Using events to promote what you do

Chantal

Do you use events to promote your business? You probably go to networking meetings, to connect with new prospects, but have you thought where else you can go, or what else you can do?

Attending workshops. If you’re attending a workshop as a delegate, you can also use it as a networking opportunity. There will be other business people there and some of them could be potential clients or suppliers. I’ve been to business workshops on a weekday, where people have turned up looking like they’re just going to the shops on a Saturday morning. Not quite the impression you want to give other people, so make sure you make an effort.

Running workshops. Do you run workshops to demonstrate your skills and experience? If you provide a service, delivering a workshop is a great way to show people what you do and how good you are. Use the time to give away advice, rather than spending time telling people what you do, and you will build up rapport with your audience. Once they trust you they are more likely to buy from you.

Conferences. Attending a conference is a great way to learn from the speakers. It’s also a great networking opportunity. Some conferences arrange networking sessions in between speeches, so make the most of. Take plenty of business cards and dress like you mean it. If you can, speak to the speakers too, because you never know who they know.

Open days. Moving offices? Launching a new product? Celebrating a success? Through a party or open day and invite everyone you know. Last summer we celebrated our 10th birthday at Appletree with a party. We put a marquee onto the lawn outside the office, wheeled in a hog roast and poured a few glasses of wine. We invited all our clients, past and present, along with lots of our suppliers. It was a great networking event for us and for everyone else who came – lots of business cards changed hands!

Think about what events you can go to or run yourself, to help you promote your business beyond the reaches of networking.

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What gaps are in your communication strategy?

Alice

The fourth assignment for my CIM Professional Certificate in Marketing involves creating a communications audit on the organisation I have based my assignment upon. After I had fathomed exactly what was required, I started to enjoy analysing every aspect of communication the organisation did, including the ‘external’ stakeholders involved, such as the media and pressure groups, the community and those involved in corporate social responsiblity.

This may all sound complicated, but there is no need to get apprehensive (unless you haven’t done much about communications in your business). First you need to work out all the different aspects of communication: websites, social media, blogs, PR, newspaper reports, articles written online and paper published, recommendations, networking (off and online), participation in events in the local social diary, corporate social responsibility and involvement in local groups. There are probably more you can think of, depending on your kind of business.

Go on the web and find out what other companies, especially your competitors, are doing to publicise the communication strategies they have in place. Sometimes a little light secondary research can reveal a lot about them, as well as yourself. How visible are you, both off and online? How much information do you make available about your company and the things that you do? How easy is it to find?

Then you need to work out the impact your communication strategy has on your business and your stakeholders, which includes past, present and potential customers, your competitors and suppliers, as well as the general public. How well do you communicate with them on the areas that are relevant to them? What kind of things do you need to tell them? How frequently do you perform this and what have the results been? Have you achieved your objectives from these ventures? What strategies do you have in place to continue, improve and achieve success in your future endeavours?

I have only just scratched the surface on this subject, but hopefully to get the strategic juices flowing. Being visible to the appropriate stakeholders could make a real difference to your business, not only to publicise what has been going on and any future projects, but to increase awareness, explain more succinctly exactly what you do and what you are aiming to achieve, increase networking opportunities and relationships that could evolve into joint ventures and other likely connections, and much more besides.

Let us know what you are doing within your communication strategy – it would be exciting to find out how successful you’ve been and what tactics you have thought up to set the communication wheels moving as smoothly as possible!

You’ve got to test to be the best

Alice

Reading Buses are in a bit of a mess at the moment. This affects me because my children use them to get to school, but it seems they have also affected a lot of people recently.

This is all due to technology failing. Actually it’s not the technology’s fault, even though it is a human trait to blame the machine and not the person working it. The fault really lies with those the personnel are using it.

The first problem was the suppliers who failed to deliver and install the new technology in time. The next to get the blame was the programmers who failed to make the technology work properly. Then comes the web developer who failed to design and activate the website properly to prevent people buying the wrong ticket. Next are the people who type in the data into the software so it can calculate and send out correct bus tickets to the right people. I’m sure there are more people to add to this breadcrumb line, but I haven’t found out who or what they are.

