Archives for January 2012

Communicate the Write Way: 7 Tips for Written Communication

In the fast-moving environment we live in today, those who jump to the top have fantastic communication skills, and that means better business writing than the competitors. You’ve heard the cliché, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Well, in business, you’d better be able to flourish a pen or else you may just fall on your sword.

In the Information Age in which we reside, it’s an inescapable conclusion that your capacity to communicate is one of the most critical talents you can master. In business, you’ve got to communicate with clients, employees, providers, attorneys, consultants, maybe even legislators. In many cases you can express yourself verbally and do ok; yet, you are dead in the water in business if you can’t communicate in writing.

So why is business writing so necessary? Come on, you didn’t know? As an expert, you need to have the ability to prepare impressive pitches to management and clients, provide meeting agendas to associates, and update others as to the current developments of your business. You may be responsible for writing ad copy, guides, or legal records. These are the obvious ones, but just remember that there are people you need to correspond with, share plans with, and persuade who just aren’t in the same place at the same time as you are. Your aim is to offer your valuable pearls of knowledge to be read at any time convenient to your audience.

There are a number of crucial times in the course of small business where it’s utterly essential to write rather than speak. I’ll give a strong, but certainly not complete, list right here:

1. Visible Impact. Do you agree that the fact that you learn more if you not only hear but view information? Just think of any speech you’ve ever listened to about setting goals and the vital importance of documenting your goals. Sales trainer extraordinaire Zig Ziglar, in his book Secrets of Closing the Sale, highlights the importance of using your writing pad when persuading prospects of the value of your goods and services. Why? Seeing it in writing makes something more believable: increasing recall. In addition to sales, the written message is suitable for work instructions, company goals and mission, and updates about your industry. If you want something to really register with your listener, you need to write it down.

2. Keep Records. You can’t have a spoken employee handbook; it just won’t suffice. The spoken message gets manipulated and twisted throughout the chain of command. If you’re accountable for policies or methods at a firm that definitely must be followed word for word, you need to put them on paper and publish them for the suitable parties. Just imagine telling your OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspector that, “we’re very careful, we just don’t keep any records.”

3. Grievances. Have you ever been ripped off by a provider? If you want to get it settled, I suggest doing it in writing. You’re trying to persuade someone to your point of view, and your written grievance will have legs. For starters, you now have a documentation of communication. More importantly, it’s very possible that the person you initially complain to won’t be the person that resolves the problem, meaning that your complaint must be transferred. If you give your complaint over the phone, it goes up the pecking order verbally. Remember in elementary school when the teacher whispered “The Easter Bunny will be here on Wednesday” to the kid in the first seat, who in turn spread it around the room by telling his pal behind him. By the time the last little girl recited the original message back to the group, it came out “Godzilla can beat King Kong in a fight because he breathes fire.” Write your complaints down to avoid the confusion.

4. Kudos. People love to get compliments on a job done well. Supervisors today are learning that a crucial part of an incentive program is to make these thank yous available to the top staff members. Funny thing is, when the praise is received in private over a cup of coffee, it’s nice. When it’s posted in black and white on the office newsletter, it’s like giving the employee an unexpected bonus. Just think of the amount of work and loyalty that the fortunate employee will show now. Thank people in writing and publicly to get considerable results.

5. Complex Ideas are expressed. If your company has achieved ISO 9000 Certification or is going through that process now, you can relate to why the ISO auditors call for written documentation. You must illustrate processes for corrective action, for instance, telling people exactly what to do when things go wrong. ISO is concerned with detail or repeatability, and putting something complicated in writing leads to consistency during implementation. Whenever you have to illustrate or report complicated ideas at your firm, put it on paper. And keep in mind; steer clear of esotericisms and lingo.

6. Protect Yourself. We all know this, don’t we? It’s become the number one use of email on the company intranet. If you’re involved in questionable problems at the office, or if your activities for whatever reason are under the company eye, you definitely must document your positions for posterity and future defense. You can use paper or electronic messages, but always cover your assets.

7. Agendas. If you’ve ever been to a meeting that was an ordeal because nobody knew the goals or what they were supposed to do, raise your hand. Alright, put it back down. You know firsthand the importance of a written schedule for a meeting. It focuses people on a common goal, assigns duties, and helps the meeting leader keep time control. Never, never have a meeting without first creating a written schedule and sharing it in advance with the meeting attendees.

I’m sure in your particular business that you can think of other circumstances. The point is that for the reasons given here and many others, it’s really essential that you clearly express your ideas in writing. It will help your bottom line by saving numerous man-hours normally lost in confusion, you will increase efficiency by getting people on the same page immediately, and you can prevent the frustrations that come with communication failures on the job.

So go ahead– do yourself a favor — and write it down.

