Why Your Marketing Efforts Matter

Your business sinks or swims based on the effectiveness of your marketing.

A few years ago I created a to-do list for my business (different from my to-do list for clients). Nearly every day I would add something to the list. Soon, I had over five pages of things to do — tasks I viewed as important enough to interrupt what I was doing so I could add them to my list.

Before long, every time I opened the document I got depressed. I was always adding to the list, but almost never crossing anything off.

Why? I discovered I had a number of well-worn excuses:
I don’t have enough time. The project seems too big. It won’t hurt to put it off a little longer. I feel no pressure to get it done. Maybe it isn’t important after all.

When I looked at the tasks I did complete, I assumed they would match my highest priorities. Right? Wrong!

I surprised myself to learn that priority had almost nothing to do with it. Instead, the major factor in my decision to complete these tasks was the “Big C” — Convenience.
I could finish them quickly and easily. I could complete them in one sitting. And I felt really good when the job was done: instant gratification.

So, what did I do with my 5-page to-do list? I deleted it. Now I feel much better.

When your prospective clients need to hire a lawyer, do they hire you? Or are they skilled at finding ways to “put it off until tomorrow” — or much later?

I encourage you to make every aspect of your law practice convenient for both your prospects and clients — because if they face any obstacles, they may have all the reason they need to do nothing.
Now, here are 12 smart ways to make your law practice more convenient:

Smart Way #1: Make sure prospects find it easy to learn about you. This includes having an education-based web site that answers their questions and explains in detail how you can help them. Also, I suggest you have an educational packet that contains articles and information about your services, which you can send by mail or e-mail.

mart Way #2: Make sure prospects find it easy to reach you. Do you accept phone calls from prospects — or do you insist that they come into your office before you’ll speak with them? Do you offer a toll free number — or do prospects have to pay to call you? Do you respond to e-mails from prospects? The more convenient you make it for prospects, the more calls you ll receive.

Smart Way #3: Make sure clients find it easy to reach you. Are you available by pager or cell phone in an emergency? Can a client reach you quickly and easily on the phone? Do you return calls promptly?

Smart Way #4: Make sure prospects find it easy to get to your office. Is your office on or near a major street? Is your parking area close to your building or office? Is your office at a convenient location in the building? If on the second floor or higher, is the elevator close by?

Smart Way #5: Make sure prospects find it easy to meet with you. If prospects have a hard time coming to your office, will you go to their home or office? If weekdays are difficult for them, will you meet with them in the evening or on a weekend?

Smart Way #6: Make sure prospects find it easy to hire you. Can they hire you without having to drive to your office? Can you send your engagement letter or contract by fax or e-mail? If you have an established relationship, can they hire you simply by calling you on the phone? Or by sending you an e-mail? Can they hire you without a retainer?

Smart Way #7: Make sure prospects find it easy to pay you. Will you accept personal checks? How about credit cards? Do you offer a payment plan? Do you provide postage-paid business reply envelopes to make sending their check more convenient?

Smart Way #8: Make sure prospects and clients find it easy to provide you with the information you need. Do you have a form they can fill out and send by fax or e-mail? For larger packets, do you provide self-addressed UPS or FedEx labels?

Smart Way #9: Make sure prospects and clients find it easy to remember appointments and other important dates. Do you send them a calendar of upcoming dates, including what you need from them — or expect of them — by those dates? Do you send letters or e-mails reminding them of appointments? (A more tactful way to remind them is to ask if this time is still convenient for them.)

Smart Way #10: Make sure clients know when to call you to update documents. You might provide them a list of criteria or events that should prompt them to contact you.

Smart Way #11: Make sure clients find it easy to refer their friends and colleagues. You might mail to each client your referral brochure, which contains a complete listing of your services and contact information. Consider providing clients with referral postcards they can give to friends and colleagues to request a meeting with you. Offer educational seminars so clients can bring friends to meet you and hear your message in person.

Smart Way #12: Make sure clients find it easy to remember you. You might provide things that contain your contact information, such as calendars and paperweights. Send cordial-contact letters. Mail them your newsletter. Don’t overlook greeting cards, gifts and donations given in their name. Also, consider hosting special events like art walks and wine tastings.

In summary: Convenience is a big factor in how prospects and clients respond to your marketing efforts. Don’t allow even the slightest obstacle to come between your prospects and you. Instead, emphasize how easily prospects can do business with you. In this way, you melt the ice that freezes many prospects in place — and help them realize that working with you is an easy, positive, rewarding experience.

