Florida Trend's Business Coach
The tables are turned as Florida Trend interviews its new columnist Ron Stein
Q. Are you seeing any encouraging signs from small businesses you work with these days that they're more confident about 2012?
Absolutely, but with a healthy dose of caution. Small-business owners are optimistic by nature; it just comes with the territory. The environment of the last couple of years taught them how to operate lean, forcing them to be creative and push the limits of productivity.
Ron Stein [Photo: Mark Wemple]
The majority of my clients are continuing with the do-more-with-less approach, yet are ramping up for 2012 in very smart ways, such as offering professional training for their sales teams. Most of them are waiting to see how the economy progresses and how government policies shape up before they turn up the volume. But they're moving ahead in ways that make sense for them and allow them to be as efficient and focused as possible.
Q. What are smart companies doing now, marketing-wise?
They're taking a hard look at their target audience by analyzing their best customers. And not just the demographics. Almost all purchases are emotional decisions, so by developing a deep understanding of why someone buys their products or service, companies get real insight into their prospects' hot buttons and why they buy.
That's the only way to develop a highly targeted message that will catch the attention of these ideal prospects. The benefits of doing this are huge. By focusing all marketing efforts on the audience that's most likely to buy what you offer, you define your promotional mix and channels. And your entire team will be on the same page with no confusion over whom you sell to. Astute companies realize that the time taken to do this is worth it because it keeps them from wasting time and money.
Q. What's the biggest mistake you see companies making?
The long-term success of any company is tied to retaining existing customers, yet for many businesses this is a low priority. Ignoring customers that you worked so hard to get leaves an opening for competitors to steal them away. It also reduces the opportunity to continue selling them new products and services.
Retention efforts begin the day a deal is closed. Strategies include helping customers learn how to use what you sold them, consistent communications built around education and feedback and creating a sense of community.
A great example of someone who does this well is Jimmy Buffett, the singer-songwriter and businessman. His company reaches out often and in many ways to fans through e-mail, newsletters and social media. He also started the equivalent of a user's group with the Parrot Heads fan club, which allows his customers to feel engaged and empowered, like they are the rock star. All of this reinforces the value of his brand and creates passionate fans that buy more products.
It requires less effort to retain a customer than sell to someone that never heard of your business. And as Jimmy Buffett has shown, it will also turn fans into a referral engine that help promote his products, restaurants and concerts to others.
Q. How does a small business decide what kind of social media to use and how much time to spend on it?
Think of social media as part of the overall channel strategy. With all the options available, deciding where to spend your time and budget can be overwhelming. There are just too many of these for a company of any size to be active in and be effective, too.
The best place to start is with your ideal customer profile to find out which social networks they participate in. Next, think through your objectives for having an online channel or social media presence. People tend to think only of Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin, but there's also others types of platforms to consider such as podcasts, blogs, video and forums. But which ones fit best with your objectives and resource constraints?
You'll find that there are general-purpose platforms, niche networks, local and global media, as well as options for professionals. Based on where your audience hangs out and the goals you've established, narrow your choice down to no more than three to five platforms you believe will be right for you.
Now reality will set in. Social media is meant to be interactive and engaging. You'll have to spend time planning, posting and answering questions. Decide what amount of time you're willing to commit. Be specific, such as an hour a day or an hour a week.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter require a constant and consistent effort, which can translate to multiple interactions a day. And although you may post only one blog update a week, valuable content usually necessitates an hour or so of writing and some more time replying to people who comment.
As an example, Facebook is ideal for the promotion of business-to-consumer products and services. Fun and useful content can easily go viral, so going this route means spending time. Growing and keeping online followers requires the creation and sharing entertaining ads and videos, having contests, commenting on issues important to your audience and asking for feedback.
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Ron Stein is the founder and President of FastPath Marketing (www.marketing-strategies-guide.com). He has more than 20 years experience in sales, marketing, and business development, working positions ranging from salesman to vice president of sales and marketing to CEO of startups with industry leaders such as Motorola, VideoServer, Paradyne, and SercoNet. Ron is a member of the advisory team at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nationally recognized entrepreneurial and startup accelerator for the state of Florida. He can be reached at 727-398-1855 or Ron@FastPathMarketing.com