Category Archives for "Small business"

Build Your Center of Influence Network

Build Your Center of Influence Network Strategy

If you're a B2B (business-to-business) firm, having a strong Centers of Influence (COI or just Influencer, aka Referral) program is a proven long-term strategy to help you succeed. 

What we're not talking about here is hiring Instagram celebrities to promote your brand. 1) that's ridiculously expensive, and 2) probably not appropriate for most B2B firms.

What we are referring to is other professionals and trusted advisors that also work with your customers. By tapping into your Center of Influence (COI's, also just Influencers) you can build a strong, supportive network of synergistic businesses that will send each other referrals. 

You may be doing this already. Many successful businesses, salespeople, and entrepreneurs do so naturally. If you're not, get started, and if you are, think about formalizing your approach and watch your results accelerate.

How to Build a B2B Influencer Marketing Strategy

Putting together a B2B influencer marketing strategy is a multi-step process. It's similar to creating other customer marketing or lead generation programs, but the objectives are different.

1. Set Your Goals

The first step to creating a strategy is to define your goals. What do you want to achieve through your Center of Influence? Some common goals:

  1. Create Awareness for your Firm
  2. Build knowledge of the services you provide, and what your point of differentiation, competitive advantage, or your unique value proposition is
  3. Position yourself and your firm as trusted advisors for the types of customers you focus on
  4. Generate new business referrals

MORE INFORMATION: Your Center of Influence strategy can also be a strong contributor to becoming a recognized expert. Read more about it here:   7-Steps to Becoming a Recognized Expert

2. Define Value

It's also important to think about how you can provide value back to your influencer. What information can you provide them that will be helpful to them when they are dealing with the customer? Think beyond just generating leads. The more value you can add to the relatioship with the influencer, the more likely they are to see you as a trusted contact that they will want to come back to over and over.

3. Find Influencers

Next, think about who your customers' influencers might be. If you are dealing with business owners and entrepreneurs consider other professionals they deal with. 

  • The "Holy Trinity" Center of Influence - Banker, Lawyer, Accountant. Most business owners and entrepreneurs deal regularly with these three types of organizations, and view them as critical to the success of their business.
  • Depending on the types of customers you deal with, perhaps also consider Financial Advisors, Estate Planners, Commercial Insurance Brokers, Benefits Advisors, Commercial Realtors
  • Look for influencers that deal with the same type and size of customers that you do. Finding a legal counsel for a Fortune 500 firm is great, but if you deal with start-ups, neither of you will get much value out of the relationship.


4. Build a List/Database of Influencers You Want to Connect With

Use local search listings, LinkedIn, Chambers of Commerce, BNI networking groups, Business Improvement Associations, and other similar sources to find out who your target influencers are. 

Within mid-size or larger firms, look for different entry points. Often a Managing Partner or President is not the individual that's dealing with customers. Find the ones that are. 

Enter this list into your CRM tool so that you can begin to track and measure results. A CRM is also a good tool to remind you that you need to reach out or follow-up with individuals on your list.


5. Connect with Influencers

You’ll then want to contact the influencers and connect with them individually, one at a time. It's important that they see you as an equal, and not as someone that is trying to sell something to them. This is very important. 

What might this process look like? 

  1. Send them a LinkedIn connection request. If they are not active on LinkedIn give them a call, send them an email, or if you know who they are, approach them at a business or chamber event. The point is to make an introduction and connection.
  2. Follow-up shortly thereafter with a follow-up message thanking them for connecting and suggesting that it would be beneficial to connect in the future
  3. Send them an email suggesting you meet for a coffee or lunch
  4. When you do meet, introduce yourself but spend as much time as possible getting to know the other individual. Find out about them, their firm, and their own interests
  5. At a later date, reconnect with them and repeat the coffee/lunch
  6. After 2-3 face-to-face meetings (and 3-5 messages/emails before and in-between), or until you feel comfortable that you have built rapport and comfort, suggest that you meet at your offices or business to discuss getting to know each other's businesses better and how you can work together
  7. At your office set up an informal meet and greet with your firm's key customer facing staff. Invite your influencer contact to bring their team. You can have refreshments and make it more of an informal mingler. Keep introductions and your firm presentation brief, and have a clear start and finish time. This could also be done at a restaurant over lunch, or a nearby watering hole. Any place that both firms will want to bring their teams, and where there could be an opportunity for your folks to mingle. 
  8. Follow-up with information about your firm, and list off 2-3 ways that you would like to work together. This could be in looking for joint presentations or speaking engagements, joint customer/prospect hostings (lunch, golf, game, symphony, etc. - whatever is of mutual interest)


6. Reward and Measure Results

Once you've begun to deepen the relatioship and have started to work together, you're not done. Now’s the time to measure and track results. That way you can see what’s working and what’s not with your Center of Influence network and marketing strategy. And, you can make changes for next time. If you get results, if you start to see referrals being sent your way, and if you are successful in generating additional business, be sure to show recognition to your Influencer and be sure to look for ways to reciprocate.


7. Repeat the Process with other Influencers

Repeat the above steps with other influencers that you've identified. As you can see, this process will take an investment in time on your part in order to make it work. But it will work, and it will provide you with a strong foundation. Your Center of Influence / COI / Sphere of Influence / Influencer Network / Referral Sources will contribute to building a strong awareness of your firm, and help your business to grow and thrive.

Related Resources

Are you looking for more information on how you can build your Centers of Influence strategy? Here are some helpful resources that we've curated for you:

Business Development for Professional Services

Sales is different for Professional Services practices than it is for other types of B2B firms. How so? 

Nowhere else is it more important or evident that your customer wants to do business with a real person, that is someone they trust

While the stages of the Marketing Hourglass are still the same – Know=> Like => Trust => Try =>  Buy – how you approach them will be slightly different for Professional Services than for other types of firms.

Let’s look at how to get started.

Educating and Informing versus Selling

As a professional services practice, your approach to business development will be very different. You don’t sell, you educate and assist the business. You don’t “Sell”, you provide solutions to the customers problems.

