Social Media for Brick & Mortar Businesses

Start Small.

It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million views, 13 years for TV, four for the Internet. Facebook got there in nine months. The iPod got there in a couple days. People under 30 don’t use email; it’s for old people. Only 18% of TV ads generate profit. How do brick and mortar businesses keep up? Social media isn’t optional anymore. Here’s seven quick ideas to help you.

We’re out of the Technology and Information Ages and into the Participation Age. The hallmark of this age is “sharing”, which is why social media is so big. It allows us to share on a multitude of levels. It is a lot less expensive than advertising and when done well, is much more effective. How do we get our arms around it?

Don’t panic. Social media is just another communications medium, like radio, TV, fax and email. Except it is much more interactive and participative; like the phone, except at your leisure (you don’t have to answer right away).

Here are a few quick principles I use dealing with social media:

1) Pick just one or two entry points that can be highly integrated, that can push traffic to each other, and go deep. In 2007 I picked blogging and Twitter. I would highly recommend that you blog (some are questioning that these days, I think it is still by far the best social media), and then interact with people on Twitter about their interests first, and your blog second and only occasionally. Or you can pair up Facebook and Google+ (some people use it to blog now). Or Pinterest and Google+, etc. Whatever you do, start small so you can actually participate and learn, not spam. You can broaden out later if you find you have the bandwidth, but stay focused until you are sure.

2) Become the expert in something. Again, BLOG IF YOU CAN!! It’s by far the best way to use social media to become an expert. Write comments on other people’s blogs, and offer your material to others to repurpose it.

3) Be INTERESTED, not INTERESTING (be interesting as a result of being interested). Example – join existing conversations on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. Support others in their comments and blogs, answer q’s, and eventually they will want to know what you have to say and will visit your blog or community group.

4) Join a community, don’t just crash it to sell something. See #3 above. After you have established yourself as someone who can contribute to others’ communities, maybe start your own Google+ hangout or other forum on Facebook, etc. Learn first, then invite your existing friends to join you.

5) Build relationships, don’t sell things. Build a network, don’t do networking! SERVE, DON’T SELL. Do NOT use social media to attempt to get a zillion new friends! All the research shows you should target your social media at your existing raving fans. SERVE them, and they will bring you new readers and new customers.

6) Read “Rework” by Fried and Hannson. Read Seth Godin’s blog &’s blog and find others that you respect. See how they provide something of value. Don’t mimic their content, just follow their lead – serve others with interesting content.

7) Search for local relationships and develop them online as well as off. Connect, then offer offline opportunities. About 85-90% of all conversations about a product start off line and then move online. And again, starting with local relationships allows you to use social media to support your existing friends, who will then bring you more viewers and customers. If you go after herds of new people with your content, your friends will smell that and walk away.

Don’t see yourself doing this? There is a growing number of credible people who can help you by ghost-blogging, and by managing your social media. I would never let anyone else manage my personal Twitter account, and I do all my own blogging. If you are going to hire others, make sure the public knows it’s not you – be authentic. Your company can be known as the blogger, even if you aren’t.

There are a bunch of other things you can do, but if you start with these, you’ll stumble into most of the other things that would be helpful as well. Happy blogging!

To make more money, do as little as possible.

April’s story of success

Small and local business owners need to choose a very narrow market. When they do, we assure them they will make more money. Here’s a voice mail I got yesterday from one company who went narrow. It’s much more powerful than any theory.

April used to be a solo practitioner. Now she owns a company with a growing number of employees and a business that is exploding. She did it by dropping 99.9% of her potential market and focusing extremely narrowly on only one tiny facet of her market. It happens all the time when we convince companies to focus narrowly. April’s is just one of innumerable stories we hear all the time as we challenge small and local companies to go narrow, not wide.

April used to be a Virtual Assistant, just like thousands of others. And just like thousands of others, all she could say is that she is better than the other thousands, which is what they other thousands would say, too. They all sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Then April decided to stop being a Virtual Assistant to the world like all the other thousands, and started focusing solely on real estate agents.

