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10 ways to improve your marketing during your slow season

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment

If your business slows down in the summer, now is the perfect time to tune up your marketing so you’re ready for your busy season.

When your calendar loosens up, you might:

review your website

    1. Review your website — replace any out-of-date information and add some new photos to freshen the look. Look at your design compared to others in your industry and if it feels dated or if it doesn’t work well on your phone, consider a redesign. That can be relatively simple if you use a template for WordPress, Squarespace or Wix.
    2. Write e-newsletters and blog posts for the future — get your content ready now so you can just hit “send” when you’re swamped later.
    3. Check out your competitors — what information can you find on their websites, e-newsletters and social media that might help you tell your customers how you’re different?
    4. Craft a 30-second description of what you do — practice a clear, compelling answer to the question “What do you do?” so you communicate the most important ideas about what makes your business special.
    5. Update your social media profiles — If you haven’t looked at your “about” section on your Facebook business page in a while or you don’t remember what your Twitter profile says, make sure all your accounts describe you and your business accurately.
    6. Review your analytics — look at your website data to see what search terms bring people to your site and how long they spend once they’re there, review the open rates for your marketing emails to see which subject lines, days and times get the most people looking, check out your social media metrics to see what kinds of posts get the most comments and shares. Your goals are to better understand what your customers want from you and to find out what’s working so you can repeat.
    7. Plan a snail mail campaign — now that we get so much email, a thoughtful printed piece might stand out in your customer’s mailbox. One client of mine gets cards custom designed by an artist and she hand writes messages to all her customers. I’ve gotten postcards designed and printed to write to prospects. Think about who you want to reach — current or potential customers — and what you could mail that would feel valuable instead of like junk mail.
    8. Research important conferences — are there events where you’ll meet new customers or connect with existing clients? Get those dates on your calendar and start budgeting for registration, travel, lodging and meals.
    9. Learn a new social media platform — choose a network where you think you might find your ideal customers, create an account and start watching how people interact.
    10. Schedule an appointment for marketing — get out your calendar, whether it’s hard copy or electronic, and block out time to work on your marketing for the rest of the year, such as 30 minutes every Friday, so you keep on top of creating fresh content and responding to customers as you get busier.
Do you have other ways you like to use your slow times to work on your marketing?

5 tips for better out-of-office messages to help your customers

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine 1 Comment

Why WHY do you bother with an autoresponder email that says something like, “I will be away July 12-19.” ?

OK. That’s good to know. But what do I do now? Especially if I have an issue that can’t wait?

Here are my thoughts on a good out-of-office message that communicates to your customers that you care about them even when you’re away:

1. Tell me how long you will be away.

Sometimes you might not know. Maybe it’s a family emergency and it’s unclear how long it’ll take to resolve.

Instead of just saying, “I am away from the office,” either give dates or say something like “I am away from the office indefinitely” or “I am away from the office; my return date is not firmed up yet.”

Otherwise, start and end dates help me figure out if I want to wait or find a plan B.

2. Tell me if you’re checking messages and if so, how often.

If you’re traveling for work and doing your best to handle business matters remotely, that’s different from hiking Kilimanjaro.

Maybe you could say, “I am traveling for work and checking email intermittently. My responses might take longer than normal. ” or “I will check messages each evening.”

That is, unless you are off completely, in which case it might be “I will not have access to email while I am away.”

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Five tips for better do-it-yourself market research

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine 3 Comments
SurveyMonkey is the online survey tool I use most.

SurveyMonkey is the online survey tool I use most.

Does owning pots and pans make you a Top Chef contender? Does having a piano in your house get you a recording contract? If you buy a paint brush, will you become Picasso or Van Gogh?

Unfortunately some people confuse the availability of a tool with the skills to use the tool well.

Online survey tools like SurveyMonkeySurveyGizmo and many others make it quick and easy to solicit feedback then analyze the results.

But if you don’t put thought into what you’re asking and how you’re asking it, as well as what the answers mean, you might have the best of intentions for listening to your customers but accidentally get led astray.

Here are five tips for improving your do-it-yourself market research via online surveys:

1. Carefully consider who you will ask and how.

Let’s say you want to ask your customers how you can improve your service. You’ll put together a survey and email it to your customers. Easy.

But do you value all your customers equally? Are some of them far more profitable than others? Are some huge time wasters who complain about everything? Maybe you only want to survey a segment of your customers.

Do you have valid email addresses for all your customers? Are some of your customers tech phobic or do you do business with them only by phone or in person? Maybe you’ll need to mail a postcard with the survey link or call some customers to ask for their feedback verbally.

If some of your customers are big organizations, which of your numerous contacts there do you survey?

What about reaching potential customers — those people you’d love to sell to but haven’t yet?

Thinking through whose opinion you want and how you’ll reach those people can shape the kinds of questions you ask.

2. Choose your words wisely.

Have you ever asked a sullen teenage girl across the dinner table, “How was your day?” Did you get any useful information? Did you maybe have to ask a more specific question? Or get persistent?

