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Friday, January 27, 2012

What Does it Take to be a Successful Entrepreneur?

Many books and articles are written by and about successful entrepreneurs, with great information about what it takes to succeed. If it were possible to distill all of that information into a few words, it might be this: Being a successful entrepreneur really just boils down to solving problems and being resilient enough to find answer without giving up.

Persistence. Sweat. I was talking to my good friend and amazing real estate agent Jan McNulty the other day -- and we were talking about luck in business. Of course we both concluded that the harder that we worked, the more luck we had. (I think Jan got "lucky" over 40 times in 2011.)

As Thomas Edison famously said: "If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward." Hopefully, you won't need 10,000 attempts to find the solution you're looking for, but many people give up after only a few tries.

Whether you own a new company, have been in business awhile, or are an employee with the desire to become successful, the next time you run into a problem, take the initiative to find a solution. Be persistent, and don't give up at the first sign of resistance. Yes, that is easier said than done. There are many entrepreneurs, but not nearly as many successful ones. Those who succeed are champion problem solvers and have the will to not take no for an answer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Are Your Product Photos Saying?

If a picture's worth a thousand words, have you ever thought about what your photos are saying? We live in a visual age, where images surround us. Whether on your website, marketing materials, billboards, or ads, the photos you choose to represent your products and services are very important. Here are a few tips to ensure your photos are saying what you want:
  • Don't photograph your products on a cluttered shelf. Rather, depict them in use in an appropriate abstract environment or on a clean white background.

  • Save your originals, and don't reduce their file size. You never know when you'll need to re-purpose images, such as if you want a low-res image from your website to work in a high-resolution print brochure.

  • Take a lot of photos when you have the opportunity. You may be surprised how a new angle or different lighting can change the appeal and appearance of your products.

  • If images don't do justice for your products, don't use them. Consider posting a "photo coming soon" placeholder, rather than posting a poor-quality photo. But do so only if you fully intend to post an image later.

  • Adjust the resolution of photos on your website to ensure they won't slow the load time for the page. Nothing is worse than a great photo nobody has the patience to download and see.

  • Use intriguing photos to supplement Facebook posts and create additional interest. Organize these photos into albums for easy viewing, and use relevant album names, such as "new products," "seasonal promotions," and so on.

Friday, January 20, 2012

R.I.P. Kodak -- Will the World End for all in 2012?

There are doomsday predictions that say the world will end this year. We won't be able to validate those predictions either negatively or positively until this time next year (if there is a next year!). But one thing is certain: Sadly, 2012 will be the end for some businesses.

While going out of business is an unfortunate reality that happens in many industries -- with technology changes and a sour economy (especially in a down cycle like we've been experiencing for way too long now), it does NOT have to happen to your business.

So how can you keep from becoming part of the statistics in 2012? Make a real commitment to marketing your business.

Marketing does not have to be overly complicated or require a large budget. It might be as simple as figuring out the ideal prospects who would purchase what you sell, then targeting those prospects with relevant messages via as many marketing channels as your budget allows. If your budget is tight, focus on a niche group. Start small, and grow your business from there.

If you don't have one already, start a marketing calendar today, and set up a plan for various marketing activities that you will do throughout the year. (Plum Grove gives out free wall calendars to clients every year at this time -- while supplies last.) Be encouraged and proactive, so we can all look back at this time next year and chuckle about the latest doomsday predictions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An Internal Newsletter Your Team Will Love

While newsletters are a great way to build relationships with customers, many companies overlook the team-building opportunity an internal newsletter offers within their own doors, as well. Internal newsletters are a great way not only to learn more about colleagues, but also to keep employees informed about company news, events, and other important announcements. Electronic newsletters can work but may not reach all staff, and don't have the impact of ink on paper -- but ink on paper can cost a bit more. Here are a few tips for creating an internal newsletter your employees will love:
  • Create a plan by defining the frequency of your newsletter (such as monthly or quarterly) and the types of articles or sections you'd like to include. Also develop a template you can easily modify for each issue.

