Competitive Leverage

How to Crush the Competition by Leveraging Experts

Many of my initial meetings with clients include questions such as What is the best resource to learn to build a website? or How can I create a Facebook ad that will drive traffic to my website? While I encourage my clients to understand basic concepts, I always tell them to enlist the help of people in their personal network who have specialized skills rather than do the actual work themselves.

Successful entrepreneurs know that leverage is at the heart of business success. When your car has a problem, most people don’t spend 2 years to learn to become an auto mechanic so they can repair their own car. This is highly inefficient. Instead, they just take the car to a repair shop where an ASE certified mechanic fixes it for them.

The same can be said for many tasks in your business. Why would you learn to code a website when you can hire someone for a few bucks that knows how to not only build a website but is also versed in the best practices to do it for you?

What I tell new entrepreneurs is to take the tasks that they routinely perform and break them into their component steps. I then recommend that they outsource any steps that are of such a nature as they can be easily performed by someone else.

There any many websites that focus on connecting the business with specialized freelancers. Four of the most popular sites include:

As anyone who knows me knows, I am a flaming dyslexic and as such my writing is full of misspellings caused by transposition errors that spell checkers all too often do not find. Tools like Grammarly are helpful but I need the assistance of an editor to make sure my writing makes sense to someone other than me. Therefore, I employ an editor to proofread all my posts before I post them publicly.

Moreover, when it comes to some WordPress plugins like WooCommerce or NextScripts auto poster, there are many sophisticated features that require complex setup. However, rather than spending my time researching and reading forums in an attempt to set up the plugins myself, I simply hire an expert in that tool to do it for me.

I have hired virtual assistants, graphic designers, social media experts, programmers, researchers, PC experts, Network IT professionals, and so many more.

I personally use Upwork and occasionally Freelancer since I’m most familiar with their interface but they all share some common attributes.

Here is what I really like about them.

Cost

For one, I often hire offshore resources. Now I can hear a few of you say why not hire a local person. I have been called unpatriotic by some but here is how I see it.

First, the cost savings are quite compelling. I often save a significant amount depending on the skill.

For example, my WordPress programmer is $9.00/hr and lives in India. My incredibly talented IT guy is just $8.00/hr and my virtual assistant is $6.67/hr. They both live in the Philippines. My editor lives in Canada and is $10.96/hr.

Hourly rates for people with similar skill levels in the U.S. would be 5-10 times the price I pay when I go offshore. These cost savings allow me to reduce my expenses and therefore allow me to offer many of my services for free or at much lower prices.

Moreover, these savings allow me the additional income that I can spend at my local restaurant or local store.

Working Hours

Then there is the fact that many of my resources live on the other side of the planet. While some may see this a problem, I see this as an asset.

When I end my day, I send many of them instructions for things I need to be done. While it is the end of my workday, it is at the beginning of theirs. So when I get to work the next morning, they have completed the tasks assigned to them.

When I hire local resources, I normally have to wait an additional day for them the complete the tasks during the next workday.

Moreover, when the resource is offshore, they are fixing things when the bulk of my traffic is sleeping so performance is never compromised.

Better Hire

Then there is my ability to hire better. Rather than hiring a resource based my gut feeling after a single phone call or interview, these freelancing platforms take a page out of the eBay playbook in that after each transaction the buyer and the seller rate each other.

Before I hire someone, I can see what others have said about them. Each freelancer is rated on a 1 to 5 scale on such dimensions as: skills, availability, communications, quality, deadlines, and cooperation. There is also a narrative from most of the previous customers they worked for that describes their overall impressions and experience.

Since nobody wants to be trashed by the other party that will reduce the person’s opportunities for future work, it keeps everyone honest and doing the best job they can.

When I post a job, I often get about 50 or more responses in less than 3 days. I often eliminate all the responses from people that have less than several thousand dollars in projects on the platform so I can ensure they have several quality reviews.

Then I filter the list of applicants to those that have a 4.8 star or better rating. That often limits my list to about 10 or some qualified candidates.

For these finalists, I do much more thorough research by reading each review before I hire them. By the time I hire them, I have a good idea about the kind of work I can expect.

However, when I hire local resources, I have only what the vendor tells me as I can’t easily question their previous employers.

In conclusion, when I outsource tasks that are not core to my business, it often costs me significantly less than local resources. The work also gets done much faster because they are both specialists and because they do it when I sleep. Moreover, my hiring decisions are better because I can review all past performances. So what’s not to like about outsourcing?

How can you crush the competition by leverage expert resources through using a freelancer platform?

Note: this article originally appeared at www.SteveBizBlog.com.

 

 

Business Formation

Formation Errors that Can Destroy Your Business Startup

Almost every client I see has already registered their entity with the Secretary of State prior to meeting with me. While technically the registration process is relatively simple, there are a number of common mistakes most clients make. Some mistakes are made out of sheer ignorance during the filing process and others are the result of failing to finish the process.

As stated in the video: The real reason for registering an entity,  the Secretary of State is primarily concerned with whom to serve papers to (registered agent) in the event of a lawsuit. That said, there are three common mistakes that I see people make when filing articles of incorporation or articles of organization with the Secretary of State.

