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Small Business Saturday marketing trends

SHOP_SMALLNovember 30th marks the fourth annual Small Business Saturday, a day to support the local businesses that create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods around the country. Small Business Saturday was created in 2010 in response to small business owners’ most pressing need: more customers.

Why Shoppers Are Shopping Small

The trend for shopping small is increasing, with 35% of consumers stating that they like to shop at local small businesses, up from 27% last year. New research indicates why shoppers are drawn to small businesses for their holiday shopping

  • 57% believe it’s important to support local businesses
  • 49% are attracted to unique merchandise
  • 39% say local businesses offer personalized service and suggestions
  • 25% say area businesses typically offer good prices

Retailers Get Ready for Small Business Saturday

With five fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2013, many small business owners say they’ll be pulling out all of the stops to get customers into stores during the holiday shopping season.

For many of the small business owners who are aware of Small Business Saturday, the day will be a part of their promotional calendar. Of those small business owners incorporating Small Business Saturday into their holiday plans, 70% say Small Business Saturday will be helpful in attracting new customers. Additional findings from the surveyed owners reveal

  • 67% will offer discounts
  • 39% will collaborate with other small businesses to promote Small Business Saturday
  • 36% will offer coupons for future offers or discounts
  • 33% will offer a gift with purchase
  • 33% will rely on social media most to promote Small Business Saturday to their customers
  • 32% are starting their holiday promotions earlier than last year
  • 21% will increase the number of employees working on Small Business Saturday

A spoonful of measurement helps the marketing show results

It may sound a little “Mary Poppins,” but when I think about my approach to measuring marketing and social media results, I think of it as a “spoonful of measurement.”

Like many sensible options, it’s just enough for what I need to track, not more.  I wanted to share my approach because I think it’s a practical one for sole practitioners, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations on a budget. Read the rest of this entry

A Single Resolution for Your Business in 2012

If there was one change you could make for your business in 2012 — a change that would make a real difference — what would that be?

Plenty of business owners are making resolutions and marketing plans right about now.  And that is a worthwhile endeavor — provided you can follow through.

But wouldn’t it better to do one thing well, rather than plan several things you don’t complete?  Here’s a thought:

If you feel overwhelmed by the effort involved in planning your marketing activities, then pick one, easy-to-do, simple-to-remember goal for your business.

So, is it time to makeover your business?  What single goal could you focus on for a full year?  Think how your business would change if you

  • Wrote one blog post a week.
  • Took photos of yourself with your clients.
  • Added a video to each page of your website.
  • Spoke at one workshop or conference.
  • Invested in print or radio advertising.

What are some “one-goals” that could improve your business?

Your Marketing Strategy for 2012: A Calendar Full of Opportunities

2011 is winding down and it’s time to plan for 2012.  You can start by identifying important 2012 event dates for your marketing efforts.

Sometimes all you need to create an actionable plan are the right tools.  I like to use a large erasable wall calendar that shows the year at a glance, myself.

Marketing Calendar Templates

Here’s a monthly marketing calendar template to download.  Here’s another version:  marketing_calendar.  This marketing calendar is more detailed and in a spreadsheet format.

Fletcher Prince Helpers

Monthly marketing ideas will be featured throughout 2012 on the Fletcher Prince Blog.  We’ll publish ideas for creating marketing content that your company can produce and distribute online, via email, and in print.

As you plan now for 2012, be sure to add your company’s milestones, special events, and conferences.

Share your yearly marketing planning strategies in the comments.

Check out These Resources

Your Marketing Strategy for 2012 — Avoid 10 Common Pitfalls in the New Year

When prospective clients ask me how to achieve visibility for their new or existing business, I generally make similar recommendations.  My advice would also apply to managers with nonprofit organizations, associations, and government agencies, as well.

Although my advice is sound and practical, I struggle with convincing some people of the value of my recommendations.

When planning and executing marketing strategies, the biggest and most preventable mistakes I observe are

(1) Skimping on needed marketing and public relations activities, even when the resources are available and the services are affordable.  I have never seen a client who spent too much money or too much time on marketing.

(2) Failing to create or stick to even the most basic marketing and public relations plan.  Being disorganized in their business practices.

(3) Postponing sales-generating marketing tactics when their business is doing well.

(4) Neglecting to update their websites, social media platforms, and public relations and marketing materials — sometimes for several years.