  • Don’t talk about the products you sell; talk about the problems you solve.
  • Talk about how the business will work with you as you solve those problems.
  • Tell the business what they get, not what you do. Explain the benefit to them of  what you do.

What You’ll Need Before You Start

Before you get started on your business development, you’ll need to make sure that you have the right tools in place. Somethings that you’ll need are:

  • Clear Messaging & Defined Ideal Customer Profile – you should have completed these as part of your marketing strategy
  • Website, Online Profiles and Listings, CRM, and Email Marketing – you should have completed these as part of establishing your Total Online Presence
  • Telephone – number, answering system and voicemail
  • Sales support materials – you should have the following prepared, printed and ready for distribution: business cards, individual practitioner bios, company profile, services descriptions/brochures, client testimonials and/or use cases. Note: not having printed materials when you need will lead to lost opportunities, or the risk of being perceived as not being professional. You do not have to spend a lot on printing, but make sure you have hard copies of these materials at the ready when you need them.

Know

The first stage of the Marketing Hourglass is Know. This is creating awareness of your firm, and familiarity with your services offered. There are 3 ways you will generate new prospects.

  1. Outreach – You are actively reaching out to prospective clients that you have identified through research. This could be picking up the phone, or sending out letters or emails. Most professional services practitioners find outreach to be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. You could use a third-party firm that specializes in setting up appointments for you
  2. You get found organically – Prospects contact you because they have a problem and they have seen information about your firm, you, your content, or the problems you solve. They find your content online, through searches, or see and hear about you at speaking engagements or conferences. For most professional services firms, this is the preferred and most predictable method of generating leads. 
  3. You are referred – Referrals could come from Influencers (Centers of Influence), from previous customers, or from your networking activity. If you’ve been in business for awhile this could be a great source of leads for your practice, however it takes time to build up a referral base, and referral volumes may not be enough on their own to sustain your practice. 

Outreach

What is your objective in the area of developing relationships with new clients? How many do you want to attract? What industries do they represent? Do you have a sales pipeline?

Examples include:

  • Client-specific marketing plans
  • Practice group marketing plans
  • Individual marketing plans
  • Sales pipeline development and implementation

Networking

What is your objective related to how often and with whom you will proactively develop relationships with?

Examples include:

  • Identifying opportunities for the firm and individual professionals
  • Networking programs for practice groups
  • Networking training and best practices

Trade and Professional Association Involvement

Every professional should be active in his/her industry association (Professional bodies, Financial Planning Association or Bar Associations) as well as at least one industry-based association attracting prospective clients or referral sources. What is your objective in this area?

Examples include:

  • Assess firm’s involvement and ROI with associations
  • Create association strategies to become high profile members by pitchingprofessionals to write articles and speak at upcoming events

Like & Trust

It can take a considerable amount of time to go from Know through Like and Trust until a business is ready to Buy. Be patient and nurture your leads for future business. 

Market Research

Define an objective related to incorporating market research into your practice before meeting with a new prospective client or referral source.

Examples include:

  • Big opportunity research on companies and peopleCreate client dossiers for new business

Nurture Prospects

It’s important to understand that there isn’t a single formula to Nurturing Prospects. Keep in mind that the objective is to move the prospect through the Like and Trust stages. You must ensure that you establish Rapport with the prospect, and that you build Trust until such time as the prospect is ready to take the relationship further. Your nurture process will likely use a combination of the following, staggered over time.

  • Direct contact – via telephone or face-to-face
  • Newsletters – sent out via mail or email
  • Email marketing / marketing automation – sending the prospect white papers, research studies, articles that you’ve written, or other content pieces such as infographics, and case studies, or information on government policies and programs that businesses like theirs can utilize
  • Seminars or webinars

Try / Buy

Try

What does trial look like for a professional services firm? The Try stage of the Marketing Hourglass could take the form of:

  • Market Comparisons
  • Participation in a benchmarking study
  • Samples of work you’ve done for similar types of customers
  • Providing a Quote 
  • Finding a “foot-in-the-door” lower value service you can provide so that the prospect establishes a commitment with your firm and gets to know you

Buying

Depending on the type of customer you are dealing with, when they are ready to move to the Buy stage of the Marketing Hourglass it could be as simple as you submitting an Engagement Letter to the customer that outlines the scope of work, your committments, pricing proposal, and business terms.

Proposal Development

If you are responding to an RFP (Request For Proposal) be prepared. RFP’s can be very time consuming, and if managed properly, may lead to lower close rates. What objective do you have in the area of increasing your ability to efficiently respond to requests for information about your services?

Examples include:

  • Create a proposal archive
  • Develop efficient proposal response processes
  • Design professional and visually appealing proposal responses
  • Write proposals for new business
  • Develop and rehearse proposal presentations 

Keeping on Track

Business development can easily go off the rails. You need to implement a system to keep it on track. 

  • Use a calendar tool. Set aside time every day.
  • Schedule activities from your CRM
  • Keep your efforts organized and scalable – Build templates that can be customized and reused in the future with other prospects to keep effort minimized

Success

If you implement a business development program for your professional services firm, you can expect to generate more leads, nurture more leads through the Marketing Hourglass, and ultimately convert more leads to customers.  

Execute and Optimize to Drive Marketing Results

Execute and Optimize to Drive Marketing Results

You've completed your strategy and planning. While strategy is critical to success, strategy without execution is just theory. Now it's time to execute and optimize to drive your marketing results to the next level. This is where "the rubber hits the road". 

Keys to Successful Marketing Execution and Optimization


Plan Out a Year. 

You should map out a year’s worth of projects, campaigns and processes and break each month into a theme, and each project into weekly action steps. Each action should be assigned to a single person to be responsible for completing.

Review progress regularly. 

On a monthly basis make sure that you remain on track. On a quarterly basis, review your progress and revisit what's working and what isn't. Determine if you need to make any course adjustments.

