Monday, April 27, 2009

Your Friend Twitter

This week's post comes from Elisa Peimer, one of Oren Hope's founding partners.

I’ll be the first to admit that I just didn’t get Twitter. What good was posting a little blurb about yourself and what you’re doing that was no more than 140 characters? Quite honestly, I thought, who cares?

But I got sucked into marketing peer pressure and joined up. I found a couple of friends and colleagues and started following them. The first couple of days I spent thinking “what am I going to post on Twitter?” like it was some kind of school assignment. But as I eased into it, I’ve found that I’ve started using it like a tap on the shoulder, a simple “here’s what’s going on,” without having to write a whole blog entry about it. It’s allowed me to keep our company, our blog, and myself at the top of people’s minds. And I actually think that’s the biggest benefit of Twitter. We all know how bombarded we all are with messages and information. Twitter is a simple, quick, and relatively unobtrusive way to keep yourself in the mix.

Some companies have been able to use Twitter in really inventive ways. When I first joined up, my friend @sharongoldman, a marketing/writing colleague, suggested I check out the Twitter feed of Tony, the CEO of Zappos. Zappos, the online shoe store? Why would I care what he had to say? It turns out Tony has over a half million people following his Twitter feed. His tweets have a good combination of information about his company, interspersed with general comments about his life. It puts a real face on the head of Zappos, and makes you feel like you know him. Which, in turn, makes you more likely to check out his company. It’s marketing, but it’s not done in a dry, “marketing” kind of way. It’s personal and social. And fun to read.

Another fascinating Twitter story is what happened to @davepeck when he was trying to fly out of Austin after SXSW on Jet Blue. The flight was delayed and @davepeck twittered his frustration about it in the airport. @jetblue got back to him to try to help — through Twitter! When wi-fi issues and technical problems ensued with Jet Blue, @southwestair stepped in — again through Twitter — and tried to get him on one of their flights. And everyone who subscribed to all these Twitter feeds was seeing the whole conversation. Jet Blue came out a little the worse for wear, but quickly made amends via a follow-up email, and Southwest Airlines looked like a hero for trying to come to the rescue. All in real time, and all completely public. And all in under 140 characters.

And just so you know, before I started typing this post, I twittered about it at @elisapeimer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Business of...Life?

We didn't name this blog "Marketing: The Business of Life" because the phrase has a poetic ring. We called it that because of the entrepreneurial attitude that more and more of us have been taking.

Thanks to modern-day systematization of how business is done, looking at oneself as a "product" that needs to be "marketed" has been an increasingly popular attitude for years. Now, with the economy in a ditch, businesses reeling, and more and more people lacking steady work, the entrepreneurial spirit has of necessity been flowering like crazy.

Life isn't a business any more than it's a highway, a game, or a bowl of cherries. But so much of what we do requires thinking like a marketer. And in this over-commercialized and hyper-communicative society we're more aware of our image than ever.

People have always dressed and made themselves up to make a good impression on a date. But self-marketing is kicked up a big notch when one has to create a profile on a dating website.

Companies have always advertised and promoted their products. But now they have to be your "friend" too, designing, planting, and watering social networking gardens all over the web, blogging like babies who won't shut up, tweeting like birds in the trees.

For younger generations growing up never having known a world without the Internet, this all comes fairly naturally. But many of us maturer folks were raised to believe that tooting one's own horn is gauche and impolite. For us, re-training is in order. Values have changed.

It goes deeper than simply giving yourself, your work, your company, or your products a positive spin. It's taking a fundamentally market-oriented approach, making sure everything you do is presentation-quality.

A pain in the butt? Sure. But there have always been things we have to do even though we'd rather not. Flossing, quitting smoking, going to funerals. You're adding one more, that's all: marketing. If you're lucky it comes naturally; maybe you even enjoy it. If not, suck it up and go in there and floss.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Website Basics

No matter what your business, your website acts as your online storefront. Whether you're selling goods or services, an online presence is a necessary part of marketing yourself. And, just like a good piece of journalism has the who, what, where, how, and why, a good website should address the basics of what you offer right up front.


Sounds obvious, but it can be easy to get distracted with design and lose sight of the first thing a customer should see: the name of your business. It should be at or close to the top of all of your pages, so people can surf around your site and continually see your brand name. And if you have a logo, use it -- incorporating your company name into a design element makes it easier to remember.


