Affordable Offline Marketing for Your Small Business

offline. Wooden letters on the office desk, informative and communication background

Do you have a small business that could use a revenue boost?

Most marketing strategies are crafted around costly advertising campaigns, but there are many free or affordable tactics you can use to grow your business at any stage.

Here are a few offline marketing fundamentals to get you started, no matter how small your budget!

1. Take part in local events.

Sales are based on relationships, and relationships require connection.

Network in proactive ways by attending or taking part in local events. Get to know other small business owners and have your business card or flyer ready; you never know when the opportunity will present itself!

2. Create customized stickers or labels.

It’s not just a kid thing – people truly enjoy stickers!

Create a colorful custom sticker and pass them out anywhere your target users might be. Stickers and labels can be used on car windows, water bottles, notebooks, and more.

3. Start a simple rewards system.

One of the easiest ways to boost your profits is by offering current customers a loyalty incentive.

If you have repeat customers or need subscription/service renewals to succeed, you can print loyalty punch cards, start a digital point-tracking system, or mail coupons to customers who make a baseline purchase with your business.

4. Offer demonstrations.

Life is more fun when you try new things.

If you wanted to learn yoga, woodworking, or the violin, would you learn by watching or by trying? Participation is an essential way to engage the body, mind, and emotions of your prospects.

Brainstorm ways you can combine learning and doing through presentations. Whether it’s giving samples, making online teaching videos, or offering live demonstrations at an industry event, engage your customers by getting them involved.

5. Launch cross promotions.

Is there some way you can build rapport between your business and another firm?

Work with another entrepreneur to offer giveaways, contests, or product discounts. During one holiday, GameStop and PayLess shoes partnered on a cross-promotional campaign. Shoppers at the video game retailer received register coupons for the shoe store, while shoppers at PayLess got discount coupons for GameStop. Because many of their stores are in close proximity, it was a winning strategy for both retailers. Cross promotions can include joint mailings, coupon partnerships, shared booth space, or promoting each other through social media.

6. Spread the word.

Got flyers? Door hangers and sell sheets? Looking to share the love? Go classic and canvas your area.

Pound the pavement and leave your print materials on porches, doorknobs, windows, cars, and more. Leave your business cards on restaurant tables, at coffee shops, in libraries, or even on mirrors. If you’re feeling brave, do some cold calling after you canvas and ask if you can share some follow up info.

7. Perfect your pitch.

What do you sell? What problem can you solve? If you can’t explain yourself in a single sentence, then you have a problem.

Like a great campaign slogan, an elevator pitch should summarize your business, product, or service in a concise, convincing fashion. YOU are your best advertisement, so have a short, convincing statement ready to introduce your business to new customers or colleagues any moment the opportunity is at hand!

A Building Block for the Future

Most of these tactics are inexpensive, but they do take time and effort.

Remember, results won’t come immediately, but boosting your name now can increase your revenue and enable you to cast a larger net in the future. Give us a call or visit our website to chat about affordable printed resources you can add to your offline marketing arsenal today.

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5 Customer Service Phrases to Avoid (and What to Say Instead)

We Can Help, the phrase is written on multi-colored stickers, on a brown wooden background. Business concept, strategy, plan, planning.

In May of 2018, Barbara Carroll ordered three cartons of toilet paper from Amazon. The order total: $88.17. The shipping charges? $7,455.

Carroll wasn’t overly concerned, as Amazon typically takes great care of its customers. But in this case, Carroll complained to Amazon six times and even wrote a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos. After every complaint, she received a form letter explaining a refund was impossible because the delivery arrived on time and undamaged. It wasn’t until Carroll notified a local television station (and the story went viral) that Amazon took action. Months later, she was finally reimbursed.

While this case is extreme, every company has its share of customer service flops. In some situations, the problem is no communication. In other cases, it’s inconsiderate attitudes.

Want to steer your team toward positivity? Here are five customer services phrases to avoid.

1. “No” (or) “I can’t help you with that.”

Even if a customer makes an impossible request, it’s your responsibility to care for them and to steer them toward a solution.

Alternatives to try:

“This feels like an issue which might be out of my control, but let me double check . . .”

