Thoughts for the Small Business Owner, Both Online and Physical Locations

In the early 80’s, a company hired me to turn around a couple of their locations that were not profitable. And, as they where starting to franchise their services, train those new franchisees. One document included in the new hire packet opened with a lesson called “The smiling customer”. The story is about a person visiting a business that has employees spending their time chatting amongst themselves. Employees that are short and coming across scripted and impersonal. The customer continues to smile through it all, not complaining so the owner doesn’t ‘see’ the disappointed customer. The story ends with the customer getting the last laugh as the business owner spends and spends on coupons trying to get customers in the door. A small business must be 1% better at 100 things, mind the small things as they add up.

When it comes to marketing, there are two areas I always push. Think at least three months in the future and be where you shouldn’t me. There will always be marketing of you and your business that you need to do just-in-time, like keeping daily tweets going out. I’m talking more about holiday and seasonal promotions. Almost no print media think beyond the next month unless your buying a year long campaign so they wont come to you until the month before. That little amount of notice wont give you time to ramp up to get a full impact of your dollars spent. A plan is a good thing. Get a calendar, look ahead, then count backward for when things need to happen so everything is in place on the selected promotion day.

Do this even before you open your doors for the first time. Get involved with what is going on around your area, get the word out that your coming. Show up at events and talk with people. Get them connecting you to the business your opening early on. When you open, hopefully you will be too busy to start making friends in the area so get ahead of it.

Shifting from brick locations to online product sales –

When Apple launched the iTunes App Store, predictably, the developers we were working with for Newton and Palm software thought there was no longer a need for marketing.

Developers could just put their app up in the store and people will buy the offerings. When asked, no one could explain how a possible client would find them beyond luck. There are developers gaming the system to get listed better for more eyes, but that is short lived for a quick income rise and fall.

Again, plan ahead. Start pounding the social world prior to your app hitting the store. People love to read about the behind the scenes efforts, they become connected to the people and project. This is very important for ratings too, people have a tendency to do more positive ratings if they feel they have a relationship with the developers and where ‘involved’ in the success of the app. Negatives are more likely to go directly to the developer rather than get posted on the iTunes store. Referrals and mentions will get the app to rise above the competitors.

I’m not saying that a modern software title needs to have a magazine page ad. What an app does need is something people can relate to so they build a need in their own heads. We have seen blog mentions do good things, particularly if it is more than a list of features taken right off of the iTunes store page. This takes having a personality when contacting blogs rather than a mass press release. An app MUST have a Web site/page. It needs a FAQ at a minimum, a online ‘manual’ with images is even better.

Lately, we have been seeing nice results with video. If you going to do a video though, please outline what your going to say and record it a dozen times to get it right. Be a person, have a personality and enjoy doing the video, people will feel connected. Real life usage examples helps people visualize the app in their lives.

In my years of racing, the team always reached out to the locals to find what they knew about the best way around the track. Then, knowing what everyone else was doing, we would take inches off every corner during practice to find bits of a second. It’s the same with selling your products or services.

In both worlds of a physical location or an online product; plan ahead, have a personality and be where you ‘shouldn’t be’.