Quitter to Winner

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

INTERVIEW: Marketing + startup best practices with Bidwell ID

You’re starting your own small business. Congratulations. Overwhelmed by “expert advice” on marketing and business best practices? Understandable.

That’s why we spoke with John Bidwell, strategic marketing and branding whiz, and founder of Bidwell ID. He’s seen what works for his own business and his clients. John offers valuable marketing insight to startups, and shares small business do’s and don’ts: from how to keep clients to weathering down markets.

What branding advice do you have for startups?

I don’t recommend investing too much into branding until after a year or two in business. If you’re looking for investors, you should focus on creating a solid, professional-looking business plan. If you’re launching a product or service into the marketplace, I recommend the following approach.

1. Choose a name. You can brainstorm on your own, or buy some “trusted advisors” dinner to help you come up with names.

2. Due diligence. Google the selected name to see if a url is available. I also strongly recommend running the name by a lawyer. They’ll do additional due diligence to see if the name is already taken. I’ve seen big, costly mistakes with companies having to change their name because they didn’t do their homework.

3. Create a logo. I don’t recommend getting too fancy during the launch phase. Work with a freelance designer to create a clean, simple mark. Be sure to use it consistently.

4. Know your audience and what you want to tell them. Ask yourself:
a. Who is my audience?
b. What do they want to hear?
c. How is my offering relevant?
d. Is the audience large enough to support my model?
While it’s costly, market research is valuable in helping answer these types of questions.

5. Take good notes. You’ll learn a lot about your business and customers in the first year or two. Use that information to shape your brand and message.

Bidwell weathered the recent economic downturn. What suggestions can you offer startups to help them stay afloat?

1. Focus on sales. It’s easy to want to spend a lot of time on branding. It’s fun and creative. It also helps define how you talk to your customer. But if you’re not drumming up business, it’s not the best use of time.

2. Watch your spending. It’s wise to evaluate your expenditures. That varies in each business. For us it’s time management. We don’t sell widgets. It’s our time that’s billable.

3. Maintain existing relationships. Remind clients that you care, and that you want their business. Never take them for granted. Schedule a formal meeting, or meet them for coffee. Tell them you appreciate their business and you look forward to more work.

4. Keep their trust. Never squander a client’s trust. You can’t get it back.

What are some ways small businesses can build long-term client relationships?

1. Work with people high up the ladder. The more integral you are with the decision makers, the better your chances of staying on their radar.

2. Remind them you care. It seems obvious, but letting clients know you value their relationship and the work goes a long way. Keep in touch with them formally or informally.

3. Find the right match. Ask yourself what type of clients is the best fit for you and your company.

4. Hire good employees. Attitude is just as important as aptitude. Getting a bad fit is an immense waste of time. Look for team members who are optimistic, enjoy working with clients, and are persnickety yet willing to roll with the punches. If you need help starting the hiring process, the Employers Association is a great resource.

Tell us your thoughts about the social media buzz.

Absolutely. While it’s free, it requires a decent amount of time and effort to do it right. I’d say it’s a half-time job to do Facebook, Twitter and a blog justice. Some of the work is certainly a good project for interns. Pay attention to the metrics and the types of people following you. Are they potential customers? Will they pay for your service? Tailor your posts and tweets about your business to your audience.

Why did you start your own agency?

I always wanted to run my own business. Both of my grandfathers had their own businesses. And my father started a local insurance agency. I had a strong family model for doing your own thing.

I starting working as a designer for several publications and marketing agencies, but I also had strong writing skills. Problem is that most companies see creatives as writers or designers, but not both, and designers never move up the ladder beyond the title of creative director. Leaving my career in other’s hands was far too limiting. Opening my own shop was a way to avoid falling prey to all of that. It allowed me to control what I’m doing and where I’m doing it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

INTERVIEW: How to maximize Twitter with MMJ Tech's Jonathan Mast

By the end of 2010, Twitter boasts about 190 million users and counting. A good portion of Tweeters are entrepreneurs. I asked Jonathan Mast from small business social media experts MMJ Technology about some basics on how to use Twitter to its full potential.

What are the five must-do's when setting up a Twitter account?

- Pick a memorable user name. jonathanm or jonathanmast is good. jon3234m not so much.
- Upload a picture to your profile.
- Fill in your bio. Use keywords relative to your business.
- Send out a tweet (that would be a Twitter message).
- Find people (tweeps) you are interested in and follow them (at least 20 to start with). Use Twellow.com to look for people with similar interests or in similar industries. This is a great time to follow your competitors and see what they are doing!

2. What are some strategies to keep in mind when you start tweeting?

- Tweet regularly. At least a few times a week; a few times a day is better.
- Don't talk about yourself all the time.
- Use Twitter to establish yourself as an expert in your field. I recommend sharing links to articles and blog entries that would be of interest to your audience.
- Try not to have more than 120 characters in your tweet. This makes it easier and more likely that your tweets are re-tweeted (shared by others). Use a URL shortener like bit.ly to shorten long links that you want to share.

3. Can you describe how and why to use some of Twitter's features? (Lists, mentions, etc.).

- Lists are a great way to keep track of and manage your followers (or if your a bit paranoid to keep tabs on your competition without following them).

- Use Direct Messaging (use "d USERNAME" to send a direct message) to send private messages to other tweeps.

- Re-Tweet (share a tweet you like) regularly. If you read a good tweet choose Re-Tweet to share it with your followers. This shows you're willing to share the credit for good stuff!

- Use hash tags like key words to help get your tweets noticed. A hash tag is the "#" follow directly by a keyword (i.e. #socialmedia #marketing #business #branding).

- Use Twitter search for tweets mentioning you or your organization and then respond when you find them.

4. Which company do you think best uses Twitter?

- There are hundreds ranging from street vendors in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles to major firms like Southwest (@southwestair) and Jet Blue Airlines (@jetblue) as well as international companies like Ford (@scottmonty). There are literally thousands of success stories from small, one-person operations to large, multi-national companies. ALMOST ANY company can be successful on Twitter.

5. How do people manage to attract tens of thousands of followers?

- The most reliable way to get thousands of followers is to share and write content that your audience is interested in. Pick a topic and stick to it for the most part.

- FOLLOW BACK when someone follows you. It's simply the right thing to do and will increase your following.

- Be consistent. Tweet regularly and on topic.

6. How can you generate sales using Twitter?

- Twitter is a great vehicle to establish your credibility. Focus on establishing your credibility first (this takes MONTHS) and then focus on selling. Oh, and remember, no one cares about boring, mundane updates like "eating breakfast - oatmeal and toast."

- Remember that Twitter is only a tool. Use it to establish and maintain connections and always remember to reach out in person when ever possible. If you find someone interesting arrange a phone meeting, schedule introductions over coffee, etc. It's still about personal relationships.

BONUS TIP - To save yourself a lot of time, use a tool such as Hootsuite (you can get a FREE trial at http://ht.ly/3BIAo).