Marketing for the Best of Us™!

  •  What are YOU selling?
  • Who should buy what you sell?

  • Why should they buy what you sell?

  • How do you inspire them to buy?

 Part three 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.

Why should they buy what you sell?

They, your customers or clients, will buy what you have to sell for the same reasons that YOU buy what others have to sell – because their wants or needs are being fulfilled by your product of service better than they can be fulfilled by your competitor, or better than by not making a purchase at all.

Recall that the reason Laura purchased a drill from Ace’s Old Town Hardware store (see my “What are YOU selling?” blog posting) was NOT to own a drill, but to fulfill her want or need to make holes. But, why did she buy from Ace’sinstead of Lowes or Home Depot? They both sell drills and probably the same one that Laura bought from Ace’s.

Are you More Fulfilling than your Competitors Are?

To answer that question, you have discover (1) what it takes to fulfill your customers’ wants or needs and (2) how effectively you are satisfying them when attempting to do so. These answers will simultaneously reveal what your business’s “brand” is, which, in my rudimentary manner, can be defined thusly:

  • Your brand IS your organization’s reputation, image, or perception, as determined by the public (customers and others), but NOT by you.

  • Your brand is NOT your logo, brochures, or letterhead, which merely serve as communicators of your brand.

TIP:Although you can influence your brand, it is the public’s perception that decides what your brand really is . . . e.g., the public’s perception of Penn State today versus one year ago?

Answering Question 1: To determine what it takes to best fulfill your customers’ wants or needs, first identify thosepersonal characteristics which most clearly represent your customers (income level, location, lifestyle, etc. – mentioned in my “Who Should Buy what You Sell?” blog posting). Then deliver your product or service in a way that fulfills their wants or needs by catering to those characteristics. This process, including both your product or service and how you deliver it, is an expression of your “brand.”

Example: Nordstrom’s is far from the least expensive clothing store, but their customers are willing to pay a premium because they want to be able to select from a wide selection of quality products and receive legendary customer service that is “above and beyond” the norm.

TIP: Unless you are destined to be a high volume purveyor (along the lines of Walmart or H&R Block), DO NOT base your brand on (low) price, but do convey the value that you deliver at your price level.

Answering Question 2: So, you believe that your product or service is satisfying your customers by fulfilling their wants or needs better than the other guy can, but how do you find out for sure? Your customers’ satisfaction level can be gauged by any number of measurement methods, from the basic (surveys, contests, giveaways, loyalty programs, directly asking them) to the more sophisticated (“secret shoppers,” social media tracking, online evaluation sites – Yelp is one prominent example). But, make sure that the methods you use are welcomed by and not annoying to your customers (Pavlovian rewards can assuage the latter). Also, find out why your competitors’ customers prefer or avoid your competitors, which can be used to fine-tune your brand accordingly.

TIP: Your competition is anyone or anything that discourages customers from buying from you.

Example: Market insight software provider Cint conducted a survey (released January 17, 2012) which revealed that almost two-thirds (62%) of those surveyed were more likely to purchase a brand’s product if they were asked their opinion in a study, and over half (56%) of the consumers polled felt more loyal to a brand if it takes the time to find out their opinion.

Go forth and Multiply (Your Buyers!)

Integrate your target market’s personal characteristics into the delivery methods of your product or service so that you can fulfill your customers’ wants or needs by responding to their characteristics better than your competitors can. And don’t forget to take your customers’ temperature so that you can stay ahead of the pack!

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.   

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TELL ME NOT…

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy EganThe economy is going up – except when it is going down. Are we in for another recession, a depression, or a boom? The political campaigns are in the negative, all attack mode and making many people more fearful.

But today came and you need to make a living, build your business, and grow.

Maybe you are fearful. You are swamped with so many ‘to do’ things. The things you know you need to get done. Those you keep meaning to do. And all the plans and goals you say you must define. If you could find the top of your desk or the bottom of your email inbox, you’d be delighted – for a day, maybe.

If customers are too demanding, you feel pressured by those expectations and wonder if you can sustain the demands and grow. If you do not have too many demanding customers, you feel pressured by the need to find more.

Right now a lot of folks wonder whether they can sustain their business dreams and goals. Many entrepreneurs and managers are hunkering down instead of inspiring and leading people.

And I am remembering a Wadsworth poem:
“ Tell me not, in mournful numbers
Life is but a dreary dream…”
It is from “A Psalm of Life” and very 19th century in tone but real too – you can find it here: http://bartelby.org/102/55.html

Do you know that there are studies which show that connecting to others, even electronically, raises levels of a brain chemical involved in feeling good? Just think, a nice cold lemonade with a business colleague could make both of you feel better! And if you used it to do some brainstorming about your business issues, so much the better. A series of notes to your connections to learn more about potential opportunity — and you are feeling better able to cope.

