the chic entrepreneur

A few months ago, I was contacted by reader Elizabeth Gordon about the possibility of the Shotgun Marketing Blog being a stop on her Virtual Book Tour for her new book, The Chic Entrepreneur.

The Chic Entrepreneur is an entertaining read with lots of great advice for both new business owners as well as businesses that need to rethink their business strategies. I liked that the book is full of case studies and examples that show the points are not just academic, but work in the real world.

Much of it is the same advice you have probably heard before (so why are you not doing it!?), but Elizabeth has repackaged it into this female focused perspective. While the female of the species will see many of the analogies immediately, I (as a man) lost my way at times in the girliness. I’ve seen the book described online as the “Sex in the City” version of a business handbook and I think that’s a fair comparison. (in a good way!)

Over the past few weeks, Elizabeth and I have held an e-mail interview about the book:

Chris: Clearly, the book is geared toward a female audience. Why did you niche it to that market?

Elizabeth: After starting my small business consulting firm in 2005, I noticed a trend among my female clients: they were having similar issues with their businesses because of the ways they formed them and those issues were culminating into one big problem – an inability to grow. Their businesses got to a certain point and then they weren’t able to take them beyond that. Most of my women business owner clients had not scaled their business beyond the stage of successful self-employment, nor did they know how to do so. The more I worked with them, the more I saw the need for a strategy guide that would speak to women’s challenges in being able to leverage their business such that it no longer relied so heavily on their own individual efforts. And I realized that as a young woman business consultant (a near anomaly) I had the unique ability to bring a much needed perspective to the table and could teach these important business lessons in a manner and voice that would speak directly to female entrepreneurs. I am very passionate about the potential that I believe resides in current and emerging female entrepreneurs. I think this sector will be an integral part of a much needed pivotal point in our global economic development. I continue to be excited and energized about what is possible if more women start building businesses using a methodology such as the one I teach in the book, and create inherent assets of value that can flourish economically and lead them personally to greater fulfillment and freedom.

Chris: Can other groups (like men!) benefit from the information in the book?

Elizabeth: Absolutely! The Chic Entrepreneur teaches business lessons through comparisons of Fortune 500 companies and fictional small businesses. While some of the imagery and language might be more appealing to women, the lessons are universal. I have had countless men tell me that they bought the book for their wife, read a couple pages “just to check it out” and ended up reading it cover to cover. The great thing about the field of business is that nearly 85% of all challenges growing businesses face are universal, regardless of industry, ownership makeup, size or structure. Business is business.

Chris: What are some of the challenges that you have personally experienced as a businesswoman that influenced the book?

Elizabeth: When I initially started my business, I was in my twenties. While I’m in my thirties now, I’ve always had a young look, which is a blessing and a curse at times. I had a hard time being taken seriously when I first started. I’ve been told by others that I was too young to own my own business, or had people assume that it must be my husband’s business. It is amazing to me how much those silly but very real presumptions still exist today. Rather than try to fit in with the rest of those in my industry, I choose to emphasize my uniqueness and turn it into a strength. I think an opportunity exists for all of use to turn what could be perceived as negatives into positives.

Like most service businesses, I also had to give some major thought and planning to how I was going to be able to scale my business beyond my own individual efforts. This is the same challenge that holds most female small business owners back from breaking the million-dollar mark and beyond. But while this is challenging, it is certainly very doable when you have a solid methodology as a guide. Once you get your fledging business off the ground and it is sustainable in the short term, turn your attention to building a saleable business model. The next step is defining the personality of the company beyond that of just the personality of the owner and translating that into a branding strategy and a consistent and cohesive image that can permeate all of your activities, materials and communications.

Chris: I think many people dream of starting their own business. Do you think that anyone be an entrepreneur?

Elizabeth: This is a question of repeated debate. It is my personal opinion that the ability to create a business is inherent within all humans. Of course, people vary in the depth of their capabilities in this area. Some people are more natural entrepreneurs than others, just like some people are more natural athletes than others. But I think everyone has it in them, just like we all have the capability for love within us. It’s just a matter of whether it is the right time for you to explore it. A business takes much more than just an idea to begin. Having a plan, a market and a way to reach that market, and enough capital are other important factors to consider before beginning an entrepreneurial journey. A person also must be willing to risk failing in order to succeed in business, a courage or luxury that not everyone has. After creating the flourishing business methodology and applying it to hundreds different businesses, I know from experience that if you set up a business the right way, it doesn’t matter if you’re sixteen or sixty, you can be a successful entrepreneur.

