Knowing what makes your customers tick will help you make marketing decisions, from pricing, distribution, and choosing the color of your logo, to deciding what to put on your website and using Facebook effectively. Continue reading Who Are Your Target Customers?
Common Sense SEO
If you’re like most small business owners, you’re reluctant to spend $500+ a month to hire a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) agency.
Reputable SEO firms provide a host of useful services that can benefit your business, but unless you’re relying on web traffic to woo customers, you probably don’t need to hire an expert to get found on the web.
Here are three “common sense” SEO practices that you can do on your own.
1. Be Local
“Local search” plays an increasingly important role in SEO, especially on mobile devices. If you’re in Somerville, Mass. and do a web search for wedding caterers, you’re likely to be shown a list of wedding caterers near you, even if you didn’t ask for local listings.
Search engines like Google assume that local listings are more likely to be relevant to web searchers. Google frequently features three local businesses at the top of the search engine results (below the ads) in a “3-Pack.” (See the 3-Pack sample displayed here.)
Even if you’re the closest business, however, you may not make it into the Google 3-Pack. According to Google, their local search results are largely based on relevance, distance, and prominence. So if another business is further away, but much better known, they may get featured instead of you.
Getting listed in local online business directories, especially Google My Business, can increase your chances of making it into the Google 3-Pack. Search engines place a high value on reputable business directories, ratings, and social media sites, so it’s worth your time to participate.
Make sure your listings are consistent from site to site, down to the last period and comma. Including photos, having reviews, and providing complete and detailed business information is also important. Here are some tips on how to use online directories to drive website traffic.
|Examples of Influential Sites for Wedding Caterers|
2. Be Relevant
In general, bigger and more established websites have a better chance of showing up at the top of search results than small businesses with smaller, newer sites. This is because they have more relevant content, get lots of traffic, and have hundreds of “authoritative” sites linking to them.
If you want your site to compete, make your content as specific and relevant to your target customers as possible. Create separate pages on your website for each of your major services, products, or areas of expertise.
EXAMPLE: If you own an artisanal cookie business and you’re trying to sell gift packages, create at least one page around giving cookies as gifts. The Dancing Deer Baking Company includes nearly two dozen gift pages on their site, from “Gifts for Fall” to “Gifts Under $35” to “Business Gifts.”
The advantage to having separate pages for each topic is that you can incorporate very specific key words or phrases that people are likely to enter into search engines when they want to buy that type of product. In addition to images, each page should ideally include at least 300 words.
Creating pages about one or more of the communities where you’re seeking customers is another way to provide relevant information that’s also local. The products or services you offer in each community may be identical. It can be hard to come up with something unique to say about what you do in each town. Try writing about what it’s like to do business in that specific community, your local business partners, annual events, or anything that could interest residents or visitors.
Chances are, bigger, more established websites already dominate rankings for keywords like “artisanal cookies business gifts.” In that case, dig deeper to come with a more unique angle on the topic. Your subject might not get as much traffic as the bigger sites, but it could still be of great interest to your target customers.
For example, a Google search for “handmade rugelach,” turned up 155,000 results, while a search for “rugelach vs. biscotti,” turned up no exact matches. If you wrote an article about the difference between the two cookies, your page could be at the top of the search results.
Sometimes, no one’s written about a specific topic because not many people are interested in it. You can use free “keyword research” and SEO tools to see how many monthly searches are being conducted for that topic. Here’s a list of my favorite free SEO tools for small business.
3) Get Linked To
Along with being local and relevant, having “backlinks” can help get you a higher search engine ranking. A backlink is a link from an external website to your site.
Sometimes the easiest way to get links to your site is to post links to other sites, especially if you have a relationship with those sites. When you’re launching or updating your site, think about whether there are any appropriate pages where you could link to your vendors, colleagues or clients. Many people will automatically reciprocate if you’ve linked to them; others will do so if you ask.
Backlinks from mainstream news outlets tend to carry a lot of authority because they’re well established, have lots of readers, and are considered “objective” third parties. Lots of news coverage is cyclical; the same types of stories get covered every year, such as a list of places to go apple picking. If you contact media outlets well enough in advance, they might be willing to include you this time.
