Building a Strong Foundation

Building a Strong Foundation

If you sit down with nearly any preschooler, they can probably tell you the story of the three little pigs. According to the story, there once were three pigs. Each set out to build themselves a home. The first built his home out of straw. He was done very quickly because of the material he chose. The second little pig chose to build his home out of sticks. Building with sticks might have taken the pig a little longer than using straw, but he was still done rather quickly. The third pig, however, built his home out of bricks and mortar. This house took the longest time to build, and the pig was forced to keep working, even when the other pigs were already relaxing and enjoying themselves.

Not long after the three pigs had finished their homes, the big bad wolf came looking for something to eat. He was able to quickly blow over the houses made of sticks and straw, but no matter how hard he tried, he was not able to blow over the house of bricks.

Building a strong foundation

The third little pig didn’t take the easy way out. He saw the other two pigs finishing faster than him and having the time to laugh and play, but when the chips were down, his house was the only one to stand up. The strong foundation made all the difference.

In life, as in business, it’s tempting to take the easy way out; to use the easier material that takes significantly less time. The problem comes when we discover just how quickly a weak foundation can fail us. Those who are looking to grow their businesses must keep this idea in mind.

Growing a business the smart way

There are a variety of ‘tricks’ companies can use to try to grow their businesses quickly. So-called ‘black hat SEO,’ which refers to techniques such as artificial keyword stuffing and using link farms to grow backlinks, may help companies achieve their objective rather quickly. They may rise quickly in the Google search engine ranks and see the number of visitors to their site rise as well. But Google has been cracking down on sites that use artificial SEO. Some companies have found their sites severely penalized, which has deeply hurt their businesses.

In marketing, companies may be tempted to blast every known platform all at once, without taking the time to develop a company message and brand. In these cases, the effects of the campaign typically fall short. A group that tries to go nationwide with a campaign too quickly might find that the effort exhausts their resources, placing the entire company in jeopardy. Starting local and growing as a reputation spreads is the way to achieve success.

Growing a business correctly means taking the time to grow organically. It means working to develop a quality website that is naturally optimized through a quality blog and well-written content. Marketing campaigns and customer reach goals should be built on a firm foundation that leaves room to grow. We can help customers develop marketing plans to appropriately meet new customers.

There’s no easy way to be successful. It requires perseverance and hard work. Like the little pigs discovered, however, there’s also no replacement for doing things right the first time. Instead of looking for shortcuts, invest time in learning about techniques to maximize investments and tools for saving time. We can help. Building a solid business foundation means your company will have something to grow on, rather than a flimsy foundation that can blow over. And that’s irreplaceable.

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Benefits of Bringing in the Experts

Benefits of Bringing in the Experts

As business owners, we count on experts to save us time and money. On any given day, we might consult a financial advisor to help us with a major purchase or investment strategy. Or we might hire a sales trainer to oversee the development of our sales team or the implementation of a new sales strategy. Or perhaps we might engage a management consultant to look for ways to run our companies more effectively.

Whatever the need, it seems, an expert is there, ready to help.

One area where expert advice can be especially helpful is your company’s marketing. Consulting an expert early in the planning process can not only save you time but also help you hone your campaign so it reaches just the right audience with a message they’re ready to hear.

Unfortunately, trends in advertising and marketing can change at the drop of a hat. To make matters worse, what works well for one company or industry might not be right for another. Working with an expert who studies trends, yet also knows how to use more traditional means effectively, will help you decide which trends are worth your time and which to avoid. Their guidance can save you the time and effort involved in chasing bad opportunities.

So where can you find experts to help you grow your business? Start with your key suppliers. After all, helping you become successful is in their best interest, too. The stronger your company gets, the more opportunity your suppliers will have for future revenue growth. So tap their expertise whenever you can.

But how do you know who to turn to and who to avoid? First and foremost, look for experts who understand your goals and business requirements. Stick with those whose advice you trust based on previous experience. And make sure the expert is someone you feel comfortable working with on the project.

When you augment your own staff with a group of trusted experts from other fields, you strengthen your business in the most cost-efficient way. You get expert advice without adding to your payroll or ongoing business expenses. And that’s a win for everyone.

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Promises to Keep

Promises to Keep

In his classic poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Robert Frost speaks of taking a moment to watch the snow collect on the trees along a dark lane, presumably on his way to somewhere important. He closes with these lines:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep.
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

As business professionals, we all struggle at times with similar feelings, conflicts, and doubts. We may want to stop for a moment in the middle of a busy day to enjoy a mental break, but in the back of our minds (or even the front sometimes), we can’t shake the nagging sense that we should be focusing instead on the work that lies ahead.

