As states are beginning to reopen around the nation, businesses are still struggling to make the sales quotas needed to remain open. Until the numbers of infected persons dramatically decrease, many shoppers will continue to make their purchases online. If you’re not yet online with your products or services, you cannot wait any longer.
Shopping habits have changed this year and people are spending in new and different ways. There are increases to what people have already been buying online. Likely you know someone (if not yourself) who uses services like Instacart or Amazon Prime to order their necessities….or even to binge shop late at night. There are some interesting trends out there right now. The purchase of gifts and specialty items has gone up ↑18.9% and apparel up by ↑14.3%. Down significantly are items like luggage (↓77%), cameras (↓64%), and swimwear (↓62%). Overall, e-commerce sales have increased by 25%, so right now you need to focus on getting your business online if you haven’t already. (more…)
May 21, 2020 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am
Join us on May 21st for a live Zoom open forum where we will present affordable marketing strategies that can immediately help advance your business. This is an opportunity to bring your questions and items to discuss at the session as we navigate ways for your business to flourish now and in a post-coronavirus economy.
Sarah Flashing is a business & marketing coach from northern Illinois with over 20 years of industry experience. This is a free open forum for business owners and entrepreneurs in every stage of growth.
To participate, please send us a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org expressing your interest. A Zoom video link will be emailed to your inbox.
This guide is especially important for municipalities and county health departments working hard to deliver timely messages of importance to their community.
Does your website have a resource page for media and public relations? Whether a small business, large corporation, community organization, municipality or a nonprofit, your website needs a page that shares about who you are and gives the people a central location for finding what they need when a story arises. Your strategy should be to make it easy for the media to report on your company by making your content and essential information easily accessible. This page (or section) of your website is most basically understood as a marketing tool for people who want to know more about you and perhaps even report on you and your organization. By setting up your online media page, you have a greater chance of controlling your message and improving your visibility. (more…)
Join me at the Freeport Public Library this Wednesday, February 26, for the Event Planning & Promotion Seminar. I’ll be discussing what goes into planning a successful event, whether your goal is to plan a fundraiser, conference or wedding. Get the Event Planning Essentials outline and Event Planning Timeline exclusively at this event!
Location: Freeport Public Library
Address: 100 E Douglas St, Freeport, IL 61032
Date/Time: February 26, 2020; 4 – 6 PM
Cost: $35 (to Highland Community College)
Preregistration not required (but helpful!). Click here for more information.
Interested in having Sarah Flashing speak? Contact her at email@example.com.
Sometimes even the most established business owners struggle deciding what content and functionality should appear on their website. If you’re an entrepreneur or veteran business owner, this is important information for the digital side of your business. if you’re trying to move product, you probably want to sell it on your website. If you’re trying to move ideas you probably want a blog, perhaps with a newspaper or magazine layout. And if you’re a photographer, you probably want an image-heavy website with an attractive layout to sell your products or services…or maybe both.
But what else does your website need? As you know, there is much more to getting a website than just setting it up to sell widgets or motivate ways of thinking. Do you know what functions and programs your website really needs?
The first step in knowing what to include in your website is changing your mindset a bit so that you can think of this project similar to the way you might go about hiring a new employee. Lets start at the ground level. When looking to hire someone, you first need to write a job description. A job description includes a summary objective of the job, who the individual hired reports to, qualifications and special demands of the position, and, finally, job duties and responsibilities. Let’s think of your website in the same manner and make your website, literally, work for you as a member of your staff.
- Summary Objective: Your website works for you. It accomplishes various tasks and goals like an employee, but what is it’s overall purpose? Your objective may be sales, it might be ongoing outbound communications (blogging/articles), inbound communications, or even a showcase/gallery if your purpose is highly visual. Before you can begin the process of having a website built for your business, you need to know and be able to articulate what your primary objective is.
