Follow Through Is Everything

Vintage shop buildings on West Chicago Avenue in West Town, a Chicago community on the West Side. Galeria Center and Samson Inc. City street. No people.

You formed a plan for Small Business Saturday. You rallied your fellow local merchants to join you and buy into the promotion. You’ve been spreading the news via social media and traditional advertising. It’s coming down to the wire.

Don’t forget the follow through.

Until now, it’s been about promotion, now it’s time to make sure you and your partners do what you’ve said you will do. The idea is that on Saturday you will be welcoming customers who have never been to your business before. Make sure theirs won’t be a one-time visit.

Get a fresh set of eyes. Ask a trusted friend or family member to walk through your business and give you an honest assessment of its cleanliness, accessibility and overall customer friendliness. Chances are there’s some de-cluttering and extra cleaning to be done.

Make sure employees are in the loop. Do all your employees, and that includes family/friends coming to help on the big day, know exactly which items are on sale or you want to push? Can they answer questions about refunds/returns? Can they give directions to other stores, parking, restrooms, restaurants? As the proprietor, you are going to be plenty busy on Saturday, you don’t want to get bogged down answering basic questions your own people should be able to answer.

Capture that data! If you’ve not done so already, there’s still time to decide on a giveaway that will enable you to get contact information from many of your customers. A basket/bowl for business cards and also a simple paper form and pens are all you need. Make it something good to entice customers. Partner with other merchants for a big-ticket item.

Doing snacks? Put someone in charge. Hot beverages and snacks likely are things you don’t offer most of the time, so make sure they aren’t forgotten by mid-morning. Select an employee to keep everything stocked and cleaned up. If you run out, then clear everything away ASAP rather than leave the mess out front for your customers to see.

Don’t wait to debrief.┬áMake your own list of things that went well and those that fell flat. Consult your employees/volunteers for their input. Then, make sure there’s a debriefing on the calendar with your partner merchants. If the shopping season is too busy for a 90-minute meeting until after the holidays, at least send out an email next Monday reminding your partners to make their own lists so those good insights aren’t lost.

Share news of your success. If you have a great story to tell, submit it by Jan. 11, 2016 for consideration in the 2016 National Small Business Week Awards. If you need help telling your story, let me know.

Mark Feb. 1, 2016 on your calendar. That’s when you will want to start planning for 2016’s National Small Business Week, May 1-7.


Content Marketing: Everyone is a teacher


I’ve written previously that professionals often make things sound more complicated than they really are. One way is by peppering conversations and writing with their insiders’ alphabet soup. Remember this great scene from Good Morning Vietnam ?

For small businesses and non-profits, the term “content marketing” may seem like a new and complex concept that would require an advanced degree to understand. Not so. It does require, however, a change of perspective.

To develop and maintain an effective content marketing strategy with free social media as the workhorse, stop thinking of yourself as a business owner or a non-profit manager. Think of yourself as a customer or donor.

When you start thinking from your audience’s perspective, you will begin to develop content (articles, blog posts, photos, graphics, links to other articles) that really captures interest.

As an example, consider the Virginia-based company, River Pools. Co-owner Marcus Sheridan reports in this video from the Content Marketing Institute that River Pools was nearly washed up when the economy tanked in 2008. But they didn’t, and Sheridan credits content marketing, along with a big buy-in from employees, with the turn around.

“Everyone in this company is a teacher,” Sheridan explains. Instead of focusing on selling their product, River Pools staff began selling themselves as fiberglass pool experts. They launched “The Most Educational Swimming Pool Blog in the Country” and began by answering common questions about in-ground swimming pools–everything from manufacturing to installation to maintenance.

I encourage you to take a moment to look at your Facebook page, Pinterest board or Twitter feed. Are you only posting info about sales, store hours, products/services, etc., or do your posts offer more. Here are some examples:

  • An antique store owner writes or shares an article about what’s hot on the auction circuit these days. He or she might also pen a blog post on how to check a piece of furniture to determine if it is a valuable antique or a reproduction.
  • As a way to encourage parents with biological children at home, the director of a foster care ministry shares articles on nutrition, discipline, kids crafts, etc. Those same people might be interested in contributing to the work or (even better) in foster parenting when their nest is empty. If you provide a steady stream of content that is well sourced, interesting and fun, they will remember you.
  • I have a friend with a pet-sitting business. She shares articles on pet care, adoption and debunks articles she believes are misleading.
  • The manager of a local food pantry offers up-to-date statistics on hunger in the community, state and country. Instead of only posting the needs of the pantry, he or she includes a thank-you note from a family impacted by the generosity of others. Posts about nutrition, vegetable gardening and smart grocery shopping would also be helpful to this audience.
  • A plumber, landscaper, mason or other specialized professional could readily expand his/her customer base by blogging. A common challenge among homeowners is discerning when a problem is a do-it-yourself project or should be handed over to a pro. Imagine the goodwill generated by helping customers do small repairs/maintenance at home. Chances are very good that a homeowner will call a pro who has been willing to “give away” a little bit of that expertise via social media.

Content marketing is a concept that is more subtle than shouting about specific products, prices and “deals, deals, deals!” When you hear the term “creating community” via social media, this is what the pundits mean.

As one expert in the video notes: “Nobody cares about your product. They are trying to solve a problem.”

If your sales are sluggish and it feels like your customer/donor base is shrinking, I suggest you pour an extra cup of coffee and watch this video. It is filled with real-life case studies, a look back at vintage marketing campaigns that worked, and funny observations.

If, after viewing, you want to try something new in promoting your business/cause, drop me a line at danniewriter@gmail.com or call (502) 432-8725.


Fall Fridays


October was a temperature roller coaster in Louisville this year. Yes, it got seasonably cool but the mercury went right back up into late spring/summer temps for several days. Consequently, fall has been gradual and extended this year, and I am grateful. I’d seen some gorgeous ginkos not far from my home last year but missed getting pictures. The fact that the ground was pretty wet and the sky a bit gloomy on Friday didn’t dampen my joy at finding these beauties at peak. No photos can do justice to the real thing but here are my tries from last week.






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