The importance of targeting your audience

creaturesoflogicI’m constantly prattling on around here about the importance of targeting your audience and there is no way for me to overstate the importance of this principle.

Targeting your audience is part of the foundation for the success of your business.

You can have the best product – the best service – the best solution ever seen and your business can still fail simply because you failed to target a specific audience when creating your marketing messages.

I’m in the middle of doing some research on a new business I’m preparing to launch with a colleague.  The business idea is solid and it’s based upon solving a problem.  I personally prefer this as opposed to a problem prevention business idea because human beings in general are exceptionally BAD about engaging in proactive behavior.   In other words, marketing a problem solving business is much easier than marketing a problem prevention business.

Yeah!  I’m starting another business and I’m currently in the research phase of that process.

In the course of my research, I’ve come across a company making an exceptionally well crafted offer.  That in and of itself is reason enough to spend some time exploring the company’s site however, it’s possible that this company’s offerings may make sense for my new business.

I begin the process of gathering information from the company’s website with the enthusiasm of an archeologist entering a previously undiscovered tomb of an ancient pharaoh   The opening page of the site is utilizing every conversion technique known to man.  This is good – this is REALLY good.  However, as I navigate the site, I find myself in a frustrating “loop”.  Every link which promises “more information” takes me to a contact form to request a personalized demo.

Frustrated, I head to the company’s blog.  Perhaps I’ll find the answers I need there.   What I find there are a lot of “shameless self promotion” pieces – but still not a clue whether their solution is priced within our means or not.  Another thing absent from the blog posts are anecdotes illustrating how real companies have reaped the harvest of the “solutions” promised in the company’s website content.  It makes me wonder…

Are the so called “solutions” offered by this company simply platitudes?

For some reason, this morning I’ve had the Seals and Croft song, “We may never pass this way again” stuck in my head.  It was there before I began this search – but now it seems to be hammering home a point: Visitors to your site may never pass this way again.

When I publish this blog post, I’ll close the two tabs – one for this site, one for the site I’m referencing – and soon that site will  fade from my memory.   It took five clicks to reach the site in question but it will only take one click of the button to close it.  I’ve already spent more time on the site than I normally would simply because not only did this company’s site inspire this blog post – but it’s also serving as a warning to myself as I embark upon the exciting adventure of starting a small business.

Hiring Help and – if you can – avoid hiring the VA from hell

social media strategyI recently wrote about how your Your Two Most Important Business Assets are time and money. When you’re starting a small business, it’s almost a given that you’re going to be short on money and often, you’ll find you’re short on time as well.

In the course of building a business – every business owner is faced with the dilemma of trading time for money and money for time.

In her post, Delegation: How Do You Scale Up and Still Do Your Best Work? Liz Strauss writes:

When we pass on the tasks that we don’t like, don’t do well, and don’t need to do, we can put the best of our time where it makes the most difference — doing what only we can do.

For many business owners, the tasks they don’t like are web related.

Unfortunately, it’s common for people who don’t know much about computers to think that “computers” is an all encompassing term. They think that someone who knows hardware also knows software. They see a computer “expert” as someone who can install a hard drive, write code AND manage an Adwords campaign – all with equal ease. After all- those tasks all have to do with “computers”.

In Business Success Formula – Recognizing Nonsense I wrote that

Unfortunately, when you don’t know what you don’t know – finding someone who does know [what you don’t know] can be difficult.

No where is that more true than on the web.

Recently, my emails have been dealing with this very subject. A recent email  from a client began with this…

Briefly, I have just escaped from a virtual assistant from hell. I swear, she was paranoid, borderline personality, and /or chemically dependent.

I wish this was the first time I had a “I just escaped the VA from hell” email – but it’s not.

My first VA from Hell story is almost 10 years old… when a client of mine had hired a virtual assistant to make updates to a site I had created for her.  My client couldn’t reach her VA to find out why her website was down so she contacted me.

When I logged in via FTP – I found the web hosting account was empty! The VA had deleted every single file from the server. She was never heard from again. (Fortunately, I had the original files and we restored her site quickly.)

Another – and more recent- virtual assistant horror story was when a client contacted me for help with his Google Adwords campaign. Turns out he had asked his virtual assistant to handle this “simple” task and was horrified when his first monthly Adwords invoice came in at over $2,000. (He had a monthly budget along the lines of $200 in mind.)  It was only after the fact that his virtual assistant shared that she had never managed a Google Adwords campaign before.  She thought, “Hey!  How hard can it be?”