Track performance of key marketing metrics, including:

  • Marketing budget - actual vs forecast
  • Marketing campaign performance - budget vs actual, projected results budget vs actual
  • Marketing tactical performance - website traffic, search engine rankings, number of email subscribers, emails sent, emails opened, click through rates, conversion rates, number of booked appointments, number of proposals or pricing quotes submitted
  • Volume of Leads Generated and Cost Per Lead (CPL)
  • Sales - revenues, by product/service, by customer or segment
  • Marketing costs per sale made, aka Cost Per Acquisition
  • Marketing ROI - marketing costs versus incremental profit generated
  • Key Marketing Metrics Every Marketer Should Measure
  • Content Marketing Metrics​​​
  • Marketing Dashboards for Visualizing Performance​​​

Create Efficiencies. 

Once your system is in place, make your processes repeatable. Standardizing these processes and turning them into templates will help your team execute effectively and efficiently every time, no matter who’s driving the work. Save time, reduce effort, and reduce mistakes or rework by ensuring that the right steps and checks are performed in the right order.

Optimize. 

Optimization is the difference between a marketing program that is effective, and one that is outstanding. To truly drive performance track results from you marketing activities through each step of your campaigns. Starting at the weakest performing point, begin to test and monitor different creatives and different approaches. Monitor results, and stop weak performers, and continually optimize the winners. Repeat this process regularly.

Lastly, Create a Continous Cycle for Ongoing Success

It can be very easy to let your plans to execute and optimize fall to the side. You have a critcal client deliverable that requires all hands on deck, a flu epidemic leaves half your staff bedridden or something else comes along and you just don't get to the marketing. This is where you need to ensure that you've built the discipline within your firm to execute, to monitor results, to adjust plans and optimize. Turn execution into a habit, and make it a continous part of your business operations. 

TIP: Implementing an ongoing system for marketing execution can be time and resource consuming. We provide everything from coaching to guide you through the process and make sure you stay on track to fully managed marketing execution programs where we take care of all of the elements of implementation for you. Get started on the path to success 

Increase Profitability by Boosting Customer Retention

Grow your customers to increase profitability

You’ve heard it before. It’s cheaper to keep your current customers than it is to find new customers. It’s true for many businesses, especially in the services business where the cost to generate a lead and nurture a relationship always seem to be increasing in cost.

Marketing to your current customers, or to customers after the sale is the bottom half of the Marketing Hourglass. Turn those customers into Repeat buyers, and to sources of Postive Reviews and Referrals for your business.

Marketing Hourglass

If you've never considered marketing to current customers after the sale, now is a good time to build a cohesive strategy for customer retention.

Let's look at how to get started.

What is customer retention?

The activities a business uses to increase the number of repeat customers and to increase the profitability of each existing customer.

Customer retention strategies enable you to both provide and benefit from more value from your existing customer base. You want to ensure the customers you worked so hard to acquire stay with you and continue to get value from your products and services, and the relationship with your firm.

In general, the higher the value of each sale or the frequency of purchase, the more the effort you should spend on customer retention marketing. Ideally, you are able to increase both. 

Customer Value = Average Sale x Purchase Frequency

Once you compare your CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) for new customers with the value of your current customers, it should become apparent how much you should be investing in your customers to retain them.

Why you should care about existing customers.

  • Higher profits. Since your existing customers trust you already, it gets easier to convince them to become interested in even more of your products or services through up-selling and cross-selling. In fact, Gartner Group statistics tell us that 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20% of your existing customers.
  • Better conversion rates. Existing customers have already bought from you, and if you keep them satisfied they are more likely to buy from you again. You’ve already established trust, and built a relationship with them, which makes it easier to identify their needs and predict their moves.
  • Less expensive marketing. You’ll spend less time and effort finding new customers and convincing them that you are the one they should buy from, which means – less expenses. 

How Can You Boost Customer Retention?

Now that we've confirmed the value of retaining your customers, what strategies and tactics can you employ to do so?

Deliver incredible service and ensure your customers are satisfied

This goes without saying, but an unsatisfied customer is unlikely to purchase from you again. 

Nurture the relationship with the customer after the sale

Schedule regular touch points with the customer in your CRM or marketing database. Use a variety of mediums from telephone calls, in person visits (if appropriate), emails, and traditional mailings. Depending on the value of the customer, invest in hosting opportunities, or send them company-branded promotional items.

  • Trusted Advisor - The classic book by David Maister and Charles Green. Develop such a deep relationship with the customer that they implicity trust you as the go-to source.

Introduce your other products and services 

Probe your customers needs and find ways to expose them to your other products and services. A long-term customer should be aware of the range of products and services you provide. Depending on your business, consider bundling products and services together (that make sense for the customer). 

Keep top-of-mind awareness with the customer

Add the customer to an email or newsletter distribution so that they regularly see your firms name, and information about your industry and services. Follow the customers' businesses on social media, and encourage them to do so with you in return. 

Look for ways to add value to the relationship 

This can vary from industry to industry, but a significant way to deepen the relationship with the customer is to provide value added beyond the products and services you sell. This could be related to your recognized expertise, or information from your industry or suppliers.

If there is a renewal or repurchase time frame, make sure to begin reaching out to the customer well in advance

When it comes time for renewal, there should be no effort for the customer to do so. You've already confirmed with them the value of your services and the relationship you have with them, and so there is no effort for the customer to consider whether or not they should renew with you, or even to consider a competitor.

Feature the customer and the work that you've done for them, or ask them to be a client reference

Ask the customer for permission to feature their business in a case study. Most customers will feel flattered by the gesture, and very few will mind the additional exposure for their business. 

Make it easy for the customer to refer you additional business

A satisfied customer is much more likely to send you referals. Look for ways to make it easy for them to do so. Come straight out and ask them, or give them loyalty or repeat purchase discounts if they do so.

TIP: Your customer referrals can also be a strong contributor to your strategy to become a recognized expert. Read more about it here: 7-Steps to Becoming a Recognized Expert

Success

Even if you implement just a few of these strategies properly, you can expect to deepen relationships with your customers, increase their retention rates, and ultimately make them more profitable for your business. 

7-Steps to Becoming a Recognized Expert

Be an expert and build trust and credibility

Customers want to deal with someone that can help them. Bottom line. If you want to be that someone and win their business first you'll need to win their trust

And how do you win their trust? You start by demonstrating your authority and expertise. This gives you credibility. 

