Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET.
This is excerpted from my recent interview with Allan Branch @AllanBranch. Allan is a co-author of the book Don’t Let Your Business Run You, co-founder and Partner of LessEverything, a webshop that builds online applications (LessAccounting.com), hosts conferences and workshops about building and running businesses online and occasionally takes on a client project and makes that idea come to life. He is also known for his unique and very successful marketing tactics. For more information www.lesseverything.com/blog.
SmallbizLady: Allan, you have a history of entrepreneurship in your family, tell us about that.
Allan Branch: In the 1940’s & 1950’s my Grandfather opened Drive-In restaurants & Car Washes in North Florida. These were some of the first fast food restaurants and car washes in the country. Even 60 years later my Uncle and Dad still run a few of the car washes and restaurants. Growing up with an entrepreneurial family, I saw the struggles of running a small business. In fact, my Dad advised us to work for someone else. Oops sorry Dad, I ignored that piece of advice, I’ve been an entrepreneur since 2004, co-founding LessEverything in 2007 with Steven Bristol.
SmallbizLady: Since most businesses are strapped for cash, how do you get started with marketing?
Allan Branch: Because it’s hard or impossible to market to “everyone” you need to identify those special niche markets that your product or service will appeal to. Look for vertical markets that already have a fluid communication (forum, blogs, industry magazines, etc.).
Once you’ve identified these verticals, be creative & different. Be memorable by doing something people will talk about and don’t forget to be approachable, kind & genuine.
Okay I’m sorry, let’s stop being vague. Marketing is about connecting the dots. One piece of marketing is identifying strategic partners, companies that you don’t compete with but serve the same target customer you do. Form friendships with these possible strategic partners and find ways you can send business to each other.
SmallbizLady: What are the most cost-effective marketing tactics?
Allan Branch: The most cost-effective marketing is not to have a crappy product or service, no amount of marketing can overcome a bad product or service. We forget that everything we do is marketing. Every instance of contact with your clients is an opportunity for them to form an opinion of you. How fast do you return emails? Do you deliver your projects on time? Do your clients feel like you care about their best interests? Your brand is how people perceive your company to be; it’s the aftermath of your actions.
SmallbizLady: How can you be credible and transparent in today’s marketing environment?
No matter what industry we’re in, our customers are looking to us to show them we’re trustworthy. Our potential customers want to hire the best company/person/service they can afford. We live in a world where people can simply Google your name and see your online reputation. They’ll see who you’re talking to and who is talking about you. Your potential customers seek a provider with an opinion. Your opinion has a value to your customers.
Get an accountability partner, like a personal trainer for your blog. We have an editor that helps get articles edited, proofread and published. Our goal is 1-2 articles per week on our blog.
SmallbizLady: What is “long tail” marketing?
Allan Branch: Blogging is considered “long tail” which means the goal for a blog is to help your business in 6 – 18 months; it’s not an instant effect on your business.
The most effective marketing doesn’t instantly get you a surge of traffic. Good marketing builds and builds, growing bigger and bigger. The things you do today will not affect your business for another 6-12 months. Good marketing is long tail.
SmallbizLady: Why do you think social media is such an effective tool?
Allan Branch: Social media isn’t an effective tool for many people because they’re not using it correctly. Social media is NOT just a tool to broadcast your message; it’s a way to engage people. It’s a way to tighten relationships.
As a business, you can use Twitter like being a fly on the wall of millions of conversations.
- Are your competitors’ customers upset and reaching out to social media to voice their opinions?
- Are your customers asking for help on social media?
- Are potential customers seeking help or the opinions of others on social media?
- Listen in on what is happening in your industry.
SmallbizLady: What are ways a small business should be using social media?
Allan Branch: There are many books out there that tell you how to use social media. I would rather tell you what not to do.
Start with this…Who do you want following you? Industry peers? Potential customers?
- Don’t focus on yourself. Provide insight, advice, etc., to help others.
- Don’t over-use any outlet by drowning your followers with content
- Don’t post things you wouldn’t find interesting or say things just to say them.
- Is anyone replying back to your tweets? If no, you’re boring them.