  1. Failure to include any entity identifier in the name (LLC, Corp., Company, Inc., etc.). By including the entity identifier in the name, it communicates to the general public that the personal assets of investors are insulated in the event of a lawsuit.
  2. For limited liability companies: Here you need to make the distinction between the election of member-managed and manager-managed. By electing member-managed, you are saying that every investor/member is involved in the decision-making process. As decision-makers, every member, therefore, can potentially be held personally accountable in the event of a lawsuit. While a member-managed LLC is desirable for investors that want a direct say in the company’s direction, it comes with the potential for additional exposure to personal liability in some cases.
  3. For corporations: Here many businesses fail to include/file important additional attachments. For example, these attachments could include documents that spell out indemnification/limitation of liability for officers to deter litigation or the use of restricted shares of stock that do not allow for transfers of such stock or only allows transfers under certain conditions.

In addition to mistakes made during the actual registration process, there are many mistakes that are the result of failing to complete the process that takes place after filing the articles with the Secretary of State. Here is a list of things many incorporators forget or don’t bother to do after they file articles with the Secretary of State:

Corporations:

  • Failure to create bylaws which are the internal rules that govern the day-to-day operations of the corporation
  • Failure to create shareholder/buy-sell agreements that describe how a change of ownership may, and may not, occur and what happens where there is a change in ownership
  • Failure of the owners to appoint a board of directors
  • Failure of the board of directors to hold a first meeting to:
    • Set the corporation’s fiscal year
    • Appoint officers of the corporation
    • Adopt the bylaws
    • Authorize and issue shares of stock

Limited Liability Companies:

  • Failure to draft an operating agreement that describes how decisions are made and how profits and losses are allocated, capital contributions made, how/when meetings are held, buy-sell provisions, dispute resolutions, etc.

Both:

  • Failure to move assets from the founders into the company, primarily intellectual property

So, what happens if you fail to complete the process outlined above? Answer: A lot! Here is a short list of the consequences of failing to complete the process.

  • If the assets aren’t transferred from the founders to the company, then any founder who owns an important company asset can hold that asset as extra leverage to get what they want. After all, it’s still their property. You can often transfer the assets using a simple bill of sale trading equity in the business for the asset.
  • If there is no operating agreement, bylaws, shareholder agreement, etc., then everyone is free to argue about it later. This often leads to bad feelings and legal actions that are VERY expensive.
  • Failure to capitalize the company or follow the proper formalities can lead to “piercing the corporate veil,” which means personal liability for the company’s founders/owners. This means that the entire formation process was overall a waste of time.
  • If you fail to issue stock now, you’ll have to issue it later when the tax cost could be very high.

Related Post: Seven Common Business Formation Errors 

Have you followed the proper formation process?


I would like to acknowledge Terry Doherty of the Doherty Law Firm P.C. for his gracious assistance as a reviewer to make sure that the legal issues conveyed in this post were an accurate representation of U.S. corporate law.

This article originally appeared at www.stevebizblog.com

 

Push vs Pull Marketing

PULL Marketing vs. PUSH Marketing – The Shifting Battleground

Even though I make my living as a marketer, I get as bothered as any other consumer by the constant intrusiveness of unwanted promotions. The abundance of unsolicited marketing pitches from TV, radio, Internet ads and other media exasperates me daily. Yet, as hard as we try to get away from it (using tools like DVR, Sirius Radio, cable, and voicemail), persistent marketers continue to find new ways to track us down and share their messages, regardless of our needs or receptivity.

Here are a few examples of irritating push marketing techniques:

  1. Anyone showing up uninvited. Whether at the office or home, this is particularly irritating. The exceptions are neighborhood scouts or sports teams.
  2. YouTube requires you to watch short commercials prior to viewing their content.
  3. Newspapers that contain ads that are wrapped around the editorial content, so you have to go through multiple gyrations to get to the news stories.
  4. Online, floating banner ads are becoming more intrusive and harder to ignore. They follow your cursor until you can find the “close” button.
  5. Unsolicited telephone calls are still an annoyance except they are now from so-called “market researchers” and charities, which are exempt from the privacy requirements. Who came up with that loophole?

Here’s the problem. Push marketing is intrusive and often ineffective because, at any given time, a majority of your audience, whether they are listeners, viewers, or readers, have no interest whatsoever in what you are promoting. They may be interested in the future, but if you come on too strong when they are not receptive, you may turn them off forever.

In some cases, you may have a lead requirement that can only be met with push marketing techniques. If so, by all means use the necessary techniques to meet your lead objectives. But often, you have a choice, and a more effective alternative is to practice pull marketing strategies. Pull marketing centers around the idea that you actively draw clients or customers to seek out your product or services. You do this by discovering where your prospects congregate, making your information available to them in educational and entertaining ways and giving them incentives to come to you when they have a need for what you offer. Instead of having a monologue (as evidenced in push marketing) with your clients or customers, you create a dialogue with pull marketing – a dialogue between you and the prospect.

