You don’t need me to tell you how difficult the last year has been for Small Business. If you are still actually in business, you are doing better than most. The ‘Macro’ view appears almost insurmountable for everyone, but every business owner faces different challenges, wears many hats and makes many decisions each day. The fact that there are large scale health and looking recession problems on a global scale has only affected the emerging business owner in terms of their own ‘everyday’. Although we typically share similar goals, some businesses are still stuck on hiring the right people, increasing sales, making payroll, filing taxes and providing remarkable customer service. While the entire business world continues to change due to COVID-19, these humdrum concerns continue to be top of mind for all Entrepreneurs.
Whatever the case may be, there’s always at least one area that you can stand to improve.
According to a survey conducted by small business social site Alignable, the biggest marketing challenge for small businesses is that they don’t have enough leads, and getting more leads is also their number one goal:
Finding new leads : 40% , Not enough time & Lack of Budget 10% – 15% each, Lack of Focus 12%
These results aren’t at all surprising to me as I hear this all the time. For business owners of small companies the two biggest concerns in lead generation are cost (as free cash is comparatively limited!) and return on investment (as ineffective strategies waste significant time and resources). If you need an excuse for a reboot under these conditions, while answering that Number One problem, here are list of three effective, and proven lead generation strategies any small business owner can use to help you sleep at night:
1) Strategic Networking
I know everyone tells you that you must be networking today, but simply attending any event on a Thursday and fumbling through your first impression is what leads to ineffective networking. You must network, but you must do it strategically. The truth about networking that no one wants to admit is that it’s hard work. While the barrier to connect today is low, the barrier to trust and attention is high. To succeed at networking you must consistently engage with 3 defined groups:
Prospects – These are the people who connect with you personally first, and then in some way raise their hand or show interest in your firm, product or service. This may be in the form of asking for your business card, setting up a time to connect outside the networking event and/or asking specific product/service related questions.
Strategic Partners – These are companies you don’t compete with but both target and call on the same type of ideal client. If you’re a merchant services firm targeting medical practices, then your strategic partners might be medical office cleaning companies, printing supply companies, HR companies, group benefits companies, marketing companies, payroll companies, etc.
Existing Clients – These should be happy clients that are willing to go out of their way to make strategic introductions for you. Also, engaging existing clients at networking events should be viewed as another customer touchpoint that can build trust (or erode it) and help reaffirm the smart choice they made by hiring your solution.
Identify five people who you know you can help and would appreciate your help, then reach out and offer to do something very specific to help them . Super success comes from engaging these groups in a way that provides and contributes value, relevancy and meaning. The bonus would be to achieve this without adding costs to the others.
2) Answer Prospect and Client Questions
The reality is that prospects are becoming more self-educated and complex, requiring more educational points of contact and information as they move from a “suspect,” a member of your target market you suspect needs what you offer, into a prospect – one you know needs and wants what you have to offer.
To make answering questions pay as a lead generation source you must first understand that when a prospect needs to solve a problem today, they search online proactively gathering information and you must show up there; leading the competition in the search results – just waiting to be clicked so you can deliver your offer to a prospect.
Here’s the easiest way to go about doing that. Search your requests and emails then make a list of the top 10 questions you get asked from prospective and current customers. Now, go about planning the resources needed to turn each of those questions into a piece of content – blog post, workshop, seminar, FAQs document, marketing material, or newsletter topic.
3) Teach and Educate
For many service based business owners, the most effective lead generation strategy involves workshops, seminars and webinars. Teaching and educating requires that your organization give and in doing so build the trust needed for your target market to take a step or action that essentially signals you have permission to sell to them.
During this time, you need to tell stories, share examples of other people’s success and start to paint a picture of how you can solve your customer’s problem. Teaching and educating is a great way for prospects to relate to you as someone who delivers value, without the exchange of money. When you develop a reputation for being someone who can teach people, then you get invited to places where you have the opportunity to sell. Of Course, good blogging is a form of teaching.
The real point here is that you’ve got to execute a variety of different lead generation strategies, working together, in order to create a lead generation snowball effect. While these facts may be ‘evergreen’ in business, being you, personable, alive and actually in business are more important than ever during this uncertain business era. Get a leg up on your competition by re-booting how you perform your outreach and enjoy a way better New Year than you did in 2020.
Perhaps the greatest part of having your own small business is making your own Marketing decisions. After all in today’s online world (and, increasingly, in traditional marketing), the relationships you make are just as important as the product.
Holidays give you a great opportunity to think outside of your average working day. For instance, this month is Thanksgiving in both Canada and the U.S. and, on the way into work this morning, I started to think about how much people are looking forward to both the day off, and the chance to connect with other family members – sometimes for the first time in a long time. In these increasingly difficult times, this simple holiday celebration is a much-needed ‘feel good’ date that a lot of people will be looking forward to. So, if people are thinking about it, jump on that bandwagon! Connect with people who are interested in the same thing, and be the person, the friend to both you customers and prospects – not just the business marketer.
- Is there a Turkey drive, or a similar charitable campaign in your company’s geographic area. Offer to support it through Social Media, write a supportive piece, and start pushing it out among your contacts.
