Marketing Blunders to Avoid in 2009

We are at that magic tipping point of the year when we look back to the past year and look forward to the next year and often we wonder what we should do different (or for many of us, we already know). For businesses, this includes how we market and communicate with our customers. Wonder what you should be doing next year to market/communicate with client? Get some ideas from this list of blunders made in 2008 (explanations of each topic are mine).


1. Failure to have an annual marketing plan. If your business is sitting there waiting for clients or customers to just walk through your door, you're looking for the wrong result. Customers will continually walk through your door, if you have a marketing plan in place for the entire year. This is what is called a marketing funnel. Get it? Customers funnel their way through your communications in order to buy from you.

2. Product/service will sell itself. Nope. Not anymore. You have to tell people what your product or service will do to make their life easier. They aren't going to know unless you tell them and they aren't going to care unless you tell them why they should.

3. Promoting products/services without tracking results. Right now, companies just want sales, but tracking how they make those sales may be the most vital of information. Keep an eye out for methods of making sales. Then rinse and repeat for the rest of the year.

4. Limiting marketing to email methods. Email is becoming one of the most least-trusted forms of marketing, because of the volume clients/customers receive and the percentage of spam mixed in with the real messages. What about direct mail? What about a blog? What about becoming the go-to person in your community for your product or service through other means? Read on.

5. Investing only in advertising. A simple advertising slogan won't do it. You have to back up your advertising promises with something solid people can count on. This can be your personal reputation for good work, to a specialization in a particular area in that your company is the only one that comes to mind when people are looking for a solution.

6. Ignoring social media outlets. Social media may be a boon for online companies, but don't disavow yourself from trying it out. Social media is now the way that millions of people communicate, purchase, review, critique, and rate services and products. You can't afford NOT to look into social media.

7. Slashing marketing budgets and programs. This is a bad idea. With the plethora of affordable and simple marketing programs out there, why not utilize at least one to your advantage. You don't have to hire a sales rep or recruit your entire staff to follow some marketing program mantra, but you can try a few simple methods that help you and your team realize what works to make money.

8. Failing to understand why people buy. Why do people buy your product or service? Because they want to look good, stay warm, be safe, be more productive, make more money? You need to know and you need to investigate every angle of why your customers and clients buy from you so that you can make better decisions about your focus in 2009 about how to market and communicate to them.

Larry Golden, co-CEO of RSVP Publications writes, “Avoiding these blunders can make for a healthier 2009 for most businesses. By targeting messages toward the right audience, monitoring and participating in social networks and measuring results after each campaign, businesses can demonstrate the all-important return on their marketing investment. And the level of investment in marketing may well be the deal maker or the deal breaker in such a tight economy.”

How To Be A Good CEO In a Recession

OneNews in New Zealand reports on being a good CEO in a time of recession. Simon Monks from recruitment firm Heidrick and Struggles (also in New Zealand) had a list of twelve skills and qualities corporate boards will be looking for in a CEO when companies, banks, and entire countries face troubling financial difficulties.

Here are some tips for being a great leader (headings from Simon Monks of Heidrick and Struggles; explanatory statements are new):

1. Love learning as much as knowledge. There is no room for a CEO (nor is there a need for one) that doesn’t desire to learn more than she already knows. If a CEO plans to lead many people who should continue to learn, than he should be prepared to do the same.

2. Challenge the status quo. Many companies are looking for warm bodies to fill vacancies, hoping to train them once they find the person willing to learn. Why not look for specific strengths instead? That way your company is assured that it will have a person skilled in interacting with the public should you decide to promote him to head of customer service.

3. Learn to listen. If you want your company to appear transparent to its customers, you yourself must be able to listen well. Listening before speaking helps you to appear that you are considering all communications before making a snap decision.

4. Have a presence. Eclectic is status quo these days for many CEOs, but a even the most plain-jane CEOs can command the respect they deserve by determining how they carry themselves and how they come across to others. Also, be accessible to your employees at all times.

5. Access all areas. Not only is listening vital, so too is the ability to communicate effectively. If you can express yourself in a meaningful way, your leadership will succeed.

6. Empower your employees. Let your employees make some decisions on their own; this can be as small as pricing and returns or as large as promotions and hiring. The fact that you trust them will go a long way.

7. Choose character. Choosing people with character along with their professional skills is a plus every time. Trustworthy and honest employees are hard to come by, so snap them up when you can.

8. Get an expert. If you don’t know, find someone who does. There is nothing wrong with hiring an expert to bring you up to speed on an aspect of your company or business sector. Bring in managers to learn along with you. It will strengthen your entire company.