- Website Maintenance & Upkeep: In the hierarchy of a business, employees know that when there is a problem or issue, or even just a request for time off, that there is someone specific that they need to connect with. There’s a chain of command and everyone reports to someone. Who does your website report to? Who is responsible for making sure it is doing its job as it was set up to do? A website is a composition of several pieces of software combined into one smooth-running package. Like any app on your phone or computer, website software needs to be updated so that it remains reliable. The person responsible for this task may also be responsible for updating your images, posting new blog content, or adding items to your online store. It’s imperative to know who this person is, whether it’s you or someone you need to hire or ask the web designer to continue to do. The answer to this may actually determine what kind of website platform you choose.
- Qualifications or special requirements: Have you ever been hired for a position and read in the job description about the requirement to be able to lift 30 pounds? We’ve all seen it, and it hasn’t always been applicable, but even a website has its limitations if the special requirements aren’t planned for in advance. For instance, if your website requires the ability to host its own video content you need to be confident that your website structure accommodates video and that you have enough hosting bandwidth to handle all of the views. If your website requires that you receive uploaded documents from your clients, you need to be sure you have the correct plugins and uploading capacity.
- Job duties & responsibilities: This is the section that truly gets to the heart of the issue. It’s what everyone looks at before they decide if they’re going to apply for the job. This is the part that truly describes the day to day work of the new employee. So now you need to think of your website is your employee..how do you want to describe its day to day tasks? How is it suppose to help your business develop and grow? In general, your website should be a means of contact for your current and potential customers. It should describe your business products and services and explain why your company can meet their needs. It can be a location for people to make purchases, or it can direct them to a brick and mortar store front where purchases can be made. The website can help you set up appointments with current and potential customers or it can provide a phone number where people can call to do that directly. What you want your website to DO for you is ultimately the question.
Basically, you want your website to DO things to make your world a bit more manageable. Of course, you want it to BE something too. You want it to BE attractive, modern, and memorable. What you want it to BE relevant to what you want it to DO. And when beginning the process of building a website, you should know that what you want it to DO is directly related to any of the software needed to make it function properly. Though I’m not really elevating function over form, essentially if the website does not work the way it needs to, its aesthetics will mean a lot less to those who are visiting your site, they are the people you need it to function very smoothly for.
When you begin the project of building your website, you need to draw from your business plan and marketing plan, making sure you’re working according to the strategy you have already put into place. And then as you think about where to begin, start by writing a job description. Fill in those categories of Work Objectives, Who will maintain the website, any known special requirements of the website, and overall responsibilities of the site as it relates to your business. Once you know what it should do for you, you can move into the next phase of designing your site.
When starting and running any business or organization, differentiating yourself from those similar to yours is essential for future growth, and frankly, even for short-term survival. For instance, if you are going to be one of 5 bakeries in a town of 25,000, you need to find a way to stand out—why should anyone prefer your bakery over others? That is the driving question. In the earliest stages of your business you need to establish your USP. Otherwise known as the unique selling proposition, it is a statement that every company develops to describe what they offer, how it takes care of customer needs, and how it distinguishes them from the competition. It’s a declaration of why you’re better than everyone else who essentially does the same thing.
As the business owner of our theoretical bakery, there are many ways you could decide to differentiate yourself before you open the door the first day. Maybe you’re the only 24 hour bakery in the community or the only one open on Mondays. As it relates to product, maybe you’re the only bakery that makes bagels or caters weddings. Whatever it is, you need to state this as your USP as this will guide all of your marketing efforts moving forward, or at least until you reach the point where you need to rethink your unique selling proposition and make appropriate changes as you’re responding to the marketplace.
To be a bit more specific, if your plan is to offer the best customer service ever, your USP might be “Made Fresh 24/7.” If you want to differentiate with more of an emotional tactic, your USP might be “Just Like Mom Baked.” The USP doesn’t have to be an exhaustive document on all the minutia that makes you different, its a summary statement honing in on the one thing that will drive people into your business even though its likely there are many factors that can differentiate one bakery from another.