Organize. Whether you end the day by planning for the next or start the new day with 10 minutes to organize and plan, a small effort each day becomes a big goal achieved. Give yourself 10 – 15 minutes each day to move forward on one small step to a larger goal and see for yourself.

Need help? Bet you know someone else who does also and you can become peer coaches. Or you can hire a coach. Or an expert in a field you need to learn.  Or talk to the Alexandria SBDC.  Or undertake some online research to create your next step.

Buy someone you admire lunch and get a little mentoring on how they did whatever you admire them for. Or if you need a good swift kick, go read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  And I thought I had had some bad times to overcome!

You can create the future you want. And help the economy we all are a part of too. Are you in?

Alexandria SBDC Announces Human Resources Counseling for Small Business!

Patra Frame - Strategies for Human ResourcesAlexandria SBDC now offers individualized human resources counseling for small business…at no cost!

The Alexandria SBDC would like to announce a new program that will begin this month. Many of our small business clients fear HR issues and mistakes, but do not fully appreciate how the right people and processes will help them succeed. Patricia Frame, founder of Strategies for Human Resources (www.SHRinsight.com), Human Capital Management Consultant, Speaker, and Author, will provide one-on-one Human Resources Counseling for Small Business through the Alexandria Small Business Development Center. These sessions will be available at no charge to City of Alexandria businesses on the fourth Wednesday of each month (except December). Sessions will last for 50 minutes at the SBDC offices, and there will be three timeslots available each month. The first series of sessions will take place on Wednesday, September 26th, at 9, 10 and 11 a.m.

HR consulting sessions will be scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis. To take advantage of this opportunity, send Gloria Flanagan an email message (gflanagan [at] alexandriasbdc.org <– remove spaces and change [at] to the @ symbol for the actual email address), with “HR Consulting” in the subject line.

You must also include the following information in the body of your e-mail:

  • Name, company name and contact information
  • Current number of employees in your organization
  • 2 – 3 critical business issues facing your organization
  • Issues that you would like to address in the meeting

Participants who are not current Alexandria SBDC clients will also need to complete the “Request for Counseling” Form.

Once we have received your e-mail we will contact you to schedule your session.

Biographical Background Information for Patricia Frame is provided below:
Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management.

Bring in your business concerns and let her help you find a path forward to enhance your success.

Good Promotions for Back to School Season

Back to School season is really important for Small Business retailers. And, after Labor Day weekend sales are over, the rush of the autumn season pushes not only our clocks back an hour, but sometimes sales. Pat Melton, researcher extraordinaire (among many other hats) of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, came across a great article by Sharon McLoone at the Old Town Alexandria Patch site. As the article states, “Heather Stouffer, founder of Alexandria-based Mom Made Foods, shares some healthy eating tips for kids starting the school year.” She is finding creative ways to promote her business through the Back to School season, and not just because her line of food lends to kids start school shortly. Every event, holiday or celebration must be contemplated by Small Business retailers and services providers to see if there’s an opportunity to highlight products and services. This economy is going to get better thanks to the work we do as Small Business to kickstart the US market, so let’s take advantage as often as we can!

Read the full story over at Old Town Patch.

What are you doing for Back to School season to push out good promotions to finish your third quarter well?

Lead Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Regulation: Contractors and Homeowners Be Aware

The White House renovation
The White House renovation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prior to 1978, lead was an additive in paints used in the residential and commercial construction industry. Consequently, residential housing stock built prior to 1978 was painted with lead-containing paint. The ingestion of lead paint dust and chips is a known potential health hazard to adults and children, but particularly to children 6 years old and younger. Pregnant women are vulnerable as well because of the potential of harm to the fetus if lead dust or chips is ingested.

To remedy a perceived problem, U.S. E.P.A. promulgated the Lead Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Regulation. Effective in its amended form on April 22, 2010, the regulation requires contractors working on pre-1978 housing stock (single family homes as well as multiple unit housing) and child occupied facilities to be a “certified renovator,” engage in work practices that contain the spread of lead dust and chips during renovation, and educate clients by providing a pre-renovation pamphlet. The lead paint renovation repair and painting regulation applies to contractors of all types whose work disturbs lead based paint and who are compensated for their work. It applies not only to renovation contractors and painters, but to window and door installation contractors, electricians and plumbers and any contractor whose work disturbs painted surfaces.

The regulation applies to work which disturbs more than 6 square feet indoors and 20 square feet outdoors. There are no opt-out provisions. Even if the residence undergoing renovation does not house the targeted population, the regulations apply and the contractors must observe the work rules.

