Harness the Power of Free Ink

You don’t have to pay a cent to get your name and message out there. Check out the following plan for taking advantage of free outlets for promoting your small business.

How many of you are frustrated and bewildered by the “Small Business Marketing Paradox?” We all recognize the critical need to do more and better marketing of our products or services to survive and thrive. But, few of us have the knowledge and skills to do it ourselves. Yet, we hesitate to—or can’t afford to—invest in having experts do it for us. The result is that we often do nothing. Bad idea.

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    If you have more money than time, find a pro—or several—who can help you figure out your marketing plan and carry it out. If you have more time than money, consider Harnessing the Power of Free Ink, a “No-Budget Marketing” strategy that I’ve found very useful for sustaining my business over the last 27 years.   

    So, why bother to get free ink?

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    Well … here are three really important reasons.

    Really Important Reason No. 1: It builds brand awareness. Writing articles in industry, association and business printed and electronic publications can create positive exposure and name recognition for you and your business. The exposure helps connect the dots linking you, your value proposition and expertise.

    Really important reason No. 2: It establishes expertise. That exposure can, in turn, enhance your credibility and image. Readers generally assume people who write articles must be experts. Not necessarily true, but their perception is your reality. Take advantage of it. Credible articles may also differentiate you from competitors who are equally, if not more, qualified but who don’t have similar exposure.

    Really important reason No. 3: It enhances marketing. Printed or electronic copies of the articles can become no-cost credible marketing support tools you can send to prospects and customers. A simple little “I thought you’d find this interesting” note helps you keep in front of the market without ever selling or asking for the business.

    What do you write about?

    Simple: Write about what you know, do or provide, but don’t sell. Talk about the importance of IT security, not your specific software tool. Discuss the advantages of managing customer relations, not your CRM package. Highlight ways to reduce presentation fear, not hiring you as a speech coach. Make sure your content supports your image as an expert and potential resource willing to provide valuable and useful content.

    Where do you look for free ink?

    This is also easy. The list is deep and wide:

    • Reach out to local business publications and try to connect their needs with your expertise.
    • Hook up with HARO, Help A Reporter Out. This service connects reporters and bloggers with content experts like you. You write pro bono, but can gain excellent and even national exposure. I’ve had several HARO pieces in the last two years.
    • Search independent blogs writing about your areas of expertise, business focus or industry. Reach out and offer your services. Some have huge audiences and loyal followers.
    • Search the editors of electronic and print publications produced by the local, state or national trade, industry or professional groups you belong to and support. They’re always looking for interesting content that would appeal to their member/readers.
    • Here’s one most people don’t think about: Search your larger clients for the blogs they send out to their customers. See if they could use some of your content to help educate or inform their readers.

    Now what do you do?

    Good for you. Someone else has just created a credible and objective tool to help you grow your business. Now, get as much value from it as you can with the following suggestions:

    • Thank the source for the exposure, of course.
    • Post the piece, with permission, on your site in a special category or as a news item. Include the full text or a link to the source.
    • Reference it in your blog or eLetter, again with a link to the source.
    • Send out a note to colleagues, prospects or clients with a link so you can gently keep in front of them.
    • Include the full text with other support materials you send prospects or leave behind after sales pitches.
    • Send it out to professional groups you’re involved with or support whose members might benefit from the content.

    So, Harness the Power of Free Ink to support your No-Budget Marketing” plan. The return on your investment can be enormous. And do let me know how it works for you.

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com440-449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.  


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    Next up: Here's Your Social Media Playbook

    Here's Your Social Media Playbook

    Are you ready for a social media blitz? No need to audible! Check out our Social Media Playbook below, featuring tips from Ted Moss of Fresh Squeezed Minds. Knowing what to focus on when engaging in social media will help your business score points with customers.

    Are you ready for a social media blitz? No need to audible!

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    Check out our Social Media Playbook below, featuring tips from Ted Moss of Fresh Squeezed Minds.

    Knowing what to focus on when engaging in social media will help your business score points with customers.

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    And when you’re done here, shoot the gap over to our social media hub for more victory-formation-worthy social media tips.

     

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    Next up: High Tech Vs High Touch Balancing People and Technology

    High Tech Vs High Touch Balancing People and Technology

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    Next up: Hiring an Outside Marketing Company: 4 Questions to Consider

    Hiring an Outside Marketing Company: 4 Questions to Consider

    Entrepreneurs often feel a lot of pressure to do everything themselves, but there’s no need to be a hero. Acquiring the services of an outside firm can be the right move. Here are four questions to ask when looking at bringing in a third-party firm.

    Many small business owners try to take on graphic design, social media, public relations and other marketing efforts in addition to sales, operations, finances, HR, and so on. Doing this creates suboptimal results across the board and puts your business at a disadvantage when competing against larger companies with significant marketing resources.