The USP for my company is “Building Relationships so You can Build Your Business.” While my team is always focused on taking care of client needs, from logo designs to websites and marketing strategy, we want to build a relationship with our clients. After the website is built or the corporate training is complete, we hope to continue to support our clients through encouragement, networking and sending them opportunities as they present themselves. What we’re not building is a conveyor belt system such that when we’re finished with one task we quickly move on to the next one. We want to take care of our customers because we care about them as people, too. Whether local or glocal, we share the same community, and we can thrive together.
Once you have developed your USP, you might want to go back to some of your closest friends and colleagues and run it past them. People who know you, know your passion, and know your business, will be able to provide input that will help you to move forward. It’s always good to have a circle support to shine a light on your path and make the journey a bit easier.
It can be a huge step to finally decide “this is what I want to be known for” because there are other things you also want to be known for. It’s human nature to experience self-doubt and hesitate on a course of action. At some point, any course of action is better than none because there is so much to be learned in the process.
No one in business gets it right every time. And sometimes when they do get it right, its completely by accident. If you’d like some feedback on your unique selling proposition or you’re not sure where to start, let us know. We’d love to connect with you and help you get things started.
For much of much of my career, I’ve worked in the non-profit setting, but I’ve also spent a great deal of time in the for-profit sector, including having the privilege to run my own business.This makes some suggest that I’m quite versatile. I am…but the real truth is, the most successful non-profit organizations and the most successful for-profit businesses are run with the same basic business principles and should be managed in exactly the same way with some obvious revenue/tax exceptions.
I raise this issue because I often run into people who have misconceptions about the inner workings of a non-profit. Somewhere along the line they’ve come to believe that the administration, the oversight, the day to day operations, is run a little less tight than its for-profit counterpart. Now they could be making mention of these things as merely something they’ve seen, but sometimes it’s the case that boards and committees have a lax view of how a non-profit organization needs to be managed.
Here’s the problem. When non-profit leadership takes on the attitude that we can cut corners, we don’t need to run a tight ship, that the quality of our work can be the bare minimum, we can be guaranteed that this non-profit will not be around for very long. Every non-profit should be managed with the mindset of a for-profit business….as if its your money to lose, not someone else’s. So, there are some myths about non-profit management that really need to be addressed:
Myth #1: Overhead should be avoided or kept at a bare minimum.
Of course there isn’t a non-profit or for-profit business anywhere that should practice the use of excessive overhead or spending. For all practical purposes….why? But where the non-profit struggles a bit differently than their for-profit counterpart is the belief that they should do without or with antiquated equipment so that all of their dollars can be poured back into their mission. The problem with this way of thinking is the belief that the mission is even achievable without working computers, usable phone lines, or adequate office space. The more effective an organization is, the easier it is to persuade donors to invest more. But effectiveness is dependent on efficiency, and having the right equipment and the right people is how things are going to happen.
Myth #2: Non-profits can’t have money in the bank at the end of the year.
I almost spit out my drink when someone told me that an experienced non-profit executive actually believes this. There is no IRS rule stating that at the end of the fiscal year, they have to start with a zero balance in their bank accounts. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sentiment in all honesty. It comes out in a variety of forms such as “we can’t have a savings account with a lot of money in it because we are a nonprofit.” Please have money in the bank at the end of the year so you have something to work with. So sad that this even has to be addressed as a serious myth….but I’ll move on…
Myth #3: Non-profits cannot make a profit.
Another widely believed myth. So let’s set the record straight on this. If your organization that supports, for example, suicide prevention, and wants to sell t-shirts to create more awareness for the cause, your organization can do that.
Non-profits can earn a profit on activities not related to their stated goals, but any profits of this kind are subject to taxation. In order for a nonprofit to make tax-exempt income, it must fall within the scope of their mission and those profits must be reinvested into its expenses.This income typically comes in the form of donations and grants. Of course, this is not financial advice, please give your financial adviser a call to get more information on this matter.
Myth #4: Non-profit executives should be paid less.