Don’t discount blogs and social media. If a blogger has a small readership, but the people who follow that blogger are in your target market, a link to your site could have a lot of impact on your traffic over time. While Facebook posts may not directly help to increase your search engine rankings, they can drive traffic to your website.
Chances are that your competitors have some sites linking to them that might be willing to link to you, too. One way to find potential sites is to look at your competitors’ backlinks. Google a competitor and go through at least a few pages of search results to see what sites are linking to them. (This is also a good way to find online business directories that you may want to be listed in.) You can also use an SEO tool, to get a list of your competitors’ backlinks.
After you’ve identified some sites that you’d like to link to you, think about what knowledge or content you could offer them that might interest their website visitors. Would they review your products or services? Is there any chance they’d interview you for their podcast? Could you write a guest blog post?
Once you’ve settled on something to ask or suggest, check LinkedIn to see if you know anyone who’s connected with that site. If not, send a cold email or call. If you ask enough people, some of the sites are bound to give you a link.
One caveat: When it comes to backlinks, quality is much more important than quantity. It’s great to have as many backlinks as you can, but only if they’re “good backlinks.” A “bad backlink” is a link from a spammy site that’s trying to make money from doing something fake or wrong. Don’t ever pay for someone to link to your site.
If you suspect that there’s a “bad site: linking to yours, use the SEO tools to investigate. Experts recommend that you contact the webmaster for any undesirable sites and politely ask them to remove the link. If you don’t get a response, you can “disavow” those links.
Unless you pay to advertise, you can’t grow a tiny seed into a magic beanstalk overnight. For most small business owners, getting top search engine rankings takes time. As more people find your site and learn about your wonderful business, your site will also rank higher in the search engines .
Monitor whether your search rankings are going up or down by visiting search engines in “incognito” mode, but, if possible, use one of the free SEO tools to monitor your results automatically.
And do keep in mind that while the basic principles of SEO don’t change, the search engine algorithms do. Minor SEO rules get updated all the time, so try to pay attention to search engine news.
Finally, this article doesn’t address the technical, or non-content, aspects of SEO. While you can get pretty far following the three principles described above, there are lots of best practices, tools and techniques that are worth following if you—or someone you hire—is willing and able to take the time. Here’s a great article if you want to learn more.
Inspiring a Second Purchase
Which is more important, a customer’s first purchase or their second?
While obviously a customer has to try—and like–your product or service once before they’ll buy it a second time, the second encounter is crucial for developing loyal customers. By the time a customer has made that second purchase, they’re well on their way to becoming a regular.
Here are some ways to encourage that second sale and establish a devoted customer base.
Market research is simply the process of finding answers to your questions about the market, your customers, and your competitors. Whether you’re launching a new business or growing an existing one, you can use Do-It-Yourself (DIY) market research to answer key questions, such as:
- What trends are on the horizon? How can I use them to help me create or improve my products?
- Are there people who want to buy my product or service, and if so, what’s the best way to reach them?
- How many potential customers can I attract?
- Who’s my competition?
- Who are my current customers? How do they like what I offer?
Market research firms can provide the information you need or research it for you, BUT they usually charge thousands of dollars. Here are some free and low-cost tools you can use for Do-It-Yourself (DIY) market research. Continue reading DIY Market Research
Every small business and organization should have at least a basic website. Even if you mostly talk to your customers on social media, you need a digital location where you can control how you present your business and where you store your digital content. (Don’t have a site yet? Here are some tips about using “Do-It-Yourself” website builders.)
Just having a website, however, isn’t good enough; your site should help you achieve your goals. Whether your primary goal is to attract customers, get newsletter subscribers, or let people know about your sales or daily specials, you need to know if your website is delivering for you.
In addition, you should be able to assess how well your site is working. Are online searches driving traffic to your site? Once visitors get to your site, are they spending time exploring your content? Is your site as easy to use on a cellphone as it is on a desktop?
So how do you know if you have an effective website? Enter Google Analytics.
What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics (GA) is a free program that enables you to track and measure whether your website is achieving your goals. It provides you with information that will help you tweak your site to grow your business. If you’re not using GA (or a comparable program), you’re missing out on an incredibly valuable tool.
