Friday, September 25, 2015

A marketing plan is useless, but planning is priceless

By David Ronald

In my experience, small businesses owners often overlook the importance of adopting a strategic approach to marketing—with dire consequences. CB Insights, a venture capital database, parsed more than 100 post-mortem essays by startup founders to pinpoint the causes they believe their businesses failed and found that poor marketing ranked eighth out of 20 (you may be surprised by the reasons that scored lower than marketing in the graph below).

(Click here to read the full article in Fortune magazine:

Good marketing helps buyers understand how you will help them be successful and why your product or service is better than what they can obtain from competitors. An effective marketing plan can help you reach your target audience, boost your customer base and grow revenues. It also helps you set clear, realistic and measurable objectives for your business.

A plan is useless, but planning is priceless, to paraphrase Winston Churchill. Developing a marketing plan is priceless because it sharpens your awareness of what makes your business unique and how to evangelize it effectively. And it will benefit your business if this planning process is repeated at least a couple of times a year—a marketing plan is not a document that you create once and store in your bottom drawer.

The plan should cover one year. For small business, this is often the best way to think about marketing. Later on you can create a section of the plan that addresses the medium-term future (ie, two to four years down the road), but the bulk of your plan should focus on the coming year.

Anticipate taking about two months to develop your marketing plan. Try to involve many people in the planning process. At a minimum, get feedback from all parts of your company—this is especially important because it will take all aspects of your company to make your marketing plan work. Don’t worry, though, because creating a great marketing plan doesn’t require a monumental effort and the process can be enjoyable.

And it will be worth it.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 18, 2015

3 ways for a small business to become more creative

By Sharon Lee

Have you ever wished you could be more creative?

Modern culture often labels creativity as a gift, something we are born with. Yes, there’s some truth in that. In my opinion, though, every single one of us can become more creative. You simply require the right stimuli, tools and environment. Creativity is a skill to be learned, practiced, and developed, just like any other. Juggling takes practice, as does surfing, coding, and driving a car. Creativity is no different. The more you make creativity part of your daily life, the more it will grow.

So, how can we be more creative? Here are three suggestions:

1. Stretching the Vision

Letting your mind wander outside the box, can help fuel your creativity, especially when you’ve already invested a lot of time and energy on a project—daydreaming for as little as 12 minutes was shown to improve creative thinking in a study published in the Journal of Psychological Science.

Alternatively, if you feel too busy to daydream, consider interspersing tasks that demand more creativity with less mentally-intensive ones, as this has been shown to be beneficial too.

And, if you still feel guilty about visualising during the work day, consider that studies have shown that visualising so improves working memory (the kind of memory that enables us to think about multiple things at once) so you will be more proficient at multi-tasking.

2. Test Yourself

Many of us take the path of “least mental resistance” when forced to solve a problem, according to research by the Institute of Education Sciences. In other words, we resort to solutions that have worked in the past.

In contrast, we are often at our most creative when facing limitations—one of the most famous examples of this was Dr. Seuss producing Green Eggs & Ham after being challenged by his editor to produce an entire book in fewer than 50 different words.

Try restricting your work in some way and you may see the benefits of your brain coming up with creative solutions to finish a project around the parameters you’ve set.

3. Build a Playful Environment

Consider keeping toys such as Play-Doh, Lego and origami paper at your desk—building something physically with your hands, as opposed to typing on a keyboard, can give you just the creative jolt you need.

Be open to reading books, viewing artworks and watching movies that are surreal, even absurd, as these can help boost pattern recognition and problem solving. A study at the University of Southern California, Santa Barbara showed that participants were more creative after reading Franz Kafka and Lewis Carroll because surreal/absurd art puts the mind in “overdrive” for a short period while it tries to understand what is seeing.

Lastly, don’t overlook the relationship between your creativity and your emotions. I know that I’m the most innovative after a rest. An open and positive mood are the best place for me to be creative in  and more importantly, being influenced by other designs and looking at what other people are doing makes me want to create something more original. Reflect on what type of moods works for you and, when you find yourself feeling that way, focus that energy on creating something extraordinary.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Feed your sales funnel with word-of-mouth marketing

By David Ronald

Ask any sales professional how they get their best customers and nearly all will tell you “word of mouth”.

(Click here to read our white paper on word-of-mouth marketing:

Referrals are the best way to get a new client because referral prospects have likely already had a conversation about you with an impartial third party and have mostly made up their mind to buy from you, regardless of your price.