The moral of the story is: don’t announce fantastic changes in advance of actually setting it up – especially before you’ve tested that it works! Testing something new is soooo important, not only for new technology, but for seeing if a particular marketing campaign works, such as direct mailing or a questionnaire – best to send out a small amount first (this is called a pilot) so you can correct any mistakes or anomalies before the ‘real thing’, especially if you are talking about dealing with several thousands of units.

This is a fundamental element of doing business, to make sure something works properly before promoting it or letting it loose on your public. So why have Reading Buses managed to fail so dramatically this time? Hmmm, just make sure your next campaign doesn’t land you in the same boat…

How important are your competitors?

Alice

All businesses, whether large or small, should always be aware of their competitors.

But this doesn’t mean you should be frightened of them, or even ignore them. Competitor awareness should become part of your marketing strategies, to analyse what they are selling, what processes they have in place – even down to what suppliers they are using and their distribution methods.

Of course it wouldn’t be wise to exactly copy your competitors or you might have a law suit on your hands. It is your company’s differences that make dealing with competitors exciting, worthwhile, innovative and forward-looking.

So it boils down to each of your USPs (unique selling points). What is it that makes you different? Are your differences more productive and profitable, provide a better service for your customers, more efficient and therefore cost-worthy? Do you occupy a better share in the market and have better visibility where your customers ‘hang out’?

As well as examining your customer services and processes, what added value can you provide? It is usually the little things (for you) that make a big difference (for your customers) that can tip the balance. It has been likened that promotional freebies can stimulate a similar desirable experience as to sex, and we all know how much sex sells!

So going back to basics, incorporate competitor awareness and analysis into your earliest objectives and strategy making, and be mindful of your marketing message and how it compares and contrasts with your competitors.  Examine any gaps in the market, and with your knowledge of your competitors’ activities, either steal a march and get in there first, or understand their methodology and adapt your business to capture the customers they might miss, or work alongside to effectively and efficiently use the same target market within each of your capabilities.

It is that last concept of competitor awareness that can possibly help your business to grow. Sometime in the future there may be a possibility of a merger, but until then encouraging good relations with your competitors could benefit in ideas and considerations that could be good for all concerned – whereas waging war could be detrimental, expensive and even unprofitable.

The power of being positive – part four

Chantal

Here is the final section from the sample chapter of my book (working title One in Ten – How to Survive Ten Years in Business). The chapter is about how the power of being positive is so important for successful businesses.

 Click here to read part one of this chapter; click here for part two; click here for part three.

Talk to your clients

A valuable lesson I have learnt in business is to never assume anything. A friend made an assumption that nearly cost him a large client. This client is something of a celebrity who is not short of cash and he is very careful about how he spends it. He commissioned some work from my friend and queried every cost. At one stage in the project, my friend carried out some work, at extra cost, which was not first been agreed with the client. Overall, the cost was quite small in comparison to total project, yet the client was angry at not being consulted about the work. Even though the work was needed, the tension it caused between my friend and his client took its toll on their relationship. The trust was gone.

Never assume that your clients are happy simply because you do not hear from them. Just because someone never complains does not mean that there is nothing wrong. Even asking clients if they are happy will not tell you everything. You need to really understand what is happening within your clients’ businesses – what issues they face and where they are going with their businesses – to know to how products or services help them overcome those issues and reach their goals. Asking your clients for honest feedback is scary. You may hear things that you do not really want to hear, yet without that feedback, how can you improve what you do and move your business forward?

Carrying out a Customer Value Survey amongst your clients will help you get good feedback. Every couple of years, take a selection of clients and ask them what they think of your business. You can start by emailing them your questions, for them to send replies. Then you can get on the phone and speak to some of them, asking them the questions and talking to them about their answers. It is usually easier for someone to give good feedback when they can talk to you about it, than if they have to write it down; a conversation allows you to go into deeper detail. With some clients, you can arrange to meet with them to go through the questions; doing this over lunch or coffee makes the whole experience even more enjoyable for both of you and helps strengthen your relationship.

