Friday, May 21, 2010

Small Biz CAN Compete With "The Big Boys"

Small business has often been mentioned as the "little guy." The one who has to compete with giant retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, and others that are based locally. They have the marketing budget and the advertising dollars to drive the smaller competition out of business. Some small businesses have managed to compete with the Wal-Mart's of the world, and one has even rebuffed offers to sell products through the mega chain.

The truth is, small businesses everywhere are finding ways to compete with bigger competition and in some cases are winning the battle. How they are winning is what tells a compelling story. While none of it is rocket science, the cumulative effects of these efforts mean better relationships with customers and the area they serve, loyalty, and more business.

One such case was highlighted in a recent case study in the New York Times. Pamela Ryckman writes about how a local Kansas City dry cleaning business, Hangers, is competing with a Tide dry cleaning chain that moved into town. An excerpt from the story shows how different thinking can give you a competitive advantage and put you on top:

"Hangers continued to cultivate its offbeat image. "We have a personality in a business devoid of it," Mr. Runyan said. "We can't out-price or out-spend our big competitor, but we can be genuine, funny and edgy."

"He worked to create a tight-knit culture of service and accountability. If a garment was damaged, a store representative would call the customer immediately and offer to replace it. He held a St. Patrick's Day tailgate party for 60 people in a Hangers parking lot and financed a float in the local parade. "Maybe it's goofy and old-fashioned," he said, "but it seems to be resonating with the folks in K.C. Who would expect people to party with their dry cleaner?"

"He initiated partnerships with corporations, nonprofit organizations and community groups, and he can quantify the patrons gained from each. He also contacted schools and donates 10 percent of the proceeds from parents' dry cleaning back to each school."

The moral of the story is that small businesses are the cornerstone of the U.S. economy, and many have to compete with big national chains on a day-to-day basis. It's how they distinguish themselves from the bigger chains that shows their innovation, creative thinking, and marketing know how. Oftentimes, small businesses are better at reaching local customers than the higher financed competition, because they have to be more tactical and thoughtful about where their dollars are being spent. So think outside the box, take some lessons from other businesses, and find a way to stand out from the crowd.

Have you had to compete with a bigger business? How did you stand out, and are you succeeding? Adding personalized service to your business gives your customers something they're not getting for "The Big Boys". At Checked and Balanced I go out of my way to make sure I cater your bookkeeping needs to fit your business needs. Call now for a Free 1 Hour Consultation!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Goldilock Approach to E-mail Marketing

What does a classic fable have to do with modern email marketing?

Do you remember when little Goldilocks was sampling the bears’ porridge (‘this one is too hot…this one is too cold…”) then laying in their beds (“this one is too hard, this one is too soft…”)? In both cases, she was looking for the one that was “just right.”

When it comes to email marketing – what you send and how often you send it – your customers also want the ‘just right’ version. Blast them too often and they will probably unsubscribe. Not often enough and they will forget about you. If the content is right on target every time they will be happy – but two ‘boring’ articles in a row may be all it takes for them to lose interest.

How can small business owners get it ‘just right’ in such an ‘information overload’ era? There is one, and only one way. Fortunately, it’s remarkably simple: ask.

Ask your customers how often they want to receive updates. Ask them what kind of updates they want to receive (stand-alone announcements or more comprehensive newsletters?). And ask which topics they would like to hear about.

Some of your clients might not mind receiving an email every day. To me, that’s remarkable. But it’s true. Others will want to receive only weekly or even monthly updates, with occasional ‘special announcement’ pieces if you have something really unique going on.

To maximize your open rate, grow your list and keep your readers engaged, you need a content strategy and a segmentation plan.

Content strategy is about the kind of information that people want to receive. They won’t all be interested in the same things, so it’s unwise to assume that a one-size fits all email policy will work. The best approach is to identify different interest areas and create content that is relevant to each one – then make sure you deliver only the content that your readers have expressed desire for.

Segmentation is about content and frequency. Once you know what I want to hear about, for example, you also need to know how often I want to hear it. This example may help:

If you own a landscaping business you might be an expert and service provider in several different areas such as:


Botanicals (which plants, shrubs and trees are ideal for your customers environment)




Off-season service such as fall clean up and winter snow removal


Can you see how the interests of someone living in a standalone housing residential area might be significantly different from the needs of your commercial customers?

Once someone opts into your list, you’ll want to use a survey tool (like SurveyMonkey, which is free) to better understand his or her needs. Simply ask which services they would like to hear about, and how frequently, then drop your subscribers into unique groups such as those who want information about basic services such as mowing, snow removal and fall clean-up, others who want only hardscaping alternatives, and those who want everything. Sort by frequency as well. This approach means that you will have to do some work up front, but you can use auto-responders (which I’ll cover in my next post) to automate a lot of it. It’s worth it, as you will see right away when your targeted approach leads to increased open rates.

Once your marketing strategies start to pay off, please consider me for your bookkeeping needs.