Unfortunately, there are a LOT of freelancers – not just virtual assistants – out there who don’t know what they don’t know… and that makes them positively dangerous to turn lose in your small business.

However, my experience of dealing with VA’s from hell doesn’t just come from my client’s mouths – I have my own stories as well.  The worst was the VA recommended to me by one of my own clients. This woman required that I sign a 3 month contract and pay her $700 per month for 20 hours of her time per month.   I was swamped and desperately needed the help. Since my client had been signing her praises – I signed the contract.

Unfortunately, at the end of the three month contract, she hadn’t completed the first project I assigned her.  I hadn’t expected to have to “manage” her  as I would a college intern.  She claimed she knew what she was doing and I assumed she was telling the truth.

As I was terminating her services, this woman confessed that she had purchased the software she claimed mastery over a mere two weeks before it was time to renew our contract.   She promised to do better if I’d renew my contract with her.  I pointed out that I had paid $2100 for less than 10 hours of her time.  I said that I’d consider renewing her contract once she had provided me with the 50 hours of her time I had already purchased.

I never heard from her again.

It turned out, my client who had given her a glowing recommendation was also discovering that this woman wasn’t capable of managing her time and had fired her as well.  The last I heard, she had abandoned her VA business and she was becoming a real estate agent.

So I’ll open this topic to discussion …  If you have a great VA – how did you find him/her?    Share your tips and tricks below….

Is this a scam? Technically no… it’s great marketing.

There’s a new email scam hitting the streets this morning.  I’ve gotten TWO emails in the past hour about this particular email scam, so I’ll share this here as well.

I’ll begin with this:  TECHNICALLY this is not an ” email scam”.

Technically, this is a masterful marketing campaign.

However, I would tend to classify it as definitely “scammy” because it’s success depends upon on a lack of knowledge on the part of the “mark” in order for you to take them up on the offer.

It’s my personal goal to increase your level of knowledge about the internet and using it to market your business so when these email scams come to my attention, I vet them with gusto!  [Be sure to subscribe to my feed so you’ll never miss one of these “important” educational announcements!”]

The target of this “marketing campaign” is business owners who are not technically savvy. Of course, there’s no way to segment this market so if you ARE technically savvy and you’ve gotten one of these – you probably just ignored it.  (Mine hasn’t arrived yet – so I’ll be using one of the ones forwarded to me by a technically savvy colleague who noted the creativity behind the campaign.)

Because I’m all about transparency and authenticity – and because the perpetrators of this campaign would not recognize either if it hit them in the face – from here on out, I’m going to refer to this “marketing campaign” as a “scam”.  The reason it’s not technically a “scam” is that if you read carefully – and if you’ve got years of internet experience – you’ll know that this offer isn’t worth the price of the paper it’s NOT printed upon.

The email will arrive with an ominous subject: This is your Final Notice of Domain Notification

Your first clue that this is not on the level is the wording – DOMAIN NOTIFICATION is not the same as DOMAIN EXPIRATION.

However, if you’re like most business owners – there aren’t enough hours in the day and you tend to scan most of the stuff that comes in through email anyhow.

If you click on the email, you’ll see something similar to this:

scam

This is where scanning will cost you a LOT of money.  IF YOU READ CAREFULLY – you’ll see that this is a solicitation – a.k.a. marketing piece.  They say right there in the main copy “this is not a bill or an invoice”.

However, if you’re SCANNING the email – your eye will be drawn to the underlined portion of the email…

Failure to complete your Domain name search engine registration by the expiration date may result in cancellation of this offer making it difficult for your customers to locate you on the web.

“OMG!!  I really, really WANT my customers to find me on the web.  Tell me more!!!”

You might even think you’ll lose your domain name if you don’t take action.   (They didn’t SAY that- but they definitely IMPLIED it.)

The “offer” is simple – it appears that you can register the domain name in question with this company for the low- low price of $75 per year.

What?  You say you paid less than that with your current registrar? Well hey – your registrar didn’t offer you “search submissions” with your registration.

What exactly are “search submissions”, you may ask…. and you may.

I have no idea.   However, I’d be willing to guess that it’s about as effective as the SEO software I talked about in Business Success Formula Recognizing Nonsense.  At $75 per year – it costs less up front but goes on for MUCH longer.

The email ends with the typical small print:

scambottom

Did you see it? Right after the “By accepting this offer, you agree not to hold XX liable for any part.” it says as plain as day in 4 point font: “Note that THIS IS NOT A BILL. This is a solicitation.”

That – ladies and gentlemen – officially makes this NOT a scam but instead just a brilliantly crafted direct marketing sales letter.

