Engage in Free and Guerrilla Marketing
What is guerrilla marketing? Guerrilla marketing is a strategy to advertise unconventionally. Guerrilla marketing is a tactic usually used by smaller organizations with limited budgets.
Why guerrilla marketing? Well, not everyone has $1 million per month to spend on marketing, do they? But beyond that, most guerrilla marketing tactics that work will be legitimate— more legitimate than buying advertising.
Guerrilla tactics will get your name out there and start building brand recognition. Some will totally miss the mark; others will net you attention in ways you could not have previously imagined.
The easiest and most legitimate way to get customers is through word of mouth. Tell everyone you know that you’re hanging your shingle out as a consultant. Tell former coworkers, people at the Apple Store, family, people from church, people at the pick-up basketball game, etc. Hand out cards. Always provide two.
Examples of Guerrilla Marketing
Once you’ve exhausted your word-of-mouth network, it’s time to start spreading the word to strangers. This is the part where you can easily overthink things. But put some effort into a bunch of different things and see what works.
What works is going to be different for every geography and target customer, so some techniques will work for some and not others, but it’s important to try them all. You never know what’s going to get you that key account!
Some great things to try include the following:
Drop off some flyers: You know those pieces of paper at coffee shops with little tear-off strips so you can take a phone number home? Not all flyers are like that, but according to your market, they can work.
Especially if there’s a place where people in that industry congregate. And speaking of congregations, don’t forget to see if your church will let you drop some off, or buy a cheap advertisement in their newsletter.
Post to job boards:
When we were looking at researching pricing in blog 1, we went to Craigslist (or the local equivalent). Now let’s go back. Even if you’re more expensive, you can post your business.
This might not be for you, but chances are that there are sites specifically for the type of industry you want to appeal to, and chances are that those have sites that you can post to. If you’re doing residential work, check out Nextdoor.
Answer questions on message boards: A step beyond the job board is to simply answer questions people ask. This should never be self-serving. If someone asks how to do a task, simply answer how.
Your name will get out there and hopefully, there’s a link in your profile as you do so. Unless you’ve written an article answering a question, never put a link back to your site in a message board – don’t be a spammer!
Write articles: Write information about how to use technology in a given industry or geography. Write about using an IT department to do more. Don’t write about how great you are. That should come through in the article. This could be your own site or one that serves your local potential customer base.
Write software: These days, the smallest script can get a lot of attention on a site like GitHub. This is mostly if your target market includes people in Information Technology (IT).
But if it’s industry-specific, such as a little app to do something people in a given industry need to do, then you might be able to charge for it, or it might just be a great digital business card.
Write a blog:
Anyone can write a blog these days. I mean, if they let me… But an e-book on using technology in a given horizontal or vertical market can be a great way to legitimize your consulting efforts and put you in a place where people are calling you.
You want to get them to write about your services or products. Make sure to provide free access to your products, if they’re software, or explain why your story is interesting to readers of various blogs.
Don’t send a form e-mail to a thousand bloggers, expecting them all to write about how awesome you are. Tell a story, and weave it back into their specific readers.
Yes, people do still read postcards they get from businesses. This is a numbers game, and the mailers need to be sent to the name of the person. If you’re looking to do work on Apple environments.
Then you’ll want to source a list of all of the companies in the area and who manages their computers (Director of IT, etc.) and then send a mailer to those individuals. This is a pure numbers game, so you need to send a lot to make any money back on what you’re spending.
Make swag: People love swag. Pens, calendars, sticky notes, shirts, stickers, etc. Include contact information and then give them away. Every time you fix a computer, leave behind a present.
Do be careful not to violate any laws. So if you’re doing work in a school or for the government makes sure you’re allowed before doing so. To some, it seems like this stuff doesn’t really work, but think about it this way, why would the local baseball franchise leave a calendar of games at every gas store if it didn’t?
Give free demos: The local Apple store, the local Chamber of Commerce, or even a national stage can provide a great venue to meet potential customers. As with many of the ideas here, don’t be overly self-serving, but do represent something that might brand you as an industry expert and let potential customers see and potentially hire you.
Attend or organize Meetups: When it comes to meetups, they don’t have to be specific to the technology. If you’re looking for architecture firms, a Meetup for architects is a great way to meet people who might want to hire you.
Since you aren’t an architect, make sure to mention that you have other firms in your portfolio of customers and try to learn more than you say.
Don’t be pushy. Sponsor events: This could be meetups, user groups, etc. Sometimes for the cost of a few pizzas and some beer, you can meet a great potential group of customers and hopefully, some of them will want to hear about your services.
Blog posts are great, but there are lots of other types of content. If you’re trying to get your site listed on rankings for a given city, maybe list some places to visit—breweries, hiking trails, etc. If you’re marketing to specific industries, maybe look at having a comparison of software for those industries. Good content is always appreciated.
Partner with other consultants: No person, or company, can do everything. Maybe you don’t do Google Apps integrations. Maybe you don’t do servers. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable doing forensics.
Whatever gaps you have, there’s likely to be another local services provider who does them. If a customer asks you to do something, sometimes the best thing is to find someone else who does it really well, and then try to set up a quid pro quo relationship for customers.
Get involved in the local community: Now that you’rea consultant, you have tons of free time, right?!?! No. But you should make time for community involvement. Don’t advertise heavily at charity events, but do show up, help out, and look for ways to support causes. It's karma.
Throw a party for your customers: Some simple times to celebrate your customers are during anniversaries of the company, various holidays, and maybe just because it's Tuesday.
Do work for free: You’re trying to start a business, so doing some work for free might seem counterintuitive, but you can treat the soft cost of free work as a marketing cost, and you might be able to do something good for the world in the process.
These are some of the most passive of marketing, but there’s a chance that someone that watches Newswire (www.newswire.com) might see it and find it interesting. These aren’t free, so be diligent about how you post them and seek help from experienced professionals, if only for your first one or two to get the hang of it.
Sign up for work exchanges: Odesk and other similar sites might take a cut, and you might be competing with some pretty low-cost outsourcers, but there’s a lot of work that goes through sites like that, and you might take on some low-cost jobs if only to learn how to do the required tasks (so, guided learning).
Always ask if they need you to do anything else:
Especially when you start to get a little bit busy, you’ll end up rushing around. Don’t. If you’re billing hourly, this is a great way to extend jobs. If you’re billing fixed- fee, you might end up picking up another contract.
If you’re an MSP, that one little thing might be what makes the customer sign up for another year. Don’t forget that the easiest customers to market to are the ones you already have!
When starting a services firm, marketing isn’t just about selling your solutions to the highest bidder. It’s often about establishing yourself as an expert in the industry you serve. But what industry is that? Will you find a ton of clients by responding to posts from other consultants? Maybe, but doubtful.
Will you find customers in the film industry by writing about how to fix a hard drive? Maybe, but again doubtful. When you’re first starting out, think about the customers you are servicing in the area you’re doing so.
For example, if you are trying to recruit customers in visual effects, then press in that industry will help brand you as an expert in doing IT for visual effects customers.
The old saying when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is that “content is king.” Unique content, and lots of it, will certainly drive traffic to your site.
Whether it will drive the type of traffic you want or not, is, of course, another story. There are dozens of books on this topic, so I’ll barely be scratching the surface here, but it’s worth saying that you can spend as much time on SEO as you want.
But here are some tips for SEO, to get you started. Find a plugin that does a lot of the work for you. I use Wordpress for my personal website. There are a lot of great plugins for Wordpress that analyze posts for all the various attributes that make them easily crawlable called Yoast. I couldn’t recommend it more.
Most SEO engines like articles with small words. Yes, we all know you’re smart, but the SEO engines might think the opposite (to anthropomorphize them) if you use big words. A good test is to write at the level of the fifth grader.
Limit the length of articles and posts.
When I started writing for a magazine a while back I was aghast at the fact that they limited articles to 800 words. If a page is about a service you are providing, then you likely want less than a quarter of that.
If it’s a blog post with a Call to Action to click on your service, then 800 words is about as much as a crawler will care about. If you find that you want longer articles then consider serializing them into smaller posts.
If you use images, provide a description:
Not only is this helpful for those who cannot see the image but since crawlers wouldn’t otherwise know what an image is of, it helps to include the metadata about what the image is in what is crawled
Try to include a Keyword on pages: Most modern blogging or site administration tools will allow you to include a keyword on pages. Usually, this is one or two words that are used in the article and that search engines use to learn what the article is about.
Don’t include keywords too much:
The keyword should repeat a few times but not more than is appropriate. Otherwise, it’s considered “keyword stuffing.”
A good rule of thumb is to avoid lists of phone numbers or other data that don’t add value to an article, avoid listing all of the various cities, area codes and states a webpage is trying to rank for and repeating the same words or phrases in an unnatural way. I haven’t seen a solid opinion on the density a keyword can be in an article, but I try to limit to 1 per 200 words.
Post articles to Twitter and Facebook: Also, don’t forget about Google Plus—the reason being that Google crawls their own content a little more than on other sites and you can often see additional lift there.
Post a sitemap: Modern blogging engines will produce a number of dynamic posts for content, often with different names. These have duplicative content. Whether inside a domain or across domains, duplicative content pisses off web crawlers and search algorithms.