Narrow and Deep, not Broad and Shallow
But she went even narrower. She took the leap to focus not just on real estate agents, but solely on helping them manage their online services – not the standard SEO or online marketing that thousands do – she doesn’t do that; but just helping them manage their online writing, data and pictures – posting new properties, blogs, data, customer records, potential leads, etc. This is an extremely narrow niche, not just with real estate agents, and not just online, but only a very specific part of the online presence.

This was scary to do, because, as with any really good narrowing down of a business, she was leaving behind 99.9% of the potential customers available to all the other thousands of Virtual Assistants like what she used to be. But as soon as she made the switch last year, she stopped sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher, started making more money and started bringing on real estate agents.

Results Speak Louder Than Words
Soon she had one entire office of 60 real estate agents using her company to administrate their online services, and was bringing on smaller offices as well. She started taking on employees from the thousands of Virtual Assistants out there who had not narrowed their services and were now looking for jobs, and her business has been growing ever since. I got this voice mail from her yesterday:

“I just wanted to let you know how 3to5 Club training is just continuing to change my life. I just decided to meet up with a potential major strategic partner connected to the 60-person real estate office, with much bigger real estate connections. When I explained to him what I’m doing and how I’ve narrowed my business down to only managing online real estate company services, getting that specific – he was so excited he almost did cartwheels. He said, “I don’ t know anyone else doing this. We have to package this for the other offices.

Long story short – he is introducing me to seven other company offices in the next three months. So we will go from having 60 agents to all 560 agents. It’s so great. Honestly, I would not be where I’m at without your wisdom and advice and 3to5 Club’s encouragement and belief in me all this time. It turns out that what we are doing is so specific that it is cutting edge for real estate marketing.

Just wanted to say thank you so much and I hope you have a great weekend.

Focus, Focus, Focus…
I have NEVER seen a small or local company go narrow and lose money doing it. Never. They always make more money if they stick with it. But I’ve seen more than I can count go out of business by trying to be all things to all people. They rarely make more money. At best they grow their revenue along with their expenses and end up a lot busier, more stuck on the treadmill, with higher revenue but with no more profit. But usually their revenue goes down along with their profit.

Want to make more money? Stop doing everything, and just do one thing. You can do “everything” later, after you build a successful company around one thing.

Stop taking advice from Giant Corporation, Inc.’s story. Take it from April. Do one thing, very narrowly. The more narrow your niche, the more likely you are to make money.

The Purpose of Marketing

Is NOT to make your product sellable.

Most of us have the idea that marketing should make our product sellable; that we need logos, branding, great website design, and tight messaging in order to make our product sell. If that is why you are doing marketing, you’re in trouble.

Bad marketing works really hard to sell the product. It has too, because the product won’t sell itself. A lot of people can’t sell anything until their marketing is in full swing. That should be a red light.

Good marketing works really hard to inform people of the product and more importantly, expand the reach of people who are hearing about what is already a great product. The product doesn’t need cheap parlor tricks to sell it, it would sell itself. It simply needs more exposure.

The best marketing simply makes more people aware of a product that would sell without any marketing at all.

Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be
People buy great marketing once. If your marketing is what is selling your product, you’re in trouble. The overwhelming majority of sales are to existing customers and referrals from existing customers. Great marketing can actually make a nominal product even less referrable. When someone buys based on a very high expectation created by the marketing and it doesn’t deliver, they’re not going to refer it.

Is your marketing trying to sell your product, or make more people aware of the great product you have?

How to Know Your Marketing Sucks
1) The “marketing is the key” approach – You’re hoping your marketing will convince people to buy your product who wouldn’t buy it by just being presented with the product itself.

2) The delayed “magic” info – You make people listen to or read a bunch of hype, hyperbole, history, and hooks before you get to the “three things that will change your life”, or “the thing we’re selling that will transform your business”. Blechh.

