Digital Signs Increase Sales! – Volunteer for a Free Trial

Digital Signage Trial

Curated Content Design, Management, Delivery: There is no shortage of TV’s, monitors, and digital media presentation devices both available and already installed in public spaces. Curated Content for these, on the other hand, is less successful and often non existent. Independent retailers, service providers and non profit organizations are especially susceptible. Landlords, Developers, and Real Estate Agents could use some help too. We already design for this client, representing both visual brands and the spaces in which the are displayed. Curating the digital sign content is a natural conclusions of our efforts in this direction.

We are testing a new content management service and are inviting participants. If you are an online and/or “bricks n mortar” retailer, service provider, nonprofit, landlord, developer, real estate agent, in fact most any small business, and interested in installing and/or pushing content to a media kiosk at a physical location of your choice, we invite your participation. The trial is no cost, no HDMI or special wiring is required, and significant advantages are offered. For details, examples projects and to sign up please follow the link.

Why Digital Signage

Real Benefit = Sales: Digital signs, when installed in public places, increases sales. It is a fact! Examples are everywhere as are those who write about them. Irfan Khan, writing a guest post for Sixteen:Nine summed it up better than I ever could.

We designed this display to introduce and explain a new product/service being offered by this “free trial” participant. The composition of the display and the content of the digital presentation has been curated to feature and support the new practice. This is a small display used in a small retail area. Content may be displayed on any size screen so the size of the TV and configuration of the display is a choice not a limitation.
  • In public venues digital signs reach more customers than websites or social media.
  • Customers engage with them.
  • They spend longer looking at digital images than traditional signage.
  • They also remember the message.
  • Digital signs standout.
  • They may drive impulse buying.
  • They stay relevant.
  • They inspire action.
  • They promote featured products and services.
  • They showcase a brand.
  • They drive sales.
  • They shorten wait times.
  • They fit into unexpected environments.
  • They induce a customer to stay around.
  • The results justify the advertising $ spent.
  • Businesses give them positive reviews.

Trial and Error is Valuable

Successes: Successful digital signs are physical displays created by the integrations of hardware, electronics, software solutions, and graphic/media content. Without outside help, many small businesses have neither the time nor the resources required to implement a successful digital signage program. Whether small with a single display or large with multiple screens, the implementation process is the same. Finally, presuming all else is perfect, if the content misses the mark then the program is apt to fail. There is no substitute for actual trial and error. In their 2018 Content Management Report Adobe tells us how Alex Honnold tried 50 times before successfully scaling El Capitan. They go on to list these top digital signage challenges:

  • Personalization
  • Keeping up with current technology
  • Difficult-to-use content management systems
  • Over-reliance on IT teams for simple functions
  • Inadequate access to customer data and insights
  • Integrating third-party apps
  • Managing and optimizing content

We do not see the need to try 50 times, nor do we claim to have all the answers. We have, though, been practicing and studying the issue for almost two years. We are ready to try out what we have learned and invite you to try with us. Follow the link to learn more.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Digital Signs & Real Products: A Winning Combination?

Inserting a lake, a gym and a hoarse into a display – If marketing guru’s are to be believed, bricks n mortar retailers would be wise to think about how their store designs and related merchandise displays might create an emotional connection between a shopper and the product being sold. It has been suggested that one way to accomplish this is by summoning the context where the product might be used. Does this mean that a diamond ring is better displayed when presented by candle light, flowers, a gourmet dinner? What about a canoe, a pair of sneakers, a cowboy hat, …” Do we need a lake, a gym, and a hoarse to suggest the desired context? So it would appear, especially if we go by design strategies that we see being employed by businesses and retailers who seem to be surviving the effects of online sales.

An obvious way of inserting the lake, the gym and the hoarse into the scenario above is by the use of a digital sign. Since these are clearly showing up everywhere in the public arena, we thought it worth examining how they are being used. To that end we went happily to the epicenter of everyday electronics, Best Buy.Before proceeding, a word about the images used here. These are phone photos taken while I was in the store shopping for a TV which I purchased and will be used on a digital sign. The comments which follow are intended to be instructive on a general topic and reflect on neither the practices and policies of Best Buy, nor the suppliers of the products on display.

