Friday, June 28, 2013

Marketing and your business: Where to begin?

New technology, new trends, a constantly changing landscape of marketing "opportunities" and services - if you are a small or even medium-sized business, it is hard to know where to begin, or perhaps even if to begin at all.
Most small business owners feel that a marketing strategy would be nice to have, but not at the expense of the daily activities involved in running a company such as order fulfilment or other activities tied directly to the money coming through the door. Though there is nothing wrong with focusing on the things that have the most immediate impact, the reality of this situation, based on what I have heard directly from small business owners, is that they would prefer to have some kind of marketing plan in place but don't have the time, expertise or resources to do so.

So, to help those of you who are interested in marketing their business but are unsure of where to start, here are two key pillars to have in place that will aide in planning out a strategy to market your business. Defining these pillars will form more than just a base for your marketing initiatives; it will also form a solid foundation for your company.

To know where you want to go, you have to know where you came from

I'm not an avid believer that this phrase is universally applicable in every situation, but it certainly helps clarify things when considering goals and defining the success of your company. This stage lays the groundwork and really takes stock of where you are now. Looking at past successes, scrutinizing past troubled patches for lessons to be learned from the experience and evaluating where you are now, are absolutely essential to marketing but also to the overall vision you have for your business. Some questions to ask during this phase:

  • Do you have measurable success markers in place? If so, have they been working? What have your successes been? Make a list.
  • If you do not have measurable markers in place, what would they be if you could implement them tomorrow? Sky's the limit at this point; do not self-censor.
  • Was there a particularly difficult period for your company in the past 12 months? Can you isolate what may have caused this? Would having measurable markers for evaluating your business have helped avoid this problem? And most importantly, end on a positive note: what did you learn from this experience?

Sometimes it is surprising what will emerge from a period of solid and honest reflection and evaluation. Like meditation for a  business, the process of taking the time to take stock is essential to determining where your company is going.

Now that you have an idea of where things are and why, who are you selling to?

Now that you've taken stock of your businesses' performance and set some future goals, but the next step is examining who you are targeting as customers and what you are providing them. Looking at your client base is essential to uncovering potential opportunities for your business. Creating a profile of your target market is an excellent way to get to know your typical customer. Some questions to ask:

  • Who is my main clientele? What are some of the reasons they come to my business?
  • Are there customers who come to me who I didn't anticipate attracting? What makes them different and motivates their decision to do business with me?
  • How do my customers find me?
  • Is there an opportunity to expand beyond this clientele?

A lot of this information is likely stored mentally through the interactions you have with your customers, but it really should be recorded or catalogued as it can provide great insight into who you are reaching and their motivation for coming to your business. By writing it down, you can better pick out key information when it is in front of you rather than when it is stored away mentally. Remember, each interaction with a customer is chance to learn more about your business (I will do a training session on this topic in Stittsville. If you are interested in attending, please email me at Registration is limited to 10 people. Date to be determined).

Summary: By taking stock of your recent business history, evaluating where you are now and profiling your target market and customers, a lot of insight can be revealed that is just waiting to be applied. Put this information to use! Let it serve as the base for your marketing decisions and how best to reach your most valuable potential customers.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Social media for small biz: a blessing and a burden?

Social media is a godsend for small businesses. It is has helped to level the playing field with the 'big guys' so to speak, at least when it comes to exposure in the marketplace. Social media has made it easier for small business owners to get out there and show their off stuff to the rest of the world. But one thing that perhaps is not as obvious when diving into the world of sharing, posting and Tweeting for the first time is the investment of time required to maintain a social media presence and the absolute necessity of having a strategy right from the start.

Choices, so many choices!

The abundance of social media channels and communities out there is astonishing and can be downright overwhelming. Even just considering the cream of the crop 'top tier' sites that are the equivalent of social media monarchy, it's easy to be confused by which to choose for your business, and unfortunately strategy becomes a game of eenie-meenie-miney-mo or the decision to just "do it all". But the process of deciding which social media platform to use need not be so anxiety-provoking.

