Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

Inclement Weather Marketing

In North Carolina, we tend to get a good snowfall at least once or twice every few years.  These “snow days” can wreak havoc here in the Triangle.  Driving in the snow and ice is not a North Carolinian’s strong suit, so many civic, school, and business organizations close as a safety precaution.

When a snow storm comes, local media is abuzz about it and updates scroll the bottom line of network TV.  Most of these updates are about area closings and openings.  These updates offer a great marketing opportunity for small businesses.

By tapping into the media, businesses can gain exposure by sharing updates about their office hours.  The result – free brand impressions on network TV (this year these updates were paired with ACC basketball games, broadcasts drawing a huge number of viewers in North Carolina).

The next time snow or ice is closing down offices in your area, seize the opportunity to share your business’ schedule with local viewers glued to the TV while the snow falls down.  This tactic takes little time to deploy and reminding local viewers about your business without having to run an expensive advertisement is sweet!  Even sweeter, if you don’t need to close you can still gain exposure by reporting your regular closing or opening times.

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Differentiating With Customer Service

As more products essentially become commodities, service has become a viable means for increasing revenue and profit margins for companies in these industries. Use a service strategy to your advantage.

Big companies often struggle to develop great relationships with their customers.  Too many levels of authority, employees unauthorized to make decisions, arbitrary policies preventing customer-facing employees from advocating for the customer, and limited access to direct customer feedback often handcuff the big guys from delivering great service and developing good relationships with their customers.

This spells opportunity for agile companies!

One of the reasons I enjoy working with small companies is knowing exactly who stands behind the company and its policies.  This tends to build a more responsive organization and it’s good marketing.  If your a small business, use your size to your advantage.  Develop relationships with your customers and provide the best service possible.  Develop a culture for customer service through training and service programs that empower your employees.

Great customer service can differentiate your business from others and improve your bottom line.  Embrace a culture of customer service and develop relationships with clients that make them want to be your customer for life.

Bobby Bowden Management

Bobby BowdenAs a native of Tallahassee, FL, I am of course a huge Florida State football fan.  With Bobby Bowden coaching his last game this week I’ve been thinking about what made him so successful.  For the uninitiated, Bowden oversaw one of the greatest runs in college football history.  From 1987 to 2000, 14 straight years, FSU finished in the top five of the AP college football poll.

How did Bobby Bowden do it?
I posit his ability to recruit the best players coupled with his delegating management style gave him the winning edge to build the Seminole dynasty from the ground up.

A media darling and adept recruiter, Bowden quickly learned that delegating responsibilities to assistant coaches allowed his program to flourish.  And with Bowden’s delegating management style in effect he was afforded additional time to focus on what he does best – recruit the best players. During Florida State’s 14-year winning streak his staff held tight and the rest is history.

As an entrepreneur, it’s often difficult to relinquish control and let those you hire to do their work without micromanaging them.  Avoid this by hiring employees that are smarter than you, giving them the reins to succeed and holding them accountable if they fall short. Hiring the best employees is difficult, but crucial to your long-term success.

And Bobby would agree having said, “He who gets the best players usually wins.”  And Bobby Bowden usually did just that.

Seek Market Fit, Not Branding

For entrepreneurs, finding the right fit in the market for your startup is essential. Before ramping up marketing programs, assess your fit in the market so marketing dollars aren’t wasted on premature campaigns.  Without the right market fit, no amount of branding will overcome a misaligned offering.

Forget branding and develop a focused product or service that your customers can’t live without.  This is not to say you shouldn’t have a positioning statement for your company.  A positioning statement helps identify, create, and capture markets.  Avoid branding until your market fit is established.

Once you’ve placed your stake in the ground and the majority of your customers say they couldn’t imagine doing business without your product, you’ve found your market fit, and an enviable one at that.  From here, ramp up your branding efforts to build loyalty, create barriers to entry and grow your business!

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Market Sizing

Accurately estimating the market size of your product or service is crucial to determine whether the business or specific industry is worth pursuing.  And if you want financing, investors will want to know what the potential return of their investment could be.  Fortunately, there is a wealth of information at your fingertips to help you determine the market size of your business.

I prefer take the wide view when quantifying markets. This can reveal unexpected relationships between types of people or businesses within a market and can also help identify the most suitable market niche to pursue once the business has achieved success in an ancillary niche.

With this in mind, I recommend sizing up three types of markets: the total available market, the served available market, and the target market.

Take the Wide View
Take the wide view by estimating the total available market size (anyone who could potentially use your product or service) first.  After this, narrow your wide view of the market by determining the served available market size (the portion of the total available market your sales channel can reach, which often includes geographic limitations) and identify the further segmented target market size (the segmented piece or niche of the market to whom your company will be marketing your product or service first).

