Bidding for Services Online

Well, I finally have one tiny bit of confirmation (one case history) about my theory that all those cheap websites offering marketing solutions aren’t always worth it. An entrepreneur I know went to a bidding site for logos. He went three times. The first two times he got back garbage – or results that were unusable and totally unsalvageable. The third time was a charm – he was happy with the logo he received and is going to register it as his trademark. The whole process cost him some time (close to three months in total) and some money (he didn’t share how much with me). With no guarantees that each time he threw the line back in the water (or the credit card back on the website), that what he would reel in would be of any value to him.

And this is a savvy entrepreneur. He had some background in marketing and was capable of judging the quality of the work he bought.

So, should you bid for marketing services online? Well, ultimately that’s a decision up to you.

Are you a successful business?

Three of the most important things startups need to focus on / demonstrate if they are raising money, want to grow or just plain want to be successful:

1. Gaining customers (or if no proof of concept then a list of qualified customers)
2. Showing they know how to grow their business
3. Demonstrating profitability and ROI

These points may sound easy to achieve and you may be saying to yourself, ho hum, I don’t need to read further.

Point number 3 – Demonstrating profitability and ROI. A lot of startups get lost here. They don’t realize that you have to invest/spend money in order to make money – Lie #4 – I have to show a profit before I can market. Investors (and actually the company owners should feel this way too) are looking to see if you’re profitable or when you are predicting profitability (break even and beyond). And tossing some money out willy-nilly at marketing efforts will never bring ROI into your company…marketing is a strategic exercise that requires thought and planning and, well, strategy.

Here’s some definitions and formulas for calculating ROI and profitability:
http://www.dbmarketing.com/articles/Art129.htm

Are you a successful business? Part 2

Three of the most important things startups need to focus on / demonstrate if they are raising money, want to grow or just plain want to be successful:

1. Gaining customers (or if no proof of concept then a list of qualified customers)
2. Showing they know how to grow their business
3. Demonstrating profitability and ROI

These points may sound easy to achieve and you may be saying to yourself, ho hum, I don’t need to read further.

Point number 2 – showing you know how to grow your business is key to not only getting funding but to keeping your business healthy. This is something that many startups and small businesses don’t focus on. They say cash is king and “they” are right. Sometimes companies become very successful very quickly and can’t handle it. Prepare for growth. By managing your cash flow you can set goals to grow your business, manage cash on a monthly basis and get a clear picture of what’s going on in your business. Make sure you understand all the financing options available to you – traditional as well as alternative and invoice factoring.
Don’t put your entire business at risk because of something that’s easy to plan for and track.

Here’s some interesting related points:
http://www.alleywatch.com/2014/02/5-red-flags-of-startups/?utm_source=AlleyWatch+Daily+Pulse&utm_campaign=c1ae92d926-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e01c347085-c1ae92d926-62886025

Are You Really Ready to Succeed?

I recently finished a PR job for a small client. They wanted to get the word out about a new product and hired me as the external PR person on a very limited budget. In addition to me, they used internal staff as well as a freelancer. We are all smart, I have an incredible resource of contacts, and we reached all the movers and shakers in this client’s sector. But sales and response was still low. Here’s why and what you can do before embarking on a PR, marketing or a sales push.

MAKE SURE You have a brand and communications platform BEFORE you do the marketing and PR on a specific project.
If you don’t, then your audience is doubly confused. First, they don’t know that much, if anything at all, about who is sending the message. Not good. Second, because of the first point, the message holds less weight and is more likely to be ignored.

There’s enough budget to get the job done.
This client didn’t have enough budget to get the job done. If you don’t, then no matter how smart your resources are, they can only take you part of the way.

There’s infrastructure in your company so that everyone knows where they belong and who they report to. This could change on a job by job basis. That’s ok. What’s important is that everyone knows where they fit in on any given project.

Give someone, preferably internal, responsibility for the project. If no one person is a project manager, then the separate elements will go their own ways, miss deadlines, forget to do the job and basically not understand the importance of the job. This applies to companies of all sizes. I have three or four-men jobs and there’s always a project manager assigned.

DEBRIEF AFTER EVERY JOB! Get feedback from your team. What went well? What can be improved? Surprises along the way. Give everyone a chance to speak freely.
It’s better to save your money and do the job right than waste it doing only part of the job.

Are you a successful business?

Three of the most important things startups need to focus on / demonstrate if they are raising money, want to grow or just plain want to be successful:
1. Gaining customers (or if no proof of concept then a list of qualified customers)
2. Showing they know how to grow their business
3. Demonstrating profitability and ROI

These points may sound easy to achieve and you may be saying to yourself, ho hum, I need read no further.

