Posts Tagged ‘small business’

Doing your own advertising? Some tips

There’s a pattern that computers and technology have made apparent over and over.

  • Pre-computers: music was recorded in expensive studios, controlled and distributed by labels. Post-computers: Computers come pre-loaded with free music recording software, and some of the music has gone on to great success.
  • Pre-computers: books were bought by publishing companies, printed on giant presses, distributed to bookstores. Post-computers: anyone (like my friend Sue, for example) can write an e-book (Produce: The Art of Creating Digital Content Using Professional Production Techniques)and take charge of distribution.
  • Pre-computers: making video required hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and highly-professional staff. A few television networks distributed programs and sold advertising. If you didn’t make it on those networks, you didn’t make it on TV. Post-computers: People with consumer-grade technology make videos and upload them to Youtube and other sites, making money from advertising and sometimes getting millions of hits.

Another example of this pattern is advertising. When your media choices were (more or less) daily newspapers, radio, and television, most businesses didn’t do their own advertising. That was done by agencies, or by the media outlet. And it was expensive!

Then, pay-per-click came along. Google AdWords, Facebook, etc. etc. Suddenly anyone could advertise, even with just a few dollars a day to spend. Which is great! Except… sometimes it isn’t.

I saw a sponsored post in my Facebook feed earlier this week. Somebody did something right, because it was for a new microbrewery in my hometown. Except … the ad copy said “opening Spring 2014.”  Problem #1: the brewery  was already open. Problem #2: It was July.

I don’t want to call out the business in question — they’re a small startup, and there’s no doubt they have a million things that they’re trying to do. What happened isn’t a capital crime. But it did point out something that I think happens quite a bit with small businesses and new businesses — their online advertising just gets a little bit out of control.

So I thought I’d give you a quick checklist for your online advertising.

  1. Just because you’re not spending thousands of dollars (unless you are!) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be serious about it.
  2. It’s not like traditional media — you don’t want ot run one ad or a couple into the ground. Have multiple ads running.
  3. Response on online advertising drops off like a rock off a cliff. That’s part of the reason to have multiple ads running at any one time, and also a reason to have an inventory of ads that you can swap in and out.
  4. If you use a calendar, or a whiteboard, or whatever to keep a schedule, use it to note when your ads should be staritng and stopping. Also use whatever scheduling options you have in the advertising platform to “set and forget” ads, but have a backup.
  5. Most online advertising gives you a limited amount of wording to play with, and an image. Work hard on those words and images, because they’re your only chance at getting people’s attention. Because you can create many ads, you can play with images and copy.
  6. Regularly review the performance of your ads. Be strategic — and by that I mean ensure that your ads are pushing the viewer to some ACTION.

If you’re doing online ads and want to do a little more education, I’m happy to help as much as I can — although I am not an online advertising expert. If you want to go deeper into this, there’s a ton of great resources out there. For example, e-commerce company Shopify (an Ottawa success story, yay us!) has this great guide up on line.

And Brian Carter has two great books out that can help anyone use online advertising to their advantage:

The Like Economy,

and Facebook Marketing:

If you get through all that, you’d likely know more about this stuff than I would!

(Photo credit: cc-licenced image by Flickr user Marcin Wichary)

Social media mind, beginner’s mind

This is the kanji for Shoshin, the state of "beginner's mind" discussed in Zen Buddhism.

This is the kanji for Shoshin, the state of “beginner’s mind” discussed in Zen Buddhism.

Because I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years teaching at Algonquin College and at Eliquo Training and Development, and because I’ve done a fair amount of speaking on social media and communications topics, I’ve found myself doing lots of “social media 101″ talks. And I’ve written dozens of posts here under the “how-to” or “SMB101″ categories, which are posts particularly useful for people trying to get started in social media.

Do I find that repetitious or tiring? I suppose that would be possible. But as I’ve been doing this, I’ve become more and more convinced that even though “going deep” is appealing, business as a whole is still at the beginning stages of exploiting social media.

