When you're hungry, E.A.T.

Every small business has, or should have a marketing strategy. If, like us, you sell to other businesses instead of directly to consumers, referrals are likely a huge part of that strategy.

I have seen small business owners put a lot of effort into obtaining referrals: they join networking groups, visit socials, and schedule 1-on-1s with various referral partners (or potential referral partners).

However, many business owners neglect to put any thought into their best potential referral source: current clients.

Now, asking a client for referrals is a delicate science. (After all, you've already asked for and obtained their business; it can feel presumptuous to ask for even more on top of that.) But if you are strategic, while continuing to put the client first, current clients can be an incredible pipeline for new business.

If you are hungry for new business, remember the acronym "EAT".

FSP - Earn laptop


This shouldn't need to be clarified but, in order to get referrals, you need to earn referrals. If someone is giving you a referral, they are sticking their neck out for you because, if you do a bad job, it reflects poorly on them.

This is especially true for clients, who should know better than anyone what level of quality service you provide. And if they are not completely happy with your service, pushing for a referral they don't feel you've earned may actually cause them to reevaluate their relationship with you.

FSP - Ask handshake


Asking for referrals can be awkward, but if you have a client who is thrilled with your services and is already telling you they're happy, it is reasonable to transition to a request for referrals at that time. It also never hurts to have a bonus for referrals, whether that's a discount, cash bonus, or a discounted rate for the client they're recommending. (Note: Some businesses can't receive cash gifts, but might still appreciate a gift basket or being taken out for a meal.)

Beyond asking the right way, you need to be thoughtful in your timing of asking clients for referrals. Don't ask for referrals right at the beginning of an engagement, as they have not yet had accurate time to reflect on your service. Also don't ask for referrals if the client is in the middle of a crisis you're helping to solve; their minds are not in the place to think of anyone who could use your business, and it is a bit manipulative to put that pressure on them when they are already stressed out.

FSP - Teach writing on board


If your clients are very happy with you, they might want to send you referrals, but just don't know how. This can especially be true if your business is one that many people don't understand, or if you work with a wide variety of clients.

For instance, many of our clients and referral partners don't initially realize that, though we mostly work with established companies, we also work with very small and new start-ups. Once they found that out, several of my business friends told me, "I have someone who needs your help." The issue wasn't with a lack of referrals, but with a lack of education coming from me.

Keep your clients up-to-date on what you're working on, without being intrusive, and they will likely think differently about how they can refer business to you.

Guest Post: "What Does Marketing Strategy Have to do with Bookkeeping?" by Haley Lynn Gray

I have run across more than a few small business owners - some doing okay for themselves, others not - who take the shotgun approach when it comes to marketing their business. The first key is when they tell me that they have “The Facebook”, and they’re doing “ads”, and they are doing a bit of this and a bit of that.

I know that they are likely trying everything they come across, with little regard for the strategy and overall marketing plan. It’s not that I don’t believe in being spontaneous, or even getting creative with part of your marketing. But the reality is that nearly every piece of your marketing should come together; it should all work together, sort of like an orchestra.

6263-illustration-of-a-megaphone-and-announcement-text-pvIf you start running Facebook ads without a solid presence and good organic reach, the cost of your ads is going to be significantly higher, and the cost per client for acquisition is going to be dramatically higher. In some cases, I’ve seen the cost of a lead being 5-10 times the cost that it would be with a good organic strategy.

The same concept applies to Google Adwords. The lower your SEO ranking, and the less high quality content you have on your website, the higher your cost will be to advertise with Google Adwords.

I see people who toss up a landing page using Web.com, YP.com or others. Unfortunately, if you take this approach, you might be building links to a website that isn’t your own. It won’t help you get that organic reach for your website and you’re losing control of the process. You’ll also end up spending more money for fewer leads, and thus end up with fewer results.

It’s important to have a strategy with all the pieces coming together. Sometimes the tweaks can be tiny, like adding a clear call to action on every blog post, or making a point of collecting email addresses so that you can stay in touch with people via email campaigns. It takes strategy and planning to collect those email addresses and to execute a well thought-out marketing campaign. By thinking through how all of the pieces should work, and with help from a strategist if you need one, you can end up saving a lot of money.

Every business needs a strategy and a budget. So does a marketing plan. Everything should be measured, and data should be collected on how your system is performing so that it can be tweaked and improved. Do these steps for every aspect of your business and you will see savings and a healthier bottom line.

