Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

March 16, 2017

Marketing—Do I Have to Do It All Myself?

Filed under: Marketing — Tags: , , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 2:17 pm

You’re a busy business owner, you’re up to your ears in scheduling, bookkeeping, and managing people. Do you really have to handle every aspect of marketing, too? Here’s the blunt truth: No one you hire will ever care as much about your business as you do. Period. You can’t clone yourself, but you can put your time and energy where it counts. Here’s why, and how, to delegate your marketing:

Yes, You Do Have to Take the Lead in Marketing

  • It’s your company. You care the most about it.
  • You know it best.
  • You are the most motivated to sell.
  • You got into your business because you are good at marketing and selling your offering.
  • Customers want to connect with you, the owner.

No, You Don’t Have to Be a Marketing Martyr

  • It gets to the point where it’s too much for you to handle—plus do customer work.
  • Doing all the marketing tasks is not the best use of your time.
  • You may not be the best sales person in your company.
  • Parts of the marketing are easy to hand off to others.
  • You don’t have the expertise to handle all the parts.

There Are Some Things Only You Can Do:

  • Set the mission, vision, strategies, goals
  • Build strategic relationships.
  • Choose good people to help you market and sell.
  • Make sure they do what you want.
  • Approve your marketing and promotions.
  • Insist on results, not just effort.
  • Tweak your direction and offering; develop new things.

You Should Never Do Things That . . .

  • You are not good at. You can find better people to do them
  • You can easily hire and delegate to other people.
  • Get in the way of you doing what brings the greatest value to your company

Do this . . .

  1. Make a list of the Marketing tasks you’re good at, and that bring the most value.
  2. Then make a list of the tasks you’re eager to get off your plate.
  3. As you hire people – contractors and in-house, be clear about the tasks you want them to take over, and what you will continue to do.

Your Marketing Job

  • Define your pathway—your overall strategy to reach your vision.
  • Build your marketing team of skilled people who can help you execute your strategy.
  • Orchestrate your team; oversee team performance.
  • Review results, tweak, refine, and change direction when needed.

As the owner, it’s up to you to set the overall vision and define what success looks like. From there on, empower people to make it happen.

Does All This Pertain to a One-Person Business?

As a solopreneur, unless work just falls into your lap, you have to spend a good portion of your time drumming up new business. Plus doing the work. Plus all the admin stuff. How many hours a day do you want to work? (Clue: the max is 24!)

If you have a viable business, you soon discover that it’s worthwhile to hand off pieces to others: website design and maintenance, social media, copywriting, maintaining your marketing database. You notice that you depend on all these others, even though they aren’t your employees. You’re no longer a one-person business.

The option is to stay tiny and run yourself ragged.

April 9, 2014

Poverty Gulch

How to stay out of POVERTY GULCH

“I’m so busy on my big lucrative project that I have no time to market!” Then the project comes to an end. Now you have plenty of time to market. But you’ve been out of the flow so long that it takes awhile to fill your pipeline. You’re in Poverty Gulch.

boom and bust cycleYou have just gone from having a big project, where you are very busy, but fat and happy, to having no work at all. Since you were so busy–and making so much money–you did no marketing. When the project ends, your workload falls way off. You have to hustle for work until you get another big project. Then you once again forget about marketing.

This is a very common occurrence for entrepreneurs. It’s called the “boom and bust” cycle. What can you do about this? How can you keep a level of business development going even when you are focused on a large project, so that when it ends, it doesn’t take you so long to get back up to speed?

It is a matter of attitude and setting boundaries with your client. Are you the head of a business? If so, you must allocate time for all aspects of running your business, including marketing.

The biggest barrier to this is not the demands of your client. It’s your own preference to just keep working rather than face the uncertainty of drumming up more business. Admit that to yourself.

no povertyMany entrepreneurs much prefer doing client work than marketing for new work. For them, having one big lucrative client is the ideal–especially if the money is good. It’s a risky strategy, though.

Two options:

1. Set a limit: No single client absorb be more than 15%, or 30%, or 50%, of your work time. Choose your own number.

2. Make clear to your big client what your maximum weekly or monthly billable hours for them will be. Then stick to it. You don’t want to be their contract employee.



November 5, 2012

How to Generate Referral Business

Asked on LinkedIn by Shaun Caldwell

Referrals and introductions from clients are still our #1 source of new clients. Introductions from referral sources are much more likely to become clients than, say, cold calls. Here’s the approach we use. Just a few steps:

1. Provide excellent service to your clients so they will talk you up.

2. Ask them for referrals. Tell them who you want: “I want someone as good as you are, who has . . . . (list the desired qualities).” And ask for an introduction, not just a name and number, so that the prospect will expect your call.