It doesn’t matter what products or services you offer, your prospects likely have lots of different options to choose from. Being able to differentiate yourself from your competitors, and position yourself as the person or business most suited to serve them is vital to your success.

The secret to getting noticed despite all the noise in the marketplace is to establish your authority. When you have authority, people will pay attention. When you are perceived as a subject matter expert, people will naturally want to work with you. They will seek you out.

Getting to that level is all about positioning. Using a few simple strategies, you can position yourself as the go-to expert for your customers. You can attract business to you. Instead of constantly hustling to find your next client, you can turn yourself into a client magnet and let them find you.

Here are 7-Steps to Becoming An Expert, to position yourself as an expert for your customers:

1. Decide what you want to be an expert or authority on

As with almost every other element of marketing, the more you can focus, the better the results you are likely to generate. 

  • Pick a handful of topics in your field related to your business. These topics should be areas that you can talk to authoritatively. 
  • Filter your topics based on whether there's a customer WIFM (What's In It For Me?), and whether the topics are likely to generate interest or engagement.
  • For your filtered list, think carefully about the overall message that you want to deliver to your audience. What do you want them to learn? What is your point-of-view?

2. Start writing

A well written article with valuable information is likely to be shared by the people who enjoyed it. This is how content goes viral – through peer-to-peer sharing. By writing regularly, you expose your brand and your business to new audiences on a consistent basis.  As you publish and promote your content, you will gradually begin to position yourself as an expert on the topics that you focus on.

  • Social media
  • Blogs (your own or 3rd party)
  • Publications and media - newspapers, magazines, industry journals

Make a list of the most popular publications, journals, websites and blogs in your industry and your community. These are the sites that your ideal clients are visiting regularly to obtain information about your topic. Contact those websites, and request to become a guest contributor. Most website owners are always looking for high quality content to publish on their website that will add value to their visitors.

Write an article exclusively for each website on your list, and include your bio with a link back to your website at the end of your article. This strategy, known as being a guest contributor, helps you get your message in front of new audiences online that may have never discovered you otherwise. You provide content to the media for free, and that content helps direct new visitors to your profile. It’s a win-win.

Challenged with writing? 

  • Pick your subject
  • Think about who you're writing for and what you want them to learn
  • Jot down the major points you want to cover
  • Outline your article
  • Begin filling in around each of your major points
  • Create transitions between points
  • Write an open and a close
  • If you're having a difficult time, you can always hire writers to write for you based on what you tell them, or have them edit your work

3. Speak

Live Events

Most people are terrified of speaking in public, so when they see someone do it they tend to immediately perceive that person as an expert and a leader. Plus, when you speak to a live audience, you have their undivided attention for the duration of your presentation. This affords you a unique opportunity to engage and connect with a large amount of people at the same time.

If you’ve never spoken in public before, a great starting point to develop your skills is your local Toastmasters Group. This is a non-threatening, positive environment in which people meet regularly to practice their speaking and communication skills. Once you build up some confidence, you can begin speaking at networking events, Meetup groups, seminars or conferences in your industry. If you speak regularly to groups of hundreds, or even thousands of people, you can establish yourself as an expert in your industry very quickly.

Podcasts

Most podcast hosts are always on the lookout for more guests to interview for their show. If you think that your story, message, or advice would add value to the audience of a specific podcast, then visit that podcast’s website and find their Contact Page. Send the host a brief message outlining your experience and area of expertise, and tell them you’d like to be considered as a potential guest for their show.

Many podcasts attract thousands, even tens of thousands of listeners on a regular basis. If you make it a routine to be a guest on other podcasts regularly, your name will gradually become known by thousands of highly targeted people from around the world. At the end of each interview, tell the listeners how they can get in touch with you if they want to learn more about what you do or how you can help them. 

4. Optimize your profile

Prepare a professional bio

Have bios prepared in 1-paragraph and 1-page formats. You can either write these yourself or have someone write them for you, but make sure you have these prepared in advance. 

Get professional photographs

The impact of professional photographs can't be understated. If you want to be seen as an authority or expert, your image needs to be professional. These can be either studio sessions, or in your place of work, or ideally both. Spend the money on this once and you will be able to use these photos repeatedly for years. 

Create a Professional LinkedIn Profile

Your LinkedIn profile is a great place to showcase your expertise, professional experience, and achievements. Used properly, it can be an incredibly powerful networking and positioning tool.

Here are a few tips to optimize your LinkedIn profile:

  • Use your profile and professional headshot 
  • Highlight your experience and areas of expertise
  • Highlight your subject-matter-expertise writing or speaking engagements
  • Profile volunteer work and any board/charity positions you've held
  • Add specific skills to your profile so that people in your network can endorse you for those skills (endorse other people’s skills first, and they will likely reciprocate)
  • Collect testimonials from customers, coworkers, and not-for-profits that you've worked with (write testimonials for other people first, and they will likely reciprocate)
  • Include a way to contact you or a link to your website

5. Comment on posts related to your expertise

A great way to become known in your industry is to engage in conversations that are happening on popular news sites, online forums, blogs and social media groups in your industry.

  • Don't spam out or pitch your products or services agressively
  • Do add value to others by sharing helpful advice, insights, and responding to questions that other people are asking.

Another advantage of adding value to the conversations that are happening online is that the owners of those blogs or social media groups will likely notice. Building relationships with other influencers in your industry is never a bad idea, because it opens the door for potential collaborations or partnerships in the future. Commenting regularly on their platforms can help build that relationship.

6. Curate content from others

Content curation on it's own won't position you as an expert, but it's an excellent way to supplement your efforts. 

What is content curation? Simply put, you'll be finding articles, posts, videos on your subject matter expertise that have been published by others, and you will share them to your website, newsletter, social media feeds, or email distribution list, along with a short description about why it's relevant to your audience or customers, or what they should take away from it. 

MORE INFORMATION: Head over to our guide on How to Make Social Media Work For Your Business for more useful tips on utilizing social media to your advantage.