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    Many businesses believe hiring an employee to handle marketing is the way to go. However, hiring a marketing person can be costly and difficult. Not only is finding talent challenging, but If he or she leaves the company, you have now lost that person’s skill and knowledge. As a result, marketing efforts suffer and the business must now invest time and money in hiring and training a new person.

    There is another alternative to tackling your marketing efforts that may be a better fit for your business–hiring a company to do it for you. A company that specializes in helping companies execute their marketing efforts can provide better quality, expertise consistency–leading to better return on marketing investment.

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    If you think hiring a company makes sense for your business, it is important to ask the marketing company these questions:

    Do you offer what I need?
    Do your homework to understand what services the company offers? Is it a match for the types of marketing efforts you are looking to do? Ideally, you will want to identify a company that can address multiple areas. For example, if a company can manage social media, your email newsletter, and your website, you’ve now created a more efficient way to manage your digital presence.

    Can I afford your services?
    Determine your monthly budget for marketing and figure out where that money should be spent. Ideally, you will want to work with a marketing company that understands how to work with budget constraints to prioritize efforts. For example, if your budget is $1,000/month, a marketing company might recommend you invest in social media, online marketing and direct mail and forgo other efforts.

    Do you understand my business?
    For marketing to be successful, it must align with your overall company strategy. An effective marketing company will be able to understand your business, its goals and recommend the right tactics to achieve them. They will be able to analyze results to see what is and isn’t working, and make adjustments.

    What experience do you have?
    It is important to hire a company who has positive experience servicing its clients. Always get examples of previous work and see if you can speak with an existing client to get feedback on the overall experience.

    Ultimately, the decision to outsource your marketing efforts comes down to whether you feel your business has the internal capabilities to see results. If you are not a marketing expert or don’t have the internal resources to effectively promote your company, securing an outside company will help you not only market more effectively, but also save you time and money.

    Nevin Bansal is the president and CEO of Outreach Promotional Solutions.

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    Next up: How can CyberOhio assist your business?

    How can CyberOhio assist your business?

    Learn how CyberOhio is working to keep your company safe from cyberattacks.

    On March 10, we had an opportunity to connect our members with Craig Rapp (Director, CyberOhio) to learn more about the CyberOhio program and in advance of the initiative’s upcoming Business Summit. The CyberOhio Business Summit will take place on March 31 in central Ohio and it will feature cybersecurity experts to provide business owners with practical, understandable, and actionable cybersecurity information.

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    CyberOhio was launched last year by the Ohio Attorney General’s office and is a collection of cybersecurity resources aimed at helping Ohio’s businesses fight back against cyberattacks. The goal is to provide the best legal, technical, and collaborative cybersecurity environment possible to help Ohio’s businesses thrive. 

    How can CyberOhio assist your business?  Click here to view our brief interview

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    Next up: Ask the Expert: How Can I be More Effective in Closing a Deal?

    Ask the Expert: How Can I be More Effective in Closing a Deal?

    “First off, it’s important to understand that closing the deal begins way before the final handshake and completed order form. One of the biggest mistakes a salesperson can make is to believe that there is a magical closing line that you can pull out of your hip pocket at the end of a sales event that will seal the deal. Dangling a deadline or offering to hold a price in exchange for signing that day are tactics that go against the grain of the sales techniques that we foster.

    “First off, it’s important to understand that closing the deal begins way before the final handshake and completed order form. One of the biggest mistakes a salesperson can make is to believe that there is a magical closing line that you can pull out of your hip pocket at the end of a sales event that will seal the deal. Dangling a deadline or offering to hold a price in exchange for signing that day are tactics that go against the grain of the sales techniques that we foster.

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    “Developing a mutually beneficial relationship with potential clients is essential in sales. I always say, “We don’t sell, the prospect buys.” Following are a few examples of best practices that should define your sales process:

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    “Set proper expectations. The most critical part of the sales process is how you structure a selling event. It’s important to lay down ground rules, or what we call an ‘up front contract,’ which can eliminate any surprises. It’s always best to let the sales prospect know at the outset that the meeting will consist of a) things you will talk about, b) any topics or questions they want to talk about, and c) what decision will be made in the end. 

    “Introduce opportunities for incremental decisions. If there is any hesitancy, let them know upfront that the decision today isn’t necessarily a sale. The decision can be as simple as an agreement to “test drive” a product or service or meet a second time. 

    “Don’t assume that price is the only issue. Take the time to understand the needs of the prospect; don’t just tout the benefits of your product or service. Understanding what is compelling them to do something different should be at the heart of every sales event.

    “Every salesperson has their own style, but these proven sales techniques can help you successfully close the deal and establish an ongoing relationship built on trust. It’s also important to understand that what you’re selling won’t always be a good fit for the prospect and that it’s ok to have a no.”

    Dave F. Harman is director of Sandler Training.

    Want more expert advice? Check out COSE Expert Network, an online forum connecting business owners with creative solutions to the tough questions they face every day. 

    This article originally appeared in the February 2, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.

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