Chris: You discuss the dimensions of a flourishing business in the book. Obviously, I was most interested in the sales/marketing one. What do you think is the biggest problem/challenge that entrepreneurs have with sales/marketing?

Elizabeth: I’m quite passionate about the sales and marketing side of things as well because this is what really drives the growth engine. I think the most difficult part for entrepreneurs is figuring out how to get their message heard by the right people and then getting those people to take action. There is so much out there these days that cutting through the clutter and getting a message in front of the right people continues to be a marketing challenge. However, I also believe that this is where the biggest opportunity lies for those that take advantage of a properly executed web and social media strategy. Getting heard is only the first step though, so it is important not to stop there. Having a compelling message that excites and shows value to the buyer and a motivating pitch that drives someone to take action is critical to the success of your marketing program. Small companies shouldn’t be advertising for branding purposes, all of their marketing efforts need to be results and action oriented.

Chris: You make the points of what to do to market a business in the book. But you also make the points of what NOT to do. What do you think is the biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make in marketing?

Elizabeth: They don’t charge enough. And by “enough” I mean a fair price for the unique value that they’re offering to the marketplace. And this is why you hear so many small business owners bemoaning “I can’t afford to spend a lot of money marketing my business.” You see, your marketing costs, and all of your other overhead costs all need to be factored into your pricing decisions. Most companies don’t spend enough time thinking about the pricing decisions, they just arbitrarily pick a middle ground where they feel comfortable. But you can be far more strategic with your pricing, and you certainly need to make sure that your prices are in line with your overall marketing and business strategy.

Everyone wants to “sell more” but all sales are not created equal. While it may seem logical to slash prices or meet a competitors prices in order to sell more, this is often a mistake and it can lead entrepreneurs to bankruptcy. You see, if you have created a truly unique value for the marketplace, then what you’ve got is different from your competitors, so the price you charge should also be different. If you have a quality product, you shouldn’t undercut the value with discounting or giving away anything for free. This automatically devalues your product or service in the minds of your customers. You want your customers to appreciate all the value that you provide, such that they will repeatedly re-buy from you. So you don’t want to get it in their head that your product or service is not worth its price. People know you get what you pay for. Big luxury companies like Jaguar are not going to lower their prices in a recession just because Carmax is. However, this is the hardest lesson for entrepreneurs to understand and remember when it’s time to close a deal.

Chris: How can entrepreneurs get their marketing message heard?

Elizabeth:I often see entrepreneurs that do what I like to call “Buckshot Marketing.” This is not to be confused with Shotgun Marketing, which I find very useful 🙂 Buckshot marketing is when a business owners sprays out as much material and information as possible without properly branding and thinking of what their message is, what they want consumers to glean from it and where it should go in the future. In the absence of a thought out plan, often in the form of a business plan, I see this kind of spraying of marketing information. And even though it might be high in volume, it is usually low on results. Marketing is speaking to people, specifically consumers. You want to make sure your message is a cohesive story that can be easily read, is appealing to the eye and urges consumers to read more.

Chris: I have found in my consulting and speaking business that businesspeople are always excited and eager about business advice like this. However, when they get back to the daily grind of business, they push it all to the back burner. What advice do you have that might help people actually implement the ideas in the book?

Elizabeth: Form a peer advisory group with other business owners who are in a similar position that you are but in totally different industries. This should be a group that you meet with regularly, that has read and subscribes to the same methodology that you have and that wants to see you succeed. I’ve actually started creating and facilitating these peer advisory groups. Accountability works at the gym and it works in business, too. I meet with my group once a month and we often site my book or the teachings of other well-respected business gurus when we give advice. These people can be a great sounding board and a wealth of ideas and support to keep you on the path to reaching your goals. They will hold you to your tasks by asking you if you accomplished what you wanted since the last meeting and you’ll do the same for them. It can be a very symbiotic relationship that is well worth the investment.

You can read Elizabeth’s Chic Entrepreneur blog here or take a look at the Chic Entrepreneur on Amazon.

congressional scam

A scam from Congress — imagine that!

I got a message this morning from a staffer of Congressman Tom Cole. It seemed that he wanted to present me with an award called the Congressional Order of Merit for my work with small businesses.

Frankly, I’ve gotten to the point where weird phone calls and emails don’t surprise me anymore. There’s always an interesting proposition in them. But this one seemed a little more odd than the others. I knew that Tom Cole was not in my state’s congressional delegation.

Something smelled bad. So I googled Tom Cole and from the first page of results it was apparent that he was a real congressman. But why would a congressman from Oklahoma want to present something to someone from Kentucky? So out of extreme curiosity, I returned the call.