Transitioning from push to pull marketing strategies is a subtle shift in thinking, but it is also quite powerful. Instead of asking: How many people can I sell to today?, the question becomes: How can I help people solve their problems? In the first scenario, you are a seller, almost an adversary. In the second, you are a helper whose expertise (and wise placement of messages) sells itself. Instead of just relying on ads pushing your value proposition, you produce valuable content (through social media and at your website) that solves problems. In other words, you become a trusted resource and thought leader who circulates a carefully crafted message that attracts the people who need you.

Nevertheless, there will always be an ongoing battle between consumers and push marketers. The latter will continue to try new and clever ways to force the former to pay attention and respond to their promotions. But I submit that a much more effective plan is to uncover a way to attract a larger share of the people who are already interested in what you offer and then convince them to do business with you. It is always easier and more pleasant when you can fulfill an existing need instead of trying to create a need.

In the push model, the marketer is seemingly in charge of everything – the timing, content and frequency of promotions. However, in reality, your consumer is the one in charge, because only he or she can decide whether or not to read or listen to your promotion and whether to respond.

When you are deciding how much of time and financial resources to allocate between push and pull marketing strategies, keep in mind that the battleground has shifted and the prospect is the one who holds the high ground. Rather than fight this reality, just accept who has the real control and find the best ways to help people buy in the way they want to buy, instead of the way you want to sell to them.

 

Note: this article originally appeared at www.GreatB2BMarketing.com

 

Marketing Leader

Watch the Leader and Profit by Capitalizing on Their Mistakes

As a culture, we glorify the winners. As business owners, we often think the best path to success is to try and emulate the achievements of business winners. Unfortunately, most of us will fail in our endeavors because it is nearly impossible to replicate the conditions of the front-runner or market leader. Often what we perceive as a quick and decisive victory, was in-fact the results of a long drawn out war.

Being the first to market a truly innovative new product means you have to educate your customer about your value proposition. You often risk being too far out in front of the market and having to wait for it to catch up.

Moreover, of the 5 categories of adopters, Innovators and Early Adopters collectively represent only 16% of the market and value technology and performance. In contrast, the Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards represent the vast majority of adopters and value solutions and convenience.

Therefore, marketing to the first group requires a very different message than the message you want to send to the adopters in the second group. Most front runners often struggle with transforming their marketing focus as they try to change gears to attract the majority of adopters.

Also, being the first to market means you will make lots of costly mistakes that your competitors can learn from and then capitalize on at your expense.

Therefore, it is often far better to see what the market leader is doing and just be a little different in your value proposition. For example, when Chester Carlson invented the photocopier, it never really took off until the Haloid Corporation licensed the technology. Rather than sell copiers, they leased them, which gave rise to Xerox. (See related post: New Product vs. New Economic Model)

In another example, Keurig (See related post: Keurig™s New Business and Economic Model) didn’t invent the coffee maker; it just changed its value proposition to essentially sell the coffee pot at cost and sell the coffee in the form of K-cups. This is a particularly effective strategy when your customer segment is not very price sensitive and is very value driven. This strategy works best when you sell premium products or services which no one else offers.

If your product or service is being compared to alternatives, it is likely that you are not different enough. All too often I hear that we are better than the alternative, but this plays directly into the hands of the consumer as it changes the narrative from value to price.

When I was an Invisible Fencing dealer, some customers (especially the electrical engineer types) would look at the product and ask me why it cost so much since the sum of the parts and the underlining technology were pretty simple. To that objection, I would often reply, It is not the sum of the parts or the revolutionary engineering that defines our product. I would then explain that the technology was based on a simple AM radio technology and would encourage them to build their own DIY version if they had the time and energy to do so. However, I reminded them that we owned the patent and they could not manufacture a competing product.

Our product was also often compared to chain link and cyclone fences. Whenever potential customers brought up these options during my sales calls, I refocused their attention on our value proposition. When the prospect tried to compare our product to one of the alternative products by saying something like with your product it will not keep other dogs out or a product does not provide privacy from our neighbors I’d redirect the discussion to our value and positioning and reply, Aren’t you looking for a product that will contain your dog that has no gates and requires no maintenance? As you can see, I’d drive them away from the comparison and toward the unique values we provided.

In the end, differentiating your product has its own challenges, but your goal is to help the customer to mentally experience your product or service to a point where price becomes a secondary issue.

Do try to be the first mover or simply provide a slightly different value proposition?

This article originally appeared at www.SteveBizBlog.com.

Business Risk

How to Control Business Risk

Business expenses can be categorized as either fixed expenses or variable expenses.

  • Fixed expenses are expenses that your business must pay regardless of any sales it makes. For example, fixed expenses include the monthly rent you pay on your equipment, building, phone bills, as well as any indirect staff such as a manager or cashier. So, fixed expenses are the expenses that the business incurs each month regardless if the business makes $0 or $1,000,000 in sales.
  • In contrast, variable expenses are expenses that are incurred only if you make a sale. For example, if you sell a product, your wholesale cost of the product is a variable expense. Also, direct employees or contractors hired to deliver a service and who could be cut loose if the work is not there are examples of a variable expense. So, variable expenses are the expenses you would not incur if you never made a sale.