3) The bait and switch – You pretend you are presenting an article, news, research, etc., when you’re just using these cheap parlor tricks to suck people in to your marketing. The Motley Fool does this all the time – I unsubscribed.

4) The free lure – it’s not really free.

5) The offer maze, or Pied Piper – start with the free lure, then talk some more, make a slightly bigger offer, talk, bigger offer, talk, the big offer. The 50’ long website that gives the big pitch after scrolling to the bottom. Cheap parlor trick. Real products don’t need this kind of marketing.

6) Focus on new clients – This is the big one. If your marketing is focused largely on getting new clients, you’ve got the wrong focus. It should be aimed at people who already know and love you, and it should give them tools and reasons for getting others on board.

Great marketing gets people to buy a great product who then carry the lion’s share of the marketing for you as Raving Fans.

Don’t use marketing to make your product sellable. That approach is sleazy, inauthentic and lacks any staying power. You’ll have to keep up the marketing assault on new customers in order to stay in business, and everyone will tire of you quickly.

Focus on Your Raving Fans
Use your marketing to give your existing customers (Raving Fans) simple ways to sell for you, and to expand the reach beyond your existing market, who will then carry the ball for you as well.

Use your marketing to build relationships with your existing clients. It’s much more powerful.

What to Obsess About at Startup

And why

Most business owners obsess over the wrong things at the wrong time, costing time, money and even the business itself. What should you obsess over? When?

At startup we obsess over three things we shouldn’t:

1) The beauty and design of our product.
2) The beauty and design of our marketing (logo, business card, complex website, wrapping our van, etc.).
3) Focus groups, or other outside opinions that don’t involve someone’s wallet.

These are not things to obsess over at startup. They come later (in a future post we’ll discuss when these things become more important).

What should we obsess over at startup?
1) Sales – Are people buying right now, without fancy marketing, fancy packaging, or a fancy logo? Sales is NOT a focus group of people SAYING they would buy it, but cash actually exchanging hands. If this isn’t happening, don’t bother with a logo, website, focus groups or making the product prettier.

Nothing matters if people aren’t willing to buy the product long before it’s perfect. If the basic product isn’t enough to draw people in, then all you’ll be selling once you make it pretty is – “it’s pretty”. Google, Facebook, Basecamp, the automobile, cell phones, printers, TVs, radios, movies, cosmetics, you name it – none of them were very good when they came out, but sold anyway because the basic idea was really good. They got pretty later.

Focus first and foremost on selling a first generation product or service. If it doesn’t sell without the bells and whistles, the bells and whistles are very unlikely to make it sell more.

2) Close Ratios – How many Connections become Buying Conversations become Customers? Do I know the “close ratios” of Connections to Conversations to Customers? If I don’t know these numbers early on, I have no clue how to grow my business. After “Does it sell?”, nothing matters more than your close ratios. Knowing these defines all of your most important activity about how you will find customers in the early stages.

Example: I need 10 new Customers a month, which means I need 30 Buying Conversations (33% closing ratio), which means I need 90 Connections (33% ratio). If you don’t know how many people you need to reach to make a sale, you’re employing the Random Hope strategy of business. Good luck, because luck is all you’ve got.

3) Profitability – not “Am I profitable right now?”, but “Will this product/service be a profitable business?”

I worked with one client who I encouraged to make a few prototypes quickly, and take them out and see if they would sell. Instead they did focus groups, spent tens of thousands on product design, focused on product name, logos and branding, and put together a highly complex integrated marketing program with a great website, email campaigns, social media, etc. The product did not sell.

Marketing is what you do AFTER you have a viable product that sells on it’s own merits. Marketing will not make it sell, or will only make it sell nominally enough to fool you into staying in business.

When I started Crankset Group, for almost the first year I had no business card and a simple billboard website (1/2 page-no scrolling, almost no info, one email address), just to prove that most businesses don’t need marketing at first. They need to sell something.