Unfortunately, many small businesses and nonprofits aren’t taking advantage of GA because they think it’s too complicated. While GA does have sophisticated capabilities that take time to learn, the basic tools are helpful and relatively easy to use. This is the first article in a short series that will help you take advantage of GA.
Let’s start from the very beginning: the Google Analytics Home Page. Google recently rolled out a new landing page that provides helpful data that anyone can use, even if you know nothing about the program.
If you have GA already installed, open it up so you can follow along as I review the features of the new home page. (If you need to install it, here are instructions. You’ll have to install a snippet of code on your website, so if you’re not comfortable with that, you may need help for this piece. I promise–this is the only technical bit in this article.)
A Guide to the New Google Analytics Homepage
When you open your Google Analytics page, 10 Basic Reports will automatically upload with the latest data. These Basic Reports are designed to help you give you quick insights to help you understand your business. While you can customize them a little, you’ll want to look at the Full Reports that GA offers if you want to dig deeper,
There’s a link on the bottom right of each chart is to go to the full Google Analytics report. If you want to know more about that topic, click on that link. Take a look! You can get a lot more information from looking at the full report, even if you don’t do any customizing. To go back to the landing page, just click Home in the left hand navigation menu.
Customizing the Date Range in Basic Charts
In the bottom left of most charts, there’s a drop down menu that lets you change the time period for the data. The default is 7 days, but you can choose from time ranges on the list—such as the last 90 days or last year—or set your own custom range.
The rest of the data can’t be customized directly in this Home Page view. You will have to visit the Full Report in order to adjust other types of data you want to view.
Key Analytics Concepts
Google has a precise way of calculating each metric, but most of us don’t need to know the details. Here’s a simplified explanation of the terms used in Basic Reports.
The Top 3 Charts for New GA Users
Audience Overview is one of the most valuable of the Basic reports. In addition to providing you with the total number of Users and Sessions during your chosen time period, it tells you the bounce rate and average session duration. An arrow with a percentage below each number tells you whether the number has increase or decreased over the time period.
At the bottom of this chart is a graph that maps the number of website visitors who used the site each day.
In the example to the right, a dark blue line shows how the daily website traffic to Good Egg Marketing varied over the past 30 days. The light blue dotted line shows the daily traffic over the previous 30 days. There’s no obvious pattern in either month, but if I were comparing year-over-year visits, for example, I’d be able to tell whether visits typically go down or up during the summer.
This default chart shows the graph for Users. If you click on one of the other data choices at the top of the chart (Users, Sessions, Bounce Rate, or Session Duration), a blue line will appear over that word to indicate that you are in that tab. The chart will shift to show a graphic of the daily statistics for that data during the current and previous time period.
Sessions by Device
Customer Acquisition Report
This report packs a lot of information. Like the Audience Overview Chart, it has three tabs, so be sure to visit all of them.
1. Traffic Channel: A traffic channel refers to the source or means by which you’re attracting people to your website. GA has four default channels in this Basic Report: Direct, Organic, Referral and Other.
The Chart above is set for a 7 day period. The dark blue color gives me a visual idea of how much traffic came from organic search each day. As you can see, it fluctuated quite a bit. (I may want to drill down later to see if I can figure out why.) The Direct Traffic (slightly lighter blue) also varied, but not quite as much.
2. Source/Medium: The first term (Source) in Source/Medium refers to the channel that the traffic is coming from; the second term (Medium) refers to the type of category that the channel belongs to. For example, your source/medium could be google/organic (unpaid) or google/paid. If you’re running paid ads, you’d want to know how much traffic is coming from the paid ads versus the free listings.
The reason why this chart is useful is that instead of just telling you how much of your traffic (the Source) is organic, it can show you how much of that organic traffic is coming from Google vs. Bing (the Medium). If you notice that your traffic from Bing is increasing, for example, you may start paying more attention to Bing.
3. Referrals: This tab will show you which sites generated the most referrals during the designated time period. If you notice that a particular website seems to have provided a lot of referrals, find out whether it’s a positive referral or potentially a spam site. If you go to that URL and like how they’re listing you, you may want to contact them and build a relationship.
