This post is by Robert Jones, communications consultant and contributing editor to SmartBrief on Entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs dread social media. That’s the takeaway from a recent poll of 258 SmartBrief on Entrepreneurs readers, which found that entrepreneurs would choose to outsource social media before any other single business function. Check out the results:
If you had an unlimited budget, which function of your business would you most like to outsource?
- Social media — 28.57%
- Other — 25.11%
- Public relations — 19.91%
- Sales — 16.45%
- Customer service — 9.96%
When did social media become such a chore — and why? I asked four experts to take a look at the poll and offer their feedback. Here’s what they had to say:
- “It’s not considered important enough to engage [entrepreneurs’] attention at this point. And I don’t believe there are sufficient success stories with social media for that to change soon. It’s interesting to speculate whether social media will remain vibrant long enough for it to be of great importance to the vast majority of small businesses. So many large corporations and sophisticated marketers are moving into the space so rapidly that it seems possible that it will become pervasively commercialized much more quickly than the Web at large.” — JournalistMark Henricks (@bizmyths), who blogs on small-business myths at The Debunker.
- “There’s still a lot of confusion among small-business owners, especially those who run offline businesses. … I think part of the problem is that entrepreneurs are under the impression that they need to use every social media tool out there to be effective. They’re on Twitter, they’re on Facebook, they’re blogging, and they’re trying to integrate all of these mediums together in a strategic way. That’s actually counter-intuitive — small businesses should outline their goals and then pick the platforms that will help achieve them.” — Erin Bury (@erinbury), the community manager of Sprouter.com.
- “I think entrepreneurs need help in figuring out how to get some [return on investment] back on what they do. It’s best to start with the medium most of your customers are using, but it takes time, effort and some amount of money to figure that out. I wonder if part of the problem is … the small-business press and the social media ‘experts.’ We keep telling them all the things they have to do, without really telling them where to find the resources, including time. … [O]utsourcing social media mostly takes the social out of it. You can outsource the blogging, and some of the more mechanical aspects of social media. But I think transparency is key.” — Rieva Lesonsky (@rieva), CEO of GrowBiz Media and SmallBizDaily
- “Maybe a lot of entrepreneurs look at social media as something vaguely frightening, like a skill they don’t have, something that wasn’t taught in school, something seemingly oblivious to gray hair and experience. Facebook started on college campuses just a few years ago, so some of the more experienced social media people are barely out of college. And Twitter’s what, 3 years old? Maybe 4? I’d suppose we could give the hesitant ones credit for knowing what they don’t know, except that nobody else knows; it’s all been a matter of just jumping into the fray.” — Tim Berry(@timberry), the founder of Palo Alto Software, blogs at Planning Startup Stories.
How many e-mail messages do you send everyday? You’re probable missing out on a simple, inexpensive marketing tool. Seize the opportunity to promote your business to a highly targeted market without spending a dime by utilizing your e-mail signature line.
If your email signature line only contains your name and contact information, you’re missing out on advertising to e-mail recipients that have opted for communications from you.
These people are key members of your unofficial marketing network. They are your prospects, clients, press contacts and colleagues and your signature line is the perfect, unobtrusive space for a unique promotional pitch.
Try these tactics to turn your “sign-offs” into sales:
- Highlight what your company offers.
- Offer an incentive for recipients taken a specified action.
- Use the associated web address for the incentive, if it’s also on your site.
- Give better visual positioning to the promotion rather than contact info.
- Play with eye-catching fonts and colors.
- Use less than 64 characters/line so that words don’t wrap to a new line.
- Write a “signature” for different categories of recipients.
- Change your signature copy frequently.
- Never miss a chance to get your product or company noticed.
Another thing that many entrepreneurs don’t think about is the letters they send out. They are merely accepted as solving a problem or answering a need, when you can carry the e-mail idea over into every piece of mail you generate.
On the company letterhead simply add a line at the bottom of page 1. It could be a “tag line” of sorts made up of a slogan that “brands” your services or business. Try to come up with something unique so that every time it’s heard the prospect thinks of you.