Measuring Success – I evaluated each display below for: a) Notice-aibility of the display – 5 pts, b) Brand identity – 4 pts., c) Shopper connection with the context in which the product is presented – 3 pts., d) Shopper engagement with the product – 2 pts., e) Shop-abiltiy of the display – 1 pt. I made a score card, success being assigned according to the order of importance on the list. The highest possible score was 15 points. Click through the images to see who won.

What is the point? – So why go through this exercise? Many of us have been writing about the marketing importance of creating an emotional connection between a shopper and the product being sold. This is certainly important, yet there is another more practical conclusion to be had and it is most evident in the last and final slide in the sequence. It has to do with our preconceived notions about costs, namely the best and most effective display in the sequence was also inexpensive to implement. No customized light boxes, electronic displays, large TV’s or digital display screens are required. Nor are customize informational graphics, merchandise mounting systems, or complicated apps necessary for access to streamed information.

The winner is – The content of the Whirlpool display is no less curated because only a wall, a decal, a logo sign, a small smart TV, a power outlet and merchandise are required. A message is delivered that clearly says, “this washer and dryer is able to provide clean safe clothes for your kids to wear when they are playing outside.” If you are a retailer thinking about introducing technology into a store design, my first recommendation would be not to over complicate what must be done.

Free digital signage trial – Retailers, service providers, and non profits are operating in a new marketing environment requiring that their online and “bricks n mortar” presence be seamlessly integrated. Business are now beginning to understand what museums have known forever; without curation there is only a warehouse. To this end Gaddis Architect will soon be testing a new service designed to provide, manage and deliver curated content for use on digital signs. To be notified about details of our free digital signage trial please join our contact list at the link

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Blockchain Is in the Future for Small Business

This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. He will also be presenting a workshop on April 17th: “Blockchain for Small Business: What… Read more »

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This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. He will also be presenting a workshop on April 17th: “Blockchain for Small Business: What it is/Marketing/Management Opportunities”. Register here.

Few times in my career as a technologist have I so clearly seen the proverbial writing on the wall regarding a technology that will change the world. And, a technology that is so powerful that it will change the way we do (almost if not) every type of business transaction. But, it’s not the kind of change that you’ll notice on the surface. It’s the type of change that’s subtle. It’s in the way we produce and use the software that is all around us. It’s the way we manage trust among our vendors, suppliers, customers and other parties to business transactions. It’s the way we secure ourselves from the growing concerns of cyber-attacks on our Small Business data and systems. That technology is blockchain and here I explain what blockchain is (in as simple terms as I can).

Invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym used by the unknown inventor(s) of the method behind how it works, in 2008, blockchain is discussed most frequently and popularly as synonymous with the wildly popular and speculative investments in digital currencies today. This is because Nakamoto’s application of the blockchain was used for the cryptocurrency coined Bitcoin in 2009. But, don’t mistake blockchain technology for being only Bitcoin. It’s so much more.

Blockchain is a highly complex way of dealing with digital assets. Thankfully, all of the complicated workings of blockchain happens in the background. Essentially, it is a way of securely validating and sharing data (e.g., digital currency, health records, and contracts) for all parties involved. The way in which you once centralized your data and managed your security, blockchain changes that with the use of many locations where you data is held and some powerful cryptography techniques applied.

If you want to learn more about how blockchain works (and how Small Business opportunities to use blockchain today), attend my upcoming seminar on April 17th. At the seminar, we talk about the real potential for this new technology is to improve security, reliability and validity of data, plus a few innovative ways Small Business can take advantage of this technology today and in the near future.

It’s difficult to fathom but mathematics and algorithms (running atop massive computer power today) has a profound impact on our daily lives. It’s only logical that each iteration of newly-minted, competent technology will also affect business operations and marketing. It’s imperative that you continue to learn about major groundswell changes like that which blockchain brings.

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Small Biz Nightmares: Employees and Security

In the last few years we have seen several news accounts of major data breaches involving big businesses, nonprofit organizations, banking institutions, and even government entities.  While this is a major issue for these organizations, they generally have the expertise and means to fix the issue and ensure that the breach does not continue.  But… Read more »

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In the last few years we have seen several news accounts of major data breaches involving big businesses, nonprofit organizations, banking institutions, and even government entities.  While this is a major issue for these organizations, they generally have the expertise and means to fix the issue and ensure that the breach does not continue.  But what about small businesses?  Studies have shown that 90% of small businesses do not use any data protection at all for company information.  However, last year 61% of cyberattacks were aimed at small businesses, and 60% of small companies that experience a breach go out of business within six months of a cyber attack.

