Thursday, July 24, 2008

Introducing Your Business: The Elevator Pitch

(Note from Tara: This guest post is by MJ Petroni, Causeit, Inc. Principal. I asked him to contribute to "Ditch the Dusty Widget" on the topic of networking and the elevator pitch because he's so darn good at it! Used with the author's permission.)

If you have only a couple of seconds to introduce your business—standing in line, in a group networking meeting, or, you guessed it, in an elevator—what will you say? The brief moment afforded you by a senior exec or a networking group is intended to give you a chance to demonstrate why your listener(s) should be interested and ask you for more information. Keep it short—and try following these steps.

Introduce who you are first.
Who are you? What are you committed to? What is the core product of your business (safety, innovation, partnership, etc.)?


My name’s MJ Petroni of Causeit, Inc. and we partner with businesses &
individuals to help them translate their intentions & visions into reality.

Most people only listen to the very beginning and very end of what you say—the times when they have to check in to manage a transition into or out of a conversation. Leave them with the essence of you, your business and your brand. Don’t go into the specifics yet; that’s the next step.

Explain briefly the tangible elements of what you do—in lay terms.
How do you deliver on the promise of what you just introduced?


We help you discover the core intention and vision of your business and then
translate it into plans and tools you can use now—drawing on proven business
methodologies and marketing techniques.
Hopefully we didn’t lose them—if they were interested, they stuck around and are about to hear a real example of what we do. If not, we’ll close the conversation with a brief reminder. If for some reason you do want to lose ‘em, just dive into describing the features of your business with all the details. Go ahead, toss in the jargon! If, however, you do want to keep their attention, use simple language and common concepts, and keep it short. I would love to explain our coaching process, our business development process, and our web & branding partners, but there isn’t time.

If you have time, and they look interested, give an interesting, brief example of a recent project or showcase client.
Demonstrate the fun, exciting, engaging and unique portions of your business.

Recently, we’ve been working a great company called Fliptography to showcase
their product. Rather than explain the booth that makes flipbooks from people
dancing in front of a camera, we coordinated with local trend-setters, and
helped them secure an article in The Mercury in less than two weeks after
launch.


Make your work tangible, real, and interesting—but only if there’s
time.

Tell them what to do to take action—or continue the conversation
if it’s one-on-one.
Do they need to call you to set up a meeting? Is there a promotion for them to take advantage of? Will you take them to lunch? Should they go to your website?

Check out our website for more useful, fun articles, workshops and business
development resources at
www.causeit.org.

Have you asked for their business? Make sure that if you have only a few seconds to speak with them, you provide an opportunity for them to take action and find out all of the information you were aching to tell them. A simple, appropriate invitation to meet up for lunch can work, as can a referral to a source of more information.

For more information about how to introduce your business, meet new clients and build on existing relationships, contact Causeit, Inc., a business development firm committed to the success of love, work and life.

©2008 MJ Petroni and Causeit, Inc. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Heeeeeere Fishy Fishy Fishy

One of my favorite classic Sesame Street moments (and I'm not too mature to admit that I have them) is the episode when Ernie and Bert are fishing.

Bert, as usual, is frustrated. He's been fishing for an hour to no avail. So he complains that there must not be any fish.

Ernie, as usual, is chipper and optimistic. There are fish, he insists, and he can catch them just by calling to them.

This episode used to make me laugh as a kid, it made me laugh as a new parent when my toddler watched it, and even now, it makes me laugh out loud.

Today, it seems as if this comic moment captures what I often encounter as a marketing consultant.

Business owners are frustrated that their marketing efforts don't yield what they want. The chipper consultant (that's me) shows up to say that their marketing messages may not be the right ones, or they may not be "heard."

And in the contract of consultant-and-client that ensues, there is a "teaching how to fish," experience.

In real life, however, it's just not as funny.

What is just as funny in real life is the news that hit the Internet this week about a salon in Washington, D.C. that gives fish pedicures: instead of razors, miniature carp eat dead skin and calluses from clients' feet.

Wow.