3. Follow up! Don’t drop out these referrals and introductions. Sounds obvious, but this happens so often.

4. Let your client know the outcome. What happened with the person they introduced you to? New client? Not interested? Could never reach them? Doesn’t matter–just tell them.

5. Thank them. Doesn’t have to be monetary. I have tried both the reward and no-reward approaches. Most of my clients do not care about getting a money reward. But some do, and I give them a discount off their next month’s services with me. All of them get my profuse thanks!

6. GIVE referrals. The best reward for an excellent referral is giving one back. I notice that when people offer me money for a referral, I’m not interested. But I will drum up business for them if they give me good referrals in return!

So take the lead in giving referrals to those you’d like to get referrals from.

On the other hand, I have taken people off my list who are always asking for referrals but never give any back.

7. After a suitable time, ask for another referral.

8. All referral sources are not the same. Keep track of what quality referrals you get from different sources, and take particularly good care of your take referral sources. I’m talking dinner for two at the best local restaurant.

If someone makes a so-so referral to you, pass them along to a more appropriate person. Then thank your source and tell them what kind of referrals you can really help the most. You can convert a so-so source into an excellent source in this way.

Other kinds of referrals. What else do you want referrals to? I’m always looking for informal speaking gigs, so I ask people what small business organizations they know of that bring in speakers. All the above rules apply.

Marketing funnel for developing referral sources who aren’t already clients is shown in the diagram. Look for professionals who offer complementary services, are not competitors, and who work with the kind of people you want as clients. In my case, this includes CPAs and bookkeepers, IT consultants, web designers. Also people who work for small business support organizations.

Get testimonials. By the way, when asking for a referral, also ask for a testimonial statement, and be ready to record it right then when it is given. The first words out of their mouth will be the best. If you say, “Let me get some paper and write that down. Now, can you say that again?” They won’t be able to recreate it. Testimonials and referrals go together, since the person referred will first check your blog, website, and LinkedIn profile.


October 23, 2012

Has Small Business Marketing Changed Completely?

Filed under: Marketing — Tags: , , — Mike Van Horn @ 11:23 am

For growing small businesses, is marketing today completely different? Many say yes. It’s all about social media.

But this is not the whole story. Despite all the effort I put into social media, I still get 80% of my business the “old fashioned” ways:

— referrals from existing clientsmarketing priorities

— former clients coming back

— public speaking

— networking at small business venues

— my website

People I meet via LinkedIn and other forums, from ezines, via selling ebooks on Amazon, etc. account for the other 20%. So getting my face out there is still #1 by a long shot.

An example: Last Friday at a birthday party for a friend, I got to talking with a woman whom I learned works for chain of schools for massage therapists. When she heard what I do, she said, “We should bring you in to teach our soon-to-be-graduates how to run their practice as a ‘real business.'” Now I could get more business from this one dinner conversation than from all the social media I’ve ever done.

Also, there are the eternal verities of marketing that are just as true with online marketing. Things like:

— Your branding has to be consistent and appealing

— You have to know what your targets want, what message will appeal to them, where they hang out, and how to reach them there. You must know who is NOT your target, so you don’t waste time on them.

— You must take people through the stages of marketing, not try to ram your product down their throat, build relationships, address their concerns.

— You’ve got to ask for the sale!

— You must give excellent customer service.

etc., etc.

These rules are just as true for Facebook and Twitter as for people walking in through the front door of your brick and mortar.

This doesn’t mean you can ignore social media and web presence. Even people you meet face-to-face immediately check you out on the internet. But you must view your online presence, including social media, as an integrated part of your broader marketing strategy. More on what this looks like next post.








July 10, 2012

Selling Internet Video Marketing Services

Filed under: Marketing — Tags: , , — Mike Van Horn @ 4:58 pm

Q. As the owner of an internet video marketing company, what is the most effective way for me to prospect and generate sales with little or no budget? Asked on LinkedIn by Jonathan Franco.

A. Selling “internet video marketing services” cries out for internet video marketing!
At the same time, 80% of selling is just showing up. You’ve got to get your face out there. In the end, people buy you.

The people I know in your business go to meetings of business organizations and make presentations on how to do video marketing affordably. The venue must have wi-fi and a digital projector, so that you can demonstrate some before-and-after efforts. Select a guinea pig and do a two-minute video for them right on the spot. You want people to say, “That’s not so scary! I could do that!” and “I like this guy. I want to hire him to help me.”
Your approach is to show ’em how to do it for themselves, so that they will hire you to do it for ’em.

No budget? Then you have a one-man bootstrap operation–at least initially. You have to substitute your time for money. But you will need to invest in a quality website, where you can embed your videos, because that’s your portfolio.

It’s hard for me to see you attracting investors so you can hire a sales force. Don’t waste your time even trying. Get out there and sell yourself!