What is a small business owner to do?  The Alexandria SBDC recently presented a webinar with two experts to address what small businesses can do to minimize their cyber threats, particularly the very real threats involved with hiring employees, contractors and vendors.  Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, and Elizabeth Moon of Focus Data Solutions set forth in this webinar some concrete and simple steps that all business owners can take today to protect their company data.  It should be viewed by all small business owners and their employees.

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Cybersecurity for Small Business: It Doesn’t Keep You Up at Night? It Should!

If you want a pleasant Sunday morning read, check out this list of data breaches of major companies, organizations and government agencies. These are entities with IT departments, security professionals monitoring their networks, cybersecurity policies, and a budget to support their cybersecurity efforts. At least one of these data breaches included data about you. And,… Read more »

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If you want a pleasant Sunday morning read, check out this list of data breaches of major companies, organizations and government agencies. These are entities with IT departments, security professionals monitoring their networks, cybersecurity policies, and a budget to support their cybersecurity efforts. At least one of these data breaches included data about you. And, these cyberattacks were not even the primary targets of most attacks in the world. Hackers today find it lucrative to target businesses and, more specifically, North America-based small businesses.

Hackers have breached about 14 million small businesses in the last year, and most don’t know it. Cybersecurity for Small Business might sound obscure if you’re in business on “Main Street” and don’t sell online. However, it’s one of the most important management areas of your business to focus on today. Cybersecurity itself means protecting your digital world from attacks in a variety of forms so you can focus on running and growing your business.

Unfortunately, gone are the days when you can buy antivirus software for your desktop computer and all your digital worries can go away; it’s part of the solution but it’s not the whole solution. There are many ways in which hackers can penetrate your personal, your business, your employees, and your customers’ machines and access data with intent to steal or get access to that equipment for nefarious reasons. Frequently, the reasoning doesn’t make sense on the surface so you aren’t suspicious, and this can be the most dangerous cybersecurity breaches because you are unaware for so long.

I’ll use the colloquial term “cybercrime” throughout this discussion to cover the wide variety of crimes, unethical tactics, and downright immoral practices of individuals and companies against personal and business systems and their data. These cybercrimes include, but are not limited to,

  • hacking your digital devices (which could be your smartphone, computers and laptops, Point of Sale terminals, credit card machines, and similar devices),
  • hacking your digital services (think about your website, email, cloud storage, and online services),
  • blatant physical theft (ergo, larceny) of digital equipment to get the underlying data,
  • data theft,
  • phishing,
  • stalking,
  • identity theft,
  • wire tapping,
  • denial of service (DoS) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against your servers to shut down your websites,
  • email bombing (the equivalent of a DoS/DDoS attack, but with a volume of email messages sent to you instead of HTTP requests to the server), and
  • injection of malware (malicious software), ransomware (taking data to make you pay to gain get it back), and other types of software that do dubious actions to your digital environment.

Now isn’t this a Charlie Foxtrot, eh? I know it’s daunting and it might scare and overwhelm you. It’s understandable that you may feel this way. But, as a business owner in the Internet Age, you must head cybercrime off at the pass, or risk losing time, money, and clients. Thankfully, there are some common sense ways to deal with cybercrime, so you can rest at ease knowing your digital world is safe and get back to running your business.

Physical security of hardware

Every Small Business should have physical security protocols for all digital devices (phones, external hard drives, computers should be secured in place so they cannot be easily picked up and run away with, laptops / tablets / credit card readers should be secured in locked storage when not in use.

Your next best defense since people are fallible, is to have an offsite backup. This can include making a full copy of your encrypted data on an external hard drive and taking it someplace away from the business location, and/or using a cloud storage backup service such as Carbonite, Crashplan, or even Google Backup and Sync.

Something that some businesses are starting to do as well, when all else fails, is to make sure their business liability insurance cover physical theft. And, you should know that there are cyber security risk / liability insurance policies available for damages and losses from digital means.

