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The Rubber Meets the Road

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“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”~~Herbert Simon

Testimonials influence us in many subtle ways and range from professional to personal. Advertisers appreciate this and pay for celebrity endorsements, despite a healthy skepticism from consumers. At a subconscious level, though, people that admire Michael Jordan might reason that, “If it’s good enough for him its good enough for me.” Pressed to consider this point, most would deny the influence and yet advertisers that study cause and effect can measure the influence regardless of how independent we think we are.

The next level of professional endorsements that influence buying decisions come from reviewers. These include movie reviewers, restaurant critics, product advisors, and so on. At a simple level we might check a movie review when deciding whether or not to see it although we can appreciate that the reviewer doesn’t know or perhaps even share our taste exactly. We can get a more convincing endorsement from a friend who has seen the film and knows our likes and dislikes. These personal endorsements (or warnings) are much more powerful, although less frequently sought.

A third category emerges, sandwiched between the professional and personal and that is the testimonial provided by non-professionals.

This is the focus of this week’s topic.

Testimonials from other customers can be powerful in moving us to take action. Many customers offer them in an informal, unsolicited manner. One way to encourage this behavior, by the way, is to give away an item with your logo on it. People like to help one another, generally, and will recommend a proven solution and include a personal story of the benefit received. Most satisfied customers will provide more formal testimonials, if asked.

Often, however, when willing they get hung up on exactly what to say and by providing guidance you can resolve that, too.

There is more of an art than a science as to determining when to ask. Once you start to recognize this, opportunities will present themselves regularly. Let’s consider this scenario. One month before completion of a long-term project you ask your client how they are enjoying the process, so far. If they announce that you have made a huge difference in their operations and saved them a lot of time and expense, ask if they would be willing to share that with other customers by writing that on their company letterhead. Coach them on pertinent issues such as why they chose to work with you, what benefits have they experienced that they did not expect, and so on. This conversation will make it easier for them to complete this favor. Negotiate a delivery date.

Once you have these testimonials in hand then consider placement. Some companies print them and leave them in the lobby for waiting room clients to see. Others have a page on their website or sprinkle them in various places throughout the website. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

Whatever model you use, be certain to revisit these testimonials regularly to cull those that are out-of-date and request more current entries.

Your action items this week are to ask for three written testimonials. Make it easy for the author by specifying what should be emphasized. Negotiate a delivery date and decide how you will deploy the information once received. Finally, develop a strategy to regularly ask for and review these comments. It goes without saying that you must earn these and seeking them regularly is an effective method to place your customer service level on a constantly improving plane.

 

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

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Written by bniguy

September 17, 2017 at 6:02 am

Be the Message

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“Any general statement is like a check drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it.” ~~Ezra Pound

The longer you are in business the more subject matter expertise you gain. This knowledge can be shared and leveraged if you consider a strategy for doing just that.

There are a number of resources at your disposal. Many publications, both virtual and physical, rely on quality content and editors are always seeking knowledgeable expertise to share with their readership.

Knowing this and taking action on it are two very different things and this can be a frustrating uphill climb until the first few opportunities appear. Therefore, select topics where you have both expertise and passion. At worst, you gain the advantage of sharpening your message while soliciting rejection letters and the passion will carry you through.

Nothing replaces activity for this process, so I will move directly to the action step.

First of all take an assessment of your personal expertise, unique perspective, and passion to share. Find potential venues that might welcome this information. Visit their websites and pay particular attention to the section targeting advertisers. This is who the publication would like to gain traction with. If your expertise aligns well that is a shortcut.

Second, outline four articles that reflect this expertise and will appeal to your intended forum. Four is a good number to choose as it is wide enough to provide breadth without diluting the message.

Once you have this arena in mind write a letter of introduction to each perspective editor and pitch your idea. Have a plan to deal with rejection. The best bet is to listen for what the editor is looking for and the rejection provides an opportunity to have that conversation.

 

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

September 10, 2017 at 8:59 am

Posted in communication, HowTo, sales

The Press Release

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“Stand upright, speak thy thoughts, declare the truth thou hast, that all may share; Be bold, proclaim it everywhere: They only live who dare.” ~~Voltaire

Word-of-mouth marketing is the most cost-effective tool in a networker’s arsenal. That has been and remains the focus of this year’s weekly blog. Starting with January 1st and continuing every Sunday through the year, we are expanding and expounding on a single facet each week.

Today we turn our attention to a little-used resource that is seen by experts as the second-most cost-effective tool and consider the Press Release. Publicity is powerful, although it cuts both ways. Many small businesses do not have a publicity strategy in place.

Let’s first of all consider some differences and similarities between advertising and publicity.

Advertising presents a cohesive, planned message to the audience. In some cases the message is clear, although different levels are perceived and reacted to. It is medium-specific, targeted, and generally designed to motivate and/or educate. (Medium-specific refers to the delivery channel. Television ads may or may not differ from radio ads, print ads, signage, etc.) The most effective advertising brands the similar message and market via similar styles, tone, pacing, etc.

Publicity presents a cohesive message to the audience. In some cases the message is clear, although different levels are perceived and reacted to. It is not really medium-specific, although the delivery channel reflects the medium. Publicity is targeted, however, and generally designed to educate rather than motivate.

One of the key differences is based on who controls the message.

Advertising is paid publicity. The message is controlled by the business-owner who may hire copywriters, actors, advertising specialists, and a team of experts. Advertising campaigns may encompass any scope from international to local. Recipients (I will call them readers for simplicity’s sake, although they may be viewers, listeners, etc.) know that the message is purchased and they, therefore, retain a healthy skepticism. Advertisers attempt to break that down with humor, sincerity, statistics, repetition, and a number of other techniques. Companies that advertise pay for placement.

Publicity is usually free. This fact should not be overlooked by the small business owner and is also understood by the reader. You (or a professional writer) draft the press release and submit it to the channel for distribution. Someone at the news organization converts it into a format suitable for their readership and they determine the placement (if any.)

As noted earlier, publicity cuts both ways. We see that when politicians are caught in compromising situations. Their campaign slogan (advertising) is often used tongue-in-cheek when negative publicity plays. Saturday Night Live made this reverse-spin a famous staple, as do late night television comedians.

Assuming your business is ethically focused on helping customers solve a specific problem, publicity can be a useful avenue to consider. Most small business owners do not address that for three main reasons:

  1. They are not sure whether the message is newsworthy or not.
  2. If it is, they do not know how to write a press release
  3. On the off-chance they know how, they do not take the time to do it.

Let’s address each element individually.

In order to determine if something is newsworthy you must be completely honest in your assessment. The marketplace will certainly do that for you. Consider whether someone across town would be interested. Would the parents of your children’s school be interested? Would anyone waiting for their car to be repaired or standing in line at the grocery store be interested?

If they are unlikely to be then neither will the editor. In fact, this is the first test of the press release. If it is self-promotional or mindless fluff it won’t get past the editor—and rightly so.

Despite that there are press-release worthy events in your business you should consider. Perhaps you are opening a new location, introducing a new product line, celebrating an anniversary, recognizing significant growth, or chairing a fund-raising campaign. All of these are simple examples that may or may not work for you.

Your primary objective is to make an announcement of interest and value to the readership. Your objective is not to gain new customers, although you certainly won’t turn them away if they come as a result of it.

Once you have a suitable topic then it becomes a matter of writing the press release. Hiring a professional is certainly the best avenue although I know many of you are do-it-yourselfers so I am remiss in not sharing some valuable resources. fitsmallbusiness.com/press-release-examples/, for example, provides dozens of good examples, summarized below:

  1. Attract your reader with your title.
  2. Provide an interesting angle.
  3. Tell about your products or services in one or two clear sentences.
  4. Use timely, relevant information related to current events and/or trends.
  5. Deal only with facts—avoid fluff.
  6. Make it lively by using active verbs.
  7. Limit adjectives, adverbs, and jargon.
  8. Follow rules of grammar and style.
  9. Limit to one-page as often as possible.
  10. Make every word count and count every word.
  11. Include complete contact information (name, address, phone, after-hours contact info, web address, email, fax number, etc.)
  12. Make sure to include national and regional publications, radio and television stations, Internet publications, and all potential clients.

Once written it is time to submit the press release. You have two primary routes here and can use one or both. Under the paid process, subscribe to a distributions service such as  www.PRWeb.com. Alternately, you can simply rely on your network to connect locally with people that review press releases for your community publications.

Finally, if you see the value yet lack the skill or time, hire a pro. Professionals can help determine newsworthiness, craft a compelling message, and ensure reception into the proper venues and media outlets.

This week you have three actions to undertake. First, brainstorm some suitable topics. This will actually be easier than you think—although it will take some effort to get started. Second, work the release through the twelve points above. If satisfied with the results, move on to action three. If not, contact a professional. They will appreciate the effort you have already applied and can make tremendous enhancements. Finally, schedule to revisit this exercise every quarter. Four effective press releases per year is a reliable, simple pace. If it takes you three weeks to prepare, back that time into the schedule, as well. As with any worthwhile effort, be prepared to track the results and adjust, as needed.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

September 3, 2017 at 9:53 am

Posted in communication, HowTo

What’s the Buzz?

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“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” ~~Sydney J. Harris

Last week we talked about becoming a subject matter expert and sharing your information—from an audience’s benefit perspective—in a real-time speaking environment. This week we expand more on the basic concept, especially in the introductory letter area.

Once you have developed a few solid topics and begun delivering that information, it is time to take it all up a notch and consider putting out a regular newsletter. Most of the people you think of as subject matter experts gained that reputation by delivering their knowledge and message through books, articles, and newsletters.

Before embarking on that task, though, consider what you want to accomplish by answering these questions:

  • What is the purpose of this newsletter?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Why would that audience want to read it?
  • How will it benefit them?
  • How often will it go out?
  • How will it be distributed?
  • What features will it contain?
  • Who will write the content?
  • Who will design the layout?

A newsletter is a commitment of time and is an ambassador for you and your business. Typos, erratic delivery schedule, and disorganized presentation do not represent you well. Using a professional is almost always advisable.

That expert can make sure the right people get the right information at the right pace. Your readers should opt-in and find it very easy to opt-out, as well.

Your action this week is to consider a few newsletters you value and ask the authors a few key questions, such as the list above along with the time commitment, results derived, and so on.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

August 27, 2017 at 9:44 am

Posted in communication, HowTo

Speak Softly and Leave the Stick at Home

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“Before I speak, I have something important to say.” ~~Groucho Marx

Presenting your product or service to one person at a time is valuable and rewarding. Presenting the same information to a crowd is that much more significant. However, people don’t line up (generally) to hear your sales pitch. They are tuned to the “What’s in it for me?” frequency. Therefore, you should consider what you have to offer as a subject matter expert adding value to them.

Successful speakers talk more about Benefits than Features. There are many areas of interest in your profession if you look for them. A Realtor might talk about the current market conditions, what home improvements increase the value of a property, how to downsize effectively, and so on. A web developer might talk about being found on the Internet or using video on your website. There are as many valuable topics as features and you can craft each one from the benefits side of the equation.

Once you find a topic and develop an interesting presentation then you can seek out audiences. The topic itself helps identify these groups. You might consider employees, stay at home moms, independent insurance agents, baseball coaches, etc. Again, this is a wide-range of potential people. Many of these groups have regular get-togethers and are often looking for value-added speakers.

Once you find the target groups then you simply need an introduction. Here is where you can employ your network. I advise writing a short introductory letter and including some testimonials from others. One page is plenty.

Finally, look into your network of contacts and find out who can introduce you. Ask if they will deliver your introductory letter.

Once you secure an engagement, invite other decision-makers to attend and continue the cycle. Your profile will rise and your calendar will fill up.

Your action this week is to follow the recipe above. That is:

  • Define your topic(s) from a benefits perspective
  • Craft a short presentation on the topic. This should be custom-fit from fifteen minutes to one hour.
  • Determine your audience.
  • Craft an introductory letter.
  • Find contact points, people you know who can deliver your introduction effectively.
  • Rinse-lather-and repeat.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

August 20, 2017 at 5:37 am

One in a Million

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“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” ~~Oprah Winfrey

Throughout the series we have focused on understanding the technical aspects of your business—the market, the alliances, and the message. Think of this as the foundation and strength in this area is important. You can build any worthy structure above that.

Let’s now consider the above ground portion. What you say and how you say it combine to trigger your success.

Consider some of the great speakers in history as well as some of the most powerful you have experienced. What did Martin Luther King, Jr bring to the Lincoln Memorial in his “I Have a Dream” speech? Have you ever listened to a motivational speaker such as Zig Ziglar or Brian Tracy? They bring talent. They bring information. More importantly, though, they bring passion.

That is the message this week. Find your passion and share it with those around you like one candle lighting another. Passion engages. Passion motivates. Passion survives the moment. It is the difference between delivering a message from your head and from your heart.

Be willing to shed the “tin man” exterior and show your heart.

Why did you get into this business? What sets you apart from your competitors? Uncover what makes you unique—technicians refer to a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)—and uncover the passion that resides there.

Your action this week is to tap into the well of passion that lives within you and craft the language that exposes and highlights it. Here are three questions to get you started.

  • What can you say about yourself and your business that your competition cannot say?
  • How does your work fulfill you?
  • What element of your work do you most enjoy and why?

Don’t stop there, though. Dig deeper and you will connect with your world in profound and lasting ways.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

Written by bniguy

August 6, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Posted in communication, HowTo

Elementary, my dear Watson

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“Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.” ~~John Buchan

Continuing with the importance of communication think of yourself as a detective. Questions are your best resource. Listen much more than you talk. My friend, Marty Clarke, wrote an excellent book entitled Communication Landmines which goes into this in much more depth.

In this post I simply want to point out three main communications errors we all make and often experience. Master these and your networking skills will soar.

The first major problem is talking too much. We’ve all experienced this from the receiving end and felt trapped. Once you got locked in how much listening did you do after that? Most likely your attention was turned to finding an exit or trying to figure out how they are breathing or just focusing on the pattern their spittle makes. When the other person talks too much it is a horrible experience. That said, we are also guilty of the same mistake at least once in our life. As a detective turn your attention to assessing when the other person is starting to experience these symptoms. They start to avoid eye contact, begin stepping backwards, look over their (and your) shoulder, yawn, glance (or stare) at their watch. As soon as you see any of these reactions immediately turn the conversation to them and ask a question.

More importantly how do you avoid this landmine? Practice and preparation are the best tools you have. There are a few questions you often get at networking events and you should be prepared to answer them quickly and completely. When I am on the phone I count my words and always try to get to the point in 25 or less. Try that the next time you are in a conversation over the phone (tick your fingers up one-through-ten and then back down ten-through-one and finally once more one-through-five. Stop and consider, “What was the point of the last twenty-five words?” If you are just getting to it—accept the fact that you are taking the long way home. Find the shortcuts and tighten up your conversation.)

The second common communication error is reliance on jargon. We talked about that in more depth last week so I won’t elaborate. However, this week’s action steps meet each of these head on and we’ll examine it more in that section.

The third common communication error is vagueness. Many of these posts address that, as focus and clarity are keys to your success. When you ask a Realtor who they would like to meet and get the answer, “Anyone looking to buy or sell a home” who did you think of? Is that the result you want when someone asks you the same helpful type of question? If the Realtor is more specific we can be of more help. “I specialize in empty-nesters. This is a great time to move into a home more suited to their lifestyle without kids.” About twenty words and I imagine you actually thought of someone. If you are an engaged listener you may ask for more clarification of the term empty-nesters. “Their kids have moved out or are in college.” The more specific you are the wider the listener’s mind opens. In fact, if you know exactly who you want to meet this is an excellent shortcut, very appropriate for business-to-business clients or strategic alliances for any provider. A business banker may have a competitive rate to offer and knows of an automotive company looking to expand. She asks for Woody Toe, the owner of a local auto body shop noting that, “Our bank understands automotive equipment leasing and we work well with repair shops like Woody’s”

This week’s action involves meeting each area directly. First, develop a one-minute or less response to the following questions (from two weeks ago—repeated here.)

  • Who is your target market?
  • What sets you apart from your competition?
  • What is your most popular product (or service?)
  • What is new in your business?
  • Why did you choose to go into your profession?
  • What do you like best about what you do?
  • What is your biggest challenge?
  • What do you do?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Where are you located? Why there? If you could choose a perfect location, what would it be?
  • How do you generate most of your business?

Second, eliminate jargon. Create two columns and list every term you use (trust me; your company literature is rife with it.) Look for terms like full-service, turnkey, small business, and so on. Develop layperson language and simplify it so a twelve year old could understand it.

Third, write out a complete referral request identifying the person you want to meet—listing their company, department, title, and industry. I recommend doing as many of these as you have target markets. Once written, then practicing asking from the specific to the general, just as the banker example above.

© 2017 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.

 

Written by bniguy

July 30, 2017 at 5:37 am