Given that social media has been a “thing” for a number of years, the following stats may surprise you:

These stats, and the feedback I get from students, tell me that while those of us who think about social media all the time are busy talking about some of the minutiae, trying to figure out the latest changes to the Facebook algorithm, and pushing the discipline forward, a large portion of the people who are actually working with customers are still trying madly to figure out if and how to do a blog, start a Facebook page, or get on Twitter. And another large group of businesses have started using some or all of those tools, but are floundering.

While it’s a joy to be on the cutting edge, it’s important to realize there are a lot of people out there running businesses who are just struggling to get by. It’s easy to say “Well, they just need to buckle down and get going,” but it’s nowhere near that easy to DO. Let’s not leave them behind.


Why you need a LISTENING strategy

Listening devices, by Flickr user Abrinsky I do a lot of teaching. Either formally in a classroom (like at Eliquo Training and Development), or over a coffee, or as part of a consulting job for a client. And one of the things that always gets covered first, or nearby, in building social media strategies is… LISTENING.

Why? The answer relates to one of the fundamental differences between businesses working in the social media universe and the pre-social media universe.

Here’s my rant about listening:

Back in the day, “listening” was more or less equivalent to the research that your organization could afford to do. It was made up of activities like focus groups, market research, surveys, and the like. You did it when you chose to. And then you chose to either act on what you learned or ignore it, and enjoy or suffer the consequences. Occasionally, people would self-organize to boycott a brand or give it some sort of cohesive message. But that was far from common.

When the use of social media tools went mainstream, all of a sudden people discovered they could talk with each other online. And even if they weren’t directly interacting, there were sites that aggregated people’s feedback and opinions. Didn’t like a movie? You could complain about it on an IMDB forum. Love your local coffee shop? You could share the love with the world!

Those conversations and aggregations are happening now, and will continue to happen. If your business has a public face, chances are that some of those conversations are about you.

If you start using social media like the old school, push-out-the-messages marketing tools, you run the risk of annoying or alienating people already talking about you. If you attempt to shut down those conversations as “threats” to your brand, you risk the “Streisand effect.” And if you ignore the conversations, you come across as uncaring.

So the best choice is participate. But to do that, FIRST YOU MUST LISTEN. It isn’t that hard. There are lots of tools out there that you can use to create effective listening posts. RSS readers (I like Feedly, now that Google Reader’s gone); Google Alerts; Twitter clients like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck… The tools are there, and you can set things up fairly quickly. Once you take the time to set things up, it’s not that difficult to consume a great deal of information about your organization and respond to whatever you need to in a short amount of time.

If you’re a larger business, you likely have resources set aside to do this. If you’re smaller, you may not. Whatever your situation… don’t you want to be on top of this? If you want some help with that, let me know.

SMB 101 Post #9: Using free tools for measurement

Ad Budget

Hopefully, you know more about your advertising effectiveness than John Wanamaker did.

One of the classic quotes from the world of business is attributed to John Wanamaker:

 Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

I’m guessing this is a familiar refrain for many business owners. It’s easy to spend money on advertising, whether it’s in the community paper, the local daily, radio, or online. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a gauge that you could use to measure the effectiveness of that advertising?

But before I give you a few tips, a couple of theoretical points to address. First, it can take multiple exposures to a message before people will act on it — or even notice it. This is called, in the business, “effective frequency.” So don’t think that you can simply run an ad, and based on that one exposure, people will flock to your business.

Second, advertising plays a different role for businesses at different stages of their lives. Al Ries, a renowned brand strategist, characterizes it this way: “PR creates brands; advertising defends brands.” So if you’re a new business, you might be focusing your efforts more on the PR side. If you’re an established, mature business, advertising may be taking a more prominent role.