Point number 1 – gaining customers is something that many startups and small businesses don’t focus on. They fall into my Lie #1 – If I build it, they will come. Investors (and actually the company owners should feel this way too) are looking to see where your market is – are you marketing? And startups, even marketing startups, often get lost in this space. Ask yourself: Would I invest in a company that can’t show me their market? The customers lined up to buy the product as soon as it’s available? A list of beta-testers? ANY INTEREST AT ALL?

More and more I’m seeing startups and small businesses flounder in this area. Forget for the moment Michael Moore’s crossing the chasm…these businesses aren’t even getting the early adopters. Take heed and show the market interest.

Here’s some interesting related points:
http://www.alleywatch.com/2014/02/5-red-flags-of-startups/?utm_source=AlleyWatch+Daily+Pulse&utm_campaign=c1ae92d926-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e01c347085-c1ae92d926-62886025

Is big data* changing the need for focus groups?

Recent articles suggest that there is so much information being gathered about customers and spending and everything else you can think of, that the need to do traditional market research is starting to fall by the wayside. Data will give you all the information you need to predict consumer actions.

As I noted in my recent post about consumers using Amazon and other sources to comparative shop for price and quality, features and benefits, big data still reports historically on what consumers have done, therefore, you are looking backwards to predict the future. Yes, I know, history repeats itself but when you’re selling next seasons’ clothing line, you might want to reconsider consulting the past. And I agree that focus groups and other agency/consultant and client pre-conceived ideas put in front of customers should fall by the wayside (after all, a focus group asks the customer to react to YOUR ideas, they don’t ask what the customer wants).

I’m sure if you are a huge corporation, having access to all this data must be comforting. But it’s still all seen from the perspective of the market and not the customer. I believe that nothing is better than asking your customers what they want and how they want it. That’s a predictive, not historical, approach. I’ve done it for big corporations (one had a return-on-investment of 1,000%) and I’ve don’t it for solopreneurs (one had a return-on-investment of 60%). I suggest you do it for yourself. Get out there and poll your customers directly. Mimoona, which is a new crowdfunding tool (http://www.mimoona.com/?reffID=4299), allows your customers to have a vote on your next seasons line – and it’s not an idle vote – they vote with their credit cards (hopefully Mimoona is still in business as of this post).

*Big data is a term coined for the collection of data that comes in such large volume and in groupings, that it can’t be handled by traditional methods. The value of mining big data, is that enables one to see connections on a larger scale than ever before, as well as see connections between things that were never before available.

A logo / design and tag line do not make a brand – especially a fashion brand

Yes. They are definitely contributors but there’s a 360-universe that comprises a brand and those elements are only a part of it. A key part of your brand is the brand promise: what are you going to deliver? It’s great if you can promise to deliver something no one else is talking about. My company offers 60%-1,000% return-on-investment. We back it up with numbers from actual clients. A promise like this may not have clients knocking down the doors, but they ARE going to remember a promise that breaks through the clutter.
In what used to be called image marketing (such as fashion, liquor, and in the old days cigarettes), you are often selling a story as the brand promise. A story that the buyer believes will become their experience if they purchase and use the product. Ralph Lauren is a master at creating stories that invite you to participate by wearing his clothing.
Below are some links that offer advice on branding for any kind of business (even Tom Fords’ advice works well beyond the fashion world).

http://www.manta.com/TOTD/marketing/20140220/tm0h1bq
http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/12/define-brand.html
http://www.vogue.com.au/fashion/news/tom+fords+14+tips+on+building+a+fashion+brand,28189

Make sure you know what you want for your company or you will lose it: “I guarantee it”

Last year Men’s Warehouse founder, George Zimmer was fired from the company he founded. It turned out he wasn’t the majority shareholder of the company. That led to his ouster.
No matter what kind of company you found, there are a few key points to ensure this doesn’t happen to you (unless you are just in it for a quick turnaround and flip, in which case that’s your exit strategy and what you strive for).

  • When raising money, remember, the probability of having to give up more than 50% to get the money is very high. That means you’re giving up control. Often the founder is parachuted out with lots of cash. But if you want to build a company and maintain control, think carefully about the sources of your money. This is what is meant by “expensive” money.
  • When taking on partners or starting out with partners, make sure there is a strong contractual agreement in place that covers who is in control of what and to what degree. Anything can happen, and the weird stuff often does – if your partner dies or gets divorced, you may wind up with an heir who knows or cares nothing about the business. Then your problems really begin, especially if they don’t want to be bought out (or you can’t afford to buy them out).

Are you still the sucker you used to be?

