Thank you for participating in the latest installment of the Small But Mighty Webinar Series on Early Childhood Webinars. If you missed it, this past installment was on creating a sales pipeline and can be watched here.
The session ran long, so I couldn’t answer your questions- they were sharp and worth sharing. Here are my answers, which I hope are equal to the quality of your questions. Also, don't forget to download the entire sales and marketing section of Small But Mighty on the Resources page.
Q: Is there a "formula" for investing in a marketing organization vs. self marketing (similar to the options on logo design)?
A: Not that I have experienced over the years. I want to be clear up front – my firm Civitas Strategies advises on sales and marketing for clients, so I may have a bias.
My experience has been finding an organization to market for you can be complex since it can take several forms, such as helping you identify your niche and messages, writing communications, or targeting specific strategies (such as social media). The support for the various components could be one provider or many.
I do suggest three considerations as you consider who to engage, why, and how to use them. First, I would make sure that the service they are selling will most effectively reach your customers. In other words, is what the consultant is suggesting a way to connect with your niche effectively. Let me give an example to illustrate my point. I often get asked by clients if they should have a social media strategy. This usually has its origin in the suggestion of a marketing expert they have met, read, or seen. Social media can be a very effective way to market, but not the only way. The key to its effectiveness is the content and targeting, but also, most importantly, is the customer (rather than the consumer or anyone else) using social media to influence purchasing decisions. For many customers, this will not be the case. You should know your customers well through the research you did in the first part of the Small But Mighty process and trust what you know. If a marketer is proposing a strategy that you suspect or know won’t reach your customers, don’t pursue it.
Second, ask them up front how the marketing efforts (of any kind) will clearly lead to sales. Too often than not, marketing efforts are not driving sales but rather publicity. As I discuss in Small But Mighty, marketing is sales best friend. Marketing goes out and helps you create the conditions for a sale, for example, connecting you with customers who didn’t even realize they needed you or reminding old customers that you are still open for business and ready to help. However, many times, marketing strategies focus on “getting the word out about you.” That is letting people generally (whether customers or not) know about your work or reaching people who could be customers, but not specifically drawing them into a sales process. The latter is publicity, which is fine if that is your objective. But if you are paying someone for marketing and not publicity you want to those efforts to feed into sales and you need the prospective contracted marketer to tell you that specifically.
Third, make sure they have experience in your market. As I discuss at length in Small But Mighty, engaging early education customers, specifically, and all nonprofit/public serving organizations, generally, are fundamentally different from purely for-profit markets. Knowing the uniqueness of your markets is crucial to a marketing consultant’s effectiveness.
Q: In light of my earlier question, how do you compare full-service marketing vs. projects (logo, social media, email campaigns, etc)?
A: Again, I have yet to find a simple way to make the comparison. Certainly, price can be an easy measure – you can find pricing for the activities a la carte – but there can be a value in having one organization or consultant manage it all for you that may cost more but has a higher value (e.g., by creating a more coherent, integrated message). If you are considering one organization or consultant I would keep in mind my points for the last question and one more – I would integrate frequent milestones and check-ins into the project. A number of times I have seen skilled marketing firms get far ahead of their client leading to friction or even separation. These marketing experts are skilled, but by not checking in with you, their client, you may lose the opportunity to integrate aspects of your brand and vision that are crucial to you. In the end, you can be disappointed with the result. The cure is simple – as for check-ins with them to provide feedback at key points or activities. For example, logo design can be very personal, you will want to see many iterations and weigh in on them.
Q: I have been advised to get the website first then the Facebook page - your thoughts?
A: Do the website first – this is your home base in the virtual world. I would then put LinkedIn second on the list – as I mentioned on the webinar it is where many prospective customers go to learn more about you. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites are great for communication, but ultimately, it is your website that is your primary vehicle for communicating your value and services.
Q: Do you suggest a "sign-on" discount for new customers to build your business when you first start?