7. Build a calendar and a plan to execute it

You can become a go-to expert for your customers and build awareness of yourself and your firm, but don't expect it to happen overnight. Build a managable and realistic plan. Think of the journey as a marathon not a sprint. You want to start small & build momentum.

  • Build a calendar and a plan. Stagger the amount of content you produce and for which purposes. Plan for large pieces infrequently - several times a year, or quarterly at the very most. 
  • Google - Hero Hub Hygiene model - Developed by Google for YouTubers, this is a very relevant model for all content types

Success

Even if you implement just a few of these strategies properly, you can expect to build awareness, establish credibility, and ultimately attract a considerable amount of new business. 

TIP: We've helped hundreds of professionals and businesses use this model to become famous experts. We can coach you through this process. Head over to Coaching and schedule your appointment.

Build a Total Online Presence

Build a Total Online Presence

Every successful B2B business needs to have a strong online presence. Today this means more than just having a website and an email address. Your prospects and customers today have 24/7 access to the internet at their fingertips through the myraid of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and IoT connected devices.

A prospective customer can look you up online at any point in time. What will they find? 

You need to consider your Total Online Presence. 

Think through every stage of your online presence


Start with Your Strategy

Before you jump into the components of your Total Online Presence, you want to make sure that you've laid the foundation and set the direction that you want to go in.

Think through the following

  • Who is your target audience? What are their pain points and what are their triggers? What jobs are they trying to complete? 
  • How does your target audience use and access information online? 
  • Who are your competitors and what are they doing online? What are they doing well? What are they weak at or lacking in regards to their online presence?
  • Draft your story and your messaging. Write up how your company solves your customers problems, and how you do it better than anyone else, or what type of value you provide.
  • Write up a company profile. Prepare 150 character, 300, and 500 character versions. Write up profiles for key individuals, if it's important and relevant to your customers.
  • Assemble any images, photos, certifications, recommendations, etc. that your business and key individuals may have.
Marketing Hourglass

Keep a copy of your Marketing Hourglass handy as you work through each of the following steps.

There are a variety of tools and technologies which you can consider, but a modern marketing program usually includes: 

1. Quality Content that Generates Interest and Drives Leads

Pick the themes for your content strategy.  

I find it helpful to create a theme for each month that all of your content can revolve around. Each theme I use has a substantial topic related to my audience’s industry/pain points and represents an important keyword search term.

Provide valuable information and use content upgrades to convert the readers of this information into leads. Try to personalize and add emotional components to your content as much as possible to really establish a connection with a reader. The more they feel that connection, the more likely they’ll be to convert into leads and eventually customers.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel with your content. You can share relevant content from other sites on your social platforms to provide value to your audience. You can also repurpose content you already have, so, for example, if you have a podcast episode, transcribe it and turn it into a written blog post.

2. A Modern Mobile-Optimized Website and/or Landing Pages

No one will argue whether or not your practice needs a website, but your need website needs to do the following: tell people who you are, tell them what you do, give them confidence and build trust in why they should do business with you. 

When it comes to content revisions, it always surprises me when people don’t think to start with their website as the content hub. The role of your website is to help you:

  • Get found
  • Build trust
  • Educate
  • Inform
    Nurture
  • Convert

Oh yeah, and it needs to be optimized for use on mobile devices. While many professional services firms have websites, they tend to be older, brochure-ware type sites that were built a number of years back. They may still be viewable on a desktop browser (even if they look older and stale), but viewing them on a smartphone or tablet may be difficult or near impossible. 

3. SEO - Onsite and Offsite

SEO, or search engine optimization, is how your content and website get found online. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to the method used to increase a website’s position on search engine results pages (SERPs) on sites such as Google, or Bing. Developing an SEO strategy for your business can help draw traffic to your website.

Keep in mind that the goal of a search engine is to provide unbiased results that deliver information you are looking for as quickly and as accurately as possible. In order to do this, search engines are capable of identifying all relevant information online and ranking them in order of quality and relevance. There are hundreds of factors that are involved when search engines rank websites in an organic search. SEO is constantly evolving so that search engines like Google and Bing can provide the best, most relevant results. You don't need to be an expert, but it is something to keep in mind as part of your Total Online Presence. 

4. Online Advertising - Search Engines, Display Advertising, Social Media Sites

Paid advertising can get expensive very quickly, but don't rule online advertising out for your professional services practice. Online advertising can be highly targeted based on keywords, search terms (programmatic), and geograpic locations, and can therefore be very cost effective. With remarketing, your practice can advertise to visitors that have come to your site or social media pages, keeping your firm top-of-mind and keeping the sales dialogue open. 

5. Social Media

The main social media sites for professional services businesses to be on (in order of importance) are:

LinkedIn - Bare minimum: Make sure you have a company page, and make sure all customer-facing staff have profiles that are linked to your company page. Good to have: Post regular updates on your company page. For individual profiles make sure you connect with your customers, prospects, and referral sources. Advanced: LinkedIn can be a great lead generation tool, depending on the type of customer you are targeting.

Facebook Business Pages Bare minimum: Setup a business page for your firm. List off your address, profile, website, and services offered. 

If you have the time and inclination, you can also look into setting up Twitter and Instagram business accounts. 

6. Marketing Database coupled with Email or Marketing Automation

Email marketing is vastly underutilized in accounting. It’s really quite easy to implement. All you need are three things:

  • A list management tool
  • Your client list with emails and preferably permission
  • Content for your newsletters and marketing emails

List Management Tools

If you have a CRM with robust email marketing capabilities, then you already have your list management tool. Some of the market leaders in the enterprise space include:

In the small and solo firm space, any of these vendors are more affordable and a few of them are free:

When you choose a vendor, be sure to choose based on email deliverability rates in addition to feature set and price.

Your Client List

Some firms will need to do some admin time to put together their client list, especially if they don’t have a CRM or have not collected emails. If you don’t already have a process to add new clients and prospects to your list management tool, it’s essential to put that process in place.

7. Listings and Reviews

What will people learn about you and your business as the search around online, apart from your website? You want to make sure that your business turns up favourably in places that could generate new leads for you, or in ways that will help to add credibility to your business. 