How you ask a question influences whether you get a useful answer.

Constant Contact offers best practices in writing questions including asking just one thing per question, limiting the number of questions so the survey takes only five or 10 minutes and asking mostly multiple choice questions.

Usability.com suggests, among other things, watching out for overlapping answer choices (do you offer “three or four times a month” and “weekly” as frequency choices, for example?) and making sure you proofread your survey.

I think ratings are easier and faster to answer than rankings, and ratings choices (1-5 or 1-7, for example) should have an odd number so you can choose dead center if you’re neither positive or negative about something. I always include a “don’t know/ unsure” choice, and “does not apply” is helpful in giving people a chance to opt out of giving you an unhelpful answer. Read more

How to blog if you hate to write

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment

Phone? Check
Email? Check
Website? Check
Blog? No? No blog?

It’s become standard marketing advice that a business must have a blog, alongside more standard communications tools like having a phone number and email.

The benefits of business blogging are many:

  • You keep your website fresh so you give people a reason to come back
  • You share useful information that your friends and fans can share with their friends, helping enlist them as your brand ambassadors
  • You establish yourself as an authority in your field
  • You add more content to your site for search engines to index, helping with your search engine optimization

But even if you know all of that, and you know you *should* blog, that doesn’t mean you’re going to blog.

I enjoy writing, so that’s part of the pleasure of blogging for me. But if you’re busy, and you don’t enjoy writing, it’s going to be easy to let your blog drop to the bottom of your to-do list every day.

Have you ever visited a business blog that was last updated sometime in 2009? Yeah, me too.

So if you want all those business benefits but writing doesn’t come naturally, here are some alternatives:

1. Video blogging via YouTube

Every social media panel I’ve gone to in the last year or two has hammered hard on video as the future. They often emphasize that YouTube is the second-biggest search engine, behind Google, so if you want people to find you, posting videos on YouTube is an excellent move.

Besides that, some people just find it easier to talk than to write. If you do it well, showing your expressions and body language in a setting that helps tell your story can convey nuance your words might not.

Some general pointers on good video blogging: keep it short and focused, pay attention to your lighting and sound quality, and write a detailed caption on YouTube that includes a link to your website, to help people find you when they’re searching then make it easy for them to learn more.

Learn more:

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Preparation helps conferences pay off

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment
I had a great time leading six hours of workshops on digital marketing at the North American Farm Direct Marketing Association conference, in part because I had so many quality conversations about marketing.

I had a great time leading six hours of workshops on digital marketing at the North American Farm Direct Marketing Association conference, in part because I had so many quality conversations about marketing.

I’ve just come back from a conference where I had more good conversations than I could count, got good ideas and business leads, and came away reinvigorated.

That wasn’t an accident.

I’ve been to enough conferences that I’ve developed some strategies about how to make them work for me:

1. Choose conferences carefully — I’m not a highly sought after keynote speaker so I’m not waking up in a new city every day. I have finite resources to spend on events so I put serious thought into where I’ll get the most benefit. For me, a big part of that selection is that I want to be surrounded by smart, energetic, positive people who will fill my head with good ideas, my heart with motivation and my inbox with lasting connections. If I get that at an event, I’ll try to return. If not, I keep looking.

2. Focus on what I’m promoting — I don’t just randomly have conversations about what I do, where I’m from, how many times I’ve been to this conference before.  I mean, I do that, too, but I try to have a clear focus. What about my business do I want to market and how? What’s the most important message I want to convey?

3. Give my target customers a reason to talk to me — I’ve spent enough time staring at my watch at a trade show booth to realize that just hoping the right people will wander by is a tough way to pass a day. Instead, I’ve had much better luck narrowing the window — come see a demo 2-4 p.m. Friday, for example — and offering some motivation — I’ll have free breakfast or I’m giving away discounts or prizes.

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Marketing Monday: What do Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday mean to you?

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment

Black FridaySmall Business SaturdayCyber Monday, Giving Tuesday … remember when it used to be just plain ol’ Thanksgiving?

It seems there’s been more buzz this year around Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, making this a long weekend devoted to conversations of shopping and discounts.

Should your business participate? Obviously too late to join in for this year, but maybe you’re Monday morning quarterbacking or thinking about next year.

Recently I wrote a post about starting with your business goals, then taking actions consistent with those goals and building a communications plan around those actions.

Deciding whether to take part in any of these themed days — or anything like it, maybe a chamber of commerce promotion or a street festival — goes back to those three steps.

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Marketing Monday: Beta testing a quick-hit marketing review service offers helpful lessons

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment

When technology companies use their own products, it’s commonly called eating your own dog food.

Why dog food? I don’t know. But pour me a big bowl of Gravy Train.

A few days ago, I posted to my Newvine Growing Facebook page looking for people to help me beta test a new service:

I am testing a new service offering and I’d love to find a few guinea pigs to help me.
I’d like to offer quick-hit consulting sessions, just 90 minutes start to finish, where we review your business goals and look at how well your marketing communications lines up with those goals.
Are your website, email newsletter, social media, brochures and the like telling the right story to the right people to help you get where you want to go?

