Small Business Marketing…on the Go

Marketing doesn't have to stop while small business owners have some summer fun on the beachJuly and August are often a time when businesses slow down, and employees and their families take vacations while school is out for the long summer break. If your business or staff takes a break, it does not mean that you should stop promoting your business. Have you ever realized that travel-related items can be an effective way to promote your enterprise, whether in summer or any other time of year? Tourism and hospitality companies, such as travel agents, hotels, and tour operators have been doing this for a long time. Their clients may be other businesses who use their hospitality or travel services, or they may market direct to the end customer. You may be able to relate your business to travel in some way, and if so, travelers can be walking around displaying your business name wherever they may go with travel-related items

Let me give some examples. Have you ever noticed luggage tags or straps while you are checking your luggage at an airport or retrieving it from a carousel? Luggage tags and straps not only serve the obvious practical purpose of identifying luggage, but a standout color or design really help the luggage, that is so often black, stand out from the rest. This is a welcome advantage for the busy traveler and anyone who does not want to search among dozens of look-alike piece of luggage. One of my favorite (and inexpensive) ways to identify luggage is with a colorful Luggage Spotter which wraps around a handle, with a logo on the outside and the personal identification on the inside, so that it is protected from casual view. The Luggage Spotter™ uses Velcro to stay in place and the bright colors make it easy to spot from a distance. I use them all the time on my own luggage. Several of our customers have selected this as a way to give travelers something useful at a low cost. The logo could be that of a hotel, travel group or some affinity group that the traveler belongs to.  There are also many styles of luggage tags to choose from that hide personal information.

Still on the subject of air travel, did you know that TSA approved locks, and also plastic pouches that hold the allowed three oz. or less liquid or gel in bottles in a one quart zip top bag can be imprinted with a business logo? These are very useful items for any air traveler. If you wish to make a special gift, consider a travel wallet that will hold a passport and airline or other tickets. Low cost ones are available in vinyl, or go for a first class impression in leather.

Luggage itself may be one of the ultimate special gifts, and is certainly likely to be kept and used again and again by the recipient. A piece of luggage may include anything from a simple duffel bag or a garment bag to a set of luggage in different sizes. Inexpensive custom cameras will appeal to ad wide audience and can be tied into a special event or location. Maps and guides are other ways to make a traveler feel valued. Conventions and meetings planners can provide custom fold out maps to their attendees, whether it is a map of the exhibit hall and meeting space in a convention center or a map of the city and location that they are meeting in. If it is designed for the attendees at that event, it Has greater value and will certainly be appreciated.

So your business need not take a vacation, even if your employees do. With the imaginative use of some customized travel-related items, travelers can be out there promoting your business while they are on the go from place to place and they do not have to be anywhere near your business location to do this for you.

If you would like to discuss promotional ideas for your business, please contact Judith Harley at Oxford Communications, Alexandria, Virginia. Oxford Communications has been providing custom-imprinted promotional items, business gifts and corporate clothing to the business community for over ten years. Oxford Communications may be reached at 703-922-4193 or [email protected]. You are invited to visit our website at www.oxfordpromos.com.

 

Photo courtesy of Horia Varlan

Who should buy what you sell?

Part two of my four-part Marketing for the Best of Us™! Blog series, which answers the four critical questions for growing the revenue of any business.

Who Should Buy what You Sell?

If you are a typical business leader, you’d like your product or service to be purchased by scores, maybe thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people.  Whether your business is just beginning or has been operating for some time, is selling to individuals or organizations, if you are determined to excel you’ll want to maximize the number of your buyers.

After divining your answers to “What are YOU selling?” (see my June xx, 2012 blog post), what’s the best way to determine which types of customers or clients are most likely to buy what you are selling?

To find out, let’s break down this process into digestible bits.

  • Hone in on those wants or needs that (your customers perceive) you are fulfilling when they buy what you sell?
  • Identify the customer characteristics (or demographics) that best represent your buyers.
  • Determine where your customers are located so that you can craft the most effective tactics for inspiring them to buy your product or service.

Wants or Needs

Remember from my June xx blog that, in addition to your actual product or service, what you really are selling is fulfillment of your customers’ wants or needs.  The nature of your product or service determines what those wants or needs are – perhaps convenience, timesavings, or prestige.  With this understanding of your customers’ wants and needs and how you can fulfill them, you have the basis for identifying which characteristics your customers possess that inspire them to buy what you sell

Customer Characteristics

Customers who buy from you and those whom you want to buy typically are labeled as your “target market.”  Customers in this group, your target market, are those which you are, or should be, trying to acquire.

Customer types can be identified by any number of telltale characteristics, such as income level, location, lifestyle, gender, age, race, personality traits, or types of activities in which they engage, to name a few.