A business with low fixed expenses but high variable expenses has less risk. If sales during the month are poor, the business incurs most of its expenses only when the business make sales. Therefore, a business with low fixed expenses but high variable expense business has less downside risk. However, these same businesses are generally less scalable because if the business makes lots of sales, profits will be small because each sale incurs a high variable cost.

On the other hand, a business with high fixed expenses but low variable expenses will suffer greatly if it experiences lower than expected sales volumes. However, because its variable expenses are low, profits will be higher if sales are higher than expected. Therefore, business with higher fixed and lower variable expense are far more scalable than businesses with low fixed expenses and higher variable expenses.

Would your business benefit from lower downside risk with higher variable expenses or higher upside with greater fixed expenses?

This article originally appeared at www.SteveBizBlog.com.

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Sles Process

Build Trust into the Sales Process

People buy from a person, not a company

How many times have you purchased a product from the second salesperson that came to your door or office…selling the exact same product at the exact same price? Why? Was the exact same product at the exact same price somehow better from the second salesperson? No. Chances are, you probably trusted the second person more.

Maybe you’ve heard this and maybe you haven’t but, at the end of the day, after all the marketing campaigns, after you’ve checked off all of the steps on your sales process flow chart, after all the PowerPoint presentations (hopefully not too many…please), after all the negotiations and after the reference checks have been made, people buy from a person, not a company. The prospect may love your company and your product but if they don’t trust you, well, there’s always the second guy.

We all know that you need to sell your company and your company’s qualifications and experience, that’s a given. But don’t just jump in with “my company this and my company that”.

Start a conversation

I don’t want to get into the basics here, you know, “my name is and my company is” but, start with a short conversation. You don’t want to make this too long and have the person at the door or on the other end of the line or across the table begin to think “wow, this guy’s wasting my time”. I’ve been on both sides of that and, as the sales guy, I’ve seen that look in the prospect’s eye. Not something you want to see. As always, be respectful of your prospect’s time. But start a conversation. Ask how their day is going and be sure to listen and respond…”yes, I understand how busy a Monday can be” or “yes, that was some storm that we had last night”.

Then, introduce yourself. Before you go on that first sales call, take some time to build your talking resume. Articulate your qualifications and experience. If you feel comfortable with it, mention something personal (not too personal). Maybe something about a recent trip that you’ve been on or a movie that you’ve seen. Again, not too long. Just enough to show that you have earned the right to be there. Let them know that you’re a human being and not just another salesperson looking to make a commission.

Sometimes we get so caught up in selling our product and our company that we forget to sell ourselves.

Of course, do your homework. Let the prospect know that you understand their issues, their problems and their needs. But build the trust in you first and continue to build on that trust throughout the sales process.

It doesn’t matter if you are selling a single product door to door or you’re selling a million dollar software solution to a multi-national company. Ultimately, you are selling yourself to another person or group of persons.

Merriam Webster defines trust as, “Assured reliance on the character, ability and strength of someone.” Dictionary.com defines trust as, “Reliance on the integrity, strength and ability of a person.”

Show your prospect that they can rely on your character, your ability, your strength and your integrity. Accomplish this and your sales cycles will be shorter, your relationship with your prospect/customer more congenial and your efforts more monetarily rewarding.  As for the rest, well, refer to your organization’s “Sales Process Flow Chart”.

Brand Awareness

How to Achieve Powerful Brand Awareness for Free or Low Cost

Brand Awareness has two goals. The first is moving the knowledge of your product or service from the unknown or unconscious mind to the conscious mind. The second is making a positive association with the brand.

According to John Jantsch in his book “Duct Tape Marketing” a customer needs to Know, Like, and Trust you to make a purchase. Brand awareness helps with the “Know” part and may contribute to the “Like” part of your marketing effort.

A prospect’s awareness of your brand aids in the sales conversation, but does not necessarily produce a sale. Brand awareness helps to associate the company’s name with the brand’s message. The rule of seven applies to brand awareness. Therefore, brand awareness requires a constant effort and can not be done just a few times and abandoned because it has not produced sales.

Direct marketing, often confused with brand awareness, by contrast has one goal: to convert the prospect into a customer through direct means. Direct marketing accomplishes the “Like” and “Trust” part of the marketing effort. Direct marketing need not always be done face-to-face or on the phone, but can include direct email, interactive websites, etc.

If the prospect is aware of your product and thinks positively about it, it is infinitely more likely that that s/he will buy from the company when they are a viable buyer. When it comes to sales, direct marketing alone without any brand awareness is far more difficult.

Free Marketing Ideas to Create Brand Awareness

Brand awareness often is not directly responsible for making sales, but aids in the conversion rates of more direct marketing and sales efforts. The brand’s message has to be constantly repeated to cross the divide from residing in the unconscious mind to the conscious mind before it becomes effective. Therefore, brand awareness is a constant effort. It cannot be done just a few times and abandoned because it has produced no sales.

That being said, here are 5 ways to create brand awareness for free.