9. Build a reputation. Do you focus on health and safety or green manufacturing? Play up those traits whenever you possibly can.

10. Give thanks. Praise when praise is due. Don’t be shy about praising employees for a job well done. Let the praise and thanks flow freely in your company.

11. Get used to not being liked. Be prepared for folks to not like you, just because of your power. People will find any excuse to not like someone in authority over them, so don’t be afraid to focus on your or others’ strengths.

12. Have an escape route. Give yourself time away from the job in order to return refreshed and ready for another week. If you need time off during the week, take it, but be prepared for the burst of energy you’ll have once you get back in the office.

How NOT to Integrate Webinars into Your Business

You've read the news, the websites - this blog - done the research, and run the numbers. The final conclusion shows that webinars really can help out your company, and save it time and money. All you have to do now is integrate webinars into your business.

For some, it can be as easy as distributing conference codes and numbers, and announcing, "This is how we are going to do things from now on." For many businesses, it won't be that easy. There could be resistance from your workers or management. People might not be motivated enough for change, or may not realize - or care about - the benefits.

When introducing innovation into a company, there are many pitfalls and potential derailments that you can come across. The blog, The Heart of Innovation, has 56 reasons why innovation fails. Hopefully, you won't run across any of them when integrating webinars into your business. Just to be sure, let's take a look at a few of the big ones.

If you cut off the head, the body will die. Likewise, if senior management isn't behind webinars, then most likely the employees will follow suit. They may give you the green light, but if they don't change like everyone else, your innovation will become a flash-in-the-pan idea.

Sometimes, easing into a change can be more detrimental than the one-time growing pains that accompany a full switch-over. For example, if given the chance to decide how to do things, most employees will stick with what they understand, or are comfortable with. If you want to use webinars to record all of your sales calls, but only half of your sales staff is on board, then there will be confusion when it's time to "review the tapes."

Finally, without proper training and orientation, you won't get the results you expected. People will get frustrated with what they perceive to be endless changes, parts of your business will be doing it one way -- completely different from how other parts are doing it -- and what could have been a time and money saver becomes a headache.

Webinars, like innovation, can be excellent for your company. With a little due-diligence and time invested at the beginning, you can avoid pitfalls that turn a good thing bad.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

A Small Idea to Turn To When Things Are Tough—#3 of 3

The third post in our series for small business survival during this economy focuses on an important part of your business - customer service. This part of a business is often overlooked, but it is relatively easy to spruce up your customer service practices and practically guarantees referral and repeat business. (For previous posts, see the first one here and the second one here.)

Customer service is one of those terms slapped on the end of lectures about succeeding in business. Yet, it is really a fine-tuned machine that can work to your benefit. A few tips on customer service that I've learned when times are tough.

1. How is your customer service? If you've never really thought about it (many small businesses are really small, especially b2b industries and service businesses; a single person even!) and the idea of customer service makes you want to run the other way—don't! It's as simple as a pleasant voice answering your phone (can you be pleasant?) to quick replies to emails to understanding when a customer or client is delayed or having problems on their end, even when it inconveniences your schedule.

2. Thank you goes a long way in the business world. Did a client refer you to another? Did you thank them? How about a thank you gift? How about referring them to someone you know? Mutual back scratching is one thing, but kindness goes far. And a heartfelt thank you goes even farther.

3. I may be too nice, but I think it serves me very well as a small business professional. There is nothing wrong with nice. It does not mean you are a pushover or that you won't ever completely lose your cool at one time or another; you just know how to be nice. It's easy. One thing that helps me is to realize that there is one fact I will never know in the life of my client and that one thing may be why they are late with their order, or why they never sent the work instructions they promised a week ago. Let it go and be nice. Be firm, but be nice.

The above tips may seem inconsequential at first glance, but when you think about how many times in a day you “touch” your clients and customers with your customer service, just picking up one of these ideas may be the difference between a one-order customer and a customer who comes back again and again. Try it!

A Small Idea to Turn To When Things Are Tough—#2 of 3

In the first post in this series, we talked about how the economy is still hovering between sort of good and not good and small business owners are looking for ways to jumpstart their profits and sales. We discussed email newsletters as a way to encourage a conversation with customers as one possible solution.

In the second post, I'd like to discuss how to jumpstart a small business owner's interest in the business itself. Perhaps there is another angle on your business you haven't considered, or perhaps your business has moved past its original existence and has morphed into something else entirely.

