Thursday February 3, 2011

 

Business 

Take Your Business To A Higher Level

Savings, quality and service are what customers want

Submitted by Terry Holt, Holt Marketing

 

t is 2011, a new year to prosper and elevate your business to the next level while recovering from one of the most devastating local, national and international economies in the past twenty years.

I returned to my hometown of Chilliwack last year and decided to “hang out my shingle” as a marketing and design service after 30 years of multi-levels of media (radio, television production, newspaper, advertising, concert/entertainment business) including two years (approximately 34 years ago) with Fraser Valley Radio — CHWK Chilliwack, CFVR Abbotsford, and CKGO Hope. I have also been retained or worked for at least ten national or international companies.

I cherish memories of my first eight years of life living on a pioneer farm in Rosedale on Chapman Road (member of Hamilton family) and the memories of not only my family (grandmother had 16 children — you can only imagine the “gang” that came from that garden) but the many neighboring farm families including the Muirs, McKays and Hills.

Although those memories shall never fade, we come to terms with metro Vancouver growth and the once secluded country city of Chilliwack thrust into rural sprawl with people who don’t really have memoirs of years past, but wish to grab a piece of the solitude and lifestyle the Fraser Valley has to offer.

Since returning to Chilliwack I’ve had the opportunity to meet many “new” faces and families in our valley. Many are not aware of its history yet benefit from previous generations who laid the ground work for a “wish to live in” community. I only ask them to not only benefit from its riches and personal contentment but to take the time to learn of its past and to take on the burden of its future survival and involve yourself in the ongoing task of sustaining the values we hold dear.

But like I said previously, it is a new year, and my biggest concern in welcoming a year of potential is the local small business community which continues to sacrifice (suffer) and is steadfast in surviving local growth and most recent the relentless intrusion of “international big box stores”, who in my opinion have as much dedication to rural community sustainability as a “dead oyster on a sidewalk”. We continue to be attacked by outside sources of international marketing who have rebranded themselves to apply their services to smaller cities and “local” consumers.

My most recent dealings have been with small business who have such great pride in ownership, yet at times embarrassed to admit they don’t know or have the business marketing knowledge in dealing with what I call “the new world of competition”. The internet has nurtured such abundance in business growth worldwide yet many “local small businesses” have not taken the opportunity to learn the basics of marketing to combat encroaching regional or international competition.

I have always believed with the right knowledge “any” small business can compete with international giants and succeed in building their dream.

I appreciate this opportunity to talk to Fraser Valley residents, and certainly appreciate the offer by Craig Hill, publisher of “The Valley Voice” to not only provide my monthly opinion, but an avenue of advice to assist small business growth in the region.

So here we are 2011. The world economy continues to be in a volatile state; politicans continue to strengthen their “job” position by offering “subsidies” and weekly reports promising market stability and projections of growth… which at times I feel are obtained by using weekly newspaper “horoscopes”… yet the small business owner continues to struggle, and as I have witnessed, many keeping the doors open at a personal financial loss.

My current advice to small business? Take with a “grain of salt” what you hear in provincial, national and international media and produce a business marketing plan (strategy) which will lead to your business “sustainability” and “future growth”. You’re the only person who will make or break the business. Continually educate yourselves on new marketing ideas.

I can’t believe how many local business owners I have met who have NO quarterly or annual marketing strategy for their business. I have heard excuse’s such as: “well, we don’t have the time to work on it”; “we’ve done pretty good so far”; “ it’s the world economy to blame”; and my favourite “what do you mean by marketing strategy?”

Your marketing strategy or plan is “crucial” to reading your local demographics; competition; planning your advertising; retaining current and gaining new customers. It should be part of your “weekly” business chores just like inventory or bookkeeping. Without it, you are going on a trip without a road map or building a house without blueprints.

One of the basic fundamentals of marketing is the consumer has one question on his/her mind when they shop or use a local service: “What’s In It For Me?” Provide the answer(s) and you will continue to grow a customer base and your bottom line with the ability to reach new residents and compete with international competition.

In this column I can’t cover all the answers but will share some simply, cost effective methods of retaining your current customer base and gaining new customers. Both have been used successfully by small business in markets throughout North America….. yes, even during the recession.

Lets keep in mind, the customer is out to 1) save money 2)get the best quality 3) customer service 4) and to deal with a business that works at providing the first three factors on a regular basis…. I repeat, on a regular and consistent basis.

Keep in touch with your customers!! Don’t wait for them to come in your store or service business. Tell them on a “regular” basis what you are doing as a business; what you are offering; and utmost what you have done to save them money with “specials” or “discounts”.

I have heard over and over... “well, when I can afford it, I advertise in the local media”. In some cases, with all due respect to local media, you can’t afford the advertising space to tell your customers what you are doing or offering as a business.