(5) Procrastinating until the last minute to launch promotions or public relations outreach. Not understanding the amount of time it takes to build a campaign.

(6) Abandoning marketing efforts before they have a chance to obtain results.  Having unrealistic expectations.

(7) Fearing to make a change, or try a new tactic.  Refusing to consider new options that are working well for their competitors, from a lack of familiarity with those options.

(8) Omitting the important step of reviewing and measuring their past efforts, a step that would help inform their goals and decisions.

(9) Disregarding the value of informed, external opinions and constructive criticism, even from customers.  Clients can’t always “see” that their website looks disorganized, or that their marketing materials are outdated and ineffective. They are too “close” to it.

(10) Assuming too much.  Taking on too many projects at once, or attempting too ambitious a project.  It’s better to keep it simple, and sustained.

No one is perfect.  Everyone lapses on following through on marketing plans sometimes.  The important thing to identify now is: reviewing these pitfalls, can you see whether you put obstacles in the way of your success?  Can you identify any patterns?  Did you do the best you could do, or did you let fear, disorganization, or unrealistic expectations hold you back?

Looking back at 2011, what could you have done differently?  What can you do differently in 2012?

My message for sole proprietors, businesses and nonprofits as we move into 2012 is this: you can’t complain that no one asked you to dance if you didn’t bother to put on your best clothes, or even come to the dance.

You have to make an effort if you want to see results.  And that effort usually involves an investment of resources.  It will cost something, but if your business model is sound, or your nonprofit organization is worthy, wise marketing choices will make a difference.

Marketing works when you work it.  There is no magic to marketing or public relations, and there are very few shortcuts.  Marketing your business or nonprofit takes effort and dedication, over time.

The end of the year is a time to regroup and plan.  Now is the time to analyze your position, look at what your competitors are doing, and measure the results of your past efforts.  It is time to set actionable goals, create a plan, and dedicate a budget to making that plan happen.  You need to decide what you will handle yourself, what you will delegate to staff, and what you will contract out to smart, hard-working people who can help you.

Best wishes to you for a prosperous new year.

The Best Website Service for Small Businesses

Dominion Mechanical Website

Part of what I do at Fletcher Prince is create affordable websites for clients.  I also build them for my own projects.   I use website solutions marketed to small business owners, so I can focus on the content and design.

You know, often I find simple is better.  Most businesses and nonprofits I work with need a website that does the job, looks attractive, is easy to update, and gets found in search engine results.  In my experience, no other website content management and hosting system does that better than Yahoo Small Business.

I have experimented with the offerings from Yahoo Small Business, Network Solutions, and Verizon Small Business, as well as and (for blog-style websites with Page navigation).

Hands down, the best solution I have tested is Yahoo Small Business.  It works well with Macs, it offers terrific SEO, and is quite affordable. It’s perfect for individuals, nonprofits, small businesses, and anyone who needs a simple website.

For about $10 a month, you get these features

  • Hosting, including a domain URL for a year (you can renew the URL when the year is up).
  • The ability to add meta tags and descriptions to each page.
  • An easy-to-use web content management system, with several customizable templates.
  • Up to 100 email addresses for your domain.
  • A WordPress blog hosted on your domain, should you choose to use it.
  • Facebook and Twitter links.
  • Easy YouTube video integration.
  • E-commerce features (I don’t use these, myself),

I’ve used it for years, and I really like it.  The one drawback is that your blog does not appear in the navigation when you use the Mac version of the content management system, and I would prefer that option.

Check out the websites I have built with Yahoo Small Business and please let me know if I can build an affordable website for you.

How small businesses market themselves now: latest statistics

Photo by treedork

If you operate a small business, you know how important it is to get your message out to your target audiences.  So, how are small businesses marketing themselves in 2011?  Not surprisingly, a recent survey of more than 1,500 small businesses (most with fewer than 25 employees) found that 73% of respondents are using social media to market their businesses.

Of those, most are using Facebook (more than 95%) and most find it effective (82%). 73% of small business owners found online video also effective, while Twitter was found to be effective by less than half (47%) of business owners using social media.

Other marketing approaches also employed by small business owners, in order of usage, include

If you run a small business, and like 80% of small business owners, find yourself staying awake at night worrying about how to get more customers, Fletcher Prince can help.  We offer creative and affordable marketing solutions, including

and more.  Call (571) 269-7559 to discuss creative and affordable marketing solutions for your business.

