effective at pulling this concept together as blogging. (Click to see the entire series)

In an effort to get your attention for this post I’ve even added a curse word to the title. I know it’s a rather tame one, but my parents never cursed around me so if one slipped out I knew they were serious – and yes, I’m very serious about the fact that every small business should have a blog. I don’t care if you’ve grown tired of hearing about them. A small business blog may indeed become one of your most effective marketing tools.

You must start and grow a blog in 2008!

Here’s why:
1) It makes it very easy to update your web presence – easy is good because easy gets done
2) Locally you can use a blog to gain exposure that your competition can’t
3) Search engines love blogs (still) and will reward you with better search results when your prospects go looking
4) The daily and weekly chore (that may be how you initially view it) of producing written content will make you a much better communicator, marketer and salesperson – it’s the killer activity

Here’s how to get started
1) Read blogs – go to Bloglines.com and search for blogs in your industry and subscribe to them for free – then read
2) Get the software – even if you just mildly techie you can set-up a TypePad or WordPress blogging tool. Personally, I use WordPress on this blog and love it, but I’m also watching the new MovableType Community Solution to see how it evolves. (Search on the TypePad or WordPress sites for design and technical help if you need it.)
3) Start writing – keep a journal or use a service like Jott to send yourself notes every time a good idea for a blog post pops into your head. Once you start thinking this way, content will reveal itself all around you. Don’t forget to use the questions your customers and prospects ask you throughout the course of business as content for blog posts.
4) Start networking with other bloggers – Link to sites in your posts, write relevant comments on the blogs you read (including those of the journalists you have targeted), and create a list of the blogs you like with an eye on trading links
5) Get your community involved – think about ways to get your customers reading, subscribing to and commenting on your blog. Invite your best strategic partners to create guest posts. Re-purpose some of your blog content into other marketing pieces.

    3 blogs I recommend on blogging

  • Blogging Tips – multiple authors and lots of handy tips
  • ProBlogger – best source for moneymaking blog tips
  • Chrisg.com – the business of blogging and some good technical hacks

Tell me the top 3 blogs you would recommend!

Talk and listen to the media

NB: This is step 4 of a 5 step series – Step into 2008 with more fun.
5 Steps for 2008

In the previous step in this series I asked you to use the conversations you had with your customers to craft your marketing story to help illustrate how your firm was unique. (Click to see the entire series)

Today I am going to ask you to take that story to the media. Earning coverage of your company in the publications and shows that your ideal customers consume is one of the most effective ways to build trust. (See my definition of marketing)

The problem most small businesses experience when it comes to generating PR is that they go about in the wrong way and so they see little or no results and give up trying. You must treat journalists, the folks that can write about your company, like a target market segment. Journalists don’t like to be sold any more than your prospects – they do need your stories, but a lot of folks are trying to sell them. Be different, stand out by targeting the journalists that write about your industry and build relationships with them, educate them, build trust – then you will start to see some PR results.

    Here are your action steps for today

  1. Build a very select – five or six at the most – media list for your business. Identify the actual journalists by name that write in your community or about your industry
  2. Create email alerts or RSS feeds for each – Google and Yahoo news allow you to create an email alert that will notify you by email any time one of your targeted journalists writes a story. The first step to building a relationship is listening – these alerts make it easy.
  3. Find out if any of these journalists have a blog – increasingly this is the case. If they do, make sure that you are reading it – subscribe to their RSS feed through a service such as Bloglines so that it’s easy for you to see the new content. Start posting the occasional relevant comment on your targeted journalist’s blog and building an avenue of trust.
  4. Make it a habit to drop notes to each (handwritten is nice) over the course of the next few weeks commenting on, adding to or highlighting some element of a story they wrote. This is not meant to be shameless sucking up, this is your chance to demonstrate that not only do you read what they write, you are a credible industry resource. Feel free to send industry data and research that they might not have access to in an effort to become a resource to them.
  5. Within the next month (only after completing all the steps above) invite them to coffee and tell them your story. Make sure you bring them some information they might use in a future story. Don’t ask for the order, a story about you, just continue to give, build the relationship, and the stories, mentions and quotes will follow.

Share your story

NB: This is step 3 of a 5 step series – Step into 2008 with more fun.
5 Steps for 2008
In the first two steps in this series I asked you to determine who makes an ideal customer for your business and to discover, by asking, what that ideal customer was actually saying internally about your company/product/service. The point of the first two steps is to get you thinking very hard about what value is and to whom so that all of your communication can revolve around that. (Click to see the entire series)

Today I’m going to ask you to take your customer’s most relevant conversation and turn it into your core marketing story. If you’ve discovered exactly what your customer’s value, why they hire, come back and refer you, then it’s time to craft a message based on that information and turn that message into a story that everyone in the company gets and can tell.