After all, its charitable work, right? Think again. It takes talent to run any business, including a non-profit entity. In the same way you shouldn’t keep the computers around with the Windows 98 operating system (its a security risk!), don’t hire staff who are inadequate for the task. If you plan to be working for your cause in the next 10, 15 or 20 years, you need to invest in the leadership that can take you there. If you underpay, you won’t find the talent you need because they will find a way to go where they can get the salary they deserve. Invest early and reap the benefits later.
Myth #5: Big donors are more important than small donors.
Seems like that $5000 donor who dropped off a check last week should be more important than the guy that dropped $10 in the donation jar this morning. Common sense, right? But you know what they say about making assumptions. There is no donor more important than another donor. Of course, you can’t go to lunch with ALL of them, but don’t assume you know everything there is to know about the man who donated ten dollars. Do you know that he doesn’t have another ten thousand to contribute? The best way to think about donors is to not make value judgments about anyone who contributes less than you expect. Even if the ten dollar contributor could never give another cent again, that ten dollars was given from the heart. We don’t want to lose our small donors because they often make up more of the giving than do the large donors. According to Charity Navigator, “donations from individuals account for over two-thirds of all donations.” Big or small, every donation adds up.
Myth #6: Donor Acquisition is more important than donor retention.
Whether you’re a for-profit or a non-profit entity, you need to always be thinking about how to draw in more customers while retaining your existing customers. Implementation of different marketing strategies will allow you to focus on both types differently. Loyalty programs will help you with retention, including in the non-profit setting, and special deals will make an impact on both existing and potential customers. You need to resist comparing the two and give energy to both.
There are many more crazy myths out there about non-profits and how they should be managed differently from a for-profit business. The bottom line is in order for either to run efficiently and effectively, they both need to be governed by basic business principles that allow for future growth. So don’t buy into the myths and be smart about running your non-profit…like the business that it is.
Responding to the growing number of Americans who are demanding more restrictions on gun and ammunition sales, Walmart and Kroger are asking shoppers to not open carry unless they are members of law enforcement.
Big box businesses like Walmart and Kroger understand the responsibility—and see the opportunity—in this positioning. In an open letter to Walmart employees, Chief Executive Doug McMillon said the company would stop selling ammunition used for handguns and military-style weapons, completely end the sale of handguns and discourage anyone from carrying weapons in any Walmart location including in “open carry” states.
These corporate decisions, while not popular among all Americans, are important for regulating their brand image among their consumers. For Walmart, this positioning lends also toward improving their brand among those who, out of principle and for many reasons, have chosen NOT to shop in their stores. With every corporate decision comes backlash, and it’s become clear already that many open carry advocates are beginning to boycott Walmart in favor of stores that either do not take a position on this issue or simply have not made it known.
Issues related to gun rights and ownership have an impact on just about everyone, so it’s no surprise these issues are now a matter of corporate social responsibility. Its no longer just about companies being green or being an inclusive workplace or finding other ways to give back to communities. The issues are becoming more politically charged and citizens are demanding from them more socio-political positioning. Corporations are now figuring out what stands are safe and good for them from a public relations perspective, which ones come with risks and weighing the costs.
Corporate social responsibility as a form of reputation management is an area of marketing applicable to every size of business and organization. As part of a marketing strategy, it’s a way for businesses to get in front of their customers by getting in front of issues with a specific message. Many companies want to make a difference in their communities, regions or world, but the reality is that they want to be seen while making that difference. Whether it’s an act of generosity with some type of community benefit or a new company policy with social impact, there is nothing morally repugnant about putting out the press release or doing the photo op because it can motivate other businesses to similar actions. No company stock is going to plummet and there is no expectation for franchise-wide boycotts to occur for doing the right thing unless it’s just not the right time or they’ve misread public sentiment. And therein lies the challenge for businesses when choosing to respond to social issues and hot political topics—it is not without its risks.