We marketers are forever advising businesses to be unique, but this just leaves me speechless, except to say "Heeeere fishy, fishy, fishy!"

Do-It-Yourself PR: A Simpler Press Release Template

In case you missed the "anatomy of a news release" from PR Newswire that I wrote about last month, here's another resource. Learn the basic outline of what goes where in a press release courtesy of Bizymoms.com: press release template.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Weekly Affirmations for the Self-Employed

All aspects of my business are under my jurisdiction, not only the parts I like and enjoy the most.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Oh No! When E-Mail Marketing Goes Wrong

Earlier this month, one of my favorite local businesses experienced a major e-mail marketing mishap. I cringed as I watched it all go down, and though it pains me to recreate for you what happened, it’s an important object lesson for small businesses using e-mail marketing.

Company X uses e-mail to announce special events and promote new products. That’s the good news. E-mail marketing is a great thing for Company X—and for you—to do.

The bad news is that they do it “the old-fashioned way,” by keeping newsletter subscribers in their address book instead of an opt-in database. When they e-mail their subscribers, Company X either blind-copies them or sets up some sort of association between newsletter@companyx.com and all of the individual addresses. As I said, there's no “opt-in” function. No unsubscribe function. Just an informal e-mail from Company Owner to Customers, with newsletter@companyx.com appearing in the “To” field.

If this is the way you handle your e-mail newsletter campaign, may this story persuade you to change that ASAP.

Guess what happens when someone on the newsletter list hits “Reply All?”

Every single one of the newsletter list members gets a weird note from someone we don’t know that says, “Hey, Company X, I’ll definitely be coming to that event, it sounds great! Signed, Not-So-Savvy Customer at Company ABC, online at www.companyabc.com.”

Giving Not-So-Savvy Customer the benefit of the doubt, I’ll presume that she hit “Reply All” to send her message to companyowner@companyx.com as well as newsletter@companyx.com because she really thought that was the best way to make sure her email got through to an actual person. But I sort of suspect that it was an intentional guerilla marketing stunt by someone who knew what she was doing and who replied to everyone on the list as a way of promoting her own company to the e-mail list of Company X.

Either way, she deserves the title of Not-So-Savvy, because not only does she look stupid, but her single action prompted a cascade of additional e-mails, ranging from the helpful to the confused to the angry.

“I’ll be there, too!”

“Sounds good, but I’m out of town that weekend.”

“Hey, Company X, you have a problem with your email. I’m getting emails that are meant for you.”

“Why am I getting e-mails from people about this event?”

“How did you get my e-mail address? Why are you e-mailing me?”

“Take me off your e-mail list.”

“Everyone stop hitting reply all and these messages will stop!”

“I asked to be taken off your e-mail list a year ago. I don’t even live in Portland anymore.”

“This is ridiculous. I don’t have time to manage your business as well as my own. Take me off your list.”

And so on.

By the end of the day, I had dozens of angry e-mails in my in-box and spam folder.

Ugh.

What a way to piss off your customers.

Don’t let something like that happen to you.

If your customers are willing to give you their e-mail address and receive contact from you, respect their privacy and protect it! It’s easy and inexpensive to do with an e-mail marketing service partner.

There are lots of companies to choose from for e-mail marketing services, to name a few:
Emma
Constant Contact
Vertical Response
FireDrum

CoolerEmail
iContact

Any of the above companies enable you to create your e-mail newsletters and store your subscribers’ e-mail addresses and information in a safe, secure database. Each of these services offers your subscribers privacy protection and a quick, easy, one-step unsubscribe function. For you, they also help ensure delivery of your e-mails and to track opens, click-throughs and forwards (you have always wanted to know if anyone actually READS your e-mails, right?).

The products above are quite inexpensive, easy to set up and maintain, and many can be customized to fit your business needs. For really tight budgets, use one of the templates provided by the service. If your business's brand is important enough to spend, say $250-$450 for a one-time design fee, you can have the e-mail marketing company custom create a template that matches your business image, allowing you to easily insert your news and content.