Something automated picked up before I got the person, so I immediately went on guard. That’s when it hit me to google the phone number 888-383-4164.

As the “staffer” was talking to me, the google search found numerous blog posts about this scam that’s actually being run BY the Republican National Committee. For a “donation” of a few hundred dollars, you get this “award”. After the recorded message from the congressman was over, I told her to remove me from her list.

An issue that’s rotten with the Do-Not-Call list is the fact that things like this are legal. The politicians exempted themselves from the law. And it’s not just the Republicans. The Democrats are doing similar things as well.

The other rotten aspect here is the gathering of data from domain registrations. These scammers didn’t think I was with Shotgun Concepts. They thought I was with a company that I did a website for this summer. I registered their domain name on my domain account. I’m also getting business credit card junk mail addressed to my client. It’s the only place where my name and their name are conneceted. Shame on all registrars including mine, GoDaddy, for allowing this to happen and trying to make a buck by charging for protection against it.

I’m forwarding this blog post to my actual Kentucky congressional delegation and I urge you to contact yours as well.
Contact your Represenative
Contact your Senator

Playing House

For many people who are starting a business, the first step of planning involves a call or online order to Lands End for the embroidered shirts.

Their next step is spending gi-normous amounts of cash with lawyers, branding consultants, and setting up accounting systems that have no cash in them.

Sure, you need legal, accounting, and marketing support when you’re in business.

But when are you “in business”?

Easy. It happens when someone gives you money.

Everything else up to that point is just playing house.

Previously:
Marketing a Start-up
No Go Logo

From all of us to all of you

Ahh….the snow….the decorations….the wasted advertising dollars.

It’s the time of year that salespeople go out and bilk unsuspecting small business owners into wasting their “advertising dollars” for holiday greetings. In case you’re thinking of buying, here’s some ready-made copy…

Shotgun Concepts
:30
12/1 – 12/25
(mx fade in)
Everyone here at Shotgun Concepts wishes you and yours the very very best of the (blank). At this time of year, it’s important to remember (blank). And Danny, Frank, Lorita, Consuela, Bobbi Jo, and all the guys down in the warehouse wish you the very best of this holiday season and the happiest of new years.
(Insert recordings of owners’ kids and grandkids here)
Remember, that this is the only time we’ve advertised all year…and we’ve only mentioned the name of the business once…and you still have no idea what we do.
From all of us to all of you, Happy Holidays to you and yours and mine and his….
(long mx fade out)

Nothing like placing generic wallpaper advertising on the air during one of the most ad cluttered times of the year for great ROI.
If you’re lucky, it may beat the return on that yearbook ad you bought last April.

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Do you have any idea what’s going on?

It’s all big. And it’s getting bigger.

Your organization.
Your business.
Your website.
Your blog.
Whatever.

It’s growing. I assume that’s what you want it to do.

But with growth comes troubles. In the beginning, you had time to personally order the URL, talk to the web guy for several hours about what you wanted, and spent gads of time going through the site. In the beginning, you sat down with every new client, personally dealt with any new issues, and were still in touch with what your customers felt.

Today, you’re busy…cause it’s “big”. You’re meeting with clients, dealing with issues, etc. An issue with a client that used to mean a personal visit now gets a phone call or an email. There may be pages on the website you haven’t seen in months.

But while you come through the employee door in the back, the front customer door has a loose handle that annoys customers. There’s a redirect forward on the website that goes to a page that was deleted three months ago and leaves visitors in an online dead-end. The person who answers the phones puts people on hold for too long.

When was the last time you had an expereince with your business as a customer? I tell clients and audiences all the time that they occasionally need to do an actual physical walk-through as a customer and actually try to navigate through their website looking for something. Are there any customer barriers? If there are, get rid of them. As I have said, (even before Seth) get big, but stay small.

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Marketing a Startup

Last night, I flipped through the new June 2006 issue of Business2.0 which is usually a pretty good read. However, I got mad last night when I read this issue’s cover story about “the 16 steps to building a bulletproof startup”.

I became agitated about Phase 4 / Step 2 which is “Develop the Sales and Marketing Plan”.

It’s not the “how-to” I have an issue with here. It’s the placement within the process. When you list marketing as step #14 out of 16 steps, it’s no wonder so many startups fail.

Marketing should be thought of as early as possible in the process…nearer to steps #1 and #2. Of course, you’re not going to be able to hire salespeople, do advertising, etc at this stage, but you should be thinking of how marketing will interact with the product along each step of the start-up process.

As I’ve always said….Marketing is best built in…not slapped on.

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Who’s in Charge Here?

Two stories…see which one you recognize….