  1. Write a Press Release about a new product or newsworthy event and distribute it using the many free Press Release Services.
  2. Create a human interest message and contact your local news stations to see if they are interested in running a human interest piece on your business. Local news programs are always looking for stories to run on slow news days. When I started my Invisible Fencing business I got all three major networks at the time (ABC, NBC, and CBS) to come out and do a story on us.
  3. Market your human interest message to your local newspaper. I contacted the writer of the business section of our citywide and neighborhood newspapers, which like the news stations were looking for story ideas and were eager to help us get our message out.
  4. Find a complementary business and exchange advertising posters to cross-promote each other’s stores. For example, a sporting goods store and a golf course or a fabric store and sewing machine repair service could make good pairs.
  5. Take out an ad on Craigslist to promote your service business or to sell your products.

Marketing Ideas to Create Brand Awareness For Under $10

BUSINESS CARDS – If you have a business to consumer (B2C) business, you can use tools like Business Decisions (often available at public libraries) to identify the ideal market demographic and psychographics, known as a Landscape Segment in Business Decisions, for your product or service. Within the text of each Landscape Segment is a description of the demographic’s preferences, which includes where they shop and spend their leisure time.  A free copy of the Business Decisions Landscape Segmentation Resource Manual can be downloaded from the resource tab of www.SteveBizBlog.com.

Once you have identified where your customers frequently shop using the Business Decisions Landscape Segmentation Data, you can go to the parking lot where your prospect frequents and hand out your business cards.

Recently I was waiting for my wife while sitting in my car, when a fella came up to the window and said that he noticed my cracked windshield. He handed me a card for his windshield repair business. Years ago I placed business cards under cars’ wipers or under the rubber window seal by the door lock, with some marketing success. While it is technically not illegal to leave business cards on cars some people can get pretty annoyed, especially if you touch their new vehicle. 500 business cards can be purchased for under $10 through companies like Vista Print.

CORRUGATED PLASTIC YARD SIGN – We have all seen political yard signs all over neighborhoods as an election nears, or we have seen “open house” signs on houses for sale.

Placing a reusable sign with your company and contact information in the front yard of a customer’s home, either while you are working or for a few days after the job is complete, is a good way to promote your business to the neighborhood. This is particularly effective if the neighbors can see your work, such as with roofers and house painters.

You can also often place these low cost signs in vacant lots or near intersections for even greater exposure. At a cost often in the range of $10 per sign, this is a cheap way to create brand awareness.

PICKET SIGN – You have seen people protesting on the corner for higher wages or against unfair labor practices, but picket signs can also be used to create brand awareness.

You can simply attach poster-board to a stick to make a picket sign with your company’s information. Have idle employees walk up and down the street in front of your establishment to draw attention to your business.

Marketing Ideas to Create Brand Awareness For Under $75

BANNERS – The other day I went to the bank and passed a car parked in a dirt lot next to the roadway selling bonsai trees. He displayed a banner that ran the full length of his car, attached by bungee cords, to alert people to the fact that he had something to sell.

A reusable banner can be hung on fences, walls and even your vehicle parked on the roadside. These banners often cost less then $75 to design and make.

SPINNER/ARROW SIGN – You have seen these at intersections. Workers can be seen moving to their own beat, listening to music as they dance and twirl a sign promoting an income tax service or grand opening.

You can use an idle employee to stand on the roadside listening to his favorite music and spinning a sign to draw attention to your message. Signs can be had for about $75.

MAGNETIC VEHICLE DOOR SIGN – Magnetic vehicle door signs are very popular. A typical sign can be purchased for under $30 each, so your vehicle can become a rolling billboard for under $60.

The beauty of this solution is that the signs can be installed on your personal vehicle when used for business, then removed when you don’t want them.

A note of caution; you may want to check with your insurance agent whenever you place signs on your vehicle. Some auto insurance policies do not allow you to operate a vehicle for business without a separate business vehicle insurance policy. Each insurance company is different, so you should check your policy before using your personal vehicle for business.

VEHICLE DECALS – Add a logo or more permanent lettering to your business vehicle than is possible with simple magnetic signs. The price for modifying two doors can be under $75.

Marketing Ideas to Create Brand Awareness For Under $150

MAGNETIC CAR TOP SIGN – Pizza delivery vehicles often employ a magnetically mounted roof or window mounted sign. In most cases these signs include an internal light that plugs into the vehicle’s cigarette lighter, which draws even more attention to the sign after dark.

The signs are visible across a sea of cars and in large parking lots. Most cost about $150 and can be reused indefinably.

COSTUME – Dress idle employees in a costume and have them wave at passing traffic. Costumes (such as the popular chicken, lady liberty, or hotdog) can often be purchased for under $100 and be used over and over.

I am reminded of a variant on the costume idea when I travel to places like Sturgis, SD, during rally week. There you can often see businesses who hire shapely young women to wave at the traffic sporting nothing but bikinis to draw attention to their business.

SANDWICH BOARD – You see them on sidewalks, inside office buildings, and even at busy intersections. A sandwich board is a free standing A-frame sign where you can place your message on either side. These signs have the flexibility to set them up and/or move them to a new location in seconds. A deluxe A-Frame sandwich board can often be purchased for under $90.

WEARABLE SANDWICH BOARD – A variant to the traditional stationary sandwich board is a wearable version.

Have an idle employee walk along the street in front of your establishment or at an event to draw attention to your business.