Physical access to systems (users)

When it comes to physical access to systems, your users should be guided by an effective Digital Device Policy and include protocols for:

  • How to create employee user accounts and assign only the administrative/user privileges needed for them to perform in their role.
  • Give users physical access to systems only at the times needed to satisfy their assignments, and not give access to unnecessary systems at all. If employees don’t need access to your server room, don’t give it to them.
  • For how to allow Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) employees at your business. You should have in place a policy for managing BYOD’s. Employees must use and abide by these security protocols on their mobile devices, if they use personal devices at work.

Separation of personal and business devices

You separate your business and personal finances, because you need to track what is yours and what is your business’, even if only for tax purposes. The same goes with cybersecurity. You need separate personal and business logins for online accounts. This may also include hardware, like the phone you use to make and receive personal or work calls. Will your ISP or telecommunications provider have protections in place if you’re using your consumer service for business purposes? Probably not. The fine print matters here.

Software protections

Since the late 1990s there has been antivirus and anti-spyware software. And, yet, business owners resist installing reputable antivirus software on their business machines. While some have costs associated with them, many are free and built into your operating system, such as Windows Defender. You simply need to activate them. But, if you have purchased a license for one not built into your operating system, please make sure that your license is still valid and the software are kept up-to-date (including your mobile phones and devices). Also, firewalls keep your computer, and any devices or routers connected to the Internet safer, especially your Web browsers (all of them, even if you don’t use them all, all of the time), must have firewall protection. Again, on Microsoft Windows, there’s Windows Firewall that simply needs to be enabled.

VPN when on WiFi on anyone else’s network

If you spend much of your time on other people’s WiFi, then you need to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure your business data trafficking across the network. This includes any open WiFi network at your local cafe and if you’re working at a coworking space or even at your client’s site. No network outside your firewall can be trusted to be secure. A VPN product you can try for 500MB per month for free is TunnelBear and if you use more data than that per month across your business, then you can upgrade.

Web browsing and email protections

As a business owner (and advising your staff similarly), don’t open suspect emails and don’t transact any personal or private information about yourself via email. Period.

At the core of most Web and email protection is antivirus and spam-filtering software, so it’s definitely recommended that your ESP (email service provider) and/or ISP (Internet service provider) give you options for protecting and securing your Web and email traffic. However, that’s simply not enough for a business today.

In addition to such protective software, you should also seek out information on implementing SPF, DKIM, and/or DMARC as available through your ESP.

It also doesn’t hurt to enable two-factor authentication (a/k/a 2FA or TFA) on all online services that have the capability. Where possible, use a password manager, such as LastPass, 1Password, or Dashlane, to not only use unique passwords for every online account you have for the business, but also long passwords with unique passwords to increase its resilience to attacks.

Mobile security

As more and more computing happens on mobile devices, security on them will become the dominant concern for small business owners. But, mobile doesn’t simply stop there. With the advent of Internet of Things (embedded “smart” technology in everyday things), wearable technologies, smart vehicle systems (Android Auto, anyone?), and voice assistants (like Amazon Echo devices, Google Home, and, the newcomer, Apple HomePod), cybersecurity needs expand to have to meet those new frontiers.

It’s so important for Small Business to have their representatives’ support when it comes to combatting cybercrime against them and their customers. In April, a bipartisan small business cybersecurity bill was introduced by nine senators—the MAIN STREET Cybersecurity Act of 2017. Sadly, this bill, according to Skopos Labs as detailed on GovTrack.us, has a 3% chance of becoming law. This is a commonsense piece of legislation to get the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), “to disseminate resources to help reduce small business cybersecurity risks, and for other purposes.” Call your congressional representatives and tell them that you support S. 770 and they should support their small business voters by supporting this bill.

Also, if you’re scared senseless and you need help, never fear. Contact the Alexandria Small Business Development Center and we can refer you to professional security consultants who can help you.

Next Roundtable – August 15, 2017 – Sizing Up the Competition: How to Create a Competitive Advantage

Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosts a monthly Business Development Roundtable from January to November. We meet in our main conference at noon on the third Tuesday of the month, and you can bring a beverage or your lunch, for a different business marketing or management topic that’s pertinent to Alexandria Small Business. Join us on August 15, 2017 at noon, when we gather to discuss “Sizing Up the Competition: How to Create a Competitive Advantage.”

