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The Secret to Building the Most Profitable Business Possible

Perhaps the most important marketing step any business can take is to discover a way to be different.

different

photo credit: bernat… via photopin cc

Different is doing something like no other. Different is creating your own category. Different is exceeding people’s chronically low expectations. Different is marketing in a way that makes people take notice.

Most of the time marketers seem to be in a race for sameness and this is what leads to low profits and that sinking feeling that somehow your business is stuck.

Now, if I’ve got your attention let me add this.

If you want to build a truly fulfilling business you’ve got to be different and remarkable at the same time.

And here’s the tough part. You’re probably pretty remarkable already, but it’s just that you’re remarkable at something everyone else claims. I know you do better work and provide better service than anyone in your industry – heck, your existing clients know this too, but those are expectations that everyone can boast.

Testing different

Don’t believe me? Try this. Go to your top five competitors and copy the first bit of content you encounter on their website onto a blank document. Do the same for your own site. Now, on this document, black out the names or any reference to the name of the business represented.

Take a look at what remains. Can you tell one from another? Can you even identify your business on this page anymore? Feeling brave? Pass this around the office and see how your staff does. Pass this to your best customers and see how they do.

Experience tells me that this should cement once and for all the opportunity that exists for your business to take a different path.

Stop paying attention to your competitors it will only lead to making you look the same.

Finding different

The source of your best different strategy is your customers.

I know you know what sets you apart from the pack, but your customers know what sets you apart in the ways that matter to them.

Sure, they love your great experience and knowledge, but what they really love is that you call them back immediately when they have a question.

Of course they love your wide selection of products, but what they really love is that you remember their name and what they bought the last time them came in.

The craftsmanship of your carpenters is second to none, but the fact that they clean up the job site every day is what rocks your customer’s world.

Sit down with your best customers and find out what they think you do that’s different. Listen for stories about times you did something different. Those stories are your key to carving out your difference. Take that gift and don’t ever be like everyone else again.

Making it remarkable

When you make a decision to be different, and that decision is fueled by the real world validation of your customers, then you simply take that knowledge and make fortifying that difference and turning it into the thing that makes your business remarkable your primary business objective.

Don’t shy away from your difference. Don’t think it’s too small or too odd or too unimportant sounding.

Make it your core message, make it the filter for every business decision and build business processes steeped in highlighting that difference.

If your people clean up the job site better than anyone else then show and tell the world and know that others will value that difference. Make that the thing your business is remarkable at doing.

If you remember a customer when they return to your store then build your entire business around that simple feeling of warmth that your business embodies. Make that the thing your business is remarkable at doing.

If you just happen to think it’s polite to quickly return calls and answer your customer’s concerns then broadcast that difference and build a company culture around what others might see as extreme customer attention. Make that the thing your business is remarkable at doing.

Now, let me give you the real payoff.

Companies that are different, that essentially have no competition for what they do in a remarkable way, charge a premium for what they do.

How To Discover Your Perfect Value Proposition

This is part two of a three-part series on Finding Strategy. Each post includes a free template.

So, I’ve been preaching this one pretty hard for a bunch of years and see no end in sight, because it’s just that important.

Core Difference SurveyFind a way to differentiate your business, one that matters to somebody, or you’ll be forever doomed to compete on price.

Get really, really clear about the single-minded point of difference that some narrowly defined ideal client cannot live without and you’ve got the secret to marketing success. Seems pretty simple, right – then why do people fight it so?

I’ll tell you why, because to be unique, you have to actually be different and that scares the heck out of most business owners.

But let me tell you the most important lesson I’ve learned in all my years of owning a business – your customers and prospects want you to be different, they require you to be different.

If you want to succeed in business you have one job – find a way to propose that you are completely different in a way that a market wants and values, exploit that difference in every word that you compose and watch your profits soar.

This is the essence of the elusive marketing strategy so many companies long for.

Okay, enough preaching let me teach you a simple process I’ve used for many years that often helps business owners nail the core difference and value proposition that matters most.

Identify your ideal client

The first step is to identify your ideal client. I wrote about The Secret to Finding Highly Profitable Clients here. You know you have an ideal client in mind when you can ponder how great life would be if you have a dozen or so more just like them.

Create a list of six to eight of your current ideal clients and commit to sitting down with face to face or over the phone for about fifteen minutes. You are going to conduct an interview of sorts that may lead to some fabulous revelations.

Ask them these questions

Once you have your client’s attention pose some variation of the following questions.

A word of caution here, you’re not looking for scientific data here, you’re looking themes and stories that offer clues to what really does make your firm unique. In most cases you will need to use follow-up statements such as – “Okay, we provide great service, that’s awesome, but tell me a story about a time we did.”