Marketing is not the key to selling your product. Producing something that people want to buy before it’s beautiful is the key. If they will buy it when it’s slightly rough, they’ll love it when it’s refined.

At Startup, Profit Potential is Good
And don’t be fooled if your product or service sells like hotcakes right out of the gate without good marketing. Check your pricing and make sure this business will be profitable.

A few years ago in the TV series “The Office”, Michael Scott started his own paper company. He was able to pick up a lot of clients very quickly, seemingly proving he had a great business. Then his accountant told him that his pricing was too low and the more clients he landed, the more money he would lose.

Top line revenue is not profit. Profit is the number at the bottom after you pay for everything else. Because you may have startup expenses, you won’t actually see profit right away, but the profit potential must be very clear from the outset. Get outside eyes on this (i.e., accountant). Like Michael Scott, you almost certainly will be clouded, believing you see profit potential where there is none.

Sales, Close Ratios & Profitability Potential
People buy great marketing only once. If your product isn’t sellable without great marketing, it will die quickly. Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing you have. Make something people want, and serve them as they buy it. If it sells and it will make you profitable, then you can employ marketing to expand the reach of a product that is already viable.

Next week we discuss what to obsess over after you begin to grow.

Market Like a Fisherman Fishes

Pick a fish, any fish.

If I go fishing and have no idea what fish I’m going after, what are my chances of success? What rod should I take, what bait or lure will work? Where will I fish? Without knowing which fish, it’s all random hope. Welcome to the most common small business marketing practices.

He who aims at nothing, hits it every time.

Small businesses have one over-riding fear – there is a customer out there that I might not get. I need them all and can’t afford to miss even one. That fear is the basis for the worst, most common marketing practices – going after every kind of fish at once in the hope that I might catch one.

As the old Russian proverb says, “A man who chases two rabbits catches none.” We fish wide, when marketing success comes from fishing in a very narrow, specific way for a narrow, specific customer.

Which Fish?
A good fisherman decides which kind of fish they are going after. It’s the FIRST thing they do. We think we do that, but we we’re really doing is deciding to go after all fish that are wet. A realtor will go after anyone who MIGHT buy a house ANYWHERE within an hour’s drive of their house. A financial planner will go after ANYBODY with two nickels to rub together. A photographer will go after businesses, families, pets, weddings, events, and landscapes.

Why? Because if we don’t go after every fish that is wet, we might miss one. And we’re hungry. We need every fish we can get. We’ll guess what? The best way to ensure you won’t go hungry is to PICK ONE fish and only one, and pursue it with relentless focus.

Once a fisherman chooses one very specific fish (not just “bass” in general, but “small-mouth pond bass”, they then study that one type of fish thoroughly – what they look like, where they live, when they eat. They study what they need, what they want, and what they like (sometimes all three are different). They know everything about that fish, and as a result, they set up their entire strategy and all their equipment to find that one fish.

Contrast that with the local business owner who aimlessly throws money at advertising, direct marketing, and public relations just to see what happens. And they advertise all over the place to everyone who is a possible client.

A successful business owner picks ONE very specific type of client, and builds their entire marketing strategy around that very narrow niche. The rest of us go hungry.

A woodworking guy. . . . . . . . . . The stair rail guy
A financial planner. . . . . . . . . . .Focus on teachers.
A realtor.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . To a specific niche.
A contractor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .I do bathrooms; nothing else.
A photographer. . . . . . . . . . . . . .I shoot pets, period.
An insurance agent. . . . . . . . . . .For single women.
A travel agent. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Cruises – period.
A computer tech. . . . . . . . . . . . . Mac and only Mac.
A bookkeeper. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . For doctors only.

A Meaningful Specific or?…
Every one of the above are real business owners who are highly successful because they know who their fish are – a VERY narrow niche. I could also name a thousand I know who don’t focus like this. They are all violating Zig Zigler’s question – “Are you a wandering generality or a meaningful specific?” All of the generalists are struggling, and all of them are spending more money on marketing than any of the above specialists.