Social Media and Small Business: New Trends

Thanks to Constant Contact, we have some good information on what small business owners use and value, in terms of marketing approaches.

According to a recent survey, nearly all small business owners (95%) have a website and use email marketing (91%).  The majority of small business owners are using social media (73%) and almost half are using blogs (43%).

Think the quarter of small businesses who are not using social media are missing an opportunity?  Don’t worry; more than half of those respondents (62%) plan to jump on the social media bandwagon within a year.

Facebook is the number one search term on the web, so it may come as no surprise to you that Facebook was found to be the clear winner among the social media options small businesses choose; 95% of small business owners who use social media use Facebook.  What is interesting is that represents a leap of 44% since about this time last year.

Also compelling to note is that while 60% of small business owners who use social media are on Twitter and LinkedIn, those platforms were seen as effective by less than half of these users (47%).  On the other hand, while less than half of social media users are on YouTube, nearly 3/4 (73%) of them thought YouTube was an effective way to market to their customers.

I feel this reinforces what I have been saying about the power of online video — it will differentiate the small business, it will achieve SEO benefits, and although it involves more effort, it does work.

Surprising to me was the result that 69% of respondents said they use online advertising.  Also reassuring for our newspapers was the finding that 77% of small businesses are using print advertising.

When asked which tactics were very effective or moderately effective, the ranking looks like this:

1. Email marketing was ranked as most effective among the options.  It is the first choice small business owners make when connecting with customers.

2. Websites came in as a close second.

3. Online advertising — surprise, surprise!

4. Social media.  Also most of the respondents who are currently using social media (81%) plan to increase using it, demonstrating that small business owners see real potential in social media as a marketing tactic.

5. Blogs.  The marketing power of blogs continue to be underestimated, although their SEO power is matched, perhaps, only by YouTube video.

Advice for budding small business owners

Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones

I’ve recently graduated from college and I want to start my own business.  What advice do you have for me?

The job market is so challenging for recent college graduates that some young people are considering starting their own small business, instead of working for a company.  While I think this would be an exciting proposition for any ambitious young person, I have some words of advice that would apply to them, or anyone thinking about starting a truly small business (staff under 10).

A Small Business is a Major Commitment

To me, making the decision to start a small business is not unlike the commitment you make to have children.  It truly impacts your life in every way.  There are some who say they can separate their personal and business life.  But most small business owners I know spend more time on their business on a daily basis than their 9-to-5 job, and their families are also more invested in making the business a success.

If your family had an established small (or large business) before you started college, and you worked for them, and wanted to continue to do so, then this advice wouldn’t apply to you, of course.  But if you are not working for a family business, I would advise first getting to know other small business owners and talking to them about the sacrifices they have had to make to determine if you have realistic expectations.

Give Your Small Business The Best Possible Start: Get Experience First

I don’t think it’s wise to start a small business right out of college.  You lose the valuable opportunity to learn while getting paid by someone else!  I advise obtaining at least five years (preferably more) of solid work experience in your field or industry before starting your own business (in that same field or industry).

Developing a support network while you are still employed is also important.  Now is the optimal time to join professional associations and network with people who can help you now and later.  At this stage in your career, more experienced people are most willing to help you learn the business and make valuable contacts.  Foster those important connections with vendors, clients, and partners while you are still employed.  They will be important resources — and possibly your first customers and testimonials — as you start your own business.

The Importance of Savings

Starting a small business involves financial sacrifice.  When you are first starting out in life, frankly, you have a lot of stuff to buy, from dishes to work clothes to a reliable car.  Saving money is always an admirable goal, but not a lot of young people are thinking about creating a substantial nest egg while they have college loans to pay.  Also you may find it easier to save while you are employed, while large companies offer attractive employee benefits programs to make that easy for you to do.

Having a healthy amount of savings is recommended before you start a small business.  Some say you should have at least a year’s worth of living expenses saved.  This means that while your other friends are going on fun vacations and out to eat, you may be scrimping and passing up on on social opportunities.  Do you really want to do this now?  You can start a small business anytime, but you are only going to be in your young twenties — and have all the liberty that goes along with that life stage — once.  You can’t really turn back the clock.

The Impact of a Small Business on Life Experiences

It’s also important to recognize that running a small business when you are under thirty (versus working for a company) will impact your other life decisions in many ways.