Your Small Business Web Site

A web site is a crucial ingredient of your marketing strategy because it can widen your target market to include anyone who has access to a computer and the internet. Almost 60% of Canadians had access to the internet at home in 2003, and around 8 million had regular access to the internet from somewhere, either at home, at work or at school.

And thats just in Canada. Ecommerce sales from Canada were $7.2 billion, and we only captured 4% of the global ecommerce market! So, how can you reach some of those internet surfers, and how can you capture some of that $7.2 billion spent in ecommerce?

First, you build it
The first step is designing your website. If your company already has business cards and letterhead, its best to design your website around them. A matching corporate identity and website helps with branding.

I like uncomplicated websites, with a simple layout and easy navigation. A nice, simple layout, with good graphics, balanced look and good color combinations is my #1 goal when designing a small business web site. Remember to use graphics sparingly and to optimize them for your website because internet surfers are impatient. If your page loads too slowly, theyll leave.

Navigation should be easy to find and to use, and it should be consistent from page to page. Ive left more than one site frustrated because I couldnt easily find their navigation.

Small business web sites arent static. They evolve. You need to start somewhere, and starting with an introductory web site is probably easiest. All you really need to start is five pages. You can always add pages later. The important thing is to just do ittake the plunge and get it out there.

Your five pages could include an index, or home page, about us, services, contact and a sitemap. The index page is your landing page. Typically its design is a little more detailed than the others, but it doesnt have to be that way.

I like to use CSS (cascading style sheets) for designing because its simply easier to build a web site and to edit its layout with CSS rather than just HTML (hypertext markup language) alone. A change on a CSS sheet changes all the pages on your site at once.

Content is king
Once your site is designed, youll want to start thinking about content. Design is very important, but it does little good to have a beautiful site without high-quality content.

Your small business home page introduces you and your companywho you are and what you do. The about us page is usually used to give more detail than the home page about who you are, and your services page gives more detail about what you do. You might wonder why youd waste a page on a sitemap since you only have 5 pages, but sitemaps help search engines find all the pages in your site.

As far as content goes, more is better, up to a point. Your pages should be content rich and informative, but they also need to be relevant to your small business. If your visitor cant figure out what your web site is about in just a few seconds, they may leave.

The internet was at first strictly informational, and thats how it remains today. Several times people have tried experiments using copywriting similar to direct mail sales letters, but theyve all failed. It seems as if people surf the internet more for information than anything else. Knowing this will help you write pages people will want to read.

Attracting visitors
You could follow your instinct and just start writing, but wait. Theres research you must do first, or your web site simply wont be high enough in searches to be found. Search engine optimization is far too big a subject to cover in this short article, but among other things, search engines find your pages based on keywords.

So, pretend for a moment that youre on the other side of the desk. If you were a customer of your own business, what words or phrases would you use to search for your product or service? Ask friends and neighbors how theyd search for your product or services.

When youve come up with a few, check them out on a keyword suggestions tool. You can also use that tool to suggest similar words and phrases. Then find out how many results there would be if you searched for that term. What you want to do next is narrow down your choices to the words or phrases that are searched for the most, but have the fewest results.

Remember that people generally dont look beyond the first three pages for any search term, so if youre not in the top three pages, your business is not likely to be found at all. If there are millions of results for your phrase, you might simply need to make it more specific.

For example, lets say you have a small business consulting company that specializes in communication for small business. Using communication as a search term is nearly pointless because there are almost 2 billion results for that word. But, there are only 974 results for small business communication.

Much better, but how often is that searched for? According to WordTracker, its searched for 10 times a day. Not bad, but I think we can do better. How about small business consulting? Thats searched for 261 times a day, and there are 373,000 results. That could be the best primary phrase for a small business communication consulting company.

What you want to do, is write your content around those words and phrases. You dont want or need very manythree or four are plenty.

Getting them to come back again and again
Getting visitors to come back to your site again and again is relatively simple. Keep your content fresh and lively, make sure its informative, and add to it often.

I hope you decide your small business needs a web site. Its the best way I know how to reach a wider target audience with a relatively small investment.

