How much is your time worth?
If I asked 1000 people that question, I’d probably get 990 different answers. And, if I asked the same 1000 people that question a week, month or year later, I’d get 990 different answers. In business, the question can be answered by taking your salary and dividing it by the hours you work to arrive at a value of your time. Interestingly, your perception of time changes with your workload. If you’re twittling your thumbs, you probably would not have as much sense of urgency as when you’re swamped.
As a vendor of promotional products, corporate apparel, signs and print marketing, I often run into buyers who invariably buy the cheapest products they can find. Those customers, unfortunately, do not understand the value of time. Case in point: I recently built a custom website for a customer to order all of their embroidered shirts from. In addition to building their personalized e-store, we gather the individual orders by employee, embroider the items with the correct logo (they have 2 color variations, based on the color of the item), bag the item and label it with the employee name, split the orders into 16 locations and ship them out.
Sure, they may be able to do all of this work themselves, but is it worth it? To save a hundred dollars by shopping around apparel companies, embroiderers, freight companies and ecommerce brokers, they would wind up spending thousands of dollars in labor, invoices, checks and other expenses.
The moral: when planning a major job, consider all of the time that will be involved in implementing each solution. Quite often, the penny you save in product may cost you more money and headaches than you realize.
Then, call me. 🙂
I’ll save you the most precious resource you have.
Accurate Forms & Supplies
In talking to hundreds of sales managers, CFOs, CEOs and business owners over the years, I’ve encountered a somewhat disturbing trend. This trend is a behavior pattern that I’ve encountered when discussing my products and services. This pattern, while common, can be deadly.
The pattern I’m referring to centers around statistics and how these decision makers react to them. When statistics begin to go down, the first thing many of these decision makers do is cut back on expenses. The idea seems logical at first; if your sales and profit are down, you need to cut expenses to balance out the P&L statement. However, I believe it is a mistake, and sometimes a huge one. I’ve even seen many salesmen do this (and I have too in the past).
The first thing a company MUST do when facing a slight dip in sales or profit is PROMOTE. Economy is important, but you have to promote as a first action. If you fail to promote, your slump will either get worse or be prolonged. If you think about it, promotion makes the most sense. To promote means to make your business, product or service known and well thought of. If sales and profit are down, and you rein in your expenses and fail to promote, you rob yourself of the opportunity of garnering more sales and closing the deals that are close to completion. New customers who may only now be ready to buy or entertain presentations will not be able to find you easily. Old customers may not know what specials or other products you have. All of this means that the action that can directly add sales and profit on an immediate basis – PROMOTION – will not occur, and your business will continue to slump.
The same thought process works for individuals also. If your personal statistics are down slightly, you need to PROMOTE. Salesmen who experience lulls or dips in their sales need to promote and get their name and products out there. Work hard to get appointments, make more calls, send more emails, disseminate sales materials, etc. Other employees can get their statistics up by promoting and PRODUCING. Sometimes, if your job doesn’t directly relate to sales, the action step is to produce. For example, if the Accounts Receivable clerk has a responsibility to process invoices, send out invoices and receive payments from customers, each of these responsibilities can be measured in statistics. Then, if the number of invoices sent, checks in, etc., start dropping, she can Promote by calling people directly for payments, asking sales departments if there are any pending sales to invoice, etc. She can then Produce by getting those invoices out and checks in.
Promotion doesn’t always have to cost a lot of money.
It can be as simple as emailing your customers and prospects to let them know you’re there, or better, that you have a product or service that can really help them. Email blasts are good for broad contact, but you should also send personal, individual emails or messages that focus on a specific product or service for that customer. Make sure you tie in how that product will help that particular business or individual. Other forms of promotion are phone calls, cold calls (when done correctly), website ads, how-to You Tube videos, etc.
My company is positioned to help businesses in two ways: promotion and economy. We consult with customers and help them design one or more marketing pieces, such as flyers, postcards or promotional items. Our relationships with manufacturers helps us save money while promoting.
Our connections also help customers save time and money on their office supplies, toner and printer supplies, business forms and A/P checks. It is a good strategy to use cost savings on these items to pay for promotional actions.