“That’s not my area of expertise, but I want to connect you with someone who can help.”

2. “I don’t know” (or) “You need to check with someone else.”

If you can’t solve a problem, be as helpful as possible. Rather than abandoning someone mid-stream, work with them to find an answer.

Alternatives to try:

“I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

“I’m not sure, but I’d be happy to look into that.”

3. “Ok, calm down.”

When diffusing a tense situation, telling someone to calm down usually frustrates them more. Instead, communicate empathy and turn the focus from the problem to the solution.

Alternatives to try:

“I understand how this must have upset you, and I’ll get on it immediately.”

“That would frustrate me too.”

“I’m sorry for this inconvenience. Let me help you with that right away.”

4. “I don’t understand the issue.”

People who are upset find uncertainty even more frustrating. If you’re struggling to connect, clarify the issue or soften your request.

Alternatives to try:

“OK, so let me clarify…”

“What I’m hearing is [ISSUE], is that correct?

“If it’s not too much of a problem, I would ask you to be a bit more specific…”

5. “I’m going to put you on hold.”

Time is valuable, so don’t assume you can extend a service call without asking permission. If you do have someone hold, check back with a status update if they’ve waited longer than two minutes.

Alternatives to try:

“I understand your issue and if it’s ok, I’m going to ask you to hold on while I check on a solution.”

“The problem you’re describing is rather peculiar, so if you have a minute, I’d like to put you on hold while I check with my supervisor.”

“I’ll get right on it. If it’s ok, I’d like to look into this today and call back to you once I resolve this.”

Ultimately, customer service is not about the right words but the right attitudes. Remember, the biggest customer service frustration question is “why isn’t this as important to you as it is to me?” As you handle issues, address the person behind the problem. Communicate with compassion, empathy, and enthusiasm, and you will find your way through many sticky situations.

3 Reasons Direct Mail is Still Effective

Red Mailbox Letters

Long before television and online marketing, direct mail ruled.

One of the most popular examples of direct mailing can be traced back to Sears in 1888. The company sent a printed mailer to potential customers advertising watches and jewelry. Not long after, the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog became extremely popular nationwide.

Today direct mail has received a bit of a bad rap. The term “junk mail” isn’t exactly a compliment! Some refer to direct mail as an “old” form of advertising, thinking of direct mail as antiquated or off-target.

But is that really the case?

The fact is, many companies do use direct marketing. According to a 2015 study by the Data & Marketing Association, 57 percent of total mail volume was comprised of direct mail pieces.

Response to direct mail continues to be strong every year, generating leads for businesses across a range of industries. Consider customer response rates from these common marketing methods:

  • 0.9% — Online Displays
  • 0.6% — Social Media
  • 0.5% — Paid Search
  • 0.45% — E-mail Marketing
  • 6.0% — Direct Mail to Household

Why is Direct Mail Effective?

Direct mail is easy.

Direct mail marketing is helpful because it’s easy to process.

In an age of digital noise, the tactile presence of a physical mailing is refreshing! One study found it takes 21% less cognitive effort to process physical mail, so your audience can digest it quickly and easily.

Direct mail is interesting.

The USPS found that 47% of Millennials check their physical mailbox each day, and many consider perusing mail a leisurely activity.

According to the Data & Marketing Association and the USPS, 18-21 year-olds’ response rates to direct mail are as high as 12.4%. If you have a new business or are willing to offer coupon discounts, millennials are quite likely to respond!

Direct mail is memorable.

People who spend time with physical ads have a stronger emotional response and a better memory of this material.

Of course, a clever message goes a long way too! If you send direct mail, do your best to create colorful, memorable messages, like this:

IKEA wanted to feature the simplicity of its inexpensive furniture so they engineered a 3D postcard. When customers “opened” the postcard, this flat mailing turned into a replica of the LACK side table, available for under $10 at IKEA.

The postcard perfectly demonstrated one of IKEA’s clever design concepts – minimalist furniture that ships flat but pops to life upon arrival. IKEA’s postcard allowed users to experience the simple assembly of the LACK table, which left a deep, memorable impression.