Whether you have a service business, a retail store, manufacture or distribute products, are business-to-consumer or B2B, you should use an e-mail marketing service for your electronic newsletters. The small fee you pay to send the e-mail is worth every cent for protecting your customers’ privacy and showing them your respect for their personal information.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Do-It-Yourself PR: The Overview

Just stumbled across a PDF someone posted of an interview on Marketing Sherpa with a public relations expert: "How to Do Your Own PR Campaign: 8 Steps & 3 Mistakes to Avoid."

Written for the start-up and for the business owner who wants to announce his/her new endeavor to the world, it presents messaging suggestions, such as honing in on what makes you unique and figuring out how to describe your company in layman's terms.

If you're wondering whether you should hire a publicist or a writer to assist you with your press release, this article might help you make the decision. At the end, you should have a good sense of whether you can manage all eight steps on your own or whether it just sounds overwhelming!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Follow Up: 5 Steps to Closing the Deal

An entrepreneur I know recently asked me for assistance with his marketing messages. Frustrated after months of meeting with key corporate decision-makers in the effort to sell his service, he contacted me in hopes that I could craft the magic words that would close the deal.

“They understand what I’m offering,” he told me. “And they don’t disagree with the numbers I have that show the ROI they’ll get after bringing on my services. But where the rubber should be hitting the road, it’s not. When it comes time to find the money to contract with me, nothing happens.”

“How do you follow up with them after you meet?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t really,” he admitted.

Therein lies the problem, I told him.

This entrepreneur doesn’t need me or any other marketing firm to help communicate the value of his services or how they work. He’s been out doing that all along, and, by his own admission, he’s able to speak with, reach and obtain agreement from his audience.

What’s missing isn’t a positioning statement or magic marketing slogan. What’s missing is the close.

Every business owner has to be a salesperson. No matter how groundbreaking your idea, how unique your product or how valuable your service, it’s a dangerous fallacy to wish or believe that it will sell itself.

It’s not enough to advertise your business and hope people will buy from you.

It’s not enough to meet with prospects and then wait for them to pick up the phone and volunteer to pay you.

It’s not enough to call potential new partners and expect that they will team up with you.

To make things happen—really make things happen—you have to follow up and make them happen.

5 Steps to Closing the Deal

1. Contact the decision-makers you’ve met with and ask if they’re ready to _____ (fill in the blank to close the deal).

1a. If they say yes, great! Ask them how you can help, thank them and now you can watch it happen!

1b. But if they say no—which is usually the case—you have more work to do.

2. Ask them what they need to be able to take the next step. Make them answer you specifically. Press them for the name of the person who has to approve the next step, ask them to tell you when you can expect them to be ready to take the next step, and ask if there’s any information or assistance you can provide in helping them take the next step.

3. Mark their responses in your calendar or contact management system. Following your conversations, follow up with a thank you and a summary of what they said they would do and by what date.

4. Schedule a trigger in your electronic calendar or contact management system so you remember to follow up on the date when they said they’d be ready for the next step.

5. Then begin at Step 1 again.

If, at that date, they continue to be unable to take the next step, repeat the process.

Sometimes, it can take months to years to push through a new contract, depending on the size and scope of your product or service. Don’t be afraid to keep in touch in between those milestones. Personal notes of congratulations if you see your contact or their company in the news, and invitations to events or networking opportunities make a genuine positive impression to your prospect. Be present. Be visible. Be non-pushy but clear in what you want.

Wishing for new contracts or new clients isn’t going to make it so. And being nice and polite isn’t enough to make people want to do business with you. You have to show them the benefit you provide, coax them along the process, and make the ask to land the deal.

Monday, July 14, 2008

More Make Your Own Marketing Materials

Find affordable templates for a range of businesses, including tanning salons, nail salons, spas, plumbers, heating and cooling contractors, dental offices, banks, child care, churches and more at StockLayouts. There's an incredible variety of templates available, from ads and flyers to menus and newsletters. For the just-starting-out-and-I-don't-need-or-have-a-brand-identity sole proprietor or small business owner, this could be your dream come true.