For example, you may sacrifice valuable, career-building job opportunities by striking out on your own.  Also the risk of small business failure is fairly high.  This is a lot of risk to take on when you factor that those first ten years of independence generally also involve

  • Moving a few times before you settle into a community and long-term home
  • Major purchases, such as a car or home
  • Paying off student loans
  • Becoming seriously involved or married (or even divorced)
  • Obtaining an advanced degree
  • Becoming a parent
  • Aging parents, with changing needs

All of these major life activities demand tremendous resources of money and energy.  Consider postponing starting a small business, perhaps even for a decade or so, until life is more settled and established (e.g., when kids are in elementary school and you have a wage-earning partner with good health insurance for the family).  If you foresee that these kinds of life experiences may be probable for you, down the road, as they are for many people, then it may be a better to wait ten years before you take the risks that are involved with starting a small business.

When To Take The Leap…

Still, there are situations when the idea is too good, the opportunity is too wonderful, and the timing is too right to pass up.  If this is true for you, if this is your dream, and you have your eyes open about the risks, then you might want to go ahead and take a chance.  But make sure you have plenty of support, as well as a Plan B.

There are many successful young people who are running small businesses. This might be the right time for you.

Good luck, graduates!

A typical week in my home office…

Mary in her home office

As I move into my fourth year of business, I’ve developed a schedule that works around my lifestyle.  A typical work week “at Fletcher Prince” is not a typical work week for many people, but it works for me.  I thought I would share what my work is like, and I would love to hear what your work week is like.

David and I (and most independent consultants we know) work out of our homes, and around the schedules of our families (which means I had to get a special permit from the County to work in my house!)

The nature of our wired business means that I rarely get a full day off, even on weekends and when I’m traveling on vacation, but so far, that’s been okay.  And my son has been understanding when I need to put in a few hours here or there.

I try to be available during most business hours for my clients.  As an independent consultant, I have to take the work that comes along when I can get it.  But Monday’s a short day in Fairfax County schools, so I like to spend that afternoon spending quality time with my son, and I use my morning for errands or catching up on small projects.  And there are a lot of school holidays and teacher planning days on Mondays.  So that’s the reason why I almost never schedule meetings or video shoots on Mondays.

Tuesday through Friday, I’m generally on the clock from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Even if I don’t have a client project, I’m working on Fletcher Prince promotions, paperwork, or pro bono work.  But closer to 4 p.m., I’m clocking out to spend time with my son.  Being there for him is — for me — the best part of working at home.

Many Tuesdays, David and I meet and have a production meeting over lunch.  He also has his own clients, so we don’t always meet.  But if we’re working on a big project, we do try to have face time so we can work it all out and coordinate schedules and deadlines.  But usually, he works in his home office in Bethesda and I work in mine in Falls Church, and we keep in touch by email and phone.

Then, to make up for the time in the afternoons that I spend with my son, I usually put in a few hours every Wednesday night.  That’s also when I try to attend networking events.

Every other weekend is usually a crunch weekend for me (when my son’s with his dad).   Remember in college when you were trying to finish a paper or cram for an exam?  Those weekends often feel like that.   A lot of work in a short period!  I try to schedule projects that require intensive attention — like setting up blogs or editing video — on those weekends.

Working at home is convenient, especially if you are balancing the demands of family and work.  And I love being able to work in a space that feels just right for me, with my paintings, and messy desk, and photos everywhere.

I wonder if working at home will become more of a trend, even for employees of other companies.  My sister works for a major corporation.  She travels a lot for her job, but when she’s not on travel, she works out of a home office, and she loves it.

There are some downsides to working out of your home.  For me, I think the biggest downside is knowing when to quit.  The work is always there (so is the laundry).  Meetings can also be challenging, and I have to be more proactive about networking opportunities.

The biggest drawback for me about working at home is the isolation.  Most days, I don’t mind having the quiet time to work.  But sometimes, I do get lonely.  I wish I had a dog or cat to keep me company sometimes.  I play the radio when it feels too quiet.

That’s why I will make it a priority this year to attend the IPRA (Independent Public Relations Alliance) luncheons.  Not only is it fun for me to touch base and eat lunch with a great bunch of people, but the speakers have also been terrific.  I have also obtained some of my favorite clients through my connections with this organization.

If you work out of your home, what tips do you have for me?  What have you found that works well for you?

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