Many entrepreneurs think that good customer service is the most influential way to cultivate referrals. But it's not.
Although being attentive to customers is good policy and vital to the health of your business, it's not at the core of building a referral-based business. And that, ironically, is because people have come to expect good customer service—the impact of customer service unfortunately works much more effectively in reverse as people are more likely to talk about your business when they're unhappy with you.

If you want to build your referrals, therefore, you must actively cultivate your advocates. Word-of-mouth marketing helps create and sustain demand for what you are selling by nurturing a passionate community that speaks positively about you.

This community should consist of three categories of advocates:
  • Customers—although not all of your customers will want to be vocal, some will be willing to serve as references, participate in webinars and co-present with you at conferences. When is the best time to ask for a referral? The best time is after the product is delivered, not when the deal is closed. Also, consider inviting your customers to be active on social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, if those tools are components of your outbound marketing strategy.
  • Media and analysts—this category of advocate can supply vital “air cover” for your sales reps by providing favorable coverage of your company and what you are selling. Consequently, a prospect may already have a positive impression of your product even before a rep begins her/his sales pitch. You don’t need an expensive PR agency to get favorable coverage; nor is there a guarantee that you will be positive coverage even if you have an expensive agency. The key to fruitful media and analyst relationships is a clear understanding of your audience and their drivers, followed by content tailored to engage them.
  • Other influencers—industry luminaries, bloggers can also positively influence sales opportunities. At a minimum you should identify who these people are and nurture relationships with them. And you may be able to “seed” a message in this network, with a goal of getting coverage. You can even consider encouraging word-of-mouth coverage by rewarding the top influencers in your industry.
A steady stream of customer referrals can transform a struggling business into a profitable one. Adopting a strategic approach to word-of-mouth marketing is your best method of crafting a passionate community that positively impacts your revenues.

Leave a comment if you found this information useful.

Friday, September 4, 2015

SEO is becoming more intuitive and less technical

By David Ronald

The ongoing evolution of Google’s algorithms is resulting in search engine optimization becoming more intuitive and less dependent on technical proficiency.

In the early days, success at SEO absolutely mandated the involvement of specialists with deep knowledge of website functionality and the ability to write at least some HTML code. In today’s “modern” SEO environment, however, companies can rank high on a search engine list with less technical acumen.

In a controversial article for Entrepreneur magazine, Jayson Demers listed five ways to achieve SEO success:
  • Create interesting content. Write high-quality material that’s relevant for your industry and adds value to your reads. Be original and informative. Don’t worry too much about keyword phrases or presenting your content in a specific way.
  • Get others to acknowledge you as an authority. Make your site a magnet for inbound links which Google sees as “votes” for your site’s credibility, trust and authority. Write enough quality content and other sites will link to yours naturally over time. Build relationships with outside blogs and other publishers and they’ll help you get published.
  • Become popular on social media. Establish a presence, engage with people often and syndicate great content whenever you can. Eventually, the audience will come to you naturally. Your popularity on social media also plays a role in how you rank in organic search results. For example, if you have 1,000 highly active followers on Twitter, you’ll rank higher than if you have no Twitter account at all.
  • Provide a good experience. Make your website aesthetically pleasing. Make it easy for your users to find exactly what they’re looking for. Make your site fast, and optimized for any device. Make your navigation simple.
  • Earn good reviews. Establish profiles on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, then let your customers do the rest of the work for you. Make your presence on these sites known, and people will start filling out reviews on their own.
(Click here to read the full article:

Many in the SEO community feel that Demers erred by oversimplifying the challenges in obtaining page one rankings in a search engine list. Adam Stetzer addressed the key concerns in a post on Search Engine Watch.

(Click here to read the blog post:

It’s clear to me that both perspectives are valid. Google search is becoming more intuitive and, consequently, there will be circumstances where business owners can enjoy SEO success without involving specialists. At the same time, however, obtaining and retaining a page one ranking will probably require experts, especially in crowded markets places.

A relevant analogy is the increasing sophistication of computer operating systems—not so very long ago, anyone wanting to hook up a printer to a personal computer required some knowledge of DOS; nowadays, the availability of wizards enables the two devices to be connected at the push of a button. Yet, there is, and always will be, great demand for IT experts to help resolve more complex and arcane problems.

SEO appears to be on the same trajectory.