Monday, January 04, 2010

A New Year & A New Site

It’s a new year and I’ve launched a new site at neiltortorella.com. Along with the site, there’s a new blog and an e-newsletter. The focus of this effort is to provide marketing tips, resources and information for independent professionals, freelancers and small businesses. The site will also carry information about my writing and speaking stuff.

I’ll be kicking off the new blog with a series about email marketing. This won’t be heady theory, just practical tips and how-tos. In the series I’ll cover:
  • Why email marketing is still a viable and very useful tool
  • How to find a topic for your emails that won’t fizzle out
  • How to choose an online email marketing service that’s just right for you
  • Creating your first email – dos and don’ts
  • Writing must read subject lines
  • The best days and times to send your messages
  • Understanding email metrics and reports
My monthly e-newsletter, News & Views, will provide useful tips about getting the biggest bang for your marketing bucks without breaking the bank. The premier edition will cover dumb marketing mistakes and how to avoid them.

The Store section will carry selected white papers, reports and other tools, books, audio and video, both by me and others whose products I believe to be of value.

Swing on over and let me know what you think along with what you’d like me to cover in the blog and e-newsletter. If you have some sites or favorite articles and links, email them to me and I’ll post them on the Resources page. Over time, I’d like the Resources page to evolve into a meaty section covering all things marketing for folks like you.

If you like what you see, please Stumble it and / or forward the link to friends, associates and colleagues you believe will benefit from the content.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Common Sales Mistakes

I recently read an report from the savvy gang at Rain Today about common mistakes when selling professional services. It was enlightening, to say the least.

Three chart-topping mistakes are:
  • Not listening
  • Not understanding the prospect’s needs
  • Not crafting a compelling solution
That makes sense. If you don’t listen, odds are you’re not going to glean a clear understanding of the needs. Without a clear understanding, developing a spot-on solution is going to be awfully tough.

The stakes are high in the professional services sales and retention game. Rain Today surveyed B2B buyers and found that a cash-flow-stopping 52%, to as many as 72%, would consider switching suppliers. Yikes! 80% of buyers said they experienced at least one major problem during the sales cycle.

The obvious up side here is that with all these prospects ready to switch providers, if you handle the sales process better than your competition, you can bring a lot of new clients into the fold.

The trick is moving from the first point of contact to beginning the sales process. A lot of potential prospects are lost at the get go. When you first meet a prospect at, say, a business luncheon, do you offer anything compelling to keep the conversation going? Can you communicate an authentic and differentiating value proposition? Or, are you like most who answer the question, “So, what do you do?” with their job title or profession? Saying, “Oh, I’m a graphic designer,” or “I’m a financial advisor,” is a sure way for the next words out the prospect’s mouth to be, “Oh. Can you pass the salt?”

For example, let’s say you’re an accountant who focuses on small service businesses. Rather than just saying you’re an accountant, maybe you say, “I help small businesses pay less taxes, make sense of their finances and manage their money better.” That’s a bit more compelling than the former, now isn’t it? If the person who asked is a small business owner, you likely just got their attention.

Your value proposition is what you bring to the table that provides real value and benefits for your clients.

When you think about benefits, don’t confuse them with features. Think about what you’re really providing. In the accountant example above, the benefits for the client are saving money and keeping more of what they have. A feature might be a speedy new computer and state-of-the-art software that runs like a jack rabbit after downing a half dozen espressos. The benefit is fast turnaround time. At the core of that benefit is your client saving time, having less stress meeting their deadline and fewer woes from their boss.

Your benefits should focus on the core issues that hit home with people – creating comfort, safety, reducing worry or anxiety, making them look good to their bosses, etc.

Differentiation is simply what makes you different from the rest of the pack. It might be a unique service, process or methodology, industry specialty or specific experience. It takes some soul searching, but it’s all about what you can bring to the table that your competition either can’t or won’t.

WHile you're at it, don’t get caught in the me too marketing trap. “Me too” marketing is doing the same stuff and sending the same messages as your competitors. Zigging while the competition is zagging will help you stand out in the crowd. If you don’t differentiate yourself, everybody starts to look and sound the same from the prospect’s point-of-view. When ethat happens, typically the only way to compete is on price and that’s a lousy place to find yourself.