Go Face-to-Face Through Distinct Direct Mail

Whether you send mass e-mails, many people will toss your message without reading it.

But if you send direct mail, some will offer you one-on-one attention they wouldn’t give to any other medium. Paul Entin, owner of New York City-based EPR marketing, said he uses direct mail because it stands tall in a digital generation:

“Except for the many catalogs that clog our mailboxes between Halloween and Christmas, most of us receive very little snail mail, certainly far less than in years past,” Entin said. “This means your direct mailer has a far greater chance to stand out from the rest of the mail and get noticed.”

If you need help creating the perfect direct mail piece that will stand out, we can help you every step of the way.

Test Your Brand Messages to Maximize Impact

Brand Business Concept With Colorful Wooden Blocks

Donald Miller is an author, speaker, and CEO of StoryBrand, a company that helps businesses clarify their message.

StoryBrand helps hundreds of brands to eliminate confusion, connect with customers, and grow sales. Miller says many brands struggle to break through because they don’t test their brand messages before sharing:

“We have a mantra at StoryBrand: If you confuse, you lose,” said Miller. “The answer to confusion is always ‘no’. When people are so close to what they offer, they tend to be either really vague or they speak inside language. I’m amazed.”

“I’ll actually say to somebody, ‘Do you think on a scale of 1-10 that your message is really clear, from 1-10 with ten being clear?’ They will say they are a 10. I will tell them to come up in front of the group [and] ask them to tell me what they offer. They will say, ‘Nutritional packages that allow equestrian products to flourish.’”

Clear as mud, right? Miller says professionals often fail to use simple phrases people can easily understand:

“Here’s the thing, test it at Starbucks. You’re standing in line . . . there are strangers all around. Say, ‘I’m so sorry to bother you, but I’m actually starting a business. Can I tell you what I offer and then ask you if you understand?’”

Does Your Message Resonate?

Companies allocate enormous resources to hone their message.

A brand message, communicated to your target audience, describes what you do, the value you bring, or how you’re different. Your brand message should resonate with the needs, wants, or luxuries of your niche, sometimes with simple slogans like these:

Eat Fresh.

Designed for Driving Pleasure.

Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is There.

Strong brand messages are memorable, stir an emotional response, and distinguish a brand from its competitors. But when companies hone their identity, they sometimes miss a key element: relevance to their customers. What’s important to your company may not be the thing that matters to your customers. Consider these questions to clarify:

  • Why does my brand matter? Why does it matter to our customers?
  • What does our brand stand for? How will this affect our customers?
  • How are we different than competitors? Why does this matter to our customers?

When you don’t speak to customers on their terms, you are probably falling short. Be clear on what your customers care about and how you can address their situation. Use language that is authentic and messages that align with your clients’ desires or purchasing plans.

Also, consider testing brand messages before publicizing them. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by simply reading your copy out loud to yourself. Does it sound conversational and real? Then test it out on others. Poll your friends and family, create anonymous surveys for staff and clients, run focus groups with target audience members, or do a website trial with a third-party testing tool. As you move forward, consider logging the impact of:

Product descriptions

E-mail subject lines

Print ads, graphics, or layout options

Call to action statements

Packaging colors or logo designs

Slogans/taglines

Online landing pages

Advertising campaign concepts

Time or location an ad is presented

While testing takes work, business leaders agree it is worth the effort: 72% of advertising professionals said it’s important to test an ad before it’s launched, and 85% of product-focused managers said testing is vital to their success at work. Testing content can sharpen your focus, make your message more relevant, and boost the response to your marketing pieces.

Savvy Tips for the Best Stock Photo Selection

Worker Looking at Camera

Image is everything.

Statistically speaking, compelling images average 94 percent more views, are three times more likely to be shared online, and significantly increase your likelihood of capturing new leads. Professional photos are a fantastic way to boost the impact of your brochure, booklet, or mailing. But if you’re planning to use a stock image, here’s some interesting info to consider.