If I include duplicative content, I typically put it in quotes and indicate where it came from. This also helps me should I ever want to remove all content from a source I later decide to be illegitimate.
Include the title of the post in the URL: In Wordpress, these are called Permalinks. The actual title to an article might be http://krypted.com/wp-admin/post. php?post=49178, but the URL that you use to post to websites might be http://krypted.com/mac-os-x- server/migrating-mail-service-macos-server/.
I learned this trick many years ago by a principal from Band of Techs out of Los Angeles, Thomas Orona. It took 5 minutes and my traffic almost doubled within 90 days, by doing almost nothing else differently other than configuring permalinks.
Categorize your posts: Categories tell crawlers how to, um, categorize a page. I have about 15 categories on my personal blog that span around 3,600 posts. These also help me to quickly find my own articles should I need to.
Tag your posts: Most modern blogging engines allow for tagging. This is simply another piece of metadata that algorithms use to give each article or page a better page Ranking (PR)
.Use headers on longer posts: A header tag can be used to indicate the starting of a new section of a site. These not only can make your pages easier to read, but they can also often be used to direct traffic to parts of a page, and the web crawlers seem to like them a good bit.
Link to other posts: It’s natural to link to other websites. Doing so helps the web be more web-like, helps readers find more content, and helps crawlers index and associate your site with those that you link to.
Get links to your posts:
Backlinks are one of the most important aspects of SEO. The more links to your site, the higher the PR—well, assuming they’re legit links. If you purchase a backlink or get one through a comment you post, those are supposed to be marked as “no follow” and so not count toward PRs. So the best advice around backlinks is to write good content that people want to link to.
Enable internal linking: I like to use a plugin that shows people relevant posts. This creates an additional index of my site and then shows articles with similar keyword densities.
Enable comments: I have a post on Fitbit badges. This post has been commented on hundreds and hundreds of times. Not only do I find the comments amusing to read but the dynamic content keeps the page fresh to crawlers, provides new content, increases the number of time people spend on the page, and also adds perspectives and keywords I might not have thought to add.
Delete dead links: Crawlers hate dead links and will ding you for them. You can easily find dead links with plugins for your engine, or you can submit your site to various services that will track down dead links and inform you about them.
Make sure your site loads fast: Crawlers don’t like to crawl slow sites. Therefore, make sure your site loads fast. Get rid of any extraneous plugins or automation and keep those pages loading super-fast. This also makes people who are reading your pages happy.
In the beginning, shoot for longtail search terms: You're likely never going to get noticed with search terms like “Apple” or even probably “Apple Consultant,” but you might get some high PRs for “Apple Consultant in Boise.”
The nice part about longtail searches is that they can also provide you quick wins to help you stay engaged. I can still remember the first time that someone called me and said, “I found you on the internet,” and the extra motivation that gave me to keep working on getting found by others.
Avoid robots.txt: A robots.txt file is an old way of telling crawlers not to index your site. Some automated services install these by default. Crawlers will never pick up content if there’s a robots.txt on the site.
Given all these rules, it’s also worth noting that whatever is natural is right. If you start trying to tailor your content to web crawlers, then it will be boring to read, formulaic, and the PR will change when web crawlers pick up on new tricks. I personally just write what I want people to see.
For example, some of the best posts I personally like to read are in-depth analyses of new Apple technology. These are often thousands of words. And these are also the most common for me to link to. But I keep the earlier items in the back of my head while writing anyways.
SEO isn’t for the impatient. Crawling sites can happen as little as every 30 days. You can request that your site be crawled immediately, but it can still take time. I recommend just being a good steward of the Internet.
If you write good articles that people want to link to, then you also have to wait for those other sites to be indexed. It all takes time. Again, be cognizant of the points that we’ve covered, but write what works for you and get some good backlinks, and you should be fine.
Additionally, there are tons of firms out there that specialize in SEO. If you want, you can hire one to help you formulate a strategy, get links, and get you traffic.
It’s hard to stay at the top of natural search listings, but if you’re deliberate about the words you want to be associated with and do some work, it’s not uncommon to get some pretty high PRs with longtail searches.
Now let’s turn our attention to ways to get people to visit your site. We’ll start with e-mail automation, as it’s one of the most common ways to drive traffic to sites.
We discussed automating the delivery of your services. But what about your marketing messages? Once upon a time, we did newsletters. Then we placed each desired recipient on an e-mail into the BCC field of an e-mail program and sent as many e-mails as we could. These days, we do e-mail marketing campaigns.
Note With the advent of European data privacy regulations, GDRP, e-mail marketing is likely going to go through substantial changes over the next few years.
Consult with your legal teams to see what impact GDP, but a tool to manage your campaigns in the future is likely to be a necessity so people included in your campaigns can easily opt out.
The most important thing about e-mail automation is that you have a good message that potential customers will want to read. And pretty pictures. Those are important too. Once you have pictures of cats in hats, cats in cups, or cats snuggling with other cats, you’ll want to find a good e-mail automation tool.
It seems like every time I turn on National Public Radio, there’s a new e-mail marketing company sponsoring Marketplace. Let’s review a few that I’ve seen consultants have a bit of luck with (obviously a small list in a very large field of competitors).
A free 30-day trial with Constant Contact is one of the easiest ways to get started with e-mail marketing campaigns. You can use Constant Contact as a reference. Find the things you like, the things you don’t, and then test out other tools. https://www.constantcontact.com
MailChimp: MailChimp was the first real e-mail marketing solution to go down-market in a mass market kind of way. With a cute chimp as a mascot, there’s so much to learn about marketing from Mailchimp—not just when it comes to large-scale messaging campaigns but also when it comes to modern, fun, and effective marketing.
It’s also easy to use and if you can’t easily find how to do something in Mailchimp, I’ve found that there’s a pretty substantial chance that you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. https://mailchimp.com
iContact: This is an easy tool that you can get set up in just a few minutes. It’s basic, without a lot of bells and whistles, and so inexpensive. https://www.icontact. com
Emma: Another popular Software as a Service-based e-mail marketing tool that has a lot of nice integrations, including Zendesk, which many an Apple consultancy uses. https://myemma.com
Marketo: Marketo is one of the gold standards in e-mail marketing. You should take a class if you decide to use Marketo, but the integration with Salesforce and other Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions is as good as they get. This is by far the most powerful tool I’ve ever had the pleasure (and frustration) to work with. https://www.marketo.com
Salesforce: The largest CRM in the world, capable of doing rudimentary e-mail campaigns. http://salesforce.com
As with any other tool you bring into your company, choose your messaging tools to the scale of your operations. Most Apple consultants can also master a tool like MailChimp or iContact.
But it takes someone on staff to master the integration between Marketo and Salesforce. Don’t underestimate the maturity of some of these solutions simply because they’re built for messaging with customers and leads.
Note Once you’ve mastered one of these tools for your own campaigns, then you’ve probably found yourself yet another tool that you can help customers with if they need such a thing—especially if you can help them do so in a pretty sane fashion.
Also, while the ads you hear on the radio for some of these tools make it sound like these campaigns write themselves, they don’t. In the next section, we’ll cover some of the dos and don’ts of e-mail marketing.
If you don’t plan on doing something with messaging for customers, then I’d recommend looking for someone to help you get started, much as you’d expect a whiz with marketing to look for someone to help them with their Macs when they get in over their heads.
What to Do and What Not to Do
E-mail marketing is a delicate business. On the one hand, you don’t want to be an evil spammer. On the other hand, you want to grow your business, and a great way to stay in touch with potential customers without picking up the phone and bugging them is by tickling them every now.
You can also use e-mail marketing to reach existing customers, automating parts of managing your relationship with them.
I’ve been involved in writing campaigns since what feels like the beginning. And as someone who hates spam, I’ve tried to be careful to never become an evil spammer. And because I like you, I’ve decided to share my laws that govern how I like to handle e-mail automation.
Choose an e-mail automation tool that fits the size of your marketing team. Many of the larger products really need a staff person at the reins. If you can't afford someone in that position, then don’t self-identify yourself into a more weighty tool than you can handle and turn your attention toward some of the downmarket solutions instead.
Use a third-party tool instead of Outlook. You want to use third-party software rather than just send e-mails because you really, really need an unsubscribe button. In some countries, you might otherwise be breaking the law.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Boring, dry e-mails suck after a while, and people will almost invariably unsubscribe (except your competitors). Be yourself, be conversational, and feel free to poke fun at yourself every now and then. This makes your organization a little more human. And it makes your job a little more fun.
Automate syncing contacts with your CRM. Loading syncing your contacts from your CRM tool can be labor-intensive and can cause technical misfires that end up adding people who have unsubscribed, sending people to duplicate e-mails. Instead, whenever possible, choose a tool that has a plugin or integration with existing tools you use at your organization.
You can use e-mail automation to cross-sell goods and services. If you’ve already converted a lead to a customer, then you will have the ability to potentially sell them other items in your portfolio.
Don’t be too salty but do have multiple campaigns: those for prospects at each stage of the sales funnel, and those for organizations who are already customers at various maturity levels–so the content is fresh and pertinent to them.