It’s important to note that the sales cycle (from first contact to closing a deal) for professional services can be months. Sometimes longer. It depends on many factors, not the least of which is price. If you’re selling a big ticket item the cycle can often be lengthy. Another big factor is how painful it will be for the prospect to change suppliers. In as much as they may want to change, if the process is too painful, they may want to stick with their less-than-stellar current supplier.

If the Fates are smiling upon you, you get past the opening, engage the prospect and get an appointment. Naturally, do as much preliminary research as you can before the meeting to gain an understanding the the prospect’s business, audience, competition or other criteria that fit your business offerings. Fire up your browser to see if there are obvious common problems that relate to the solutions you provide.

Since listening is one of the most reported sales mistakes, at the meeting, listen ... intently. When you do talk, ask open-ended questions. Those are questions that can’t be answered with a simply “yes,” or “no.” Sure, you’ll talk about your business, experience and such, but try to use “you” and your” more than you use, “I,” “me ,” and “my” (or their plural counterparts). Repeat key points back to the prospect to help ensure you’re getting things right. If you don't understand something, ask for clarification.

If you do these simple things, your much more likely to craft an on-target solution and a powerful proposal.

To learn more about common sales mistakes, download the Rain Today report. It’s an excellent and brief read.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Setting up for 2010

Have you ever noticed how the older one gets, the faster the years seem to blow by? It’s one of those time-relativity things. When you’re five, a year represents 1/5 of your life. When you’re 50, it represents 1/50. Each year, our perception of time compresses, so the years roll by, seemingly faster and faster, until the next thing you know, AARP is filling up your mailbox with membership invitations and you find yourself considering which Medicare plan is best. Now then, isn’t that a cheerful proposition?

But this post isn’t about our ever increasing race toward oblivion. It’s about planning. This year went by with head-spinning speed and the new year is upon us. Now is the time to close out 2009 and start to set things up for 2010. If you play your cards right, you can schedule your work for the next several months or more.

To do that, you’ll need to get chummy with your clients for more than holiday get-togethers and toasting the new year. Consider contacting your best clients – the ones you want to clone – and inviting them to lunch, on you. It’s a nice way to say, “Thanks!,” for sending you all that work during the year. But, it’s also a way to glean a lot of useful information.

During your lunch, ask your client how you did during the previous months. Scary? Maybe. But, it’s something you need to know. Are they pleased as punch? Were there some things you could have done better? This exercise will aid you in providing a better client experience in the future.

But, this breaking of bread shouldn’t be all about you. It should be mostly about your client. Once you have a handle on how you’re doing, ask them what their plans are for the upcoming year. Will they be presenting at any trade shows? Are their new products or services to be launched? Are they expanding into new locations? What are their goals and how can you help them attain them?

For example, during your conversation, your client tells you they’re planning to go to trade shows in June and October to support the launch of a new product they plan to roll out in May. You’ve just been presented with an opportunity to pitch a lot of work. Odds are they’ll need a product logo, some literature, website updates and, perhaps, a new trade show display. If you manage things correctly, you can schedule several projects for the first half of the new year, all for the price of a nice lunch.

Do this with several clients and you can see how your calendar and job roster can fill up pretty quick. Plus (and it’s a big plus), you’ll avoid the crunch of rush gigs, which are often the result of poor planning.

The thing is, your client will likely hit the ground running come January. They know they have a product to launch in May, but other, more immediate things, take precedent. Next thing they know, it’s April and the product launch has become a scrambled rush.

You can avoid this scenario simply by addressing their future needs now. And, you’re client will thank you for it. Taking some time now to plan the coming months will help them do a better job with a lot less anxiety. You’ll avoid that nasty feast or famine syndrome, too, knowing that you’ve got projects scheduled months in advance.

Now, isn’t that a nice way to start the new year?

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Demystifying Websites & SEO

Dang! December already. November blew by in a flurry of web projects, writing gigs and marketing consulting with several new clients. That along with some speaking gigs.

Speaking of speaking, I’ll be presenting Demystifying Websites & SEO at Citibank in Tamarac, Florida on December 12. For those of you that aren’t in the area, here are some highlights from the search engine optimization part. It’s hardly a definitive work on SEO, but it should get you moving in the right direction.

It’s estimated that there are 231.5 million websites floating around out there. Those sites serve up over one trillion pages. That’s a whole lotta pages. How’s a self-promoter to be found? Well, the sad truth is that most aren’t.

