Happy Mondays (no, not the band, although I do hear that they are reforming for a tour one month this year).

As I got in the car to drive to work on Monday, it was with a sense of relief after surviving the usual chaos of getting everyone out of the house on time and in the correct clothing and the right bags and kit for the day.  My thoughts then turned to the day ahead and what it might bring.  I am lucky enough to be doing a job I really enjoy, that is providing marketing advice and support to small businesses in the area.

Some days of course bring challenges and it can still be hard to summon enough positive energy for the day ahead, particularly on a Monday.  What does make this easier for me though, is that the clients I work with are a really positive group of people.  We work with business owners who are facing these seemingly tough times, but are amazingly positive about how they are going to make their businesses successful.  This positivity really does have a knock-on effect on us, and how we go about giving them the best marketing advice we can.  But we are constantly reminded about how hard life is at the moment, with no apparent easy way out of it, all of which we find far too negative.  The subject of recession and tough economic times is actually banned in our office.

It was interesting then to hear on the radio, during my journey in, that it was ‘Happy Monday’, apparently the happiest day of the year.  According to psychologists, the combination of getting the first pay cheque of the year and booking a summer holiday makes Monday 31st January the highpoint of the year.

‘We each experience an average of ten major happy days every year but none is happier than January 31, or Happy Monday,’ said Dr David Holmes, senior psychologist at Manchester Metropolitan University.

So, I thought are my clients going to be extra happy today?  Perhaps not, but what it did make me appreciate is that although the people I work with do face challenging times, they work hard to be positive.

Building your own business, brand or company takes time, energy, and a lot of work. Why do I think my clients are so positive? One reason I believe is that they all set realistic goals and a schedule to work towards them.  We work with them to create a marketing plan with realistic business growth objectives.  Our services provide the marketing activities which helps work towards those goals. The reward from the time and energy spent on their businesses is realised through those goals being accomplished.  If small steps are taken to maintain or grow your business, you are more likely to continue that cycle of hard work, commitment and achievement.  With achievement and reward comes positivity, whatever the challenges faced along the way.

So let’s all keep positive, and have a few more Happy Mondays this year, or any other day of the week for that matter.

Passive marketing – or how to get clients knocking at your door

During the first week of January this year, we took on two new clients and had two existing clients ask us to do more work for them. I wasn’t at work during the first week of January, and, as one of my members of staff pointed out, I hadn’t been out networking or meeting clients for a few weeks. So where was the work coming from?

I could say it was the Law of Attraction at work, or that it was Zen Marketing, but I like to call it ‘Passive Marketing’. Or ‘sit back/go on holiday and wait for the phone to ring’ marketing.

So how does this great new marketing strategy work? Here’s what you do. You start writing a blog or an email newsletter, or both. You build up a list of contacts, by going to networking events and speaking at seminars. You give away lots of advice and ideas to help the people you meet. You have regular meetings with your clients and listen out for things they’re struggling with, with which you can help them. You build strong relationships with them so that they trust your advice. You might like to write a book and sell it to people you meet; you can even give it to some people, like past clients. You can spend time on sites like LinkedIn, connecting with people you’ve worked with in the past.

Once you’ve done all that, then you get to sit back and wait for the phone to ring! One of the new January clients came to a workshop we ran 3 months ago. We’ve kept in touch with her ever since and come the New Year, she decided she was ready to kick start her marketing. The client who decided to accept our quote for writing her blog is one with whom I meet every two months, to work on her marketing. Back in the autumn she told me she was thinking about setting up a blog and could we do it for her. After a few months of keeping in touch with her – and a few more regular meetings – she too decided it was time to take the next step.

Marketing is a long term process. It’s not a quick, over night fix. You can’t go to one networking event and expect clients to flock to you. One newsletter or a week of tweeting won’t build you a great reputation. So, if you want to practice Passive (sit back and take it easy) Marketing, then you need to put in the effort and the groundwork. Once you do, then the clients will come flocking to your door!

When a workshop is more than just a workshop

If you offer any kind of service to customers, running workshops are a great way of marketing yourself and your business.  They inform and advise and can act as a great way of speaking directly to your target customer audience.  Also, as will become apparent here, they are not a one-off event in terms of marketing, they actually offer a lot more.

At Appletree we recently held a ½ day marketing workshop for small, service-based companies.  As well as it being a great opportunity to give marketing advice and tips to the businesses, it was also a great way to use a number of different marketing activities, at little or no cost.

On the surface, it was an activity that happened during a few hours, with a captive audience who listened and participated in a lively workshop.  Dig deeper however, and it becomes clear how many marketing activities were involved in the workshop, before, during and after the event.

