Welcome to the Updated Marketing Roadhouse

As the 5th anniversary of Marketing Roadhouse approaches, I felt compelled to make some changes not just to the design of the site, but also the content. Marketing Roadhouse will serve as the training hub of VillageWorks. The site will contain a combination of blog post (from me and guests), free resources and paid resources.

In the past, the content has centered around social media, and while social media will still be discussed, I want to broaden the conversation. Social media should be fully integrated into your overall marketing at this point, so I will cover marketing as a whole. Topics will cover strategy, tools, tactics and anything else I think will make your job easier.

I will also cover topics on what it means to be a small business owner with tips on staying creative, motivated and working towards your goals. You don’t have to be a business owner to get value from this information. I have been a business owner for 15 years and know many other business owners that have the same issues, so I thought this would be the perfect place to have those conversations.

I hope you stay with me for the next chapter of Marketing Roadhouse. I would love to hear what you think and the type of things that keep you up at night. If you know anyone that would enjoy this information, please share Marketing Roadhouse with them. Lastly, sign up for my email newsletter for additional resources and announcements about upcoming products.

Thanks!

Embrace Your Smallness

Last month I celebrated 14 years in business, which has me a little nostalgic thinking about what has changed over the years. In a way, I have come full circle in how I run my business. I am home-based again, and I have no full-time employees any more. The one big difference from 14 years ago is that I am exactly where I want to be. I love being a small empire of one (hat tip to @jesshibb for that phrase).

When I started my business, I was led to believe that I needed to appear larger than I was or people would not take me seriously. I wasn’t the only person led to believe this. I was often asked to add stock photography of large office buildings to the contact page of websites to make it look like the business was located in that building. Many companies didn’t (and too many still don’t) put owner names or bios on their site. They think it is better to look anonymous than state they are small.

Well, no more. It is time to embrace our smallness. People want to know who they are doing business with, even when they are buying a product. If it is good enough for American Express, it should be good enough for us. As you know AmEx started Small Business Saturday in 2010 to promote shopping at small businesses the day after Black Friday. There is a trend towards supporting small, independent and local businesses because studies have shown more money stays in the local economy.

Place your bio on your website, tell the story of why you do what you do. Post your picture on your website so customers recognize you when they meet you. In the business-to-business world, where I spend my time, I realized a long time ago that I am my service, since I am the one who performs the service. Customers want to know who I am beyond the service provided. This is just one of the many reasons I love social media. It allows me to show both my personal and business sides.

If you are a small business owner, I want you to take a look at how you are marketing you and your business. Are you sharing your passion and background? Why not? Get out there, embrace and celebrate your smallness!

Finding Content for your Email Newsletter

Please welcome guest blogger April Finnen from OnePersonShop.

It’s happened again. Someone said, “Why don’t we start an email newsletter?” Everyone then loudly proclaimed this idea’s brilliance. Except you—the person who will make it happen.

Or maybe you’re a small business owner, and it was your own idea to regularly reach out to your customers through email marketing.

Done correctly, an email newsletter is, in fact, a great idea. It keeps you top-of-mind with your customers and prospects, helps build loyalty, and introduces your products to new audiences. But like so many other great ideas, execution is where the rubber meets the road—and where many great ideas fall flat.

Despite sending your email to dozens, or maybe even hundreds, of subscribers each week or month, you won’t hear much feedback. Few will say, “Great newsletter; keep up the good work!” Instead, you’ll have to depend on analytics to gauge success (how many people opened, clicked, subscribed/unsubscribed, etc.); all email marketing platforms offer at least basic stats—use them.

How do you keep your email on track? Brainstorm content ideas, and plan several weeks or months in advance what you’ll write about. For ideas, identify your customers’ problems, and offer ways to solve them. Important caveat: Don’t talk about how you can solve the problems. Successful email newsletters don’t read like sales brochures. Instead, build your credibility by offering useful information.

  • Does your audience have limited time to keep up with industry news? Provide a highlights section, with links to the most important happenings in your industry. Maybe add an editorial comment or two, and be sure to include the original source with a link. You’ll need to subscribe to several industry news feeds or publications to find trends and offer a unique perspective. This is a great approach for B2B.
  • Are you a food business or farm? Offer nutrition tips, recipes and food preparation/storage tips for your products. Customers who know how to use your product creatively will return and buy more.
  • Do you sell gifts or clothing? Offer gift ideas (what Mom really wants for Mother’s day, what every college grad needs, what to give the person who has everything), ideas for homemade gifts (which are often accompanied by store-bought gifts), and trends (5 must-have pieces to update your Spring wardrobe on a budget). Minimize promotion of specific products, and stick to sharing ideas and trends. The exception would be when you’re offering an exclusive discount on a certain product.
  • Sell services? Talk about how to choose a good dog trainer, what to look for in a stylist, how to pick a good accountant, trends in small business marketing that will impact every business owner, and so on.