I have a handy little plug-in for Firefox that shows a page’s Google Page Rank and Alexa ranking. If you’re not in the know, Google ranks pages on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the best. Google’s a 10. JoeSchmo.com’s probably a 0 (actually, I just checked and it turns out they are, in fact, a 0).

It’s pretty sad to see most of the sites folks ask me to review have a Page Rank of 0 or maybe 1, if they have a rank at all. There are usually a few things these sites have in common. They have page titles like, “Home,” “XYZ Company,” or “About Us.” Not exactly descriptive from a search engine point of view. Well, I guess they’re okay if someone out there is searching for “Home,” or “About Us.” The content tends to be focused on the business, not the visitor and isn’t often keyword-rich. You don’t want it to be too rich, just rich enough. But, we’ll talk more about that later.

Page titles are pretty important when it comes to search engine optimization and it’s a good idea to have some keywords in yours. I’ve found that it works best for me is to lead off with your best keywords, and end with your company name. Unless you’re a household name, or folks already know of you, it’s a safe bet that they won’t be using your business name in their search efforts.

How do you know what keywords to choose? Our friends at Google have a nifty keyword tool that helps to take the guess work out of finding your best keywords. Plus, it’s free. You simply pop in your best guess to start. Google will return with the number of searches conducted for that term or phrase in the past month ... plus a slew of alternates. Take it for a whirl and look for the keywords with the highest number of searches. Those are likely to be your best bets.

Once you have your winners, incorporate them into your page titles and content. The latter is the tricky part. Writing for the Web is different than writing a brochure or an ad. The reason are the balancing act of including keywords while maintaining a sensible flow and keyword density. Keyword density is a double-edged sword. Too little and the search engines won’t think your site has any useful, relevant content. Too much and they’ll think you’re keyword spamming. That can be an easy way to get your site banned from the search engines. That would be a bad thing.

Do a search for “keyword density checker,” and you’ll find numerous, free online tools to gauge your density for specific keywords and phrases.

You’ll still want to have your metadata in place. Metadata is the section of your page code that carries the page title, description, keywords and other info for the search engine bots. Although the keyword tag isn’t used by Google anymore to directly index a site, it’s still useful. The description tag also isn’t as important as it once was, but hey, every little bit helps.

The biggie when it comes to SEO is also the hardest thing for small businesses to get – backlinks. Backlinks are links to your site from other sites. But, not all links are created equal. You want “quality” links. A quality link is one, ideally from a fairly robust site, that carries content similar to yours. For example, a photographer would want a link from, say, the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) or links from other photography related sites. A link from CreativePro or HOW Magazine’s site would be a good fit for a graphic designer. You get the idea.

So, how does one go about getting backlinks? First off, you’ll want to have all the usual social media bits going on. That means a Facebook account, Twitter, LinkedIn, perhaps YouTube, if video is relevant for your purposes. Be active on these sites and build up some content.

Next, get yourself listed on as many relevant directories as you can. Again, these should relate to your site’s topic. These can be industry directories, associations, portal sites and such. Fire up Google and you’re sure to find a boat load of sites where you can get listed.

Online press release submissions and syndication is another way to gain backlinks. But, it’s important not to submit releases simply for backlinks. Your release should be authentic and newsworthy. A link back to your site is gravy. Plus, releases tend to head off to the archives pretty quick.

Articles are a bit more permanent. If you have a flair for the written word, and something useful to write about, consider drafting some articles and submitting them to syndication sites like ezinearticles.com.

You might also consider authoring a blog. Search engine bots will love to gobble up your keyword infested poignant prose. A "bot," by the by, is a little piece of software that the search engines send out to roam around the Web, hitting sites and indexing them. Bots, robots, spiders are synonyms. Alas, I digress. A blog that relates to your business is a search engine is a natural. Blogs carry loads of content and, unlike me, most authors update their blogs on a regular basis.

Avoid, at all costs, getting into Black Hat tactics. Black Hat tactics are all the shady tomfoolery used in an attempt to dupe search engines like keyword stuffing, invisible text and doorway pages.

The search engine gang are hardly fools and they’re on to these techniques. Practice them and it’s another sure way to get your site banned.