So once you have a strategy in place and understand the role advertising plays in it… how can you tell if you’re wasting your money? There are some simple things you can do:

  1. Track online. QR (Quick Response) codes are those square barcodes you see on ads, posters, and the like. If you use QR codes in your advertising, you can track how many times those codes are scanned. Even if you don’t use the QR codes, utilities like offer similar abilities to track clicks (By the way, will generate QR codes that you can use too). And plan out what your call to action will be. Don’t just send people to your website — create a specific page to point them to. Then you will know by traffic if your message is getting through.
  2. A/B testing is your friend. This may sound a bit intimidating. But the concept is simple. Don’t just run one ad. Run two, with a variation in imagery, copy, and the like. Then use the tracking tools mentioned in tip 1 to look at which one is performing better. The easiest place to do this is online, using platforms like Facebook Adverts or Google Adwords, but you can do similar things with other forms of media, like print or direct mail. And it’s particularly important to do this when using Facebook ads, which according to online marketing smart guy Brian Carter, “burn out” far more quickly than other forms of advertising.
  3. USE YOUR KNOWLEDGE. All of this stuff is only cool if you use it. Tracking the impact of your ads, measuring A/B results — you need to dedicate the time necessary to understand what the numbers are telling you.
If you are out of your depth on this, think about hiring someone to help build or run a monitoring system for you. But it is possible to do this on your own. Every step you take along this path is an improvement over doing nothing.
(This is post number nine in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)

SMB 101 Post #6: Making moving pictures.

It’s not hard to find evidence that video is a huge part of social media life, and that it can have massive impact on businesses. There are tons of case studies, from Caine’s Arcade to “Will it Blend?” to Dynomighty to “The man your man could smell like.”

All this buzz may have you thinking you need to use video for your small business. I don’t want to tell you NOT to, but video is a tough nut to crack at the best of times. So before you go and buy a camera or hire the local Cecil B. deMille, think about the following. First, before you start a video initiative:

  • Where does this fit into your overall marketing and communications strategy? (If you have one. You DO have one, right?)
  • Sure, everything in the world has a camera in it that can be used to shoot video, and computers come with free video editing programs. But that doesn’t mean that your smartphone and off-the-shelf computer will make quality images and videos.
  • Whether you’re hiring someone to do production or going full DIY, ALLOW FOR TIME. Yes, it takes only a few minutes to upload a video to Youtube. But it’s all the steps BEFORE the upload that take time.
  • The tools don’t help you tell stories. Telling stories via video is not always easy, and it takes a particular kind of thinking. If you can’t afford someone to help you with the process of prepping for a video production, then practice on your own time. Turn your vacation videos into development opportunities before you do a business video.

Once you’ve made a video, your work is done? NO WAY. You still have lots of work left to do.

  • Tag and categorize your videos on YouTube or on whatever video host you use.
Screencap of a typical Youtube video
  • Track your stats. See that little icon next to the view count? If you click on that for any Youtube video, you’ll see lots of statistical information. USE IT.
  • Share your videos and integrate them into your other marketing and communications work. See that Share button in the screenshot? USE IT to embed your video on your website, and encourage others to do the same. Have a promotional strategy in place for your video BEFORE you upload it.
Video is great. There’s no doubt it can be a tremendous tool for business. But if you don’t do it with a strategy, a set of foals, er, goals, and a clear understanding of what kind of resources it will take to accomplish, you’re going to end up with a lot of time spent on something that languishes on a dusty server, somewhere in the bowels of the Googleplex.
And finally, why not take a look at my friend Dan Perez’s site? Dan is an awardwinning filmmaker in South Florida, and he’s got tons of great content on his site.

(This is post number six in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)

SMB 101 Post #5: What to do with freebie requests?

There’s no doubt that being the owner of a small business puts you in the exalted / cursed position of being asked for stuff. A lot.

The local food bank. A friend who’s doing a fundraiser. A loyal customer who is hosting a silent auction. The business improvement association or chamber of commerce. An arts event. There will always be someone who will find you and ask for your help with their event. Usually by providing either money or stuff. Or possibly both.

In this (delinquent, but hopefully still useful) SMB 101 edition, how to sift through the endless list of requests, and how to help yourself while you’re helping others.

Question #1: “How do I deal with all these requests???”

Panhandler. Image CC licenced by

There are a couple of things you can do. First off, you can set yourself a budget for both money and product sponsorships or giveaways. Then, keep track of what you’re doing with requesters, so you don’t find yourself wondering how you spent THAT much at the end of the year. This also gives you a great and reasonable way to turn people down. “I’m sorry, but we only have so much we can do, and we’ve done it.”