I haven't used the services of this company, but I know they've been recommended by John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing.

Template marketing is better than no marketing. So if you've been stuck with your promotional efforts because of a lack of materials, business cards, stationery, flyers, or postcards, you don't have any more excuses. Get out and market!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Make Your Own Marketing Materials

Against my better judgment, I'm passing this resource along as well: the Marketing Impressions resource center at HP.

From a free logo maker, a free class about how to build your first website, and a step-by-step guide to create a direct marketing program, this website has enough information to make any small business owner a total danger to himself and others.

For those of you who are hell-bent on refusing to pay for the expert talents of graphic designers, copywriters, web site designers, public relations professionals, and branding developers to ensure that you have a top-quality business identity, go knock yourselves out!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Kauffman's Entrepreneur Resource Center

In addition to eating flaxseed meal, another juicy tidbit about me that will have you undoubtedly screaming "nerd" is that I listen to public radio and watch public television. In fact, I am one of the 10 people in Portland who don't have cable, digital, streaming or satellite TV. I have rabbit ears and four TV channels—five on a clear day with the rabbit ears rigged over the front door—one of which is Oregon Public Broadcasting.

And in my listening to public radio and watching public television, I frequently hear sponsorship credit for my valued programming given to the Kauffman Foundation, supporting entrepreneurship.

I've thought to myself that I should learn more about how the foundation supports entrepreneurs but never remembered to follow through with it. Today, while cleaning out my e-mail (because that's what *I* do for fun on a Saturday; yes: "nerd"), I found a link I'd saved to a Daily Cash Flow Forecasting Spreadsheet for entrepreneurs. As I clicked on it and explored, I discovered that it's a resource from the Kauffman Foundation's eVenturing Entrepreneur's Resource Center. In their own words:
The Trusted, independent source for high-growth entrepreneurs.
Welcome to the eVenturing Entrepreneur's Resource Center. This site is geared toward entrepreneurs on the path to high growth, who are building companies that innovate and create jobs. You'll find this site provides a wealth of original articles, written by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, and aggregates "the best of the best" content on the Web related to starting and running high-impact companies.

A brief visit to the Marketing tab reveals so many high-quality, in-depth, utterly useful links to experts who tackle the very issues that have been plaguing me lately (How do I engage in social networking for my business in a way that's not insincere? How do I get more out of Google Analytics? How do I create the advertising messages for my business that will really convert?) that I think I just discovered how I'll spend my Saturday night.

*Sigh*. I know. "Nerd."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Do-It-Yourself PR: Submit the Press Release

So you have the timely, relevant, well-written, factual press release written about your newsworthy business announcement.

Now what?

If you’re a natural networking pro, you already have established relationships with editors, journalists, bloggers, and other influencers to whom you can send a personalized note with the attached press release.

But if you’re like the rest of us overworked, understaffed and overwhelmed small business owners, you don’t.

First things first: decide if your news is of interest to a primarily local audience, or if it might be relevant to a broad, national conversation.

Unless you have a celebrity endorsement to announce, you’ve added a national expert to your board of directors, or your business has just made a breakthrough into a trend or channel that’s part of a national or industry conversation, you probably just want to reach those media in your city, state or region.

Quick Internet searches will turn up the websites for your local newspapers and media outlets. Nearly every single newspaper, magazine, TV or radio station you want to contact will have a link on their site with instructions for how to send news releases. So just follow the instructions. Really. It won’t take more than a few hours for the computer-user who’s comfortable with the Internet.

If your news has a wider reach, you want to enlist the assistance of a newswire to distribute your announcement.

Internet-based newswires usually have a per-submission fee, and the size of the fee depends on a number of factors:

  • which wires will be reached

  • how targeted it will be (industry-specific, for example)

  • whether you add on various other services such as search engine optimization of your news release, embedded links back to your website, video, photos, etc.


The two most reputable and effective online fee-for-submission services that have been recommended to me are PRWeb.com and PRNewswire.com.