- Is there a special parade or large-scale local parade? Plug it.
- Are you decorating your office this week? Tell everyone, take pictures, and post them online. Who can outdo you? Lots of pics of happy staff: Let everyone see YOU!
- Have a quick ten second competition in your office or place of work for the best of Mother’s recipes for thanksgiving. Who’s got the best tip, the best three line story? Then post and tweet it, and buy your office winner a coffee for it. Take a picture and post it.
Spread the word that you are thankful for your business, your vendors, customers, and any other supporter. Remind everyone of your Holiday opening hours. Or just wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!
In one morning’s work you have promoted your business, pictures of happy staff, thanked everyone, informed them of when you are opening and closing this week, and made yourself the fulcrum of your communities, whether online or geographic. You have mentioned your staff, vendors, customers, supported local good works, and passed on personal information.
It’s the simplest of all marketing ideas, but one that makes you appear as if you are thinking about your customers, vendors and staff. Do it first, and create new connections as these thoughts are passed on (Especially if you tell your contact to!). We have mentioned special holiday advertising before in this blog , because all of this makes you the most treasured people online – One that has as service, one that recognizes what is important to people, and takes time out of their business day to talk about something that is on everyone’s mind.
So save this blog post for all of your upcoming holidays and remember that Canada celebrates this holiday on a different day from the United States (in other words – do your homework!), then do the same thing!
Happy Thanksgiving from me to you.
Most companies look at their ‘Ideal Customer’, and stick with that profile far too long, to the detriment of other markets. You should be looking at what every list you make omits, not what they simply highlight. Focus on the exact opposite of your target market. It may be growing and has problems to solve that are also growing. Can you help? Can you offer them something different both from what they are getting now, and from what you are offering your core customers? If you aren’t sure, see if there is a way to test your theory before you start.
Do you have a Plan ‘B’? When you make a decision based on your core customer, have you thought about the possible lost dollars from other segments of your prospects? Once you have made decision, it’s hard to back off if it doesn’t work. Think of the steps you will need to re-trace by muddling your message up, and possible earning bad reviews, or comments, from those that don’t ‘get’ your approach. Is there a way that you can test your theories without incurring too much damage, and have an exit ramp that you can circle back on? If you do this early in the process, it’s easier to come up with an alternative plan that suits everyone better, rather than getting so far into a process, it is like wading through a bog. Once it’s up to your waist, it’s tough to turn around and go back.
Of course, this point also requires testing in some way, but all agile marketing is based on testing and it is the best way to find the differentiation for your business against your competition. In fact, you should build test periods and methods into your everyday marketing efforts. This may be more straight-forward than it appears at first. Above all, remember that differentiation is not solely about being different. It is about being different in a way that customers will pay for. Don’t just do one thing, to make one decision, to solve one problem, always test, always come up with a hidden bonus that will hook other prospect segments, not just your core prospects and customers.
I have been hearing a lot lately about ‘choosing your own future’, especially now that we are coming back from an unforeseen pause. Although this statement is firmly in the territory of ‘Life coach talk’, it does make sense for your business, too. Where you are today is the result of some decisions that you have made. Likewise, the future is dependent on what decisions you are making today. If this is true of your World, then perhaps this is also true of your customers.
If your business is based on ‘a way to make money’, then your customers are probably ‘those that wanted a deal’, or ‘those that paid a low price.’ These customers are yours because you chose them, questioned them, and closed them. If there are too many of these, you may want to look at how you are qualifying your sales, because there may be better ones out there; ones that could push your business in a completely different – and more profitable- direction. You have more power than you think in fulfilling your customer base, so how can you get better ones…the ones you want?
If you talk to Customer Service personnel in most companies, they will grumble about customer complaints, because they have to take them every day. So… why all of the negative comments? Why do customers not receive what they were expecting, or felt what they paid for? Because they weren’t told during the sign-up process exactly what they were going to receive: Because they were looking for something else. Wouldn’t you like to help out your customer service department by only attracting customers that are buying for the reasons you want…’the right ones’?
Take a step back, and find out what your happy customers think of your good or service. Why did they buy, and why are they happy with it? The chances are that there is a message somewhere in your pitch that you hadn’t previously thought of: One that ‘rang a bell’ with people that you aren’t immediately aware of. These may be a small section of your overall customer base, but wouldn’t it be nice if this represented the majority of your customer base?
The immediate concern will be, of course, well what about all of the other customers that have bought for different reasons, but do you really want to spend all of your customer service time dealing with people that bought for reasons outside of your defined ‘Ideal Customer’ pathway? You are being good to your sales and marketing efforts by clearly defining what kind of customer you want. With a little more definition, your perfect customer comes clearly into view, and your customer service time will truly reflect what kind of a business you have – one with lots of happy customers.
Part of every first conversation with clientele is the question: “Should I actually be marketing, right now?”
Usually, this means that the business owner hasn’t done any marketing – or knows that their competition does more – so, is there a ‘right time’ to start. However, since February of this year, it really means “Should I be marketing my business during a global Pandemic?” The logic appears to be that because no-one is buying, then what is the point of spending time and/or money on advertising. This logic is faulty. I generally ask: “If people are buying, why are you marketing, anyway?”