Just because there are many choices out there doesn't mean your business has to do it all. Sure, social media can be a wonderful tool but it is not a 'set it and forget it' kind of deal that can be left alone after setting up an account. That is why I'm a strong proponent of a less-is-more philosophy especially for small businesses whose resources are at a premium. Rather than trying to have a Facebook page, Twitter account and Pinterest boards, for example, I prefer to guide businesses through the process of elimination to find out which 1 or 2 tools will work best for them based on their business goals and go from there. Choosing the best fit is paramount to the successful execution of a social media strategy that will lead to long-term success.

I know that this approach may inspire some initial feelings of apprehension that opportunities are being missed by choosing one platform over another and that the competition might get an edge by having a presence on multiple platforms, but in all my years of working in professional communications one of the consistent truths I have learned along the way is that ultimately, quality trumps quantity almost every time. Customers and clients will appreciate the more genuine sentiments conveyed through your messages and the consistent effort to stay in contact with them via a carefully selected social media channel than an inconsistent presence on several different sites because it is too difficult to manage them all. This is where the strategy comes in. It will guide what you post, what your measurements for success will be and most importantly, keep your efforts on track.

A manageable presence is the secret ingredient for success

After establishing a strategy, keeping your social media manageable is the next most important factor in the success of your social media efforts. This is why it is so important to scale the strategy to fit the size of your business. Much like the chance of sticking with an exercise program improves significantly when it fits your lifestyle, managing a social media strategy will only work if it is built around the resources and time you have to invest in maintaining it. Unlike other promotional tools, social media requires an ongoing commitment. While this may seem daunting, keeping it manageable makes it do-able and translates into something that can be sustained over the long term. Luckily there are many free tools to help with this such as Hootsuite, which offers an ever-expanding roster of services to help scheduling social media updates. Consistency and quality are key to making the most out of social media for small business.

Summary: Don't feel like your small business needs to be everywhere! Carefully selecting social media tools based on your business goals and then scaling the strategy to reflect the real-time commitment to maintain your presence is key to long-term success.

Interested in learning more about how to build a social media plan for your business? Email 

Friday, June 21, 2013

From the back burner to front and centre 2.0

So the very last post on here was heralding a new step in my professional career with the launch of my freelance writing business, Simple Communications. That was a definite momentum changer and step in the right direction however, fastforward a year, and now I'm in a whole new place, facing a new challenge - one that I'm so excited to embark on. I am launching my own consulting business that combines my passion and expertise for branding and marketing communications strategy-  The Rogue Pea Marketing. My niche is helping small and medium-sized businesses thrive by offering a combination of training and educational resources along with customized strategic advice to address branding, marketing communications and social media management.

In speaking with small business owners, I've come to realize that there is a glaring need for trustworthy and affordable advice that addresses the unique challenges small business owners face when it comes to marketing and 'getting the word out' as one such owner put it. These businesses face very different challenges and I'm very excited to meet these entrepreneurs, to learn more about what it means to own a small business and to help them achieve their goals and reach the success they envision for their companies. I want to help them become The Rogue Pea that stands apart from the pod!

My approach is based on the philosophy that better understanding and knowledge leads to better decision-making. As such my services offer a combination of education and custom consulting. In the near future (hopefully as soon as the end of July), I will be offering 2-hour training sessions/workshops for small groups of business owners. The first half of the the session will consist of a presentation I will give on a specific topic of interest, (ie. branding and why it is important for small business). During the second half I will moderate a workshop to discuss issues and questions that attendees bring to the table about their businesses, relating to the presentation topic that day. I feel this approach promotes a friendly and comfortable exchange of ideas - ideal circumstances to foster creativity and problem-solving.

My website will be up and running in the next month or so but for the time being, I will be posting regularly on this blog. Posts will include my take on a particular aspect of branding or marketing, or maybe a link to a valuable resource with a bit of information as to why it is useful.

All this to say, I hope you will stick around, subscribe to my blog by submitting your email (at right) to be notified of updates, and share your comments as we go along. Thanks!