Like the narrator in Frost’s poem, we, too, have promises we must keep — commitments we’ve made to customers, vendors, employees, colleagues, family members, and friends. That can often mean long days, sleepless nights, and not a lot of extra time to watch snow falling on trees.

In our drive to stay ahead, we often miss the forest entirely — distracted by the hundreds of tiny details that make up our days.

That’s not to say our promises aren’t important. Quite the contrary. In business, our word is what ultimately matters most to our customers, shareholders, vendors, and employees. Failing to keep our commitments can have dire consequences for our companies and our reputations.

But there’s also something to be said for taking the time to stop and look around. A small mental break might help to spark a bold new thought or rekindle a flame burnt out by trying to get too much done in far too little time.

Such moments are important to our own well-being and to the health of our companies. They can’t come at the expense of getting things done, but they should come more frequently than many of us allow.

So as you go about managing your business, take some time to notice the little things around you. Like the fall of snow on the trees that line the path that wanders through your day.

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Does it Make Economic Sense to Buy Locally in This Internet Age?

Does it Make Economic Sense to Buy Locally in This Internet Age?

Much has been written about the advantages of shopping and buying products online or from big box retailers. But does buying locally offer any benefits the Internet and big box stores can’t match?

Saving a few dollars by buying online is a given in many product categories. Amazon has becomes a household name by selling books and every other imaginable item, many of which they don’t manufacture themselves, at discounted rates.

However, before you spend that next dollar online or in a big box store instead of with a local business, consider the impact your decision has on your community and even your own pocket. The short-term benefits of saving a few dollars are dwarfed by the long-term negative consequences, including job loss in the local community.

Buying local isn’t just a feel good act or an act of charity. Buying local has a profound impact not only on the local community but also on the entire region surrounding the community.

When local businesses close their doors, they create a social and economic hole which is hard to measure and even harder to fill. With the closing of each local business, the quality of life in the community changes in ways that go far beyond dollars and cents.

Independent local businesses spend money locally on a wide variety of services needed for their own ongoing operations. They hire locally and spend money with their own local vendors. Local businesses hire local accountants, consult with local attorneys, work with local building contractors, electricians, and plumbers, and advertise locally. In general, they do far more to keep the flow of money in their local community than online companies or big box retailers do.

Out-of-the-area corporations use minimal local services and goods. Most of the profits are kept with the corporate headquarters where they stay.

Here are some other facts to consider.

  1. Small businesses account for over 75% of all new jobs in the U.S.
  2. Small businesses employ over half of all U.S. workers.
  3. Twice the amount of money stays in the community when it’s spent with a local business versus an online company or big national box store.
  4. Local economies aren’t hurting due to lack of money coming in. Instead, the shortfalls come from too much money flowing out to big corporations out of the area.
  5. National and international politics and policies have a far lesser impact when the community shops locally, thereby relying less on out-of-town corporations. Local shopping money has a much higher chance of recirculation within the local community.
  6. Locally owned businesses typically provide higher wages and better working conditions than large corporate chains and Internet-only businesses.
  7. You can see, touch, and feel what you’re buying locally, instead of having to wait until the shipment arrives.
  8. There are no shipping costs or delivery delays when you buy locally.
  9. When buying locally, you can get your questions answered in person or on the phone instead of playing email tag with the online vendor.
  10. Your local business owner’s livelihood is dependent upon giving great service. If they don’t, you won’t go back. So they try hard to satisfy their customers because they know there are only so many customers in the local market.
  11. If you encounter any issues or problems, local ownership can make quick decisions to resolve the matter. Important decisions are made locally by people who actually live in the local community and feel the real impact of those decisions.
  12. Local businesses add charm and a unique atmosphere to their local community. They help build strong communities and vibrant town centers that foster social relationships not possible with websites or big box stores.

Local businesses don’t ask for special favors. They simply want a fair and equitable playing field on which to compete. Many small business owners have their life savings tied up in their companies, so they have much vested in the success of their business (and the local economy). Small businesses simply want it known that sometimes a few dollars saved in the short term does far more damage to the vitality and well-being of the community at large in the long run.

Now that you know some of the facts, it’s time to visit your local businesses. They’ll welcome you and thank you for supporting your community.

Happy shopping!

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5 Words That Can Change Your Business

5 Words That Can Change Your Business

Behind the scenes of your business, you make products or deliver services. But on the front lines, where interactions with customers occur, you have to deliver more than that in order to have a dynamically growing company. You must deliver a promise and hope.

The promise revolves around the benefits your actual products and services deliver. The hope is what can set your business apart from all the other companies that promise to deliver the same things you do.

People want to believe in your company and what you can deliver, but many have become jaded due to the culture of over-promising and under-delivering that is all too common in the marketplace. To get past this wall of skepticism, you have to deliver more.

