A week or two ago someone emailed and asked, "we have no experience with non-online marketing. Like how to reach businesses who aren't online already, or at least actively. If you don't mind me asking, how do approach this problem? Is your business mostly referrals? Do you do cold-calling? Do you advertise?"
If you're a "high tech" firm, you may be struggling with these same problems. Here's my answer to this problem:
The short answer is to find out where the customers are, and how they want to be marketed to and then go from there. You probably have a lot of local resources that can help. For example:
- Chamber of Commerce
- Small business centre
Check the yellow pages, or ask at your local library about what exists in your area. You may also find the following Web sites useful:
There's also a wealth of information in the marketing section of your local library. Books tend to be a few years old so the information is talking about techniques that were more relevant 5-10 years ago (aka before social media).
Personally: I have never paid for advertising* and never done a truly "cold call." These two techniques are virtually useless for small businesses with little to no budget. I have done: local access television interviews, radio interviews, newspaper interviews, free seminars. I've partnered with local business organizations to give even more public talks. I have a mailing list that I market to. And the list goes on.
* I have placed ads and even paid a nominal fee once. The advertising I've done has been paid for by a partner organization for a specific event and is not part of my marketing budget.
Most of what I know how to do is contained in books at the library. Start there. Not only will you find a lot of really great information, but it will also get you in the habit of getting away from the computer to do work.
Someone once told me that it was inevitable that I am occasionally apologetic and embarrassed about my expertise. She cited two very simple reasons: (1) I'm a woman and (2) I'm Canadian. On hearing this I immediately apologized. I blurted it out before I even realized what I was saying. After a moment of stunned silence we both burst out laughing as I had proven her point.
When you know that you are an expert, your confidence will grow and you will be more effective at helping your clients and attracting more clients. There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but it only takes 8 steps to be able to say with confidence, "I am an expert."
- Write a list of the things you're good at. Be bold. Be brave. Be truthful.
- Make a second list of what's missing from your skill set to be a "master." Keep it focused. Think about how narrow a PhD is and figure out what your personal PhD is going to be.
- Build on your strengths in the first list and fill in the gaps from the second list. This may take a bit of time, but if you narrow your definition of what you're an expert at, you will probably find that you are already an expert at something!
- Write a position statement. (More about this in The confidence to be a master.)
- Find (famous) people who've written similar things to what you say in your position statement. Do the research. If you find no one, that says you're either brilliant or .. wrong. If you find lots of people, you already think like an expert.
- Document your experience in case studies. Write about the ways you have been successful and/or helped your clients realize success. Things that may seem trivial to you can be mind blowing to someone else. Describe each accomplishment no matter how small you think it might be.
- Create a new "pattern" document that describes the patterns you have seen in your industry and in your business. Refer back to the expert reports (Step 5) and your case studies (Step 6) to show the patterns really exist and are not isolated cases.
- Write and publish a summary of what you've discovered. It doesn't need to be a New York Times bestseller—a simple article on your Web site is enough to get you started.
Following these simple steps will help you to feel more confident about your expertise. The next big thing is to learn how to communicate your expertise. Rikki Kite has a fantastic talk called, Her PR Problem. The link takes you to a detailed set of notes from the talk. If you ever get a chance to see Rikki give this talk in person, go! She's a wonderful presenter and has a lot of valuable information to share.
I'll admit it, I talk during movies. I cringe audibly. I yell at the screen and generally get way too wrapped up in things I can't affect. Fortunately I don't live inside a movie and I have learned to listen to the scary music that comes on right before bad things happen to good clients. I can steer small businesses away from disaster, and help people out of the minor disasters they sometimes end up in. Have you learned to hear the scary music in your industry? You probably know it by instinct, but if you write it down, you can help your clients (and your prospects) hear the music too. By helping people to hear the music you too can help prevent forest fires.
If this idea is new to you, start by really looking closely at what happens around you. Do you see people making the same mistakes over and over again? Is a common problem getting the wrong common response over and over again? Does it drive you up the wall? Great! Write down your prescription and share it with your clients and prospects. Help others to see their way out of danger before it happens to them.
What do people perceive themselves as needing? Is it what they really need? Or are they missing something more important? I constantly drive my small business clients up the wall by saying, "no." Whether it's a blog or an online forum or a photo gallery or any number of things, so many business owners think that adding technology to their Web site is going to magically turn into revenue. (Hint: It's not.) I force my clients to bring me their passion and then, together, we find the right tool to implement that vision, but I never let the technology drive the conversation.
Start tracking the issues that you see. Create a little checklist and add a tick each time you see someone making (or avoiding) mistakes you perceive to be common. Keeping careful records about successes and failures in your industry may help you to develop a list of prospects for future work. But for now, take note of what's broke, and figure out how you would fix it.
Somewhere between there and here I became a non-fiction "process" book junkie. I will devour information in ways that other people devour cupcakes. A few weeks ago I chomped my way through Getting Business to Come to You by Sarah and Paul Edwards. Although it's an "old" book, it had a lot of really excellent information. If you're looking for a newer version of the same information you may also enjoy Duct Tape Marketing by John Jantsch. These aren't the only two books on marketing, but they are really great practical books for small business owners.
Most small business owners that I've worked with have spent lots of time developing and honing their craft but haven't dedicated much (if any) time to truly marketing their business. Sure, sure you have a business card and a brochure and you go to networking events or maybe you've got a newsletter. That's marketing, right? Yup! But how effective are you at helping to explain your value to your prospects and customers?
Here are two fantastic ideas from Getting Business to Come to You that I'd love you to implement today:
1. Start a mastery journal
I don't care if it's print or digital, but I want you to start writing down your accomplishments. Did you solve a particularly tricky problem? Ding! Write it down. Did you discover a more efficient way of doing some part of your business? Ding! Add it to the mastery journal. You may want to include newspaper articles and blog posts about your business, or even personal correspondence where people acknowledged your expertise. I have a folder called, "Accolades" in my filing cabinet which includes the speaker notes that Damian Conway wrote on a post-it note at OSCON in 2009. It doesn't matter how you store this information, it matters that it's collated.
2. Develop a position statement
I get lumped in with a lot of different kinds of businesses that I know I have nothing in common with. ("So you do computer repairs?" Um, my VCR still flashes 12:00.. and yes, I still have a VCR.) I know that I'm different, and the more I think about and talk about these differences, the easier it becomes to articulate them quickly to new people. Your position statement should include:
- the point of view held by your best competitors
- your philosophy about the services and products you offer
- the unique features of your services and products
- the reasons why you run your business the way you do
- the mistakes you see repeated over and over again by your competitors and your prospects (or clients)
- the most common problems, needs, mistakes and concerns your products and services address
Your position statement is a private document. You may pull out elements to use in public marketing pieces (and you may even send the whole thing to a select clients in the future). But it's not meant as a promotional piece. It's meant to be a frank assessment of how your business fits into your industry.
If these ideas seem foreign to you, but you know they sound like something you should be doing, I recommend you buy yourself a copy of either Getting Business to Come to You (more detailed, loads and loads of amazing examples, but tech information is out of date) or Duct Tape Marketing (less detailed, good examples, tech information is more current). Check your library, local bookshop or Amazon for these titles.