Haley Lynn Gray is CEO and Founder of Leadership Girl, a digital marketing agency, where she uses her skills as a sales and marketing strategist and social media expert to help small business owners grow their business.She combines her years of real-life and business experiences with her MBA from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business to benefit her clients. Haley works with them closely to set goals and put processes in place so they can achieve and exceed their goals.

Haley, along with her team, can also help with social media management, website updates, drip campaign management, and all aspects of business marketing.

In addition to running her business, Haley is a mom of four, a Girl Scout Leader and an author of two best-selling books. Haley is truly passionate about helping entrepreneurs achieve their potential, and empowers them to overcome obstacles in entrepreneurial ventures. www.leadershipgirl.com

Marketing to Customers (Who Aren't You)

Growing your business is an exciting challenge.  It's a time when you're ready to take on new customers, and you feel like you're ready for that "next step".

Of course, if you've been only working with a few close clients or through word-of-mouth, you may find it difficult marketing and networking with people outside your social circle.  That's understandable; it's easier and more comfortable working with people with whom you have a lot in common.

However, diversity amongst customers is necessary to really expand your business, and is a great way to avoid having all your "eggs in one basket".  But even mega corporations fall victim to major mistakes when it comes to marketing to a diverse audience.  Here are some "do"s and "don't"s for reaching customers who are nothing like you.

Do your research.

There is an enduring (if slightly ridiculous) urban legend about General Motors expanding into international sales.  The legend goes that attempts to market the Chevy Nova in South American countries met with failure because no va in Spanish means "doesn't go".

According to popular web aggregator of urban legends Snopes.com, this tale is a myth.  And, upon further inspection, that makes sense.  After all, even in the '70s, surely GM would have had someone fluent enough in Spanish to alert higher-ups about the possible translation issue?  Besides, even if the Nova legend were true, we savvy businesspeople of the 21st century surely know better now.

Enter, Twitter.  Though most Americans have a passing colloquial knowledge of Spanish now, in the digital era, technology has created a communications gap that spans generations instead of nationalities.

Now, there have too been too many Twitter scandals to ennumerate, but a recent marketing disaster illustrates just how bad it can be when a company tries to hitch onto a trend they haven't fully researched.  When the #whyIstayed hashtag began trending, with former victims of domestic violence listing the reasons why they didn't immediately leave abusive partners, pizza company Digiorno tweeted, "#whyIstayed You had pizza."

Of course, Digiorno did not mean to make light of domestic abuse, and immediately issued an apology with the explanation that they hadn't read what the hashtag was about before posting.  So failure to perform roughly 30 seconds of research resulted in a marketing disaster.

Don't be needlessly specific in your marketing.

Companies often seem to think they need to change their message in order to reach a new audience.  Here they enter a minefield of marketing hazards, frequently falling prey to tropes and stereotypes, alienating the people whom they'd wished to include.

We have Bic to thank for the most hilarious trainwreck in unnecessarily-pointed marketing.  When Bic came out with a line of "For Her" pens, they were flooded with sarcastic Amazon reviews.  Customers rightly (and very snarkily) questioned why men and women would require distinct writing utensils.  Bic's attempt at marketing toward a specific audience had unintentionally come across as condescending and ridiculous.

Whoever the customers you're trying to reach are, your company hasn't changed.  So instead of changing the message about the benefits and values of your brand, change your marketing channels.  Advertise in different channels, or across different platforms.  If you use physical signage or flyers, try different locations.  Just whatever you do...

Do be genuine.

Think back to your favorite high school teacher.  You're probably thinking of someone who inspired you; someone who took an honest interest in your goals and success.

Now think back to that high school teacher who wanted desperately to be liked by their students.  Who tried too hard to be cool by talking and acting like a teenage and, as a result, was respected by no one.

So frequently when companies try to market outside of their comfort zone, they follow the cringe-inducing pattern of the second example, awkwardly squeezing into ill-fitting jargon and trends.  I will never forget a local tv ad, infamous in our area, for its inclusion of a senior citizen quoting, "Whoop, there it is!"

The ad was for a furniture retailer, and I doubt they attracted any new young customers through that awkward reference to an outdated rap song.  They would have been better served by providing something relevant and of value, for instance, payment plans for customers without established credit.

When you look at it closely, marketing to a diverse set of customers really isn't that different from how you market to anyone.  By keeping the focus on your brand and the value you provide, you can maintain integrity and avoid any awkward pitfalls.