A few years ago, the Marketing Experiments tested the performance of stock versus custom photos. They found that, when swapping a generic stock image of a woman with a photo of the ACTUAL founder (and a caption naming him), they saw a 35% increase in conversions. Later, the Nielsen Norman Group eye-tracking studies found that, when photos of “real” people were compared with stock photos, the stock photos were largely ignored. The conclusion? When it comes to design perception, humans seem to have a sixth sense for authenticity.

Unfortunately, most small businesses don’t have time to arrange for custom photos, and stock photos are the most convenient and cost-effective option.

How can you make stock photos more personal or effective in your publications? With the right eye and a few helpful tips, you can select stock photos that look more natural, professional and unique.

1. Use all your senses to evaluate photos.

What has a more powerful impact on you – a steaming plate of stir fry or a generic picture of a grocery aisle?

Texture and sensory cues in photos can whet appetites, evoke emotions, or awaken desire in your clients. When designing an event flyer or business brochure, look for photos with strong visual cues: a cuddly bathrobe, a sun-drenched field, a sinful piece of chocolate, or a brilliant vase of fresh flowers, for example. Sidestep photos that seem generic, dated, or bland to the senses.

2. Avoid clichés.

Since the eye tends to ignore stock photos, search for images that are more personal and specific in focus. Some of the most over-used symbolic clichés include piggy banks (savings), plain light bulbs (ideas), crossroads (decisions), high fives (teamwork), or handshakes (business partnerships). Instead choose photos that show real action, stark color contrasts, facial close-ups, stunning landscapes, playful pets, or generational diversity.

3. Add extra search filters.

When searching for images, enter multiple keywords to narrow your focus.

The more personal your photo is, the more effective it will be, so make search tags as specific as possible. This can include anything from image orientation and aspect ratio to the number or people pictured and the activity they’re involved in. When setting search filters, try geographical landscapes, types of food, sports activities, board game names, alphabet letters, times of day, emotions, temperatures, and more. Long-tailed searches with multiple keywords can help you find images that scream authenticity.

4. Finish well.

Always choose the highest resolution available on the stock photos you purchase.

This will give you many options for zooming in or altering an image. Sometimes a single image can be cropped in unique ways to give you multiple photos while maintaining a cohesive theme for your layout. Resolutions higher than 300 PPI are essential for professional printings, though large-scale printings may vary. If you have questions on a specific question, just give us a call!

Images work best when they don’t look like stock photos, so work hard to avoid clichés, to arouse the senses, and to personalize your selections. Keep it creative and keep it real, and your designs are sure to stick!

Drive Fresh Traffic for Your Business

Global business network concept.

A new era in business is bringing fresh flavor to Kohl’s.

As traditional retailers struggle to keep their doors open, Kohl’s executives are trying something radically different: a grocery partnership with Aldi. In March of 2018, the department store announced it would team up with Aldi to offer grocery sales in 10 of its locations.

“The key priority we have as a company is to drive traffic,” Kevin Mansell, the chief executive of Kohl’s said in a Thursday earnings call. “We’re focused on traffic-driving retailers: Groceries, supermarket chains, they drive a lot of traffic. We’re finally on a path where we’re getting more [shoppers].”

In an age of online shopping, brick-and-mortar businesses have to hustle to make their company more relevant to consumers. Kohl’s has experimented with lighter inventory, smaller stores, and more streamlined partnerships with companies like Under Armour and Amazon. Other retail giants have focused on adding communal spaces, demonstration areas, and workshops to encourage shoppers to linger.

Feed Your Funnel with New Customers

Ultimately, every successful business has to draw new business and keep customers coming back.

In your niche, there are probably several complementary businesses that don’t compete directly with your product or service. Many of these companies have a base that could easily feed your sales funnel.

What are the mutually beneficial relationships you could build with other businesses?

While Aldi and Kohl’s may seem like an unlikely match, their differences balance each other in a unique way, allowing Kohl’s to gain additional foot traffic and offering Aldi to expand their market reach. For Aldi, renting space within Kohl’s stores is cheaper than building stand-alone stores, and the partnership creates exposure for the lesser known German grocery chain.

As you consider new partnerships, it’s also healthy to keep an eye on the competition, because an ideal way to grow your client base is to capture users who are already in need of services like yours! Examine the market tactics of businesses you compete with. What product are they offering? What are they doing that their customers like or dislike? How could you do it in a better, more personalized way?