Second, you can ask people to submit requests in writing, so you can track those requests.

Third, you can set out some guidelines before you start accepting requests. Are you a believer in children’s charities? Maybe a Ronald McDonald House.  Are you a cancer survivor (a cause close to my heart, or perhaps bladder)? Then perhaps you have a charity like Ottawa’s Maplesoft Centre you could help.  What causes or issues resonate with you? Set out guidelines for people so they can understand what you’re interested in. You can be as restrictive or as free as you like. But when you have guidelines, you can point to those.

Finally, keep an eye on what your competitors are doing in the community. If an organization already has multiple supporters in your sector, maybe it’s time you struck out into a new segment and carved out your own niche.

Question #2: “What’s in this for me?”

Philanthropy is good, period. But there’s nothing wrong with helping yourself out while helping others, and there’s also nothing wrong with talking about your support of community events, causes, or charities.

So first, think about what sort of benefits you would like to see for your business from a donation or sponsorship. Is it a full sponsorship? Are you providing coffee and cookies for an event? Be fair, reasonable, and assertive in telling the organization asking for help that you’d like to get a little something too.

Second, don’t be shy. Talk about your supportive activities on your web site, your Facebook page, on Twitter — your social media activities can help the organizations you’re helping, and people ought to know that you’re a generous member of the community too.

Finally, if you are a business with physical visitors — retail or wholesale — think about some sort of display to celebrate your corporate generosity and your pride in associating with worthy causes.

What this all comes down to? You already know that you are going to be asked. So wouldn’t it make sense to think strategically about what you want to support and to what extent?

(Image cc licenced by Flickr user Meddygarnet)

(This is post number five in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)

SMB101 post #1: Avoid the social media smorgasbord.

SMB101 logo

NOTE: This is post #1 in a weekly series I’m calling SMB101. SMB can stand for a few things: Social Media in Business, Small and Medium Business… it’s up to you. Whatever the acronym, when you see it and the 101 logo at right, you’ll know it’s a short, (hopefully) pithy and useful post designed to help smaller organizations get a handle on social media.

The rollout of new social media tools seems neverending. And it pretty much is.Even a relatively short time ago, social media options seemed limited. Do a blog. Maybe a podcast.

Then social networks like Facebook became ubiquitous, the cost of creating video decreased, smartphones flooded the Western world, Twitter was everywhere, and the hits just kept on coming. If you don’t feel overwhelmed yet, check out this listing of over 400 networks and sites.

It’s natural to want to jump on board. Everybody talks about the advantages of being the first adopter, of being ahead of the curve. And there are advantages.

If you’re working for or own a business that has a communications, public relations, or social media team, you have the relative luxury of relying on them to lead the adoption of new media tools. Alternatively, larger businesses or not-for-profits might have a PR, advertising, or social media agency on retainer to be the leader. Even having a community manager or dedicated social media person is great.

But if you’re a small business with limited time to “do” social media, it might be wise for you to resist the temptation to jump on every bandwagon you see someone else riding on. Why? I’ll give you a number of reasons:

  • Tools aren’t strategies. If you jump from tool to tool, you increase the risk of forgetting WHY you’re doing social media in the first place. Social media should be like every other part of your business — informed by a solid strategy. It’s a powerful form of communications and public relations. And that power can translate into greatness, or awfulness.
  • If you’re a small business, you need to budget your time carefully. And each tool has a learning curve. Better to do three things well than 10 things poorly.
  • There’s no guarantee that the latest new gadget, site, utility, etc. will be around for long. Remember Google Wave? Exactly.
  • There’s no guarantee your audience is looking for you on a given tool, or that they’re even there. A furniture store near me prominently displays a LinkedIn logo. Why?

If you’re the sort of person who loves to know about new things, that’s great. Play with shiny toys on your own time and in your own spaces. But don’t experiment with them for your business on your business’s site and on your business’s time. Your time is too precious to be spent on efforts that aren’t well-thought-out and supportive of your business goals.

If your small business needs some help choosing from the nearly infinite set of social media options, get in touch. I’d be happy to help. I love finding ways of helping small business that are affordable and effective for you and profitable and rewarding for me.