The Near-Sighted Brand

Sometimes I think I should put an branding eye-chart on my website for companies who have a hard time seeing the truth about their brands. If they were only 20/20 they’d be able to take on the competition from a leadership position and have clarity in their actions. If these 5 observations leave you squinting then maybe it’s time you addressed your branding optics:

1) “It’s not time to address my brand as we’re too busy. When things slow down a bit, maybe we can do something.” The time to address branding deficiencies is now. Waiting only compounds problems and when a slow down occurs, companies are more likely to follow the leader than adopt a long term strategy than leads. Because branding addresses the entire corporate experience, striking while the iron is hot, not only emboldens you but invigorates the whole stake-holder group.

2) “I do so many things – how can I not promote them all?” The rule is the more services you promote the more it costs you. Going to the door with one strong message is not only more powerful but it allows your prospect to differentiate you from the rest of the pack. Focusing on the one core service that makes the money makes you the leader in that area. Once you get through the door, then it’s the time to expose the prospect to everything else that makes you great.

3) If you’ve got a different logo on your building, your vehicles, your branded attire or your stationary and website then you’ve got an identity problem. Your only option here is to corral all of your images and decide on one that speaks to who your brand is. Maintaining the status quo will only make your prospects cross-eyed and think that maybe you own multiple companies.

4) Ignoring the professional image. When ever I see home-printed brochures and business cards, amateur logos, static websites and absentee sales efforts – I am dumbfounded as to the person’s lack of respect for themselves and their brand. At the alter of cheap, these brands tell prospects that they are not leaders. If they don’t respect their brands enough to put their best foot forward, what harm might they do a customer who gives them an opportunity? Sales are hard enough without making it more difficult than it has to be.

5) When new brands strike amazing success they do so because they have outstanding brand values. Staying true to these values keeps the brand on-track. But if it comes to pass that the brand is careening out of control and headed for disaster, then chances are good that it has failed to live up to those original brand values and has tried to cut corners. Stakeholders can never forget what the brand stands for. It’s not enough to just say it but they must live it – forever.

If these situations look like some people’s brands that you know – make them aware of this article. It beats getting bottle glass spectacles.

Grow your small business with online appointment scheduling

There are more than 27 million small businesses in the U.S., and in this tough economy, the competition can be intense. As a result, online marketing is playing an increasingly crucial role for attracting and retaining customers.

The first step to marketing your business online, of course, is to create a website. But then what? Most local merchants don’t automatically think of online scheduling as the second step to growing their business. Perhaps they aren’t aware these solutions exist, or think they are too complicated or too expensive to implement. However, even a fully featured online scheduling solution like Genbook can be configured in under 30 minutes and cost (a lot) less than your mobile phone bill.

From salons and spas, to photographers, chiropractors and consultants – the demand for online appointment scheduling has grown exponentially over the last few years. The right solution can be leveraged to enhance customer service, attract and retain customers and provide an entrée to additional online marketing efforts:

Enhance your website to attract customers – Make sure you display a ‘Book Now’ button or ‘Schedule an Appointment’ link prominently on the homepage of your website. This button or link should easily draw attention to the fact that your services are bookable online. This creates an immediate call-to-action for customers to >book an appointment, and shows that your business is sophisticated and reputable.

Create or enhance your Facebook business page – Most customers expect service-based businesses to have a Facebook presence in addition to having a website. A Facebook business page provides an opportunity to connect and engage with customers across one of the Web’s most visited and popular social media platforms. (You’ve probably heard the stat: if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world.) A business page allows you to receive customer feedback, upload photos and offer incentives to your customers. To encourage bookings, add a ‘Book Now’ button to your Facebook page that links to your scheduling solution.

Start an email newsletter – This is another great way to reach existing customers and include your online scheduling button or link as the call-to-action. Topic ideas for the newsletter can be current specials and promotions, new services or locations, profiles of staff members and customer success stories. An online scheduling solution that automatically collects contact details can also help manage your customer database, making it easier to target your newsletters.

Encourage customers to post reviews about your business – Reviews are becoming increasingly important for service-based small businesses as more customers check a business’ reviews online before deciding to schedule an appointment. One of the easiest ways to procure reviews is through an online scheduling solution that automatically collects and publishes feedback from your customers after their most recent appointment. Reviews can be shared on Facebook and Twitter, creating social media buzz that widens your business’ reach even further.

Implementing online scheduling, enhancing your website and using social media marketing will also increase your website’s ranking on the major search engines. This is part of the ‘search engine optimization’ (SEO) process of creating quality content that links back to your website, which in turn increases your ranking. In addition to attracting new customers, your business will stay top-of-mind for existing customers.

These online marketing strategies will result in more appointments, especially among today’s increasingly tech-savvy, discerning consumers who expect a strong online presence and superior customer service from the businesses they frequent.

Have you used or considered using online appointment scheduling? What have your experiences been?

Welcome to the Cloud

Your business needs to work everywhere. In this day and age of endless connection with others, it is becoming more imperative that businesses not be tied down to a physical business aspect that limits their capabilities. If you’re looking for more mobility, then welcome to the cloud.

