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Small Business Marketing Mistake #73

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Can you recognise good advice when it comes to you? Most small business owners don’t.

There’s an excellent demonstration of this in a recent edition of the New York Times column You’re The Boss (written by Gabriel Shaoolian).

Don Chernoff is the owner of SkyRoll.com. He recently submitted his website with the hope of increasing the response rate to a contest he is running. At publication time, he had only one entry after running the contest for months. He definitely needs some help.



The responses that came back from readers all focussed on the website. After all, the website is the vehicle for promoting the contest.

In their replies, readers indicated difficulty recognising the site as one that has something to sell. They had trouble finding the contest (on the last page of the site at the bottom). And they thought there might be a disconnect between the ideal prospect for a Sky Roll bag and the type of person willing to participate in the contest.

Unforunately, Mr. Chernoff thinks the readers missed the point. He wanted better ways to promote the contest rather than comments on how well his website promotes the contest. Ironic, isn’t it?

This is where so many business owners go wrong. They invest themselves – their self-image – in what they do, and then are unable to accept any advice about it. That advice always feels like a personal attack because they have mistakenly identified what they have created as representing their personal worth.

A recent conversation with a collision repair shop owner highlighted this for me. Let me call him Mark.

Mark asked me for input on his marketing, and especially his yellow pages ads. He was using a “standard” business card ad in the yellow page books and was (not surprisingly) unhappy with the return on his investment. So we arranged to meet, and I agreed to walk him through his options.

The first thing Mark said to me when we started the meeting was, “Just keep in mind that Direct Mail doesn’t work for my business.”

Having encountered this attitude before, I decided to let Mark qualify himself as a client. Either he would accept proof of what works and become a client, or he wouldn’t.

So I walked Mark through what Suzanne Shafer had done for her auto collision repair shop in Indianapolis. She had a 47% increase in revenues over three years – and the primary tool in achieving this was direct mail, although used in ways that Mark hadn’t considered, just as readers gave Mr. Chernoff advice for improving his site in ways that he hadn’t considered.

And just as Mr. Chernoff thinks “everyone else” is missing the point, Mark finished our meeting by telling me that direct mail wouldn’t work for his business. Oh sure, it was great for an auto collision center in Indianapolis but it wouldn’t work in Chicago. And Suzanne’s was a family-owned business, unlike Mark’s which is only a family-owned business (yes, just like Suzanne’s). Although Mark’s does have the “disadvantage” of being located in the same buildng as his brother’s auto repair shop.

It’s a mistake that’s far more common than you might imagine. And while you’re laughing at the silliness of Mark and Mr. Chernoff, keep in mind there’s a good chance you’re making the same mistake.

This is one that’s particularly difficult to spot because of our natural inclination to be consistent, and to remain committed to our choices. Especially when we invest our self into what we’re doing.

Fortuantely, there are three simple things we can do to avoid this small business marketing mistake.

1. Recognise it really isn’t your fault.

That’s an easy thing to say – almost trite – so let’s take a look at why it isn’t your fault.

Most of the marketing advice you get is extremely biased. Yellow pages, newspaper, and other media reps (including ad agencies) are compensated based on how much you spend. So their incentive is to increase your transaction value, and they have little concern for your return on investment. As a result, they focus on selling techniques for themselves rather than effective marketing for you.

Yes it’s short-sighted, but it’s true.

2. Understand your choices are separate from who you are.

We’ve all had friends who made poor choices because they got bad advice, right? And we always tell them it’s not their fault. They trusted someone to give them good advice.

Business owners trust ad agencies and other media reps to give them good advice. So when you act on the advice you’re given, or what is popularly taught by the gurus and experts, you’re acting in good faith. It’s the media reps and gurus who have reason to be ashamed.

3. Listen to proof rather than opinion.

Proof is the return on investment that can be demonstrated. A business owner invests one dollar into a specific marketing channel and receives more than one dollar in return. That’s good marketing.

When anyone avoids talking about specific numbers, you should avoid talking with them.

Small business marketing is an investment. Most business owners treat it as an expense because that’s all they’ve ever been shown. Now you know better.

The question is: Do you recognise the good advice you’ve just received?

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