It reminds me of the domain name registration service who sends snail mail notifications of domain name expiration to trick you into transferring your domain name to them.   Unfortunately, I’ve worked with a couple of people who did just that.  Let me tell you – getting the domain name transferred OUT of these people’s hands is difficult.

If memory serves me, when one client accepted their “generous” offer – the adminsitrative contact email was changed to their email address which made transferring the domain name to a new registrar nearly impossible.

Oh – but wait.  There – in the 4 point font…. accepting this offer does NOT affect your domain name registration:

This notice is not in any part associated with a continuation of services for domain registration.

Oh – so I still get to pay to register my domain name through my ICANN approved registrar.  Ok.. so what am I paying for here?

Obviously the $75 per year is for for the “search submissions” service.

By digging through the 4 point font, I find a hint to what the offer for”search submissions” service entails:

Search engine submission is an optional service that you can use as a part of your website optimization and alone may not increase the traffic to your site.

The individual words make sense and are arranged according to proper grammar, yet the result is still nonsense.

Treat this “offer” like drugs – just say no.

Everything’s relative… setting your life thermostat

Today in my little corner of south eastern Florida – it’s 60 degrees today.

BRRR!!!

I don’t expect you to cry me a river – especially if you’re living in the path of the bitter cold that is blanketing much of the northern United States. However let me assure  you that temperatures in the 60’s feel positively FRIGID when you’ve spent a few summers surviving “surface of the sun” heat indexes in the mid to upper 120’s.

Meanwhile, a check of the weather back in my hometown in Indiana reveals that the current AIR temperature is currently -11 and the wind makes it feels like -29 … and those temps are °F by the way!   It’s even worse where my in-laws live.  It’s -20 and it feels like it’s -40 below just an hour north!  (Yes, I’m deeply concerned about the state of the plumbing in my Indiana property!)

But this whole weather thing has got me thinking about how where we are (and who we’re with) affects us and how our experiences shape our view.  In other words – there’s more than one setting on your life thermostat.

For example, I know that the weather today at my house would have felt positively tropical in January when I was living in Indiana five years ago.  Unfortunately, KNOWING that doesn’t make it FEEL any more tropical today.  Living down here for four short years has reset my thermostat – without my “permission” I might add.

That’s right.  I didn’t make a conscious decision to TRY to reset my body’s  thermostat.   I didn’t attempt to use “positive thinking” to change my body’s physical reaction to temperature so 60 degrees would feel cold to me.   As a matter of fact,  the opposite is true.  I desperately didn’t WANT to be a “Flor-idiot” who complains about being cold when it’s 60 degrees outside.

It didn’t matter what I desired, by moving to southern Florida, I changed my physical environment and as a result, my body’s physical responses have been altered.

Setting your Life Thermostat

However, there are other aspects to setting and regulating your life thermostat – beyond that of your physical perceptions of hot and cold.  Call it self help, call it self awareness, call it authentic expression or call it creative productivity –  the input you allow into your mind greatly affects your life thermostat settings.  (Oh, and if you think you can separate your “business” from your “life” ….. good luck with that.)

Just as your body will get “adjusted” to your physical environment – your mind will also get “adjusted” to the environment you create there as well.

Way back in 1997, I taught myself to code in HTML.  When word got out around town that I had acquired this skill, local business people started hiring me to create websites for their businesses.  One day about a year later, a very progressive woman who called herself a “life coach”  hired me to create a website for her business.  This turned out to be a significant “life thermostat altering” event.

What you read – what you watch – and the people you choose to accompany you on this journey called life – all have a dramatic effect on where your “life thermostat” is set.

Because I started working with forwarding thinking, successful people, my life thermostat settings changed… to the point where I find it difficult to relate to people from my “previous” life.

I recently was contacted by a co-worker from my past.  She was laid off from a subsequent employer and worrying about what she would do when her unemployment ran out in a few weeks.  She contacted me in hopes of landing a “J-O-B”.  However, her passions don’t lie in administrative work – and as much as I would have LOVED to have a passionate virtual assistant, it was easy to see that she was not that person.  So, in the course of the conversation (which lasted less than 40 minutes), we came up with a plan for her to start her own business based on the very things she was passionately devoting her time to during her unemployment.

I was surprised at how blatantly OBVIOUS what she SHOULD be doing was – and then I realized that my life thermostat settings have changed DRAMATICALLY since we last worked together.  She’s been punching a time clock, rubbing elbows with other “wage slaves” over the past decade.  Meanwhile, I’ve been spending the last decade connecting with other people who breath “rarified air” on a daily basis.