A: Whether or not this makes sense for you depends a lot on your market and business model. In general, I am not a fan since it can be difficult to transition to “normal” pricing, especially in a highly price-sensitive environment like early learning. This applies to other markets as well. Research on Groupon for example has found that it does lead to higher sales with the Groupon, but they tend not to be returning customers. The one exception I would suggest is a subscription model – that is one where they are signing on to buy periodically (weekly, monthly, etc.). Based on research and my experience, when someone signs up for a subscription they tend to keep it even after price goes up. If, for example, you are offering a monthly training service and you give them one month free, but they are automatically paying for every month thereafter, it could be worthwhile. Which leads to my last point, whenever you give a discount of any kind, be very clear and sure about how it will lead to “full price” sales that will compensate you for the initial loss. If you aren’t sure, test the pricing first before implementing business-wide.
Q: What do you think about a pilot that is limited and at no cost to the potential client? I am thinking about something that could lead to grants, dissemination, research, etc.
A: I would give you the same advice as the end of the last question - I would do this rarely and very cautiously. Be very clear and as sure as possible how the reduced cost or free service will lead to future sales. I’ve found many times, especially in the nonprofit world, a desire to help (and a dash of guilt) leads entrepreneurs to give work away for free when the rationale is specious. For example, many times (no offense intentioned) I’ve had clients tell me, “I know foundations or a government agency will love this service. We just need to show it works in this free project and the grants will roll in.” Like any other aspect of sales and marketing, you need to know your customer. A vague comment like the example I just provided is a warning sign to me. However, if you are very clear on how the pilot will generate value and sales for your market you may (note the “may”) want to consider it. But in a case like this I would have a specific target in mind who you know will be responsive. For example, XYZ Foundation has expressed interest over a series of meetings, but say they don’t want to pull the trigger on a grant until they see your service in action. And even in this case, I would think twice.
Instead, I suggest thinking about ways you can pilot at full price – this ensures a good profit margin and will allow you to gather better market data (i.e., you will know if people will buy the service). Two strategies to consider. First, selling the new service or product as an up sale. That is, as the client buys your existing service, suggest adding this one or part of it to the project (assuming it will have value for them). Second, consider approaching a former client or close connection who would get value from the service and likes to be on the vanguard of the field. These individuals, though rare, are willing to take a chance on a new service or product ahead of their peers.
Q: Wordpress.org? compared to Squarespace, Wix, One + One or am I getting too granular?
A: This is no too granular at all – an important question since all of you should have a web site. Part of what may be confusing you is that they are apples and oranges. Let’s start with WordPress – it is software that lets you easily build websites (and ones that look good as well). WordPress is widely used (even more than you may realize) by everyone from developers to “template sites” (more on those below). WordPress can help you build your own site, with moderate difficulty and patience, but you still need a host – that is an internet server to put it on. A WordPress site can be loaded onto almost any host site (and they even offer their own, but you don’t have to use it).
Squarespace, Wix, and 1&1 (and many others) make it even easier to build a site. They have their own templates and tools you use to create your site that make it easier and faster than doing WordPress yourself. There are add ins, the ability to integrate HTML code, and other points of customization that allow you to make the template your own. They also offer the ability to get a domain, email, and other functions. The kicker is that you need to host it on their site if you use their builder. They are typically competitively priced, but you are still locked in. I tested all three of these (and some others) in building the Small But Mighty site. I found they differ most in the style of template (the building tools themselves are not too difficult). In the end, I went with Wix only because I found a template that closely matched my vision building the website itself (not including writing the text) took about an hour and a half. Not too shabby!
Q: Can I get the questions to answer in your bio again?
A: They are in the selection of Small But Mighty we emailed (which is also on the webinar page) and on the slides. If they are unclear, email me at email@example.com.
Q: Do you have a sample contract to look at?
A: I don’t have one that I am comfortable sharing. I would say this – have a contract. Many times, consultants undertake work with just a handshake, usually because they know their customer well. The elements of a contract you will need will vary based on federal and your state’s contract law so, I recommend seeking professional legal advice or using a site like Nolo (www.nolo.com) which has well-vetted contract-templates you can use.