You Can Do It!
Now, even if you do nothing more than look at your Google Analytics home page once a month, you’ll be able to get some interesting information. For those of you just starting out with Google Analytics, this will hopefully whet your appetite for doing more.
Facebook is the undisputed social media king and Instagram is the new queen, but Twitter is a quick, easy-to-master marketing tool for many small businesses, nonprofits, and consultants. It can help you increase your visibility, drive web traffic, build relationships with customers and prospects, position yourself as a thought leader, or just keep up with trends.
This article is written for existing Twitter users, but if you can text, you can Tweet. Here’s a guide to get started on Twitter. (And even advanced users might find this Hootsuite Guide to Twitter Marketing helpful.)
Stupid Twitter Twicks
Want to get more from Twitter? Aside from the most obvious things (use popular hashtags); include a photo in your profile; and promote your Twitter page from your email signature, website and other social media), here are the tactics I’ve found most successful.
Tweeting while you’re attending an event (using the conference or event hashtag) is a surefire way to attract new followers and gain attention. (screen shot of you live tweeting magnified to circle the hashtags and user handles)
- Announce that you’re attending the event and will be live tweeting, listen for pithy quotes from the speakers, summarize or comment on what’s going on, and share any useful or fun tidbits you can.
- Quote the speakers by name, Twitter handle, and/or hashtag if you can, and they’re likely to retweet you.
- Research the conference hashtag and the speakers’ Twitter handles in advance, so you don’t have to waste time during the event.
- Follow the conference hashtag to see who else is tweeting and retweet as much as you can.
- DM other people tweeting from the conference and meet them for coffee. I’ve met some great people and even gotten some business from connecting with other Tweeters at events.
- Check your analytics to see which days/times you posted your most successful Tweets. The best times to Tweet differ for everyone –it depends on your followers.
- Tweet frequently to increase the chance that your followers will see (and engage with) your Tweets. The most important thing to know is that the average life of a Tweet is about 18-24 minutes. After about three hours, your followers are unlikely to see your latest Tweet.
- Write Twitter posts at night and schedule them to go up at your chosen time, if you find it hard to Tweet while you’re busy doing other things. You can schedule Tweets using social media engagement tool, like Hootsuite or TweetDeck. You can also schedule Tweets using Twitter. (screen show of tweet deck or just the image with a link)
- Check Twitter several times a day so you can engage and respond to commenters and new followers. Take a few minutes to scan your feed and look for interesting Tweets you can like, retweet, mention, or comment on.
Hardly anyone seems to bother with Twitter lists, but they’re a useful way to keep track of the people you’re following and can help you attract followers and influencers.
- Set up a list for each category of people you follow. You can make your lists public or private (I keep most of mine public). Every time you follow someone new, add them to a relevant list. The people you add get a notification, which may motivate them to check you out and follow you.
- Utilize lists to find relevant content. If you’re short on time or focused on a particular topic, you can just click on a list to just see Tweets from the people in that group. It’s also a good way to keep track of what your clients, your competitors, and influencers are saying.
- Speaking of competitors, if you don’t want them to know you’re following them, you can add them to a private list without officially “following” them.
- Subscribe to other people’s Twitter lists. This is a great way to find new people worth following.
By the way, if your Twitter lists are public, anyone can subscribe to them. So if you own an ice cream shop, you could create a list titled “Best Ice Cream in Boston” and include your business! Twitter lists show up in search engines, so if someone Googles “best ice cream boston twitter,” they will see your list in the search results and may check you out.
Include Images and Videos in your posts
- Communicate with visual symbols whenever you can. Visual symbols are one of the most effective tools you can use to convey a message in a limited space. Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than those without images. So use images with your Tweets whenever you can. You can include up to 4 photos in a Tweet.
- Add some emotion or humor to your Tweets with Twitter’s animated GIFs Tap the icon to compose a Tweet and then tap the GIF logo at the bottom of the screen to look for the right GIF. (You can also include your own GIFs by clicking the photo icon.)
- What’s better than a photo or GIF? A video!
- Go live! Don’t have any premade videos? You can create a live video on Twitter. Give your followers a behind the scenes look at your business or offer tips.