Examples of this would be, “Good to the last drop,” which of course is Maxwell House Coffee. “Finger-lickin’ good,” which is KFC chicken, and so on. You get the message of what I’m saying. Play around with this until you come up with a pearl that is uniquely you.
If your business/service does not lend itself to this idea, then focus on increasing your credibility by using a “membership” tag line. For instance a funeral home would be less than tasteful using the line, “Our clients are dying to visit us;” but they COULD use the line “Members of Undertakers Assoc. of America” at the foot of their letterhead. This establishes immediate credibility in the mind of the recipient, even if the letter they received was a direct mail advertising letter.
When you’re an entrepreneur in today’s marketplace you have to be inventive and creative to buck the “big boys” on the block. I suggest that every entrepreneur read about the life of P.T. Barnum to get a better understanding of a truly great entrepreneur.
It isn’t always the almighty dollar that gets the best advertising for our business; it’s the best IDEA that makes you stand out in the crowd.
Many entrepreneurs market via outreach events, be it trade shows or presenting seminars, and budgets to schmooze clients and impress friends are getting tight.
Now that the economy is back in the spotlight, with gasoline at $2.60+ a gal., big companies announcing layoffs, and prices rising across the board, the time is here to tighten our belts and squeeze that marketing dollar until it squeals. Believe me the rhetoric that the economy is getting better is just that – political rhetoric, and isn’t coming from the business community in the trenches. We know better!
Even though lavish budgets are history, the creative entrepreneur can still use events as a marketing tool if he/she rolls up sleeves and goes into “guerilla marketing” mode. Creativity is the key! The time for promoting an event and waiting to see who registers within 6 to 8 weeks is past. The first’s thing to remember, is that no amount of cajoling, marketing, or freebies will compel attendance at your event if it doesn’t offer real value to the attendee.
People expect to be exposed to valuable content, and aren’t attending just for the networking. With that as a given, let me give you some guerilla marketing tips.
- Save the expensive advertising you usually do 6 to 8 weeks before the event and use “referrals”. Many of your pasts attendees are either employees of companies or in business themselves, and have contacts and friends they talk with regularly. This source is often overlooked, and you’ve got direct access to them. Send them an invitation as if they were customers, and ask them to pass it on to one or two people they know that might be interested. You could even make it more enticing by having a form at the door for attendees that asks who referred them, and providing some incentive for the person that referred the most attendees.
- Don’t overlook clubs, associations or other local groups. Many not-for-profit groups have charters that state their members will be informed about opportunities that will enhance their membership, career and education. Put together a promotional kit announcing your event, an agenda, and offering a discount to the group’s members. You can also offer the association something for free – a full registration, print ad, magazine rack, exhibit space or a sponsoring logo on your Website – whatever is feasible in you line of business. Don’t miss the opportunity of offering your services as a speaker at some of the group or association meetings, and even bringing some event brochures with you after you have the leader’s approval.
- Local business – the bookmark brigade. If your event relies heavily on local participation, then work through the businesses used every day. A most successful and fun outreach program is to implement a Bookmark Brigade on behalf of the businesses. These are special announcement bookmarks printed with the name of the event, dates, location, and Website on one side and the local business name on the other. Make them big and bright, and get a team loaded with bookmarks to visit every business shop, coffee shop, bookstore, grocery stores, newsstands, cleaners, music stores, and libraries all over the area. Some stores may even let you hang a poster. Give something to the manager or in-store sales personnel as you do this. Maybe a free T-shirt, or pass to the event. The printing bill is bound to run less than half or full-page ads in the relevant weekend newspapers.
- Your event sponsors and exhibitors are your best allies, as well as a support network of resources for recruiting attendees. Twenty percent of them will support your event because they can, the rest won’t due to limited resources or conflicting agendas. Use any of the tools already mentioned with your partners, or trade a contact database of theirs to be used for telemarketing for promoting the sponsor in the telephone blitz. Offer this database a discounted rate and attribute the discount to the sponsor for their client. Everyone wins!
- Offer your sponsors tools like posters or tabletop signs they can post in their lobbies. Visitors can learn about the event while waiting for their appointments. This expands your word of mouth, and may even draw additional sponsors. Of course, you’ve already negotiated an event logo and listing presence on your sponsor’s website – haven’t you?