Quantify the Market with Numbers
To quantify these markets, you need numbers. If you’re pursuing an existing market, check out industry and market research reports (e.g. – Frost & Sullivan, Gartner, Forrester, etc.). These reports are often expensive, so you may need to look elsewhere.  Sometimes you can find other articles referencing an industry report, so do a quick search of articles referencing the report and check the Google cached view to easily identify where the information you want is referenced (this can save a lot of time if its a big report).

Still no luck?  Look in the researcher’s news archives, which often includes useful data in press releases about their reports. Research industry trade groups can also be very helpful, and often publish market statistics about the industry they cover.

If all this fails, visiting your competitors websites may provide you with the numbers you seek.  Estimate the market size by looking at competitors’ annual report and dividing their sales revenue by their market share.

Bring It All Together
Remember, one report won’t tell you everything and there are many ways to get an approximate market size for your business.  You may need to take a multiple data points from various sources and assemble it into a tailored market size report that quantifies the total market size, served available market size, and the target market size.

Researching data from various sources will help you see a more complete picture of your industry.  With these numbers, you’ll better understand the potential for your business and which segments of the industry are most attractive.

Happy market sizing!

How have you determined the market size for your company?  Share your experience.

Why Customers Buy

Unsuccessful startups often think customers will come if they build them a solution they should want.  This is backwards.

Startup success can often be boiled down to one thing.  Successful startups know why their customers will buy their product and develop their offering and marketing plans armed with this knowledge.

Once you know why people buy, you are able to accomplish three things.

1. You can build your product to meet your customers true needs
By developing the right product and proper pricing that accounts for the total cost of ownership of your product, your business can be profitable sooner.

2. You can describe and sell your product in a way that resonates with your prospects
It’s a beautiful thing when the positioning of your product matches what your prospects want to hear.

3. You can identify the best channels to sell your products
If you know why customers buy,  you should know enough about them to create a customer mind map and know what the day in their life holds to better target marketing channels in which they will buy your product.

These three things set startups up for success.  The customer is always right, so companies need to be vigilant about getting their team out there to listen to them.  Get out there, get to know your customers and understand why they buy.

Five Ways to Recycle Marketing

In these economic times, marketing can and should be recycled when possible. There are many way to “recycle” marketing.  Here are five ways to recycle marketing:

  1. Copy proven marketing techniques
    When you see effective marketing methods being used in comparable marketplaces, why not try them within your marketplace?  For example, if your business receives a last minute cancellation for service, use a targeted email or Twitter to fill your unexpected vacancy. This gives your customers the opportunity to fill the vacancy, possibly at a reduced price, so they get a good deal and your slot doesn’t go wasted. Everybody wins!
  2. Share marketing resources
    Reach out to your network.  Team up with other companies in your community to pool resources for marketing purposes.  At the very least you’ll benefit from getting another (potentially more objective) perspective on your marketing ideas. It can be very helpful to share ideas.
  3. Barter your product for marketing services
    If your product or service is something a local marketing company could use in their business, try bartering your product for their marketing services.  I’ve bartered my services for many service providers, such as accountants and consultants.
  4. Re-use graphics or marketing elements
    Hopefully your marketing efforts are targeted.  If so, there could be opportunities to use parts of your marketing campaign for new target prospects/customers.  There’s no law against reusing graphics, images, or templates from previous campaigns, just make sure you change enough of your collateral so your marketing effort is distinguishable from past promotions.
  5. Re-distribute your content
    One of the most effective marketing tactics is providing relevant and useful content.  When writing content, you never know if that content will be a viral hit.  Redistribute popular content through other channels (e.g. – website, mail, email, syndication, speaking engagements) or package content in a new way (e.g. – offer a Top Ten Blog Posts for signing up to your e-newsletter or link back to past content as I did in this bullet).

There are numerous ways to recycle your marketing.  Use these suggestions to lower costs while increasing sales.  Hopefully, this post will help get you jump-started in finding your ways to do just that!

How have you recycled your marketing?  Please share your experience or send me a message.

Dream Big, Narrow Your Focus

I dream big.  I also know that focusing on the key customer-driven components of my business solution and aligning my company’s processes around those elements is the best way to turn my big dreams into a successful business.

In a small business, it’s all too easy to get distracted by potential development opportunities that add breadth to your product or service line.  Don’t fall prey to this lure.  Ensure your success by selling a viable product or service before taking misguided steps that steer your attention away from your company’s mission.

Focus on one specific solution and deliver it better than anyone else.  This will lay the ground work to pursue more intricate business opportunities down the line.  Take a cue from 37Signals build a simple focused product like BaseCamp and parlay that success into other complimentary products that add additional value to your enthusiastic client base.