Having a Twitter following is similar to radio in that it’s much more instant in the repercussion than most marketing. My Dad, who owns car washes, will tweet out “Today everyone gets free wax!” and customers within an hour will start lining up and mention the tweet as the reason they’re spending money at his location. My Dad has identified that he wants his customers following his company’s Twitter account and he rarely tweets anything unless it’s a discount. He doesn’t want to bore his followers with updates from a car wash Twitter account. That’s his modus operandi…what’s yours?
SmallbizLady: What is an example of a time LessEverything took a chance to be memorable and stand out?
Allan Branch: We’re not really good at “planning on being memorable”, we don’t have some master plan for our marketing. Every marketing idea starts with someone on our team saying “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” We hear the idea and think, “why not?” and we run with the idea if we can find an easy win. An “easy win” is an idea with a low demand for stress + money but with a high likelihood of “success”.
But, one example would be about two years ago, when we attended a conference for website designers and developers. During the lunch break, as we walked to a restaurant, I saw a cupcake bakery. I said to Steve (my business partner) “Wouldn’t it be cool if we bought 100 cupcakes and gave them to attendees of the event?” Steve, my biz partner, was like “Let’s do it”. So we stopped and bought $300 in cupcakes, as we handed them out to attendees we were able to meet a bunch of new people. These silly cupcakes gave us the ability to start conversations easily.
SmallbizLady: You must speak to a lot of business owners. When do businesses go out of business?
Allan Branch: You will probably NOT go out of business in the first 4 months. Businesses flop after the initial excitement has died, because the business seems to be going smoothly. The truth is you’re riding the launch buzz. Eventually you’ll not be the newest restaurant, newest app or service. You’ll become boring, you’ll start resting on your past hard work. You’ll start coasting. Coasting equals death to your business.
As a business owner, you’ll need to be running your operations with your “today hat” on. But your marketing mind should be thinking 3-9 months in advance. The marketing we do today, the blog posts, the podcast interviews, the guest blogging, the tweets, the events we attend take months to have an effect on your business. Even traditional advertising like radio ads take weeks to months to have a repercussion on your profit.
We’re all guilty of resting or coasting but you must snap out of this mindset and do it fast! As a company, LessEverything, we focus on our blog as a source of marketing. I’ll spend 2-3 days just writing when I’m inspired. But when I’m inspired to write…I write. Grab that inspiration for marketing and run with it.
SmallbizLady: Have you seen a reason why most businesses fail?
Allan Branch: Busy and overwhelmed is usually how we feel as business owners. We’re so busy running our company, making sure our products and services get delivered we often push back on the things we dislike, procrastination temporarily feels good.
Time management: Watching the way the company spends time to be the most effective is part of this metric. Are your employees being the most effective as they can be? Are you using the right tools, tools that promote creativity and help them finish their tasks? Time is our most precious resource & I know you’ve heard “time is money”. I suggest RescueTime or LessTimeSpent.com for time tracking tools.
SmallbizLady: Costs seem to escalate daily; how should a small business owner keep spending under control?
Allan Branch: Tracking Spending: You’re out of business when you’ve run out of money, duh. The truth is, no one will watch your business like you, the business owner, will. After all, it’s not your employee’s money they’re spending, so they honestly care less about pinching pennies, like you should be. Keep an eagle eye out for company spending. Is every dollar pushing the company forward? I advise spending money on things that save you time & stress. Bookkeeping and tracking money doesn’t have to be terrible; we’ve tackled this issue with our own product, LessAccounting.com
SmallbizLady: You’re a parent and husband. How does being a business owner affect your personal life?
Allan Branch: Work / Life balance is something we always strive to have. My Dad did a great job of always making my siblings and I feel like we were loved way more than his businesses. He’d come home from work exhausted but still give us the attention we needed. Being a great business owner is tough work but being a loving, kind, nurturing parent is tougher. If you can be a great boss/business owner and great parent you’re a superhero to me.
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.
Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is America’s #1 small business expert. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. She writes a weekly column on social media for The New York Times. Forbes Magazine named her #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter.She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com Melinda is also the bestselling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works.