Use Twitter Analytics (screen shot analytics)
- Use the insights to figure out what topics (and style of posts) are most appealing to your followers and use that to plan your content. For example, I assumed that most of my followers would be foodies, but they’re even more obsessed with politics and current events.
- To access your analytics, click on your image icon in the top right (Profile and Settings). Click on Profile & Settings and click on Analytics from the drop down menu.
- Click each of the tabs in the top navigation menu for fascinating tidbits about your top Tweets, your followers and their interests, your profile visits, and more. Be sure to check out the submenus; for example, under the Audiences menu, click on Demographics to find out the region, age, sex, income level, and other info.
- Shape content around Events. Click on the Events tab in Analytics, then check out the hashtags for upcoming events and recurrent trends (like #WellnessWednesday or #TB (Throwback Thursday)
Good Egg Marketing specializes in building websites, so when I wanted to create a new site for our own business, I figured it’d be a snap.
If I’d just wanted to give the site a facelift, but keep the same content, it would have been simple. But I was determined to create an easy-to-navigate site with lots of useful stuff and a fun, distinctive look.
Admittedly, I was busy running my business, so I wasn’t working on the site all the time. But all in all, it took over two years to complete!
Whether you’re starting a new website from scratch or building a new one, here are a few tips on how to create or relaunch a site, based on my lessons learned.
Start with Your Goals
I was really clear about what I wanted the new site to achieve and that helped me stay true to my vision throughout the process. Here are my three goals:
- Drive traffic to the site by providing useful content that people find on Google and other search engines. Over the years, I’ve written dozen of articles on a variety of business and marketing topics, but I never paid much attention to search engine optimization (SEO). This time, I used Yoast SEO to help ensure that each article focused on a specific topic and keyword.
- Encourage people to spend time exploring the website by making it easy to navigate. The content on my old site was grouped by date and format—articles, newsletters, and presentations—rather than by topic. The site organization made sense to me—and no one else. The new site organizes content by topic and by audience, so visitors can find what they need faster.
- Encourage people to hire us by showcasing our past work. When most people visit the Good Egg Marketing site, they’re already interested in us, but need to be convinced that we can help them. I included testimonials, case studies, and a list of our speaking engagements and clients. The content showcases our expertise; our client roster demonstrates that people have confidence in our work.
As I look at the analytics to see how people are using the site each month, I’ll be able to tweak it to achieve my goals.
Focus on Your Customers
As a marketer, I’m always telling clients to put themselves in their customers’ shoes and address their needs.
The websites for many marketing company websites lead with who they are, what they do, and how they do it. All important stuff to include, but not at the top of your home page.
Our new site directly addresses frazzled business owners who feel overwhelmed by all their marketing choices. A series of rotating marketing tips complements a short video that expands on that advice in a friendly, informal style.
Get the Visuals Right
The biggest challenge for the redesign was coming up with a distinctive look. Since marketing services are intangible, it’s hard to find an image that expresses what marketing is. I didn’t want to be yet another site featuring a photo of a flower or a mountain.
After playing with a variety of concepts, including a recreation of my desktop strewn with tools of the marketing trade, I was at my wit’s end.
I finally went to a graphic designer I’d worked with many years ago and started with a clean slate. She interviewed me about my vision and ideas for over an hour. Ultimately, she came up with a dramatic, abstracted version of the Good Egg Marketing logo–a green egg!–that sets the tone for the site through shapes and colors.
Once she created the basic look for the home page, I was able to write headlines and text that complemented those images and she created additional pages that built on the same format. My web developer was able to turn her images into a flexible WordPress design and everything else fell into place.
Bake Mobile into Your Site from the Start
I knew all along that my website needed to look good, load quickly, and be easy to use on a mobile device. These days, Google and other search engines penalize you if your site isn’t mobile-friendly. Unfortunately, I didn’t put enough thought into how the images would work on mobile when we developed the site.
We created the desktop site first, meticulously tweaking it to get it to look just right. But when we looked at the site on a cell phone, many of the graphics didn’t line up correctly. We were using a mobile responsive design, but the graphics needed extra tweaking. Ultimately, we were able to create an acceptable mobile version, but it required additional time and expense.