New research was just released that demonstrates a big shift in how consumers buy and what influences their purchase. Traditional ads no longer have the same power to shape consumer opinions as they once did. Amazon (the ultimate cost and quality comparison, along with others) influence consumers more than ever. The studies were based on the “compromise” effect – (see NYT article below for the full story) are probably now saying to yourself, ho hum… and why is this news? Well, it took a while for the establishment to document what most of us already know and practice organically. However, some of the results of the study suggest that digital feedback in the digital world allows marketers to see what works and what doesn’t – what messages are influencing customers and which ones aren’t. And they can make adjustments accordingly…and very quickly. This is all very well and good, and excellent support (although the writers and researchers don’t see it from the customers’ point-of-view, so they are still missing the point) for my position that customer-focused information and insight right from the beginning…pre- advertising/marketing/PR efforts and spending, is more valuable than measuring what works after you’ve spent all that time, money and effort and then correcting it.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/08/business/theres-power-in-all-those-user-reviews.html?smid=pl-share

Sandra Holtzman teaches Licensing at FIT, is a Kauffman Institute certified Fast Trac facilitator at the Levin Institute, and teaches MA level Marketing at NYU.
She is the author of Lies Startups Tell Themselves to Avoid Marketing.

3 Things Entrepreneurs should know about WordPress

Today’s blog is guest written by Stephanie Cockerl, a WordPress expert.
Stephanie owns nextSTEPH a company that helps individuals, small businesses and companies take their websites to the next level. She’s been doing this for over 16 years. nextSTEPH provides web development, search engine and social media services to clientele in the education, health, media, non-profit, and publishing industries. For more information, visit http://www.nextsteph.com.

If you have been online for a while, hopefully you have heard the word “WordPress.”

WordPress has impacted the way people communicate and publish on the web.

Nearly 20% of the web operates on WordPress. (http://techland.time.com/2013/07/29/the-word-from-wordpress-catching-up-with-matt-mullenweg/). Many companies, media outlets, public figures, entertainers and non-profits run on WordPress. Here are some examples, http://wordpress.org/showcase/.

WordPress (http://www.wordpress.org) is an open-source content management system or CMS for short. “Open source” means that the software is non-proprietary. There is no additional cost for installing in on a website (other than web hosting.)

Anyone is free to contribute to the development of WordPress, from participating in the forums to attending and volunteering at WordPress conferences, or WordCamps. Developers contribute their support to the core software (http://wordpress.org/download/), themes (the templates), and plugins (mini- applications that extend beyond the WordPress core functionality.

Not long ago, if you didn’t know HTML, how to find web hosting, and create webpages, you were out of luck. Now with WordPress, anyone can have a site within minutes.

One thing that entrepreneurs get confused about when getting started with WordPress is what version to use. There are two versions of WordPress, www.wordpress.com (hosted on WordPress ) and www.wordpress.org (self-hosted.)

WordPress.com

By using first method, www.wordpress.com. WordPress is hosting the website.

The benefit of having an account on WordPress.com is that you don’t have to contend with obtaining web hosting. You can also have multiple “blogs” or “websites” under one account.

When you sign up for a new account, you would be given a default web address like yoursite.wordpress.com. If you eventually obtain your own domain name, WordPress.com charges a yearly fee to attach it to your account. As the site grows, you may want to add more functionality. WordPress.com may not be able to accommodate it unless more space on the account is purchased. Also, if you don’t have your own domain, you are vulnerable if wordpress.com has hosting difficulties. If WordPress.com goes down, no one will be able to see your site. That would be the point to consider self–hosting. When you establish your self-hosted website and you would like to forward your wordpress.com address to your own domain, there is also a fee for that.

WordPress.org

Most web hosts make it easy to install WordPress. WordPress is known for it’s “5 Minute Install.” Web hosts should also have a control panel in which WordPress is located.

Making your WordPress Site Yours

Once you install WordPress, it already comes with a default theme. If you want, you can start filling it up with content, or you can find a theme (http://wordpress.org/themes/) that better suits your website.

Once you find a theme you like and you have customized it to your liking, you may discover that the site needs a bit something extra. This is where plugins come in. Plugins extend the functionality of your site. If you want to install a form, or a place for banner ads, the plugin section of WordPress.org

(http://wordpress.org/plugins/) is where you would look.

WordPress has come a long way in under a decade. From what was once thought of as just another blogging platform to being the preferred CMS of not only the famous, but also those who want a flexible and manageable solution to make their mark on the web.

Stephanie M. Cockerl is the owner of nextSTEPH. The company has been helping individuals, small businesses and companies take their websites to the next level for over 16 years. nextSTEPH provides web development, search engine and social media services to clientele in the education, health, media, non-profit, and publishing industries. For more information, visit http://www.nextsteph.com