Companies like Coca-Cola, Apple, Starbucks, and Disney World took off when they figured out they were selling much more than a soft drink, computer, coffee, and theme park rides. These businesses understood that in order to stand apart from their competitors, they had to tell their brand stories in a way that resonates with customers.

Coca-Cola sells refreshment, happiness, and harmony. Apple sells a delightful user experience to consumers in a hip, cool way. Starbucks sells the “third place experience” — a place to get away outside our home and business. Disney World sells memories that last a lifetime.

The common theme among the great brands of the world is that they have found a way to transcend beyond their products by asking this simple, yet powerful five-word question:

What are we really selling?

People aren’t really interested in what you sell, but they may be very interested in the benefits you can deliver. These benefits in turn must be told in a way that attracts and connects with your target audience.

How You Can Apply This in Your Business?

You’re probably thinking to yourself that this may do wonders for big brands, but how does it apply to my small business?

  • Take a step back from the day-to-day operations of the business, and think about what you’re really selling. Railroad companies thought they were in the rail business, when they were really in the transportation business. Think about the larger implications around the results you deliver to your customers.
  • Next think about this question: What do my customers really want from our products and services? Ask your best customers why they really do business with you. Look for common themes in the answers.
  • The final step is to take the concepts you’ve arrived at and focus on what would move your best prospects to buy what you sell. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask some friends and associates if your idea would move them to act. Then test your ideas by presenting them in your ad copy in print, on the web, and in all your other marketing channels. Test until you find the winners. The sales result will show which one is the winner.

Take these five words: “What are we really selling?” Print them out and put them in a prominent place you can see every day. Your answer to the question will form the core around which your business and your marketing should revolve. Answer this five-word question in a way that exceeds the experiences your target market is seeking, and you’ll see your business grow like magic.

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Local Marketing Tips

Local Marketing Tips

When people buy locally, the money spent in the community stays in the community to sustain local jobs, pay local tax dollars, and support local schools and organizations. It also promotes a family and community atmosphere. Here are a few creative ways to promote your business locally:

  • Introduce yourself and spread the word about your business throughout your community. For example, you could strike up a conversation with someone while waiting in line at a post office or attending a community event. Break the ice with something like this: “I’m Bob, the owner of Bob’s Bagels down the street. If you haven’t tried us out yet, here’s a freebie!” Then pass them a business card and/or coupon.
  • Distribute promotional pieces to spread the word. Consider mailing postcards to recipients in a particular zip code, distributing door hangers in local neighborhoods, posting flyers or posters at local businesses, and so on. Offer an enticing discount or coupon to encourage people to visit your location.
  • Focus on networking with other area businesses, schools, churches, and civic organizations. Consider cross promotions to increase local traffic, such as distributing coupons or brochures for each others’ businesses or causes.
  • Create a loyalty program to reward customers and encourage repeat business. Use punch cards or stamp cards, recognize customer birthdays, provide exclusive coupons or upgrades, and consider a customer review panel that receives free products or services in exchange for their valuable feedback and input on how to improve your business.
  • Support local fundraisers. For example, a restaurant could donate 50% of profits for guests who have a voucher for John Doe’s Cancer Benefit on April 5th. This would not only increase restaurant traffic, but also support a good cause.
  • When marketing locally, always use your full street address, rather than a PO box, which doesn’t indicate your physical location. Also provide a local phone number in addition to a toll-free option.
  • Ensure your business is listed on major local search platforms, including Google Maps, Google+ Local, Yahoo! Local, Bing Local, and similar websites.
  • Promote the advantages of purchasing locally, including personalized attention, convenience, and the ability to stop by anytime to see products, ask questions, or get ideas.
  • Promote ways your business gives back to your community and supports area organizations. Be an example and make sure you’re supporting other local businesses as well.
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Know When to Hold ‘Em… and When to Fold ‘Em

Know When to Hold ‘Em… and When to Fold ‘Em

While business generally isn’t the place for gambling, you could benefit from some of the tools and lessons learned playing cards (or other games). Here are a few strategies that can help your business grow:

  • Create allies. Every business leader needs a strong business associate or partner they can talk to, bounce ideas off of, and count on to keep them focused on the task at hand.
  • Think strategically, and keep an eye out for game-changing possibilities that may await you.
  • Hone your interpersonal skills, which you’ll need for negotiations, business meetings, and day-to-day communications.
  • Control your emotions. The cards we are dealt aren’t always fair, but you need self control to deal with unfair or frustrating situations.
  • Rank your status in comparison to your competition. If your competitor is sweeping the game and overflowing in confidence, you may start to doubt your own abilities, as will others.
  • Learn how to take risks. Just as one decision could ultimately make or break the game, decisions you make could affect the fate of your business or the rest of your life.
  • Face the odds. Sometimes the cards are stacked against you, and the chances of coming out ahead are slim. If you’re up against a challenging hand, either put forth a good fight until the end or learn to walk away.
  • Experience is still the best teacher. While books, DVDs, and classes can help you learn faster, the experience of making good and bad decisions can’t be found in a book or movie.
  • Double down on what works. If you’ve found a business or marketing strategy that works, keep using it strategically to reap even greater rewards.
  • Start over. Whether you win or lose, no game lasts forever. Don’t be afraid to start fresh and put your lessons to good use on the next game.
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Increase Pricing With Ease