Build a calendar that follows a logical cadence. It is important to have a little sale in there every now and then, such as CRM for Beginners. At other times you might choose to have something that is genuinely helpful for a person’s productivity. And finally, some e-mails in the cadence should be specifically geared for thought leadership.
Use e-mail automation to communicate more than just a sales pitch. You can send customer updates, such as how many open tickets, the response time for tickets, and even surveys (e.g., for customer satisfaction). Just don't send too many e-mails to customers or prospects. Make sure to offer daily or weekly digests if you hook email into support systems.
Be timely. If it’s tax season, tell customers and leads how your product can help them during tax season. If it's spring, talk about spring cleaning. If they’ve been a customer for 3 months, check in to see how you’re they liking your services.
Have a Call to Action (CTA). If you send an e-mail about preparing taxes during tax season, have a button with a CTA. A great way to achieve this is to coordinate a blog post and have a “read more” button—and then a CTA within that post.
The longer you can keep a prospect’s attention, the more likely they are to convert into a customer. The longer you can keep a customer’s attention, the longer they are likely to stay with you.
Pay attention to when people unsubscribe. This is simple: stop doing whatever it is you’re doing that made them unsubscribe.
You have very little mindshare with customers. Don’t squander it. Help them and don’t be too salty. Feel free to throw in a cute picture every now and then and keep on those metrics. If people are clicking, you’re doing something right. If they’re not clicking, you’re not!
I can’t really go into the contents of each e-mail you should send in this blog. There simply isn’t time. And if I did, there would be way too many companies using the same stale content. It should rotate from time to time. But, I can help potentially spark some ideas.
These might not work for your specific situation, but they should help you think of some ideas.
Month 1: 10 Tips for Backing Up Your Computers
Month 2: Working Securely
Month 3: CRM for beginners
Month 4: The new MacBook (there’s always one in the works)
Month 5: Cool new home automation tools
Month 6: The benefits of always-on VPN
Month 7: Takeaways from this year’s WWDC (Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference)
Month 8: Choosing the best router for your organization
Month 9: Using a proxy server to make your network faster
Month 10: Tips for creating better presentations
Month 11: 5 Ways to be more productive on a Mac
Month 12: IT assets and preparing your taxes with the end of year purchases
In this cadence, we were careful not to get boring. It’s important to have a little sales in there every now and then, such as CRM for Beginners. But other times, it’s all about pure productivity, like 5 Ways to Be More Productive On a Mac.
Some e-mails are timely, such as the end of year e-mail on taxes. And finally, some e-mails in the cadence should be specifically geared for thought leadership.
Your e-mails, blog content, and social media content can all be coordinated to flow together. Wordpress as a blog engine can automatically post to Twitter. And that same content can be summarized in e-mails. In the next section, we’ll delve into social media, so keep in mind how you might use these tools together.
The whole social media thing isn’t just for millennials. You can build, own, and run your presence without the help of your nephew or a snotty hipster consultant. For over a decade, you’ve heard you need a “Social Strategy” or had people asking what you’re doing with “Social.”
Can social media really increase sales? Yes. What are the best social media outlets for various goals your company has? That’s according to what the goals are, which should initially be to add something to the top of your funnel.
Let’s look at some examples of ways that real organizations can use social media to bolster sales.
\ 1.\ Get all the social properties for the name of your organization. Try to use the same name across social networks like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.
\ 2.\ Run a photo submission contest on Instagram. Provide a hashtag that people are supposed to use to get evaluated and then post the winner when the contest is over. This type of outreach helps to expand your funnel and get your brand in front of more eyeballs.
\ 3.\ Create a group on LinkedIn. LinkedIn groups are for professionals who share a common interest to communicate about them. This is a great way to find leads, just don’t be too spammy.
\ 4.\ Use geography to bring business to you. Post a temporary location to get a free prize or entry in a drawing on Twitter, Swarm, and Facebook. Additionally, consider running a special giving the mayor of your location on Swarm a special deal, as an added little bonus for repeat business.
\ 5.\ Use smaller networks to get your message to micro markets. If you’re a beer company, have a special badge made on Untappd. OK, not many people reading this will be from beer companies, but the point is to think of the specific industry you are in.
Is there a social network for your industry, and can you do something cool and interesting to promote your brand there, and if there isn’t a network, should there be?
\ 6.\ Drive business to your website. Tweet your blog posts, add hashtags, and keep track of which of the hashtags actually drive people to your site. Yes, that means you need a blog. No, don’t post any tweets on the company account about upcoming elections.
\ 7.\ Stay on top of trends. Vines are gone. But there’s a newer trend, such as Cinemagraphs, and being on that trend can bring in a little extra boost to get your organization in front of companies who might be looking to purchase services similar to yours. At the very least, they’ll give your staff pride when done right.
\ 8.\ Claim your address with Google. If you have a retail front, or people might find your business based on your physical location, then make sure it’s correct across all the networks, including Yahoo, Google, etc.
\ 9.\ Solicit feedback on networks like Yelp. We all want to think our businesses are perfect. So make sure you have a thick skin since you can’t please all the people all the time.
But for most, it’s pretty helpful to have some good feedback for people to read. More important, those stars. Give people a good experience and they’ll give you great reviews.
\ 10.\ Analyze the results. Get software that allows you to aggregate and possibly analyze the responses you get from your efforts on these networks. If you don’t, then you’re left with guessing about what’s working and what isn’t, which is likely to lead you to an analysis aligned with what you want to think rather than reality.
You can also buy advertising on these networks, which can be a great way to bolster other activities. But even more impactful, once you start to get followers on these networks, is to provide a clear and concise CTA for each thing you do, as well as a larger, overarching social strategy that fits with your customer base.
Just make sure to be your authentic self, and again, be OK with any negative feedback that comes back through the social channels, as negative responses will be unavoidable.
Public Service Announcement I have a pet peeve about brands who automatically publish content from sites like Ow.ly - Shorten urls, share files and track visits. I immediately stop following them and will often also simply stop consuming what they sell.
The first way to do conferences is to speak at them. If you have a company that provides support, services, or software, then you might be a great technical mind or thought leader in the industry.
Speaking at the conference gives you a way to build a personal brand, which contributes to the company brand, to make new contacts, to potentially meet new customers, and most importantly to give something back to the community.
I have recently seen a couple of companies who attend conferences but don’t pay to be sponsors of the conference. One in particular tweets and posts on Slack channels to find them in their hot pink hoodies. I overheard a few traditional marketing professionals looking down on this, but I think it’s a great use of limited funds.
Obviously, conferences need sponsors to keep the cost of tickets down, so not everyone can do this. But when you’re first starting out, I think it’s a great way to see what direction you can take your product or what kind of new customer leads you can dig up!
It can cost thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars to sponsor a conference. Additionally, you need to have banners, things to give away, or maybe even large booths built out.
This is definitely not for the newest of businesses without a good plan for how to close potential leads (and what a good lead looks like for your business).
Officially sponsoring conferences comes with a number of benefits, including:
Most conferences include a badge scanner, so you can get an export of all the people you speak to. A full contact list is made available at some conferences.
This is becoming rarer and rarer but, when made available, includes personally identifiable information about attendees.
Most conferences will come with a table that needs to have someone from your organization working it. Make sure to plan for bathroom breaks and the like, so you may potentially want to send two people.
I like sending a product manager, someone from marketing, and/or someone from support, according to which conference and the type of customers you’re looking to work with.
Your logo in bright lights: OK, bright lights are obnoxious. You should be treated equally with other sponsors of the conference. But you will want a roll-up banner, a screen on a tripod, or some kind of way for people to find you. To attract people to your table or booth, at a minimum, bring a tablecloth for your table and some signage, with a consistent brand.
Potential sessions about your product or service: You'll need to develop a presentation that conference-goers want to watch. This shouldn’t be a blatant sales pitch; instead, it should be about a topic that is timely and relevant to conference goers. You want to educate attendees. That has by far been the best strategy, as with blogs and other forms of marketing materials.
Swag: No, the benefit isn’t that you get to bring home swag. The benefit is that you get to give swag away. Check into the ability to put swag into bags. Build one-page sheets with a clear CTA. While your presentation shouldn't be a blatant sales pitch, your leave-behind should be.
Potentially sponsoring additional events at the conference: Think of unique ideas. A hackathon, capture the flag, puzzles, scavenger hunts, and other innovative ideas can make the conference more fun for some and get conference-goers mingling with vendors.
After-parties: Yes, there ain’t no party like the after-party. Most conferences are happy to let a sponsor take on a party after the event. This allows sponsors to get some additional branding, have a larger number of people mingle with conference-goers, and, of course, join in libations.
Do be careful to keep things pretty calm and always do these events in public places so as not to take on too much liability.
Learning from others: I already said that taking the product manager to a conference is a good idea.
But one of the things you want to do at conferences continues evaluating the offers that you built at the beginning of the blog, iterate those offers if needed, build new offers if appropriate, and learn how the offers resonate with potential customers. A stream of people coming up to your booth is likely to be very happy to provide plenty of feedback.
Before you sign up, make sure you know who will be working the booth, who will be speaking, what kind of presentation will keep people in the room (because the food is usually way better than a vendor talk), etc. Think about all of the benefits of supporting the conference, and plan on lots of fun both during the day and in the evening!