Probable vs. Possible
The key? Don’t go after POSSIBLE clients, people who MIGHT buy. Focus on PROBABLE clients and people who WILL buy, and do it in the smallest pond you can define. It will make the fish much easier to catch.

Only The Lazy Rely On Marketing

A better chair, delivered better.

We fixate on marketing. With my fancy marketing background, I could make big money selling people complex marketing strategies. The best marketing isn’t marketing, but is much more effective and costs a lot less money, too. The problem is it’s work. We don’t like work. Even when it makes us successful. We’d rather do marketing.

Clever Marketing 101 – Not Sustainable
People buy great marketing once. If the product isn’t great, they’re out.

There are a myriad of marketing firms out there showing you how to get someone to give you more than the three-second glance at a trade show or on your website and how to take them deeper and deeper through a series of bigger and bigger commitments until they finally buy something from you at the bottom of the website.

People tell me this is great marketing, but I believe that by itself, it’s terrible marketing and does more damage than good in the long run. It’s also the lazy man’s approach and because of that, not sustainable.

Recency & Frequency
The two main tenants of good marketing are “recency” and “frequency”. If you talked to me recently, but only once, I’m not likely to buy. If you talked to me often a year ago but not since, I’m not likely to buy. You must do both all the time.

This costs a lot of money if you’re doing it via traditional print, radio or TV advertising. One of my clients spends $2million a year in one mid-sized market alone just to stay in the recency/frequency game. If you’re going to use money to do marketing, you usually have to have a lot of it to make enough noise to drown out the other guy with only $250,000.

Then there is the clever website approach, that gets people to go deeper and deeper down the page and finally click on $27.77 (clever marketing says your price should always end in 7). What if people finally respond to your clever website or your $2 million in advertising? Neither of these are your best marketing – not even close.

Future Clients Come From…
Where do the overwhelming majority of your future customers come from? When I ask this question to live audiences, almost every person will say – “from existing clients and existing friends/relationships.” Then why are we investing so much time in cool logos, tortured websites that lead me down a clever spiral path to a commitment, and advertising to find people you’ve never met?

One of my clients has a company called “Jungle Quest”, a ropes and repelling environment for kids, that is franchising nationally now. In the early days he had $1,000/ mth in profit to reinvest in the company. His first instinct was to buy $1,000/mth in advertising. He decided instead that he would use the $1,000 each month to do something to make the customer experience more “Jungle-icious” as he describes it.

It was a brilliant move. He improved the look and feel of the environment, added new experiences, improved the clothing on the staff and trained them better, and instituted a customer satisfaction program to stay in touch (recency and frequency). Today virtually all of his future clients come from his existing clients because he has done such a good job delivering a better product. It was hard work, but with a sustainable result – a better product and better relationships with customers.

Better Marketing? Absolutely.
Most people would say he didn’t improve his marketing, only his product. But in fact he did both because the best marketing you can do is to make a better chair, deliver it with flair, and apply “recency and frequency” to staying in touch with your existing customers and friends. It’s lot less expensive and more effective than chasing people you’ve never met.

The problem is that it takes work. We have to constantly work at our craft and get better and better at it. And we have to regularly find a way to touch our existing clients, say hello, and let them know we care. All of that sounds too much like work. We’d rather put together a clever website or marketing campaign that does this for us.

People buy great marketing once. If your product isn’t more jungle-icious than the next one, they won’t be back. But if you work hard over a number of years to make your offering distinctive, unique and presented with great customer service, people will refer you to all their friends.

The Best Marketing of All
Make a better chair and say hello to people you already know. It’s the best marketing you can do.

Relationships. Not Marketing.

It’s really that simple.

While I was in Kenya last week I met with a new friend for a few hours to discuss his need to bring in new clients. He was thinking he might need to do some marketing. I suggested he forget marketing and talk to his friends instead.

