Tag Archives: Small business

Working For Free

Given my topic this morning, this could be the shortest post ever. With respect to doing work for prospective clients or others without being compensated, it’s a one word proposition:

Don’t.

Let me explain, after my 7 years in consulting, why I feel this way. Yes, I do some pro bono work but that’s different. Helping out a charity or other worthy cause is different from helping a for-profit. Similarly, I try to be a resource for my friends, and have looked at many friends’ business plans, websites, social media plans, and analytics over the years with zero expectation of reciprocity (I know they will be there in a heartbeat if I need something).

What I’m talking about today is spec work. Obviously I realize you need to discuss the prospective client’s business issues with them ahead of time in order to figure out the scope of work. You might even want to begin to do a bit of a deep dive so you can pinpoint how best to move their business forward. That’s an exercise for ME, so I can establish a mutually beneficial working relationship and we (the client and I) make best use of the time they’re buying. Over time the focus of the work always changes as the business changes and grows, but you need to have a starting point.

That said, there is a difference between identifying the issues and opportunities and providing a roadmap to a solution. When clients demand lots and lots of spec work, I politely but firmly say “no.”  Much of why people hire me is for the expertise that comes from experience.  The strategic and tactical documents I give clients are roadmaps.  They probably believe they can find people with less experience and knowledge to follow that map.  They forget that the business road usually takes unanticipated turns after which it’s easy to become lost.  Who gets the blame?  The map maker (me!) so I’d like to be in the car with them to get them pointed back in the right direction.

A client paying for your advice is their skin in the game.  It also makes them pay attention.  I don’t like to spend my time providing guidance and observations that, ultimately, get ignored.  Inevitably the recipient makes the mistake(s) that I warned were going to be the outcome of their direction or decision. It is a waste of both of our time.

Your job is to remind them of the value (NOT the cost) of what you bring them and then to deliver.  The old saw about free advice usually being worth what you pay for it rings true to most clients.  To me as well.  You?

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Social And Small Business

I’ve mentioned before that I keep a “blog this” file which contains articles that piqued a thought.  I went through the file over the weekend and came across a press release from the folks at Constant Contact.  They do a study about the state of small businesses and the ways they connect with and grow their audiences.  Results include responses from respondents across a range of business-to-business and business-to-consumer industries.  wkL_ccWhat piqued my interest was this:

While small business interest in, and appreciation for, social media is on the rise, small business owners continue to lack confidence in their social media skills.  More than half (54 percent) chose social media marketing as the marketing activity they need the most help with, which might explain why their frequency of use with social media is not where it needs to be.  Only 13 percent of survey respondents post to Twitter daily and ten percent post weekly to LinkedIn.

Aside from the obvious point that clearly I need to make my phone number and email address more prominent (I can help – call me, you guys!) that research shows me that these folks are being smarter than others.  They recognize that value of the various platforms and aren’t shooting the messengers due to their inability to capitalize on what those platforms offer.

Social is a conversation.  If you’re only engaging on an irregular basis (once a week) and only a fraction are even engaging that often, it’s not going to work.

The study is unclear with respect to how they’re defining social media marketing.  The owners were asked “which social media platform is the most effective for their organization” and that’s kind of nebulous.  Is it paid advertising and the “effectiveness” is measured by responses?  Or is it some other engagement metric?  One hopes the respondents can answer how they’re defining “effective” but I suspect they can’t.

Social media is not like any other form.  It requires commitment and resources far beyond what many folks have experienced buying print, TV, radio, or even display ads.  Doing it badly can do more than be ineffective – it can hurt your business (no one likes to be ignored!).  Can we agree on that?

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Most Read Posts Of The Year – 1

While I’m too lazy (or burnt) to write a few new screeds this week, as has become our tradition we’ll look back at the posts you guys read and shared the most over the past 12 months.  This first one was also one of my favorites because it’s a good example of what I’m trying to do here most days.  That is, of course, to take the things that go on around us all the time and find actionable business lessons among all the other stuff.  This was from last April 10.  Enjoy!

Suppose you have a small but very popular business. You began as a handful of people, most of whom are still with you after you kicked out a couple of uneven performers. While you’ve added some staff as the business grew, every employee is a key employee since there really aren’t any overlapping roles.

Thirty five years go by, the business grows, and while there are good years and bad, the product mix is generally well-received by customers and reviewers. In an industry where products come and go very quickly, this one endures, even though it went through a period where everyone wondering if it had lost its way.  The product focus changes with each release cycle to match the times – no one has ever called your business stagnant even though its product sector has gone through some very rough times. In fact, there is an entire secondary business of add-ons and information providers that has grown up around your business. Not a bad place to be.

One day, you learn that a key employee is sick and several months later he dies. You adjust by hiring someone who can do what he did albeit without the strong emotional bond to the team as the late employee.  A few years later, another key member – your right hand – passes away suddenly.  The team is devastated and there are real questions about  the ability of the business to continue.  The emotional toll on you is palpable and the business community wonders if you’ll retire and shut it down.

