Networking Your Way to Better Business

Here is my review of the second part of the Portland Business Alliance networking event I attended last week. After the main networking session, Kathie Nelson from Networking for Busy People did a short workshop. Her main networking points were:

  1. Get clear about what makes you unique in the language of the target customer
  2. Get focused about who is your target market. Who is your ideal customer?
  3. Get partners who share your target market
  4. Get connected in your business community. Be visible, credible and follow-up

If you think about it, the first two points should be core to your business anyway. If you can’t describe your target market nor why they should hire you or buy your product then it will be hard to network. If you are looking for leads but can’t describe the kind of leads you want then Continue reading

Networking and Leads – Portland Business Alliance

I went to three different networking events in the last 24 hours and it was a very interesting experience.

The first was held by the Portland Business Alliance (Chamber of Commerce) at the Rose Quarter. The networking and introductions began when I encountered a number of people outside the building who were trying to figure out how to get in! The Rose Quarter has a plethora of doors but only one was unlocked and unmarked. I fellt like like this was somehow a metaphor for networking but it was really too early in the morning to think that deeply.

We finally found the entrance and the room where the event was taking place. The meeting itself was run very efficiently and people seemed quite friendly and interested in talking. After a short breakfast of the usual doughnuts, bagels and coffee we were Continue reading

Who Influences Your Customers?

I went to an interesting event today. It was the monthly luncheon of the Oregon Chapter of the American Marketing Association and the speaker was talking about who it is that really influences your customers to buy your products or services. This has a major implication on where we spend our marketing budgets.

The speaker, Nick Hayes, Founder and President, of Influencer50, said that according to their research, in 1993, customers reported that 75-85% of their buying decisions were heavily influenced by journalists or industry analysts. In 2003 that number had dropped to 45-55% with blogs, online forums and other informal networks becoming much more important.

He further pointed out that in most companies, the budgets have NOT similarly changed. Public relations and analyst relations efforts and budgets have remained relatively the same despite the shift in importance.

A few companies (very few) have recognized this fundamental shift and have begun marketing to the new influencers. He cited the examples of:

  • Nokia’s Early Adopters Forums
  • Microsoft’s Online Gaming Communities
  • Virgin Mobile’s CEO Dinner Clubs
  • Intuit Business Advisor Communities

These companies have tried to establish a positive relationship with groups of people who either by word of mouth, blogs or other mechanisms tend to be respected by potential customers.

It is interesting to note that some of these influencers may never themselves buy your products or services in any quantity.

If you want to see Nick’s slides you can find them at the Oregon Chapter of the AMA’s website.

So who are your influencers? When your customers are looking for a widget in your industry how do they make their decision? Who do they ask?

For my business, the influencers will include other professionals who provide services to small businesses, and my (hopefully) satisfied customers. The local press will also still be important.

Take some time this week to think about the audiences you have been neglecting and what you might do to start a helpful dialog.

How to Read Blogs Efficiently

Do you read many blogs? I never really did until recently. It seemed too much trouble to visit all the various sites so I missed out on a lot of useful information. Until I discovered Bloglines. Bloglines allows you to easily subscribe to the blogs you find and then instead of you visiting each site individually it does it for you and aggregates the headlines with a brief extract of each blog you have tagged.

So now all I have to do is to go to my Bloglines account and on my home page is a list of all the latest posts from all the blogs I like. And what makes it really cool is the way I can create a button on my broswer tool bar which with one click automatically subscribes me to that blog.

And did I mention it is free? Its free.

Client Won $60K in New Business!

I got a note from one of the companies I helped back in August to say they had just won a $60,000 piece of new business! I was very excited to hear about it as I had worked with the owner to create the proposal. It always gives me such a thrill when one of my clients does well.

In this particular instance the original proposal was very technical and didn’t effectively address the customer’s needs and concerns. After some discussion with the owner we were able to identify the key customer hot buttons and point out how the software and services of the client addressed those hot buttons. We also worked with the client to restructure the product offering to account for extra modules and a multiple site license.

When you are writing a proposal, keep the marketing basics in mind. What does your customer really care about and how can you effectively meet their needs. Sure the technical specs have a place but guide the customer to see why your product is the obvious choice. Help them draw the conclusion that they’d be nuts to pick another company.

Clark County Taxes on Business

Everyone seems to want a piece of the action. I received in the mail a notification from Clark County that all property used in the operation of my business is subject to a property tax! And by the way, they needed the property listing pretty much straight away. I was literally about to leave for the airport for a business trip so I knew I wouldn’t be able to meet their deadline. With images of men with clipboards descending on my house to count my pencils I called the Clark County folks from the airport. Continue reading

Cannibalize Your Own Sales?

I recently read an interesting article in Fast Company about how Wal-Mart and GE are deliberately planning to kill their sales of light bulbs. Its not that they don’t want to sell light bulbs. They have recognized that new lighting technology will eventually replace traditional light bulbs so they would rather do the replacing themselves than wait for someone else to do it to them.

The new technology is the compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL), “In the energy business, it is called a ‘CFL,’ or an ‘energy saver.'” These products last up to 10 years and use 80% less electricity. That means they pay for themselves in around 5 months but it also means that GE and the Wal-Marts of this world will sell considerably fewer of them.

Its a big gamble for GE as it means they will have to close light bulb factories and after the initial bulge of new sales, the long replacement time could mean fewer long-term sales. From a technology and supply point of view, GE is ahead of their competitors which gives them a one-time use it or lose it opportunity. If they can become the leader with CFLs they will tie up the market and put themselves in a strong market position for the future. On the other hand if they are to stay with the traditional technology eventually they will lose their market to the new technology.

Wal-Mart has also seen the writing on the wall and is partnering with GE to make the transition to CFL a success. They will feature the new CFLs and explain to customers the long-term cost and convenience benefits.

So what does this mean for the average small business? Continue reading

Do You Control your Website’s Domain?

A client of mine bought his website from a website developer but for various reasons (poor customer service, expensive hosting, difficult to customize, etc) he was considering moving to another provider. When we investigated more closely it turns out that he may not own his website address. It is registered in the name of his developer and there is no apparent way to move the registration. Now legally it may be that he can force a transfer but the developer certainly does not make it easy. Continue reading

Do as I do and as I say!

I keep telling my clients that a blog is a good thing — really. But yet I had not quite started my own blog. Get the impression that perhaps my credibility was at stake? It’s not that I didn’t believe it, just that it takes time to set up a blog and then actually create something of value to say.

So here it is at long last and to kick off, I thought I’d throw in my two cents as to why I think blogs can have value to customers and therefore for a business. Continue reading