Listings

Often you can have your business listed for free. It can be time consuming, but every listing is another source of leads or helps prospects to determine your legitimacy. 

Consider the following for your business, based on your area, your industry, and your customers:

  • Chambers of Commerce, Economic Development Authorities, Business Improvement Associations, Better Business Bureaus
  • Industry Associations - depending on which customer segments you are targeting

List your business and make sure it can be found on search engines. The top two in Canada are: Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. Once you have business listings, make sure to encourage positive reviews.

Online Reviews

Online reviews can make or break a business. Your goal is to generate as many positive reviews as possible. If you've been in business for awhile consider reaching out to existing and previous customers to get them to complete reviews for you. Often if you ask, they will. Also, put a regular program in place to reach out to new customers once you've provided them with your product or service.

Drive reviews for the following:

  • Yelp
  • Google My Business and Bing Places for Business
  • Facebook page likes
  • Industry sites or forums
Think through every stage of your online presence


So there you have it

Your Online Presence will be the backbone to your marketing. It will help you to create awareness, be found, generate leads, help nurture those leads, build trust and credibility, and generate the sale. A strong Online Presence can help your business to stand out and to thrive. 

What is Marketing Strategy and how will it Help Your Business Thrive?

What is marketing strategy?

"The overall purpose of strategic marketing planning, and its principal focus is the creation of sustainable competitive advantage."

- Malcolm McDonald

A Long-term Game Plan or Roadmap

Your marketing strategy is not meant to be a one-time exercise that you complete, and then leave to sit on a shelf collecting dust. If that's what happens then you've just wasted a considerable amount of time and effort. The purpose of having a one is to guide your business over multiple years. It's meant to provide guidance for products and services, pricing, your annual marketing plans, and your tactical marketing campaigns and activities.

Your marketing strategy is your long term game plan. It's who you're going to focus on, how you're going to win business, and how you're going to attract customers. It's going to guide how you create your marketing plans. 

A comprehensive marketing strategy will include your value proposition - your competitive advantage in the market. It will include who your target audience is, and the key elements of your brand. Your marketing strategy is a constant from where you create your marketing plans. Now and in the future.

Marketing strategy => marketing plan => campaign plans => execution => win!

What it does

Your long-term marketing strategy will develop a sustainable competitive advantage. Your marketing strategy is the foundation of all your future marketing plans.

What it does:

  • Identifies the markets and segments you want to compete in. It answers the question: Who is the target audience?
  • It clarifies how you will sustain competitive advantage. It answers the questions: What will be your value proposition to your target markets? and, How will your value proposition be unique? Ideally your unique value proposition is also quantifiable by your target markets. 
  • It defines how you’re going to market your products and services
  • Keeps you on track

How it helps:

  • Win new customers
  • Increase sales
  • Encourage your existing customers to spend more
  • Better establish your brand on the market and increase market share
  • Confirm your tone of voice and brand identity
  • Reduce churn and strengthen customer loyalty
  • Reduce wasted or inefficient efforts in on markets, segments, and messaging that does not help your business achieve it's objectives
  • Guarantee your business stays focused and current

To build an effective strategy that’ll support future marketing plans, you need discipline, time, and focus.

The process may sound complicated, but it's not as difficult as you may think. Many businesses skip this vital step because they are either intimidated by the perceived effort, or they are unsure of what to do and how to do it.

If the above sounds complicated, we can guide your business through a methodical, step-by-step process that will put you on the path to success. FIXYR - Marketing Strategy Review

The Local SEO Playbook – Your Guide to Local Rankings

Look, if you’re a local business, meaning most or all of your business comes from customers living in your community, you must get very serious about local SEO.

Don’t worry, ranking locally for the kinds of things your prospects are looking for isn’t rocket science, but it does take a serious commitment to a handful of things.

In case you’re wondering if it’s worth the investment in such a commitment, let me share a few survey tidbits.

  • 98% of searchers choose a business that is on page 1 of the results they get.
  • 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 77% of smartphone users contact a business after looking for local Information

And, I could go on, but I’m guessing you see the point – if you don’t rank well locally for the things people are searching for marketing will be a lot harder and a lot more expensive.

Here’s the good news – focus on these five elements and you can expect great results from local SEO and search. (The competitiveness of your industry may dictate your ultimate results.)

Optimize Google My Business

Google has a bit of a naming crisis when it comes to their local directory listings, but for now, you must pay attention to, claim, and optimize your Google My Business Listing.

If this is news to you go immediately to Google’s Free Business Listing page and find out if you can claim your current listing.

Many people created or had created Google+ listings and Google made a mess of how this became Google My Business so you may have some cleanup to do to make sure that you only have one listing for your business and it’s the one Google thinks is your business.

Once you claim the right listing you need to make sure you take full advantage of all of the real estate and linking options available to you.

This, by the way, is essential if your business is to ever show up in the coveted Google 3-pack for local searches shown above.

Make sure you have the right business category and subcategories chosen for your business.

Make note of the exact way your business name, address and phone number (NAP) appear. Exact meaning is is Street or St., is it Heating & Cooling or Heating and Cooling. Whatever you show listed as the NAP on your Google My Business Page, you’ll want to use consistently on your own website and across all directories. (More on this in a bit.)

Get markup right

Search engines are busy trying to adopt a consistent markup protocol to help use HTML code to properly identify things like businesses, reviews, addresses, books, movies and the like.

You can learn about the current popular markup for local businesses by visiting Schema.org.

Using proper markup for your address is kind of like handing Google your business card on a silver platter. It doesn’t look like anything to the naked eye, but Google spiders can be 100% certain what they are looking at when it comes to identifying an address on your web pages.

The good news is that you don’t really need to know anything about the underlying code to get this part right. Simply visit Schema.org’s Local Business NAP generator and fill in the blanks – The tool will produce the HTML code you need to add to your site in place of your current address.

There are other things you can do with structured markup and you can read all about it here.