Cloud computing is delivering host services all over the internet. So instead of hosting your software, servers or documents internally, they can instead be made readily available through the internet. Cloud based computing uses many different servers of its own across the internet, ensuring that your information is never in one single place and is secure. This safety feature also makes cloud computing possibly safer than having your own mainframe or using your own server in-house.

The Advantages of Cloud Technology

Those that work in the business world are constantly on the run. Who’s to say that your business can’t be just as effective from your local cafe than working in the office everyday. The ability to access your information from wherever your are with web based devices is certainly a nice tool to have in your back pocket- literally. The need to constantly remain seated in your office is less of a necessity. There is also no longer the need to keep constantly updating software. Cloud computers update software by themselves. So any software or information uploaded on a cloud server always has the most up-to-date, user friendly and convenient technology in use. This can drastically reduce the price of costs for information technology maintenance and software purchasing.

Grow your Business

Being advantageous of cloud technology allows you to focus on you. Use your time being innovative and growing your business, because cloud computing does the rest. It’s constantly checking your data to make sure it’s efficient, clean and effective. Yet it also give the satisfaction of knowing you are in control without the worry of security. Put your future, and your business, in the cloud.

Do you have some ideas of how you could use cloud technology to your business advantage? Have you used “the cloud” before?

Me-Too Positioning gets you Nowhere in B2B Marketing

The other day I was speaking with a prospective B2B software client who needed to better differentiate itself in its market. When I asked the President of the company to tell me what makes his product more special than the next provider, he referenced the following:

  • Our product is easy to install
  • We provide incredible service
  • Our product is available at a very competitive price point

My reply to this business leader was something you might expect. I told him that at least five of his top competitors can not only say the same thing, but they already are! Like the title of this article says, me-too brand positioning will get you nowhere, fast. Me-too brand positioning is not worth the paper it is printed on. Throw it out, forget about it and find a more distinguishing way to differentiate your business. One caveat, however: There are certain times when me-too messaging must be used to ensure a sales prospect that you have the same table stakes every other provider does. The key, however, is that if you must use me-too messaging; by no means hang your hat on it. Instead, use it as back-up messaging. You must put that repetitive positioning behind more substantial competitive positioning that will really set your business apart from the rest or your sales opportunities will surely fall flat.

This example, I’m afraid, is all too common today in business. Business leaders and even marketing personnel do not take the time to look at what the competition is saying about itself before developing and utilizing its brand messages. This is a dangerous path to take and one that usually leads to lost sales opportunities.

Every business, whether large or small, or new or established, has something it can hang its hat on in terms of distinguishing characteristics. It is critical to business success that you figure out what those things are and build your elevator pitch and key messages around those points. While each business is unique and will have its own differentiating areas, there are some trite statements and phrases to try your best to stay away from, because your competition is likely already using them, and they do very little to make you stand out. Some of these overused and really non-differentiating aspects include:

  • Best-of-breed solution
  • Easy to use (try to find a better way to say this such as intuitive navigation, e.g.)
  • Industry leading (you’ll note that this is hugely overused today!)
  • Increase performance (it’s better to specify what aspect of performance)
  • Improve efficiency (it’s better to specify what aspects are performed faster and with less resources)
  • Rock-solid (what does this even mean in terms of business value?) Why not say dependable or reliable and state the reason(s) why?

I must reiterate that there are select instances when some of these words must be used, but as a general rule they should be avoided at all costs.

Customers buy B2B goods and services based on specific aspects of price, service, features, reputation, reliability, interoperability, comprehensiveness and others areas. As a business owner and/or marketing professional, it is your job to figure out what unique aspects your business has/offers and build your company’s brand positioning around those points. This distinguishing messaging will help you stand above your competition and will go a long way in terms of strengthening your sales and marketing efforts.

How To Build A Niche Audience.

email listDoes your brand have it’s own niche audience to speak to? I should probably start by explaining that a niche audience is a database of businesses that you market to. It is sometimes referred to as, “my list.” This is an important cross-section of people who have at some point in time asked for something from you, and are now accepting more information on a regular basis, (hopefully). This is what is called an opt-in list.

There are lots of strategies on how one might acquire this list, but one of my favourites is what I call an eMail harvester. Put something on your website that people will want to grab from you for free. Don’t give out junk, it speaks poorly on your (brand). The thing is, you don’t just hand it over, but have it, so that they must fill out a simple form. This form is automatically processed and the info is sent to your database. From here using your marketing prowess, you deliver your message to them on a regular basis. This ongoing exposure to your brand is very powerful. It offers you the opportunity to get additional paying business from this private or niche audience.

One of the unwritten rules of this niche audience is to respect them and not over whelm them with email sales pitches. I use mine to provide additional free advice. Over time a relationship is born, and they contact you directly for more services etc. Most of my efforts have as its core goal, getting people to subscribe to my list. If you are not doing this, I’d highly recommend it. You’ll love to recognition it brings to you as the thought leader.

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