While money is tight, right now, marketing is not something you do for a specific reason – it is something you do all the time. Why? The old equation is true: Over 90% of prospects aren’t even thinking of you or your products. A little over 6% of prospects are browsing for something similar, and the remaining 3% are buying right now. For those customers that know you and do business with you, you don’t need to work hard to get them to return – their previous experiences should be enough to have them happy to come back. It is the others you need to talk to – and that requires marketing on an ongoing basis to ensure that while they may not be buying now, your company’s name is top of their thoughts when they return.
During COVID, this was even more important because everyone was trapped inside: How many times per day were they looking at their surroundings and the current state of their property and realizing that they had been looking at this everyday and how things will have to change ‘when things get back to normal’ ? Their only escape from this has been social media, so what a great excuse for businesses to promote who they are and what they do on these platforms that actually answers the questions that prospects are asking!
When business is slow is the time to market, because you have more time to do this. Let people know who you are, what has been working for your customers recently, how you are your staff are doing, what plans you have for the future. You will need to be ‘top of mind’ for customers when they return to being one of the ‘3%’ – not the ‘90%+’ – and that is what marketing is for.
I came across a wonderful Facebook post this week that answers a lot of these points. It was from a local branch of a nationwide frozen food company that continued work through the Pandemic when we were all locked down and – apparently – did well. Here was their post (with some deletions):
“For the past 3 months, we are truly thankful that our customers, new and old, have trusted us for not only maintaining our stock of food, but ensuring customer health and safety.
We have found ourselves in a position of having higher sales, and we totally understand that it is on the backs of other food businesses. So we want to give back and try something new. We are going to be committing 100% of our net profits each day to a local charity during the week of June 22-26.
[These charities…] will all receive the net profits from a days sales so stay tuned for more information and what day your favorite organization has been given.”
Wow! So not only a reminder that this business remained open when they were required, they were obviously in a health position to do so. Not only do they thank their customers for supporting them, they also tell you how guilty they feel about the hard time their competition went through. In fact, they are going to spend the week atoning for this by giving away their profits to their customers’ charities! I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to visit this business and support the local community!
This is the perfect social media post, because it offers something for everyone. Now is the perfect time to do things like this, when people are looking. In a few weeks, they will be back to their regular routine and they won’t have time to think about how to make their lives better. How can you turn someone from the ‘90%+’ into the ‘3%’ and how can you ensure they come back? This is what your marketing I for, and you should be doing it all of the time.
It’s been great to see that business owners are still looking toward the future during this uncertain time for Business. No-one saw a Pandemic coming, and no-one was expecting an almost total business shutdown for months on end, followed by strict operating procedures for the foreseeable future, when we return.
I have been receiving questions concerning my Marketing ideas for a variety of SME businesses all through the COVID19 shutdown, but – for many – they are too early in their planning process for me to help in a ‘budget-conscious’ manner. If you believe that your business plan is ‘ready to go’, and you are beginning to think about how you can attract more prospects to your company, let me offer a couple of anecdotes from recent requests I have received to ensure that you are on the right track.
For the guy requesting help with a Business migration service – this is a clever idea. Many U.S. businesses may be looking at moving to Canada, due to Political and Social changes that either have or will probably happen in these changing times. However, WhatsApp may not be the answer you are looking for! I certainly haven’t heard of a company before that solely markets their services through a text and messaging app, without any further information to offer prospects. While I appreciate that money is tight in the start-up phase of any business, your decision not to have a website, nor any kind of business records, in order to approach complete strangers about a life-changing move like this isn’t really the most professional way to go.
Perhaps you should spend a couple of moments online, to check out your possible competition and see who they are, and what they are have been doing in the past to attract prospects. After all, they are still in business, so they must be doing something right. Ask yourself: ‘what can I offer that is an upgrade to these suppliers?’ Just an idea.
For the established Herb business looking to add social media marketing to their website, this is a good idea. After all, if you are offering a home-based wellness system, this is a good channel with which to attract prospects. However, once your prospects have been enticed to your website, you really should be offering them answers to the questions you have already posed.
Your website is full of a list of experts that are either helping you or are advisory board members, but you don’t lay out what your products actually do, who they are for, what they cost, or what’s in the deal for customers. One of the major ‘hooks’ that any marketing plan can offer is the ‘Time Deal’, where Prospects exchange a few seconds on social media in return for more information on a corporate website. If there is nothing for them to understand other than how professionally you do business (which is something they probably expect!), the Time Contract has been broken.
You may not have been expecting suggestions concerning your website after you have spent so much on it’s design and launch, but considering the site had no highlighted keywords, wasn’t indexed for any Search Engines and had more than a handful of 4xx errors, you may have spent too much to get this far.
Basics, guys, basics: Any marketer can do the work that you want, but if it doesn’t make any business sense unless other changes are made in your public face isn’t me trying to shoehorn more money from you – it’s actually saving you money in the future by making sure your basics are correct.
Thanks for contacting me.