YOUR BUSINESS NAME MEANS EVERYTHING

I’m surprised at the number of consulting practices and businesses that are named after the founder.  This signals that the business was more interested in boosting their own ego than focusing on the needs of their consumers.  When naming your business, what you choose reveals a lot more than you think about your personality and the way you wish to handle your clients.

I did not even consider naming my advisory firm after myself, even with the twenty years of experience that it carries with it.  I did not set up my business to highlight my merits and background; I set up my firm to help my clients.  Thus, I knew that my name had to represent the struggle of the companies that I represent: how to start something great. 

Similar to people's names, a business name carries a lot of weight and importance over the life of its existence.  Most parents spend at least half their pregnancy coming up with a name for their next of kin that honors their past while harkening on their hopes and dreams for their child.  Some parents are even going as far as hiring an agency for thousands of dollars to come up with the perfect name for their baby!

Coming up with a name for your birth (whether it be person, product or business) should not be taken lightly.  Your name can potentially affect your personality and what people think of you.  Whether noted or not, names conjure biases that either promote or detract from your mission.  Word of mouth relies heavily on what your name means to the masses; the easier it is to associate a happy definition with the name, the larger the impact your name can generate.

Here are a few recommendations to come up with a successful name:

  1. Brainstorm names that contain the essence of your business and means something to your consumer
  2. Cross out any names that are too similar to the competitive set, are not available with a good URL like .com and is already trademarked
  3. Ensure that the name is easy to pronounce and spell; this will help increase their ability to search for your website and spread the word of your good deeds
  4. Review your name with your target consumer and ask about the level of interest it arouses, be it family or your potential clientele

Even if you have had a business name for quite some time, you may need to rebrand.  Whether it is unhip or does not define your current offering, it may be time to change your name.  There are some key signs that you should alter your moniker.  Are you currently embarrassed when you hand out your business card or send consumers to your website?   Has a competitor launched a product that is similar and your name no longer signifies your difference?  Have you expanded or moved?  Is there something that happened that now invokes a negative image?  If you have thought of any of these questions over the last year, it’s ripe to rebrand.

Start Something Solutions can help you with your brand identity, naming, and marketing strategy.  With a focus on consumer insights, we derive the best plan that aligns your customer needs with your offering, and thus increase your sales.  Don’t be fooled by the firms who are named after their founder; instead call us, a firm rooted in not focusing on ourselves, but on doing what’s best for you!

Research to Reap the Rewards

Launching a product or business under the wrong auspices could be a disaster.  While most entrepreneurs are excited to introduce their offering, the majority fail after the first year or two.  These businesses fail to meet sales expectations for numerous reasons, including upset or confused customers, a crowded competitive marketplace, or a negative return on investment.

It’s important to understand the current offering, which areas are entrenched, and the opportunity areas that the existing competitors are ignoring.  The barriers are just as important; there may be a reason why the other companies are avoiding certain areas or maybe you can develop a way to reduce the barrier?  Study the competition before you finalize your product features and benefits.  

A great idea is one thing, but it won’t monetize unless you can verify that the idea is a need among your target consumers and represents a white space versus the competitive offerings.  The best launches delight the target audience by being better, newer, and solving a meaningful problem for your audience. The only way to discern this is to identify and measure your target’s needs and wants, prior to launch.

Is the audience larger than your friends and family?  Can you project a target size that is interested in your product that is large enough to provide the sales necessary to cover your fixed costs and provide the profit that is warranted for your time?  Then after you have validated your target size, you need to understand where your consumer wants to buy and at what price.  I’ve seen several amazing product ideas launched earlier than when consumers were ready to adopt them in their home.  

Focus on the development of the base product and not the features.   The best practice is to get a product a third of the way ready and then share and test it with your partners.  This includes three key audiences: your consumers, your distribution and retailers, and your manufacturing reps.  Your goal is to glean the most amount of insights in order to refine the product to meet all three needs.  By testing before the product is fully ready, you save time and money in the long run.

There are multiple ways to acquire the necessary insights for your business venture, and it doesn’t have to be a large scale research project.  Before you embark on your research, you need to succinctly define the problem you are trying to solve and what action you will embark post the insights.  Then you can match the insight needed with the research methodology.  Whether it’s a beta program, a quick focus group, survey, or an in person interview, make sure that you partner with someone who has market research experience.  