  1. Why did you hire us/buy from us in the first place? (Here you are looking for clues to what helped them decide to buy, what build trust, what resonated in your marketing and sales processes.)
  2. What’s one thing we do that you love the most? (Stick to one thing and help them get as specific as possible)
  3. What’s one thing we do that others don’t? (Again one thing – this may sound a lot like the second question, but what you are really trying to do here is get some industry comparison going – you might get some stories of how others have failed them in the past and there offer some interesting opportunities.)
  4. If you were to refer us what would you say? (This is your chance to have them describe what you do best as though they were telling a friend. This point of view can be very powerful and this answer might actually turn into a testimonial. In many cases that’s precisely what I’ve done with answers to this question.)
  5. Can you tell me about three other companies that you love? (This question does a couple of things. It allows you to better understand what they think best of class looks like and why and it helps you build a list of potential strategic partners. Think about it, your shared client thinks you both rock!)
  6. Bonus: If you can pull this off, have them conduct an online search and simply ask them to type the phrase they would enter if you were no longer around and they needed to replace what you do for them. (I like to try to have them physically do this. It’s amazing what you learn from watching what people really do to find things online. Experience tells me you might not be optimizing your content for the same terms your prospects are looking for.)

We’ve created a handy tool that you can use to record your client interviews – Download our free client survey template here

Work with themes that matter

From your interviews you should have some rich themes to work with. Don’t underestimate the power of simple things. Quite often your clients value the little things you do that are special. Resist the temptation to dismiss them as unimportant enough to use as your core point of difference.

I once worked with a remodeling contractor that felt their superior craftsmanship was the key and while their clients acknowledged this they admitted that it was an expectation because the company was also higher priced than most. What they didn’t expect was how thoroughly their people cleaned up the job site every day. That idea was unique and using it in all of their marketing created a dramatic shift in strategy and sales.

In the final part of our Finding Strategy Series we’ll cover how to turn your point of difference into a core message, value proposition and something I all Your Talking Logo.

Standing Out in the Field

I’m taking some vacation time this week and I’m actually going to stand waist deep in the Columbia River in Oregon and cast for Trout. (Don’t worry I won’t hurt any I’m strictly a catch and release kind of guy.)  While I am away, I have a great lineup of guest bloggers filling my shoes.  This post is brought to you from Steve Woodruff.

Steve Woodruff serves as a Clarity Therapist to small businesses seeking to grow through more effective brand messaging. Steve also builds trusted business referral networks, which has earned him the moniker of Connection Agent. He blogs regularly at BrandWoodruff.com and ConnectionAgent.com.

Like it or not, you are one of many, many companies or service providers competing for a limited slice of attention in a marketplace overflowing with noise and information.

For consultants and small businesses – actually, for any size business – the cacophony of billboards, radio spots, TV advertisements, and the flood tide of digital noise from the social web makes it increasingly challenging to be noticed, let alone remembered. Your main competition isn’t your competitors. It’s distraction.

Which means that if you simply blend into the background noise, you’ve lost your advantage.

Let’s assume that you actually have some magic. You do have something unique to offer. How do you stand out in the field?

Some will say it takes a hugely expensive campaign; others will gladly take your limited funds to try generate something “viral.” These are not particularly effective or sustainable strategies. One fundamental trait, however, can make any business stand out: Clarity.

By clarity, I mean you’re clear on your offering, clear on your differentiation, clear on your message, and clear on your vision. It is the opposite of throwing 10 bullet points of possible work you might do up against the virtual wall and seeing which one sticks. That’s the quickest route to becoming a faceless commodity.

A Clear Offering

What does clarity look like? Actually, you don’t have to look any further than the Duct Tape blog. Look at these two summary sentences on the site:

Simple, Effective, and Affordable Small Business Marketing

John Jantsch has been called the world’s most practical small business expert for delivering real-world, proven small-business marketing ideas and strategies.

The reader immediately knows whether they are the target audience, and exactly what the Duct Tape promise is. By being that specific, John stands out – while gladly giving up a bunch of other potential business where he couldn’t be outstanding.

A Clear Differentiator

I am fanatically loyal to Amica Insurance. I don’t price shop, and I don’t consider other dance partners. Why? All the geckos and good hands and Flo’s that parade across the TV screen promoting other companies are noisy commodities to me, because Amica has provided stellar and attentive customer service for decades. They completely stand out. And, ever since obtaining the first-generation iPhone, I’ve never considered going back to a non-Apple platform. The user experience is simply too good to give up.

A Clear Message

We try to say too much, not realizing that our potential customers (and referral partners) can only process and retain one or two main things. Few companies have mastered the art of distillation, which is truly central to effective marketing.