So let’s talk about this word story – stories are nothing more than fun, captivating, motivational, honest conversations that illustrate what makes you knowable, likeable and trustable. (See my definition of small business branding.)

Every person has a story, every business has a story and prospects and customers love good stories. People connect with stories that are personal, telling, truthful and relevant.

So what’s your story?

    That’s today’s action step:

  1. From your conversations with your customers craft a story about you, your company or your products and services that would allow you to convey why you what you do, who you are, what keeps you awake at night, what motivates, thrills, and scares you, what makes you laugh, what you’ve chosen to do to make this a better world. Don’t tell me the history of your company, unless it’s so entertaining it makes we want to hug you. Tell me instead about the moment you came face to face with the biggest, most audacious idea you ever had and you charged in. Tell me instead about what was missing in the world until you created your big idea. Tell me instead that even though cleaning windows seems like an unglamorous task, you always loved doing it as a kid and now you’ve created a company around that passion.
  2. Get your story down to one page and start telling it to everyone in your company (spouses and teenagers are good subjects.) You need to start living your story and using your story as a core marketing message. Your story, if done well, is the foundation for what makes you standout. Use it on your website, on the back of invoices, during sales presentations and as a hiring tool. Here’s an example story to get you started

And, a couple books I recommend
The Story Factor
The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling

Tim Sanders, author of Love is the Killer App, video on storytelling

Discover the most relevant conversation

NB: This is step 2 of a 5 step series – Step into 2008 with more fun.

5 Steps for 2008In step one of this series I asked you to take a good hard look at who makes an ideal customer for your business.

Today, we are going find out what that ideal customer really values about your business and we are going to use it to craft a core marketing message and strategy.

You’ve probably heard lots of marketing folks talk about something called a USP – short for Unique Selling Proposition. It’s an age old term, heck I’m sure I’ve used it, but I think marketing life has changed and a USP no longer rings valuable. If you look at the word selling right smack dab in the middle of that phrase you should get a tip as to why USPs are so last decade. A USP is all about the seller and not about the customer.

I’ve started using a term of late that I think gets more to the heart of what makes a business appealing to a customer. Instead of unique selling propositions I want you to think of creating something a little closer to the truth. I call it the “Most relevant conversation” or MRC (you gotta have an acronym right?)

For me, the MRC is all about the customer. It’s all about what’s relevant to them, in the way they want to hear it, in a way that holds the most value. You need to tap the conversations they are having with themselves. Your customers only have time for what’s relevant, and everything is. When they have a conversation about your product or service they will reveal what value really means

Now here’s the tricky part, while unique is still very, very important, your customers are better at identifying your MRC than you are. So, you’ve got to involve them in helping you create the conversation that becomes your marketing message. The part that makes this hard is that business owners aren’t always comfortable with conversations, conversations can be too real and messy and unmarketinglike. But that’s the point. That’s how you find something that is truly unique for you.

Here’s what I mean. Most lawyers want to believe that they get hired because that have the best reputation, most prestigious practice or fanciest lawyering skills. If you did a quick survey of really happy customers (and I have) you’ll hear conversations like, “yes, they do really brilliant work, but what I really like is they call me back within 24 hours.” And that’s their “most relevant conversation.”

I interviewed dozens of customers of a high-end remodeling contractor who believed that craftsmanship was their core differentiator. Turns out that what their customers really liked was that they cleaned up the job site at the end of the day. And that’s the conversation they used to propel the business to triple digit profit increases.

    Here are your action steps for today:

  1. Identify five to eight existing customers that fit your ideal profile, that you can honestly say, “if I had a few more customers like these, life would be great.”
  2. Schedule a time to interview each. You want to know – why they hired you, why they stay with you, how they would explain what you do that is unique, how they would refer you. Here’s the tough part though, don’t let them stop at, “you have great service,” push them to reveal what that means, make it relevant, make them cite examples of good service – here’s a form you can use for your interviews
  3. Record the common conversations that you hear and look for a story, a theme, a phrase to build your entire marketing strategy around
  4. Visit the web site of your top 4-5 competitors and cut and paste the first paragraph of content from each on a sheet of paper. Look at how everyone, including, I’m just guessing here, you, are saying the same thing.
  5. Create a phrase that encompasses your customer’s most relevant conversation. “We actually call you back, We own more Shop-Vacs than any other remodeling contractor.”