While you’re working a booth, make sure to ask people for cards or scan their badges. Then, once you get home, the real work begins. Converting leads from conferences into sales is critical in order to justify the cost of going.
This includes e-mailing the contacts you made, calling them, and maybe even going out to visit them, once you’ve made contact.
Keep conversations going. Even if they don’t need your services, they might have other contacts in the industry who do (or will). Make sure to then touch base every now and then, even if they don’t need anyone now (I love using “flag for follow-up” types of features for such things).
Finally, don’t take on more than you can chew. Only do what you know you can be successful at. This way, you won’t have a mediocre moment where you end up getting bad press or social feedback because something wasn’t taken care of holistically.
There are more ways to market than just taking ads out on the radio and newspapers. These days there is probably an endless number of ways that you can work the system to get a message out to people. And passive marketing is where your message gets battle-hardened and made more scalable.
I don’t personally think you should ever outgrow guerrilla marketing. If you look at MailChimp and what they do with their extra Twitter accounts, you will likely agree.
But some tactics will be frowned upon at a larger size. And so you will likely change tactics here and there as you get more mature, or just bigger (given that the two aren’t mutually exclusive).
Some ways you might know that you’ve outgrown a given tactic include:
You become an industry leader. Industry leaders should help organize and run conferences, not attend for free and hand out business cards.
You can’t use your budget fast enough on guerrilla events. If you’re spending too much time and not getting enough lift for that time, then it’s time to re-evaluate the strategy. An easy sign of this is that you have money left over from that budget every quarter. At this point, it’s time to look at larger spends, like PR, traditional advertising, etc.
The return on investment (ROI) isn’t there. How much does it cost to hire your sales and marketing team? What’s the ROI from each event? Is the ROI greater than what it cost you to run the event?
Ultimately, guerrilla marketing is primarily considered a boot- strapper’s paradise. As you grow, your expectations change and the impact of smaller events lessons.
But you should always make sure to have your personality in events and run smaller events to appeal to smaller organizations or just to inexpensively remind existing customers you still love them!
Finally, don’t give up. Just because a technique doesn’t work doesn’t mean it can’t work. Instead, you are likely to find success in a different venue, at a different time, with different resources, or with a different audience.
Don’t throw good money after bad, but do find out why an initiative didn’t work and don’t just write off a whole area of marketing because it didn’t work out “that one time.” Start with small spends and grow into it. That way you can iterate into a situation that isn’t a monumental waste of time, money, and resources.
Using Public Relations
Public Relations (PR) is an industry where you gain exposure to audiences using news outlets and third-party publishers such as publications, blogs, and social media—where you don’t actually pay for placement. The goal is to gain free coverage by talking about items that are of interest to the public.
PR typically includes branding, media relations, publicity, relationships within your industry (e.g., the Apple community and Apple Consultants Network), event management, and special events.
In some organizations, PR also includes employee relations, investor relations, diversity programs, analyst relations, and even marketing communications. However, those will be covered in other blogs. We’ll start this blog with some basics of PR, with a focus on media relations and publicity.
Getting Started With PR
Too often, when small business owners create a business plan, they include advertising and marketing plans but neglect to consider the importance of public relations (PR).
It makes sense, considering that we’re bombarded with advertising every hour of the day—yet we often fail to understand the role that PR plays in the ads and articles we’re reading on a daily basis.
PR is much less expensive than advertising but can be just as effective, adding third-party credibility to products and services. In many cases, I’d rather pay for PR than advertising—according to the goals your organization has.
Whether you choose to engage a firm, or whether you attempt to conduct PR yourself, there are a number of things you can do to maximize the impact “the press” can have on your organization. Here are a few things new small businesses should do when starting their PR:
Gather All Your Social Properties
One major function of PR is online reputation management. As a small business owner, it’s important to make a list of all of the online profiles, platforms, and social media sites your business is on.
That way, you can quickly crosscheck your online reputation with each of them, formulating a PR plan to potentially amplify great reviews or rectify any negative reviews.
Publish a Media Kit
Once you’ve gathered all your social properties into a simple list, you can publish them on a page. I usually like to put it on a page called Press that’s easily found from the front page of your site.
Include the list of social properties from above, as well as a bio for the company with important facts, links to mentions in the press, past press releases, and how to get in touch with the company (e.g., email@example.com).
The media kit could also include logos, photos, PDFs of marketing-type collateral, guides on how logos should be used, etc.
Gather Local Media Contacts
No matter where your business is located, it’s important to aggregate a local media list of all persons in newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV outlets within your given geographic region. If something exciting happens with your business, you want to be able to call or e-mail them quickly for media coverage.
Gather Industry-Specific Media Contacts
Most vertical industries also have specific websites, blogs, magazines, podcasts, stations (e.g., YouTube playlists). Put a list of those together as well, and look for a specific contact who you might be able to reach out to should you encounter anything that might be of interest to them (just don’t bug them too much).
When a chance for press comes up, you want someone within your organization to have writing skills. Statements, columns, blog posts of your own, and press releases are powerful ways of interacting with the media, and though you can hire experts to perfect your writing on a per-post basis.
It’s valuable to have someone within your organization capable of getting the first draft going, especially in fields where domain knowledge is important.
Starting a PR plan is one of the best things you could do for your small business. Don’t neglect to include and actively work on PR as you formulate your advertising and marketing strategies, as it’s one of the most critical aspects of any of those plans.
You may also go a step further and chart your plan to a calendar. When you do, avoid announcements on Mondays and Fridays, and try to align them according to when the logs for your website show that you have the most visitors, so you can capitalize on existing traffic!
Decide What Kind of PR Works Best for You
You can spend tens of thousands of dollars per month on PR. You can also limit your PR expenditures to an email every day with a list of media outlets that are soliciting the community for quotes and respond to those you like when you have time.
Most businesses invest in PR, advertising, and marketing when business is slow. If I could give you one piece of advice above all else, it’s to be deliberate.
Being deliberate about how you approach business development allows you to be more opportunistic.
You can usually find some really great deals on the things you have to spend money on if you understand your identity, your market, where you want to take your business, and, based on those, how you expend capital (be it political capital to garner attention, social capital to get people to report, or actual cash to do everything else).
A few examples of ways to get PR for your organization might include:
Getting quoted in an article about a topic you are an expert in
Getting a spot in a local news show
Getting an article you wrote placed in a newspaper or magazine
Writing blog posts on your behalf (I’m a writer so I don’t like people writing on my behalf)
These items are usually free. What isn’t free is to have someone stay in constant contact with all of the media you think works with your customer base. But there are a lot of ways to do PR on the cheap.
Before we get into some of those, let’s first talk about how not to become a pest and have people make filters that just delete all your e-mails.
If you do manage services in a given geography, then there is likely a limited set of publications that serve that area. This will usually include large newspapers, local magazines, smaller periodicals that cover given neighborhoods, local websites, etc. These are some of the best people to make friends with.
Not only are they often just really cool people, but they also provide some valuable insight from time to time when you’re talking to them. I find I learn as much as they often learn, just understanding things from new perspectives. Oh, and I guess it’s cool to be in their Rolodex when they need a quote as well.
Make friends with your local newspapers. You can often just read articles in those news outlets and easily find contact information, be it e-mail, Twitter, or carrier pigeon.
As you might have guessed, I like to hang out with reporters in general. But they’re also great contacts to have in the PR world. Not only are the people to whom you can send information, but they also frequently have questions as they master enough of a subject to write about it.
Some things to think about when doing PR:
Understand the beat: Each reporter will cover a specific beat or a topic for the reporter to cover. If you send a technical story idea to someone that covers style, its likely to fall on deaf ears; however, if you send a story idea to someone that actually covers tech, then you might get further with a follow-up idea.
Don’t spam the press: People who write articles get a lot of e-mails and phone calls from people looking to get attention from the media.
Try to be cognizant of this and only send timely and relevant information with a focus on industry or local trends—and keep in mind that most local press has a focus on home and small business, not highly technical or enterprise trends.
When you send e-mails, don’t include attachments when possible: It’s easy to tell people to respond if they'd like a photo or something else you might include in an e-mail attachment. E-mails with attachments are more likely to end up in a junk mail folder and fill up the receiver’s e-mail!
Try to get a backlink to your website: Doing so increases the page rank of your site and also increases the likelihood that people might reach out to you for goods or services. If you get a call about something, make sure to the be up front when you don’t think you’re an expert in something.
Tip When you engage in philanthropic pursuits, don’t spend much time doing PR to them. Those should be done because you want to do good for the world, not for the sake of some cheap publicity.
Once you have contacts, don’t squander those relationships. Like any relationship, nurture them. Be a resource, but when it comes to outgoing communications, think of how you would like to be communicated with if you were in their shoes.
In addition to local contacts, there are a few ways to make national contacts. In the next section, we’ll look at one way to do that, using the popular Haro website.
Haro is a website that connects people who write the news with people that want to be featured in the news. Reporters, bloggers, and others in the press can (and do) find quotes, examples, and stories for the projects they’re working on.
Countless PR agencies around the world use Haro to monitor these requests and connect their customers to the writers and editors involved.