Professionally created wearable sandwich boards, complete with straps, can be purchased for under $75 for a blank board. For another $75 the board can be printed with your logo and message. Of course, you can create your own wearable sandwich board by using two poster boards and some ribbon for next to nothing.

 CAR MOUNTED MEGAPHONE/PA SYSTEM – The classic image of a car driving slowly down main street with a political campaigner urging people to get out and vote for their candidate has been used for years.

Or the iconic ice cream truck, slowly driving down an urban neighborhood street playing music, which acts as the pied piper for kids. That same concept can bring brand awareness to your business in the same way.

Either project a live voice, a recorded message loop, or music while you drive your signage-affixed vehicle down a busy street, drawing attention to your business or special invitation.

A decent car-mounted megaphone can be had for under $150. Handheld units can be purchased for under $75.

Miscellaneous Low Cost Marketing Ideas to Create Brand Awareness

WALL PAINTING – Contact the owner of an old barn or blank-walled building to see if you can hang or paint your message. Or use a variant of wall painting, and utilize a projector to display your lighted message on a blank wall for even greater impact at night.

AIR DANCER – You have seen the inflatable tube man dancing in front of a business. You can often purchase an arm-waving inflatable tube man, also known as an air dancer, for under $200 to get folks to look your way as they pass your establishment.

PARADE FLOAT – Many parade organizers look for businesses to create floats. By re-purposing an old trailer and adding a few leftover items, most businesses can create an appealing float on the cheap.

THEATER AD – Contact your local movie theater, where you can often advertise for under $10 per day.

SEARCH LIGHT – Often used to draw attention to a new location, you can rent a search light that is visible for many miles and creates a curiosity factor, causing people to go out of their way to discover the light’s source. Prices start at $350.

Uncommon Advertising Locations for Brand Awareness

URINAL AD – Public restrooms for men have urinals affixed to the wall. When in use the man is forced to look straight ahead at a blank wall. With a captive audience for a minute or so, some establishments display advertisements positioned at eye level.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION – Many bus, light rail, and taxi companies derive additional revenue through advertising inside as well as outside the vehicle.

BENCH AD – Bus stops often have a simple bench or an enclosure to keep people out of the weather. These generally contain space for advertisements.

The Sequence Signs for Brand Awarness

Growing up in Boston, on the way to the airport you would pass a series of very simple signs on the side of the road. They encouraged you to relocate to Boston and read: “If You”, “Lived Here”, “You Would”, “Be Home Now”.

Burma-Shave became an outdoor advertising icon by delivering a catchy message with a punchline in the dawn of the car culture.

Sequencing signs are most effective on secondary roads, where traffic moves slower than on the interstates. A simple series of about six roadside signs like the corrugated plastic yards sign discussed above, placed only about 25-50 yards apart can create a unique marketing message.

Since traffic counts on these roads are often lower, they are not the domain of the big outdoor advertising agencies.

Permission to erect a series of corrugated plastic yard signs can often come from a single land owner and be far cheaper then standard outdoor advertising.

Bumper Stickers Promotion for Brand Awareness

Ever notice that on the trunk of most vehicles is a decal or emblem identifying the dealership where the vehicle was originally purchased? For the life of the vehicle the dealership’s brand is viewed by thousands and thousands of drivers as they wait at stop lights and stop signs or walk through parking lots.

Some time back I remember a radio station that gave away bumper stickers. Each day they sent out someone from the station to a undisclosed location, whose job it was to look for one of the bumper stickers. If they located your vehicle with the sticker you won a prize. Drivers were eager to secure one of the stickers so they might be the next winner.

I consider this one of the most brilliant marketing ideas I have ever seen, since it created a desire in a person to actually promote the radio station. Imagine you owned a tire store or oil change center and you offered vehicles with your bumper sticker promoting your brand a discount off their next purchase. You could create an army of potential marketers driving around town promoting your business every day.


This post was derived from a few excerpts from the book “Practical Marketing Concepts For Your Small Business”. Buy the compete book at Amazon.com.

Practical Marketing Concepts For Your Small Business is a wisdom packed book that was written for the budget conscious entrepreneur looking to better market their products or services.

The books is divided into 9 chapters that look at:

  1. How to identify and target viable customers
  2. Tactics to get noticed in an ocean of interruption marketing
  3. The attitude and behaviors of various target demographics
  4. The buyer psychology including behavior economics and emotional appeals
  5. Dozens of free and low cost ways to achieve greater brand awareness
  6. Tactics to make your message more memorable and sticky
  7. Common pricing mistakes that can kill a sale
  8. Ways to leverage economic gyrations and current events to improve sales
  9. General marketing and sales advice to help make better marketing decisions

As a serial entrepreneur and mentor to thousands of small businesses the author has distilled a lifetime of business marketing content that every entrepreneurs should consider applying to their business.

Practical Marketing Concepts For Your Small Business is a concise and easy to read guide packed with solid advice delivered in small bites that the reader can use to make incremental improvements to their marketing efforts. Be sure to get your copy today!

This article first appeared on LinkedIn, June 21, 2017.

Word of Mouth Marketing

3 Free Ways to Boost Your Word-of-Mouth Marketing

The availability and speed of at-home internet connection has caused more people to create a side hustle, which in turn has increased competition. This increase in competition is in turn driving down margins while simultaneously driving up the advertising clutter as more and more people clamor for their customer’s attention.