Actively monitor what your competitors are doing in web design, service packages, or marketing techniques to feed your creativity or to counter punch with your own sales strategies. Looking to woo some of your competitor’s customers? Tools like Mention or Reddit can help you monitor customer sentiment. Online reviews of your competitors are also a great place to see how your rivals are succeeding or where you can do better.

Position Yourself as the Answer

Whether you’re wooing new customers or generating leads, it’s important to give potential clients a good reason to try your services.

Think about what makes your ideal customer happy, sad, scared, or excited, and position yourself to bring the answers they need. “Identify those places where they are likely to be found (media, online, offline, mail, etc.) and then create messages for them,” says Jeff Motter, CEO and chief marketing officer of Easy Bay Marketing Group. This may mean creating content via webinars or printed newsletters or physically networking through community events or industry conferences.

And don’t forget to close the loop.

After your efforts to bring in business, remember to intentionally follow up with calls, e-mails, or samples. Many prospects and great conversations fall by the wayside because you fail to execute after a lead shows interest. As real estate sales guru Michelle Moore says, “Not following up with your prospects is the same as filling your bathtub without first putting the stopper in the drain.”

How to Keep Your Business Focused Through the Subtle Danger of Mission Drift

Business Goal setting and Planing Strategy concept.

Life is full of good opportunities.

Good books to read, good events to attend, good projects to pioneer. But good things can knock us off track in pursuing the very best.

What does “the best” look like in your leadership?

It means doing what you are uniquely called to do in the style that is distinct to your personality, position, and organizational DNA. Living “the best” in leadership means that your most important job isn’t to manage the budget, to develop new products, or even to lead your team.

Your most important task is to continually cast vision.

The subtle tension every leader will face is the reality of mission drift. Mission drift happens when we are pulled off of our message or our mission, whether intentionally or accidentally. This can be an irresistible force that results in loss of momentum or a crisis of identity, so strategic leaders build in measures to continually recalibrate. If you don’t prioritize vision casting, you may end up navigating a ship that’s going in an entirely different direction than you intended.

How can you build strategic safeguards to keep your organization focused? Here are a few steps.

One Key Leader

Begin by enlisting one board member or key staff person who is committed to alignment.

Be sure they buy into your team’s mission and charge them with safeguarding its integrity. When opportunities arise that may detract from the mission, it’s great to have someone speaking up (perhaps against the majority!) or analyzing decisions from a broader perspective.

A Focused Core Team

Do everything you can to focus your core team around the mission.

Set times to swap stories about where you recently saw the “mission win” and publicly acknowledge those who are keeping the main thing the main thing. Exit or discipline people who don’t, even if they perform well in other areas. If your core team is sold out to the mission, it will pay bigger dividends in the long run.

A Culture of Mission

Your mission should be more than a vague concept on your website, but a regular part of the professional experience.

Use stories and symbols to embed purpose in your culture so people encounter it daily:

  • Mount core values on the walls. Use them as a guide for decisions and a platform for sharing new initiatives.
  • Design strategic symbols (racetracks, funnels, etc.) to communicate process. 65 percent of people are visual learners, and concepts become memorable when they’re connected with an image.
  • Put a face on success by sharing testimonials (in person or through letters) from people who have been positively affected by the vision. Illustrations exemplify goals and make heroes of people who are living the mission.
  • Use slogans to cement conviction. Ritz-Carlton hotels use the motto, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen” to exemplify the anticipatory service provided by all staff members. Simple slogans, shared repeatedly with conviction, can motivate people to do things they would normally never do.

Make Your Mission Specific and Measurable

When coaching your team, provide concrete actions that explain how you’ll achieve your vision.

Use results-oriented descriptions (like, “you’ll know you’ve done a good job when _____.”) Outline action steps to take and celebrate mile markers achieved. Enlist creative people who can help you celebrate daily victories.

Wandering is natural. If you don’t strategically refocus people around a singular vision, your organization will fail to thrive. Lean on these strategies and safeguard your team from the dangerous drift that every leader will face.