I usually recommend building a filter so you only see the ones that might be pertinent to your business. This means focusing on the content of the messages and looking for words like “Apple,” those containing various Apple products you consider yourself an expert on, “consulting,” or your local geography.
The name of the game is speed. The quicker you can respond with a quote, the more likely it is to get used.
Additionally, since there is a finite number of minutes in a day, focus on things that you can either use to bolster your credibility with local press and customers or those you believe might generate customer leads. Getting quoted by media just for the sake of doing so isn’t really worth the effort.
Responding to requests for quotes is one thing, and as it’s easy to do, the value is often lost in the sheer volume of responses. Trying to get a story picked up by media outlets is quite another.
In the next section, we’ll look at press releases, a common way to passively post an alert to media, with the hopes that someone finds your post interesting enough to write about it.
Before you get into press releases, keep in mind that you might have done a lot of work to prepare for something like a new initiative, but that doesn’t make it newsworthy.
A press release is a document that informs the press about an event. A software company might put out a press release that they’ve got a cool new feature.
This is usually done in hope that a media outlet will pick it up and run with it. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of press releases for local consulting firms that typically stick to a geographic area. The cost of running a press release on Newswire just isn’t worth it.
Now, if you have a major event that a media outlet might find interesting, that’s a different story. Apple, as with many disruptors, is popular in the media. So if you release a service or acquire another firm and that is indicative of a trend, then that might be of interest to a local reporter.
For example, let’s say you acquire a home automation firm so you can help make the most out of the spiffy new HomePod. That could lead to interest around the growing ubiquity of home automation. If you hire a second or third tech, that’s probably not newsworthy.
Now that we have some basics about press releases, we can cover some quick tips to get you started.
Press Release Tips
Press releases are a timeless, yet current public relations avenue for communicating news, events, and updates regarding your business or organization to media outlets.
These brief, informative writing pieces have managed to weather the test of time, with millions being e-mailed to newspapers, TV outlets, and radio stations every single day.
The media loves press releases. They’re like tiny bundles of news stories dropped on reporters’ laps. Given that the media cycle is in constant need of content, you should be taking advantage of press releases with every opportunity possible.
Here are a few quick tips to review before we delve into an example press release.
Brevity: Reporters don’t have time to comb through 2-pages of your business announcement. It’s recommended to keep the release between 300 and 500 words, effectively communicating your message without boring the reader.
Catchy Title: In order to catch the reader’s interest, you need a one-of-a-kind news-spun title that isn’t also over-the-top.
No Sales Language: A press release is about communicating the news. It’s not a time to promote your sales and services in an obvious way.
Avoid Jargon: This is always a good idea, but even more so when someone else might not go as deep with a certain type of technology as you do.
Stick to the facts: It’s easy to let a flourish slip into your prose. Especially if you’ve been writing marketing docs. But don’t. Keep to the facts.
Don’t Try Too Hard: A press release isn’t a creative column submission with the local opinion editor. It’s a news announcement. Treat it as such.
Quotes: Including quotes from the business owner or spokesperson is a great way to humanize a press release. Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity, including one or two quotes from someone important at your business or, even better, a customer.
Grammar: Those who have careers in writing appreciate good grammar.
Once your release is done, you have two options: you can either e-mail or call it out to local news media personnel, or you can submit it to syndication platforms like Online Press Release Distribution Service | PRWeb and Press Release Distribution to Major News & Media Outlets.
The two aren’t mutually exclusive—for a wide variety of coverage, consider doing both! Also, advise the reader to put it on their website or use in social media or blogs in order to promote it even to someone not in the “media.”
We’ll continue on with the HomePod example from earlier while we dissect the anatomy of a press release.
The Anatomy of a Press Release
There’s no single piece of advice I can give you about how to write a press release that will catch the attention of someone in the media. Instead, I can tell you how most people write them and give you some best practices about what’s in them. Let’s start with the best practices for each section, beginning with the headline.
As with most things you write that you want people to read, the way to grab attention is with a great title. When working with press releases, you call the title a headline.
And as with most headlines, you want one that grabs attention. Let’s say you’re based in Los Angeles and you want to go after the emerging home automation industry using the HomePod as a wedge.
First, you build a service offering. Then, you come up with a great headline that pretty much sums things up. Some ideas might include:
Local Tech Firm Introduces Comprehensive Home Automation
Local Shop Introduces New Home Automation Services
A New Era of Home Automation Centered Around Apple
Local Firm Brings Home Automation to Businesses
These headlines are fairly different from one another. But there are some lessons to learn here. In these examples, most are kept short and easily digestible. Your name could easily (and probably should) replace the “Local Shop” or “Local Tech Firm” in the headlines.
There should be one catchy or trendy word but not so many as to be unapproachable, and importantly, headlines should typically be eight words or less.
Next, let’s talk about the header. This is at the top of the page and contains some pretty basic information. On the left side, you need two lines. The first would read when to release the information.
The reason this is necessary is that some content is under embargo, which means you want someone to write about it but not actually release what they’ve written until the embargo is lifted.
The second line would include the date you’re sending the release. On the right side of the header is the contact information. This should include a name, phone number, and e-mail address, each on its own line.
The Dateline and Lead
The first paragraph of your press release contains the dateline and lead. This is one of the most important parts of the release and any reader will likely stop reading immediately if you don’t keep their attention, so don’t bury the lead here.
Start with your city followed by a dash (known as the dateline) and then include a sentence that wraps up the release in a nice pretty bow (known as the lead). An example of an opening paragraph might read like:
LOS ANGELES – Charles Edge of Megaawesomeconsultancy announces a suite of new services that bring cutting-edge home automation technology to small businesses, leveraging the Apple platform.
Throughout the body, we’re going to cover what’s often referred to as the inverted pyramid. Start with the most newsworthy aspects of the release: the Who, What, When, and Where. Then go to the important details, and wrap up general and background information, which we’ll cover in the next section.
An example of the body might include two or three paragraphs that lay out the necessary details, such as the following example:
Edge vows to bring Home Automation technology to every aspect of small businesses at a rate that more than pays for itself in energy savings. George Technicianopolis has been named the head of the Automation business unit.
“We are bringing out-of-the-box solutions to Main Street so businesses can control HVAC, lights, and monitor energy consumption,” said Technicianopolis. “And not only does it allow companies to save on energy bills, but it makes everyone’s lives easier.”
Technicianopolis will be at Huge Tech Conference on April 1 st. Here, organizations and the media can see a model home, and control every aspect with standard voice controls.
Notice in this excerpt, we included a quote or two from the business owner or someone at the organization. An additional quote could come from an analyst or a statistic from a study as well.
There’s also a call to action to join the company at a showcase where more quotes can be obtained and where someone from the media could get hands-on experience with the technologies being mentioned.
You don’t need to provide a summary to a press release. But you can include a paragraph of background information that you reuse in each press release you put out. Rather than give an example of this, I’ll just include some bullets to consider including in the paragraph.
How long the company has been in business
How many customers the company has
Anything newsworthy or legitimizing about the company
Any quotes from industry analysts or influencers in the industry about the company
For smaller companies, information about the principals of the company
An example of the general information might read something like the following:
Founded in 1602, Megaawesomeconsultancy brings modern technologies to small- and medium- sized businesses. The company focuses on Apple technologies and carries the largest inventory of Apple hardware in the world, as it has since its founding, centuries before the founding of Apple itself.
Finally, and this is worth repeating: a press release isn’t a blog. Keep a press release to a single page and always have it proofed to make sure it fits with AP Style Guides (a link to the latest version of that is included at the end of this blog) before you submit it.
Once you have a press release built, it can be submitted via PRWeb. com, Newswire, or directly to various contacts you may have in the press. One thing you might choose to do PR on is seasonal offerings, as reporters are always doing catchy stories around holidays and other time-bound events, which we’ll cover in the next section.
Seasonal PR and Marketing
Seasonal PR and marketing come every year, if not multiple times of the year. By the time jack-o’-lanterns start to appear on front stoops, businesses ranging from the Boy Scouts of America to the neighborhood gym have started preparations to bring in enough business to keep them open for the year, in many cases.
In 2016, holiday sales represented nearly 20 percent of total retail industry sales nationwide for the year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Businesses that have their act together stand to do well in what most prognosticators say should be a healthy year for holiday sales. Those that don’t may spend January wondering what went wrong.
One of my first jobs was managing retail point-of-sale systems. While visiting brick and mortar stores, I got a lot of exposure to the preparations people were making—or failing to make—for the holiday rush. Many of the same lessons also apply to online retailers. Ten key suggestions:
Start early: Some strategies take time. You might have all the right ideas, but if you don’t start immediately, you won’t have time to implement them before the holiday rush.
Given that more than half of holiday shoppers are done shopping by December 10 th, you only have a few weeks to capture their business—so start targeting them in November (which means starting your PR efforts in October).
Follow the latest trends: Sure, you know your market and how to appeal to it, but don’t get overconfident. Look up and see what trends are hot, both geographically and in the industry. Do your research. You may have missed something.
Leverage Small Business Saturday: It comes on Nov. 25 this year. As a small business, you should be able to rock this. American Express and a number of other organizations can help drive business to you with their Small Business Saturday campaigns.