  • Encourage teamwork by assigning a few people to specific parts of the newsletter each month, such as pulling company stats (sales volume, incoming calls, trade show outcomes, etc.), writing feature articles about company events, and so on.

  • Create an idea library. Stockpile various ideas, photos, jokes, quotes, seasonal graphics, etc., to save time down the road.

  • Acknowledge employee birthdays, corporate anniversaries, new hires, promotions, etc.

  • Consider offering a "message from the president" to make employees the first to know about new products, company changes, initiatives, etc.

  • Highlight successes. If a department had an outrageous month, highlight their achievements, and offer a company-wide congratulatory message.

  • Share encouraging survey results, customer compliments, and thank you notes from appreciative customers.

  • Consider a Q&A section where employees can submit questions and have a leader provide answers in an open forum for all to see.

  • Use an "employee spotlight" article to help staff members get to know their colleagues better. This type of article can range from information about the employee's position within your company to their personal hobbies, interests, and the like.
By creating an internal newsletter that encourages team-building and focuses on the successes of your employees, you can not only increase communication amongst your colleagues but also boost employee morale and give your team something fun to talk about around the water cooler.

What other ideas can you think of for an internal newsletter? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

7 Rules for Prospecting in 2012

The best way to not only survive the recession but to actually thrive in it is to bring in new clients and new business. Growth is possible, even in this economic climate.

The lifeblood of all businesses is gaining new clients. Acquiring new clients is challenging enough in any environment, but especially today. The lack of new clients is often the primary cause for the decline and failure of a company.

To get new clients, you must look for prospects who fit what you do best. Here are seven rules for prospecting in today's environment. Following these rules will make it easier to start new relationships that will lead to new opportunities in 2012 and beyond.

1. Do This, and You Can Forget All the Other Steps!

You must have heard by now that all you have to do to get new business is to send a few tweets and Facebook posts, then sit back and wait for the hordes of leads to flood your website and your phone lines, right? Inbound marketing can fix all of your company ills by solving all the lead generation problems. Old school prospecting is a thing of the past. Your leads will now pursue you. No doubt you have read and heard about all of this, and for those who believed it, it wasn't too long before frustration set in. Thousands of dollars later, the realization came that these are half-truths. Sure, there is a place to mix in these tactics, but to really succeed in growing your business, nothing can replace real prospecting that leads to real relationships that open the door to real opportunities.

2. Have a Plan.

You will never know where you need to go if you don't have a plan. This is an old rule, but it applies as much today as it did in the past, and it will continue to apply far into the future. You must know the profile of the person and the company you can profitably do business with. You must set real goals and have a realistic plan to achieve those goals. Know what you want your ideal client to do as the next step when you are prospecting, and use that as your objective. Break it down to a step-by-step process, and track your leads to see where they stand in your sales lead funnel.

3. Research Before You Make the First Call.

Do some homework on your potential prospect before the first call or meeting. Know who the decision makers are, and try to find out their hot buttons ahead of time. The more you learn, the better your chances for making a connection and bond. You may never get that chance again. But don't waste too much time researching. If you stop all of your prospecting activities to research, your pipeline will grow stale, and you will halt your momentum. So do your research, but don't stop your prospecting.

4. Decide What Methods to Use.

Which are the best methods to use for lead generation? The best way to open the door to a relationship with your ideal client depends on the prospect. Some will like phone calls, some will like email, some will prefer direct mail, some will only respond to referrals, and some will respond to a business or casual network environment. Don't just rely on one method. Use as many as you can, and vary your approach. Let your prospect decide which one is best for them.

5. Just Do It.

Doing everything you need to do once you start the process of prospecting is not easy. Get help where you need it. It doesn't matter if your process is not perfect. Can't get an appointment to see the top decision maker? Go for the second in command. Do whatever is necessary to keep the activities moving forward. Work hard, but also work smart. Use all of the productivity tools and help you can get. But whatever you do, don't let anything stop your momentum. Keep your eyes on your goals.