Clean up citations

So, you might very well be familiar with a few directories like Yelp! and Google Local, or maybe even an industry specific directory or two like Houze or Angie’s List, but you probably didn’t realize that Google relies on hundreds of data aggregators and directories to help them sort out and keep straight all of the local businesses out.

So, getting your listing straight on Google is essential, but if you’ve moved, or changed your phone, or just listed your details in all sorts of ways in business filings or Chamber directories, there’s a good chance Google isn’t sure which listing is correct and that’s not a good thing.

Google use many data sources to try to get the most accurate picture. The image above from MOZLocal shows the interrelation of information sourced between data agrregators, directories, and search engines in the US.

The last thing Google wants to do is send someone to the wrong address when they search for a local business.

Above is an example of a local business that has multiple inconsistent citations online. The name is spelled out differently, there are three different phone numbers and at least two different addresses.

I’m certainly not picking on this business – In my experience, some sort of inaccurate data is out there for most businesses.

Use a tool like MozLocal and see just how bad this problem is for your business.

Once you determine there are a few inaccurate, inconsistent and incomplete listings use MozLocal, BrightLocalWhiteSpark or Yext to clean listings and suppress inaccurate duplicates that often occur.

You might also want to check out this list of other local directories by city and this list of industry specific directories.

This step alone can do more for your local listings than any other aspect of local SEO.

Create local SEO content

This one should be obvious but it kind of isn’t.

If you think about it, when you create a brochure and hand it to a prospect that pretty much know that you work in their city. But, when you create content online, you need to go over and above to spell out where you do your work.

Now, it’s easy to get spammy listing lots of local content and that can hurt you as much as help you, but you certainly should talk about where you work and in some cases have specific pages with case studies for specific trade areas, suburbs, and neighborhoods.

Don’t forget to blog and post about local events and happenings. Using your blog to take about community, customer, and employee related local news is a great way to spice up your local content in very authentic ways.

If you have multiple locations you may want to learn about and adopt what many SEO folks refer to as content silos for each location – here’s a great primer on local content silos.

Focus on reviews

Reviews have become another important form of content. As the statistic cited at the beginning of this post suggests, people increasingly rely on reviews to make decisions about the products and services they purchase.

So, while you need positive reviews for social proof, you also need them as a pillar of your local SEO efforts.

Google factors review activity as one of the elements that helps determine what businesses show up in the 3-pack.

No, it’s not the only factor, but it’s an important one.

Just a few years go nearly 30% admitted they didn’t use reviews – today that number is 8%. Meaning – 92% of buyers regularly or occasionally rely on reviews when making a local buying decision.

Take a look at the businesses in the image above. Reviews are displayed and play a large role in what businesses are shown and for the consumer, what business are clicked. You must have at least 5 reviews for Google to display the review stars as a highlighting feature of local results – that alone makes it important to acquire reviews.

Reviews are harder to get than they should be. Even a business with raving fans must work to get those reviews from happy customers.

The key is to ask often and make it as easy as possible for your happy customers to log in to the sites that matter and leave a review. Sure you’ll take a glowing email testimonial from a customer, but far better to push for a Google, Yelp, Facebook or industry review. (Check out this list of important industry review sites.)

You can always repurpose these reviews in email newsletters, on your site, or even hanging up in the store.

Many businesses are finding that they need to make review collection a process rather than leaving it to chance. Tools like GetFiveStars and Grade.us can help automate the process of review collection.

Take some time and make each of the five steps above a priority for your local business and you may find that local leads drawn from organic search can become your most potent lead generation channel.

Helpful Marketing Resources for Small Businesses

Here's a collection of various tools that are worth considering if you are a small or mid-size business and looking to do much of the work yourself. We've either looked at, or currently use the tools on this list.

Social Media Marketing & Management

Spend less time on your social media management, and automate the process with these tools. 

Hootsuite

Hootsuite allows you to schedule posts to multiple accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. 

Buffer

Buffer allows you to quickly and easily schedule posts for all of your social accounts. 

Missinglettr

Missinglettr creates strategic, automated social media campaigns that drive traffic for an entire year. 

Outsourcing

Here are some websites where you can find highly skilled freelancers and virtual assistants to get the job done for you.

Fiverr

Fiverr allows you to outsource thousands of different tasks to freelancers from all over the world, starting at just $5 per gig. 

Upwork

Upwork allows you to post a job, and freelancers can view your job and submit proposals.

99 Designs

99 Designs is the place for highly skilled freelance graphic designers. When you submit a design task, dozens of designers compete for your business by submitting their work to you. 

Rev

Rev is a quick and simple-to-use transcription service that you can use for transcribing audio and video files, video captions and subtitles, and translations. 

Landing Pages

There's lots of tested and proven landing pages out there that you can access quickly and easily.

Thrive Themes

If you’re using a WordPress website then using Thrive Themes is a great option. Thrive Themes are conversion focused WordPress themes and plugins.

Unbounce

Unbounce is the gold standard for landing pages. 

Instapage

Instapage another fantastic landing page tool. 

Sumo

Sumo is a suite of free tools that can be used to grow your website’s traffic. They’re easy to install, work on any website, and great for creating popups and opt-in forms to collect email addresses from your website or blog.

Email Marketing

The most valuable asset you have in your business is your customer list. Without exception, growing and building a relationship with your email list of potential and existing customers is vital to your success. 

MailChimp

MailChimp is a great starting point for building an email marketing program. 

Aweber

Aweber  allows you to set up autoresponder emails to automate your email marketing.

ActiveCampaign

The next step up, is something like ActiveCampaign .You can use it for integrated email marketing, marketing automation, and small business CRM.

Project Management & File Sharing

Some great tools for managing projects and workflows.

Trello

Trello is a visual tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process. Not the most sophisticated, but one of the easiest to use. 

Asana

Asana is another popular project management software. With tasks, projects, conversations, and dashboards, Asana enables teams to move work from start to finish. Easily create tasks for yourself or assign one to a teammate. Organize your tasks into shared lists or boards for your initiatives, meetings, and programs. Sections and columns let you customize Asana to match your workflows and add structure to any project.