You remember your first business endeavor. You were probably around the age of 10. It was a lemonade stand and the reason you started it is because you wanted to buy something that either your parents couldn’t afford to buy for you or you needed earn the money to do it yourself. So without regard for any cost-benefit analysis, you asked your parents for the sugar, the lemons, and the markers and tag board for your marketing materials and you set up on the front sidewalk in front of your house with your plan to make all the money you needed all before dinner.
You didn’t know at the time that you needed a business plan and a marketing strategy. All you knew was that 1) you needed the cash fast and 2) people get thirsty. There was a definitive need for what you were selling.
But you were selling more than lemonade. You were selling a dream. Every child who got a nickel from their parents to buy your product was thirsty. Every adult who told you to keep the change was sold on your dream—whatever it was. They didn’t care to know.
It gets a little harder to sell anything as a budding entrepreneur. People don’t buy because they think you’re adorable and want to play a role in helping you buy your next toy. They want to buy because you’ve sold them on the notion that your product or service fills a need or solves a problem. That connection has been made in their mind, at least a few moments before they have presented you with payment.
Moving product is as much about selling ideas as much as it is the transaction at the cash register. Successful businesses know this. Many fast food establishments have sold you their product before you even get in the car. If having it “your way” is more important than “fresh never frozen,” then your lunch-time path is predetermined and the work of sales has been reduced to “may I take your order?”
Its never been more important that you know who you are and what you’re selling. Differentiating yourself and your product is one of the clearest ways consumers can answer the question of need or desire. You need to be willing to make your personality, your store, your product and your service look different from the 20 other similar establishments in your community. Standing out is how people begin to make product considerations. You can’t be seen among the competition if you look exactly like them.
Starting a business and having any long-term success is well beyond the anecdote of the lemonade stand. You’re just not cute enough anymore to start a business venture that inspires people much older than you to buy things because it will make you feel good. Before you can move any product or service or persuade people to give to your cause, you have to convince them of the need it fills in their life. Eventually you’ll create a brand reputation that stands out among the competition and that people have learned to trust.
It’s said by so many people, including me, that knowledge is power. So if you have an idea about how your customers and acquaintances think about you, then you have a starting point for knowing what to fix and why (or to know what isn’t broken!). Your brand is the experience others have with your business, product, service, or relationship. As Jeff Bezos is widely quoted as saying, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Your personal brand can and should be both passive and active. It’s how people know you and what you know about yourself and want to refine. A recent article at Fast Company made some interesting claims about the concept of brand.
Brands shape themselves to what others want to hear. A brand is a politician in a cheap suit with over-whitened teeth that calculates relationships in ROI. A personal brand lives in constant fear of discovery, that others will see them for who they aren’t or what they don’t know.
Whatever the answer is to the question, “How do you want to be known?”, the answer is a goal which may or may not be actually achievable. That I might want to be known as a recording artist with at least one top 40 hit is totally not achievable….it’s an unrealistic fantasy. But that I want to be known as a marketing and leadership coach is not outside the bounds of my skills and experience. Brands can always start off as a lie, but brands that attempt to perpetuate that lie have a high mortality rate.
Where a ‘brand is artificial and phony, ethos is an authentic expression of your values and identity as a leader. Ethos includes your accomplishments, mastery, reputation, knowledge, and credibility. A professional ethos is an incomplete expression of your entire self.
Though I love the fact that a leader in the marketing arena is espousing the teachings of Aristotle in their work, I think the logical fallacy here is that brand and ethos must be contradictory terms. I would suggest that a “brand” is incredibly difficult to fake because you can’t alter a person’s experience with your product or service. You can’t lie to consumers and suggest that they can “have it your way” and not let them have it their way. The market doesn’t allow for false advertising for very long or with brands that don’t deliver the experience they’re attempting to convey through their marketing strategy. Of course, ethos is a great way to understand the depths of an individual or business culture, but a brand is simply reminiscent of the experience a customer has with your product or service—and your logo and entire brand identity serves as a reminder of that experience.