Once you understand the value that your business can bring to consumers, then you need to continue your research efforts as you design your messaging, marketing, and portfolio expansion.  Just because you gathered insights at the beginning, does not mean that you will have a successful business long term.  You should update your research needs and questions as you progress along your business launch. Every business finds pain points as they move along the product life cycle.  Only the successful ones continue to conduct research to ensure they are delivering a promising value and a financially feasible business for their stakeholders.

Start Something Solutions helps you understand your competitive marketplace and consumer needs through analytics of your current metrics, researching the potential, and making sense of the right strategy to meet your objectives.  Contact us today so we can aid your business development process.

Easy E-commerce Employment

Diane Danforth, Vice President of www.pawdentify.com/, a line of pet identification products, has cracked the e-commerce code and is successfully selling her brand on Amazon and their own site.  With a passion to help other entrepreneurs, she shares her online methodology with potential Amazon sellers below. 

If you manufacture a consumer product, you should seriously consider adding Amazon as a sales channel. Did you know that Amazon is now the world’s largest retailer (1)?  Amazon draws 184 million visitors per month (2); that is a lot of eyeballs! Offering your product on Amazon makes it possible for people who have never heard of your company or visited your website to find you.

I’ve studied Amazon best practices but more importantly, I’ve launched my own new products on Amazon. So, I’m sharing 5 tips I’ve learned from experience to help you get started.   

5 Tips for Launching on Amazon

1.     Know Your Keywords: Amazon customers find products by typing keywords (product name, category, features, etc.) into the search bar. Therefore, build your product page with keywords that shoppers use, so that Amazon will include your product in search results. Create a list of your top 10 keywords by analyzing your own website traffic, customer reviews, and/or competitors’ pages. Incorporate these keywords into the title, bullet points, and product descriptions of your Amazon listing.

2.     Anticipate Customer Questions: It is difficult for Amazon customers to contact you directly with questions. Therefore, your product page must stand alone. What questions do potential customers have about your product? What are the reasons they may be hesitant to try your product for the first time? Anticipate these questions and include responses in bullet points, product descriptions, and FAQs.  

3.     Have a Pricing Strategy: The lowest priced seller of a sku usually wins Amazon’s Buy Box. A retailer may try to sell below your manufacturer’s suggested retail price, negatively impacting you and other sellers. If you have retailers, consider whether they are allowed to sell your product on Amazon, your minimum advertised price policy, and how you will monitor and enforce your policies.  

4.     Deliver Exceptional Customer Service: Product reviews are one of the most important pieces of information that Amazon customers use to decide whether to buy. Therefore, be sure to ship on time, offer a high quality product, and address any issues right away, so that you earn high ratings.  

5.     Increase Number of Reviews: In addition to high quality reviews, Amazon’s algorithm benefits products that have many reviews. Therefore, develop a strategy to request reviews from customers who have purchased your product. Tactics include notes in packages, triggered emails, social media, and more. Amazon has strict rules on this subject, so be sure to review their policies online.

Selling online, while different from brick and mortar stores, still requires similar upfront homework on consumer behavior and competitive positioning.  It’s important to scan the environment to understand the needs and wants in the marketplace, select your value proposition, and serve your consumer by delivering on their needs and wants.  Diane and I can help research, reach, and sell your products online.  Contact us at www.startsomethingsolutions.com.

1 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-23/amazon-surpasses-wal-mart-as-biggest-retailer-by-market-value

2 https://www.statista.com/statistics/271450/monthly-unique-visitors-to-us-retail-websites/

Desperately Seeking the Right Solution

No matter where I navigate, I am bombarded with ads from various agencies and consultants that claim that their solution is the holy grail. The amount of products, services, and promises to businesses are overwhelming.  Business owners are struggling to understand the rapidly changing digital landscape.  Most are tangled in a mess of unproductive online mediums.  With all of the noise, it’s hard to discern who and what services are the right solution.   

Most small businesses are struggling in how to accomplish their goals with their limited time and resources.  They are choosing between two incomplete options: (1) trying to evaluate all of the options, learn and implement it themselves, or (2) hiring one of the multitude of consultants.   Doing it themselves, while the cheapest option, is inefficient due to the time involved and the inevitable mistakes that ensue.  On the flip side, hiring specific agencies and/or products alleviates the time, but is often a costly mistake once the off the shelf program does not bring the promised return.