If enough companies and business owners stopped complaining about the economy and just PROMOTED, we would go a long way toward turning our entire economy around, not to mention putting extra money in our pockets.
As we come out of Thanksgiving and roll into the holiday season, I find myself gasping for breath.
Sales is a fun endeavor, with lots of randomity. On any given day, I’m cold calling, following up on leads, generating proposals and following through on existing orders to make sure my customers are well satisfied.
The last point deserves some mention, for both buyers and sellers. In the age of the almighty Internet, buyers have unprecedented access to a wide variety of vendors. I was talking the other day to an account that buys custom printed envelopes from a small printer in Iowa. By “small” I mean the printer was a one-man operation. My prospect said he found the guy on the Internet while searching for a good price.
Given the fact that there seems to be more competition than ever, most sales people seem to succumb to cutting their price to be competitive. I view it differently. I’m not a low-price guy. I save my customers money by consulting with them to design the form or options that best fits their needs. I follow the process from start to finish, including the production, delivery and follow up stages to ensure my customers are satisfied. When there’s a problem or delay, I let my customers know in a timely fashion so they are not left guessing at where their product is. I answer my phone!
While all of this may seem to limit how much business I can win, on the contrary, I build a loyal customer base that understands the value of service.
As a buyer, keep in mind that the low price guy may not be the best option, especially if you want a quality product, or if you want to know that the vendor you’re using will get your product right and on-time.
I believe good is ultimately a better value than just good enough.
As salesmen and business owners, we have limits. How many leads can I generate? How many prospects can I see or call per day? How many presentations can I make to decision makers? How many deals can I close?
The latter questions are the ones salesmen, management and business owners are most concerned with, because closing deals is where the money ultimately comes from.
However, the first few questions can be the most challenging questions to answer. Salesmen spend a great deal of their time trying to generate viable leads to present their products and services to. If the average salesman was spending 80% of their time making presentations and closing deals, they would be highly successful. Indeed, this is what highly successful salesmen do. They use referrals, marketing, social media and other means to generate leads for them so they can spend the majority of their time selling.
Having said that, I find that I am extremely busy. Between managing my staff, following up on existing leads and presentations, taking care of existing customers, managing our social media and website content, etc., I find that I lack the time to diligently prospect and cold call. Much like any manager and/or business owner, I find myself needing about 5 more of me than I have to get everything done.
On the other hand, I know that I can do a better job, with better service at a more competitive price than my competition. All I need is more business.
This is where you come in. If you refer customers to me, I’ll give you a 10% finders fee on the first order. If they order $200, you get $20. If they order $1000, you get $100. And, I’ll reciprocate by giving you leads in return when I can.
If you have a business and would like to use me, I’ll give you a 10% discount for mentioning this blog.
My areas of expertise: business forms, custom print, business cards, envelopes, postcards, 4 color process, business check printing, pressure seal, labels (stock and custom), tax forms, printer toner and supplies, and storage media.
Promotional product lines: Calendars, holiday cards, trade show giveaways, custom apparel (screen printed or embroidered), tools, banners, signs and magnets.
Yes, we do all of that and much more. We’ve been satisfying customers for 29 years, and we’re always looking to help more people.
Accurate Forms & Supplies
As the economy continues to be sluggish, many people and companies are tightening their wallets and trying to shave every penny they can off their expenses. While this makes sense on the surface, it can have damaging long-term effects.
I’ll share my personal history to illustrate this. For several years, I’ve had quite a lot of debt. About $10k in credit card debt, and another $50k in unpaid student loans. Much of this debt was incurred as I struggled to find gainful employment out of college; and later, when I was laid off and was out of work for a few months. To try to get out of this situation, I responded by trying to cut any and all expenses I could: reduce the heat and A/C, cut out all eating out, reduce entertainment to nil, etc.
I expected that if I reduced my expenses, the result would be more money available to pay off debts and greater stability. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Every time I started making headway, some mysterious emergency would come and wipe out my progress. My cars broke down. My son had accidents or got sick. Unexpected problems arose.
Only recently, when I stopped focusing on money problems, debt and cutting, did things start to turn around. I focused on earning more. Bringing in more income, rather than reduce outflow. I quickly found new opportunities to earn extra monet. The bills settled down, emergencies stopped coming up, and I’m finally starting to pay off those debts.