I plan to charge $300 for these intensive work sessions, but if you help me refine the format and give me feedback on how to improve, I’ll offer you half price.
If you get one decent idea, could you increase your sales by $150 to make that time pay for itself?

I'm *not* a graphic designer. Once I get some feedback on the service, I'll work with my artist husband to create something more professional than this announcement.

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Marketing Monday: Goals > Action > Communication

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment

Not long ago I had a hands-on social media training session with some of my favorite clients. We covered how to send an @reply and a direct message on Twitter, how to link to other businesses and people in a Facebook status update and how to use HootSuite and Facebook to schedule posts in advance. We even got them started on Instagram, which they linked up to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to share photos.

It was the easiest part of a project I did with them to craft a social media strategy.

Each social media platform has its own lingo to learn, and it can be a little intimidating when you’re new.

But I think any effective social media strategy doesn’t start with tips and tricks, it starts with goals. Goals should be the foundation, then the actions you’re taking toward those goals, and finally how you’re going to communicate those goals.

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Marketing Monday: Remember to say thank you

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment

I recently had a catch-up coffee with a friend who is a smart, passionate entrepreneur with a strong drive not just to succeed but to do things well. Not surprisingly, I came away thinking about how I run my business and how I can do it better.

The friend had two related observations:

  1. He is aware that none of his customers have to do business with him so he wants everything about their experience to convey his gratitude. He reminds his employees that they have jobs because of customers spending their money and he sends thank you gifts to big customers.
  2. He wants to feel that same appreciation from his business partners. He was looking for retailers to work with and nixed those where he walked and felt a chilly reception from staff, and he’s loathe to spend money with big-ticket vendors that don’t seem enthusiastic about his business.

This isn’t about mob-style kickbacks or superficial sucking up. As we talked about the importance of showing gratitude, it was clear that my friend was talking about the human connection of doing business.

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Five tips for getting started using Twitter for marketing

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment

Last summer, I wrote a series of guest blog posts for Stirring Up Success, a B2B blog run by Dawn Foods, a manufacturer of bakery ingredients and products and distributor to the bakery industry. According to a case study by Crossroads, StirringUpSuccess.com has been featured in top industry trade publications as a unique and helpful tool for bakery owners.

Here’s my third post in the series, offering bakeries some pointers for getting started using Twitter as a marketing tool. Even if you don’t run a bakery, I hope the basics apply, but I apologize if you find yourself suddenly craving a cupcake.

Using Twitter for the first time can feel like hearing people speak  a foreign language – or for those old enough to remember, it’s like turning on a CB radio, where voices you don’t recognize are using slang you don’t understand in conversations you aren’t sure how to join.

Getting started on Facebook probably feels a little easier, because its format is closer to websites or blogs. But with a little watching and listening, you can use 140-character tweets for business communication.

Here are five tips for using Twitter for business:

  1. Set up your account – Go to Twitter and fill in your name, email and password. On the next screen you choose your user name, sometimes called your Twitter handle. If you’re new to Twitter, I recommend using your personal name so you can experiment without attaching your business name to your trial and error. Because Twitter users communicate with each other by using handles, choose something short and easy to spell. JessSmith is better than Jessica_Lynn_Smith-Kluczyk, for example.
  2. Add a photo and a description.  Your Twitter photo, also called an avatar, helps identify you with your tweets. Your photo and profile description both help create a credible presence, and demonstrate you’re real, as opposed to the spambots you will encounter.
  3. Set up saved searches.  Start with the name of your business, then any related ways people might talk about your business or product, to scan Twitter for what people are already saying about you. Enter a term at the top of the page, then click the gear on the right of the results screen to get the option to save. Your saved searches will appear when you click your cursor in Twitter website’s search box.
  4. Follow people.  The quickest way to learn is to watch others. Try following some of Twitter’s most popular accountssome of Time magazine’s best Twitter feeds, and use Twitter’s profile search or a directory like Twellow.com to find people with your interests.
  5. Talk to people.  Twitter can initially feel like you’re talking to yourself. The easiest way to make sure someone is listening is to tweet at another user. When you see an interesting tweet in your saved search or news feed, click “reply” and Twitter will insert an @ symbol ahead of that user’s handle, letting him know you’re answering.  RT means retweet, sharing someone else’s tweet with your followers, and MT means modified retweet, generally because you had to shorten it to make 140 characters. Be sure to read your own @ replies so you know when someone’s talking to you.

If you’re stuck figuring out what to say, start by figuring out your strategy for social media and let that guide the kinds of tweets you post. We’ll talk more about strategy and content in a future post.

Colleen Newvine Tebeau is a former reporter and editor who then earned her MBA at University of Michigan with emphases in marketing and corporate strategy.  She is a marketing consultant who helps small and midsized organizations with strategy and tactics, including social media and communications.

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