The new regulation increases the costs of renovation projects and exposes non-compliant contractors to legal liability. The increased costs range from EPA’s estimates of $8.00 to $167.00 per project to a private estimate of $500.00 to $1,000 for the remodeling of a kitchen, painting a couple of rooms or replacing several windows. While it is unclear what the full economic impact of the regulation will be, EPA’s Inspector General criticized its cost analysis in a July 25, 2012 report. The report noted that EPA’s cost analysis failed to use a statistically valid sample and failed to consider certain necssary costs which a contractor would incur. Thus, appears that the increased costs are closer to the private estimates than to EPA’s estimate.

Finally, the contractor who violates the regulations faces potential civil and criminal penalties, with fines up to $37,500 per violation. EPA is actively enforcing the regulation. It has fined, this year, a Maine rental property owner $10,000 for using power equipment improperly to remove paint from exterior surfaces of an 1850’s building, failing to train its workers properly and failing to apply for the proper certification. In another case, EPA fined a New Jersey window and siding company $1,500 for failure to follow the dust containment, waste disposal and training regulations. Likewise, it fined a Nebraska home repair company over $5,000 for failure to provide the homeowners with EPA’s approved lead hazard information booklet and to obtain the appropriate acknowledgment regarding the renovations.

So, if you are a contractor be certain that your employees are properly trained and that you are complying with the regulations. If you are a homeowner be prepared for higher renovation costs and longer renovation times.

Law Office of Paula Potoczak

218 N. Lee St., 3rd Floor

Alexandria, VA 22314

703-519-3733

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Document Retention for Small Business

Frequently small businesses ask me as a professional bookkeeper varying questions about document retention.  I am not going to tell you which documents you should retain.   This information needs to come from your CPA, attorney and/or your corporate headquarters.  I want to write about document retention because ultimately, you may be responsible for archived documents.  There are certain documents that you will be required to keep on file and available if needed by auditors.  Not only must you have them, BUT you must be able to retrieve them – which box and which folder.   If you can’t find it, then you don’t have it!

Learn which documents you must retain and for how long.  Find out if electronic copies are acceptable or if you must keep hard copies.   I will write about my best filing system another time, but a few tricks concerning retained documents:

  1. Use colored dots to mark the corner of files you will need to archive at the end of your fiscal year.  Then all you will need to do is pull those files and place them into an archive box for storage.
  2. If you have a single document and not a year’s worth of similar documents, it is okay to create a folder for one document, label it and then color tag it.  This makes it easier to retrieve this document if it is needed.  I always give critical documents their own folders.  [HINT:  I will make an electronic  copy of an archived document if it is something I may need to refer to from time to time.]
  3. Part of my filing system is to keep an electronic catalog of all my files.  Not only does it make it easier to find a document or folder (I’ll write more about this another time), it makes it very easy to create content lists of archived boxes.
  4. Number your boxes and label them with the general contents and dates.
  5. Your boxes need to be stored someplace where they will be safe.   If your basement floods easily or is subject to dampness, don’t put them there.  If your attic has insects, don’t store them there.  If you have a lot of boxes don’t stack them beyond their maximum load; the boxes can become damaged and will collapse.  You might consider checking into commercial storage companies.  They will pick up your boxes and will deliver boxes back to you if you need to retrieve a document (see the value of having a good list?).  These companies can be expensive, but may be worth the cost if you have neither the space nor a good, safe location to store them.
  6. If electronic copies of your documents are allowed, typically certain guidelines must be followed.  Some of the requirements will include minimal redundancy of your electronic files, where the electronic data is stored, legibility, etc.  You must obtain a copy of those guidelines and adhere to them.

Retention is a very important topic and should be part of your company’s Policies and Procedures.  Documents that must be retained should be known to anyone in your company who works with them.  I recommend also that document management be assigned to someone who will take responsibility.  That person might be you, because ultimately the liability is yours.

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Sue McLaughlin is the founder and principal of McLaughlin Bookkeeping Services, LLC and MBS Bookkeeping Seminars. Her mission is to offer small-business clients a fair price for bookkeeping services while delivering excellent customer service.

Start Smart: Creating Great Performance

Small Business Human Resources - Great Employee Performance ManagementThe smaller your organization, the more important each person in it becomes. Think a moment – what would happen if you just lost $5,000 or $10,000 tomorrow? Yet hiring and retaining the wrong person can easily cost you that in lost opportunities or time or energy quite quickly.

So, how do you ensure your staff are terrific assets?

Start with your hiring process. New companies often hire family and friends because they are ‘comfortable’ with such people. Small organizations often think of people as an expense to be minimized, rather than an investment in your success and future.