I’ve witnessed the same phenomena in business. When I worked for a wholesaler in the foodservice industry, I would inevitably run across cheapskates who haggled me down as much as they could to get a better price. The worst ones had 5-10 separate vendors, and shopped around on every item.
Instead of getting rich, however, most of them went out of business or struggled just to keep their doors open. They spent so much time trying to stop money from going out, that they never focused on bringing more money in. None of the several vendors showed any loyalty to these customers, as they barely made any money themselves. When the account went even slightly past due, they were cut off.
A better approach is to pick one or 2 vendors and partner with them. Find the vendor that has the best combination of price, service and knowledge of their business (and yours) and give them all of the business. They will take care of you. They will give you creative ideas. They will help you get the word out. They will promote your business using their social media, word of mouth and other channels. We’ve just started doing this with our vendors, and we are already seeing positive results.
More importantly, don’t skimp on your marketing budget. While you shouldn’t continually throw money out without results, you shouldn’t cut marketing completely either. The big advantage of social, online and email marketing isn’t so much in the cost as it is in the ability to track results. Pay attention to which messages and specials get responses and sales. Then, back up your online messages with print and hard copy promotional materials that repeat that message. Some people still don’t use social media or respond to online marketing. However, by using online marketing strategies first, you can eliminate a lot of the trial and error involved with finding a marketing message that works. Then, you can use your hard copy pieces more efficiently to really bring in the income.
In my experience, many companies tend to go to extremes when it comes to marketing: they either don’t want to spend money at all, or they throw larges sums of money away on the same marketing strategies, whether they work or not.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to strike a happy medium to grow your business without breaking the bank.
There are a wide variety of opinions about how much of your overall budget should be spent on marketing. I don’t like this approach, as I feel each business is different. Rather than focusing on spending, say, 10-15% of your budget on marketing, a better question is: “where am I at with my business, and what are my immediate short and long-term goals?” If the business is just starting out, and sales haven’t taken off yet, telling the new business owner to spend a thousand dollars on a direct mail or Facebook campaign might be like telling a bowler to run a marathon. Furthermore, 15% of nothing isn’t going to be very effective.
On the flip side, a major corporation with a good reputation may find that they can accomplish their goals with a budget of much less than 10% of revenue.
The key to being effective lies in expanding your sphere of influence from where you are now to a higher level. This new sphere of influence should be a definite, achievable goal. Don’t count on “going viral” (but be ready in case it happens) to achieve success. Focus on steady, demonstrable growth. If the windfall comes, great. If not, know you are on the path to success. Your sphere of influence depends on how much attention you command from others. In business, the best kind of attention to get is a reputation as an expert. How much attention you command depends on establishing communication lines with as many people as possible.
The goal of marketing, then, is get people’s attention in order to extend your communication lines wider and wider; while simultaneously portraying yourself as valuable.
To extend your communication lines in an ever-widening sphere, one looks at how big the sphere currently is. If you are new or small, your sphere of communication may be only 20 people. Your first goal may be to build that sphere of communication to 100. Thus, your marketing strategy should to geared at establishing good contact with 100 people. Keep in mind, you may have to actually contact 500 or 1000 people to get 100 that will actively be interested in you or your business to remain in good communication and/or buy anything from you or otherwise refer others to you. This can be done inexpensively, using email, social media (Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin especially), writing blogs, distributing business cards; even walking around with informational flyers works. A technique I like is “mutual benefit” marketing; I buy from you, or advertise and refer people to you, and in turn, you buy and refer people to me. Social media is a great tool for this (think of the Barney song, “I Like you [on Facebook], you Like me…”).
In your early marketing efforts, pay attention to what messages and media are effective. If offering discounts doesn’t work, maybe branding your business or product as the hip thing does. Ask your potential clients and existing customers what motivates them to buy a product or service. To avoid sounding like an obvious sales pitch, I ask what purchases they’ve made recently. For example, I sell print marketing and office products. At a trade show, I ask what equipment they’ve bought recently, or who they’ve hired recently. If they haven’t, I ask if business is down and get their opinions. If they have, I asked what made them choose that model or person.