Picture yourself bumping into a prospective customer at a trade show, just minutes before the next session starts. After introductions, she says, “I recall seeing your name before, but what is it that you do?” Can you, in one sentence, give her the distilled essence, in such a way that she’ll still remember it after the session – and, be able to tell her friend over lunch about you in 10 words or less? In this regard, clarity is also your key to ongoing referrals.

A Clear Vision

Once you have 20/20 vision about your purpose and direction, suddenly a whole host of decisions that have always plagued you becomes much more simple. Clients you spun your wheels chasing now don’t fit into the clearer vision. Non-core work that you were doing is no longer in the long-term plan. When you can look a client in the eye and confidently say, “THIS is what I do – not that, and that, and that” – everyone is far better off. But for many, even those who have been in business for a while, the most difficult step is saying it to the mirror.

I have terrible uncorrected vision. Glasses are mandatory! The fact is, clear vision is not an option. Whatever other investment I may forego, I will always spend the necessary funds to see clearly – because that is foundational to everything I must do! Amazingly, however, few of your competitors will do so. That’s why clarity can become your strategic advantage. Making youthe one standing out in the field.

Image credit: zakwitnij via Flickr

5 Key Ingredients to Charging What You’re Worth

I’m taking some vacation time this week and I’m actually going to stand waist deep in the Columbia River in Oregon and cast for Trout. (Don’t worry I won’t hurt any I’m strictly a catch and release kind of guy.)  While I am away, I have a great lineup of guest bloggers filling my shoes.  This post is brought to you from Sarah Petty.

Sarah is a highly-acclaimed speaker, author, MBA and coach who started her own boutique photography studio after working for Coca-Cola Enterprises and then meeting the marketing goals of a top regional advertising agency’s clients. It was at this ad agency where she taught small businesses the value of a strong foundation and how they would grow with a strong brand. She attributes the rapid growth of her boutique photography studio, which was named one of the most profitable in the country within just five years in business by PPA, to the creation of her own strong brand.

Regardless of what industry you are in, you probably struggle with having a competitor that is willing to do what you do (or claim they do) for cheaper. But how do you make sure price isn’t a sticking point with your clients?  It starts with having these five key ingredients right in your business and following the boutique business model. It’s a model that works in nearly every industry from insurance and retail to fitness and real estate.

Ingredient 1 – Protect Your Brand

Most small businesses fall down here. They have something wrong with their brand that attracts price sensitive buyers from the start.

Your brand is more than a logo. It’s how your ideal client feels about you. Your ideal client conjures up these feelings when someone mentions your business name. YOU are an integral part of your brand thanks to the enthusiasm, personal flair and individual attention you present to each of your clients. From your identity (how your clients recognize you) to your consistency, your niche, your reputation and your gush-worthiness, having a positive brand goes a long way to charging what you’re worth.

Ingredient 2 – Understand Your Numbers

There are a lot of ways to price your offerings, but most just don’t work if you want to charge what you’re worth. Copying your competitors is not the answer. Start by understanding the cost of each sale you make: this includes any packaging, merchandise and labor. An accountant can help you with this. You then mark up your costs based on industry standards. Once you understand these numbers, you have your bare minimum price. Then you can look at setting a price based on demand. The key is to create demand the right ways to attract clients who love what you do, not by attracting the wrong price-sensitive buyers with discounts.

?Ingredient 3 – Make Marketing Decisions That Thrill

To charge what you’re worth you must have offerings that are not easy to imitate. Marketing starts with products and services that your customers can’t easily get elsewhere. Your clients should go gaga over you if you want them to pay more for you. To do that, you need to have offerings that are extra special, custom, unmatched, interesting or even shocking. They need to be special enough to make someone want to talk about them, and not just because of the price. Instead of searching for ways to raise prices, slash costs or become faster instead find the empty place for your ideal client where you can add a thrill for them. The more customized your offerings are, the more difficult it will be for anyone to copy you and your perceived value will continue to rise.

Ingredient 4 – Promote Differently

Promotion is what you do to tell people about your offerings – and it goes beyond paid advertising. For the most part, boutique businesses should steer clear of traditional advertising and focus not on reaching the masses, but instead reaching the right people who may be drawn to what you do. Boutique ideas for promotion include giving a presentation or educational session that highlights your expert status, partnering with other businesses who also reach your target audience to host an event or create a unique product, working with charities to help elevate their cause while attracting new clients to your business and developing a promotional piece that makes your ideal client gush about you to their friends.

