With rising fuel costs and general costs of doing business, it is not uncommon to see a business owner pass these costs onto the client. However, how you choose to pass those costs on can potentially alienate your customers. For example, customers are more likely to accept a increase in your overall hourly rates than they are to accept an “administrative fee” or a “phone charge fee”. Nobody likes to be nickeled and dimed to death. Seeing several entries for miscellaneous, small items tend to cause many customers to become irate, particularly when they are already paying, what they feel, are competitive rates for your services.
Be cautious when adding a charge to a customer’s bill where there’s no perceived value to the customer. A better, winning sales approach would be to make it clear to your customers that many of the extra services you include are free. As always, the “carrot” of the perks you provide will go a lot further than the “stick” approach to doing business.
Thanks to modern technology and a plethora of “Dummies Guide to…” books, almost anyone can set up their own website with relative ease. While user-friendly software makes the process of setting up a website seems quite simple, one aspect which may not be so simple to accomplish is selecting a domain name.The quest for the perfect domain name which will allow you to sum up your business in just a few simple catchy letters is typically your first step. Unfortunately, if you choose a domain name that conflicts with one of the millions of other commercial names that already exist, you may run into trademark issues that can end in significant legal costs to you.
The best way to choose a domain name that satisfies your needs while not infringing on any possible trademarks is to search as many existing trademark databases as possible. Start at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov), the Thomas Register Online (www.thomasregister.com), and then search the Internet in general.
If your search turns up a similar name to your proposed name, ask yourself these questions:
(1) Are you offering goods and services that will compete with the goods and services being sold under the other name?
(2) Are you offering goods and services that will be distributed through the same channels as the goods and services being sold under the similar name?
(3) Could your website ultimately divert business from the other site with a similar name?
(4) Is the other name well known?
If you can answer “no”, to all of these questions, you can feel relatively confident that your domain name will not create a possible trademark infringement issue. If you answer “yes”, you may need to brace yourself for a possible legal challenge from the other business down the road. If all else fails, consult an attorney specializating in trademark law.
Defining your marketing strategy is, without a doubt, an essential element needed to sustain the ong-term success of your business. Surprisingly though, most entrepreneurs and new business owners do not have one. Or, they have taken the time to create one, but fail to follow it. What’s the point in that?
A marketing strategy is not to be confused with a marketing plan. They are not the same thing. A marketing strategy requires selecting a realistic, measurable, and ambitious goal that you think your business can achieve on a sustainable basis. Each marketing tactic you employ will be focused on reaching and exceeding that goal. With a marketing plan, you are outlining the tactics, actions, and timetable that will be used to achieve your overall strategic goal outlined in your marketing strategy. In short, the plan details what you will do to make that strategic marketing goal happen.
One of the first steps in developing your strategy is to set your ultimate goal which obviously will be different for every business. Regardless of what it is, your marketing strategy should drive everything that your business does to achieve that objective. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for creating the right strategy, but there are several key factors that can point you down the right road. You can start by identifying who your customers or target prospects are, where they are located; what they want and need, why they need it, how they need it, and when they need it.
Answering these questions will assist you in creating a unique marketing strategy which you can test, analyze and implement. Yes, I said test. Very few businesses nail it right out of the gate. By testing your strategy on a defined portion of your market, you can analyze its effectiveness, tweak it if necessary, and then implement it when you think you’ve got it right.
The implementation of your strategy will (and should) be an ongoing process of creating a plan to satisfy your customers; testing it; and learning from it. You can learn from it by recognizing what is right and doing more of it, or changing what is wrong as soon as you realize it wasn’t working.
This old, but true, public relations adage still holds true. Effective communication is more than putting some positive “spin” on information you are delivering to the press and public. What you say and do shapes what your clients think about you and your company. Effective communication is not just about disseminating information, but about proactively identifying and managing information and events that can ultimately damage your company and its reputation.
You may thing that your new business is too small to worry about effective communication and public relations, but that would be a serious misstep. From day one, you are building not only your business, but your image and reputation. Understanding what it takes to build a strong communication channel starts when you start your business.
There are several resources available online to help you start thinking strategically about your communications program. Public Relations Society of America (www.prsa.org) and Council of Public Relations Firms (www.prfirms.org) are great places to start learning and gathering information about developing your own program agenda.
Webpronews.com expert, Alicia Harper offers 6 Do’s and Don’ts for launching a small business website. They include:
(1) DON’T focus on images and how pretty your site will be. Your website is there to educate and inform customers of your services. Alot of pictures and images can prove distracting.
(2) DON’T compare web designers by their price. Services provided by web designers vary greatly. You need to thoroughly research what is included in the price you are paying.
(3) DON’T hire a web designer until you are ready to go. You should purchase your domain name, set up your hosting service, and have a general idea of how your site will work before you bring the web designer on board.