Take any form of payment: American Express, Discover, gift cards—and cash works too! There are more vendors than ever for processing credit card payments, from Square to PayPal Here, to QuickBooks GoPayment, to Stripe.
Adding local payment or coupon options (such as the coupon books my daughter’s school has me sell every year) can also provide leads and co-marketing for you. And gift cards can easily be done with services like Gyft or Clover. Love ’em all!
Work with Groupon: Groupon, as well as Amazon Local and other similar sites, are great for driving business, much in the same way that traditional coupon books can. Just be ready for a potential torrent of new business after the holidays (after all, you have to earn that revenue to recognize it).
Start a loyalty program: Loyalty programs can be small and low-tech. Or they can be a service such as a Belly loyalty rewards program. You can also use the good old-fashioned punch cards and stamps—the “buy 10, get 1 free”-type of stuff.
The great thing about a program like Belly, though, is you get an online presence driving business your way. Also, consider loyalty programs that include a bunch of different businesses.
Rev up your PR machine now: If you operate in a local market, it’s a great time to look for creative ways to get your story out through social media.
Personalize the customer experience: This can be as simple as remembering a customer’s name and what they like. The fact is, consumers are willing to pay more for a better experience. Automate as much of the experience tracking as you can but not in a creepy way (like bombarding customers with multiple e-mails every week).
Partner with a non-profit: Don’t do it to make money, but because it’s right. This can be as simple as tithing a percentage of profits for a limited time to a charitable organization. Or you can get out and do something in person that’s meaningful, such as leading a collection drive.
Be smart with promotions: This doesn’t mean merely holding a 20 percent off sale. You could hold a photos- with-Santa event or give double the loyalty points for a limited period if you have a loyalty program.
There are also a thousand ideas here that I could never think to mention, and you know your customers better than I possibly could, so use this list as a starting point and do as much free stuff as you can, both seasonally and out of season, before you look to hire external help.
Hiring a PR Firm
This blog has included a number of tips on getting free public relations. Public relations is key to building out a truly scalable sales organization, as the passive marketing obtained via PR is not only the top of your sales funnel, but PR also provides air cover for all leads as they traverse through the sales funnel.
At some point, the free efforts have less and less return on investment, or the available PR resources in your area or field are saturated and it’s difficult to get started in the first place.
This means it’s time to stop going it alone. Maybe you don’t have time to consistently “do PR.” Maybe you need better assistance to uncover great potential. Maybe you want to reach a larger audience than you could on your own. This is when it’s time to hire some help.
Hiring help doesn’t mean you have to pony up tens of thousands of dollars to a huge firm, either. I can pretty much guarantee you that there is a PR club/organization in your area.
The first place to start would be the Public Relations Society of America, at prsa.org; from there, search the Internet for local PR firms. In this “gig economy” looking for individuals you could pay directly to help with your PR efforts is an also great way to keep costs low in the beginning.
The important part is that you hire makes you participate in things. Whether that’s writing content, responding to e-mails to set up appointments for interviews, connecting to local groups, or even buying that new shirt for your first television interview!
Beyond that, take their plan and then look for ways to figure out if the PR function is then working for you, because if it isn’t, then you’ll need to find a different firm to hire until you find the perfect fit.
Understand How They Work
Be careful of charlatans. Public Relations is challenging to quantify because it’s usually not performance-based. But really, most agencies or sole proprietors will have an idea of what they want to do with your company, and how much time that will take.
They usually reverse- engineer a retainer based on an estimation of how much time it will take them to deliver the results you want.
And sometimes they’ll luck out and do more and other times they will do less. But give yourself permission to ask for transparency for how they came to a retainer amount. If you understand their assumptions and limitations, you’ll have a better relationship.
Note While monthly retainers are the norm, you can do project- based PR with an agency. This might be a good way to get started without a lot of long-term commitment. While it can be challenging to quantify the relationship with a PR firm or agency, there are a couple of tips if you want to try.
Measurable outputs: Quantify deliverables. For example, how many articles or interviews or placed bylines. Multiple outputs is acceptable and subject to review at least every 6 months.
Measure quality beyond quantity: Implement an article rating system and have a goal. That way “you” can measure the quality of the placements vs. just the quantity. I have an example of a rating system I use if you are interested.
When you work with someone, they should understand what you do, how you want people to perceive your company, the places that they should do media outreach for, what’s required before doing any media outreach, and the scope of the relationship you’ll have with them.
They should be able to build an effective plan in the pre-sales stage, or at least an outline of what they’ll be doing on your behalf. Make sure you see a plan and agree on it before you cut a check to anyone. Otherwise, don’t.
I recommend giving any PR effort or firms at least 6 months. Most will work quarterly anyways, so this is really just renewing your contract for a second quarter. After 6 months, you should know the impact that a given PR firm is going to have for your organization.
After the first quarter, you should be feeling a little buzz in the market. If you’ve been getting media attention, but have not seen any lift in the business yet, then you’re probably on the right track.
PR isn’t immediate so you have to be a little bit patient. The important thing is that you know what efforts your representation is conducting on your behalf and agree with them. It seems like these things always take longer than we initially think they will.
During the second quarter, you should start seeing business coming in from PR. If at the end of the second quarter you don’t see any lift, then it’s time to either renegotiate your contractor, more likely, find a new firm. If it takes you three of these cycles to find the right firm, so be it. The right PR can be one of the biggest game changers for any company.
Things to Stay Away From
Getting media attention is fun at times. But you can easily ruin relationships if you say the wrong thing. A little common sense goes a long way; however, when you’re put on the spot and you need to respond quickly, you might say something you shouldn’t. Sometimes, you can ask for questions beforehand, but that doesn’t really cover the way conversations can meander.
You can guide where the conversation goes, to some extent. So have a plan. And, if you don’t know how to answer a question, it is OK to ask the reporter if you can get back to them after the interview via e-mail. Some things you really probably just shouldn’t talk about publicly.
Financials: Stick to what is public. Your financials can be a big topic. When it comes up with local or business press, know what you can and can’t say going into an interview. If you’re the owner, make sure you know what you want to say, since you’re allowed to say anything you want.
Politics: Half of your country will be annoyed by anything you say. I use this rule when I’m onsite anyway, but be careful about discussing politics. Even if you agree on 9 out of 10 issues within a given audience, that 10th thing will potentially cause friction with a customer, and there’s really no need for that.
Having said that, I am all for being open about who you are, and just because you own a business doesn’t mean you can’t have an identity, so I don’t necessarily include things like sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion with politics, even though it’s easy to do so. Especially with how divisive politics has gotten these days.
Customers: Unless you have explicit permission in writing from someone at one of your customers (with the authority to discuss the work you do with them publicly), don’t do it. And even if you do have that, make sure to understand the boundaries of what they’re cool with you discussing with the media.
Vendors: There are a few issues that you can run into with vendors. One is talking about specific business topics, like margins. You’re likely contractually bound not to discuss these, but it warrants mentioning anyway. Additionally, make sure you don’t say anything that could be perceived negatively.
There are other things that you shouldn’t discuss as well. Be smart about what you say—especially when you’re “off the record,” as I’ve had a number of times when I said something that was supposedly off the record and it ended up being put in print!
Public Relations is one of the more legitimate ways to get the word out there about your company. But it’s hard to track the actual impact that media attention can have on your organization.
Having said that, with little effort, you can establish a brand and drive some traffic back to your site, hopefully converting a higher percentage of incoming calls than you do for other forms of outreach.
There are those who can sell. And for those who can’t, there’s advertising. Just kidding! The top of the sales funnel is often built through sound advertising.
It’s those ads that make the phone ring and establish the leads that many a sales team will be trying to close business on. In the blog, we looked at Guerrilla Marketing, and according to the size of the organization, this might be the place most efforts are best spent.
But as you grow, you’ll need to look at primarily traditional advertising, which is what we’ll spend the remainder of this blog covers. While not every aspect is traditional, there are elements that are (and besides, my concept of tradition isn’t the same as yours, my dad’s, or my grandmother’s concept would be).
The Three Phases
I’ve come up with my own little classification system for organizations as they embark upon the adventure of advertising. Sales are the best way to increase your business.
Advertising helps sales by providing the legitimate authority to the company. If they’ve heard of you before and are just talking to someone in sales, a lead is more likely to convert to a customer.
Advertising is the top of the funnel. Let’s look at how that top of your funnel is likely to mature over time:
Not yet: You’re just starting your business. You’re too busy shoveling poo to buy a shovel. You can’t keep up with the new business anyways, so what’s the point of buying advertising.
Maybe if the local Rotary club or an organization in which you believe calls, you’ll make a donation for a table or to have your business listed somewhere. Maybe you’ll also post the occasional response to a forum or speak at a conference. But while these are things that advertise your company, you’re not really doing any traditional advertising yet.
Dabbling: You’ve been in business long enough to understand the conversation you want to have with potential customers. And you’re getting a good idea of what a good customer might look like.
These are theories that need to be proven. During the dabbling phase, you should be exploring various advertising mediums, the target demographics, the needs the customers have, the sales cycles, and the return-on- investment (ROI) for each.