If you look at the analytics for your current site, you can see what proportion of your visitors are viewing your site on a desktop versus a mobile device. Even if you don’t have a lot of mobile visitors now, mobile will eventually take over, so you should bake mobile design into your site from the start.
It Takes a Team
Just need a simple site with basic information about who you are, what you offer, and why you’re in business? If you have good computer skills and the time, you can probably create a website singlehandedly. There are plenty of free or inexpensive website builder programs that let you DIY (do it yourself) pretty easily. If you want to create a unique looking site or organize lots of content, however, don’t try this on your own!
I managed the project and wrote the copy, but over the two years, I worked with two graphic designers, three assistants, a web developer/videographer, and a search optimization expert. Instead of bringing these talented people together as a team, I worked with them individually and sequentially. It seemed more efficient at the time, but in retrospect, putting a team together from the start would have saved time and money in the long run.
If I were starting over again, I would also decide which project management, storage, and communications tools I wanted the team to use. We shared and stored some of our work on Google Drive and Dropbox, but we didn’t use them as consistently or effectively as we could have. In the future, I plan to use Trello and Dropbox for my personal projects, as well as with clients.
A good website isn’t static, like a printed brochure. It’s a living thing that you need to keep feeding and buying new clothes.
If you have a well-planned site, you should be able to adjust it as needed without needing a full redesign every six months. But, like fashion, web technology and design move so quickly that it’s inevitable that I’ll crave a new look eventually. When it comes time to build the new site, I plan to reread this article and take my own advice.
Getting your product into a store or restaurant is exciting, but once you’re on the shelves, how do you make sure that you’re there to stay?
Here are some tips from a recent panel that Good Egg Marketing moderated at the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts (SBN) Local Food Trade Show in Boston, Mass. While this article focuses on farms and specialty food businesses, the principles about how to keep customers happy apply to most businesses and organizations.
Despite intense consumer interest in buying local, getting your local food products into specialty food stores, restaurants, and institutions is challenging. Stores like Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, Mass. get hundreds of requests a week to carry products.
Find a Niche
Finding a distinctive niche to fill is just as important for stores and restaurants as it is for the businesses that sell to them.
When New Orleans native Sherie Grillon moved up to Boston, she noticed that no one was making a fresh traditional Mexican style salsa fresca, so she started Nola’s Fresh Foods in 2011 to fill that niche. Being able to differentiate her product from other local salsas helped her get into specialty food stores and restaurants and she’s now selling to Whole Foods and Star Markets.
River Valley Coop in Northampton, Mass. faces heavy competition from supermarkets and Whole Foods Markets carrying organic and natural products, so they’re focused on being “hyperlocal.”
River Valley Produce Manager Henry Kryeski embodies the store’s slogan, “Wild about Local.”
Kryeski goes out of his way to work with as many farmers as he can, but with so many western Mass. farmers growing “so many great things,” he can’t buy kale from everyone.
“That’s where the word niche comes into play,” Kryeski says. He gets the best quality and avoids overlap among the 200+ items he carries from more than 30 local farmers by taking the time to figure out which farmer is best at growing the products he wants to buy.
Kryeski meets with farmers off-season to discuss what they’ll grow for River Valley the next year, so everyone can plan ahead.
Cambridge Naturals has also been adept at finding a niche. They started out as a full-scale natural foods store in 1974, when the natural foods movement was just getting going, but by the mid-1990s, the industry had become extremely competitive.
In order to survive, Cambridge Naturals rebranded themselves as a natural health store with a carefully curated selection of groceries. Their commitment to sourcing local, organic and ethical products, supporting the community, and providing excellent customer support has enabled them to thrive in the niche they carved out for themselves.
Look for the Right Venues
The best places to sell your produce and products are where the owners, buyers, and customers care about supporting local farmers and food producers, not necessarily the places with highest annual sales volume. Stores like Cambridge Naturals pride themselves on being the first to bring in a new product, so they’ll go out of their way to support small, independent local businesses.