There are some free press release submission sites that will blast your post all across the Internet, too. Posting your news release via these portals will get your name “out there,” but the likelihood of getting any relevant traffic is slim. Personally, I believe you can even damage your reputation using these kinds of services because you place your content (and business and brand) alongside a teeming cesspool of poorly written, amateurish crap. To see what I mean, just visit any of the following free press release sites and look at what’s posted.

www.free-press-release.com
www.1888pressrelease.com
www.24-7pressrelease.com
www.express-press-release.net
www.prbuzz.com

For a more extensive list, along with an experienced PR gal’s blunt perspective about what you can and cannot expect from free services, visit Naked PR’s “Big List of Free Press Release Distribution Sites.”

She also has a fantastic post called “Effective Free Press Release Distribution in 5 Easy Steps” that has basically the same information that I just wrote above, with some added detail and curse words.

Regardless of how you proceed with distributing your press release, don’t overlook the value of having a well-written, relevant news release in the first place! Even paying a $350 submission fee to get your announcement to The Associated Press wire isn’t going to do you any good if the material isn’t newsworthy, timely or fact-based.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Shopping and Advertising Small Businesses on Craigslist

A very smart, very professional, very successful woman I know recently told me that when she went to hire a lawn care service this spring, she went to Craigslist to find one. She contacted several advertisers, spoke with a few, and hired the guy(s) who made her feel most at ease.

Craigslist, as you may or may not know, is *THE* place to find whatever you need—be it a job, a girlfriend, a new house, or a babysitter. It’s also *THE* free place to advertise your services or products or anything else you have that other people might want.

Recent headlines in the newspaper remind us that it’s also *THE* place to find stolen goods being sold for cheap, prostitutes posing as bored co-eds, and a whole assortment of other arrangements that you may not even have known existed.

Some of the advertisements on Craigslist and discussions in the forums are shocking and graphic, so it should come as no surprise that some of the people who regularly use Craigslist to find or advertise services may not be…shall we say, top-tier individuals?

I advertise my copywriting services on Craigslist and it’s a choice I made with the understanding that there would be some risks involved (i.e., spammers, scammers, lower budget clients, portraying my business image as low-cost and therefore less professional).

As a new business, I simply wanted to see what I could get for free. Does it work? Yes.

I have found some fantastic clients through Craigslist and I’m confident that I can control my business image and communicate the quality of my work by the type of ads I write. That said, I’ve also received some unwelcome and/or strange e-mails, and had the occasional not-so-fantastic client—including the one who taught me the lesson that I really need to be paid up front for projects.

If you’re considering advertising on Craigslist, keep in mind the disadvantages and seek to maximize the advantages as fully as you can.

And if you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur looking for services on Craigslist, be smart! Remember that you get what you pay for. Don’t take advertisers’ claims at face value. Ask for references and investigate potential service providers a little more than you might feel is necessary.

Last week, I saw a guy marketing to small businesses on Craigslist who said he had extensive experience in search engine optimization, web development and web design. In his ad, he listed 12 websites as examples of his work. I clicked on them. One of them had expired and wasn’t even active. Another was a local business specializing in custom paint and body work. Since the guy claimed to know SEO, I went to Google and searched for “Portland custom paint body work.” The website didn’t come up anywhere on the top three pages! And when the business’s name and URL includes the word “custom” and the tagline of the business is “custom paint and body work,” there’s no reason that site shouldn’t rank top page from a local search. Is this a guy I’d want to recommend to my clients? No way.

What are your Craigslist business experiences? Met a great designer or hired a fantastic employee from Craigslist? Do you use CL to get new business? Post your CL stories in comments.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Don’t Sneer. Do.

Sneering at something is an admission of failure. You are claiming superior talent or insight…but declining to use it. The best way to sneer at something, if you must, is to improve it or outdo it.
--Spider Robinson, science fiction author

Many would-be entrepreneurs get stuck in our own fears of presumed failure and sneer at the successes of those for whom we work instead of having the courage to see if we really CAN do better.