The tactics of “old marketing” still live on out there. When we need to bring in new customers our first reaction is that we should start calling, mailing or emailing people in our target market. I was re-reading some of Seth Godin’s book, Meatball Sundae, while on the plane and was reminded again that when we interrupt people without them asking us to, we start out on the wrong foot. Getting their permission to talk with them is just so much better.

It’s no different in Kenya. My electrical engineering friend was thinking he should go after the companies that would be good clients and see if he could get some conversations going with them. It seems reasonable and most of us would start there.

We sat in a coffee shop and came up with a different approach. Rather than call, email, or show up and ask to talk to someone, we decided that in just about every instance, he could get permission before he ever talked to any of these possible customers.

How? Talk to his friends and existing customers. Really. Just talk to them and ask them to make introductions.

Four Steps to New Clients
At first he thought that they might not have the right contacts or that they wouldn’t want to help. But as we talked it through he realized it was the best, quickest way to expand his customer base significantly. Without spending any money on expensive “interruption marketing.” Just cups of coffee.

1) We first defined his target market – what did his ideal client look like and from what segments of the market? We narrowed it down to just a few.

2) Then we made a horizontal list across a napkin of the types of people who could find him those customers. We listed mechanical engineers, building contractors, business lawyers, commercial real estate agents and others who would already have contacts with his ideal customers. We added to the horizontal topics categories like “existing clients”, “past clients”, “friends” and “raving fans” because they might all know someone who a) could refer him to a client or b) actually know a possible client themselves.

3) Once we had the horizontal list on the napkin, his job was to go back to the office and list every person and company he knew in each category (mechanical contractors, friends, customers, etc.). This was going to be dozens if not a few hundred people and companies.

4) We then decided on a measurable activity and objective because you get what you intend, not what you hope for. He decided he would be able to have 6-8 cups of coffee a week and I asked him to set objectives for how many new customers and how much new revenue he intended to get from the coffees (don’t have lunch – it costs too much and takes too long).

Getting the Conversation Going
We talked about the best way to motivate these people to work with him – do for them what he wanted them to do for him. For his close friends he could simply ask them to help. Most of us won’t do this – we think we’re bothering them.

Even though we would love to help our friends, we’re not so sure about asking them to help us. He didn’t seem to have this common hang up. If you do, get over it. People want to help us and you need to ask for that help. Too often we assume they would already be sending people our way if they wanted to, but you have to realize they have a life and you are not in the center of it. They need you to get a cup of coffee and help them focus on it for 45 minutes. They are glad to help, they’re just not focused on doing so. Help them help you.

Be What Yout Want Them to Be
To communicate the “do for them what we want them to do for us” message right up front, my friend was going to say something like, “I’d like to get together to see if we can push each other forward. Since we work in the same space, I might have clients you want, you might have clients I want. Would you like to see if we can help each other?” I’ve only had a couple people ever turn me down. Anyone who turns this down the opportunity to be mutually helpful to each other isn’t someone you would not want to do business with anyway.

Three Questions to Ask
After small talk and asking other questions about their business, we had three questions he would ask:

1) Strategic Alliance – Do you know one person who might have the same customers as I do who might want to build an ongoing strategic relationship with me so we can pass clients back and forth for years to come? (and if appropriate, “would you want to do that together with me?” Would you introduce me via a mutual email or even a phone call?

2) End Client Referral – Do you know one person at any of these target market companies who you could introduce me to who might have a project I could be on?

3) Do you know one other person who might be interested in having a cup of coffee with me over this kind of possible strategic alliance? Would you introduce me?

Friends want to help us, and the smart ones that don’t know us real well are highly attracted to the idea of having strategic alliances. And when all of the connections are made by someone else introducing us, it’s all by permission.

I’ve never made a cold call in my life and was the #1 sales person in a bunch of companies, some of whom had people making cold calls all day long.

Build relationships by asking people you already have a relationship with to help you. But most of all, help them first. A picture is worth a thousand words. If you want them to refer to you or build a strategic alliance with you and send you clients, do it for them.