I may not be able to sell him a new car, but I CAN find out that he bought the Porche because it makes him appear successful. After talking with 10-15 people at a mixer, I find that all of them like to look successful. Guess what message will be in my next email blast or flyer?
The specific tools you use depends on your business also. My company, Accurate Forms & Supplies, is primarily a business to business (B2B) enterprise. Therefore, I’m not going to go to Walmart and put my business card on people’s windshields. First of all, it’s annoying and not an effective way to get your name out there. Second, my product line isn’t geared toward individual consumers; so even if it wasn’t annoying, most of the people seeing my card or flyer couldn’t purchase my products anyway. I would want an informational flyer or ad that communicates to business owners. Then, I would need to place the information where my target market will see it AND be interested enough to want more information. Wall Street Journal, talk radio, etc. are where I’ll be looking to get my message.
As your business grows, your marketing should grow also. Once your communication lines grow to 100, 200 etc., your marketing should grow to attempt to target hundreds or even thousands of potential customers and referral partners. Here, your looking at having a professional website, backing with automated email autoresponders, email newsletters, and advertising. A key point here is, do what was successful to get you to this point. If business cards and social mixers didn’t produce results, but Facebook advertising did, expand your Facebook advertising and drop the unsuccessful actions. Use the tools and messages that worked in the past, rather than holding onto unsuccessful actions.
Notice I didn’t necessarily say, “spend a lot more money.” If I got started by just printing flyers and handing them to people and that worked well, I just expand it. I could hire 2-3 guys and have them pass out the flyers for me. Or, I could hire a company that passes out flyers for me. I can call Jim and have him print thousands of the flyers in color for less money than it costs me to print them myself (OK, shameless plug). The same action that cost me $50-100 and my personal time could reach 20x more people, while the cost of the new scale only increases 2-3x.
To conclude, marketing should be geared toward 2 things: 1) expand your communication lines and promote your business on a gradient scale; and 2) correctly target and reach your potential customers with a message that will make them either want to buy or be curious enough to follow up and seek more information.
Stay tuned for more detailed information on how to utilize the techniques mentioned in this article.
When I was working in the food service industry, I was continually shocked at how many restauranteurs assumed that if they opened their doors, cooked good food and kept the place free of vermin, people would beat down their doors. I was not so shocked that over half of new restaurants go out of business within 2 years of opening, and that number swells to about 90% within the first 5 years.
As a salesman, I often struggled to get ahead, as I was tied to a limited territory, and relied on cold calls and referrals to get new business. What I lacked was Marketing. As I’ve moved into the field of office supplies and custom printing, I’ve found that the successful players in the field, in EVERY field, have mastered the art of marketing; to one degree or another.
Marketing accomplishes a few key things for any business:
- It creates brand recognition. People buy from people and companies they either know from past experience, or have heard of or seen before. Marketing helps get the name of your business out there, either visually or aurally (by sound).
- It warms up prospects (slightly) to sales calls by you or your sales team. If they’ve seen an ad piece in print, on TV or on the radio, they are more likely to field a call than a completely blind cold call.
- It keeps your name in front of prospects. Often, a customer won’t buy from a cold call for various reasons: they don’t need your product or service at that time, they have a good relationship with a current vendor or business, or maybe they need to get the money or financing together. These factors can change. If all your prospect has is your business card mixed in a pile of other papers in the bottom of a drawer, what are the odds of them calling you first? But if they have 3-4 emails with excellent content, a postcard mailer or two, and a few promotional products with your name and contact info, your chances of getting a call back increases exponentially.
In this newsletter, I’m going to share some tips to help your business increase its marketing efforts, without creating a crater in your P&L statement.
Informational flyers and stationery
When making a call, instead of simply leaving a business card, leave something tangible. A simple informational letter would be OK to start, but I recommend something that catches the eye. Photos, color logos and color designs are more likely to grab attention than plain text. For example:
This photo illustrates some of the frustrations that our customers have when trying to design a custom form for their business. Instead of simply writing a list of benefits, including something to the effect of “we help you sort through the confusion of designing your custom business forms,” I included a picture that shows that frustration.