Several years ago at the Frederick Chamber’s New Media & Technology conference, I heard an idea that really stuck with me: If you don’t learn something new while writing your email newsletter, don’t send it. Since I heard this advice from Christopher Penn, I’ve made it a point to learn something new while preparing each of the several dozen email newsletters I’ve sent since.

It works. My newsletters improved, and more people forwarded them to friends and colleagues. Subscriber numbers went up. We started achieving pre-set goals (the reason we created the newsletter).

But it didn’t happen overnight. Or even in the first six months. Email newsletters—like all content marketing—require patience, persistence and an unshakable belief in your products (or, for service businesses, in yourself). If your numbers are going up, even by twos and threes, you’re on the right track.

Review your stats to learn what people are opening/clicking, and offer more of that. Put your subscribe link in your email signature, and on your business cards. Subscribe to a newsletter full of content ideas (like this one), bookmark 29 sure-fire content marketing idea generators, and hang in there. As Dale Carnegie said, “Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.” Stick with it, and you’ll start seeing results.

Book Review: The Tasti D-lite Way

I knew I wasn’t reading just another social media book when I got to page 14 and read “Likability is more of a factor than ever before.” Yes, the authors write about the tools and tactics they use, but the theme of the book is how they connect with their target audience to provide a mutually beneficial relationship. This book was a great read from cover to cover, but these are the three things that stood out to me:

A company, even of this size, understands that the interactions may not always end in financial gain, but that doesn’t make these interactions any less valuable to the company. Trust in the marketer can prove to be much more important in the future than initial financial gain.

Listening does work and is the cornerstone for any successful social media strategy. I have preached this subject for years, so it did my heart well that they discussed just how important listening is to them. The market research learned through listening pays off with knowing where to spend your resources. By listening and responding to people in creative ways, Tasti D-lite has expanded their culture online.

How they have scaled their engagement. Being a franchise with multiple locations and owners, could prove difficult for maintaining the social media tone and voice needed to be effective. Through policies, training and the right tools, the main office has empowered their franchisees to interact with their store’s audience.

This book was a true case study of how one company listened to their audience and has put a truly integrated strategy into place. They don’t sit on their success either, they are always pushing forward with new ideas and embracing new technologies that make sense for their audience. The last point I want to share is that they invest in their team members to be true brand ambassadors rather than employees. My copy of the book is full of highlights and dog-eared pages, so you know I will be referencing it a lot. After reading this book, I really want to try Tasti D-lite. Sounds like a roadtrip to NYC may be in my future.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for agreeing to review the book, but with no restrictions on what I say.

Separation of Business and Personal

It is not unusual for people involved in social media to manage more than one Twitter account, typically a business account and a personal one. With the proliferation of tools out there that allow us to manage multiple accounts, comes some issues. An occupational hazard for community managers is posting to the wrong account. The most recent case was Kitchen Aid during the presidential debate. Irene Koehler  has a great review of what happened and the company’s response on her blog.

If you are managing multiple accounts in one tool, like TweetDeck in my case, posting to the wrong account is bound to happen even to the most diligent. I have been prone to do it during TweetChats. Thankfully I am pretty boring online and don’t voice polarizing opinions, but it can still be embarrassing and frustrating. Not to mention confusing to your followers.

After the KitchenAid case, I started to wonder is it best to use separate tools to manage your different accounts? Basically only manage one account per tool. I went to Twitter to ask some Community Managers and see how they manage keeping their personal and business accounts. From the people that responded, people used separate tools mostly on mobile devices. The consensus was it is easier to make posting mistakes using mobile tools than desktop. From the conversations I had, it appears that this is on the radar for community managers and using different tools is more of the rule than exception.

Thanks to April Finnen, Liz Glomb, Lauren Gray, Amanda Changuris, Hanna Benedict, Victoria Beppler, and Elliot Volkman for your feedback.

I would love to hear from other Community Managers out there. Any tools or tactics you would like to share for avoiding the dreaded errant tweet?

Introducing the Content and Community Ideashop

A few months ago my good friend Jessica Hibbard ventured out on her own to start her own business, Stories and Ideas. Of course it didn’t take long for the two of us to decide we had to work together on a project. A few cups of coffee later, the Content and Community Ideashop was born. Why Ideashop and not a workshop? We want to create a day of interactive learning where you leave with a solid methodology that you can put into action upon your return to the office.

C & C Ideashop (I know if you are of a certain age, like myself, you are now humming “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C&C Music Factory) was born out of the idea that people have been using social media for some time now, but still struggle with consistently producing quality content. This is that next level discussion that marketing and communication professionals are wanting.

The part of the Ideashop I am most excited about is the Hands-on photo and video demonstration. We will have an area where we will demonstrate how to set-up photos and videos with lighting and you can practice taking shots right there.

We are offering a $50 early bird discount until October 12. This is not like many conferences you go to where the speakers are not compensated so you only get half of the story, you will get the same information we provide to our consulting clients at a fraction of the price. Get all the details and register at www.ccideashop.com.