If you’re deliberate, you’ll end up able to target the most desirable customer with a message that will make them call, click, or just buy.
Investing: You’re done dabbling once you have a predictable ROI from your advertising spend. Now it’s time to invest. Get professional help to increase that ROI and then scale the spend in the most appropriate medium.
This might be using an outsourced service or hiring a team internally. If you’re stuck in the dabbling phase, you can leverage outside services to try and move into the investing phase more quickly.
Refining: This is where real growth happens. And it’s the hardest place to get to. You’ve got a predictable model for spending your advertising budget. And you’ve been increasing your investment.
You’re stable. But you’ve gotten to a point where the cost to acquire a business is not going down or has started to pick up. If not, it will happen. Then it’s time to refine the message and the medium. By now, you have clearly proven that advertising is working, but keep in mind that it can always (and I repeat, always) work better.
Whatever your place in the above maturity model, it’s all about your comfort. How much of your hard-earned profit are you willing to not take home as a draw? How much do you want to reinvest in the business?
There’s a chance you never want to take a risk on spending any money on advertising and are happy as a one-, two-, or three-person company. And that’s wonderful. But if you choose to grow beyond that, it’s time to look at buying some advertising.
Advertising can be really expensive. But there are small ways you can buy that can have a substantial impact on your business. When you purchase advertising, you are basically engaging in passive marketing. Don’t expect every click to net you a new $100,000 customer.
Where’s the right place to buy advertising? Chances are that SEO is a far smarter spend than a traditional advertising campaign for nearly everyone who’s reading this blog. Here are some mediums that many will look into.
Online ads: Buying advertising on the Internet is likely the most important kind of advertising you will do. This includes buying the top listing on search engines as well as buying banners on websites.
Print advertising: This includes local newspapers, local magazines, national print publications, industry- specific journals, and coupon books.
Podcasts: If you’re in a large city, there are podcasts about that city. If you specialize in an industry, there are podcasts for that industry, so put your initial focus on those and then get less specific from there.
Radio: According to the type of audience you cater to, there’s a good chance that there’s a radio show somewhere that is tapping into the same audience. This might be public radio, a talk radio show that caters to a given neighborhood, or something I’ve never thought of because I don’t service your customers; you do.
Mailers: You can buy lists of addresses. You can also pay a service to include lists when you have mailers printed. These are inexpensive per item you send, but you have to send a lot to get anyone to actually act on them.
Billboards: Billboards are one of the Airport terminals, billboards in neighborhoods you want to get new business in, and billboards are incredibly ineffective for the type of business you’re likely after. Unless you have someone in the advertising field that you trust tell you to purchase advertising on a billboard, don’t do it.
Memberships: We won’t really cover this one further. But when you join professional organizations, especially those that cater to a given geography, do everything you can to get a link to your site and your phone number on there.
Television: I have never seen a consulting firm successfully pull off an ad on the television. The closest thing might be the Watson ads from IBM. And I’ve yet to encounter an Apple consulting firm that is at the size to justify a television spot.
But these aren’t as expensive as you might think. Alternatively, consider advertising at the local movie theater. They’re always looking for people to buy ads that appear before a movie. And you like customers who are early!
Cable: Some areas have a local cable channel that runs advertising (for non-profits these ads are often free).
Now that we’ve done a quick overview of these, let’s dig into each, starting with blogs.
I have a blog. About once a year I get an e-mail from someone and actually try out their product based on that unsolicited e-mail. About once every couple of years I end up writing an article about one of those products as well.
And I’ve even put them in a couple of books I’ve written. Some of them, I actually still use. Some have even told me that they got a fair amount of business through my posts.
So, advertising to bloggers, be it through unsolicited e-mails or some other way, can work to get business. But if that’s all you wanted from bloggers, you’d be better off spending those advertising dollars on something more transactional. Many bloggers (who aren’t me) are influencers, so one aspect of reaching them is that you have a higher rate of conversion.
Your services or product can also end up getting picked up by people in the media that follow those bloggers. Which can end up with mentions in various media outlets, albeit these are usually industry-specific?
Blogs also provide backlinks. It stands to reason that if backlinks are what give sites high listing on search engines, then the more of those you can get, the better. And to some degree, getting a good natural listing in the search engines has a lot to do with being relevant. Having a site with a good page ranking mention you is a great way to get those backlinks.
You can also buy mentions in blogs. Avoid purchasing backlinks, though. Not all backlinks are created equal. Supposedly, if you purchase a backlink on a website, that backlink should be tagged as a “No-Follow,” which means that search engine crawlers don’t count the link toward your rank.
Well, kinda’. Track the links that come into your site, but don’t assume that those links tell the whole story of the impact of your work to get bloggers to mention you.
Bloggers are a weird bunch. You can usually reach them with e-mails (check the website or registrar for addresses if you don’t have them already), connect on Linkedin (chances are that you aren’t too many connections away from them if you need an introduction), message them on social media, etc. Being that I’ve gotten a lot of these, let me throw out a few tips.
Personalize the communication.
Explain why your pitch is pertinent to your audience.
Include a link (but not eight).
Make sure your pitch fits in the first couple of lines.
Use language similar to the language the blogger uses.
Avoid repetitive e-mails.
If you think that blogs are a good place for you to advertise and you don’t get any traction getting someone to write about your goods or services, then also consider buying some advertising on the site.
This can usually be done directly with the blogger or through an advertising network. Another way to get your message out there is through podcasts, which we’ll cover in the next section.
Buy Advertising on Podcasts
I have a podcast, so I’m partial to podcasts of course. But why did I start a podcast? Because I was paying obscene amounts of money to large podcasts for advertising products. That and I have a big mouth.
Chances are that if you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t want to advertise on my podcast. You want to advertise in places where your customers will be listening. As with most advertising, local consulting firms should stick to local media outlets.
Look for podcasts that talk about your specific city or cities. Look for podcasts that cater to the industries you want to support. And remember that just because you like a podcast, that doesn’t mean you’ll have a good ROI from sponsoring it.
Speaking of ROI, many podcasts can be thought of as “dark social.” This basically means that visitors of the podcast aren’t coming from the website of the podcast. Instead, they’ll be attributed as “Direct” traffic if you’re looking at them in Google.
But I keep telling you to track all of the things! A great strategy to try to track the impact of an ad campaign on a given podcast would be to have the URL used to visit the website reflect a URL specific to that podcast.
This isn’t natural, so consider offering a deal to use that special URL. For example, visit http://myawesomeconsultingfirm.com/ macadmins podcast to receive 10% off your first purchase. You’ve heard this with other podcasts already.
Most podcasts desperately want to sell advertising. So they’ll cut you a deal if you just ask nicely. I always ask for discounts, even for my cable bill. It can’t hurt to ask, and if you don’t, you’re just leaving money on the table. After all, you’ll provide the podcast with text that will be read during the podcast.
Search Engine Advertising
In the previous blog, we discussed Search Engine Optimization or SEO. Another way to get listed at the top of almost any search engine is to simply buy your way there.
Google, Bing, and other search engines allow you to purchase the first few places in a listing (usually with a term like “Sponsored” appended to the listing) or purchase a place on the sidebar of the search engine. This is how they usually make money.
There are entire books out there on effectively buying this type of advertising. And I’m certainly no expert. But I’ve had some pretty solid successes, especially when it comes to buying advertising on search engines.
The first reason is that I leveraged SEO to figure out the right words to buy. I can’t stress this enough. The second is that I started out making small purchases. The third is that I focused on long tail search. Let’s unpack these.
You can’t rely on SEO bringing you business. SEO can help grow your business but is also useful to help you best understand what keywords you can buy that drive traffic to your site and, more importantly, the kind of keywords that drive traffic that converts into purchasing customers.
Even if you aren’t ready to start spending money on search engine advertising, creating content, building landing pages, refining the messages on your pages to convert traffic, and capturing analytics will help pave the way for future spending on search engines like Google.
Once you start understanding the journey a potential customer or lead, will take on your site, you can start to spend a little money on sites like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and even Pinterest. Growing your purchases from a modest spend is a way to protect your advertising capital and let you build a solid practice.
One of my favorite tools for this is free: Google Analytics. But there are other solutions such as WordStream: Online Advertising Made Easy that help enable you to buy keywords with lots of traffic more easily because they help you to analyze current searches for words.
Many companies start out by purchasing words like “Consulting Los Angeles” or “Apple Consulting Venice Beach.” In general, the more words, the cheaper the ad buy.
Buying longer streams of words that often lead to less clicks but more conversions (or buying customers) based on those clicks is known as long tail search and is a very effective way to keep your spend in check and to spend less time filtering out people who might be searching for help in another country or might be searching for the wrong thing.
As an example, a quick analysis shows that “Mac” is not going to likely net you a single customer with a $100 spend. “Mac consulting” might. “Mac consulting Minneapolis” is really honing in. But your phone should ring every time someone searches for “Mac consulting Minneapolis Xsan” or “Mac Consulting Minneapolis Lightspeed.”
Note We put the word Minneapolis in the above search. You can also target ads based on specific demographics and geographies to help maximize your campaign effectiveness.