Friday, July 4, 2008

If They Can Do It, So Can You

I eat flaxseed.

Mixed with plain yogurt, a few shakes of cinnamon and a handful of raw nuts (when I’m feeling particularly indulgent, I add some organic blueberries and a teaspoon of honey), flaxseed meal provides a nutritious, low-carb snack that’s surprisingly yummy.

And that flaxseed meal comes from Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods in Milwaukie, Oregon.

In this month’s issue of Oregon Business magazine, there’s a short profile of Bob Moore, the founder and owner of Bob’s Red Mill.

According to the profile, Moore stumbled upon the milling idea after owning, operating and losing his shirt in the business of service stations. Following his financial ruin, Moore discovered a book that changed his life: John Goffe’s Mill by George Woodbury. The memoir told the story of Woodbury’s successful restoration and operation of the grain mill that had been in his family’s possession since the Revolutionary War. In the article, Moore says of Woodbury's undertaking:
“I thought this guy didn’t know beans about milling when he started, and if he did it, I can do it.”

And so he has. After nearly 30 years, his mill has recently doubled its manufacturing capacity to keep up with 25% annual growth.

That one phrase—“If she can do it, I can”—repeated in my head for years while worked for my last employer. As I watched how my boss ran her company, I kept looking for some mysterious characteristic she possessed that was the reason for her success. What was it that she had that I didn’t? After more than four years of searching, I realized there wasn’t anything. The only difference is that she took the risk to begin.

When I asked another entrepreneur I know how she came to start her own day spa, she told a similar story. While she worked for a spa owner, she constantly bumped up against the limitations of being an employee, especially as she peppered her boss with ideas. Tired of hearing the young upstart’s suggestions about how to improve spa services, her employer said, “If you think you can do a better job, go start your own spa.” So she did. This month, she celebrates five years of owning her own successful business.

Have you ever had an idea for a business or product and looked at others who have taken theirs to market and wondered, “How did they do that? How can they do it, and I can’t?”

You can. But you have to be willing to take the first step.

For inspiration, go have an amazingly delicous, whole grain breakfast at the Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Store and Visitors Center at 5000 SE International Way, Portland, OR 97222.

And in the meantime, Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Learn Everyday: Buy More Books

As I mentioned in "How Do You Define Success?", I learn everyday.

Building two companies requires me to improve my skills, challenge my assumptions and keep abreast of new developments in the worlds of technology, business and marketing. In personal development terms, I'm learning how to negotiate better, manage money better, compensate for my weaknesses, achieve work-life balance as an entrepreneur and mother, capitalize on my strengths, and ask for help.

In practical terms, I'm learning systems, software, invoicing, setting rates, managing cash flow, trademark registration requirements and processes, tax laws, the legal duties of an S-corp, and more.

While I read LOTS of articles online, subscribe to Entrepreneur, read The Portland Business Journal and Oregon Business, pick up the occasional issue of Fast Company, receive e-mail newsletters from The New York Times and The Financial Post (Canadian) as well as others, I also find books—and increasingly, ebooks—to be an invaluable source for the information I need.

If an entrepreneur I admire recommends a book to me, I go get it. No questions asked.

Because if there's anything I've learned so far, it's that other entrepreneurs and business owners have all encountered the same questions, problems and anxieties that I have. If they tell me of a resource that can make my life better, easier or help me solve an issue that they struggled with, too, then I get it.

So far, they've always been right.

And that, my friends, is why I started my own online Dusty Widget Bookshelf at Powell's Bookstore.

The books that have helped me can help you, too.

And, the books that help me to help you help me even more when you buy them from here. Yes, I do make a generous commission on the sale of each and every book (even the latest by Stephenie Meyer), CD, DVD, ebook, magazine and journal that you buy from Powell's when you link to the online store from "Ditch the Dusty Widget."

It's my favorite kind of relationship: a win-win-win. You benefit with knowledge, the best bookstore on Earth gets a sale, and I get a commission.

So, please do us all a favor and grab yourself some summer reading material here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008