Basecamp

Basecamp is a project management and team communication cloud-based service. Basecamp puts everything you need to get work done in one place. 

Evernote

I've been using Evernote for years. There's other, similar tools out there but it's still my go to to capture, organize and share notes from anywhere. 

G Suite (formerly Google Apps)

You can’t go wrong with G Suite. With Gmail, Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, Google Calendar, and Google Drive, and a number of other helpful tools, Google pretty much has you covered.

Dropbox

Dropbox allows you to safely and securely store your business files, and share them with others. 

Finimpact

Finimpact has 50+ Excel templates for SMBs. If you're like me and spend hours building spreadsheets, do yourself a favor and get some templates as a starting point to save yourself some time. 

Market Research & Analytics

Understanding what your audience and customers are doing, and the current trends in your market/industry are very important. 

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. 

BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo allows you to discover the most shared links and key influencers for any topic. 

Google Trends

Google Trends is another great free service provided by Google that displays how often specific keywords, subjects, and phrases have been searched for on Google over a period of time. 

Communication & Scheduling

Top tools for scheduling and making calls. 

Skype

The great thing about Skype is almost everyone has it! Perfect for free long distance Skype to Skype calls, group video calls, instant messaging, call phone numbers, and screen sharing. Works on any device.

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is another great tool for staying in touch with others. Video conferencing, either 1-on-1 or in groups, and with handy features like screen share. Best of all, it's free.

Help Scout

Help Scout is a help desk software company that provides an email-based customer support platform and knowledge base tool. They are very affordable (plans start at $12 per month), making it possible for companies of all sizes to offer excellent customer support.

Calendly

Calendly is a simple, easy-to-use, yet powerful scheduling software. Create different appointment types and availability on your calendar, then share the link to your calendar with whoever asks to book a call with you.

Webinars

Whether you host webinars to educate your audience or pitch your product or service, you need a handy webinar platform.

Zoom

Zoom offers remote conferencing services including video conferencing, web conferencing, webinars, and screen sharing. 

GoToWebinar

GoToWebinar is one of the more expensive webinar platforms out there, but it’s extremely reliable and robust. 

Finance & Payment Processing

If you’re building a business online, that means you need to be able to send, receive, and track payments online. Here are some handy tools.

Square

The biggest advantage of Square is how easy it is to setup. Download the app, register, and you can begin accepting payments on your phone (via the magstripe, chip, or touch readers that plug into your phone), on your website, or via invoices that you send out to customers (with payments integrated).

Stripe

Stripe allows both private individuals and businesses to accept payments over the internet, and is very easy to setup.

QuickBooks

QuickBooks is the number one cloud-based software package for small businesses for a reason. Easy to set up and run, it handles everything you need, and scales up as your business does. Taxes, payroll, inventory, anything you need it can do. As the go-to standard for accounting software, QuickBooks is also supported by an army of independent software and accounting professionals, and has integrations pre-built to many external software systems. 

Xero

Xero is a strong alternative to QuickBooks for small businesses and prides itself on simplicity and ease-of-use. 

Freshbooks

Freshbooks is another cloud-based accounting software that makes running your small business easy, fast and secure. 

How to Make Social Media Work for Your Business

Most people, whether they actively use it or not, would agree that social media is a pretty powerful attraction and engagement tool. Business owners and marketers alike know that social media has become one of the most important marketing channels, allowing an organization’s message to be communicated to the masses with just a few clicks of a button. You just can’t deny the power that social media can have.

There’s a common misconception, however, that managing social media is easy. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be hard, but it should take some work. Some people see social media as “fluff” – something that can be put on the back burner and tended to whenever someone has a chance. The reality is that effective social media doesn’t just happen by chance. Having a plan in place will greatly improve the results you’ll see from social media marketing. It’s true what they say: you’ll get out of it what you put into it.

If you don’t have a plan for your social media, your efforts could end up being wasted. Taking a casual approach to how you craft and when you publish your posts could be lead to unnecessary mistakes and missed opportunities. Your social media should be working for you, rather than you working for your social media.

Here are 5 ways to make your social media work for you

1. Appoint someone you trust to manage your social media accounts.

It might seem like a good idea to ask your nephew who “grew up with Facebook” or the summer intern who is “young and understands social media.” Don’t confuse age with ability, though. Sure, the younger generation has grown up with social media and may have more of an understanding of it, but you should carefully consider who you want communicating with the public on behalf of your brand. Make sure that whomever is managing your social media accounts, whether it’s an internal team or you choose to outsource, understands the best way to convey your messages and promote your brand.

2. Implement a social media plan.

Take the time to craft well-planned messages that will showcase your brand well. Getting into a routine of planning a week’s worth of posts will help keep you on the right track of posting valuable content and take the stress out of trying to come up with a post just for the sake of posting. Start using a service such as HootSuite or CrowdFire to schedule your posts for the future and you’ll be one happy camper!

3. Drive people to your site.

This one’s a no-brainer. Your social media accounts should act as a preview to the main event: your website. Attract visitors to your site by providing thoughtful, quality content that speaks to your buyers pain points and will encourage them to click over to your website to seek out your products or services.

4. Promote your content…just don’t over-promote it.

Instead, follow the 30/30/20/20 rule: Post 30% relevant, third-party industry information; 30% your own content to demonstrate your industry thought leadership; 20% information about your products and services; and 20% content about your company culture, people, and values. You don’t want to focus just on one area or another. Relevant, third party industry information is interesting, but tells the audience nothing about you. Your own content is great, but it will be a struggle to produce that much on your own. You want to inform your audience about your products and services, but too much will come across as salesy. And information about your culture and people is always good to build trust in your human side, show that you’re the type of people that customers want to work with, and demonstrate what a great place you are to potential new hires.

5. Engage with your customers and prospects.

We say this all the time – social media is about being social. Show the people who reach out to you that you value their input by giving them some of your time and responding to them, even if you say nothing more than “Great thought, (first name)!” If you stay on top of it, social media engagement is one of the easiest (and best) ways to leave a customer or prospect feeling positive about your brand.

Take a look at your current social media performance. Are you getting all you should be from it?

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