6. Make Them an Offer They Can't Refuse.

Great. You are filling your pipeline and getting appointments. Now what? You will greatly improve the odds of getting your prospect to say yes if you have a compelling proposition that adds real value or potentially solves a problem for them. Why should they do business with you over any other similar company that wants their business? Why should they choose you and invest their limited time with you? How are you going to help them grow their business and improve their business results? In other words, you must answer the question: what's in it for them?

7. Ask Questions and Follow Up.

Ask great questions and (more importantly) listen to their answers. Take notes so that if you can't give answers instantly, you will be able to get back with them with the correct information later. Most of the prospects you meet will be juggling multiple tasks just like you are. It is very easy to forget about you and your proposal. Follow up relentlessly until you get an answer. Of course, you don't want to be a pest, but at the same time don't take a lack of response as a negative answer. Be respectful, but don't give up easily. These character traits are what set apart the top achievers from the also-rans. If you learn these skills and master them, your prospect pipeline will never dry up.

Monday, January 9, 2012

3 Simple Ideas for your Marketing Success in 2012

Marketing for businesses can fall into several categories. Marketing that's too complicated can lead to never getting it done, while marketing that's ineffective can lead to its early demise. Neither of these scenarios helps a business achieve the ultimate goals for successful marketing: leads and sales.

Fortunately, effective marketing does not need to be complex in order to yield results. Follow these three steps to build a sustainable marketing program.

Step 1: Get Found

It's simple. No matter how great your service or business is, it won't matter much if your customers can't find you. Just as important, they have to be the right kind of customers for your business and your products. Your company needs to be found in the places your customers frequent the most. Your customers don't spend all of their time in one space, and neither should you. Get the word out about your business through effective multi-media campaigns.

Step 2: Convert

Capturing their attention is only the first step. In order to make it effective, you must get your prospect to engage with you somehow. Your content and sales information has to turn tire kickers into buyers. Get them to act by making a great offer. It doesn't necessarily have to be a discount; it can be an offer for free information or anything that your prospect finds valuable in order to help them make a decision about what you sell. Engage them and offer them value before you ask for a sale, click, or call. But do ask for them to act.

Step 3: Analyze, Test, Improve, & Repeat

The only way you can improve your marketing is to constantly track, test, and tweak. Constantly work at improving the results. But above all remember that consistency is the key to any successful marketing. You must have an active marketing calendar that takes into account where, how, and what your customer wants to learn about your company.

Marketing your company is really not that hard. Successful marketing requires that you educate your prospects and provide value. Build trust and provide real information that truly helps them. Do that consistently, and you will realize that marketing is not as difficult as it seems.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Making Connections

Inside every human being is a desire to connect in real and tangible ways. This desire for connection permeates everything we do and every decision we make: even our decisions of what to buy and when. We respond to ads because we connect with them somehow. A spokesperson, scene, or catchphrase resonates with us and makes us laugh, or cry, or both. Emotion is much more powerful than reason. Just ask any politician trying to get elected.
  • A soldier sits down in a quiet moment to listen to a recordable storybook his child sent from home.

  • A team of clydesdales pulls an iconic wagon into New York City, then bows silently before the Statue of Liberty in reverence.

  • A couple drives frantically to the top of a parking ramp. The man jumps out and signals his confused girlfriend to follow, just in time to... miss the airplane banner flying by, asking her to marry him.
Each of these commercials (and many others like them) tells a story that, at first glance, has little to do with the product they're selling. Instead, they show the product (or in the case of the clydesdales, a symbol of the product) in real-life situations that make it far more relatable than a simple product shot or feature list ever could.

Here are links to the three commercials I mentioned in this post. A quick warning: If you haven't seen these, you might want to have a box of Kleenex nearby for the first two. Feel free to list some of your own favorites in the comments at the end of this post.

"Active Duty" Hallmark Commercial

9/11 Tribute from Budweiser

Wherever Life Takes You (Chevy Cruze ECO)