In a recent article on, as an antidote to boredom and burnout, author Peter Ranscombe suggests a life coach.

"A life coach may not be the first person a small business turns to when times get tough. But James McKim, one of Scotland's leading practitioners, thinks companies should treat coaches as trusted advisers, in the same way they would an accountant or solicitor – and he's not the only one who thinks so."

Now, before you panic, a life coach is not voodoo. A life coach is not even a therapist. A life coach is someone who takes stock of where you are in your life, what your goals are, and helps to match up the day-to-day activities between the two. A life coach won't fix your family issues nor will it save your marriage (unless you get that work/life balance down and rekindle the romance with your significant other), but it will help you to find ways to deal with your business as it affects you on a daily basis.

"McKim's training for small businesses runs from skills such as resolving conflict and public speaking through to tips for managing stress or achieving a balance between work and life. ‘It's business coaching but incorporating sales training.'"

Interested? Good. But let's say you're not really into a life coach, but want to learn how to be more objective about your business and its impact on your life. Two books might help: Arlie Russell Hochschild's Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work and Michael Port's Beyond Booked Solid: Your Business, Your Life, Your Way—It's All Inside.

Addendum: Port's first book, Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even If You Hate Marketing and Selling is also really good.

Moral of the story: Maybe the solution you're looking for is already there and you just need poke around a bit inside in order to find it.

A Small Idea to Turn To When Things Are Tough

So the economy's still just kind of hovering there, not really improving, but still diluted enough so that things are tough. So I went and did some research.

Want to know what I found?

Email marketing is back. Not emails blizzarded out to 5,000 strangers you don't even know, no. But email newsletters, sent out to a targeted list of clients or customers who you've worked with, or who have expressed (even if it was years ago) an interest in working with you. Another word for email newsletters? Follow-up. Something most business owners are really negligent about.

So how do you do an email newsletter?

It's not hard. You need to sign up for a service or a program that lets you send mass email without marking you as a spammer. A few examples are Constant Contact and Aweber (Google will get you to them). Aweber has exceptional functionality as well as the ability to make macro and micro changes without having to call customer service or get someone to make the changes for you. If that flusters you, no worries. Aweber has a large collection of FAQs and tutorials guaranteed to make the process go smoothly.

What do you write about in an email newsletter?

You become a resource. What are your clients or customers (aka readers) wanting to know? What is the core issue they think about and that would interest them? That's what you want to write about. Say you're a HVAC company (I know, always an example of mine; my sister and brother-in-law own one and I brainstorm with them a lot) and your customers want to know about the latest geothermal advances (how to heat or cool a home using natural ventilation). There's your topic. And then you can have one line at the bottom of your newsletter stating that if the reader wants to know more about the geothermal products and services that you offer, they can give you a call.

It's that simple. And in the spirit of simple, keep the newsletter short, less than 500 words so that it can be scanned or read in less than five minutes. Any more and you'll lose their interest.

Next up in the series, how a life coach can help a hurting small business owner.

Multiply and Diversify

How many times on the phone or face-to-face have you ever said, "Let me check with them and see what they say. I'll let you know."? If you're like most of us, you've probably said it a lot. Meetings, impromptu get-togethers, and random run-ins suffer the most from not having the right people at hand when you need them. On a conference call, you may still encounter this problem, but it becomes a very minor inconvenience.

Conference calls have a feature called "outdialing" that allows you to bring anyone you like into the conference. They don't have to have the conference call-in codes, or even the dial-in number. All they have to do is pick up the phone when you call.

Here's an example on using outdialing in a conference call. Let's say you are on the line with your CFO and VP of Operations and the discussion turns to cutting shipping costs. Questions that arise include, how many boxes are left over each shipment, are there enough different size choices, and how much would custom sizes cost? Normally, you would write down these questions and get back to everyone later when you knew the answers.

Remember you're on a conference call so things are different. First of all, you need answers about your box usage. You outdial your Shipping department manager and bring him into the call. He answers your two questions, as well as the three others that follow afterwards. With the manager still on the conference call, you outdial your box vendor. The vendor can give you different sizes – even the particular sizes that the Shipping manager speaks up with – and the costs satisfy your CFO, who also is able to get a bulk discount right then and there.

Normally – without conference calls or outdialing -- this example would take at least a hour to accomplish, but more probably a day and many back-and-forth calls. Discover the efficiency that outdialing can bring to your business. Next time your are on a phone call and need to "check something," hang up and get everyone involved into a conference call.

Now you have to figure out what to do with all the time you've just freed up.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist