A rant about CAPTCHA (and a possible better solution)

I'll never understand why some companies make it so hard to do business with them.

I’ll never understand why some companies make it so hard to do business with them.

How do you feel about “CAPTCHA” forms?

You know, those awful, illegible “words” that you have to type in on some websites (usually on enquiry forms).

About CAPTCHA…

CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”… or in other words, it’s a test to check that it’s a human filling in the website form, not an automated spam robot.

Guilty till proven innocent

To me, it seems totally rude to ask your website visitors to waste their time trying to interpret these frustrating eye-tests.

I mean seriously, what next? Do prospects also have to jump through hoops of fire to contact you?!

An example of a terrible CAPTCHA…

Here’s an example I had to contend with recently:

CAPTCHA

 

Nope, I have no idea what it says. They’re not even real words, for goodness sake!

This was from a website that I had to use to fulfil a job for a copywriting client.

Every time I hit ‘refresh’ the CAPTCHA had the same level of gobbledygook as this. And there was no audio version for people with hearing problems… it’s rude, rude, rude!

Are you really that worried about spam?

If you have a half decent email system, most spam will get filtered out automatically. I use Gmail (via Google Apps) as my email provider, and I’m really happy with the spam filtering. 

The supplier I used previously wasn’t so good, but personally I’d rather delete a few spam emails than make it so ridiculously hard for people to contact me.

There’s a better way: the spam honeypot

Disclaimer: I’m not a website programmer; I’m just repeating information my awesome web designer has shared with me.

Instead of the “guilty till proven innocent” approach of CAPTCHA, there’s another method called the “spam honeypot” that seeks to trip up robots (not humans). Hurrah!

The way it works is that a hidden text field is added to Contact forms. This field is invisible to human users, but the spam bots aren’t aware of this, so they will insert something into that form. The system then knows that this was a spammer, and you’ll never even see the spam.

Cool, huh?

It is effective (and something that’s used on this website).

So please, instead of using annoying, frustrating and rude CAPTCHA forms… ask your web developer to use nice and unobtrusive spam honeypots instead! 

 

Why you need both a 2D and 3D cover for your book or eBook

One copywriting task I often help my clients with is eBook, book or white paper writing, as I’ve built up some good experience with my own eBooks.

An important consideration for this kind of document is its cover: after all, books are very much judged by their covers. And just because the book may be electronic (either a PDF, Kindle, ePub or another format), a great cover design is a must. Even if the eBook is free! (You still have to convince people that it’s worth their while downloading and reading.)

What you may not realise is that you need both a 2D and a 3D book cover design.

Let’s take a look at what they are, how they’re different, and how each is used…

Introducing the 2D (or “flat”) book cover

Here are a couple of examples of a 2D (flat) book cover design:

Above: The 2D cover for one of my own eBooks, published in PDF format.Above: The 2D cover for a cartoon book I've published in paperback and Kindle formats.

… as you can see, the name is exactly what it says… the design is square and flat and two-dimensional.

How and where you use the 2D book covers

Not only will you need the 2D cover to create the 3D cover (more on that later), but you’ll also need it as follows:

  • For PDF eBooks: This should be inserted on the first page of your book document.
  • For Kindle and ePub eBooks: This is also inserted on the first page of your book document. And additionally this is the image used on your online bookstore (e.g. Amazon.com) listings.

Introducing the 3D cover

The 3D cover is created with the 2D cover as a starting point… here are some examples:

Above: the 3D cover for my Website Owner's Manual book.Above: the 3D cover for my Website Owner's Manual book.

How do you create the 3D cover?

3D cover designs take a lot of skill to do well. (Good design is harder than it looks!) If you have good design skills in PhotoShop software, then you can use PhotoShop actions such as Cover Action Pro.

Personally, I prefer to stick to my strengths (i.e. writing!) and let an expert design my book covers. Trisha Cupra at Blue Owl Web Design has designed all of my covers for me.

Note: there are plenty of other options available for 3D cover creation, but that’s what works for me.

Some tips on 3D cover design

There are so many whizzy 3D book designs out there it can be hard to choose the right design sometimes! Here are some tricks I’ve learned from my cover designer:

Keep the design plain

Too much text and detailed images won’t be legible once your design is reduced in size. Stick to:

  • The title of the book (in a font that’s easy to read)
  • Your name (also in a legible font)
  • One clear image that can be seen even at a small size.

Choose an appropriate book thickness

If your book is short, then pick a design that also looks slim. And if your book is blockbuster length, than choose a design that represents that. It gives your audience an idea of what to expect, and they may feel cheated or misled if what they receive doesn’t match with their expectations.

For example, the 3D images above demonstrates roughly how long the books are. Compare that to another eBook of mine, which is longer:

Above: This 3D design makes it obvious that this eBook I've written is relatively long and comprehensive.

Above: This 3D design makes it obvious that this eBook I’ve written is relatively long and comprehensive.

 

Avoid whacky angles

Some eBook designs use crazy angles where the text runs almost diagonally, making it very hard to read. It’s far better to stick with a design where the angle is more normal, and the text runs horizontally.

Where to use the 3D book covers

OK, so now that you know what 3D book covers look like, and how they’re created – how do you actually use them?

The place where you use the 3D book covers is on your own website. The 3D design is purely to promote your book and make it look attractive.

3D book covers get more sales (or sign ups, if it’s a free white paper), simply because they look more enticing… and a whole lot more professional, too. Packaging sells, so this a good cover design is definitely worth investing in.

After all, you want your book to get read, so you’re doing yourself a big favour if you package it nicely!

Summary

  • 2D (“flat”) book covers are used as follows:
    • PDF eBooks: Insert the 2D design on the first page of your book document.
    • For Kindle and ePub eBooks: Inserted the 2D design on the first page of your book document. And additionally this is the image used on your online bookstore listings (e.g. Amazon.com).
    • 3D cover generation: the 2D cover is a starting point in the design process for the 3D cover.
  • 3D covers are used on your website to promote your book. Packaging sells, and books with attractive covers sell better.
  • If you’re not a design whizz yourself, engage someone to do this for you… ideally someone with book cover design experience, as their are some unique design factors for book covers. I’d suggest that you:
    • Keep the design plain.
    • Choose a book thickness that’s relevant to your book
    • Avoid whacky angles where the text is hard to read. Try and keep the text as horizontal as possible.

How to write attention-grabbing headlines

Here’s an easy-peasy headline writing technique you can use right away…

FREE Marketing Tips:  http://wordsbycornelia.com/marketing-tips/

(That’s my other website, with DIY marketing resources for small businesses.)

Why use headlines?

Headlines are vital for attracting people’s attention, to compel them to read your marketing messages. You use headlines for:

  • Website content: every page should have a heading… which should be a headline.
  • Email newsletters: the ‘Subject’ line is actually a headline, and has a big influence on your email newsletter open rates.
  • Blog and news articles: these definitely need great headlines to compel readers to read on!
  • Brochures: again, headlines compel people to pick up your brochure and want to read more.
  • Advertisements: a stand-out headline is a must for both print and online advertisements.
Writing attention-grabbing headlines is a vital part of good copywriting. Here's a technique that's easy to use...

Writing attention-grabbing headlines is a vital part of good copywriting. Here’s a technique that’s easy to use…

There are lots of headline writing techniques out there, but this one is probably the easiest to learn… and it works really well.

Step 1: Ask a question
Step 2. Use the word ‘you’ in your question
Step 3: The question should address a problem that your prospect is experiencing

Example: the the intro to this video uses this technique! It is:

Are you struggling to write an attention-grabbing headline?

So next time you need to write a headline, see if you can use this headline writing technique.

Next, review your existing marketing materials (printed and online) and give them a re-vamp by writing a catchy headline.

 

PS. Yes, this is me, Cornelia, in the video!

This is my very first attempt at a video blog – or ‘vlog’ as it’s called.

It’s filmed on my iPhone using techniques learned from iPhone Video Hero… you can get a FREE eBook on iPhone Video Marketing here.

 

Major Google algorithm update in May 2013

Have you noticed a change to your website’s Google rankings (and traffic) recently?

If you've noticed a change to your website rankings and visitor numbers in recent weeks, it could be due to a major update in Google's ranking algorithm.

If you’ve noticed a change to your website rankings and visitor numbers in recent weeks, it could be due to a major update in Google’s ranking algorithm.

If you’ve noticed a change in recent weeks, that could well be due to a major update in Google’s ranking algorithm.

The aim of the update on 22 May 2013 is to penalise low quality, spammy websites… and in turn, reward websites that are rich in unique, high quality content. This goes to show that investing in unique, high quality website content is the best SEO strategy!

(I’ve looked at the website statistics for some of my clients, and for the sites I’ve looked at there’s been a noticeable increase in visitor numbers since 22 May.) 🙂

More info about the Google update…

Matt Cutts is Head of the Webspam Team on Google, so he’s responsible for a lot of Google’s algorithm changes. He’s written a blog post about the changes (nicknamed ‘Penguin 2.0’) here, and it includes a link to a video with more information the update. It’s also interesting that Google now lets users report spam websites.

So how do you get unique, high quality website content?

There are a number of ways in which you can add useful content to your website. (And remember, the best content will be helpful to your human readers too.)

  • Resources: Add a resources section with hints and tips for your customers.
  • FAQs: You could have FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page(s) addressing the questions your customers and prospects ask you most often.
  • Blog: If you can commit to adding regular content, a blog (or news section) is the way to go. Do make sure you update it regularly though – an out-of-date blog is not a good look! And make sure that your blog is part of your existing website, rather than a stand-alone site. If your website is built using WordPress, that’s easy to do… otherwise, you may need to ask your website developer to set it up for you.

Like the idea of adding content – but don’t enjoy writing?

If you struggle with writing but would like more high quality content on your website, I can help you with your website copywriting.

 

How to build trust online with your profile photograph

The purpose of profile photographs in business is to look friendly and approachable.Do you find that an out-of-the-blue interaction with a nice, friendly, cheery person can make you feel all smiley and glowy inside?

That’s how I used to feel whenever I parked in my favourite multi-storey car park in Auckland CBD.

For inside this grey, gloomy building was a cosy pocket of warmth – known as the payment booth. An elderly (and generously proportioned) Pacific Islander lady with white hair and a jolly disposition resided in this booth. It seemed that no matter which hour, or which day, I visited the car park, she was always there. And always knitting. And always ready with a big smile.

In fact, I always used to look forward to paying for my car parking fee, knowing that the jolly Islander lady would be there! A sincere smile and chat with her made my day.

One day it all changed…

One time I arrived at the car park to discover that the barrier arms at the entry at gone. And Pay and Display ticket machines had been installed. And – horrors! – the payment booth was covered in metal shutters. Ugh!

For me, the whole vibe of the car park changed instantly. Instead of feeling safe, protected and looked after, it now feels cold, impersonal, and almost creepy.

It’s the personal touch that makes a difference

It’s the personal touch that can transform a routine transaction into something more pleasurable. Maybe even a relationship of sorts.

After all, that’s why people like to do business with other people

We all know this, but in this world of computers and websites and email, many business relationships veer more towards the impersonal rather than personal, warm and friendly. Yet friendly faces make us relax, smile and feel good about ourselves!

Wouldn’t you like a bit more warmth and friendliness in your working day?

Here’s an easy way to make business communication more personal…

It’s easy… you use a portrait photo of yourself in your marketing communications!

But I don’t look attractive enough to use a photo…

This is something I hear quite often from business owners. They think that they’re not attractive enough to use their photograph.

But here’s the thing: no-one expects you to look like a supermodel. (Heck, it would be a scary, intimidating world if everyone did look like Heidi Klum!)

Rather, it’s about you looking friendly, and approachable – and like you. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less. Truly.

But I’m not very confident about how I look…

You and me both!

So before I had my profile photos taken, I spent some time with my beautician and hairdresser in order to look the best I could. And the photographer I engaged was excellent: she specialised in portrait photos (she’d even won some awards) and I really liked the shots in her portfolio.

How you pose in a portrait photo is important too, because the body language is so important. Here are my tips on how to pose for portrait photographs.

In short: with a bit of preparation, you’ll end up with shots that you will be happy and comfortable using.

You’ve got the photographs – now what do you do?

The photographs are no good sitting on a CD or on the hard drive of your computer, oh no! You need to use them!

Me personally, because I felt very uncomfortable about putting my photograph everywhere, I did it in stages.

Step 1: Put your portrait photograph on your website

Putting your portrait photograph on your website immediately adds warmth and credibility – and builds trust. Visitors like knowing that there’s a real person behind the business: dealing with a faceless persona just feels weird.

The key pages to add your photograph to are:

  • Home page
  • About page
  • Contact page
  • Sales pages.

There were unexpected benefits of using my photograph on my website…

I must admit that I didn’t really think about how putting my photograph on my website would benefit or affect me. In fact, I wasn’t really sure what to expect – I didn’t think it would make a difference to me, only to my website readers. Wrong!

After I started using my photo on my website, I’d notice that when I met prospects and new clients for the first time, they were noticeably friendlier to me! Not that people are normally unfriendly, but because these people had seen my photograph (and read about me), they felt like they already knew me a little. It’s a huge ice-breaker and rapport building tool!

I’m shy by nature, so it makes a big difference to me when the person I’m meeting for the first time not only recognises me, but also approaches me with a big smile. It’s wonderful!

Step 2: Use your photograph in your email signature

I can’t remember who suggested this to me, but I was very uncomfortable about using my photo in my email signature. It’s not something that’s normally done in New Zealand, and it just felt a bit cheesy and attention seeking.

But whoever told me to do it must have been very persuasive, because I did finally do it. And the results were very unexpected!

I instantly received an email from an A-Grade client saying how much she enjoyed seeing my photo in my email. She said that it made her feel like she was communicating with a real person, and that it took the impersonal nature out of emails.

Example: Here’s my current email signature. I change and update the design quite often, but the photograph is the one constant:

Here's an example of using a profile photograph in an email signature.

Here’s an example of using a profile photograph in an email signature.

The wonderful feedback from my A-Grade client gave me the confidence to keep using my photograph in my email signature.

I’ve noticed that using my profile photo in this way is great for building rapport with new clients – just like it does on the website. That was one result I semi-expected, but I was in for another surprise.

The surprising thing I’ve noticed since using my photo in my email signature is that the replies I receive are somehow… nicer.

It’s not that I’d usually receive lots of nasty emails from people, no. But because people see my face when they’re writing a message to me, somehow their tone changes, just a little bit.

Seeing my photograph makes people aware that they’re communicating with a real, live human.

And this slight difference in tone makes a huge difference to my day. We all like to be addressed in a friendly, courteous manner, so this directly impacts my happiness at work.

One thing’s for sure: I’m no longer scared or hesitant about using my photo!

Step 3: Other places where you can use your profile photograph

There are other places where you can use your profile photograph too:

  • Other website pages: e.g. newsletter sign-up pages, download pages, etc.
  • Email newsletters: This adds a personal touch to your mass communications.
  • Business cards: This helps people to remember you long after the initial meeting.
  • Proposal documents: Put a friendly, personal touch to quotes and estimates. Think about it from the reader’s point of view, who may find the document a bit scary and intimidating – especially if it’s a high-value purchase. Wouldn’t a friendly smile on the cover page warm you up to reading it?
  • Sales letters: I’ll often include my photograph in sales letters to clients, as it adds that friendly, personal touch.

In short: you can use your profile photograph in the same places where you use your digitised signature.

Are there any places where you shouldn’t use your profile photograph?

I do think that it’s possible to take the profile photograph thing too far.

For example, a few years ago I received a fridge magnet for a mortgage broker with his photograph on. Do I want to look at his photograph every day when I’m making breakfast? Um, that would be a no!

We also received a Shopping List pad from a husband-and-wife real estate team (people we have no relationship or connection with). That went straight into the recycling pile.

While it’s good to use your profile photograph to build a relationship, there is such a thing as being too “in your face”, so some common sense is advised!

Remember, the aim is to add a friendly, personal touch… not to freak people out!

I wish that the multi-storey car park owners in Auckland CBD realised that their facilities now freak me out, and I park elsewhere that feels friendlier. 😉

Summary: benefits of using your profile photograph in your marketing

Benefits to your prospects and customers:

  • They trust your company/brand more quickly.
  • It helps to put them at ease and makes them feel more comfortable… dealing with people whose names and faces you know is nicer than dealing with an anonymous entity (or a machine!).

Benefits to you:

  • It can help to boost your sales conversion rates, or speed up the decision-making process, because your prospects trust you more (and do so more quickly).
  • It’s a wonderful ice-breaker and rapport builder for meetings: people will feel like they already ‘know’ you, which puts both of you at ease.
  • People may communicate with you in a more courteous manner. It is easy to be rude or vent to an anonymous entity than a person whose name and face you know!
  • It differentiates your business and your brand against your competitors. There is no competition to be you!

 

Client wins nationwide building award

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Keola Homes in Auckland for nearly a year now. And the very exciting news is that they won a bronze Award in the New Zealand Commercial Project Awards at a National Gala Dinner earlier this month.

Many congratulations, Keola Homes!

Keola Homes’ award was for building the Magic Kingdom Childcare Centre in Blockhouse Bay, Auckland. The childcare facility features a host of environmentally-friendly credentials, including solar panels and rainwater recycling. The building process itself also had a strong emphasis on recycling.

There were some complex project management challenges for Keola Homes to deal with, as their client had to start marketing the facility and get Ministry of Eduction certification one month prior to the construction being completed. So the furniture was being delivered and installed, and the exterior landscaping taking place, while the construction work was still in progress… crazy!

Best of all, the childcare centre was completed on time; had no health and safety issues; and the childcare centre was over-subscribed with customers by the time it opened. Nice work!

My client, Sanjesh Lal (right) of Keola Homes, receiving his Commercial Project Award.

My client, Sanjesh Lal (right) of Keola Homes, receiving his Commercial Project Award. Presented by Hon Steven Joyce, Minister for Economic Development.

The award-winning childcare centre built by Keola Homes, Auckland.

The award-winning childcare centre built by Keola Homes, Auckland.

What makes this win exciting from my point of view is two-fold:

1. My client faced intense competition from large building corporations in these Awards

Sanjesh at Keola Homes reckons they were the smallest business by far to win an Award. It is awesome to see a small business doing well on what’s traditionally the big boys’ turf. It shows that small businesses can do great things.

Very well done indeed, Sanjesh and Sangita! 🙂

2. It demonstrates that I get great results for my clients!

OK, so I didn’t help to lift a single brick nor did I wield a shovel to help construct the award-winning childcare centre.

But I did write the award entry – which was very extensive and detailed (about 6,000 words in total). Plus I’ve been working on Keola Homes’ marketing and copywriting for nearly a year… so it goes to show that professional copywriting can make a real, demonstrable difference to a business of any size.

And now that Keola Homes has won an Award, I’ve been busy writing and distributing a press release to selected niche publications to help spread the message and capitalise on this marketing angle.

(Tip: if you win an Award, take the opportunity to blow your own trumpet. It’s not you saying that your company’s great, it’s an external commendation… so tell people about it! If you’re not sure how to do that, then get a PR professional to help you.)

Important factors in getting your story picked up by the media are:

  1. Timing: you need to react promptly. And hope like heck that there’s no major news story to obliterate your chances of getting covered.
  2. A strong angle: your story needs to be newsworthy and relevant to the publications you’re covering. You probably need an angle stronger than “we’ve won an award”, it needs something else as well to give it the x-factor.
  3. Selecting the right publications: getting coverage in a nationwide paper or TV is hard. So go for the lower-hanging (but just as tasty) fruit, such as niche publications read by your target profile
  4. Photographs: a picture paints a thousand words, and editors are more likely to give you coverage if you have some good quality, high-resolution images to go with your story.

Even more good news for Keola Homes: editors are already picking up on the media release I wrote and distributed. Woohoo! 🙂

About Keola Homes…

Keola Homes is a family-run building company, with husband-and-wife team Sanjesh and Sangita Lal taking care of Operations and Accounts respectively. Their nephew, Amrish, a recent graduate, is the Project Manager, and part-time Project support comes from Sanjesh and Sangita’s son, Rohil, a student.

Keola Homes specialises in the design and build of architecturally-designed homes Auckland-wide; these are often on sloping or difficult sections. Sanjesh manages a team of approximately 25 sub-contractors at a time… he’s one busy business owner!

Sanjesh and Sangita Lal with their very well-deserved Commercial Building Award.

Sanjesh and Sangita Lal with their very well-deserved Commercial Building Award.

Many, many congratulations, Sanjesh and Sangita – you deserve this!

Cornelia

Cornelia Luethi BSc (Hons), DipM
Copywriter and marketing consultant

PS. Are you an Auckland small business owner in need of some copywriting and marketing magic?

My copywriting and marketing services are in hot demand at the moment, but I may have an opening in a month or two. Please contact me to check availability (space is allocated on a first-come, first-served basis… it’s only fair that way!).

Note that award entry writing services are only available to Retainer clients I’ve been working with some time, and I only write one award entry at any time. I put a massive amount of effort and energy into client award entries – that’s why my clients do so well in Awards! So far, every award entry I’ve written has resulted in my client becoming at least a Finalist, if not a Winner.

So if you’re thinking of entering an Award next year and would like some help, now’s the time to get the conversation started. The first step would be to have an initial marketing consultation: full details and prices are here.

Any questions? Ask me!

 

Business thank you cards: How to grow your business with two little words

Business thank you cards are an easy and effective way to show your appreciation.

Business thank you cards are an easy and effective way to show your appreciation.

Discover why sending “thank you” cards will elevate your business from your competitors…

Think that sending a “thank you card” is a bit old fashioned?

Well, that’s exactly why it’s a great marketing tactic – very few businesses bother to do it! Yet this simple, low-cost gesture will help your business stand out from your competitors.

Discover:

  • Why it’s important to say “thank you” in business.
  • How to decide if this is a viable, cost-effective (and time-efficient) marketing tactic for your business.
  • When to send “thank you” cards.
  • Design tips: what should be on the front of your card? And should you handwrite the inside – or get that pre-printed as well?
  • Why your choice of envelope is important. (The wrong envelope could ruin the “wow” factor!)
  • Why it’s a good idea to put some nice goodies inside the envelope.
  • Why consistency is important when sending “thank you” cards in business.

Read the article on Cornelia’s ‘The Leaky Bathtub’ website →

How to build trust online with your signature

Adding your signature onto your website is a simple way to build trust - and quickly.

Adding your signature onto your website is a simple way to build trust – and quickly.

Do you remember the last time you had to sign a document? It may have been a contract, or a form, or something authorising a payment (e.g. a cheque or Direct Debit).

Signing your name makes something feel quite official, yes?

Even if you didn’t read all the small print in detail, you just know that when you sign something, it had better be correct. You know for sure it’s something serious and binding.

What does signing your name have to do with websites?

Websites are tricky beasts, in that a potential prospect will decide in 7 short seconds whether they’ll read your site further, or if they’ll hit the ‘back’ button on their browser and go to a competitor’s site.

Therefore you have mere seconds to communicate that your business is trustworthy and reputable. Adding a signature to your website is one of the tools you can use to help with this: it’s a powerful, visual way of building trust.

What does a signature on a website do? A signature tells us that:

  • There is a real person behind the business.
  • This person is willing to sign their name to what they say… which in turn ads gravity to what it says on the website.

… and it does these things within a very short space of time.

What’s more, a signature is also very unique. A signature can even become a brand element that will let your business stand out against your competitors. It’s a very powerful branding tool – and also a very inexpensive one!

Example of a signature on a website…

Yep, I use the ‘signature on a website’ tactic myself:

Signature on website example: Notice how the signature adds a friendly and personal touch the website.

Signature on website example: Notice how the signature adds a friendly and personal touch the website.

Now that you can see what you’re aiming for, here’s how to implement your own website signature…

Tips on adding your signature to your website

1. Sign your name in a good quality, black pen on a clean piece of plain paper

  • Do not use your “official” signature, e.g. your credit card signature!
  • Use a good quality, black pen. My personal preference is for a pen with gel ink, or a fountain pen, as this makes a good, solid line. Ball point pens don’t have a smooth ink flow, so the result can look blotchy. And a thick pen (like a marker pen) will look too chunky and overbearing.
  • Your signature needs to be legible, or you won’t succeed at building trust. (Illegible signatures make it seem as though you have something to hide.)
  • Use your first name and last name, or just your first name. Do not use initials. Initials look too formal, or though you’ve got something to hide. For example:
    • Good: Joanna Smith, Joanna
    • Not recommended: JS, J Smith.

2. Scan your signature to digitise it

You’ll need the signature in a JPEG or PNG image file.

3. If necessary, enhance your signature in image editing software

Make sure the black is nice and crisp; the white background clean. If necessary, rotate the signature so that it is level.

Then save your signature in a website friendly format. Your signature graphic should be a small file size, so it’s quick to load, but still good quality so that it looks crisp and sharp.

4. Add your signature onto your website

You can add it onto as many pages as your like – the list below is a minimum:

  • Home page
  • Sales pages
  • Contact us page, as it is important to humanise this page: all too often, Contact Us pages are very abrupt and not very compelling! Adding your signature – and your photo – makes the “contact us” message more personal and thus it’s more enticing for prospects to contact you.

5. Type your details under the signature

Underneath your signature, type your name in full and any recognised qualifications you may have.

Then on the next line, add your job title and company.

6. Add your photo

Use your photo, too – like I did in the example above. (See some tips for cringe-free business portrait photos.)

Is this signature-on-a-website tactic relevant for all businesses?

In my view, adding a signature onto a website is a worthwhile tactic for all small business, whether you’re a solopreneur, or have a handful of staff. After all, why wouldn’t you want to build trust on your website? It’s simple, deceptively powerful – and very cheap to do!

Also, it’s a tactic that’s relevant for all types of industries, whether you’re business-to-business, business-to-consumer, selling products, or selling services.

Even large corporations can benefit from this approach. Just look at how Richard Branson has plastered his name over his various Virgin companies (encompassing airlines, trains, telecommunications/internet, record label, wine merchant, radio stations, financial services – and a whole lot more besides).

By adding his name (and the flamboyant personality that goes with it), the Virgin Group has a unique brand. The Virgin Group of companies have a very different vibe to their clinical-looking, staid, corporate competitors.

Why looking “corporate” stifles your business

Some of you reading this article will be appalled that I’m suggesting adding a signature to personalise your business. A common objection I hear to this tactic is, “but I want my business to look serious and corporate. Adding a signature and photograph just makes my business look small and amateurish”.

Here’s my view on the desire to look corporate…

During my time as a Marketing Consultant in the UK in the late 1990s (a time when the economy was strong), I met many business owners who did not like their business being called a “small business” or an “SME”… even if that’s exactly what they were.

These business owners thought that it was all about size. Indeed, such business owners considered the use of the word “small” was an insult to their ego; to their stature in life; to their importance.

Consequently, these size-challenged business owners wanted their marketing materials to emulate the corporates. Yes, they actually wanted their materials to be faceless! They wanted to focus on the “brand”, and not on people.

What’s the result of “corporate-looking” marketing?

All of these corporate-looking marketing materials were dull, faceless, bland and interchangeable. The copy was jargon-riddled nonsense. The photographs were generic stock library images.

You would have struggled to tell one company’s marketing materials from the other!

In these days where many small businesses are still struggling with the after-effects of recession, competition for your prospects’ share-of-wallet is tougher than ever. What’s more, with increased use of technology, many small businesses now have to compete against overseas suppliers (who are often able to supply at a lower cost), as well as local competitors. Business life is tough!

So, in these days of hyper-competition, do you want your business to look dull, faceless, bland, and unmemorable?

Or do you want your business to stand out; be unique and memorable; and start building meaningful relationships with your customers?

It’s your call… but I know which approach is likely to yield the better results.

Summary

The benefits of adding your signature to your website are that:

  • Using your signature on your website is a visual tool that instantly builds trusts and adds credibility. (Signing your name = a commitment to what you’re saying.)
  • Using your signature helps you stand out from your competitors. Based on my experience, I’d say that most of your competitors won’t have the balls to add a signature in such a public way, so that’s another thing in your favour!
  • It adds personality and depth to your message, in a way that a logo by itself will never do.
  • It lets prospects and customers know that there’s a real person behind the brand. Not only does that build trust and credibility, but it’s also the beginning of forming closer relationships.
  • This is ridiculously easy and cheap to do!

 

Why you’re wasting your time focusing on “target markets”

It's important that you have a very specific target in mind for your marketing to be effective.

It’s important that you have a very specific target in mind for your marketing to be effective.

Knowing whom you’re talking to is crucial when you’re writing your marketing material… this is Marketing and Copywriting 101!

When writing your marketing copy, you need to be able to put yourself into your prospects’ shoes.

That way, it will help you to speak your prospects’ language, and address their specific needs and problems.

The problem is that most business owners don’t have a clear picture of their prospects…

And the reason why business owners don’t have a clear picture of what their prospects look like is because traditional marketing books and courses drone on about  “target markets”. They talk about mumbo jumbo such as “socioeconomic profiles” and “industrial segmentation” …Yawn!

Invariably, business owners respond to this mumbo jumbo by devising really broad definitions of their “target market”. These “target market” definitions are simply too vague to be practical.

Here are examples of the kind of “target market” definitions I’ve come across:

  • Flooring supplier: any home or business within a 10km radius.
  • Property manager: property investors in my catchment area.
  • Manufacturer of high quality dog treats: anyone in Auckland with a dog, with a household income over $60,000
  • IT supplier: all SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in Wellington.

These broad definitions may be well and good for the academics teaching about “target markets”, but you’ve got a business to run and sales to make.

And these broad definitions are actually going to hold you back, because the resulting marketing messages are likely to be too vague to be useful.

Vague “target market” definitions lead to weak marketing messages

The problem with these vague definitions of a “target market” is that they lead to vague and uninspiring marketing messages.

Here are some examples of marketing messages addressing a “target market”… these examples are fictional, but very typical of what I’ve come across over the years:

  • Flooring supplier: Do you have a home or business in Auckland? We can help you with all your flooring needs!
  • Property manager: Let us help you with your property management, so you have more time to spend on things you enjoy!
  • Manufacturer of high quality dog treats: Nutritious treats for your best friend!
  • IT supplier: One-stop shop for your business computer needs!

Those kinds of headlines are 100% snoozeworthy! They’re so general; they won’t grab anyone’s attention.

So you need something less theoretical and less broad when targeting – and more “real” and specific.

How to be more specific in your targeting

The reason why this concept of a target market doesn’t work is because it’s too vague. It’s so broad, that you won’t appeal to anyone.

Instead, you need to get really really specific with whom you’re targeting. And the best place to start is with your existing customer base.

Specifically, look at your top-notch, A-Grade customers.

What’s an A-Grade customer?

A-Grade customers are the ones who:

  • Spend a good amount of money with you – and are likely to do so again in the future.
  • Pay their bills on time and without haggling over the price.
  • Are a pleasure to deal with, because they’re people whose company you enjoy.
  • They are respectful of you, and you are respectful of them.
  • They may also be raving fans, and regularly send new customers your way.

Let’s look at some (fictional) examples of target profiles:

  • Flooring supplier: Alisha and Ben have just bought their first home, and it’s a “do-up” job. They put new flooring into every room, transforming a drab house into a chic home that’s ideal for entertaining their friends. So the flooring they’ve chosen is both fashionable and hardwearing and easy to clean, to suit their busy lifestyle. Alisha and Ben are about to buy a puppy, and are thinking of starting a family.
  • Property manager: Rupert has just been promoted to Sales Manager of a large corporation, and has just bought his first investment property. He has a plan to accumulate a portfolio of investment properties over the next 5 years. He’s hungry to maximise his profits and have no tenant-related headaches. Rupert wants to delegate the property management, so he can focus on his day job and earning the bonuses that’ll let him purchase more properties.
  • Manufacturer of high quality dog treats: Jane’s west highland white terrier, Lili, is her best friend. But like many dogs of her breed, Lili has skin disorders, which are triggered by certain foods. Jane wants to be able to give Lili treats, but the mainstream products make Lili sick. Jane’s discovered that Lili responds well to these dog treats, and has a standing order of treats automatically delivered each month.
  • IT supplier: Siobhan’s just hired another bookkeeper for her growing accounting business. As her business is totally reliant on computers running smoothly all the time (plus data security is important), she’s invested in on-going remote monitoring of systems, premium anti-virus software, plus online data back-ups. The supplier also visits once a month to fix any computer bugs and niggles, and checks printer supply levels, re-stocking as needed, so that Siobhan can focus on running her business.

Notice that target profiles work for all types of businesses

Defining target profiles works for business selling products and services, as well as B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) companies.

This is because your customers are always people! Even in the B2B world, buying decisions are made by real, live people with names, challenges and aspirations. (People do business with other people, not businesses.)

What do you do with the target profiles?

So you’ve identified your target profile – what happens next?

There are a number of things that you should be doing with them:

1. Target them in your copy

Have your target profile in your mind when you’re writing your marketing and promotional copy.

Think: does what you’re writing appeal to your target profile person?

Let’s take a look at the (fictional) examples again to see how this works in practice… the companies have re-written their introductory blurb to appeal to their target profiles:

  • Flooring supplier: Renovating your first home? Budget-friendly, fashion-forward flooring that’s housewarming-proof, pet-proof and baby-proof. Flooring that’ll cope with whatever life (or your kids) throw at it.
  • Property manager: New to property investment? We’ll grow your assets with property management services designed to make you richer.
  • Manufacturer of high quality dog treats: Poorly pooch? Organic, nutritionally-balanced dog treats for a healthier pet. Formulated to address common doggy difficulties, from bad breath, to itchy skin, flatulence and more – or your money back.
  • IT supplier: Never experience a computer bug again with our proactive, fixed-price maintenance services! Focus on growing your business – on computers that run faster than your competitors’.

Note: This is the high-level, condensed copy… in most cases you’d have more space to expand on that message (e.g. on a web page, or in a brochure).

The idea is for you to see how this copy is more specific (and more intriguing) than the generic target market-centric copy shown previously.

If you were the target profile for any of these examples companies, you would most certainly want to read on to find out more information. (Which is the whole idea of a headline, or introductory sentence/paragraph.)

2. Obtain (and use) testimonials

Make sure you get (good) testimonials from your target profiles, and put them on your website and in your proposal documents. Remember, like attracts like.

3. Get feedback

Have you ever had a new idea or concept for your business – but you didn’t know if it was lousy or genius? Ask your target profile for feedback.

And no, they won’t be offended… chances are they’ll be flattered to be asked! Really!

Sure, you don’t want to bug your target profile all the time about every tiny little thing, but asking them on important matters once or twice a year is absolutely fine (and a good way of keeping in contact with them, above and beyond your regular customer retention activities).

4. Keep your finger on the pulse

There are external factors (political, economic, social, technological) that create change in your business environment. You can’t change these things; rather you need to continually adapt your approach to use this change to your advantage. By having a continuous dialogue with your target profile, you’ll be well prepared to make these changes in your business.

How many target profiles should you have?

When you look at your list of A-Grade customers, chances are you may have several names on the list.

It’s good to have multiple people to approach for testimonials, feedback, and keeping your finger on the pulse.

However, when it comes to writing marketing copy, you need to pick just one target profile person. Yes, just one.

If you try and address multiple people in the one message, you’ll be back at square one, talking to the “target market” and trying to be all things to all people.

Instead, you need to pick the one target profile that is the most representative of the type of customers you’d like to have more of. You know, the profitable, big-spending ones – who are also pleasant to deal with.

Pick that person and write your marketing messages as if you were speaking to that individual directly. If it helps, pin up their name on a Post-It note on your computer to help you keep focused on that one person.

Isn’t it too narrow an approach to focus on just one target profile person?

Seriously, the sooner you move away from the “everyone is my target market” approach to being more specific, you’ll get better results in your marketing.

Because you’ll be communicating at a meaningful level, your message will actually appeal to more people.

Best of all, your message is most likely to resonate with future A-Grade customers. So not only should you be getting more enquiries and sales, but also they’ll be coming from the kind of people you want to be working with.

I challenge you to try it!

All my consulting clients that have embraced this haven’t looked back since, because it’s made a real difference in their business. It’s given them a sense of focus and direction that they were lacking – and made them feel more connected to their customers.

So go and really get to know your target profile – you’re bound to develop deeper relationships with your best customers in the process!

Summary

  • The traditional “target market” terminology is too broad to be of real use to small business owners.
  • Look at your A-Grade customers, and analyse those instead. These are your “target profiles” – a one-person target market.
  • Speak to your target profile in your marketing material.
  • Obtain (and use) testimonials from your target profile people.
  • Get feedback on business-critical decision from your target profile people before you take any further action.
  • Keep in regular contact with your target profile people so you can keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your market and industry.
  • Getting your A-Grade customers involved in this way usually deepens your relationship with them – most people will be happy (and feel honoured) to help a business that they already love!

 

How to organise client events: your 14-step guide

Organising client events: here's your 14-step guide.

Organising client events: Here’s your 14-step guide.

Face-to-face interactions are a great way to deepen business relationships. While one-on-one meetings are well and good, often it makes sense to organise group events.

(There’s more on that topic here: Discover the 4 different ways in which you can grow customer relationships face-to-face.)

So how should you go about organising group events?

This is something that my consulting clients often ask me; here’s a summary of the best tips I’ve learned over the years…

1. What’s your strategy for the event?

Think carefully: why do you wish to host an event?

  • Is it to attract new customers, by giving them a glimpse of what you do? E.g. via a seminar or workshop.
  • Is it to reward loyal clients? E.g. by giving them VIP access/information on a hot new product or service.
  • Or do you wish to reward loyal clients AND attract new customers? E.g. by allowing your VIP clients to invite a friend along to the event.

It’s important that you consider this reason all the way through your event planning, to ensure that the event will achieve your goals.

2. Will the event be free or is there a price for attendees?

If the event is there to reward loyal clients, it would be rather rude to charge them to come along… unless there is a good reason.

However, if the event is to attract new clients, you need to decide whether to make it free or not. You may think that it must be free, to attract new clients, but “free” has 2  problems:

  1. People don’t value free. You’re far more likely to get no-shows and last minute cancellations for free events.
  2. Free appeals to the bargain hunters; there’s a good chance you’ll get people there who’ll suck up every piece of information you pass their way… but they flat out refuse to pay for anything. This can mean low conversion rates and low sales.

Sure, if your event is just a sales pitch, then free is appropriate. However, my suggestion would be that you make the content helpful and to charge a fee for attendance. You’ll most likely attract a better calibre of attendee.

Extra tip: In some regions and cultures, such as here in Auckland, it can be really hard to get people to commit to attending an event way in advance. If that’s the case, consider offering a discounted Early Bird price, for people who book by a certain date.

(Of course, it’s not a ‘real’ discount; the Early Bird is your actual price, and the price thereafter is an increased price.)

Here in Auckland, it’s not unusual to see 75% of attendees choosing the Early Bird option, with the remaining 25% booking in a day or two before the event itself. (And events with Early Bird discounts generally sell more tickets than events without Early Bird discounts.)

If you live in a place where prospects are fickle, offering an Early Bird discount can save you a whole lot of stress. At least with your Early Bird sales, you know that a certain number of people will be attending. Imagine if you made all your sales just a day or two before the event? That would be very stressful, and it may even be tempting to cancel the event for the fear that no one will come!

3. Who will you invite?

There’s no point having an event if you’ve got no one to invite! Attendees may come from:

  • Your own client or prospect list.
  • Strategic alliance partners.
  • Clients and prospects of your strategic alliance partners.
  • People in your networking groups.

Spending some time and effort on this is vital. I’ve seen too many business owners get enthused about hosting an event, and then get stuck on the “who to invite” part. Get some things happening in this area, before you go any further into organising the actual event.

Consider too the mechanics of the invitation: will it be by email, or by snail mail (e.g. a special printed invite, or a letter)? The format of the invite needs to be appropriate to your objectives for the event.

4. Where will you host the event?

You’ll need a venue to host the event: somewhere budget-friendly but professional. As well as the price of the venue hire, you’ll need to consider:

  • Do they provide seating? What’s the capacity? And will the seats be arranged in your preferred layout?
  • Will you have sole use of the area?
  • Is the venue quiet enough, or are there noise issues to contend with? (It’s surprising how many function rooms have high levels of kitchen noise, or noise from other patrons.)
  • Do they provide any audio-visual equipment, or will you need to hire it?
  • Can they provide tea, coffee, water, etc. for your guests?
  • Is car parking available for your attendees?

5. When will the event be held – and for how long?

The issue of timing can be tricky: should you have your event in the morning? An afternoon? An evening? At a weekend? And should it be 2 or 3 hours, or a whole day?

I’d suggest the following plan of action:

  1. Look at what your competitors are doing. If they run successful events, they may have tested and measured different times, so observe and learn from this.
  2. Make an educated guess, and shortlist 2 or so different scenarios. Then ask your target profile people what they’d prefer, and why. Go with the general consensus of opinion.
  3. After the event, review and analyse how the timing worked out. If you think it wasn’t quite right, try something else the next time, and see how that compares.

All you can do is to take an educated guess, and then test and measure.

6. How will you manage the bookings?

You have two main options for managing the bookings:

  1. You could do it all manually, where people have to phone/email you, and you log them on a spreadsheet and get all their contact details. (And then do any follow ups manually as well.) This is very time-consuming.
  2. You could use an event booking system, where people register online (and pay online, if there’s a charge). You can then use the online booking system for email or SMS follow-ups. You can also set a maximum number of attendees to prevent over-booking. The system could even handle Early Bird discounts for you. It may even pre-prepare an attendee list or name badges. There may be a small charge for the booking system, but it will save you an immense amount of admin time.

I know which option I’d go for! 😉

7. Sell sell sell!

The easiest way to let people know about your event is to make a website page with all the information, and have a link to the online booking system.

The beauty of the web page is that you can link to it (e.g. from emails, blogs, social media profiles, etc.)… it’s an easy way to make the information accessible. Plus, if you have Google Analytics installed, you can do some measuring around referral sources, conversion rates, etc. This may be invaluable if you’re holding more events in the future.

In some cases, it may also be worth making a flyer (printed or in PDF format) that you can email to people, or hand out at networking meetings.

Whether you choose to go the online route, flyer route, or both, the most important thing is that you promote the WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me” factor). What will attendees get out of it? Why should they give up precious hours in their day to come to your event? You need to make the event as enticing as possible.

8. Promote promote promote!

You’ve now got the nuts and bolts in place, i.e. an online booking system, a web page, and maybe some flyers… but your job does not end there, oh no.

Now you need to promote the event – and promote it hard.

Go back to your list of invitees and go through it… and at least 2 or 3 times:

  1. Promote/invite people as soon as you’re ready.
  2. Send another reminder before the Early Bird discount finishes.
  3. Send another reminder just before the event (if there are still seats left).

Get your strategic alliance partners to do the same, if possible. And use other channels (e.g. networking meetings, social media, etc.) continuously.

Even if it’s an event for VIP clients, follow up with the people who haven’t replied.

Bonus tip: One client I worked with a while ago was totally stressing about (a) no-one showing up; and (b) being over-booked for a VIP client event. She didn’t know what was worse, and was very flustered.

So I got her to draw up 2 invitee lists: the A-list consisted of her very top tier clients, and they were invited first and foremost (and followed up with, to get a definite Yes or No). Once that list was exhausted, the B-list clients were invited, one at a time. This way the client was in total control of the numbers.

The result? Every seat in the room was taken. The evening was fun and a huge success. And my client was very happy… and her clients were talking about the event for months afterwards. Hurrah!

9. Plan and prepare materials for the day

There’s a huge amount of work involved in this section. The materials you’ll need will depend on the event itself. Chances are that a workshop or seminar will require a lot more preparation than fun client events that rewards your VIP customers.

Here are some of the most common things you’ll may need to prepare; just pick and choose whatever’s appropriate to you:

  • Signage: Print out some signs that you can stick up with BluTak so that your attendees will know exactly where to go. It’s annoying for people to arrive at an unknown building and not know where to go. Make it easy for your attendees to find the function room, especially if it’s tucked away.
  • Registration sheet: So that you can mark attendees as they arrive. That way you’ll know if everyone’s there who signed up… or if there are no-shows. If you have someone helping you on the day, get them to do this, while you make sure that everything else is set up and ready to go. (Because if you’re stuck at the front desk, you’ll be fretting about the computer and overhead projector not being set up yet.)
  • Name badges or stickers: Yes you may feel dumb wearing them or dishing them out… but by gosh it’ll help attendees mingle more easily!
  • Run sheet with timing: This is particularly important if there’s more than one speaker.
  • PowerPoint presentation: make sure it’s an interesting one, and not dull or information overload.
  • Email newsletter sign-up forms: so that you can follow up with prospects).
  • Feedback forms: these are vital for seminars and workshops. Make sure that you write these in a way that’ll let you get Testimonials that you can use in your marketing (with permission from the attendee).
  • Things to sell there and then: This could involve products, services, special packages, special offers… whatever you choose. Make it easy for people to buy. You may need to prepare order forms. And be prepared to accept payments there and then – so you may need to organise a credit card machine.
  • Take-home kits and goodie bags: These may contain marketing materials, a brochure, a copy of presentation slides, branded goods or fun gifts.
  • Presentation tools and stationery: This may include: laptop computer, power cable for the laptop computer, USB stick with your presentation on it (in your computer decides to malfunction, and someone else has a computer you can borrow – this may sound extreme but it’s happened to me!), projector, projector screen, a table for the computer and projector to stand on, remote clicker, iPod, speakers, microphone, electrical extension lead, electrical multibox (ideally one that’s surge protected – that’s another lesson I learned the hard way!), flip chart stand, flip chart pad, flip chart pens, pens for attendees, note pads for attendees, props, a clock to keep you on time, BluTak, camera, etc.
  • Food and drink: My motto is that “everything is better with food”… provided it’s good food. If I’m hungry, I get grumpy (as do most people). You don’t want grumpy attendees at your event. So keep them adequately fed and watered.

10. Can you leverage the event?

Oooh, ‘leverage’, what’s that?

Basically, this is about using the event in some other way later, and would mean recording the audio and/or video.

Some ideas include:

  • Provide a video recording of the event to your VIP clients who couldn’t make it. Either as a DVD or a link to where they can watch the website online.
  • Use a video or audio recording as a Bonus for your customers, e.g. on a special members-only section of your website.
  • Use a video recording as a sales tool on your website.
  • Record video testimonials at the event.

If you think that would help your business, make arrangements well in advance.

You’ll also need a form that each participant must sign on the day, confirming that they give their consent for this indefinitely and without limitation. (Be sure to check they’ve signed the form, as you go round collecting them.)

11. Remember the reminders

Don’t assume that everyone who’s booked will turn up… follow up with the attendees.

I’d suggest emailing all the attendees with confirmation details a day or two before the event, complete with parking information, so they know exactly where to go.

An SMS (text message) reminder on the day itself is a good idea too.

12. Keep to time at the event

This sounds so obvious, but it’s so important… if you don’t stick to time, and don’t cover all the material, it will be difficult for your event to meet its strategic objectives.

So manage your time well and stick to the run sheet. Don’t let the participants take control away (well, not for too long)… you’re in charge.

A friend of mine recommends putting an easy-to-read alarm clock on the table in front of you, so that you can always see it. This is a great idea, and your attendees won’t even notice that you’re keeping such a close eye on the time.

Also, an extra pair of hands on the day will be helpful. If you try and do everything yourself (presenting, AND setting up the room, AND handing round forms, AND recording video testimonials, AND setting up the refreshments, etc. etc.) you will struggle. Make sure you have at least one other person engaged to help you.

If the objective of the event is to make sales, by all means ensure that there is enough time for this! I’ve seen it too many times where people meander through their presentation, and then their sales pitch is rushed.

Do not over-run your time. You will severely annoy your attendees, and it’s disrespectful to them. So let’s not go there!

13. Follow up and follow up some more…

This is another area where business owners fall down time after time: either there are no follow-ups, or they’re not done well, or they’re left so late that the attendees have cooled off completely.

To get around that, have your follow ups prepared well before the event itself, so that you can implement them right away.

If it’s a fun VIP event, thank your clients for coming. It’s polite and classy to do so. Whether you do that by phone, email or snail mail is up to you… whatever is relevant.

For sales-oriented events, the follow-ups need to be more extensive. I’d suggest:

  1. Emailing some value-added information right away to all attendees; AND:
  2. Following up right away with the people who bought from you on the night. Thank them for their purchase, and tell them that you’re there to help them if they have any questions. You can do this by phone or email – or both. AND:
  3. Following up each attendee who didn’t buy on the night with a phone call. Have a really good sales script ready, so that you stand the best possible chance of converting them. If they’re reluctant to buy, ask some questions to find out why. If you’re not comfortable with doing this yourself (e.g. I get the heebie-jeebies at the thought of doing that), consider engaging a telesales professional to do that for you. If they’re any good, the learnings will be invaluable – and you may just get a sale out of it!

14. Review and analyse

Now that all the hard work is out of the way, what did you learn from the experience?

Did the event meet your strategic objectives?

Would you consider running a similar event again? What changes would you make?

I’ve met many business owners who are so enthused about running client events, that they don’t sit back and take stock. I’d strongly recommend that you complete this full cycle before planning any more events.

For example, common issues are around the venue, pricing, promotion or timing. Or maybe the business owner forgot about the strategic objectives somewhere along the track. It’s best to take a step back and remedy these things.

After all, organising client events takes a good amount of time, money and energy… so make sure you get the best possible return from them.

Summary

When planning events, consider:

  1. What’s your strategy for the event?
  2. Will the event be free or is there a price for attendees?
  3. Who will you invite?
  4. Where will you host the event?
  5. When will the event be held – and for how long?
  6. How will you manage the bookings?
  7. Sell sell sell!
  8. Promote promote promote!
  9. Plan and prepare materials for the day
  10. Can you leverage the event?
  11. Remember the reminders
  12. Keep to time at the event
  13. Follow up and follow up some more…
  14. Review and analyse

Discover the 4 different ways in which you can grow customer relationships face-to-face…

How to use face-to-face interactions for customer retention.

How to use face-to-face interactions for customer retention.

There are so many awesome technologies for staying in touch these days. And I use just about all of them to keep in touch with my dad… he lives in England, on the other side of the world to me.

We email each other most days; send SMS (text messages) for news we want to share right away; we talk on the phone; sometimes we Skype; and we send cards in the mail.

Sure, it’s great to have all this… but there’s nothing like seeing each other in person. Being able to take trips together, laugh together, hug. There’s nothing like seeing each other face-to-face, and when it’s been a while since we’ve had that connection, we really start craving it.

The connection with your customers isn’t quite as strong as this family bond, but the same rules apply.

Customers value face-to-face contact as well

Though you may not hug your customers, they will value face-to-face interactions from time to time!

This may depend on your industry to some extent… but even if you have an ecommerce website, and minimal customer interaction, it doesn’t mean you should rule this out completely.

Personal interactions move the business relationship from being a transaction to being, well, a relationship…

Transactions are cold, clinical, impersonal. If you merely transact business, your product or service becomes a commodity, and customers are quickly lured away to cheaper competitors. (Read: How to get your Customers to Climb the Magic Beanstalk of Customer Loyalty.)

But if you take the business relationship to a more personal level, customers become emotionally invested in it. The deeper the connection, the less likely that customers will be lured to a competitor. It’s up to you to deepen that connection, and face-to-face interactions are the way to do it.

What kinds of face-to-face interactions for customer retention are there?

There are 4 broad types of face-to-face interactions for customer retention:

face-to-face-customer-interactions

Which type(s) of customer interaction should you choose?

The kinds of customer interactions you select depend on your business or industry. For example, group events generally work well for B2C (business-to-consumer) companies. Whether they work for B2B (business-to-business) organisations depends on the extent of the rivalry between the customers. I’ve worked in some industries, where customers are bitter rivals, and putting them in the same room together would be a seriously bad idea.

But in other industries, the competition between customers is friendlier – or non-existent even. So it’s up to you to decide what’s relevant for the business you’re in.

Another consideration is your budget

The amount that you spend on face-to-face interactions depends on the profitability of your customers. You need to keep that aligned with your expenses.

In practical terms, it can mean tiering your customers into different levels: it’s perfectly OK to take just your top 5% or 20% (or however many) of your customers out for lunch.

But what if you don’t want to have lunch with a customer?

If the thought of having lunch with a customer makes you cringe, then it may be best not to do it. Assess each case individually.

After all, not all customers are the same, and not everyone likes being taken out to lunch.

The whole purpose of this exercise is to interact in a way that’ll deepen the relationship, and for that to happen the other party has to enjoy the experience! So if you think that lunch together would be a big flop, then don’t do it.

Again, it’s up to you to make the call as to what’s suitable – and what simply won’t work.

If socialising is a no-no, then focus on work-related catch-ups. That’s fine. The important thing is that you do schedule them!

Schedule year-round customer interactions

Imagine if I didn’t phone or email my dad for 3 months. He’d be pretty upset, right? Good relationships need regular contact, and the same applies with your customers.

So make sure that you schedule regular catch-ups with your customers throughout the year. Diarise reminders. Do what you need to do to make them happen.

And again, it’s fine to tier customers into different levels: it’s not practical or helpful to visit every customer every week. After all, not all customers are created equal; they don’t all spend the same amount with you.

For example, in one company where I worked, the Business Development Managers in the sales team had different schedules for different customers. The A-Grade customers would get a visit every month, and phone calls in-between times at least once a week. (These customers needed a lot of servicing.) The B-Grade customers may receive a visit every quarter, and phone calls every two weeks. And the C-Grade customers would get one visit a year, and a monthly phone call… that’s all that was needed (or was relevant) to the smaller customers. What you do depends on your customers, and also the resources you have available to you.

What about industries where face-to-face interactions are tricky?

If seeing customers one-on-one isn’t possible, try to organise a seminar or workshop once or twice a year… if it’s appropriate to your business, of course.

Or if you really can’t manage that, at least fill in the gaps with other media: after all, you have snail mail, email, social media, Skype/instant messaging, the telephone and SMS (text messaging) available to you… make the most of it!

After all, while my dad understands that I can’t visit him as often as I’d like, I at least make up for that in other ways! And you should do the same with your customers. Whereas family bonds are hard to break, customer bonds are far more fragile and you need to treat them as such.

Summary

  • Face-to-face interactions deepen business relationships, which can help with your customer retention.
  •  There are 4 different types of face-to-face interactions you can have with your customers: they can be work-related, fun, one-on-one or group events.
  • The nature of the interactions will depend on your industry, budget and resources… as well as what your customer will enjoy.
  • Ideally, you should schedule face-to-face interactions all year round, though it can be worth tiering your customers so that the attention they receive is in line with their spend.
  • If you really can’t spend time face-to-face with your customers, make the most of all the other media you have available to you: snail mail, email, social media, Skype/instant messaging, the telephone and SMS (text messaging).

 

Why SMS (text messaging) for customer retention is a double-edged sword…

How to use text messaging for customer retention.

How to use text messaging for customer retention.

Since the first text message (or SMS: Short Message Service) was sent in 1992 in the UK, it’s become the most widely used data application in the world. In 2011 there were 3.6 billion active users, or 78% of all mobile phone subscribers. So yeah, text messaging is big!

(Facts ‘n’ figures are from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMS)

However, text messaging as a marketing tool is a double-edged sword…

The great thing about using text messaging as a marketing tool is that just about everyone has a cell phone. And most people have their phone nearby all the time. Thus texting is a very personalised, instant way to communicate with people… and that’s what makes it a double-edged sword.

You see, that personal connection needs trust. When you send someone a text message, it’s quite an intimate form of communication. So it’s absolutely vital that you, as a marketer, respect this intimacy.

For example, many consumers won’t tolerate receiving lots of generic promotional text messages. (Some may be happy to, but I’d say that most folks would find it annoying to get lots of promotions on their phone by SMS.) That means that if you send promotional text messages to your customers, you need to be really sensitive about their preferences. If you don’t act sensitively, you could very easily upset and alienate clients and lose their custom and referrals. Eek!

So does this mean you should never use SMS in your business?

No, not at all… you just need to be careful about it!

You see, there are some text messages that people find helpful; and other messages are annoying. (Like the promotional messages I’ve already mentioned.)

What kind of text messages do people find helpful?

The most helpful kind of text message is a reminder. For example, my beauty therapist and hairdresser send me reminders of my appointments, and I have to reply to the text message to confirm them. These reminders are really handy for me, and if I ever forget what my appointment time is, I don’t even have to open up my calendar, I can just look at my text messages.

This reminder/confirmation system is hugely advantageous for the business owners, too. Many appointment-type businesses have a problem with “no shows”, i.e. people simply not turning up to their appointment, and without letting the business know. That means that the empty appointment can’t be offered to another customer, which means downtime, which means no income in that time period (whilst still paying staff wages and overheads), which means a loss of profit. Using a text message reminder/confirmation system can drastically improve no show rates.

In that scenario, text messaging doesn’t just help with customer retention; it can make a real, measurable difference to profitability – instantly.

Personalised messages can work well too

There are a few different ways to send personalised messages. Here are some examples… and if you’ve got any of your own, I’d love to hear them, just add a Comment to this blog (below).

  • Birthday messages and promotions: If you capture clients’ birthdays, send them a congratulatory message on their special day. Businesses such as beauty therapists could even send them a special birthday offer, e.g. pop in this week and get a free manicure as a thank you for being a loyal customer. (If possible, tier the gifts so that they align with the customers’ spending levels, and better still, get them to try a new service – they may just love it and spend even more money with you in the future!)
  • Congratulations: Has your client just appeared in a newspaper, or been on the radio? Or won an Award or run a marathon? Send them a text message to say “nice job”! It’s instant; it’s personal; and it’s great for those times when you’re not sure whether to call them on the phone or not. And because text messaging is so personal, this will probably get noticed more than an email would.
  • Thanks: Maybe you’ve just had lunch with a client or strategic alliance partner. Or maybe a client came to your seminar or workshop. Send them a text message right away saying something like “Thanks for your time, it was great to catch up.” It’s thoughtful, polite and a good relationship builder. And it’s instant, too: you could say thanks in an email, but you don’t know when your contact will next be checking their emails. But they receive the text message right away.

How do you send the text messages?

Sending personal congratulatory or thank you messages is easy: you just whip out your phone, type and hit ‘send’.

But for anything more complex than that, e.g. birthday promotions, appointment reminders, and so on, it would be difficult to do manually. There are computer systems that can take care of that, and that are linked directly to your client database. (What kinds of systems? You’d need to do some research specific to your industry and to your country. A good place to start is by finding out what your competitors use.)

You also need systems to store clients’ communication preferences

Another reason why it’s a good idea to have a computer system take care of your text messaging is because you need to store your customers’ communication preferences. You see, text messaging (in most countries) is governed by anti-spam laws, similar to email marketing laws.

The smart business owner will have separate opt-in options for:

  • Email newsletters
  • SMS (text message) promotions
  • Reminders

You see, it’s highly likely that you have to offer some way of letting clients unsubscribe from SMS (text message) promotions. (Check the laws that apply to your own country.) So imagine if you just had one opt-in list which covers ALL your client communications: you’d lose that subscriber completely! Yet in reality, that subscriber may not want to receive text message promotions, but they’re happy to receive emails and reminders.

Therefore the more flexible your opt-in options, the better it will be for your business.

Another problem with SMS promotions is that they’re expensive

Text messaging is a relatively expensive way to reach your clients: here in New Zealand, it’s usually 20 cents per 160-character message. If you have a big database, the costs can quickly add up.

If you do try sending promotions by text message, be sure to:
(a) Carry out a cost/benefit analysis beforehand, so you can identify how many responses are needed to break even on the campaign.
(b) If possible, do some split testing with 2 different offers, and track the popularity of each offer.
(c) Carry out post-campaign analysis, to see which offer performed better, and whether the campaign was worthwhile or not.

Should you use “txt language” in your messages?

Gosh it can be hard to fit everything you want to say into 160 characters! (Yes, it’s another of those double-edged sword issues with SMS!) So should you use SMS language?

  • For example: Thank you for the meeting today, it was great to see you.
  • Becomes: Thx 4 t mtg 2day it was gr8 2 c u.

My thoughts: Use words in full where you can. SMS language doesn’t project a professional image (leave it for messaging your buddies), plus it can be misunderstood far too easily.

For example, there are still lots of people who think that “LOL” stands for “Lots of love”. (In case you’re wondering, it actually stands for “Laugh out loud”.

So don’t risk any misunderstandings, and be clear in your communications by using proper language!

The future of text messaging

SMS has been around for a decade now, and let’s face it, we love being able to send and receive messages instantly, all over the world.

With smartphones being so popular, the technology we use for messaging may well evolve over time. For example, we may see more location-based features in the future. And the cost of messaging may become more affordable, with the ability to send longer messages and include graphics.

It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on what’s happening, because it’s a very exciting time to be a marketer!

Summary

  • SMS (text messaging) is a very personal, intimate communications medium and you need to treat it with respect.
  • Be helpful and be personal, rather than be too promotional.
  • Reminder/confirmation messages are generally found to be useful by recipients – plus they can work wonders for your “no show” rate.
  • Messages can either be sent manually, from your phone, or can be integrated with a specialised database.
  • Be sure to observe the laws in your country regarding SMS marketing.
  • Obtain opt-in consent (adhering to the laws in your country), and if possible split out the consent between different types of electronic communications (emails, SMS, reminders, etc.)
  • If you send promotional text messages, be sure to test and measure your campaigns carefully to ensure they’re worthwhile.
  • Avoid using shorthand “txt language” in your messages: it looks unprofessional, and can lead to misunderstandings.
  • Cell phone technology is evolving rapidly, so keep an eye out for future trends and opportunities.