Part III: The Nuts and Bolts of Creating Marketing Materials
This is the third in a four-part series on how to market your business as a self-employed entrepreneur. The first article, “Selling is Not a Dirty Word,” can be accessed here. The second, “Marketing Basics” can be accessed here.
• Branding is essential. People should immediately be able to recognize each of your emails or other forms of marketing as coming from you. Every communication should have a recognizable look and feel. Some businesses create a brand around their product or the name of their business. Others, like mine, are branded around the person at the center of the business. This is fairly typical for authors-to brand themselves, rather than their books. Fifteen years ago, I made the mistake of creating a whole website to promote the book I co-authored with Janis Keyser, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, but as I moved on from my focus on promoting that book-that website became obsolete and I had to create a whole new one. So for my next website, I created a much larger umbrella site with the slogan, “Healing Words That Change Lives,” because that encompasses everything I do-as a writer, as a teacher, and as a workshop leader. It’s hard to imagine me doing anything in my business that wouldn’t fit under that umbrella, so that brand has been able to stick.
• Learn the basics of design. You don’t have to become a graphic designer, but you should learn the basic principles of making something look good-not using too much text, having lots of white space, not mixing multiple fonts, how to direct the eye of the reader the most critical information. When I see a sloppy flyer that looks like someone who didn’t know what he was doing just threw it together, I walk the other way.
• Use powerful images. My digital ads (and the postcards I create to promote a single event) feature a minimum of text and a compelling image. The goal of these ads is not to give a lot of information; it’s to motivate someone to click on the ad (or follow the link) so they are brought to a designated online sales page that discusses all the benefits of my offering and cites all the specifics. The old adage, “One picture is worth a thousand words” definitely holds true here. And P.S. If you haven’t taken these pictures yourself, you have to pay licensing fees to use them.
• Always focus more on the benefits your customers will receive rather than the characteristics of the product or service you’re selling. This is part of putting yourself in your customer’s shoes. You have to know what your customers want and what they’re looking for–and that should be the focus of your marketing materials. Not the date, time, place or specifics–but rather, the “here’s what this can do for you.” Of course, your customer needs to know the location, date, time and cost, but only after you’ve answered the question, “Why should I pay attention to this?” “What can this do for me?” Focus on benefits rather than a description of your offering
• Make sure your marketing descriptions accurately portray what you will provide. Every time my promise or description of an event hasn’t been entirely accurate or clear, I have always gotten into trouble. Make sure your PR matches what you’re actually going to deliver.
• Make things easy and clear for your customer. People should not have to jump through hoops or click numerous times on your website to get to the information they need. Make registration for events as simple and seamless as possible.
• Have a professional email address. When a business proprietor uses a yahoo, gmail, or hotmail address, I take it as a sign that they’re not established, serious or committed–that they’re just dabbling and are not yet serious about their business. That may be an unfair assumption, but it’s a bias many people share. Pony up for the yearly fee for a regular ISP address-or better yet, get your own domain name.
• Choose a web address that is simple and easy to remember–and is unlikely to be spelled wrong. The last thing you want is for someone to try to find you and fail because they can’t remember or spell your web address correctly.
• Make sure that the basic information people need to know is easily accessible on your website. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve searched for the time or place of an event on someone’s website at the last minute-or even looked for their phone number, address or hours of operation-and found it nearly impossible to find.
• Be fastidious about details, instructions and directions. I always send out a confirmation letter–one that does more than just tell people they’ve successfully paid for the event. In that letter, I welcome them, thank them for registering, tell them for what to expect, what to bring, and how to prepare. I make sure the written directions to the event are crystal clear and I do that by driving the route myself and noting every landmark and every turn. I also include a link to an online map. But don’t assume that everyone has a GPS or knows how to access online mapping. At least I know that my audience, that skews a bit older, doesn’t.
• Make it easy for people to pay. Some people will want to pay cash, others with checks. More and more people are comfortable with online transactions and expect to be able to pay online. Depending on the nature of your business, you should be able to take credit cards in person and/or online. People can sign up for all my major events online without having to first write an email or make a phone call. Accept money any way that people want to give it to you. (There are limits to this. I, for instance, don’t take Discover or American Express. I get very few requests to use these cards and the costs to accept them are too expensive and aren’t warranted by my modest number of transactions. Besides, I’ve never met anyone who had an Am Ex card who couldn’t whip out a Visa or a Mastercard instead.) If you’re in the restaurant business, however, this is probably not a choice you can afford to make.
• Be willing to embrace technology and master new ones as they emerge. You cannot do business today and ignore the Internet. A professional looking website is essential. Email marketing, done well, can be extremely effective. Social media is important, too, especially if you’re trying to reach any demographic under 50. You can’t ignore the ways your customers get their information and make their purchasing decisions by sticking your head in the sand and saying, “Well, I’m not good at that.” If technology is a steep learning curve for you, get help and take that first step.
• Carefully choose the right social media outlets for your market. Social media can be a huge energy suck. Every day, there is another social media site or way to “be” online. My head spins with the ever-growing list of things I should be participating in: Pinterest, Twitter, Linked In, etc. etc. I can’t possibly do all of these things or I wouldn’t have a life. Choose one or two that are best for you, your business and your customers, and learn how to utilize the technology to your advantage–and to build all-important relationships with colleagues, customers, and future prospects.
• Don’t put anything out in the world prematurely because of a self-imposed deadline you’ve created. Make sure all your marketing materials are accurate, beautiful, congruent with your message, and carefully proofed by someone else. Don’t hit send until you’ve checked and double-checked your work and all your links. I can’t tell you how often I’ve personally violated this rule, and I’ve learned the hard way, it just isn’t worth it. Test everything before you send it out. If it’s an email, send it to yourself several times and test every link and proofread everything–over and over again.
• After all of this PR, make sure you deliver. All the marketing in the world, no matter how brilliantly executed, can only get people to your door. After that, you have to prove your worth and value by how well you deliver what you promised.
• Accept that you can’t possibly do it all. You deserve to have a life, too.I couldn’t possibly keep up with everything I “should” keep track or keep up with. Know when to say no. Or when to turn your computer off for the night. Choose the strategies that work for you and use them; explore new things one at a time; get help when you need it.
The final article in the series, “Building a Relationship with Your Customer,” will be posted in my next newsletter. If you’re not a subscriber and would like to read the last article when it’s published, you can subscribe here.