This little business went to market
Small business owners get boost from skillful marketing
by Dre Dee
Published in the Toronto Star on October 11, 2016
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Joanna Sable says as a chef, she needed two knee replacements before she was 55. She has leveraged her knowledge and experience in the kitchen into a restaurant consulting business.
When it comes to success in business, size doesn’t matter. Small and medium-sized businesses can reach out to customers in much the same way as the big guys do. And the key, says Steve Slaunwhite, is savvy marketing. Slaunwhite is a marketing consultant and author who teaches clients how to up their game when it comes to attracting and keeping customers. According to him, it’s all about the written word.
“Businesses who write about themselves very well tend to do well,” he says. “The marketing message is the first encounter the customer will have with your business, whether it’s reading sales copy on a website, in social media, an email or an ad. That’s the first conversation with the business before they ever talk to a human being. It’s very important.”
The human touch
But let’s face it, not every business owner was born a wordsmith. How does a dog groomer, a contractor or a chef sing her own praises with panache? “When it comes to creating excellent content (the marketing term for the words and pictures that fill all your communications), you need to come across as a human being,” he says. “You need to write these pieces conversationally. The more human you come across, the more you’re likely to connect.”
One of the biggest mistakes is being overly formal. “Often people try to be very businesslike, as if writing a document for the queen. They’ll use big business words.” Another ill-advised tactic is using hyped-up language full of exclamation marks. “What really works,” he says, “is authenticity.” Write it as you would say it to a friend.
Another trick Slaunwhite teaches is to make your content all about the consumer, not about you. He calls it prospect-focused copy. “Instead of saying, ‘We’re this and we’re that,’ say: ‘If you love this or are looking for that, our business is the right one for you.’ ” This way, you’re fulfilling a customer’s need right away.
Further, he says, play the “So what?” game. “Write down three to five of the most important features of your product or service. Now, pretend you’re a potential customer and say to yourself ‘So what? What’s the benefit?’ It’s a great way to flesh out the benefits that really matter to your customers.”
Be the expert
Next, become a thought leader in your field. Marketing is about much more than what you’re selling; it’s about who’s selling it, says Slaunwhite. “Develop content — white papers, articles, ebooks — that wows your audience and positions you as the go-to company.” He cites the example of a dog groomer who could use a section of his website to explain what differentiates his style of grooming and animal care from others. Does he use a special method that calms nervous pets? How was this developed? Is there research that backs up his method?
It’s a technique that restaurant consultant and chef Joanna Sable learned over years of developing her business. “For the past three years, I’ve been working very hard at what I call Food Clout. This is developing expertise in a variety of areas in the food world that allows me to show off different aspects of my abilities. Writing articles on my website has been great for this.”
After years as a professional chef, a career that can be physically gruelling — “I needed two knee replacements before I was 55,” she says — Sable moved into restaurant consulting, including menu development, maximizing space, creating custom products, branding and more. It’s a service that, because it’s intangible, can be tough to sell. But persistence and a terrific social media campaign have allowed her to grow her business and continually acquire new clients.
“My persistence, strong followup and consistency makes me a pain in the butt to my clients but also keeps them moving and on track,” she says. And that attitude carries over to her presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which she works on at least four times a day, every day. And, as Slaunwhite says, it has to be authentic. “I handle all my own social media,” Sable says. “People know when you are you and not someone just handling it for you.”
Your best offer
Slaunwhite encourages his clients to make sure they followup with customers and potential customers directly and not leave it all to their website or social media. “You may think, ‘Jeez I spent a half-hour on the phone dealing with a complaint.’ But it’s absolutely worth it to make them a happy customer. They’ll feel you’re accessible and they can talk to you.”
Engagement time-savers for smaller businesses, he says, include having a frequently-asked-questions section and how-to articles on your website.
“That way, you can send a fairly short email response and include a link to an answer. It makes managing and community engagement faster and easier.” Sable agrees, “Post lots of photos — they don’t need to be perfect — and respond as best you can to as many people as you can.”
“The more human you come across, the more you’re likely to connect.” STEVE SLAUNWHITE MARKETING CONSULTANT
Finally, Slaunwhite says, you need to have offers on almost all your marketing communications. “Retailers can deliver a flyer with a coupon that ends Friday. If you’re a service provider, offer a free 15-minute consultation or a free webinar on your website.” Offers may seem old-fashioned, he says, but they work. “It’s an invitation to take the next step.” The better the offer, he says, the more response you’re likely to get. “If you came to my house and I said, ‘If you’re hungry, let me know and I’ll make you something,’ you probably wouldn’t take me up on it. But if I brought in a tray of freshly baked cookies and said, ‘I made these for you, would you like to try one?’ I’m sure you would.”
However, Sable suggests “weeding out” social media followers who, despite your best batch of cookies, never engage. “I would rather have quality followers than lots of them.”