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SmallBiz Nightmares: Employees and Security Part 2

This blog was written by Patra Frame and was originally posted on her company website, Strategies for Human Resources. If you missed last week’s video blog on this topic, you can check it out here. Recently Elizabeth Chisman Moon of Focus Data Solutions and I did a seminar on this topic for the Alexandria SBDC. Here… Read more »

The post SmallBiz Nightmares: Employees and Security Part 2 appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This blog was written by Patra Frame and was originally posted on her company website, Strategies for Human Resources. If you missed last week’s video blog on this topic, you can check it out here.

Employees and SecurityRecently Elizabeth Chisman Moon of Focus Data Solutions and I did a seminar on this topic for the Alexandria SBDC. Here are some basic ideas on managing your risks of security breaches.

Start by developing policies or practices that address the most important security needs of your business. These might include:

  • Use of company equipment and software
  • Use of personal devices for work
  • Social media
  • Basic security procedures (physical and systems)
  • What you consider ‘company confidential’ or sensitive information

Defining what you consider sensitive information is critical. This ensures you know what information deserves extra care in handling and storing so you can protect it. The policy also tells your employees what information you expect them to keep restricted and ensure others do not see. Common types of sensitive or ‘company confidential’ information include:

  • All data relating to services, applications, procedures, and/or products sold by the organization, excluding marketing literature designed for external use
  • Research and/or development materials
  • Information about clients or customers, excluding that within sales or marketing literature produced for external use
  • Contractual arrangements between the organization and its clients or suppliers or vendors
  • Purchasing, pricing, sales, or financial data
  • Personnel data on any employee or ex-employee
  • Information provided by other organizations under confidentiality agreements

Development of basic policies can be done using samples from your professional/trade organizations or your network. However – it is vital to ensure that each policy is designed to support your desired culture. Having such policies checked by your lawyer, appropriate consultants, or vendors is important to ensure you minimize your risks. The policies then provide a basis for orientation of new employees as well as training of all employees and regular reminders on need for each employee to protect the organizations’ assets.

Remember that policies that are difficult or complicated lead to less-secure ‘work-arounds’. For example, all of us have seen the passwords written on sticky notes on the PC or laptop!

When hiring employees, independent contractors, or vendors:

  • Consider security issues as part of hiring process for all
  • Ask questions related to common risks profile in interviewing candidates
  • Check on related issues (impulsive, anti-authority, carelessness) with references

With independent contractors or vendors:

  • Restrict access to your internal networks and to sensitive information
  • Place security requirements and restrictions in contracts.

Security is critical to all businesses.  Cybersecurity is more important than many of us realize as hackers increasingly are targeting small organizations, both for access to their information and as a quick way to make money via ransomware.

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Census Business Builder: Data for Small Businesses

We know how important good data is for small businesses as they develop their business plans or look to grow their businesses. In the past, it has been challenging to get the information needed from a single source. Now, there’s a new tool available to help small businesses with their research needs. Earlier this month,… Read more »

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Census Business BuilderWe know how important good data is for small businesses as they develop their business plans or look to grow their businesses. In the past, it has been challenging to get the information needed from a single source. Now, there’s a new tool available to help small businesses with their research needs.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Census Bureau released a tool to help small business owners explore data on demographics and economic information. The tool is called the Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition and provides information that is useful to new small businesses and to those looking to expand. The video below, from the U.S. Census Bureau website, provides an overview of the tool:

The tool was designed to be easy to use and allows each small business owner to select their type of business and anticipated business location. Because the tool is map-based, it is easy for business owners to look at surrounding areas to compare different jurisdictions to their neighboring areas.

The tool also allows users to download and print maps, data, and reports that can then be used in developing business plans or for other research purposes. The tool includes data from the American Community Survey 5-year Estimates, the County Business Patterns, Nonemployer Statistics, the Economic Census, and ESRI data on consumer spending.

Currently, the tool provides information on 49 business types in six categories: construction, food services, health care, personal services, professional services, and retail. The U.S. Census Bureau plans to continue adding business types in future iterations of the tool. Quarterly updates are planned and will include additional content and functionality.

In order to make the site user friendly, the U.S. Census Bureau has developed several video tutorials to walk users through the tool. These answer common questions about how to use the tool and demonstrate several of the features that business owners will find useful.

We are excited for this new tool and the potential it represents for our clients. If you have any questions about this tool or would like more information, please feel free to reach out to us. Happy researching!

