If you’ve taken the time to develop a business you’re passionate about, truly good at, and well prepared to deliver, you may as well throw in the towel if you’re not planning on doing a little self promotion. This post kicks off a multi part mini series on all things marketing for your small business. I’ll be talking about personal branding, how to position your small business so it stands out, and offering a few things to think about as you start to audit how you’re vying for the attention of your target audience both online and in real life.
Whether you are a long-time or aspiring solopreneur, you already know there is no one else to do the things that need to be done. Even though some minor tasks can be outsourced, you are the primary representative of your brand and need to be wholeheartedly engaged in tooting your own horn. No one else is going to do it for you as well as you can.
Reasons to not make marketing yourself an afterthought:
Your competitors are fighting for the awareness, attention, and money of your potential customers
If prospects are seeking your business, if you’re not marketing it, they won’t find you
Marketing yourself forces you to get real clear about your message so that your core offering is well-defined and targeted at the right people
A lot of solopreneurs begin with a small idea that grows into a business plan before they know it. That’s part of the fun of entrepreneurship. Because so many of them become business people with no prior design, they’re unaware of what they don’t know. There are plenty of great in-depth titles on marketing, but good basic principles are always worth reviewing. Here are a few:
1. How many Ps are there?
If you read through a marketing textbook published within the last 15 years or so, you’ll likely find that marketing rests on at least four Ps: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. These are the major factors to consider when promoting your product. The product itself is key, of course. If it sucks, no marketing can save it. How you price it, how you bring it to your customers, and how you promote it are all equally important and must work in concert to deliver the message you want.
Of course this list of four has been augmented many times, and most marketers are ready to give you their interpretations. Here is ours: People is often added as the fifth P, and it’s absolutely crucial to remember for solopreneurs. In this case, the People is you. Get the other four right and mess up the People part, well, it was nice that you showed up. You may not be the product, but you have become the vessel for your brand message and experience.
Our addition to the list is Presence. The marketing landscape has been irrevocably reshaped by an increasingly social web. Customers expect brands to be social and attentive. They expect you to show up, listen, and, more importantly, respond. You have to address complaints, offer solutions, and high five your adoring fans over victories big and small. Even if you’re good at broadcasting your message and selling your stuff, that’s no longer enough. This one P holds a lot of power, so ignore it at your own peril.
2. It’s Product, Not Slogan
A common mistake of eager novice marketers is to wow their audience with wit and pizazz. You hire someone to design a kickass logo and spend all night coming up with the perfect tagline to stick under your sign. It’s probably clever. Pithy. But does it say anything about your product? Does it communicate clearly what you do? More importantly, does it sell your product?
When learning how best to market your product or service, get real clear on what makes it awesome and why someone should care. Know what its features are, and what the benefits or outcomes are of its use. Your marketing is a chance to promise something great that only you know how to deliver. Know what that is and let that drive your messaging, the design of your logo, and how you talk about the product. Yes, it needs to sound good, but it also needs to be convincing and demonstrative. If you can’t find a way to come up with that message about your product, revise the product, and then come back to your marketing.
3. Don’t Guess the Answers, Do Your Homework
If your resources are limited, you don’t want to waste them with efforts that won’t bring you customers. It’s bad marketing, and it’s definitely bad finance.
It’s easy to assume that because something is working for another business, it will work just as well for you. Marketing, just like anything else, is subject to trends. You might think that you need to be on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but are they really the best way to reach your audience? If your solo business involves sending readers to the elderly and retired, you might want to spend your marketing funds on channels that lead to that audience. However, if your strategy involves appealing to the children and caregivers of the elderly and retired, your approach would differ there.
Know who the decision-maker is in the process that will lead to a business transaction with you. Understand what motivates the decision-maker. Understand where and how that decision maker can be reached. Then, and only then, start thinking about how to spend time and money reaching that person. You might think a billboard on a major highway will get you the most bang for your buck, but the greatest ROI is almost invariably reached when your message is well targeted, relevant, and placed in the right medium.
4. If You’re Not Enchanting, You’re Doing It Wrong
If you haven’t read Guy Kawasaki’s excellent Enchantment, go out and buy or borrow it today. The old school thinking behind most marketing is that your goal should always be a sale. The school of thought that drives the world’s best marketers teaches that your goal is to create evangelists for your business. It’s the difference between a potentially satisfying one night stand and finding a lifelong partner in love.
Much of your work as a solopreneur will be dedicated to finding prospects, vetting them as leads, and converting them into customers.That work becomes considerably easier over time if you take the extra step to make the customer fall in love with you. Go the extra mile, offer a kindness without expecting anything in return, and, most importantly, offer them a really amazing product.
Apple computers, which is, incidentally, Kawasaki’s former employer, struggled in its competition with Microsoft, Dell, and other companies, nearly going out of business. But even during its toughest times, Apple users were known for their near rabid devotion to the product. The company has rebounded nicely, becoming incredibly profitable, and despite having a comparably small market share, still capturing the most lucrative piece of the pie. Its users are still evangelists for the product, eagerly explaining its benefits and features to anyone who will listen. Why is that? What made it so enchanting?
Other companies made MP3 players before Apple. But only Apple rolled out an attractive, easy-to-use device alongside an online music store to support it. The iPhone might not be the most advanced smartphone on the market, but as an application platform, it continues to outpace others–thanks to understanding that it’s not just what the hardware can do that matters, it’s what the user can do with the software.
You may point out that the iTunes store and the application store are still making money for Apple, and that’s true. However, connecting the user to a supply chain of the very stuff that makes the devices fun to use, was not the standard operating procedure for electronics manufacturers. Now, every smart phone connects to its own application marketplace, because the average user expects what was once unusual and extremely valuable.
Applying this concept on a smaller scale is not difficult, and can be even more powerful for a solopreneur. Let’s say your business is a traveling lemonade stand. How could you add value in a way that enchants customers and keeps them coming back and gets them to tell others about you? Bring a free delivery to a construction crew doing road work in the middle of July to thank them for fixing a giant pothole, and give them reusable cups that are good for a free refill the next time they come to your stand. Offer a free workshop in the park on making the perfect pitcher of lemonade, and a free T-shirt to the 10-year-old whose concoction wins the blind taste test.
For every kind of business, there are lots of ways you can add value. Even a small gesture can feel like a lot to a customer who didn’t expect anything special. If what you do solves a problem, or helps build a community around your product or service, the enchantment is multiplied.
Remember, going from prospect to lead to customer is something all businesses shoot for. Doing the extra work to create an evangelist will have lifetime dividends and yield better marketing ROI than any advertising you can hire someone to do.
Ok, so this takes us to the end of Part 1 of this mini series. My goal was to give you a crash course on what marketing really is, how to frame what you’re doing right now for success, and where you might be able to leverage what you’re already doing for better positioning.
Tomorrow we are going to be talking about putting a little more elbow grease into your personal brand.