Smaller margins translate to tighter budgets, which explains why word-of-mouth marketing is the principle marketing strategy most of my clients utilize before they walk into my office. After all, word-of-mouth marketing is essentially free.

When I ask my clients to elaborate on how their word-of-mouth strategy plays out, most simply suggest that if we make a good product or deliver a good service, their clients will tell their friends how great we are, which will in turn lead to a greater number of sales.

Suffice it to say, this is a rather passive tactic where you lose the ability to control the message delivered to potential clients. There are much better ways to use word-of-mouth to promote your product or service that are also essentially free, but allow you better control of the word-of-mouth message.

Most people think word-of-mount must be from your client’s mouth to your potential client’s ears. However, your word-of-mouth strategy should also include video, audio, and text you had a hand in creating. Next time you think about your word-of-mouth promotion strategy, you should include internet enabled word-of-mouth tools such as YouTube, podcasts, or blogs.

When you consider promoting your business in this day and age, don’t think about ads or commercials, which are essentially “interruption marketing” and are based on conditions that really no longer exists in much of the market place.

People hate T.V. and radio commercials as well as newspaper ads and have tools to filter out the promotional content. In fact, this idea came to me as I was watching T.V. on my Hopper by Dish Network whose value proposition is that they allow you to watch a delayed T.V. show where the company (Dish Network) effectively removes (or hops over) all the T.V. commercials for you, hence the name “Hopper”.

So today when you think “promotion,” you should think about developing content that establishes you as the expert. You no longer should focus on directly selling your product or service, because in the new age of the internet, you want other sites to link to your content to thereby spread the word about you and your company. When consumers of internet content see you as the expert, they will seek you out to buy your product or service when they become viable.

For example, when you are in the market for a new car, you’ll likely consult the internet. If you’re like 99% of shoppers, you won’t be searching for online ads produced by auto manufacturers to make your car buying decision. Instead, you’ll likely search for reviews and opinions on various makes and models provided by “experts.” If you are one of these experts and provide that valuable content, perhaps gained because you are an online auto broker, the consumer will seek you out when they are ready to buy because they perceive you as the expert and feel they can trust you.

The first step in harnessing internet word-of-mouth is to imagine that you are your customer and consider what they really need to know, then address that need using one or all three common and cheap internet enabled word-of-mouth strategies.

1. First, let’s consider YouTube. Next to Google, YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine and is where most people go to learn about a particular topic. Best of all, it is free to post your video content message on YouTube.

Let’s say you produce a stain-glass cutting system. You might provide a few YouTube videos showing how to cut stain-glass or how to make various projects, and “oh by the way” your demonstration uses your cutting system. If the viewer likes your content and needs a cutting system, many will see how easy the tool was for you to use and seek you out to buy one just like the one you used in your demonstration. Note: You never asked for the sale, but you should provide a way for the consumer to buy from you.

Make sure you concentrate on content or the viewer will consider it an interruption marketing message and filter your message out. Furthermore, if you simply produce an infomercial to showcase your product, other retail sites won’t link to your video, thereby eliminating the true value of internet word-of-mouth. All you need to produce a YouTube video is a simple webcam.

2. Then there are podcasts, which are essentially audio programs (mini radio broadcasts) downloaded or streamed as an mp3 file over the internet rather than over the airwaves. You can post podcasts directly on your website or upload them to show sites like iTunes or Stitcher for your potential client to download and listen to on their computer or mp3 devices such as the ubiquitous iPod or most smart phones.

Perhaps you are a lawyer who specializes in estate law. You could conduct a mock interview where you answer questions about estate law in your podcast. In the end, you establish yourself as the expert deserving of the customer’s business who will seek you out to help draft their estate documents when the need arises.

All you need to produce a podcast is a recording device such as your webcam or digital recorder. If you want to record a phone interview as part of your podcast, the “Smart” Phone Recorder Control from RadioShack only costs $20. Also, you will need some free computer audio editing software such as Audacity or a similar tool to both record input from an offline recording device like a digital recorder and edit it down to produce your own podcast that you can then share with the world on platforms like iTunes and Stitcher.

3. Finally, you can create your own blog where you can not only establish yourself as the expert that you are, but you can also create content with the express purpose of encouraging your clients to carry on a dialog with you.

For example, if you are a cleaning company, you could share how you might get a red-wine stain out of carpet and encourage others to share their tricks or encourage them to share their worst cleaning problem, which you can then address. Creating a blog is relatively simple with free content management tools like WordPress.

Using any or all of the above internet enabled word-of-mouth tactics allows you to control the dissemination of the information posted to the internet. Additionally, you can develop content that other sites will want to link to, thereby allowing you to take on a much more active role in implementing your word-of-mouth strategy.

How do you control word-of-mouth marketing?

Note: this article first appeared at www.SteveBizBlog.com

Business Goals

Establish Your Life Goals Before Your Business Goals

Through my consulting practice and teaching, I talk to a lot of individuals who have ambitious goals, either for the start of a new venture or expansion of an existing business. My favorite was the founder of a start-up software company who told me her objective was to be “bigger than Google”.  That was five years ago and she still has only two people on the team. 