Let me take you back a few weeks.  Once the venue and timings of the workshop had been confirmed, an online booking system was created.  An email promoting the event was then sent out to a database of small businesses.  This database was known to be ‘clean’ and up to date, an absolute must when dealing with contact databases.  Details of the event were added to our website.  This is great for SEO, which looks for regular updates on sites in order to rank them.  We then sent details of the event to another mailing list, via our monthly newsletter, which is linked to our website.  Again, this encouragement to visit our website is a great way to share more of our services to those contacts, and to improve SEO.

A reminder email was sent to all contacts a week before the event, and some follow up telephone calls made to outline the benefits of attending the workshop.

The desired number of delegates was reached before the day, and an email was sent to each asking if they had any specific objectives they were hoping to meet as a result of the workshop.  This was the start of relationship building with our key audience.

During the day we met some really interesting people, all of whom were small business owners and all wanting to learn how to use marketing successfully to help grow their businesses.  Feedback from the day was asked from each delegate, along with a personal thank you to each for attending.  It’s this long-term relationship building that creates the most long-lasting business opportunities.

All in all, around 6 different channels of marketing were used, just for a workshop that lasted a few hours.  It led to lots of ticks on our marketing activity plan!

So if you’re considering running a workshop but don’t think you have the time, consider it as a huge opportunity to cost effectively market yourself and your business.

The case in the defence of Twitter

A client recently remarked “let me know when you get a sale from Twitter”.  In other words, “I bet I’ll never see the day we get a sale as a result of Twitter!”

A statement said many a time I would wager.  My answer, said smiling: “No, you probably won’t if you just use Twitter on its own, but use it as part of an integrated marketing plan and yes, you probably WILL see sales as a result of it.”

A great deal of our time as a marketing consultancy is spent working with clients on their marketing planning, and crucially the implementation of those plans.  We ensure all marketing activity is tied together with a common message.  We write blogs, newsletters, press articles, tweets, website copy – all focused on key marketing messages unique to our clients.  It’s the combination of all these activities, carried out regularly, timely but regularly, which is enabling our clients to become seen as experts in each of their fields.

Crucially, the information they are imparting on their target audience is being seen in a variety of areas.  Websites are great as long as people are getting to them, LinkedIn is great for networking and discussions, and Google+ is growing and will be great.

What Twitter does is allow you to ‘speak’ to a huge number of people, at no cost, and with little time.  Just make sure you apply a bit of thought to ensure your message is ‘on plan’ and you create a call to action (eg website links) and you have an effective marketing tool.

In a recent statistic I read (I know stats are what you want them to be but…) ‘80% of business decision makers now prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement.’  By using the platforms social media provides, your company information can be seen this way.  Social media writing can easily be incorporated with Facebook, Twitter and other outlets, driving valuable inbound links for SEO.

I feel privileged to be involved in providing intelligent content marketing to clients who recognise what marketing actually should be, which consistent, ongoing, valuable information to customers is.  With the right marketing planning and delivery, customers will ultimately reward with their business and loyalty.

Yes, marketing is still what it always was – creating messages, identifying prospective customers and trying to influence their behaviour.  These days, it’s just being delivered in a different, I would say smarter way, and across different platforms, even Twitter.

Contact Appletree  (debbie@appletreeuk.com) and let us know if you have or haven’t seen sales from your social media plan – and yes, that does include Twitter!

Can Your Business Afford to Stand Still This Year?

Chantal Cornelius, Appletree MarketingIf your business is standing still – always doing the same things, the same ways, for the same people – then you could be missing out on new opportunities and new business. Your competitors will be innovating – looking for different ways of making money – which means that you could be losing business to them.

Every year your competition becomes fiercer, more pressure is put on margins and new products or technologies come along and nibble away at your market. This means that just doing what you’ve always done is a recipe for eventual failure. You need to innovate and improve your offer continuously, or someone else will either steal your market or leave you working harder for less money.

So how do you innovate? Where do the new ideas come from?

Steve Jobs from Apple said “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.”

Innovations happen most frequently when you need to solve a problem. You may not know which one thing about your service niggles your customers most, because it might be very small. And yet when you find out what it is, it could open the way making huge improvements. So you need to make a point of asking your clients what it is about your service that they don’t like.