April 10, 2012

When All Else Fails, Try Marketing

Marketing in 2008. *Ring! Ring!* “Hello! Joe’s Plumbing, this is Joe. How may we help you?…Sure! I think we could handle that. What about next Tuesday?…Thank you!” Joe scribbles on calendar. *Ring! Ring!* “Hello, Joe’s Plumbing.”

Marketing starting in 2009. . . . . . Joe sitting at desk twiddling his fingers. “Hum dee dum”…….. The phone is not ringing.

Marketing now. (Joe picks up phone and dials.) “Hi, Pat, this is Joe of Joe’s Plumbing. Haven’t talked with you in awhile. I just wanted to call and tell you how much we appreciate your business. We’re having a special! For the next 30 days, you can get ….”

Joe was really good at plumbing but he didn’t like marketing. But, at long last, he turned to his partner and said, “Everything else has failed. I guess we’ll have to try some marketing.”

Now, you may think this is an exaggeration, but I can’t tell you how many business owners I work with treat regular outreach to their best customers and prospects as a last option.

How about you?

Make some calls. Pick up the phone. Call some of your best customers and those you’d like to be working with.

Show your face. 80% of selling is just showing up. This is more important than all the rest of the high falutin’ stuff people tell you.

Ask, “Who’s buying?” Too often, we focus on who’s NOT buying.

Ask, “Where do we get the biggest bang for our marketing buck?”

Set a reachable target, and track your progress. Be accountable to someone else, so you don’t let it slip out of your consciousness.

If what you used to do doesn’t work, do something else. What will work best in this business climate to reach those you want to work with, and entice them to do business with you?

Want to see some more of this? How to Thrive in Tough Times—Lessons From Small Business Owners is my newest ebook, just posted on Amazon for Kindle, iPad, etc. for $2.99. Worth every cent!

December 12, 2011

The Best Marketing is Keeping Your Current Customers

Filed under: Marketing — Tags: , , — Mike Van Horn @ 3:33 pm

“Your monthly invoices are so high, I think we need to switch to somebody else.” “We liked our old rep. We don’t like this new girl.” “Maybe we’ll bring this in-house. I think my brother-in-law could do this for us.”

Bookkeepers, graphic designers, marketing advisers, etc., all hear this from clients sometimes. And you know they’ll go to so-and-so, who won’t give nearly as good customer service.

Customers come to take you for granted. You do your job so well that you become invisible to them. They lose sight of the value you provide. What to do?

You need to find a way to remind your clients of the value you provide. Re-sell your services without sounding salesy. What sets you apart from the others in the market? What are the special things you’ve done for them over the last month or so? Perhaps note this in your invoice to them.

When’s the last time you talked with them—face to face or by phone—about what other things they may need to have done, things you see that would help them, how they think your service might be improved? What else could you do for them that would be seen as special?

We often come to take our best clients for granted, also. Then we’re shocked when one leaves because they don’t feel their needs are being attended to.

As owner, this customer contact is a key part of your job. But your customer contact people must also do this. You need to motivate and train your people to do this, which they may neglect. I recommend devoting a staff meeting to this issue. Get a discussion going by asking questions like these:

“How can we reinforce our message and our value to our customers?”

“How are we taking clients for granted?”

“What little things would mean a lot to clients? Let’s share some examples of what you’ve done.”

“What do they ask for? How do you respond? Are there things we say ‘no’ to that we should be doing?”

Just having this discussion will energize your committed people. (And why would you keep those who aren’t committed and energized?) They know what you provide is valuable. They know that keeping customers happy keeps your business healthy, and their jobs secure and well-paid.

Reinforce this during subsequent staff meetings. Ask your people to talk about special things they’ve done for customers. One of my clients tracked these reports on a wall chart using “customer happy faces.”

Don’t take this all on yourself (unless you’re a one-person business). It’s essential to involve all your people in demonstrating, by word and deed, your value to customers.

And ask these happy, well-treated customers for referrals to others like themselves.

December 31, 2009

Can Consultants Collaborate on Marketing and Projects?

From a discussion on Bay Area Consultants Network (LinkedIn) started by Herb Kessner: “How can our members with similar business models collaborate for success and revenue in 2010?”


I’m involved in such an effort with other consultants.

I would like to see efforts like this work, but I’ve found it difficult to produce the desired benefits. The idea is simple: We  have complementary offerings, thus:
1. We should be able to provide related services to a single client, when either of us alone could provide only part of what the client needs
2. We can take advantage of each other’s marketing networks. I refer qualified prospects to you, and you refer them to me.

But what happens is often different. I may be attracted to such a joint effort because my well is running dry, I’m trying to shortcut the tough necessity of marketing, and I’m hoping you will rescue me. Alas, you are hoping the same of me! So we’re two people (or more) whose pipelines are trickling.