What should you ask? The questions that will elicit the most valuable information are around the value and benefits they get from working with your business. You can ask them why they came to you in the first place rather than one of your competitors. Ask them what they thought they would get before they started working with you, what they actually get and how they feel about the differences. In the many cases you may find that you are exceeding expectations; this does not mean that you can sit back and take it easy. It means that you have to look at how to keep up that level of service and satisfaction for your clients. This sort of survey also allows you to talk to clients about what else they would like from you, or what problems they are facing in their businesses. It is a great chance to spot opportunities and strengthen the relationship you we have with them. You cannot do this if you just assume that all your clients were happy because they have never complained.

Talking to your clients does not just tell you what they think of the service you provide; it also allows them to give you advice and ideas for your business. When I took one client out for lunch a few years ago, to ask for her feedback, she asked me about my exit strategy for my business, something. I had not thought about. My client suggested I speak to another one of my clients – a business adviser – about exit strategies and the future of my business. So then I took him out to lunch to ask for his feedback on our service and we ended up talking about exit strategies and doing some future planning for my business. Think about how you can use your clients to help you grow your business with their help.

In my business we use a number of suppliers. They include freelance writers, graphic designers, web developers, IT support, accounting and banking services, internet providers and business advisers. There is only one that ever asks me what I think of their service. They answer our phones calls when no one is available to answer them in the office. Working with the same contact for six years, every six months she calls. She tells me about the new services they have and tells me what she needs from me, to make the service better. I tell her what is going on at Appletree including new clients and new members of staff. That regular phone call makes me feel like a valued client and that the people who answer the phone are part of my team. I wish more of my suppliers took the time to ask me about my business and they provide. If they did, they would not be so surprised when I leave them unexpectedly.

When did you last ask your clients what they really think of your service? When did you last take one of your clients out for lunch?

When did you last ask your clients what they think of you?

Chantal

Every two years, we take the plunge and ask our clients what they think of us and the service they receive from us.

We ask questions like “What value did you expect to get from us?” and “What value do you actually get from us?” The answers to these questions can be very revealing and show us how well (or not) we set expectations for our clients. We then go on to ask how the differences between what they expected and what they get make them feel. What this has shown is that in general, we deliver more than our clients expected, which makes them feel safe and valued; and that’s a great result for us.

However, knowing this means that we can never get complacent and just expect that we’ll always over deliver. We actively look for things that we do to add value to the service we provide – like giving extra advice and not charging for it; like putting our clients in touch with other people they need to know; like taking them out for lunch just to ask them what they think of us!

Another question we ask in the survey is about what our clients don’t get from us. This has brought up some really interesting answers that are leading us to develop new services, and new offerings for particular clients. One client, for whom we write a monthly email newsletter, said that she doesn’t get a full ‘marketing department’ service from us. This is my cue to ask her exactly what she means by this and look at how we can provide it for her. Another client, for whom we write regular marketing materials, said that we don’t challenge her and her marketing ideas enough. I had no idea that she wanted to be challenged; and that’s something I love doing! From now on, when she comes to us with a particular idea, if I think there’s a better way of doing it, I’ll present her with a different idea, which might cost her less or get her better results.

Of all the suppliers I use, only one of them ever asks me if I’m happy with the service they provide. I get a phone call from them every six months and we have a chat about the service; and I get a birthday card from them too! I wish some, if not all of my other suppliers took as much interest in my business. Perhaps I should offer to run a client value survey for them?!

Asking your clients what they think of you can be daunting. You might not like the answers you get; and if you don’t ask, you’ll never know that a customer isn’t happy until it’s too late and they’ve left. If you’d like to know about sort of questions you could ask your clients and the best way to do it, call me on 01635 578 500 or email me at Chantal@Appletreeuk.com.