Look carefully at how you design a new job and hire for it. You do not need an elaborate job description or expensive search process. You do need to be very clear about the work that needs to be done and the experience, attitude, and knowledge actually needed to do it well. Where will you find such a person? How will you know? What will you pay for?

Many of us lose valuable employee productivity from the start, through bad assumptions and poor planning. Your new hire checklist – mental or written – probably focuses on things like keys and payroll and forms.

What you need is a new hire checklist that ensures you:

1. Reinforce why you hired the person: say what you saw in their experience, attitude, and knowledge which demonstrated their value to your organization.

2. Explain the basics of ‘how we work here’. What are your organization’s common habits and practices that a new person needs to know?

3. Define your vision and goals and relate to the person’s specific job.

4. Set the standards for behavior and high performance at the beginning. Have the materials and equipment each needs and someone to train them on any company specific processes. Be clear in explaining what the person needs to know to successfully do the job. State your expectations in terms of daily activities or weekly accomplishments. What goals do you want achieved in the first 3 months? 6 months? What standards does the person need to meet? Do you expect all calls/email to be answered within one business day? All customers to be greeted when they enter your store? Be clear about all those details.

5. Talk about how you like to work. If you expect employees to bring up problems immediately, say so. If you want them to try to solve the problem first or bring you a proposed solution, tell them. Do you do a weekly staff meeting or scheduled individual meetings? Do you prefer written or oral reports? Are you calm and deliberative? Creative and outgoing? Tell new people.

Not there with current employees?

You can change. Define your own processes and expectations and clearly communicate them to existing staff. Then, as you grow, do so with each new hire too.

Now, of course, the reason this does not happen all the time is that many of us expect others to know and understand our goals and standards. Magically, without our having to do the work ourselves to clearly define and articulate them! So your own performance is the first person’s to sort out.

But the value of doing so is an immediate boost to productivity and performance in your organization. Your staff will know how to succeed and how to help the organization succeed.

Patricia Frame is an experienced management consultant, speaker and author on human capital issues. Ms. Frame founded Strategies for Human Resources in 1993 as a consulting firm specializing in meeting the human resources needs of small to mid-size organizations. 

Bookkeeper and Your Accountant

Bookkeeping and Your Accountant - MBS Bookkeeping ServicesThere can be confusion among small business owners when it comes to responsibilities between bookkeepers and accountants.  There are some who believe that they will save money by using the services of a professional bookkeeper rather than services of a Certified Public Account (CPA.)  I answer that question with this analogy:  would you ask a nurse to perform open heart surgery, or would you ask a heart surgeon?  Both are critical to the field of medicine just as the bookkeeper and the CPA are both critical to the field of accountancy.  Let me point out a few important differences.

CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTANT

A public accountant is qualified to help you strategize and make important decisions so that you can grow your business and avoid some common pitfalls.  A CPA can also help you with strategic tax planning.  Your CPA takes your business financial planning to the next level.  If you don’t currently have a CPA, get one.

BOOKKEEPER

The bookkeeper then implements at the nuts and bolts level the strategy you and your accountant develop.  Your bookkeeper will set up your books and classify transactions that correspond to your business strategy.   At the most basic level, your bookkeeper spends a great deal of time posting transactions to the correct accounts so that your financial reports correctly reflect the financial health of your business.   Other important functions include maintaining reconciled book balances and managing your accounts payable and accounts receivable.   Your bookkeeper must be able to provide you with your current cash position when you are faced with a critical financial decision.   I’ve just scratched the surface.

These are your most basic differences.  But as with all things, bookkeeping professionals have different skill sets and areas of proficiency.  There are many professional bookkeepers who are trained and skilled to help you in many other areas.  These might include budgeting, forecasting, pricing, payroll, training, and so on.  So what should you do?  Your business is your ship and you are its captain.  You should make a list of skills and assistance you are looking for in a bookkeeper and look for someone with those skills.  A good place to start is by asking for referrals from similar businesses or from your accountant.  Schedule a meeting with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center; they have professionals available to advise you.  If you have an in-house bookkeeper, make sure your bookkeeper gets the training she/he needs.  If you are a start-up, meet with your accountant on a periodic basis to be sure you are on track and give your bookkeeper feedback.   Bad bookkeeping means poor output which can mean insufficient data for you to use when making critical financial decisions.  Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish, as the old saying goes.  The little you may save today may cost you plenty in the future.  Be smart and get professional advice.  It doesn’t matter if you keep your own books, if you staff it, or if you outsource… Be Smart!

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Sue McLaughlin is the founder and principal of McLaughlin Bookkeeping Services, LLC and MBS Bookkeeping Seminars. Her mission is to offer small-business clients a fair price for bookkeeping services while delivering excellent customer service.