Ingredient 5 – Sell Better

Boutique selling isn’t about schmoozing, high pressure or manipulation so if that’s what you’re doing this may be where you’re going wrong. In boutique selling there is high engagement between you and your client. You need to build rapport, get to know your customer and spend time educating them. Your first thought should be ‘What problem do they have?’ ‘How can I help them?’ The sales process should be relationship based and the service and experience should continue after the transaction. Instead of giving them a smooth talking sales pitch, you’re searching for solutions that will absolutely, positively satisfy their needs and bring them joy.

Image Credit: dougbelshaw

Marketing Without Strategy is the Noise Before Failure

The Art of War

Image: kainet via Flickr

Anyone that’s heard me speak or read my books knows that I believe marketing strategy is far more important to the small business than marketing tactics.

Any yet, the tactical idea of the week gets most of the mind share of the business owner.

Strategy and tactics must go hand in hand in order for a business to achieve a measure of true momentum, but an effective strategy must be in place before any set of tactics make sense.

This Sun Tzu quote, borrowed from the Art of War and adapted for the title of this post, pretty much sums up my feeling on the subject – “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

The reason strategy gets mostly lip service when it comes to marketing planning is because most people misunderstand what a marketing strategy really is.

So, let me start with what it’s not. Strategy is not a wish list, set of goals, mission statement, or litany of objectives.

How not what

A marketing strategy is a clear explanation of how you’re going to get there, not where or what there is. An effective marketing strategy is a concise explanation of your stated plan of execution to reach your objectives

To become the market leader is not a strategy – it’s an objective. To serve our customers with honor and dignity is not a strategy – it’s mission. To double the number of new customers is not a strategy – it’s a goal.

Goals and missions and objectives are nice, but how you plan to achieve them – otherwise known as strategy paired with a logical set of tactics – is the surest route to victory.

To become a market leader you may find that an effective strategy is to carve out one very narrow market niche and dominate it. To serve your customers with honor and dignity you may find that an effective marketing strategy starts somewhere in your hiring process. To double the number of new customers you may find that an effective marketing strategy is to build a formal network of strategic referral partners.

Now each of these strategies will have a corresponding list of tactics and action steps, but the action plans and campaigns will all have your stated strategy as a filter for decision making and planning.

After working with thousands of small business owners I’ve developed a bit of a 3-step process for developing a marketing strategy. I must warn you though that market conditions, competitive environments and trending opportunities all play wild card roles in the process.

A company considering a marketing strategy in a mature market with entrenched players will have a much different view of things than a company trying to bring a new technology to a market with no proven purchase habit.

I wrote a post titled 5 Attributes of a Sure Fire Start-up that might shed more light on the start-up view.

When developing a marketing strategy for your business the following steps come into play.

Who matters

For any strategy and corresponding set of tactics to work they must appeal to someone. The first element, and in some cases the primary element, is who. Develop your marketing strategy around a narrowly defined ideal client above all. This post titled How to Discover and Attract More of Your Ideal Client goes deeply into this process.

As stated before this step alone may actually prove to be your strategy – to get good at serving a niche market.

Using your ideal client profile as the basis of your strategy also allows you to think very personally about how you serve them and how you use your tactics to attract them. Without this concentration on an ideal segment your marketing strategy will often lack focus.

Be different

After developing a profile of an ideal client it’s time to find a way to appeal to this group. In my experience the only sure way to do this is discovering or creating an approach, product, or service that clearly differentiates you from the rest of the market.

The market needs a way to compare and differ and if you don’t give them one they’ll default to price comparison.

You need to dig in and find that way of doing things that your customers truly value, what’s going on your industry that frustrates people or how to turn the way people have always done it into an opportunity for innovation. This post titled 5 Questions You Should Ask Every Customer unveils the best way to discover what your customers really value.

In some cases you may be doing something truly unique, you just aren’t communicating as your core marketing message.

If you don’t take this step seriously everything else you do in terms of marketing will be far less effective. That’s how serious being different is.

Connect the dots

The final step in the marketing strategy game is to take what we’ve done previously – defining an ideal client and creating a core differentiator – and turning it into your stated strategy.

When I created Duct Tape Marketing my stated strategy was to create a recognizable small business marketing brand by turning marketing for small business into a system and product. This strategy contained a narrowly defined ideal client and a clear point of differentiation.

Our mission was to radically change the way small business owners think about marketing and our “marketing as system” strategy became how we would do that.

Like most effective strategy the gap in current offerings and positioning was what offered the clear opportunity. Connecting your strategy will also include careful study of the competitive environment and that of other unrelated industries in order to fill a need with your innovation or differentiation.

Let me return once again to Sun Tzu and The Art of War – “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

Now, before you determine whether Facebook is better for your business than LinkedIn or if direct mail is still an effective way to generate leads, start at the point where you will ultimately create the greatest possible impact – strategy!