Instead, you decide to replace the man who everyone thought was irreplaceable. You let customers know that it will be different, and while you will make best efforts to minimize the differences, you are up front about it being different and don’t try to pretend as if nothing had changed.  You bring on more employees to reinforce some of the differences, creating a transformed product in the process.  You release new product – one developed primarily with an outside team for a fresh perspective.  It’s very well received, and breathes life into the older products, and customers continue to buy it in droves.  The business remains true to its core values and it’s obvious that the old and new employees are on the same page thanks to excellent leadership.

It’s really a textbook case on managing business transformation in difficult times.  I was privileged to witness it myself last night.  Ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

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When Is A Medium Not A Medium?

An interesting piece of research from the folks at Borrell Associates this morning that concerns how small and medium businesses are using digital channels.  Given that nearly every local business seems to have a website, I wasn’t surprised to read that over half of SMB online marketing dollars are spent supporting what the survey calls “web presence.”  This is their site design and maintenance, hosting, as well as their social media management.  What I hadn’t thought about was the study’s conclusions as summed up in this post:

Digital advertising is yielding the spotlight to digital services. The emerging lesson, concludes the study, is that the Internet is actually not much of an advertising medium after all.

That was an “ah-ha!” moment for me.  Then again, I can’t remember the last time I clicked on a web banner and unless I’m searching with an intent to buy immediately (as opposed to just conducting research), I generally ignore the PPC ads that seem to surround everything.  As it turns out the average U.S. small/medium business spends $17,000 on online services, compared with $6,800 on online advertising, hence the conclusion about it not being a medium.  Then again, there is a big division even within this group since those with fewer than 50 employees will spend less than $500 a year, while a mid-size business with more than 50 employees will spend an average of $63,000.  The little guys spend a higher percentage of their budgets on web hosting and their site (make sense since this is the one indispensable element in my opinion) as well as email and SEO (getting found is always important!).  Once the budgets grow the companies can afford to branch out into other areas (blog management, analytics, etc.).

The report concludes by noting that, as the web becomes more of a basic marketing tool for business, the importance of online support services will grow as well. The midsize and larger companies are likely to internalize services that they once contracted out. Those larger companies will either assign SEO and social media management tasks to existing staff, or hire fulltime experts in digital marketing

I’ve seen that occur with some companies for which I’ve worked.  Here on the screed we probably don’t think about the interwebs as a service-driven space and probably spend too much time on it as a medium   I’m going to rethink that based on this study since many of the folks who contact me fit the small and medium business category.  What do you think?

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A Little Business Story About Managing In Difficult Times

Suppose you have a small but very popular business. You began as a handful of people, most of whom are still with you after you kicked out a couple of uneven performers. While you’ve added some staff as the business grew, every employee is a key employee since there really aren’t any overlapping roles.

Thirty five years go by, the business grows, and while there are good years and bad, the product mix is generally well-received by customers and reviewers. In an industry where products come and go very quickly, this one endures, even though it went through a period where everyone wondering if it had lost its way.  The product focus changes with each release cycle to match the times – no one has ever called your business stagnant even though its product sector has gone through some very rough times. In fact, there is an entire secondary business of add-ons and information providers that has grown up around your business. Not a bad place to be.

One day, you learn that a key employee is sick and several months later he dies. You adjust by hiring someone who can do what he did albeit without the strong emotional bond to the team as the late employee.  A few years later, another key member – your right hand – passes away suddenly.  The team is devastated and there are real questions about  the ability of the business to continue.  The emotional toll on you is palpable and the business community wonders if you’ll retire and shut it down.

Instead, you decide to replace the man who everyone thought was irreplaceable. You let customers know that it will be different, and while you will make best efforts to minimize the differences, you are up front about it being different and don’t try to pretend as if nothing had changed.  You bring on more employees to reinforce some of the differences, creating a transformed product in the process.  You release new product – one developed primarily with an outside team for a fresh perspective.  It’s very well received, and breathes life into the older products, and customers continue to buy it in droves.  The business remains true to its core values and it’s obvious that the old and new employees are on the same page thanks to excellent leadership.

It’s really a textbook case on managing business transformation in difficult times.  I was privileged to witness it myself last night.  Ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

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What’s Your Number?

I read a lot of marketing related publications.  Newsletters, blogs, magazines, etc.  Obviously, all of them have written extensively on the change in media and how marketing through those media have been affected.  I think the most recently evolved form of media – social media – gets most of the ink of late, along with mobile although more traditional forms of media such as TV still get the bulk of the investment.

One thing I find disturbing in all of this is a kind of legacy from my TV marketing days:  a focus on the numbers.  I don’t mean obsessive measurement – I’m a big believer in accountability.  What I mean is what Bob Seger wrote about:  feeling like a number. Continue reading

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Are Deals Dumb?

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 10:  The Groupon logo is di...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

As I read my daily emails from Groupon, LivingSocial, and a couple of other daily deal sites, I started thinking once again about the wisdom of these things. Not so much from a consumer perspective because, frankly, anything that saves me money is OK in my book. From a business perspective, however, there are a number of on-going questions about which there’s a lot of conflicting information. Let’s lay some of it out and get your perspective. Continue reading

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