On the other hand, NOT advertising/marketing or using multiple methods of keeping in touch with customers is like planting seeds in your garden and not watering. Devastating results… what will the crop outcome be …bankruptcy? Hence, have you taken the time to set up a “marketing” response program to “honestly” calculate your ROI “Return on Investment” from implementing local advertising/marketing?

Sorry... your first BIG MISTAKE. And please don’t tell me “I’ve been in business here for years, everyone knows me”. Tell that to the 2,000 people that have moved into the community over the past few years from outside regions. They don’ know you from a hole in the ground, and that division will multiply over the years as the community grows. How many of your customers have moved out of town over the past year? How many have unfortunately passed away? Do you know?

Your business was your dream, it was the result of hard work, sacrifice (be it financial, or personal) and desires the opportunity to see the light of success.

Here are some ideas (and if you already know them, great) that can assist you in the challenge to overcome the past year and relish continued success.

Like I said, keep in touch with your customer(s). It has been proven by international marketing sources that customers appreciate your ongoing attention. However, they don’t wish to be “bombed” with fliers in the mail box, coupons that expire on top of the fridge, and emails constantly telling them how great you are. Some of these forms of advertising have a low return (1-2%) and that should be factored into your ROI.

Lets touch on email: Have you ever considered producing a “monthly” newsletter, simply attached in a PDF format to your email? It should be full of “information” to educate or help the customers day to day life using your product(s) or service(s), and is welcomed monthly not as “SPAM” but a business who is informative and “cares” about keeping in touch with their customers. Consistently keep your business on their mind, if you don’t the competition will.

Please use caution in producing your monthly business newsletter. INFORM, EDUCATE…DON’T SELL. I’m sure you’re the same as me deleting “SPAM” on a daily basis. The search engines and browser services agree and have controls in place which can quickly alienate you from your “local” customers.

Avoid words in your emails that may enforce Spam Filters. Filters are becoming sensitive and can cause your email to be tagged as Spam. Some Spam related words include: FREE, (have you noticed Spam emails who now print Free as F.R.E.E.?); cheap, work-from-home, click here, discount, coupon, special offer, limited time, no cost. The newsletter can have a link to your website where you can keep them in touch with specials, new items or money saving coupons. Speaking of coupons, many consumers find it a waste of time to use 30 cents of printer ink printing off a 50 cent “colour”coupon for a product. If your offering is $5 or $10 off, produce a coupon…. or just supply a discount reference number, ie: “ 20% off our candles for the month of January. Just write down or mention the discount #123456”.

Before you produce and execute your Monthly Newsletter: start collecting email addresses of your customers and building what is called an “Opt-In” list. “Opt-In” means they are willing to accept your regular emails. At the same time, at the bottom of each email, produce a clause that allows the consumer the opportunity to “Opt-Out” of your regular email submissions. Spam laws will be further enforced even in Canada in 2011 and 2012.

One great way to collect customer emails is through an in store contest. Make it a worthwhile contest — the benefits of an up to date email list far outweigh the cost of a contest.

Finally, have you put your business on the Google Map? Try doing a Google search IE: Chilliwack Hair Salons. At the top of your search results you will see the Google Map and listing of businesses each and every time, now hit the map for an expanded list and the ability to hit “more info” on a particular salon to find out who they are; what they offer, and most important easy directions to their location.

With our expanding community, I feel this is a crucial tool for any local business. Up to 80% of community consumers will use Google Map or Search to find local products and services. Hence the ability for you to reach new residents — at no cost.

Many business owners say to me “we checked and our business is listed”, however, the listings are provided to Google by the Yellow Page directories. In many cases the business owner has not “taken ownership of that listing”. When you bring up your Google Map business listing, hit the “more info” link; then at the top you will see “Business Verified?” The owner has not verified ownership of the listing. When you do, it will read “Owner Verified”.

It is an easy process; just follow the steps provided by Google. Also, before you start this process you will need to establish a Google email account. I cannot emphasis enough, to any business, to take ownership of your listing or produce a new listing. Do you know unscrupulous people have taken ownership of listings, and owners are then faced with the task of contacting Google to reverse the action?

In your listing settings you can also expand your business coverage area include Abbotsford. Hundreds of Abbotsford listings have included Chilliwack as part of their coverage area drawing potential business out of the local market.

Google allows you to produce a profile on your business, add ten photos, and even add coupons which can be changed on a regular basis. Even the photos can be changed regularly to reflect new products.

So, those are my suggestions for this month. Remember, support local small business, the future of our community depends on it.

Old phrases are good phrases: “If you see a turtle sitting on top of a fence post. He had help getting there”.

Here is to continued accomplishments and success.

Terry Holt

Terry Holt & Associates

Marketing Consultants

www.holtmarket.com