Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to ask for help

Asking for help: in today's "I can do it myself" world, we often have a hard time admitting that we can't do it all. It makes us feel less competent, less intelligent and less useful. However, I argue that asking for help not only makes us the opposite of those three, but it actually allows us to increase our marketability, customer service skills, and knowledge base.

As the saying goes: "The older I get, the more I realize how little I know." In this information-driven age, have we somehow forgotten this? Or, have we determined that - with so much information available at the touch of a button - we don't need anyone's help except our own? Have we become so independent that we're affecting not only our relationships, but also our businesses?

Marketing materials are a great example of the do-it-yourself mentality that can ruin a business. Today, we have online printing companies that can help you create a (somewhat customized logo), collateral materials, and business cards. Web services make it possible for you to register a domain name, upload your logo and photos onto template (again, somewhat customizable) pages, and immediately have a web presence. Blogs and social media sites allow you to deliver information to your potential clients, colleagues and business associates. You can do it all! Or can you?

I know that I can't, and I'm quite savvy about most of that stuff. My website, which I've attempted to create myself, is atrocious. Yes, I admit it! I don't like it and I feel that it conveys the wrong image about my company. My logo: well, it's allright, but a professional would have done a better job, and I'll most likely change it in the future. My collateral materials: they're acceptable for now, but they have the potential to be so much more AND by being so much more, help me market my brand in a more efficient and visually-pleasing manner. Finally, the content on all of these is average, since I've devoted so much more time on working on others' communication materials than on my own; I'm my worst client! So, what have I learned from this experience? I need others...very, very much.

Fortunately, I am now partnering with a terrific branding expert and designer who is revamping my site (look for an upcoming blog about my own "branding consultation session" -- it was an eye-opener!). I have relationships with those in the printing business who will develop brochures and other collateral materials that I find worthy of my company and my image. And, I can hire a social media expert to keep me current regarding Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, various other sites, and SEO optimization. With all these people working with me to fulfill my business branding goals, my company will certainly have a more professional, polished look and will, undoubtedly, garner more customer and media attention.

Finally, I have the world's best business consultant who gives me sage advice, snaps me into reality regarding market potential, pricing, and customer relations, and assists me with all financial matters. This, especially, is something that I could not do myself. Or - at the very least - I could not do it efficiently, effectively or (most likely) correctly.

So learn that there is still so much more that you have to learn and refuse to do it all yourself. You're probably not a highly skilled writer, graphic designer, programmer, social media expert, financial consultant, and branding expert. Focus your time and energy on what you know best: your business. You, your customers AND your bottom line will benefit from it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Picture Can Say a Thousand Words...or Nothing At All

One of my current projects involves revamping the website of a well-known event producer; ideally, we want his revamped site to illustrate his creative vision, the tremendous scope of his projects, and his high-end clientele. To do this, of course, I'll have to generate great content to describe the events. But most of all, the site designer will need fantastic photos to showcase the events themselves. This is where we've run into a problem. And, it's a problem that I encounter with clients on a regular basis: the case of the missing photos.

For an event producer, lacking an arsenal of professional photos that showcase hundreds of events is a HUGE problem. Even the most prolific, descriptive, professional copywriter can't show someone an event. A writer can describe the magnificent lighting, the custom-made ice bar shaped like a dragon, the models wearing unitards that were designed to showcase the Tiffany jewelry; but, without photos, the images are simply those created in the potential client's mind. And, if the potential client is someone without much of an imagination, or a person who cannot visualize well, then he or she might envision some strange stuff that doesn't sound fabulous at all.

The issue of the missing photos is not limited to event producers, florists, artists, or those whose work requires visual proof of his or her abilities. If you sell a product, you need to have a great photo of that product on your site; in fact, the more photos and the more angles of the product, the better. The more you show the potential customer, the more likely it is that he or she will choose what you have to offer.

Some real estate agents, for example, know that lesson well. If you've ever searched for a home online, you'll notice that some listings have one photo, while others have dozens of photos (and often videos) showcasing the property. Which property would you be more inclined to view in person? My guess is that you'd be wary of the property with the solitary photo and be more inclined to visit the one with which you have become familiar. Again, a description of a beautiful master bathroom or gourmet kitchen is essential to adequately describe a magnificent home; but, without a photo, the description is lost on the potential buyer who may not be able to visualize granite countertops, dual vanities or a jetted tub.

Finally, if your product or service centers around you, then show your customers who you are. This can be achieved either by having photos of yourself (which I believe are key to breeding familiarity and comfort between you and your potential clients) on your site or of images that describe you or your personality.

People gravitate toward the familiar and like to see what they're getting before they purchase a product. Words are important, but the power of a good image shouldn't be overlooked. So, before you develop your site or marketing materials, make sure that your pictures say a thousand words. The copywriter will take care of the rest.

Talk, talk, talk

It's a very simple concept: tell everyone you meet about what you do. Now, I'm not suggesting that you go around boring complete strangers with endless information about yourself. However, it never hurts (under the right circumstances) to drop a few hints here and there regarding your job, service, product, etc.

One of these things is likely to happen:
  1. You'll be ignored. That's okay. It's not the end of the world. Maybe the person didn't ignore you, but simply didn't want to talk to you at that moment. But, at least he or she probably heard what you had to say and that person may contact you when you least expect it.
  2. You'll be told "no." Well, we've all been told "no" at some point in our lives. It's not a big deal. After all, not everyone will be interested in what you have to offer.
  3. You'll be lied to and the person will tell you that he is interested, when - in fact - he's not. We're all guilty of doing that, so we can't really blame him. If you say you've never done this, then you're lying right now.
  4. A person you're NOT speaking to will overhear the conversation and be interested. Your next, and perhaps even best, customer may be a couple of feet away.
  5. The person you're talking to will sincerely be interested in your product or service and will want to know more. That's when you go into "sales mode." But don't be too sales-y or the person will get turned off thinking that you were doing a sales schtick all along.
  6. The person you're talking to will like what you have to offer, but may not be able to use your product or service. However, she'll give you the names and contact info for others who are ideal customers. Leads, leads, leads...I'm guessing that it's a salesperson's second-favorite word, right after, "sold!"
Naturally, there are other scenarios and various outcomes, but more than likely, these are the situations that you'll face. None sounds too frightening, and all have the potential to gain exposure, find a new customer, or make a sale. So go on, and talk, talk, talk...