You don't need to get into a lot of detail on the front page, but you do need to state clearly and succinctly what you offer. It works well to come up with a short blurb that gets people's attention: "The largest supplier of home office equipment in the tri-state area, making your office as comfortable as your home" or "Proofreading services with fast turnaround and great rates, so you can get your projects out when you need them." A brief description of what you're selling on the front page can be linked to a more detailed page outlining specifics.


This is only relevant if your location is a part of your business. If you're a brick-and-mortar store, your website acts like your calling card. If you want to draw people into your business, make sure your location and contact information are prominent on all your pages. In many cases, a visitor to your site only wants your physical location anyway - so make sure they can find it. If your location isn't relevant to your business, you don't need to put it on there at all.


How do you do what you do? You have experience, a track record, past successes that you want to relate to your customers. Especially if you're selling a service, make sure that you put down your background, past clients, or samples of your work. Chances are that you're not the only one offering these particular services, so toot your own horn a bit and show customers what you've already accomplished so that they can see what you might be able to accomplish for them.


So now they know who you are, what you do, where you're located, and how you do what you do. But why should they hire you? You probably don't do or sell anything that's never been done or sold before. That's where the Unique Selling Proposition comes in. A Unique Selling Proposition is a brief, catchy message that explains what makes you different, and why you are better than your competitors. Like everything else on your site, your USP should be brief, easily found, and repeatable.

There's a whole lot of stuff going on online. Peoples' attention spans have gotten shorter and shorter. The crux of the website is to get to the point quickly and make it appealing and interesting. You can do a lot of fancy things with a site -- flash, sound, video, blogs -- but you still have to shout your main message loud and clear.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What Should I Charge?

Knowing or deciding what to charge can be one of the toughest questions for freelancers or entrepreneurs who are building a new business or going into a new line. But don't let it become a source of undue stress. There are some practical principles that can make it easier.

The first step is to find out the "going rate," as far as such a thing exists. There are two factors to consider here. The more important is: what do others charge? Second, who are your clients?

The only way to find out what others charge is to ask. Ask people you know who provide or use similar services. If you find it difficult to get information this way, search the web for similar services, contact them pretending to be a potential client, and ask their rates.

Using either or both of those methods, you can determine a range of rates that are reasonable and expected.

Next, think about who your clients are, actual or potential. Are they local small businesses or scrappy startups likely to be on limited budgets? Are they well-funded startups? Are they big corporations with plenty of money? A large national firm can probably pay more than the mom-and-pop cookie bakery down the street. This can help determine whether you should ask for the higher end of your range or the lower end.

But once you're aware of the "going rate," the primary principle is to always ask to be paid what you're worth. Perceived value is real value.

Here's an instructive example from the music industry. Independent musical artists often wonder how to price their CDs. (Yes, people still buy CDs, especially at live shows.) Some musicians think like this: since the total cost of recording and manufacturing my product was only (let's say) $3.75 per CD, if I sell them for $10 that's a nice big profit. A second run of the same CD costs even less (say $1.50) to produce, since no further recording costs have been incurred; so now at $10 retail, I'm really rolling in profits. Right?

Not so fast. Your pricing shouldn't be based on a fuzzy sense of what's a "reasonable" profit, but on the value of the product. If most touring musicians are charging $15 for a CD, then $15 is the value of a full-length music CD. A concertgoer isn't buying a plastic disc in a box, he's buying a piece of the experience of hearing the music live -- a piece that, unlike the concert, will last forever. That's value.

Similarly, a service provider who bills on an hourly basis should think very carefully before pricing herself significantly below the competition in the belief that it will earn her more business. An initial discount for a new client might, in some circumstances, be a good idea, but it should be clearly indicated as a special one-time deal. Regular pricing should be set at a level that accurately reflects the perceived value of the services.

Why does a lawyer get hundreds of dollars per billable hour? Are his services really that much more valuable than those of a hospital orderly, a child care worker, a dock worker, a proofreader, or a temporary receptionist? No, but they're perceived that way, and perceived value is real value.

Especially when dealing with a large or well-funded client, price yourself on the high end (or at least squarely in the middle) of what you have determined is the going rate. You can always negotiate from there if it's a job you really need or really want.

With a smaller client, you can consider asking for a bit less, but use this option with caution. I've had situations where I've asked a certain rate and had my offer accepted with such enthusiasm that I was sure the client had been prepared to pay more. This is not what you want to happen. Much better to ask closer to the high end, while being secretly prepared to negotiate; your potential client is probably prepared to negotiate as well. That's just business.