The attributes of your product or service foretells those customer characteristics, which ultimately reveal the types and numbers of customers who will be interested in buying what you sell.   If you sell yachts, income level, location, and personality traits are likely to be relevant customer characteristics.  On the other hand, chewing tobacco probably appeals to those having a certain lifestyle and gender.

Truth be told, this process takes time and effort if you want it to be the critical component of your marketing program that it should be.  Gather as much relevant data from as many sources as possible to complete your analysis.  Here in Alexandria, there are several rich suppliers of these data, including: our very own Small Business Development Center; the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership; SCORE; the Small Business Administration (SBA);and Reference USA.

Locating Your Customers

The most efficient and cost-effective method of acquiring customers is from referrals made by satisfied customers and third-parties (your “evangelists”).  Which means that, if they’re not proffered voluntarily, referrals have to be requested – either directly (“Do you know anyone else who might be interested in my widget?”) or indirectly (“Submit a testimonial and the names of other buyers for a chance to win a widget.”).

Additional acquisition techniques for finding customers include cold calling, advertisements or commercials (newspapers, yellow pages, radio, television, Internet, smartphones), direct mailers, brochures & pamphlets, newsletters, social media, your (Search Engine Optimized!) Website, membership directories, customer lists, public relations, holding workshops, exhibiting at trade shows, and, importantly, networking.

By developing a strategic process (I use and recommend the Prospecting Pyramid™), you can transform prospects (from your target market) into customers by converting leads into qualified prospects into hot prospects into customers.

Peter Baldwin, with over 30 years of marketing and business development experience, is founder, Managing Principal and Chief Marketing Coach of MarketForce StrategiesTM, a business coaching firm specializing in the design of more effective marketing strategies for small-to-medium businesses that will  improve performance, attract more clients, and increase revenue.   

 

Make Every Day Earth Day

Make Every Day Earth Day at the Office
“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” Has this become the mantra of the first two decades of the 21st century? To a dedicated few perhaps, but so far most behavior change has focused on recycling , rather than reducing or reusing the products we use in everyday life.
To see if I am making a correct assumption here, ask yourself if your habits have changed significantly in the last few years regarding conservation, energy efficiency, and a lifestyle with less physical waste. For example, do you turn off the lights more frequently, use water saving toilets and energy-efficient light bulbs and (Energy Star) appliances, and turn off computers and other “idle” media when they are not in use?
At work, have you switched to lights that turn themselves off when there is lack of movement in the space (as at the Alexandria SBDC offices)? Have you stopped the bottled water habit and switched to water filtered at the faucet instead? Do you use ceramic coffee cups and plates and individual reusable water bottles instead of the use once and throw away variety? Instead of answering “paper” or “plastic” at the supermarket, many shoppers, although still usually a minority, now bring their own multi-use non-woven or other grocery shopping bags. They are sometimes rewarded with five cents off at checkout. Some municipalities such as San Francisco have gone as far as banning stores from providing plastic bags and business seems to be thriving in spite of this minor inconvenience.
Surprisingly, changing behaviors can be good not only for the environment, but also for a business’ bottom line. There are plenty of ways to make a small environmental contribution and save the business unnecessary expenditure at the same time. Builders can construct energy-efficient buildings that are attractive to prospective tenants, and they do not have to become LEED-certified to do this. You, as a business owner, can reduce and reuse, as well as recycle, within your office or workspace and set an example for employees, customers and the community. If you develop a reputation as an environmentally-friendly business, that might help to attract new customers or solidify relationships with your existing client base.

Three Simple Steps

  1. Paper – certainly something that can be reduced, reused AND recycled. While not easy to go paperless, reducing paper output, and using both sides of the paper are easy steps in the right direction. It will also decrease the ink cartridge bill, which can be significant in itself.
  2. Mail – cutting down on snail mail will have an immediate impact. Fax, email and social media have reduced the need for using the post office, UPS or FedEx.
  3. Lunch room – providing a refrigerator and microwave oven for employees will be popular with staff, and will encourage them to bring food and beverages for lunch. Provide a way to filter water from the faucet to discourage the throwaway plastic water bottle habit and encourage staff to bring their own reusable water bottles. Plastic plates, utensils and cups are not necessities. Paper napkins may be harder to relinquish.
If you have the budget and opportunity to do some branding and be environmentally-friendly at the same time, there is an increasing choice of products made from recycled materials (e.g. pens or t-shirts made from plastic water bottles), reusable bags, including lunch bags, water bottles, and many other everyday items used in a typical workspace.
So, although there is only one official Earth Day, and it falls on Sunday, April 22, 2012, every day can be an opportunity to make a difference in our own consumption patterns. If we remember to “reduce, reuse and recycle” we can continue to make an individual and collective impact on conserving our scarce resources and the environment we are fortunate to live and work in, here in Northern Virginia.
The author, Judith Harley, owns and operates Oxford Communications, in Alexandria, Virginia. Oxford Communications provides branding for businesses, associations and non-profits through the use of custom-imprinted promotional items, corporate apparel and business gifts. Oxford Communications is known for providing creative environmentally-friendly options for clients.