Some key points to remember in any outreach promotion are to build in a tracking method on each marketing piece, such as unique URLs and/or codes on registration. Be ready to offer incentives such as discounts or gifts to gain access to clubs or sponsors members, lists or audience. Lastly, have the appropriate marketing tool kit ready before you start. It should contain such things as Web banners, email templates, sample sales copy, and special offer announcements packaged for easy access.
In good times or bad, these tips will help any entrepreneur draw more interest in their activity or event. A good outreach program promotes special relationships with your sponsors, community and attendees better than any other marketing activity can before the event. Using guerilla marketing tactics in lieu of bucks takes creativity, elbow grease, and luck.
Use this comprehensive checklist to plan each step of your new business and transform your dream of entrepreneurship into reality. These steps may not necessarily be completed in the order listed; however, you can use them as a guideline for completing all of the necessary business startup tasks.
- Determine what kind of business you want to start.
- Learn about the industry for your business.
- Analyze the market for your business.
- Study your competition.
- Educate yourself on running a business.
- Join trade associations.
- Name your business.
- Perform a trademark search.
- Register a domain name.
- Design a website.
- Obtain a logo.
- Determine business structure (sole proprietor, partnership, or corporation).
- Evaluate your personal budget.
- Write a business plan.
- Write a marketing plan.
- Locate financing.
- Create a list of start-up supplies with budget.
- Set up a system for accounting and payroll.
- Apply for business license, fed tax ID, fictitious business name.
- Select a location and set up shop.
- Order signage.
- Obtain business tools (computer, printer, fax, postage, office supplies, and fixtures).
- Order business stationery (business cards, letterhead, brochures).
- Obtain inventory.
- Create an operations and employee manual.
- Hire employees.
- Set a launch date.
- Plan a grand opening event.
- Send announcements to everyone you know.
- Send press releases.
- Turn on the OPEN sign!
- Revisit your business plan and update often.
- Evaluate your marketing strategy often.
- Prepare a realistic business plan.
Think of this as your business road map. Define exactly where you want to get to with your business and then you can effectively map out your path towards achieving your goals!
By creating a detailed business plan you should cover all options and eventualities and have a clear future vision that will guide you through the rest of the start-up processes.
Your business plan should encompass the financial considerations of starting your small or home based business:
- Do you have the capital required?
- Do you need to raise additional funds?
- Who are you going to approach for finance?
- Who do you trust for advice?
And don’t forget to open a business bank account…
Consider the legal implications of becoming a business owner and proprietor.
- Are you better off as a sole trader, a limited company or are you considering a partnership?
- Make sure you consider all the angles and protect yourself and your assets personally from the outset.
- Anything you bring to the business has to be itemized, valued…even if you’re a sole trader.
And make sure you are professionally covered with the appropriate business indemnity insurances.
Get your family and friends behind you from the get-go.
- Make sure your family and friends are fully understanding and supportive of your ideas to venture into small business start-up.
- Do they understand the level of commitment you will have to show for on-going and long term success?
- Their belief in you and continued support of you will work wonders towards your on-going success, so don’t forget to look out for them too.
Protect your family, protect your business.
- If, God forbid, something were to happen to your health, how would your business survive, how would your family cope?
- Consider insurances – from health, critical illness and income protection insurance to life insurance – and consider your pension and long term financial security.
Face those ‘taxing’ questions from the start.
- Your small or home based business has to consider its taxation situation.
- Do you need to register your business for sales tax purposes; have you informed your tax office of your business’s inauguration?
- Do you have a good tax professional lined up to guide and assist you?
- The bottom line when it comes to taxation is that from the outset you need to make sure your papers and books are in order, this will save you time, money and heart ache in the long run.
Prepare realistic and achievable goals and targets for your first year.
- Do not expect to conquer the world with your first year’s business returns.
Starting a business is a life changing undertaking and one you must be patient with. The rewards are there, but make sure you set yourself achievable targets – when you reach them they will give you the confidence and satisfaction to set new goals and to continue building your business’ success.