People buy from people, and they buy more from people they know and trust. If you build relationships you will make more money than if you interrupt people with fancy and expensive marketing.

Get out there and have a cup of coffee with someone you already know – it just might change your business.

A Focus on Finding Customers Online Doesn’t Work.

But social networking does – there’s a big difference.

If you’re focusing on getting new customers online, research shows you’re not going to get many. By they way, it’s no different offline. This study could rock the online marketing world, or at least the SEO’rs, who focus on activity vs. results.

In the dark ages (Nov. 2008), when the biggest Twitter account had “only” 73,395 followers, I did a post on Why Social Networking Can Be a Bad Idea . A year later (Sept. 2009) I challenged the common usage of the term Social Networking .

This month Gallup released results of an intensive survey – Social Media: The Three Big Myths – saying much the same thing – you won’t get new clients from social media. So why do it?

Stop Focusing on Selling
The big myth is that using social media to focus on getting new clients works. Gallup confirmed that it doesn’t. They surveyed 17,000 people to find out this big duh. Gallup went on to say that we should instead focus on engaging our CURRENT and ENGAGED customers instead. Another big duh.

We just don’t believe being human works.

Social Networking is Best Done in Person, THEN Online
We keep trying to digitize our relationships, and big surprise, people actually want to talk with people instead. A study by the Wharton School backed this up in Dec. of 2010 – over 90% of word-of-mouth product discussions happen offline and a significant chunk of the 10% of online discussions, start offline. Social networking has always been, and will always be more of an offline way for people to engage with each other.

Here’s a clue:

People buy from people, and they buy more from people they like.

This manic need to avoid relationships and just sell our shiny object isn’t new. You’ve all met “that guy” at a networking event who is the offline version of the pop-up ad, always in your face with a product you weren’t looking for. He has no interest in you as a person, just as a target. Online marketing suffers from the same self-focus.

We just assume that because our product is so great, all we have to do is get it in front of new potential clients and they will buy. Gallup confirms that not only will this focus on new customers not work online, you can’t even expect to retain your existing ones via online communications.

The key word here – focus.

Gallup confirms what I’ve believed about online media all along – you are unlikely to engage new prospects by focusing on them directly through online media. Instead, Gallup shows that the best use of online media is to engage with your most ACTIVE and COMMITTED customers online, and as you engage them, gently encourage them to advocate for you.

We think social engagement online will make someone want to buy, but now we have hard core evidence that’s not true. Just the opposite – being engaged as a customer will drive social engagement and make them want to talk to you online. And those existing customers will advocate and bring new clients – you won’t.

The Game Changing Conclusion
Want to win new clients online? Stop focusing on them, and go back to building raving fans with your existing clients – they will bring others to you.

Again is there anything new here? My wife went to this place called Panera Bread many years ago. They focused on her as a customer, not me as a potential customer. She came home and told me about the place, and I’ve spent thousands there since.

The big successes will come when you can engage your existing clients and raving fans both online and offline simultaneously. That’s a powerful use of the online world – as another place to meet your friends.

The SEO’rs won’t like this, but it’s not about click-throughs, which by this study, are largely added noise. It’s about existing committed/loyal clients bringing others to your site.

Why are you online? To get new customers? Think again. The best way to make that happen is to focus instead on the people who already love you, and let them do the Panera Bread thing for you.

Traditional Branding Isn’t for Small Business

Raving Fans are your brand.

As we start out, we take cues from Giant Corporation, Inc. that we should develop cool logos, fancy brochures, zippy websites, and catchy copy. But this is a waste of time and money for a lot of small businesses and a huge misdirection of focus. There is a better way for most of us.

A janitorial supply company wrote a response in another blog promoting all this fancy “branding” (to which this blog is a response):

“I think the most important thing you can do to brand your company is to provide superior customer support. Here at we pride ourselves on our customer service. We answer our telephones and respond to customer’s needs immediately. Customer service is what sets us apart for the rest and has customers coming back over and over again! has it figured out. For a small company the most important “branding” you can do is provide the best service possible and create raving fans.