Celebrate Earth Day by Recycling Your E-Waste!(ourtakeongreen.com)

 

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Healthy Employees are Productive Employees

Healthy Employees Walking TogetherAs business owners, we worry often about the health of our business, but how frequently do we worry about having healthy employees? Sure, it gets attention when an employer contributes to health care insurance. If employees are absent because of sickness or a condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome that limits their productivity that affects the bottom line, and the prosperity of the business. However, even if employees show up for work, they may be suffering from health conditions which reduce their ability to do their best.

How can a business owner help maintain the wellness and health of employees, so that everyone benefits from a healthier business, both financially and otherwise? Prevention is clearly key. This is why employee washrooms in restaurants always have the sign “All Employees Must Wash Their Hands before Returning to Work.” Maintaining a healthy workplace and encouraging employees to adopt and maintain healthy habits go a long way. Leading by example is very effective. If the boss is seen smoking — and known not to exercise — then employees may read the hidden message that it is okay for them to do the same. On the other hand, if the boss brings a gym bag to work (as she stops off at the gym either before or after work), then this sends a completely different message. If the boss discusses engaging in sports activities (and not just watching sports on the television) whether as an individual, or in family activities, then this becomes a conversation topic among coworkers.

As small business owners, we may not be able to pay for gym memberships, but we can provide incentives for employees to lead a healthy lifestyle in other ways. Large companies can organize weight loss, smoking cessation or healthy eating workshops, and encourage employees to attend, and sometimes provide incentives for doing so. Small companies can create some challenges to employees and provide some tools to get started, such as a notebook for tracking exercise routines, food intake or other measurable criteria. An inexpensive pedometer can go a long way to help track distance walked or jogged during a lunch break or outside office hours. A business owner can reward an employee who participates in a wellness workshop in their free time, or achieves individual fitness and health goals. The key is to provide motivation that appeals to the employee.

We all want to stay healthy, both on and off the job. Having healthy and productive employees is surely an indicator of a successful business. Motivating employees to maintain their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, or whatever the individual goal might be, will send a sure signal that they are valued beyond their work performance. Hiring and training new employees is much more expensive than retaining existing staff, and so wellness encouragement reduces overhead and management time spent on these issues. A few hours or a few dollars dedicated to focusing on employee wellness now can pay dividends in the future.

For suggestions on incentives or rewards for an employee wellness program, please visit our website at www.oxfordpromos.com or call Oxford Communications at 703-922-4193.

 

Photo courtesy of USACE Europe District

Google+ for Your Small Business [event]

Google+ logo

 

Google+ for Small Business
Technology That Can Help Your Business Grow!
February 29, 2012
9 am – 12 Noon

 

With only 20 spots for this hands-on workshop, we anticipate more demand than space.  Email or call Patricia Melton if you are interested.  Slots will be filled on a first come, first served basis, and then we’ll start a standby list.  See information below.

 

Google is the well-known search engine and leader in the Web advertising world, but if you haven’t already started seeing and hearing, they have recently launched a new service platform called Google+ and its Google relations, the +1 buttonDirect Connect and Search Plus Your World. Together, Google+allows businesses share, promote and measure the building of relationships between the business brands and the people who care about them. In this seminar and workshop, you get the best of both worlds from Alexandria Small Business Development Center. First, Ray Sidney-Smith, president of W3 Consulting, a Web and digital strategy firm for Small Business, presents a strategic overview of Google+ for small businesses. Following the presentation, Ray will walk you through the steps to launch your own Google+ pages for your business. This event is not to be missed!

 

From Google+ Pages’ site:

 

Share

 

Different people are interested in different parts of your business. Whether it’s breaking news, updates, promotions, links, photos – even talking face-to-face with groups via easy-to-use video chat –Google+ lets you easily share the right things with the right customers.

 

Promote

 

Help word get around. Put the +1 button anywhere you’d like people to be able to recommend your business, products or services to friends and contacts all across the web.

 

Measure

 

How’s your page doing, and how could it do better? Google+makes it easy to learn more about how your followers’ interactions on your page affect your brand, and your business.

 

Bring your wireless-enabled laptop, netbook, or mobile tablet (e.g., iPad). The session will be held in our boardroom, located at 625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400.  Because we expect this to close out early, we ask if you register, please attend or let us know if you cannot, so others may have the opportunity!

To register, email or call Patricia Melton, SBDC Counselor, at 703-778-2960.

 

Enter the “Retail Parking” garage via Pendleton Street for free parking.

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.