For entrepreneurs, it’s critical you define and stay focused on what your customer needs are and deliver your solution that is so focused on those needs that your customer’s alternative options become substandard in comparison.

Customer prospecting and marketing research upfront is key to accurately determine whether your solution meets your target market’s needs.  Once these needs are defined and you have your product mission statement, you can focus on developing your core product or service.

For example, let’s say I’m a window washer that’s discovered my customers want eco-friendly washing detergents and fast service. That’s great, but are they actually going to pay money for these proclamations? Be sure your prospect wants, is willing to pay for, and has the ability to purchase your product or solution.

As a window washer, If I find my prospects are more willing to pay for fast service then you better believe every decision I make will be guided by this need for speed, and my marketing efforts will position my services as the speediest window washer in town!

The takeaway from all this is when your starting out, narrow your focus, deliver a solution that meet your paying customers needs and parlay your success into developing complimentary solutions.  Dream big, but stay focused.  Your success awaits!

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Entrepreneurs Solve Problems

Entrepreneurs change the world by solving problems.

Inspire your community. Make a difference. Be an entrepreneur.

If you need some additional entrepreneurial fodder to start up your business, then the video below is for you. Thanks to Tomas for sharing!

I particularly agree with the ‘turbulence creates opportunity’ sentiment. My Opportunity Abounds in Depressed Economy post this past February reiterates this theme; view problems as opportunities and you may discover a business idea waiting to be developed.

Do you have a problem without an ideal solution? Maybe solving that problem is your opportunity to join the ranks of entrepreneurs making a difference in our world!

Why Sharing Your Startup Idea Improves Chances for Success

Do you have a business idea you are keeping close to the vest?

Well,  DON’T DO THAT!!!  SHARE YOUR IDEAS!!!

That’s right, don’t keep your startup ideas under lock and key.  Share them, give them air to breathe and marinate with helpful feedback from colleagues and potential customers so they can coalesce into even better ideas.

Of course there are exceptions to when you should tell the whole world your idea, but time and time again I’ve learned that sharing your idea will improve your chances for success.

Fear Not – Get a Leg up on the Competition

Some ideas are kept close to the vest because of the fear that someone else will steal it.  The thought of this happening is understandable with truly original ideas, but ultimately very few who hear your concept will have the right skill set, resources, or time in their life to transform it into a business.

(Source: Caledon Today)

(Source: Caledon Today)

Fear not, ideas are the easy part.  The execution of your idea is what really matters.  By sharing your idea, you can improve your execution by better identifying the needs of potential customers and learning things you can use to build a first-mover advantage.

Accountability

As you share idea, chances are you’ll be more committed to making it happen.  Not only are you likely to be more accountable to yourself to see your idea through, but you’ll also feel more accountable to those who’ve helped you along the way.

Connections

Not only does sharing your idea give you valuable feedback, but it can also get you in touch with the right people and expertise to catapult your startup idea into reality.  Find a connector, someone who knows the movers and shakers in your idea’s industry and put out a call for help.

The connections you make will arm you with good advice from the right people, people who understand the industry your concept serves.

Reality Check Feedback

Does your idea have legs?  If your friends are supportive and friendly, then they will probably tell you what you want to hear, i.e. “Your idea is GREAT!,” so tread carefully.

Seek out advise from people who won’t butter you and your idea up too much.  Also, listen for what they aren’t saying to ascertain its potential pitfalls.  Identify what your concept lacks and why it won’t work.  Better yet, ask yourself and everyone else these two questions.

What is this idea missing?  Why won’t this concept work?

These simple questions will force people to give your idea a true reality check so you can address any outstanding issues well before you head down the wrong track.  This exercise will do wonders for the strategic development of your concept.

If you get a lot of criticism, don’t get discouraged.  Embrace criticism and address it head on.  Your idea can be molded to solve that obstacle or be adjusted to flourish in another niche that is more appropriate.  See where your idea fails and how to overcome those potential failures and you’ll have yourself an idea that is more valuable than before!

Does Startup Success Await?

Can your idea be carried out?  Sometimes we underestimate what it really takes to take an idea from concept to reality.  However, if the feasibility of an idea can be reasonably established, a plan can be hatched to bring it to fruition.

Take what you learn from your connections and reality check to help you determine whether to proceed.

If you decide to move forward, fear not – the connections you’ve built, the learnings you’ve gathered from your reality check and the aforementioned feasibility feedback will equip you with the information and tools you need to get your startup idea off the ground.  Then comes the hard part, executing your idea into a successful business.

The important thing is to act!  While others have ideas that are dying in isolation, you’ll be on your way to learning what you need to know to succeed.

Have an idea you’ve been keeping to yourself?  Feel free to share it with me and I’ll give give you my initial feedback and help put you in touch with connections that can help your startup succeed.