Your Secret Marketing Weapon

It seems paradoxical the more you give away, the more people are willing to pay for your services but its true. This exact approach has worked quickly and effectively for me for years. The key is that its got to be good and of high relevance to your target audience. This builds peoples confidence that you consistently know your stuff and that you can be counted on for long-term value. People soon realize that if youre willing to give away such valuable expertise, think how great the solutions they pay for will be!

So how do you share your expertise with your target audience? Through writing and speaking. And it starts with being able to get your core ideas down on paper in a way that catches your audiences attention and compels them to action.

If the idea of writing an article or giving a speech feels overwhelming, stay with me. Im going to show you how easy it can be if you follow a basic formula that works every time.

Formula for Success

Weve all stared at a blank page, at a loss for words or ideasand wondered how in the world to write the article, proposal, report or presentation thats due soonwith the deadline looming and no inspiration in sight. Its the worst feeling and brings out the procrastinator in all of us.

Next time youd rather clean out your desk than force yourself to sit down and write something, try this easy approach:

1) Brainstorm a short list of things that your clients struggle with. What problems drive them to you? Why are they willing to pay good money for your services. Remember, its not about you — its about them, their pain, and their needs. This is now your list of topics for articles and talks.

2) Pick one topic and answer the following questions:

Whats the problem?

Whats the lost opportunity?

Why is this important to address?

What will happen if its ignored?

Whats your solution?

What tips do you have for implementing your solution?

What example can you use to illustrate your point?

3) Write your answers to these questions and dont worry about how it flows or even that youre using good grammar. Just get your ideas on paper (or into the computer). Notice that by now, you have at least a page written. Pat yourself on the back and keep going.

4) Go back and clean up what youve written, add a catchy title and some headlines to break up the text, keep your paragraphs short, add some bullets or numbers to guide the eye. Maybe add references or a diagram. Step back and review what youve done. By now, youve got an article!

5) Ask a couple of trusted colleagues, clients or friends for feedback on your draft really do this because it helps! Plus, its a great confidence booster and low-risk way to share your writing with a small audience first.

6) Put your new article on your website, offer to send it as follow up when networking, send it to current clients, use it as the basis for getting booked for talks (more on how to in a future newsletter)whatever you do, dont let it languish. USE it as a way of sharing your expertise.

For more tips on how to share your expertise through writing, keep reading…

Taking a page from Twyla Tharps new book, The Creative Habit, this prolific dancer and choreographer shares her tips for moving from procrastination to creativity, regularly and with ease. Apply these ideas to your writing and notice the difference

1) Set up a creative environment thats habit forming. Creativity doesnt just happen, its a disciplined skill that can be learned. Creativity is not a mystical, elusive gift thats only accessible to artists. Everyone can develop it. Set up the right conditions and it eventually kicks-in. For me, its the act of daily planning that clears my mind to make room for ideas to flow. For you, it might be puttering in your garden or going for a walk. Whatever it is, do it daily and be disciplined about it.

2) Use an organizational system for your ideas. Over the course of a month, I run into articles, quotes, websites, books, photos, experiences, and conversationsall of which inspire me for an upcoming article or talk. I capture them in folders, labeled by theme or big idea. When Im ready to start writing, I draw on this collection of resources to inspire and guide my thinking. Twyla Tharp uses a box for each new project. You might find a binder the best catchall. Whatever works for you, the mere act of labeling and filling your container demonstrates your commitment to the idea.

3) Scratch. Scratching is about seeking inspiration to fill your container. I scratch when I flip through copies of Fast Company and Inc. Magazine or browsing in my favorite bookstore (where I found Tharps book!). I scratch while networking with other professionals and ask what theyre working on or stuck on in their business. This is about where you get your ideasits kind of primal, and you never know whatll inspire you.

4) Beware of these deadly mistakes: relying too much on others, waiting for or expecting perfection, overthinking, feeling obligated to finish what youve started, and working with the wrong materials. Any one of them will undermine your best efforts. If youre stuck, look at each of these to see if theyre holding you back.

5) Find your spine. Its your one strong idea, the toehold that gets you started. The spine of this e-newsletter, for example, is that writing is a core competency of effective marketing. Related to it is the inspiration I found in Twylas book.

6) Master your skill. You have to master the underlying skills of your creative domain, then build your creativity on the solid foundation of those skills. You cant write or speak effectively about your chosen profession, if you havent mastered what you bring to the table to begin with.