You can also use tools to help you refine the ads and find hidden gems of search awesome. Products like Kenshoo, Adobe Ad Cloud, Wordstream. com and others will let you aggregate statistics, ads, do A/B testing across platforms, and provide a lot of the value that you would need to hire a consultant to get otherwise.
But a smart use of money would be hiring a consultant to help you set up those tools, then decipher analytics, and make good ad buys.
Ultimately, you need to make online advertising work. If you explore none of the other mediums in this blog, this is the most critical. Search engines are likely your best bet in finding new veins of customers that you can then continue to grow out of.
Now that we’ve covered Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Advertising, let’s look at buying ads on websites, often referred to as online, or display, advertising.
Search Engine advertising is one thing. Buying ads on websites is another. Targeting specific sites is going to be the most cost-effective but also the most laborious to actually buy ads. Keep in mind that when you spend more time buying an ad than the ad cost in terms of your billable rate, you’re not going to be able to buy much advertising!
Some of the most valuable ads I’ve ever purchased have been on websites without advertising or those that really just don’t charge as much as they should. I ran an ad on AFP548.com for years and I still feel a little guilty about how little they charged.
But while finding smaller sites to buy ads on usually has a great ROI per dollar spent (which extends to CAC, or Cost to Acquire a Customer), trying to find more and more sites, process payments to those sites, and communicating back and forth with site admins can be a total time suck.
The easiest way to buy ads is to purchase them on big advertising networks. These networks will handle a lot of the back-end work, aggregate statistics for you, help you zero in on good buys, perform the buys automatically, and handle all of the billing.
This is of course done at a markup and can be random, leading to your ad running on sites you might want nothing to do with. But it’s effective.
A great way to find an ad network you want to use might be to go to a site and find a vertical ad network that represents that site and others. This will give you a channel that you can buy on.
Most will allow you to do Run of Site (ROS) or even Run of the Network (RON), which helps them do bulk sales and helps you pick up some cheaper ads here and there.
As you get into less and less targeted buys, the Cost Per Click (CPC) likely goes down, but hopefully, the CAC stays about the same. With larger networks running an ad, it’s not uncommon to see prices as low as $10 CPM, or Cost per mille (per thousand impressions).
However, the effective CPM is often a quarter of that. The larger buys become a numbers game, and often wildly ineffective for small consultancies.
Some of these larger networks to check out include AdBrite, Adcash, DoubleClick, Advertising.com, ValueClick, Rocket Fuel, Right Media, Zedo, Google AdSense, Ad maven, Clicksor, BuySellAds, Media.net | One of the largest ad-tech companies worldwide, Infolinks, Chitika, and Kontera.
Check out each and look for features that appeal to you. There’s a lot, so you can afford to be picky.
Focus on the geographies you serve. Ad networks should be able to limit your ad to specific geographies. This gives you more impact per dollar spent and helps keep you from having calls with customers in areas you don’t or can’t serve.
If you are national or global, then reserve a fair amount of your media spend for the markets you’re more recognizable in for the multi-touch marketing impact, and use a different and with a broader message for ads that aren’t bound to a given geography.
Advertising on social media is another means of display advertising. You can buy sponsored posts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and pretty much any social media outlet.
Keep in mind that these come with a very low cost but aren’t usually very effective in the beginning when selling business services. They are a great way to round out a display advertising portfolio and very much worth experimenting with.
Advertising on the radio is a lot like advertising on podcasts, but it’s your parents who will hear the ad, not your kids. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t advertise on the radio.
It’s a great way to reach decision makers. But think about this before you choose radio over podcasts: does the person who calls you listen to a podcast on the way home from work, or do they listen to the radio?
If you think your customers (or potential customers) listen to specific radio programs, then you should certainly sponsor programs or pay for ad space.
If you do work with radio, don’t buy just one spot on the radio. When buying radio advertising, make sure to buy at least three slots per time. So if you choose to sponsor Marketplace on NPR, sponsor it at least three times. Think about it similarly to having to put new foods in front of your kids three times before they will actually eat something new.
If you are going to sponsor multiple programs, time them out so you can best understand which program is driving new customers.
And make sure to have a landing page that you mention in your spot, like “Get a free evaluation of your network by the best consultants in Baltimore at http://mygreatconsultants.com/marketplace.”
Radio advertising isn’t cheap. And it’s hard to get quantifiable metrics on “dark social” like radio. So if it’s a challenge to work with, why is the medium still around? Because it still works for certain industries. If you have a limited budget, focus on online advertising. If you have money left over, then look at mediums like radio and print.
The nice thing about radio advertising is that a lot of people who work in businesses are trapped in their cars while getting to and from work, and repetitive brainwashing to a captive audience like that will over time build brand awareness.
One of the hardest types of advertising to get right is print advertising. If you don’t run a brick and mortar store that sells Apple equipment or peripherals then you might want to stay clear of print advertising. Having said that, a mass mailer is a way to get the word out about your business. Just expect a large percentage to go into the trash.
There are exceptions when it comes to print advertising. An invitation to an open house is a great way for a support company that operates in a community to make contacts.
The invitation idea can be extended to a movie night or other marketing event. Another exception would be after you meet someone in person. A thank you card is a great way to remind them that you’d like a chance to win their business, especially if that card is handwritten.
A tip I went to finishing school in the South. So I feel the need to tell you that thank you cards must be sent within 6 months or not at all. Finally, have your print advertising professionally prepared. Or if you think you can do professional-quality ads, just have someone look it over before you send it out.
Coupons, Sales, and Specials
Apple pretty much doesn’t ever offer coupons off the cost of a product. But you’re not Apple. If you’re flush with new customers, then there’s never really a reason to offer discounts.
But if you’re just getting started out or building out a new company, then you might find it useful to get a few new customers by offering some kind of public-facing discount.
According to the type of work you do, you might find Groupon or Amazon Deals fit the need of landing you some pretty sweet new clients. The conversion rates on those are low. There also aren’t many companies that leverage those types of sites for business services, so assume a primary consumer customer.
To get into larger businesses, you might try offering a discount on an annual contract instead. But consider using an ad in a business journal, print advertising, banner ads on a site, or even a listing for a journal.
Again, use a special URL for each medium you choose to advertise on, so you can easily track the impact in a number of different ways.
This is key. Let’s say you get hundreds of clicks on your ad but no transactions. That usually means the messaging or price is off.
The same can happen with getting the wrong types of phone calls if you put a phone number in a listing, which we’ll cover in the next section.
The Wrong Calls
One problem that can arise with advertising is that you might have the phone and e-mail lighting up, but they might all want something totally different than what you’re selling. When this happens, you have a few options. If all of the people calling want the same thing, then you might choose to go ahead and offer that.
But if they’re not, you’ll likely want to tailor your message to get more specific about what you do. This is a great problem to have but something you’ll want to fix pretty quickly so as not to waste more time than you or sellers at your organization have to give.
Make sure to respond to every person who reaches out. For starters, it’s the right thing to do. But if that’s not enough, if you don’t respond, you’ll be making a bad impression on someone that might be a potential customer some day.
Normally, the wrong calls are very similar. So to simplify your response, use a tool like Text Expander or create an e-mail in your drafts to automatically respond to these requests.
This is a great place to find a vendor to which you can redirect these inquiries. We talked about forming relationships with other organizations in blog 6; this is a great opportunity to have another vendor to which you can bilaterally refer business.
Marketing Development Funds
Chances are that you sell products or align with a partner. Many of the largest tech companies like Microsoft, Cisco, and Apple provide something known as Marketing Development Funds (or MDF) for those who sell their products.
Ask all of your partners if you can get MDF for a campaign, and you may get all or part of the campaign paid for. Additionally, co-marketing with a larger company can increase the legitimacy of the campaign in ways you couldn’t do on your own.
Most MDF will come with strings. Maybe the partner wants to attend an event with you. Maybe the partner wants a business plan.
I’ve yet to see strings that were attached to MDF that I didn’t eventually find to actually be as valuable as the funds themselves. Business plans make you think about a campaign before you waste money.
Sometimes the structure required helps you think of things in a new way. Having marketing staff from a partner attend an event with you is always a good thing. You can learn more about the product, and if they’re sales staff, you might even find a great person to refer you some business.
There are no sure things in advertising so there’s always a risk. MDF can be a great way to share the risk of a campaign and learn more about advertising and marketing along the way. It’s all these little bits that make you into a mature businessperson.
Advertising should make the phone ring (or these days, I guess the e-mail client ding). You likely cannot have more than two or three people on a sales team without advertising. It’s easy to have large amounts of money just get up and walk away when buying ads.
You can easily spend $5,000 a month on Google clicks, only to get a bunch of calls from people who want services you don’t provide. Many a podcast will cost $10,000 to advertise on, and you may have no way of knowing you got a good lead from them.
If this seems daunting, find a local resource to help guide your efforts instead of just going out and buying whatever looks good, or focus on Public Relations.
It would be better to save wasted advertising spend until you’re ready to spend it wisely. But if you are about growing, you will eventually need to spend here. And when you do, find someone you trust, because there’s a lot of really well-meaning but completely useless organizations in the advertising industry.
So as with other parts of the business, challenge everything you hear that doesn’t make sense, and when in doubt blatantly copy the marketing and advertising brilliance of Apple (without, of course, violating their copyrights)!