So what should a small business do?  How can you ascertain who’s the right fit for your pain points?  Businesses shouldn’t have to choose between the two incomplete options above, but instead have a hybrid choice: choosing a partner who is not only an expert in the implementations required to turn your business around, but also one who will customize their services to your needs and teach you how to implement these services in the future.  Businesses of today need a consultant, a partner, who can weed through all the noise, access exactly what the business needs, and construct the changes with the business owner.  

Similar to hiring a caregiver, you need to research the following before selecting the right partner for your business:

1.     RESUME

Do they have the experience in categories that are similar to your product goals?  Each business is unique and needs a personal touch by a seasoned professional.  Will their references back up their stories?  Unfortunately, a lot of consultants are all talk with little to show for their experiences.  Has the founder and the consultant spent years in corporations building their craft before advising you?  Or is this their first foray in ‘selling’ their services?  You need someone who can apply the lessons and theory that they were taught in their education with best practices that they have seen work well in various business types and problems.  When I graduated from my undergrad, over seventeen years ago, I was hesitant to join a consulting firm with only theoretical perspective. I felt that I needed business building skills, and action, before I could consult with other businesses. 

2.     VALUES

Do they have the same ethos that you espouse?  Do you speak the same language?  Do you know where they are based and the background of their owners?  What you need is a servant leader, someone who truly cares about your business and will work with you to see results, and not just recommend theory.  The best consultants won’t lure you in with a free download and then the pricy training session.  They should work with you over the course of your business to ensure that the steps are not only outlined, but implemented successfully.  You need a coach, a friend, who can advise you on how to accelerate and handle your business.  You need someone you trust, someone who will be there to help and tell you when they honestly can’t, based on their skill set.

3.     ACCOMODATION

Do they listen first, and then recommend a solution?   Do they quickly recommend their product / service without truly accessing your business needs?  Not every digital, social, or new product is the right fit for every business.  A warning sign is when all of their services are automated and they promise that their solution is the best.  A great partner / consultant, will work with you to understand your pain points and the key areas that will lead to a better return and growth.  They should also provide course corrections as needed.  They should be willing to work with your existing resources and negotiate a project that works for both of you.

4.     RESPONSIBILITY

Have you identified the core responsibilities?  Can you articulate your exact needs from the relationship?  Do you feel that the partner in question can meet your expectations?  You need a partner who will help you implement, after thoroughly understanding your challenges, marketplace and consumer reach.  Businesses need someone to help ‘do’ the work, while teaching how to in the future.  You also need someone who can meet your timelines and budget: be sure to clarify the fee schedule and delivery before you begin. 

Consultant is an overused and trite word.  ‘Consultant’ is now a term that most unemployed professionals use.  It’s also a term used by every type of business service provider.  It’s no wonder that the understanding and equity of the role has declined dramatically.  Hopefully the research above will help you find the right partner, whether it be a consultant or any other type of servant leader, for your business needs.

While most consultants are profiting from the confusion, I want to truly help your business and walk through the changes together.  I won’t make you pay for the e-books, courses, webinars, etc., I will teach you what to do and help you implement.  I’m vested and interested in helping your business thrive over the long term.  I won’t push the solution before understanding your pain points. I love seeing businesses grow and prosper.

Fall in Love with your Consumers

It’s Valentine’s Day, and most of you have plans and/or gifts for your life partner and family.  Some of you may even be rejoicing in last night's Galentine’s celebration. But what about the bread and butter of your business – your consumers?  Have you shown them your love and appreciation lately? Taking a cue from key steps to improve your personal relationships, the following are recommendations to ensure your relationship with your consumer is just as healthy.

1.  Humanize your consumer

Do you know your target audience intimately? Do you know what’s important to them and their issues with your company? Are you really listening to the information they are sharing with you in social and in person? You should treat your consumer as a human, and not a intangible factor in your business. It’s almost impossible to truly understand your consumer’s motivations, reasons and actions unless you listen to them with an open heart (your social channels and customer service teams are a great source of their need states).  Stop pushing your message and instead tailor it to what your consumers are yearning for.