Fall Cleaning

Labor day has passed and this brings the unofficial end of summer with fall sports and school starting. I know we all think of Spring Cleaning, but while we were cleaning out our garage over the weekend, I realized that Fall was a good time to re-evaluate what you are doing with your marketing and social media. If your fiscal year follows the calendar, you have 4 months until the end of the year to blow out your goals you set in January. Now is a great time to re-focus.

Let’s look at one area that I feel could use a little clean-up. Over the summer I noticed that, on my social media streams, people seem to have lost track of all the tools they use. I say this because I see many people, and not newbies, double post to Twitter because they are using multiple tools that auto-post for them. We all like to check out the newest tool, but we need to be careful that we go back and clean up those that we no longer want to use or have replaced with something better.

So as we wait for the crisp air to fill the air here in the Mid-Atlantic, take a few moments to review your own streams on your social networks to see if and what you are auto-posting. Are they still relevant? Are you double-posting? Make adjustments where necessary and free yourself up to focus on the tools that make the most sense for your strategy. What other marketing fall cleaning can we do?

Being the Student

I know things have been pretty quiet here at Marketing Roadhouse, and that’s for a very good reason. I have spent close to a year immersing myself in some new concepts and being more of a student than a teacher. While I am still working with clients to assist them to integrate social media into their marketing strategy, I have also been spending time researching and forming ideas and opinions around the evolution from social media to social business.

As part of this process, I have teamed up with Daria Steigman of Steigman Communications to create a new joint venture called Social Biz Smarts with a focus on helping companies begin the move towards being a social business. You can read what we are up to over at the Social Biz Smarts site and be sure to check out our blog as well.

What does this mean for Marketing Roadhouse? It will still be here and will become a little more focused on marketing, in general, while still including social media topics. I just feel we are getting to a point that you social media doesn’t stand alone and belongs as part of the overall marketing conversation. I hope to see you here or on Social Biz Smarts, of course I would love to see you at both…

Book Review: Running Lean by Ash Maurya

In Running Lean, Ash Maurya introduces a new approach for bringing a product to market. This is not one of those theoretical books, this book gives you a clear action plan to follow step-by-step. The best news for business owners is, Maurya tells us to throw out the standard business plan and embrace the Lean Canvas. This is a one page plan that is fast to create and gives you a basis for this new approach.

After you have documented your plan using the Lean Canvas, you move toward identifying the riskiest part of the plan which helps you identify what to focus on first. From there Maurya gives you a detailed approach of how to systematically test your plan through customer customer interviews and tweaking your product.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book is where Maurya discusses how he used this approach to write his book. It is a great illustration of how this approach is not just for technology companies. Any business can use this approach to bring a project or product to market. While this book is for many types of businesses, I will say that the language of the book does reflect Maurya’s technology background. A small business owner can definitely make the system work for their needs.

While I have heard of this approach in software development, I was not familiar with it for overall product development. It saves time and resources because you are getting feedback as you develop the product not once it is done and too late to change. I will definitely be using it with a new product line we are working on with my daughter’s company, SoapPrizes.  If you are looking for a new way to launch a product or project, give this book a look.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for agreeing to review the book, but with no restrictions on what I say.

Book Review: The Social Media Handbook by Nancy Flynn

On the book’s jacket it is described as “a comprehensive risk and compliance management toolkit that walks employers step-by-step through the process of developing and implementing effective social media policy and compliance management programs that are designed to maximize – and in some cases prevent – social networking and web 2.0 risks and other electronic disasters”. I’m going to call it your go-to guide for creating any type of policy needed to protect your company in this highly connected world.

I have always believed that companies need policies when it comes to employee use of social media, but after reading this book and learning about the true risks, it is imperative for companies to have a policy. Telling them to use common sense is not enough. Things were really put into perspective by the examples and actual cases that were discussed in the book. Added bonus is the sample policies at the end of the book to serve as a template for creating your own.

I will say that while this book seems to be targeted at the Human Resources professional within large companies, I believe that small business HR professionals and business owners can get a lot from this book as well. I was a little apprehensive when I received the book that it would be a boring read and that I would never get through it, but that’s so not true. It is well written in a format that is easy to digest whether you read it cover to cover or jump around and use it as a resource.

One area that I found myself in disagreement was on how to handle comments on your blog, namely requiring everyone to log-in to leave a comment and to moderate every single comment that is left. I totally understand her point and see the risks involved, but I would hate to see the conversation held up or stifled on your blog. This is why I’m also a huge fan of having a response protocol set up before starting in social media.

If you are struggling with how to set up policies and procedures in your company, and want to make sure you have all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed before contacting your lawyer, this book is a great investment. You most likely won’t need to do everything she discusses in the book, so pull out what pertains to your company and employees and get your policy in place.

You can find the book here on Amazon.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for agreeing to review the book, but with no restrictions on what I say.