While she is not likely to be bigger than Google, why does this entrepreneur, and many others, have an objective that is so outlandish?  Better yet, how does such a goal, even if miraculously attained, make their life more enjoyable, interesting or fulfilling?  The answer is; it often doesn’t.

One of my former clients often complained about how hard he was working in his small business and the negative impact it was having on his family and health. Yet he had left a comfortable corporate job where the pay was better and the time demands were much less. Even worse, he insisted on controlling every factor of his business and instead of delegating, he was mired in the minutia of day-to-day operations.

In each of these scenarios, and many more, the problem is misalignment of personal and business goals. My advice is that before you solidify the objectives for your business (or career) you always start with a blank sheet of paper and ask yourself questions like:

1.       If money, time and the potential for failure were not obstacles, how would I like to spend my work time?

2.       What do I really love to do, and hate to do?

3.       How do I want to spend my workday in terms of what I am doing, who I am doing it with, and how much I am doing?

4.       How hard do I want to work and how hard am I willing to work, to achieve success?

5.       How much time am I willing to invest in the short-term, in order to reach my goals in the mid- to long-term?

6.       How will my family and friends be impacted by my business venture and am I willing to make this tradeoff.

7.       What sacrifices am I willing to make to achieve greater levels of success?

In business school, students are taught start-up strategies of companies like Apple, Facebook and Microsoft – not about the successful restaurant grew from one to a dozen locations, or the consulting practice that grew from start-up to 25 employees. Students naturally set their sight on achieving the massive success they are taught, despite the fact that such levels of success are rare and in some cases, not even desirable.    

I’ve witnessed more than a few business owners (also corporate workers) who achieved their financial goals but lost their families in the process. Some don’t mind the tradeoff but I think most regret making such lopsided work-life balance choices. The point is that you can be successful and quite happy by hitting a single, double or triple in business. The home run may cost you more than you ever wanted to pay!

This issue recalls a personal moment of truth earlier in my career while I was a director of marketing at a large software firm. I received an offer from a prestigious technology company to be an “evangelist” which meant that I would be on the road doing speeches and meeting with partners about 90 percent of the time. When I shared this news with a COO friend who I respected, he said something to the effect of, “I was on the road so much when my kids were little, they might as well have called me “uncle” instead of daddy. I got the point and turned down the prestige and money.  I chose my family over career and have never regretted the decision.   

Of course I want you to prosper, and to achieve as much success in business as possible, but only in a way that aligns with your important lifestyle objectives. Better to ask the right questions early than face the regrets later.    

How to Apply Cumulative Advantage and Social Agents to Scale Your Business

As business owners, we often focus on meeting the desires of a specific prospect so we can make the sale, but that is like being an employee in the cash flow quadrant where you only get paid when you make a sale.

This approach to sales is very labor intensive and therefore not very scalable. To succeed in most businesses, you have to be scalable and that means creating a word of mouth epidemic. Therefore, you must locate, attract, and nurture what are called “social agents” to help spread the word about your product or service.

Social agents, sometimes called social influences, are people that share your message with others. While a social agent may actually never do business with you, they love recommending you to others.

While working with a prospect one-on-one has the opportunity to make a single sale, attracting a social agent creates the opportunity for a business to make many sales. As related in the story “My Greatest Source of Business Was Right Under My Nose” by Andrew Griffiths the author shares how simply befriending his delivery man yielded a social agent that translated into significantly higher sales.

By engaging one or many social agents, you will not only keep your sales pipeline full, but through a principle known as cumulative advantage, also known as the “Matthew Effect,” it will enable your business to scale over time.

The principle of cumulative advantage states that once a business gains a small advantage over others in its industry, that advantage will compound over time into an increasingly larger advantage. The effect is well known and is embodied in the catchphrase, “The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.”

To demonstrate this principle, think back to the last time you played Monopoly. Each player starts out with an equal sum of money and on a level playing field. As the game progresses, one player (through a combination of luck or through skill) begins to amass a few more income generating properties than the other players. The additional income allows the player to invest in even more income generating properties in comparison to the other players. While there may be some ups and downs during the game, there is a snowballing or amplifying effect that acts as a tailwind for this player. Most often, this advantage continues to multiply and grow as the game progresses. What started out as only a slight advantage ultimately results in this one player owning  the entire game board. The advantage is small at first, but by the end, one player dominates all the rest.

As an entrepreneur, your business may be seemingly just moving along sideways for an extended period of time. Then one day, you attract the right social agent who begins to promote your business message and you get that seemingly invisible boost in sales.

Over time, this advantage continues to grow through the principle of cumulative advantage. It occurs slowly at first, perhaps even inconspicuously, but gains momentum over time. This momentum creates a kind of gravity, making more and more people aware of you and your business. Once your customers perceive you have an advantage, the gains begin to accumulate at a much faster rate as you begin to dominate your competition.

Do you focus on finding, attracting, and nurturing social agents in an effort to employ the principle of cumulative advantage to scale your business?

This post originally appeared March 31, 2017 at www.SteveBizBlog.com.