2.  Look for consumers who share similar values

Are you targeting the right consumers who think like you do? Have you dissected not only their demographic characteristics, but also their psychographic profile to ensure it matches with the ethos of your business offering? Do you understand their backgrounds and decision journey (the way they come into your category)? It’s okay, and actually more profitable and efficient, to limit your target to a finite group of people. Not every consumer is a good fit.  Just like dating, you need to evaluate several targets and pass on those that won't fulfill your business objective: you need to find your perfect match. 

3.  Meet your consumer’s needs

After you understand your consumer and are targeting the same like minded individuals, you need to ensure that you are consistently offering what they are seeking.  There should be a succinct, easily identifiable, reason for your brand to delight (notice I didn't say meet) your target's functional and emotional wants.  This reason to believe should be audience-centric, not content-centric; your message should be phrased in language and tone that is representative of how your consumer would talk. Your brand should be a human connection that creates everyday value.  

4.  Grow Together...or Not

Your partner is not a static object, their needs change. The same goes for your company. Expecting both to remain the same is unrealistic and unfair. Iterative processes are essential in order to truly relate and connect. You should change your product offering based on what makes your target excited, except when it’s not profitable to change. Not every consumer and consumer need state is a match to your company's objective and growth plan; you can't always meet their needs. As each of you grow, you may need a new relationship status, whether that means graduating to a more serious commitment (marrying your consumer to your company as a brand ambassador) or severing ties. It's important to understand each stage that your consumer fills in your product life cycle and let go of those that are no longer profitable for your company.

5.  Stop trying to be ‘everything’ to your consumer

You can’t assume that you can offer everything that your consumer wants, just like you can’t expect your spouse can be like your parents or friends; each role has a different expectation and it's unrealistic to serve all of their needs. Every business has dissatisfied consumers that are impossible to appease; the faster you remove them from your targeting, the better off you will be. Don’t break your spirit or bank account by trying to be all things to your consumer.  Regularly scan the marketplace and your consumer set to identify the paths that are amenable to your goals and abolish any efforts that are not specifically addressing these need states. 

6.  Take care of yourself

How can you make your consumer happy if you are not satisfied internally? Do you have enough margin baked in to pay for all of your costs and provide a decent salary to you and your staff? Are your employees taken care of just as much as your consumers? Some of the most successful founders take an annual break to evaluate their internal metrics (SWOT, employee satisfaction, etc.) and then collaborate with their staff to alter their goals. Make sure that your company needs are being met so that you can truly serve your consumer. 

Any type of relationship, including those that are personal and those within your organization, requires work to ensure both parties are happy. In today's competitive marketplace, it's imperative that businesses develop a deeper and more meaningful relationship with their consumers. It's no longer about the functional benefits that your product provides, but the emotional connection that you have with your consumer. The most successful partners fall in love over and over again by applying these six rules. 

Start Something Solutions was created to bridge consumer needs and wants with company objectives. Our advisory firm helps you get to the heart of your target and align your product and marketing to what’s profitable and efficient for both parties. I also love donating my time and money to local startups.  Let me know how I can help bring more love to your business!

Digital Footprint beyond your Website

Once you have set up your own website, you need to ensure that your business can be found virtually and in multiple locations.  Most businesses forget to include their URL (domain name) in all of their touch points with consumers.  Be sure that your website is included in all of your communications (and a link if it’s a digital outreach).  

 

Do you remember searching for your local pizzeria in the Yellow Pages?  This large book is now replaced by online search engines, like Google.  Registering your business in Google My Business, allows your consumer to find your type of business in their specific zip code.  It’s free to add your name, URL, location, and other pertinent details to your operation.  This easy step helps to ensure your business shows up as one of the first options in search.     

 

While Google is amassing the majority of search traffic, there are other local profile sites that you should register with.  Most businesses can benefit from entering their details on Manta, Merchant Circle, Local.com, your local business journal and chamber of commerce.  Other profile sites cater to specific consumer need states.  If your business is in the entertainment industry, like a restaurant, Yelp and Citysearch are essential.  If you offer in home services, like cleaning, you should be listed on Thumbtack, Angie’s List, and/or Nextdoor.  There are several others; do your homework and find out where your consumers are searching for your type of business.

 

The other component to local profiles is ensuring that you are closely monitoring your consumer reviews.  You should also communicate regularly with both positive and negative comments.  These sites provide a quicker read on consumer satisfaction and a direct access to engender a richer loyalty to your offering.  The same goes for your social sites.