(4) DO request several quotes from web designers before selecting one.
(5) DO plan on regularly updating your site with new information.
(6) DO find a web designer that specializes in working with small businesses. A small design firm understands the needs of another small business and is more likely to be more personal with your questions.
Before you can create a marketing plan, you have to be able to identify who you are going to sell your services and/or products. Unfortunately, a broad-based statement such as “everyone” or “technology firms” or “other small business owners” isn’t going to cut it here. You need to be precise. The more you know, the better prepared and successful you will be at marketing your products or services.
First, you need to determine who your ideal client is. Can you describe the characteristics of your ideal customer? If individuals, what are their age, gender, socio-economic status, occupation, hobbies, etc? For businesses, are they located in a specific area or sector, do they share similarities in terms of the customer groups they sell to, how do they conduct business (face-to-face, phone, website, etc.)?
Now that you have a clear picture as to who your client is, you need to determine exactly what they want and need. When you know that, you can decide exactly what services and products you can provide to them. This in-depth understanding also enables you to craft your marketing message and plan so that they will effectively sell and support your products and services to your customers.
Frequently, the words advertising and publicity are used interchangeably by business owners. However, it is important to note that they are two different things which must be handled accordingly.
Think of advertising as choosing the media vehicles to get your message out to the public. You are in control as the buyer in determining how you will get your message across, which will ultimately increase your customer base. Will you buy radio time, run newspaper ads, and/or advertise on billboards? How much? These are examples of issues related to advertising.
Publicity is different. With publicity, you are not in control. Sure, you may put the information you want known in the form of a press release, but that isn’t a guarantee that it will get picked up and written about by reporters or your particular industry. With publicity, you are no longer the buyer so you need to convince the media that what you have to say is newsworthy to THEIR buyers. That isn’t always as easy to do.
Both are important elements in promoting your business and increasing your customer base. Knowing how to effectively incorporate both into your business can prove challenging, but will definitely allow you to reap the benefits if mastered.
It’s rare, in this day in age, to hear of a business that doesn’t have some type of website presence. Some hire website designers. Others do it themselves. With so many software programs out there, creating your own website can be simple and fun. However, you need to avoid making mistakes that can turn potential customers off your website. Here are three common mistakes:
Cramming. Unlike a sheet of paper on which you feel you must jam pack with information until no white space exists, web pages are longer and allow you the luxury of a little white space. This is a good thing. Cramming only makes people frustrated as they try and search through the graphics and the text looking for the information they need.
Skip the gobbledygook. In short, use plain, easily understandable text. Avoid using jargon that only you or your industry may understand. If someone needs to pull out a dictionary to decipher your website, chances are you’ve lost a potential customer.
Unapproachable. Spam, and I don’t necessarily mean the lunch meat, can leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. Nothing is more annoying then opening your business email and finding fifty unsolicited emails clogging your mailbox. Unfortunately, in our desire to protect our contact information from spammers and identity thieves by not making it readily available on our websites, we also alienate potential customers who may be trying to contact us. Other contact information besides a simple contact form also lends a level of credibility to your business.
Branding is essential to the success of your business. Without a branding strategy, you fail to establish customer loyalty. Branding involves more than picking a great logo or making your products and services recognizable. It’s about establishing an overall impression in your customers’ minds that you can address their needs.When branding, consider the importance of:
- Creating professional-looking marketing and advertising materials that accurately portray your services or products.
- Making sure the message being conveyed through your materials is consistent.
- Being able to differentiate your services and products from that of your competition. Do your materials effectively convey those differences to your customers?
Take the time to review your products/services strengths. Answer why these strengths are important to your customers. What are you bringing to the table that they can’t get elsewhere? Once you’ve done that, review your marketing materials, advertising, sales, customer services, and logos to see if they are reinforcing your strengths.
Thought of the Day:
“We must distinguish between repeat buying and brand loyal behavior. Repeat buying can be bought through bribes. True brand loyalty must be earned and reinforced. Every consumer comes with a mind attached.”
Larry Light, President, CEO, Arcature, LLC
Defining who and what your business does is probably a relatively easy test for most business owners. However, can you also answer what makes your products and/or services unique or that provides a competitive advantage? Can you do it in two or three sentences or in 10 to 20 seconds? If you can, you have a great advantage over others because you can explain it to your customers.
You may be thinking, so what? What does that have to do with anything? The simple answer is a lot because when your customers understand they can more easily tell others what you do in the same effective manner; and word-of-mouth referrals can be more valuable and instill stronger customer loyalty than any other customer you will work to recruit.
So, take a few minutes to write down what makes your products or services unique. Try to stay away from describers such as “excellent service” and “reasonable” prices because they really aren’t unique. Look for true competitive advantages that make you stand out amongst your competitors and in the eyes of your customers.
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