Thus to work together effectively, the first question we must address is how we will tackle the annoying marketing question.

If our pipelines are flowing smoothly, and we’ve got as much work as we can handle, what’s our motivation for joining forces? Why go to the trouble of working out joint operating agreements with you when it just takes away from my billable hours? If I need somebody with your expertise on a project, why don’t I just hire you? Or sub part of it out to you?

This is a legitimate viewpoint, and a lot of consultants think this way. And this is why we remain solopreneurs. (Or, if we’re a very prolific rainmaker, we begin hiring others as subs or employees to handle projects we generate.)

But there is a case for a joint operating agreement among two or more consultants. The prime rationale, in my experience, is synergy and collaboration. We’ve got to energize each other, and make each other more creative and productive.

Several pre-requisites:

1. We must work with the same type of clients. Not just similar, but the same. I’m seeing this in a current effort: I work with slightly larger small businesses than does my collaborator, and it’s an issue.

2. We must offer truly complementary services to the same niche of customers. Not just non-competing services. Not just services the same client would purchase (e.g., my growth management services and your financial services). We must offer an integrated package that meets the felt needs of our target customers.

3. We must be able to develop brand new customers–and probably new channels to reach them. We can’t rely on our existing lists and means of outreach.

4. We must all be 100% committed to making this work–esp. the marketing, which is often the hardest part. Can it work as a sideline? A big question. How do we continue to handle our current business while developing this new joint venture?

Questions of success. When we do get joint clients:
— Who handles the admin stuff? Contracts. Billing. Banking. Insurance.
— Who owns the intellectual property? Not the “for hire” stuff that belongs to the clients, but the creative stuff that belongs to us. If I get inspired by your idea (and I will!), and develop a whole new thing from it, how do we divvy it up?
— What happens if you want to work, work, work, and I want to spend more time in Hawaii? Or if our joint venture has a big rush client, but I have to serve my own clients as well?

What do you think? I invite others to weigh in on this issue as well.

Mike Van Horn

November 6, 2009

Delegate till it hurts!

When it comes to delegating, business owners can be their own worst enemies. (from my post to the Bay Area Consultants Network LinkedIn group)

“Delegate till it hurts!” is the advice I give my small business owner clients, who are overworked yet reluctant to hand off tasks to employees they’re paying good money to.

Yesterday I met with a client who owns a 10-person company. She hired a numbers person to free her up to do the creative stuff that brings in the money. Yet she still holds on to estimating “because it’s complicated and it has to get done right.” This takes so much of her time that she neglects business development. So we discussed how to hand off estimating to her numbers person.

Of course she neglects business development because marketing calls scare the bejeebers out of her. She holds onto estimating–call it “comfortable drudgery”–so she won’t have time to do the marketing.

What is it about marketing that scares her? She says every call seems like a cold call. Her unspoken attitude is, “You wouldn’t want to buy anything from me, would you?” So then how has her business been so successful? “I’m good at building relationships,” she says.

So I tell her, “Stop marketing. Instead, go build relationships–with allies and people who respect you. Tell them how much you admire their work, and that they are the kind of person you’d like to work with.”

This suggestion seems to take a load off her shoulders. Then she says, “I dislike making the calls to set up these visits. Hmmm, maybe I could hand this off to ‘numbers lady’ also.”

So. Two major delegations to free her up to focus on the two things she loves about her business (and that make the cash roll in) — creative stuff and building relationships. And delegating to a person who’s already on payroll. Note that we got there by addressing her fears and resistance and old habits. Otherwise she would remain the bottleneck to effective delegating.

She left with a new spring in her step.

This is why I love my work!


July 28, 2009

Solopreneurs and Marketing Budgets

Q: I’m curious if anyone has a rule of thumb on what should be spent annually by solopreneurs on marketing. Would anyone care to share their own marketing expenses? Or percent of revenue?

A: Maria
I’ll bet that not 1 out of 20 of us knows how much we spend on marketing. Three reasons:

1. Our biggest marketing cost is the value of our own time we spend on marketing, and we don’t track that, let alone assign an hourly value, or check the results for the hours we spend.

2. We don’t collect all our marketing expenses under one account called “Marketing.” Instead, we have line items for Professional Services (web design, podcasts, etc.), Advertising (display ads, google ad words), Memberships, Business Meetings, Travel, etc.

3. We don’t create marketing budgets, then track how much money and time we spend, compare budget to actual, and compare effectiveness of different marketing activities (“bang for your buck”).

“A yacht is a hole in the water you throw money into,” we’ve heard people say. I think this is the way most entrepreneurs treat marketing. “If I’ve got some money, spend it on marketing. A free evening? Go to another networking meeting.”

So I’ll be very interested to see if anyone can give a meaningful answer to your question. I hope you can prove me wrong!

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