“We go after exciting unique products with a good story to tell,” says Cambridge Naturals’ second-generation co-owner, Emily Kanter. “We’re often the first stop for a lot of brands that haven’t been elsewhere yet. We like to have products that aren’t in every store. “
Nola’s built its salsa business by establishing relationships with supportive stores. “We can sell four times as much at a small owner-operated local store than at the big natural foods supermarkets, because the customers know and trust the staff,” says Grillon.
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in South Deerfield, Mass. was the first “Buy Local” organization in the country. CISA’s Local Hero Program Manager, Devon Whitney-Deal, works with over 425 farmers, retailers, specialty food producers, institutions and others who sell and support local food. She helps their members find the right venues to sell their products.
“Be creative when you’re looking for buyers,” advises Whitney-Deal. For example, if you want to sell to institutions, don’t just approach your local schools, colleges and hospitals. Some local food producers in western Mass. sell to assisted living communities, because “their residents are demanding local food,” she says. Wherever there are eaters, there are potential customers.
Creating and maintaining strong relationships with the owners, buyers, and customers is essential to getting in and staying in. Most buyers are sympathetic to new entrepreneurs, but they can be hard to get reach, because they spend so much time out on the floor, receiving shipments, going to trade shows, visiting farms, or talking to other entrepreneurs. And if you’re out in the fields, meeting with suppliers, doing demos, or selling at markets, you may also be hard to reach if they do call back.
Figuring out how to get in touch with buyers–either when you’re making the initial sale or after you’re in–can be tricky. Some buyers prefer that the initial contact be made online or by email, others by phone, others by dropping by. While some venues provide information on their websites about how they want to be approached, in most cases, you often have to try a variety of methods to get a response.
The right frequency for contact will depend on each particular buyer and your product. Some buyers want to be communicated with weekly or biweekly, others monthly, others every six months. Ask them how often you should contact them and the best times to reach them.
Kryeski recommends that you check in on your product and stay in touch with the buyers. “Consistency is key,” he says. “Ask the buyer how often you should call and then call regularly, whether it’s every Tuesday or whatever schedule you work out.”
Personal contact can make the difference. “I worked with one farmer who was having trouble selling her lamb,” Whitney-Deal recalls. “I suggested she go out to dinner and bring along a little cooler with a lamb step or lamb ribs to give to the chef to ask them to taste it. She did it, and sure enough, that chef called her back” and eventually became a customer.
Be Ready to Sell
In addition to having a quality product that’s ready to sell, you need to have your samples, sell sheets, price lists, and business systems ready.
“The days of writing invoices on paper are over,” notes Whitney-Deal. “You need to have computerized invoicing,” she says.
Kanter suggests that companies invest in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, so they can track sales calls to current and potential customers. In addition, scheduling software can remind you when to make sales and follow-up calls.
In addition, almost every store is going to want you to do demos to introduce your product to their customers, so you need to make sure you have time set aside to demo and support each new store. “When Nola’s gets picked up in a new store, we do a demo in that store once a week for 6-8 weeks, so we can get people to taste our product,” Grillon says. “If you want to become one of the products that they’ll buy every time, you’ve got to talk to everybody and build a connection, so when they see your product they think of you.”
You can’t assume that, once your products are being carried, you’re all set. “Getting into stores tends to be the easier part,” says Grillon. “Staying in stores is harder.”
Visit stores and meet with buyers regularly to make sure that your products are stored and displayed correctly; that the owner, buyer, and staff know you and can share your story; and that you’re checking in to see what that store needs.
When she started out, Grillon did three demos a day. She’s adamant about hiring the right people to do demos. “The demo person is the face of your company. Don’t settle for somebody who isn’t going to promote your company the way you would,” Grillon says. “Tell them to talk to every customer that walks by, even if you’re just saying hi.”
In addition, you have to stay loyal to your initial customers. “Some of the specialty food producers do a lot of demo support right off the bat, but then they get into a bunch more stores and we never hear from them again,” Kanter says.
Although Kanter understands that businesses need to give extra attention to their newest accounts, she urges businesses to stay in touch. “Check in regularly to ask how things are going, what can I do, do you want any more demos, can I send you some free samples,” she advises. “We’ll keep selling the product as long as it’s relevant and our customers want it, but we’ve had to say goodbye to several local products that we loved because they over-committed and we couldn’t get their stuff.”
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