Increase Pricing With Ease

While rising prices are inevitable in the business world, that doesn’t mean price increase announcements have to be viewed negatively. Here are a few tips to help you break the ice as painlessly as possible for your customers.

  • Announce the price increase with plenty of notice (at least 30 days) before raising your pricing. Don’t wait until you’re mailing an invoice to let customers know your pricing has changed.
  • Build rapport by sending formal, personalized messages to loyal customers via mail, rather than simply sending mass emails or posting a generic sign at your business notifying customers of a price increase. A one-page business letter, postcard, or self-mailer should suffice.
  • Depending on your type of business, consider giving customers the opportunity to order more products at the lower price before the price increase takes effect.
  • Explain the price increase. For example, you might write, “Our XYZ expenses have increased an average of ZYX percent in the past year, and we can no longer absorb this cost increase by ourselves.”
  • Consider adding a higher-priced option (even if it isn’t a popular seller) in order to keep your best-selling option in the middle price range (rather than the most-expensive choice).
  • Bundle your product with extras or premiums that will add perceived value and offset the price increase.
  • Offer empathy but remain firm when announcing a price increase. While apologizing may seem courteous, it will also appear is if you don’t believe in the price increase.
  • Use your price increase announcement to remind customers why they purchase from you. Highlight product features and benefits, and announce any exciting new product updates or new and improved products at the same time.
  • Itemize individual products that are typically sold in a bundle to increase perceived value.
  • Consider using psychological pricing to raise prices gradually, such as from $9 to $9.99 instead of jumping to $10.
  • Consider breaking out fees formerly included in the price. For example, list shipping separately instead of including it in the total price.

If you’d like help developing a creative postcard or mailer to announce price changes, our creative team is here to help. Give us a call today!

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Think Small!

Think Small!

For many years, “think big” has been the theme for many businesses, as they try to compete in a sea of retail giants. However, the tables are turning, and large organizations realize that their audience is looking for more personalized, customer-focused attention, causing businesses to “think small.” Here are a few ways to leverage your natural small business advantages in your marketing efforts:

  • Personal attention. Small businesses are more likely to recognize their customers and provide sincere, personal attention, without customers feeling like they’re just another number in the company’s statistics.
  • Industry experts. Many small businesses develop a narrow market focus and develop a premium reputation for serving that niche market effectively.
  • The power to change. While large companies generally take several months to change company policies, small businesses usually have the ability to make decisions on the spot and implement changes quickly when they feel it is appropriate.
  • Flexibility. Small businesses are more willing to work with customers and do whatever it takes to earn their business, including filling customized requests at a moment’s notice.
  • Customer satisfaction. Because it takes more effort for a small business to build a strong customer base, they also work harder to keep their current customers happy.

When it comes to marketing, don’t hide the fact that you are a small business. Instead, take the opportunity to promote it proudly and show customers the many advantages of thinking small.

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Business Lessons from a Pinewood Car

Business Lessons from a Pinewood Car

Every year, Cub Scout packs across the U.S. hold pinewood derby races. In Canada, Cub Scouts take part in a similar event, known as the kub kar rally. In both events (and others like them), the idea is simple. Participants are given a block of wood, four plastic wheels, and four small nails to use as axles. They can fashion their cars pretty much any way they want, as long as they meet the guidelines for the race. Weights are added, and the cars are raced down a track, with gravity as the only source of power.

As you might imagine, designs and color schemes run the gamut. Some scouts will create traditional-looking race cars, while others will add their own creative flair. As racers line up, it’s hard to imagine that all those cars started out exactly alike, as simple blocks of wood.

In business, many companies start out with similar sets of raw materials or similar product lines. Some focus on creating flashy or innovative designs and marketing campaigns that help them stand out from the crowd. Others focus on the basics, like making sure the axles and wheels are sanded smooth and properly lubricated with graphite, to ensure an optimal ride. Still others strive to distribute the weight properly, to maximize efficiency and make sure the right people are doing the right jobs that best suit their skills.

And the best companies? You guessed it. They do all three.

So, while the business world may not always run on a nice, smooth track — and the playing field is not always level — with the right preparation and some good, old-fashioned hard work, your company can win the day.

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