I am honored and feel privileged to be surrounded by such an amazing group of successful business owners.

Don’t underestimate the power of your surroundings to impact your perceptions and thinking.   What changes have you made (or do you need to make) to change your life thermostat?

How Familiarity Breeds Business a.k.a. the power of word of mouth

When you talk about marketing your small business, what you’re really talking about is communicating what it is your small business does for prospective customers or clients.

However, marketing is MORE than just communication – it’s communication that inspires action.

Marketing = Communication that moves people to action

In my book, Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I spend a LOT of time covering how important it is for you to get to know your customers.    Getting to know your target audience is a vitally important part of creating a compelling and selling marketing message.  After all, if you don’t know to whom you are speaking – how can you communicate in a way that moves people to action?

One way some business owners try to “get around” this whole ugly “target market identification” is to rely upon the most coveted of marketing tactics to promote their business – word of mouth marketing.

While having your customers spreading the word about what your business does is every business owners idea of nirvana – word of mouth marketing doesn’t just “happen”.  In fact, a lot of thought goes into laying the proper foundation for a successful word of mouth marketing campaign.

Laying the foundation for your Word of Mouth Marketing Campaign

When you start thinking of marketing less like “selling” and more like other forms of communication, a lot of factors start to fall easily into place.

Note: If you want to make a real MESS of social media – treat social networking tools like a sales call instead of a cocktail party!

Marketing communication is really not so very different than striking up a conversation at a cocktail party.  Part of cocktail party etiquette includes making a proper introduction of yourself.  However, in the case of marketing communications it’s not considered bad form to include an introduction of your services as well.

This introduction is called many things.  Some circles call it an elevator speech while authors would call it creating a great “back story”.  Whatever name you use, creating this introductory piece is an essential part of laying a foundation for your word of mouth campaign.

Brian Clark wrote a truly profound article on How Word of Mouth Marketing Really Works where he points out that the KEY to creating successful word of mouth marketing is to create a story that your customers want to tell.

An essential part of creating a story your customers want to tell is to give them a proper introduction to your business.

Let’s go back to the cocktail party.  You’re laughing, drinking and having a wonderful time when “that guy” corners you.  There’s no introduction – no pleasantries  – he thrusts his business card upon you and launches into his hard closing sales spiel.

EWWWW!!!!!

You want to run.  This guy doesn’t know you and you certainly don’t want to get to know him any better.  The same principle holds true when you’re striking up a conversation with prospective customers.  A natural part of the process is introducing yourself to your customers.

When you’re blogging, you do that on your “about” page.  The “about” page on any business website or blog is a very popular destination for prospective customers.

So while it’s important to become familiar with your customers -knowing who they are and what problems they need to solve, you must also be sure that they become just as familiar with you.

Jason Alba, the founder of Jibber Jobber, understands how important building familiarity is to building his business.  Meridith Levinson wrote about Jason in the article, How a Job Search Led Jason Alba to Start JibberJobber, and shares the story of how Jason went from aspiring CIO to unemployed “geek” to successful entrepreneur.  When the story is published, Jason notices that sign ups for Jibber Jobber have increased.

Word of mouth marketing is simply when people tell the story of your product or service for you. PR is what happens when the person telling the story is a journalist.

Jason has been building “familiarity” with his target audience ever since he launched his business.  One important tool he’s been using to tell this story is his blog.  The story of how Jibber Jobber came to be is told often in his posts such as, Happy January 13th! Guess what’s special about today?

Jason has carefully crafted a story that is easy for others to pick up and tell – whether they’re journalists, job seekers or career coaches. Notice how the story not only tells the problems Jibber Jobber helps to “solve” but how it also offers assurance to his target audience (job seekers)  that Jason “gets it”.  He knows what works – and what doesn’t in a job search and he has created a tool to make job searching better!

By creating such an appealing “back story”, he has laid the necessary foundation to create a powerful word of mouth marketing campaign.

Part of crafting your story is knowing who your target customers are.  Once you get familiar with your target audience, be sure that they become just as familiar with you.  Crafting your business introduction is perhaps one of the most important marketing tasks you’ll undertake.

If you don’t think your business has a “story”, try answering these questions:

  • How did your business get started?
  • If yours is a family business, why did your ancestors get into this line of work?
  • What problems were you trying to solve when you bought or launched your business?

To work as hard as you do, there must be a compelling reason for doing what you’ve chosen do for a living. The story of how your business came into existence can create a great foundation for a word of mouth marketing campaign.

What’s the story behind the launch of your business and/or blog?