Full color postcards are great tools, as they are versatile. If you have a mailing list, you can send a postcard to promote an upcoming special or new item. Again, use graphics that are not only colorful, but evoke an image. Do you think it’s an accident that burger ads look so tasty? If you don’t have a mailing list, or want to give your sales team some to hand to their prospects or customers, postcards work great. They typically cost less than $.05 each, and they give you a lot more room for pictures, descriptions and other useful information than a business card.
Flyers work well when the decision maker is not in, or is tied up. Rather than bugging them by demanding to speak with them, a professional flyer that details some key benefits of doing business with your company, along with your name and contact information can be much more successful. Follow up is made easier, as there is an established reason for the call, namely, did the person get my information?
Business Referral Cards
Business cards are one of the most underutilized forms of marketing. A twist on the business card is the business referral card. The difference is you use the back of the card to offer referrals to your existing customers. Have a few lines where they can write their name and email address on the back. Then give them the card, so that they can give it to their friends. Offer them a commission on all referrals that are received. Additionally, you may want to offer a discount for the recipient to entice them to come in.
Instead of money, you can offer the people giving out the cards discounts on products. This tool combines referrals and word-of-mouth with incentive-based marketing. Restaurants love this tool, because it is more effective and cost effective than coupons.
In the next issue, we will be exploring online marketing in a bit more detail. Meanwhile, check out our website for more information about us or our product lines:
Also, please Like us on Facebook. We often post exclusive information and specials for our fans.
Have a great June everyone!
Accurate Forms & Supplies
Nowadays, we are often so busy handling our business and putting out fires that the last thing we have time for is sifting through piles of offer letters or meeting with 15 salesmen every month, just to save a few pennies here and there.
However, it is a good idea every now and then to review your business transactions and audit your business. The information age makes it easier than ever to get competitive information about the products and services you use. If you don’t regularly look at what you’re paying, you could be wasting a lot of money.
I recommend a schedule to make sure you are staying on top of expenses:
1) Utilities such as Electricity, phone and internet service, etc.; once a year
2) Rent/leasing fees: once a year, or minimally every time your lease is due for renewal. Even if you aren’t planning on moving, if the leasing market is down when you are renewing, you may be able to leverage that fact to get a break on your next lease, or have the landlord include renovations or other bonuses.
3) Labor: Every 6 months. You should have a performance review with your immediate juniors twice a year. Let them know how they are doing, relative to your expectations. Use the opportunity to open a dialog about what challenges they are having. Not only will they get a better idea of what you want from them, but they may also give you vital information about ways to improve your business.
4) Cost of goods: Every quarter. This varies from business to business. I’ve seen owners check prices every day; while some almost never do. I personally believe if you have made sound relationships with your vendors and are doing a good job in marketing your business, every quarter should be enough.
5) Insurance: Every year. Health insurance is the biggest of these. Make sure you are on the right plan that strikes a good balance of benefit to your employees and your cost. Providing healthcare that is cheap for you but provides little or no benefit to your employees will actually cost you money, because none of your employees will use it.
If, after doing an audit on one of these points, you feel like you’re not getting the best deal, schedule half a day to meet with 2-3 salesmen who offer the product or service. Chances are, you’ve had several drop by your office in the time since your last audit. Include a salesman from your current vendor, unless it is blatantly obvious that they are really taking advantage of you, based on your initial research. The reason for this is that quite often, there are many variables at play. Cost, convenience, service, and payment arrangements can all play an important role in total cost of ownership. What good is it to save $30 per month on phone service if the system breaks down often, or you have to spend an hour on hold to get an issue resolved?
Good salesman will not just pitch their product or service. They will provide valuable insight into the details of what they’re offering, and important options to consider. A customer service rep in a call center often won’t have this information. Be sure to be clear when making the appointment that you’ll want this information.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called on a particular prospect who ignored my attempts to get a meeting with them, only to find out later that I could have saved them money and given them a higher level of service.
Doing this audit won’t always mean you wind up switching companies. Sometimes, you’ll find that the company you’re with has a different option that better suits your needs, and switching plans saves you money. This happened to me recently with my electric company. It also doesn’t mean that your relationship with your vendors will suffer. If your vendors have done a good job for you, they will welcome the opportunity to continue to serve you and have the conversation about your business and where it’s headed.