7) Know the difference between a rut and a block. Writers block is when youve shut down and your tank is empty. In that case, you just need to do something anything to change the patterns in your brain (walk away, sing, get outdoors, do some yoga, cuddle with your petyou get the idea). A rut is more like a false start. This happens when youre using a bad idea, its bad timing, or youre sticking with old methods that dont work. Get out of a rut by questioning everything except your ability to get out of it.

8) Fail often privately. This includes drafts that get thrown away, early versions that you share with trusted colleagues, testing your message while networking (whats your impression of?). Then figure out why youre failing (is it the idea? your timing? a matter of skill? judgement? nerve?) and address it before going public.

9) Believe in the long haul. Sharing your expertise through writing wont be easy over night. Itll take discipline to create a habit that eventually builds the skill. Believe me, its well worth it.

Ive found that committing publicly (i.e., to subscribers of this e-newsletter, due out on the first Wednesday of each month) creates the right kind of pressure to motivate me into taking a disciplined approach to writing. Writing one good piece per month is doable and frequent enough that your audience wont forget you. Before you know it, you’ll have a solid repertoire of articles and speeches to draw from in your marketing arsenal.

Your Advertising Does Not Have To Be Boring

Here is an advertising design idea that will challenge you to make imaginative ads rather than boring ones. I call it the “Photo ID Design Model” and it is a very useful device if you create advertising for your company or organization. It is one of the easiest and most effective ways to create a striking ad, banner or poster. And it will almost always give you a result that gets noticed.

** Consider the photo id

Think about a “photo id” for a minute. Its most dominant feature is the photograph. The other elements on the card “support” the photo — the person’s name, address, or ID number.

These things are not necessarily less important than the photo. But the photo is clearly the main element. It is what the photo id is “about”, and that is clearly reflected in the graphic design of the card.

If you are not used to thinking of graphic design as related to function, this may seem like an overstatement — “Hey, it’s just a card with a picture on it.” But think about it for a minute. A photo id has the specific job of identifying a person. That makes the photo the most important element on the card. So it stands to reason that the photo should be given the most attention.

** Make the photo the dominant element

When you apply the photo id model to a print ad, poster, billboard, banner design, or even a TV ad the result is usually pretty straightforward. You assume the dominant element in the piece will be the image — the photograph. And you also assume the photograph will be the main “identifier” the thing that defines the look and even the content or theme of the piece. For instance, you find a photo of a cool looking guy wearing sun glasses. And that image fits the message you are trying to convey in your ad.

Serious advertising designers may object that this turns the usual communication process upside down. They might say, “You should always start with your selling message, and find elements that illustrate that message.” For instance, if you want to sell “pet care” products, you should begin with the theme you want to communicate, and then find elements that illustrate that theme. Say your theme is something like “Our pet care products make happy pets.” This theme would then suggest various ideas for photographs and headlines.

Of course this is nice in theory, but in actual fact, advertising is rarely that straightforward. In reality what usually happens is that you start out with a fairly specific idea (“Our pet care products make happy pets.”) As you try to develop it you realize it doesn’t quite work or you can’t find the photograph you had in mind. Then as you’re leafing through the pile of available “pet care” photos you see one that evokes an interesting response. So you modify your original concept to fit the available photograph.

In other words, the photograph has become the “organizing theme” for the ad. If you still think this distorts or perverts the communication process, think about all those cleavage pictures on the front of women’s magazines. The cover designer knows that cleavage sells magazines. So the photo is the starting point. The rest follows.

** Elements of the Photo ID Model

Of course there are no rules about what elements your banner or poster should include, but generally they should be as follows:

1. Product photo or photo collage
2. Main Headline
3. Product Description or sales pitch
4. Company Identifier (Logo, address, etc.)

Anything more than this will tend to make it overly busy. This is especially the case with posters, billboards and banners which are usually meant to be viewed from a distance. You should not try to convey detail. Just your primary selling message, and perhaps an overall image.

** Creativity is always important

An important way in which a “photo id” is different from an advertisement is that it lacks the creative mission we normally associate with ads. We don’t expect ads to be just a picture of the product, or the store front, or of the company president. We expect them to be persuasive — to “sell” the product or idea — and we normally assume that takes some creativity.

In fact, one of the problems with the photo id model is that we may end using it as an uninspiring formula for cranking out ads. We may slip into the habit of relying on the format — dominant photo, major headline, sales pitch, company identifier — and just assume it is unnecessary to use our imagination. We may think it is not necessary to create an interesting headline, for example, or look for a striking and memorable photo.