Where do 95% of all our customers come from? I ask this question almost every time I speak and from the mouths of thousands of business owners → “95% of our future customers come from our existing customers referring them.”

For those under 30, 85% of product discussions are face2face and only 7% are online. The rest are by telephone or email. For those over 30, 92% are face2face and the rest are online, email, and phone. Our customers are talking directly to their FRIENDS, not with strangers or digital friends online. They are telling their FRIENDS what their experience was with us. And 90+% of our customers come from those human, face2face discussions.

So what are we doing going out and buying advertisements and creating fancy brochures and clever tag lines to attract people we’ve never met? The best brand we can build is to

get those who know us, to love us.

When we get big and have more money than time, we can go the fancy ad route.

But for now, focus on being the best in YOUR world and specifically on turning customers into raving fans. That’s the best branding you can do because it’s authentic, it’s really who you are, and it’s targeted at your best opportunity for finding future customers – from your existing ones.

Good on you,!


Your Competition, Isn’t.

Scarcity thinking will keep you poor.

I’ve sold millions in big contracts and small and never once thought about “competition.” It’s NEVER a factor. I don’t think I have any. I don’t believe you do, either. If you think you do, you’re probably not thinking straight.

Big business loves to teach us to do “SWOT” analyses” where the “T” is for “Threats”, those evil competitors who are going to swoop in and steal our clients any day. The only threats you should ever be worried about come from within your own company and your own head.

The problem is bad thinking and bad strategies on your part. Here’s some examples:

You either live in a world of abundance or a world of scarcity, and whichever one you choose affects everything you do.

This isn’t woo-woo crap. This is hard-core success thinking. If you live in a zero sum world then there’s only so much to go around, and you better get yours before the next guy gets his. If you live in a world of abundance you figure out how to help other people be successful so that you can be, too. I do a weekly lunch with 50-60 business owners and regularly have “competition” there who “steal” potential clients. I’m glad they find clients there. I do, too. Everyone says it’s the best weekly lunch environment they’ve ever been around, because it’s based on living in a world of abundance.

People who focus on trying to figure out what makes their competition successful don’t have enough good ideas of their own.

We don’t have time to figure out what others are doing – we’re too busy trying to breathe life into our own ideas. Focus on getting better, not on your competition.

Focus on your client’s needs, not your competition’s products.

I expend a lot of energy figuring out what my clients need (which isn’t necessarily what they always want right away). If you do that, you won’t have time to focus on what other providers are doing.

You’re a terrible guesser, anyway.

I’ve seen companies dissect the products, services or marketing of other companies, then mimic it, only to find out they were mimicking the worst part of what the others were doing. The mimic thought it was what made them successful, and so did they. They’re thanking the mimic for helping them see it clearly while the mimic goes out of business.

The two last words of a dying company are “Me, Too.”

The best way to ensure you are irrelevant is to mimic other people’s successes rather than creating your own. That strategy is fundamental to a world of scarcity, but worse yet it shows a complete lack of originality, passion, cause, mission, or joy in what you do. And it means you’re only in it for the money. And people who try to make money make a lot less than people who birth something the world can use.

If someone “beats” you, they simply have something the customer needs that you don’t.

Rejoice for the customer. If you also have things other customers will want, you’ll attract those relationships and the other guy won’t. When you try to be all things to all men you become nothing to anyone (a wandering generality vs. a meaningful specific – Ziz Ziegler).

If you have something meaningful to offer, you will get customers. If you don’t you won’t. Blaming “competitors” for “losing” contracts is nonsense. Just get better in a few things and go deeper, not wider. If you’re not losing a lot of opportunities, you’re too wide and likely are delivering on the edge of mediocrity. Not a great long term strategy.

The bottom line

Get the idea of competition out of your head and focus on being the best at whatever great idea you’ve birthed. And while you’re at it, try to figure out how to make the other guy successful, too. You’ll make a lot more money and have a lot more fun.