A View from 10,000 Feet; Your Business in 2006
|by John Waiveris|
Invisible Gold is 5 years old this month. Ok, well maybe 4. The date is fuzzy and you can't count the first year when I asked questions like "Do I need financial software?" or "What should the company be called?" I also work with other businesses that got started the same time. It's like friendships from raising children of the same age. Regardless, I heard a similar comment three times this week:
"I really need to work on my 2006 marketing plan."
We've given up trying to write business plans every year. But these are like New Years resolutions. On a personal side, we might decide to eat better or call family more. As a business owner it's the same thing but we call it planning for the new year. And now that the holiday decorations are down, it's time to get moving.
|"How to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions... |
Put it all on paper.
Mark your calendar.
Start as soon as possible.
Find a role model.
Check your progress regularly..."
Inform friends and family of your goals..."
Start with Short Deadlines
Years ago I worked at a company that hadn't released software in 4 years. It was an interesting post-internet-bubble merger story. Regardless, by that point, half of the good programmers had left, and managers were afraid to accomplish anything. Worst of all, the product was 3 years late and still not ready. What was their big mistake? They tried to do too much in one step. One year may not seem like a long time, but they should've started with a small project.
In software development, the amount of time you schedule for a release is extremely important. Short 1-3 month cycles are good for research and customer feedback. Longer cycles are better for proven bets because you are committing more, have more time for refinement, and have bigger expectations.
The same is true for a marketing plan. In the research phase, try small things first and see how they go. It's important to think about urgency. A small step is placing an ad, or printing a few postcards by March 1st. You haven't committed much, and you'll hopefully learn something. A big step is putting together a budget and an ad campaign and writing press releases. We're not talking about your 2006 marketing plan. We're talking about your February marketing plan.
Figure out what is Working Today
Where does most of your business come from? What are you doing today? It's human nature to try to start over. However, if most of your customers come from word of mouth, then you should consider "marketing" to them first. Here the focus is on staying forefront in their minds. You don't need to explain what you do. You don't need to pollute the world with junk mail to strangers. You just need to stay in touch and make sure they are happy.
Likewise, what are you spending time on regularly that could be expanded? Maybe you send out an annual postcard? How about sending something every 6 months, or a follow-up? You already know how much time it will take, how much it will cost, and basically what the response is. Maybe you could add an insert into a bill, or send newsletter articles to an online journal. Heck, maybe you find business at a certain restaurant. The goal here is to avoid "starting energy". Once you are already doing something, it's easy to modify or expand.
Try NOT Doing SomethingLast August I stopped sending email newsletters. I wasn't sure if anyone was reading them, and I'd been doing it for years. Website traffic dropped 40% by Christmas. I sent one in January and traffic bounced back immediately. Keep in mind; it wasn't a spike when the email goes out. It was spread over the entire month. It's a silly question, but do you think the newsletter is important?
Ironically I missed the process. It was a habit built over years, and a distraction I looked forward to. I may have lost a little business in those months, but more importantly, I have a different appreciation of how valuable it is.
Track ProgressI wouldn't have noticed if the telephone rang 5 times less per week, but my "experiment" with the newsletter was easy to see on website traffic. I nearly fell off my chair when I noticed the change. Maybe we can do something similar with other things?
For example, this week I saw someone's chart of sales broken down by town. While this is interesting, I was more excited about the idea of running a test. Imagine just marketing to customers in towns that start with the letters A-F. Put this into a spreadsheet and then compare results after 2 or 3 months. If my hunch is correct, you'll be able to judge a change. We should be careful to also calculate the "error". Take another group of roughly the same size to compare against. If you like numbers and statistics, it can give you valuable information about where to spend your time/money.
Clean Up the Efficiency of Your Message and Sales
Things that we take for granted may not make sense. This week I had to mail a package over night. I went to the post office and stared at the "Express Mail" and "Priority Mail" kiosk. It was late in the day; there were lots of customers in line and people getting cranky. The names, the instructions on the envelopes, and the kiosk didn't give a clue. But I knew from experience that I had to use right envelope.
Once I moved 20 minutes in the line I finally saw a sign. Regardless, later I noticed a UPS drop box that was "open" another 2 hours. It wouldn't have made me wait in line AND I have a strong suspicion that "Next Day Air" is overnight shipment compared to "2nd Day Air". The irony is that it costs the Post Office more to staff the building than the simple drop box.
People are getting more used to shopping online and "clicking" their way through business interactions. They are going to visit your website, read your materials, and come to you already educated. Let's help them along; if nothing else, we'll be more equipped when our brilliant new marketing plan brings in business.
Good luck with 2006. I'll be watching my traffic charts and looking forward to seeing you at the deli line.
John Waiveris writes about small business marketing and website technology for Invisible Gold, LLC. For more information, visit www.invisiblegold.com or call (860) 285-0172. "You Website Should be Easy to Edit!"