If you missed Step, 1 you can find it here.

Fire 10% of your customers

NB: This is step 1 of a 5 step series – Step into 2008 with more fun.

5 Steps for 2008Firing customers sounds like such a harsh thing to speak of, but really, the concept is very customer friendly when you think about it in the right context.

When I say fire I don’t mean the jerk that abuses your staff, complains about price and pays the bill late – that one you shouldn’t need any help with. When I talk about firing customers, I’m really talking the type of customer that’s a much harder call, but still very much in need of the trim.

The customers that need to go for most businesses are those that buy a little, every now and again, but no longer really fit what I would call the ideal customer profile. These are usually customers that you have outgrown, that buy a product group that you don’t really support any more, that probably weren’t a good fit in the first place, that are unprofitable.

The problem with continuing to keep these folks as customers is that you are probably not giving them a very good customer experience, in turn you may be breeding customers that have become a drag on your brand. Maybe they are happy, maybe they aren’t. Could they properly refer a new customer, I doubt it. Would they give you a testimonial, I doubt it.

Creating a meaningful small business brand takes incredible focus. Your market must understand over a long period of time what your stand for, what you do that is unique, who you can bring the most value to – a narrowly defined and served ideal customer is crucial to this kind of focus. Customers outside your sweet spot just muddy the water. Besides the fact that they may very well be served much better by someone else – ending the relationship is likely a win for both.

Here are your action steps for today.

1) Create a spreadsheet of all of your current customers.
Rank them first by two variables, profitability and referral tendencies – in other words, are they profitable in order of volume and do they currently refer. As you do this practice pay close attention to bottom 25% of your newly ranked list and start asking yourself if your brand can benefit by continuing to do business with this group or would your be better served by freeing up the capacity it takes to serve and maintain this group and pour it fully into those that fall in the top 25%. Note the common characteristics among this top group.

2) Devise a strategy to refer your 10% to a reliable strategic partner

3) Create a crystal clear description of your newly, narrowly defined ideal customer profile – use this form to help

Update: An alert reader pointed out this article from Wharton that appears to take the opposite view of my point, but I actually think it supports my step in the view of the true small business. Make sure you read the comments from real small business owners after the article.

Step into 2008 with more fun

Step into 2008Over the course of the next 5 posts or so I am going to outline a five step plan aimed at helping you have more fun when it comes to marketing your business in 2008.

You are in the marketing business, no matter what you sell, no matter what you think, might as well get used to that fact and enjoy the ride.

Each step is based on a specific action you can take right away. This is not theory or conjecture, it’s stuff you can and should do this week in order to get ready to step into 2008. The steps also contain examples, forms and tools as needed to help you complete them. You can also expect audio, video and screencast tutorials as the series unfolds.

I’ve created an RSS feed just for this series at http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog/category/FiveStep – take this feed URL to your favorite reader and subscribe so you can stay on track.

Consider giving this series as a gift to any small business owners and marketers you know by clicking on the Share This link below the post. You can email this post to friends, family and colleagues.

Calling all marketing oriented Virtual Assistants

Marketing CoachI am developing a network of virtual assistants to support the delivery of Duct Tape Marketing coaching from the Duct Tape Marketing Coach Network. I need qualified and trained virtual marketing assistants to work with my coaches and strategic partners to help implement the marketing plans and tactics required by our customers to grow their businesses.

In many cases the delivery of Duct Tape Marketing involves the need for marketing assistance in the form of copywriting, editing, simple web page maintenance, public relations activities and market research.

We would like to create and place a select group of virtual marketing assistants to work closely with our coaches on an ongoing basis helping them serve their customers.

If you are already a VA, this could be a great way for you to add a dimension to your virtual assistant practice and at the same time participate in a network that can place you with customers ready for your services.

Visit DuctTapeMarketingVA and find out the details. Training sessions begin in January for the first group of 10.

Heard any good interviews lately?

As part of an ongoing monthly series sponsored by the Duct Tape Marketing Coach network I have been conducting some fascinating interviews.

I started off with Guy Kawasaki talking about how and why he created Truemors, talked Search with John Battelle and Awakening the Entrepreneur Within recently with Michael Gerber.

The interviews, each containing their own great stuff, can be found on the Coaching Excellence Series page. Go have a listen and enroll in the series so you will hear about future live sessions with the likes of Tim Ferriss, 4-hour Workweek and David Allen, Getting Things Done.