(Story #1)
So a guy walks into the doctor’s office to have some pre-operative tests and to sign the waiver before his brain surgery next week….

DOCTOR:
“I’ve gone over your MRI several times. I plan on making the incision here. We’ll be inside the cranium for about 30 minutes. We’ve had our entire staff of neurologists go over this case and we expect a great result.”

PATIENT:
“Well, I think you should make the incision under my chin. I can grow a beard to hide the scar that way.”

“I also want you cut the tumor out on the right side. I know the MRI says it’s on the left, but it’s my brain so I think I know.”

“30 minutes is too long to be inside my head. Can you do it in 20?”

“While you’re in there, I’d like you to take a little brain out on each side. My wife says she thinks my head’s getting too big for all my hats.”

DOCTOR:
“You’re the boss. Let’s do it that way.”

Crazy. Right? Never would happen. Try this story…

(Story #2)
Some owners and board members walk into the marketing department to “approve” the new ad campaign that’s rolling out next week…

MARKETING:
“This campaign tests great with the target market. These print ads will run in these papers. We’re planning to pulse TV along with a summer radio promotion on these top rated Nielsen and Arbitron stations in these markets. We’ve also added an online element. Here’s the website. Overall, it’s an airtight – highly effective campaign. What do you think?

BOARD MEMBERS AND OWNERS:
“Well, I like that weather guy on Channel 8’s news. He’s funny and I know everybody loves him…we need more commercials there.”

“Who’s that kid in the magazine ad? What are stock photos? Here, I’ve got a picture of my daughter in my wallet…just scan it in and stick her in it.”

“My wife and all her friends listen to LiteRock105…buy some commercials there.”

“Put some more words in the newspaper ad. It looks too empty”

“We need some pictures of the employees in the *adds.”
(*That’s how the person making this comment thinks it’s spelled.)

“I’ve been the owner of this company for 23 years so I know our customers. I don’t think we should run this ad. Customers won’t like it.”

“What’s a blog?”

“We’re spending how much on this? Can we do it for less?”

MARKETING:
“You’re the boss. Let’s do it that way.”

One of these stories sounds crazy and the other happens EVERYDAY. If you’ve got a marketing staff or a marketing consultant who knows what they’re doing…
Let. Them. Do. It.

Related post: Marketing by Committee

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Marketing Mayday

Back in the day…when I was an “on-air personality” in the radio business, May 1st was an odd day. Legally, you could never say “It’s May Day” while you were on the air. You were on an open frequency on public airwaves and saying Mayday would technically be sending a false distress signal. Of course, being a wild rebel and such, I would always let a Mayday slip out. But oddly, no one out in Hitland even sent a rescue party for me.

The trouble with all Maydays and other forms of asking for help is people either
a) don’t ask for help at all
b) wait until it’s too late to ask for help.

I had several conversations with a couple of people over the weekend about bad marketing. There’s a lot of it out there. Some of it comes from large corporations who should know better. But most of it comes from honest small to medium-sized businesses who are trying their best. As I work with clients and speak to audiences, I see a few top reasons for misplaced marketing.
—Marketing salespeople masquerading as “marketing consultants”.
Marketing by Committee
—Improper use and understanding of brand strategy and branding.

But the biggest marketing hurdle for most of these organizations is the lack of marketing knowledge and resources.

These businesses spend a large percentage of thier operating budget for marketing but don’t get good ROI because they aren’t using those marketing dollars effectively. They’re in over their heads and lose faith in the effectiveness of marketing.

Maybe this describes your organization. Maybe you should use May 1st to declare a Marketing Mayday. Read a book. Read a blog. Get someone who knows what they’re doing to help you. This path to increase your marketing knowledge and resources in discussed in this free marketing e-book that I wrote. Just do something different.

Start the turnaround. Declare a Marketing Mayday today.

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Marketing with Sally Struthers

This happens more in small businesses in smaller markets, but I’ve seen examples of it everywhere.

“We’re doing a special section this week to highlight the boy’s basketball team trip to the state tournament. Will you support the team?”

Ask the salesperson how buying a miniscule 3×3 ad will help the kids. The answer is…that it doesn’t. Your money goes to the owner of the media outlet and a commission for the salesperson. The cash never even gets near the kids.

Not only are you being duped by the salesperson into believing you’re helping the kids…but you’re wasting your marketing funds.

“WILL YOU HELP THE KIDS?” is the the rallying cry of salespeople who don’t know how to sell the merits (if there are any) of their media.

I do think a responsible business should support local charities, schools, and other philanthropic ventures. But give the money directly to the organization and be careful not to confuse these donations as marketing.

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