 

Another important step in getting your site in the first ten of your target’s search results, is to have a strong search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.  Most of this can be accomplished organically (without paying for spots).  Once you understand how your consumers refer to your business, what they will most likely type in Google, and how your business differs from the competitive set, you can craft your key words (copy) that should be pervasive in your site. Focus on unique, search phrases, not single key words, place title tags on every page, and put your location in the text. 

 

The new marketing mantra communicated by most agencies is that content is king. This mantra will serve you well in securing a top spot in search results. Schedule updates to your information on your website and all other digital platforms on a regular basis (at least monthly).  Links to other relevant sites, including video ads, will help.  Consider writing a blog to freshen your content and bring new traffic to your site.

 

Other ways that you can build traffic to your site include online publicity, advertising (static and video ads), and social.  Before you embark on any of these, you need to make sure you clearly understand your target consumer and where they are currently navigating.  Not all channels, no matter how trendy, are correct for your target consumer.  After analyzing how your consumer finds, decides and buys your product or category (your path to purchase), you should be able to identify the right digital channels that your ad should be in.

 

Then you can test various online platforms and refine after analyzing each post.   There is an often overlooked, free analytical platform: Google Analytics.  This great service is the industry standard for analyzing and reporting online.  You can track the type of traffic, where they are sourcing from, how your SEO is performing, the level of interest within your site, ad revenue and the activity on your social sites. These insights can help you understand your digital return on investment and allow you to continue to refine your marketing programs.

 

Start Something Solutions aims to help you simplify your marketing process, including marketing online, via traditional methods, and mastering your product and service development. I’m here to help your business and can’t wait to coach you and your team through consumer centric commercialization. Please email me anytime with consulting requests, your thoughts on my blogs and any recommendations for future topics.

The Down-Low on Digital Marketing

Everyone, everywhere, is aware of the growth and importance of digital marketing.  And while I am a big believer in how digital can promote a brand and product / service, I understand the limitations in digital.  Digital is not the end all, be all; it’s not the holy grail.  Digital is a great marketing tool; but it does not replace traditional media.  Remember TV, radio, print and in store ads?  They still work!!

 

Most businesses feel that if they build a facebook site, their consumers will be knocking down their doors.  This fallacy is too often emulated in the small business community.  No matter what the new, flashy, marketing tool is, you as a business owner must go through the basic block and tackling of (1) understanding your target consumer, (2) why your product is different from your competitive set, and (3) where these consumers are seeking for your unique brand proposition.  Once you understand these three, it’s a lot easier to understand where you should be marketing your business.

 

A.G. Lafley, a former P&G CEO, is famous for touting the last ‘100 feet’ of marketing, meaning: make sure your brand / business is communicating the key benefits of your business in the closest perimeter to your actual sale.  Is the signage in your store front readable and understandable?  Does your packaging convey the right benefits that your consumer is seeking?  When your target consumer is ready to buy your service, do they see you as a consideration point?

 

While most of the ‘last 100 feet’ are still physical marketing elements (in store signage, sandwich boards, banners, etc.) for brick & mortar stores, there are shifts in consumer behavior that require all businesses to have a digital footprint.  I believe the most essential is a website.  While websites years ago were costly and cumbersome to build, today’s businesses have several easy to use, cheaper options.  There are several agencies who can build a custom built, fully managed site for your business, with optimized SEO and all the bells and whistles for a few grand.  Or you can build your own website with several template companies (Square Space, Wix, Shopify), who can also offer ecommerce options.

 

A website is similar to your old company brochure; it’s the place with the key details of your business: the who, what, where and when’s.  Before deciding whether your business needs a custom or DIY site, you need to do the homework and build the required information.  What are your consumers seeking from your business?  What do they need to know in order to come to your business and buy your product / service?  Then, once you have your information outline, you can marry it with your budget and time resources to understand whether to hire a custom site builder or a DIY player.

 

Start Something Solutions was created to help simplify the process from idea, to launch, to success.  After you go through the recommended steps in this post, please comment on your progress.  I’m here to help if you need coaching through the process, or if you want to move on to the next step of marketing excellence.  Stay tune for part 2 of the down-low on digital marketing.