In other words we often settle for the ordinary rather than coming up with something creative. We settle for a boring description of the product rather than an imaginative statement of what it can do for me, what problem it can solve, or how much money I am going to save if I buy it.

As a general rule, in advertising creativity is almost always better than the lack of it. Of course, this is difficult to prove. And even worse, many people claim they have no creativity in them, so they think this excuses them from trying a little harder to come up with an interesting headline idea or slogan.

But even if you are “creatively challenged” you should still try just a little harder. Because in advertising it really comes down to this: “Do you want your ad, your poster, your billboard, or your banner to be effective or not?”

4 Key Points to Branding

Here are four things you should keep in mind as you build your companys brand:

1) Own the Significant Thing: Dole tried to be all things to all people spend your time focusing on a single clear message. Mercedes-Benz owns Engineering in the car industry because its focused on that singular message for decades.

2) Consistency is key: consistent presentation will ensure that your customers recognize you. Be consistent in the use of logos, taglines, visual elements, tone, and ad copy. Coca-Cola it is one of the most recognized brands in the world because they havent changed in decades. Make sure your brochures, website, Direct mail, and all the other advertising have the same feel and message.

3) Make your message relevant: know your audience, know what they care about and how to speak to them. Make sure what you sell is what they need. Remember the conversation should always be about your audience, not you.

4) Use a strong offer to motivate: you want your audience to remember you and you want its members to buy from you. You need to move them to action. A strong offer should give them a reason to buy. Make the offer clear and appropriate for your brand.

Every time a customer comes in contact with your brand, they will have either a positive or a negative experience. Those experiences will add to their perception of your brand. Those experiences are recalled later when its time to make a purchasing decision. How do you want your brand to be remembered when the time comes for a prospect to buy? You need to start building that positive perception today and do whatever is necessary to maintain it.

5 Tips For Small Business Owners

If you own or manage a small business you know that one of the biggest challenges is attracting and keeping new customers. Traditional advertising in print and radio can be expensive and hiring a marketing firm isn’t feasible on your budget.

I have worked with many small businesses and kept my ears open to the challenges they face and also some of the things they do that work to help them grow their businesses.

Here are five  tips from several successful small business owners that are worth paying attention to:

1. Create a Support Network

For many owner, running your business can be an isolating experience at times. This can be especially true if you are the sole owner without a partner.

A solution to that problem is to stay networked in your community. That means meeting with you chamber of commerce, getting to know the other businesses in your area and creating support systems to help each other overcome typical challenges owners face.

As a busy business owner, It’s tough to find time to network, but getting better at networking and making contact can pay dividends in the future.

2. Be Specific About Your Goals

Another lesson many business owners learn is tobreak big goals into smaller ones. Have 10-year goals, 3-year goals and 1-year goals, as well as quarterly goals for your business. With regard to the bottom line set your goals on customers rather than a hard dollar amount. How many new customers do I need to obtain and service? If I know I need 100 customers to reach the revenue goal, then it’s easier to figure out how to achieve it. These kinds of really specific goals can drive your actions.

Every employee in your business should have a written list of their goals on to track their progress toward those goals. It helps keep everyone focused.

3. Keep Your Overhead Low

One of the biggest obstacles to success can be unnecessary spending. It’s great to want to be a 5 star business but over spending to get their quickly will kill your dreams. Start slow and expect to build organically with an eye on never-ending improvement.

4. Keep Your Day Job Just a Little Longer

It is a common trap: A person gets excited by a small business idea, quits his or her day job—and then runs out of money and fails. Expect to need to keep some other forms of income while working towards building your new business. Treat your current day job as a second job to keep some revenue flowing until your absolutely sure your new business is self-sustainable.

5. Avoid Distractions at All Costs

This is simple. Stay focused. In the age of social media and online interaction it can be especially hard to stay focused. Don’t let Facebook, Twitter or Instagram steal your time and energy.

Stay task focused. As a business owner, often you will be required to multitask but it is important to maintain as much focus as you possibly can to completing one mission before attempting to solve the next problem. You may feel like your always putting out fires. Understand that your personal bandwidth is limited and prioritize to stay focused.

Do you have any tips to share with fellow business owners? Let us know in the comments!