Towards the end of 2011 we decided to run a workshop, to help service based businesses to get more from their marketing. In the run up to the event, I realised that there was only so much help and advice I could give the delegates in one day. This was a problem for me, because I didn’t want my delegates to get all fired up and then not be able to carry on marketing their businesses. After a bit of thinking I came up with the idea of an ongoing mentoring programme, to provide a regular top up of marketing ideas and momentum. And hey presto – a new service was created! The clients who have joined the programme are making great progress already!

Innovative Marketing

You don’t have to restrict innovation to developing new services. You’ll also find a lot of scope for applying new ideas in sales and marketing. I recently started working with a new client because he’d been using the same marketing tactics for the last year. While they used to work, bringing in a steady flow of new clients, over the last six months he’d noticed that flow almost completely dry up and he didn’t know what to do. He wanted some ideas on what could be done differently with his marketing. There are so many marketing channels now available to you that you’re almost spoilt for choice!

Innovative Pricing

You can also be innovative in the way you charge for your service. Experiment with a mix of incentives, or price test your new services, to see what response you get. Don’t think that cheaper is better – some clients won’t take you seriously if they think you’re too cheap; and offering endless discounts can devalue your service and expertise. Look at ways in which you can add value to what you provide, without adding to the cost of delivery.

Can your business afford to stand still this year? What will you do differently this year?

Making a case for case studies

Chantal Cornelius, Appletree MarketingA great way of promoting what you do is by writing case studies about your clients. They are also a great way to get feedback from your clients and to build up stronger relationships with your clients.

But how do you go about doing it? Where do you start? How do you make sure you include all the best information, without boring your readers?

Here’s how we do it. We ask our clients 4 questions and then we write up the answers. Here are the questions:

1. What was the problem that you were looking to solve?

This puts the work into context and it also gives your readers a good idea about the sort of issues you can solve for your clients. Say a bit about your client too, to give them some promotion.

2. Why did you come to us rather than someone else?

This question gives you the chance to get some feedback on your business and your marketing. What makes you better than your competitors? What did you do differently that attracted this client?

3. What did we actually do?

This is where you get to explain the actions you carried out to solve your client’s problem. It’s a great way of showing off your expertise and talking about how you actually do what you do. Don’t go into too much detail because it might get too technical for some people. Just give them a taste of what you can do.

4. What were the results of what we did?

So what did you actually achieve for your client? How did your actions and expertise solve their problem? No matter how you solved it, what’s really important is what happened as a result. This is what other clients will be interested in buying from you.

Using these questions will help keep you really focused on writing clear, concise case studies that will be very powerful tools you can use to promote your business.

Want to know how to use the case studies you write? Ask me nicely and I’ll answer that question in another blog for you!

Marketing planning and why now is a great time to do it

Planning, that old exercise of writing a list of things you are going to do, only never to look at the list again!  Sound familiar?  The start of a new year is generally filled with repeated resolutions that are quickly forgotten once day to day life starts. We all do it in various aspects of life, but planning for your business and your marketing is crucial.  Your business has the people, resources and desire to make the year a great one, why not augment that with an effective Marketing Plan.

Marketing planning should be something you look forward to as it is this plan of activities that will lead to business over the year.  There are however a few golden rules that must be applied to your plan.

The plan must be something that works with you at all times, it must not be completed then ‘filed’, never to be seen again.

The plan must be visible, either as a chart on your office wall which you can tick each time you’ve completed an activity; or a spreadsheet that you populate with activity, costs, and results.  It really doesn’t matter how you choose to see your plan, the important bit is that you do see it, daily.

It also needs to reflect activity that can be carried out by you, on a regular basis.  It may include the number of prospect calls you’ll make each week; the client visits you’ll book to focus on repeat business and upselling; the target number of tweets you’ll send out daily; the networking events you’ll attend each week.

Whatever the action, make it SMART, that old marketing adage which still applies to business today: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.  Some of the activity can be outsourced to expert providers, but again this can, and should be, ticked off your list and measured in terms of performance on an ongoing basis.

Creating a plan now will also make future planning far easier.  Reflect on which activity has worked: created the most leads and most importantly, provided the best return on investment.  Without a plan you can’t accurately reflect which marketing activity works best for your business, so which to do again, and which not to.

When you know where you want your business to be in 12 months time, you’ll have a much greater chance of getting there.  With a strategy in place and a plan of action to follow, any marketing for your business will produce much better results than ad hoc initiatives.

For practical help in writing an effective Marketing Plan for your business, why not come to a workshop we’re running on the 24th January at the Harwell Innovation Centre, Harwell Campus, near Didcot from 9am to 1pm.  At the end of the workshop you’ll have an effective and achievable Marketing Plan to take away and put into practice.  For more information on the SOS Marketing Workshop click here.