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Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC.  Most small business owners who I meet say that marketing takes up a large portion of their and their business’ time and attention. And, they’re right! Marketing is a good part of… Read more »

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This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC. 

Marketing on a Shoestring BudgetMost small business owners who I meet say that marketing takes up a large portion of their and their business’ time and attention. And, they’re right! Marketing is a good part of your job as a business owner and always your responsibility to doggedly pursue new business. You never know when sales may stop from one or two prime clients, and you need to have your pipeline well-stocked. Of course, this scares many business owners, and they think this will cost them a great deal of money and other resources. This was the topic of discussion at the recent Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable, “Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” The conversation was designed to first discuss internal marketing/branding, then friends-and-family, word-of-mouth referral marketing, and finally low-cost marketing avenues. The following post is a recap of the topics that were covered.

Internal Marketing

Internal marketing is really about building a culture of sales. And, of course, that starts with yourself as a small business owner. Most people go into business without a sales and marketing background. Instead, you are probably a technician, professional, and/or expert in your field or industry. Sales is an immediate gap for your business that you need to fill. Daniel H. Pink, attorney and best-selling author of several books, wrote in his latest book, To Sell Is Human, that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one out of nine Americans are in a sales position. Below is an in-depth discussion Dan Pink had with University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, Professor of Management, Adam Grant, about the topic of sales in everyday society and why it’s applicable. I think it’s well worth the watch.

It’s not a surprise to a small business owner who is spending a great deal of time himself or herself marketing, but you need to learn a sales methodology and then pay that information forward to your entire staff (whether it’s one employee or dozens of staffers). One book that I recommended during the Roundtable was a book by Michael Port, Book Yourself Solid (which recently was also published as a fantastic illustrated guide; there’s also a Book Yourself Solid Creative Live course taught by Michael Port himself available), that teaches you as a business owner how to build a sales method that works for you. From there, you need to empower your culture to pursue sales. Sales should not be seen as a “dirty word” or less-than-savory business practice but should be embraced as what drives the mission of your business or organization. I think all the roundtable participants were in agreement that it was really important to build that culture from the ground up–from the moment you plan to hire someone, the questions you ask during the hiring process, onboarding that employee, and ongoing professional development of your team.

Friends & Family Word-of-Mouth Referral Marketing

Next we discussed the tried-and-true strategy of referral marketing, especially when it comes to friends and family. One of the most effective word-of-mouth marketing means described by roundtable attendees was helping friends and family actually understand what you do and who your ideal clients are. Most just simply don’t know or are not geographically situated near you (in the case of family, typically) to know exactly what it is you provide and who might be able to help you by referring or buying your products or services.

Something else to keep in mind is that you need to keep your existing customers primed to refer you business because they are the largest referrers of new business. It costs you virtually nothing to send thank-you notes, small gifts perhaps around holidays to show gratitude, or to use e-mail marketing software like Constant Contact, Mailchimp or iContact. This puts you at the top of your customers’ minds when they have a repeat need, but, more importantly, when they know their friends, family, or business colleagues need your products or services, your customers will suggest they to reach out to you. Remember to thank those referring, existing customers warmly for their efforts!

Low-Cost Marketing Avenues

Not all marketing is free as I’ve intimated so far. Training yourself and then training your staff are not free, but they can be affordable for your small business. In the last section of the roundtable, we discussed other low-cost marketing avenues available to small business, and some interesting ideas surfaced. Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Twitter Ads, etc., all provide low-cost ways to get your business products and services out there in front of audiences that may not know you exist. There are caveats, so it’s best to do your research before you jump into online advertising. Of course, Social Media with an excellent content strategy plan in place and that is well-executed can drive traffic to your business website and reap compound benefits to your bottom line.

There are additional low-cost sales and marketing training options:

  • lynda.com (which you may have a free subscription to through your local library);
  • fizzle.co (30-day free trial then only $30 per month); and,
  • coursera.org (free massive, online-only courses (MOOCs) that have many business marketing courses).

Join us next month for business-to-business (B2B) marketing topic, “My Customers Are Other Small Businesses: How Do I Reach Them?” at the Alexandria SBDC Business Development Roundtable on August 18, 2015 at noon. Bring a drink, your lunch, and business cards! All are welcome.

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