Finally, SEO is an ongoing task and it takes time to get decent rankings. I tend to launch new sites on Sunday evenings. I wish I had a quarter for every client that called me on the following Wednesday asking why they’re not number one on Google. Give it time. If you’re diligent and follow these basic techniques, over time you’ll find your ranking moving up.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Recap of Low & No Cost Marketing Presentation

Last night’s South Florida Freelance Network presentation – Low & No Cost Marketing: Tools, Tactics & Techniques for Success – went pretty well. I’m happy to report that not a single rotten tomato was tossed. Gatsby’s, in Davie, FL, is a great venue and Vanessa was a darling hostess. Our dedicated server, Kristen was excellent, as well.

I covered a variety of topics you can find within the archives of Inside the Marketing Mind. The main point was that it doesn’t take a boat load of dough to get the word out and position yourself as the “go-to” expert within your niche. What it does take is savvy, time and dedication.

Here’s a quick recap:

Avoid these common marketing mistakes:

• Not doing anything
• Not understanding your audience and focusing on their needs
• Not having a plan
• Not focusing on a niche or specialty
• Not actively marketing when you’re at your busiest
• Nervous rabbit syndrome – trying this and that, but not giving any one activity enough time work ... or not work
• Not understanding that marketing takes time
• Not having a referral system in place
• Not marketing to current clients
• Not leveraging the power of your business and personal network
• Forgetting that even though you’re a designer, web developer, writer, photographer, etc., you’re really in the business of marketing. You need to be your own best client

The second half of the presentation focused on an how to implement an assortment of low and no cost marketing techniques. Some of them are:

• Editing down your portfolio to include your best work, but also the kind of work you want to get.
• Direct mail with a solid primary offer and secondary offer
• Having an information-packed, search engine optimized website
• Using blogs & social media
• Building a media list & developing a press kit
• Writing news releases, tip sheets & articles
• Generating interview inquiries and speaking engagements
• Networking the right way

I’ll be presenting Low & No Cost Marketing again on Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at the Margate Community Center as part of our Broward SCORE Workshops Program. Click here for information about the event. If you can’t attend, feel free to email me and request a copy of the presentation notes.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Low & No Cost Marketing and Public Relations Tools, Tactics & Techniques Presentation

I'll be speaking to the South Florida Freelance Network on Wednesday, October 28th. The event starts at 6:30pm at Gatsby's, 1805 S University Drive in Davie, FL.

Attendees will learn how to get on their prospect's radar screen and leverage the power of the Web to build an online presence and drive more traffic to their site. They will also learn how to:
  • Avoid common & costly mistakes
  • Create a one-page marketing plan ... that gets results
  • Position themselves as an expert in their industry
  • Generate press coverage
  • Write news releases that get noticed
  • Build a media list
  • Produce a press kit on the cheap
  • Use Social Media for more than telling friends what you had for lunch
  • Leverage the power of personal and business networks
  • And more ... all without breaking the bank
I hope to see you there!

Click here to learn more and register.
It's free. After all, it is a presentation about low & no cost marketing.

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posted by Neil at 1:26 PM 0 comments

Monday, September 07, 2009

Leveraging LinkedIn

It’s been a while since my last post. Alas, summertime and all that comes with it. Today’s Labor Day, the not-so-official end of Summer. Now it’s nose to the grindstone and back in the saddle with today’s topic – LinkedIn.


Most of you, if not all, are aware of that LinkedIn is a business social networking site. From their About Us page:

“LinkedIn is an interconnected network of experienced professionals from around the world, representing 170 industries and 200 countries. You can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.”

Think of it as Facebook in a well-tailored pinstriped suit.


Here are a few fun facts to know and tell:

  • LinkedIn has over 46 million members in over 200 countries and territories around the world.
  • A new member joins LinkedIn approximately every second, and about half of our members are outside the U.S.
  • Executives from all Fortune 500 companies are LinkedIn members.

Similar to other social media & networking sites, you start by creating a profile. This should include your current and past positions, education and a summary blurb. It’s a good idea to include a mug shot that displays your shining countenance. It’s helps to humanize this digital stuff.


LinkedIn is all about relationships. You probably have a few of those already. The site makes it easy to import your contacts from Outlook, Palm, ACT! or Mac’s Address Book. Plus, you can import your webmail contacts from Google’s Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, .Mac and a slew of others. LinkedIn will let you know which of your contacts are members. Odds are many will be. You can send out an invitation to connect via LinkedIn for those that aren’t already on the site.


So, now you’ve got perky profile and the start of network. What do you do now? There are a lot of options. You might consider some of the following:

  • Find and be introduced to potential clients, service providers, and subject experts who come recommended by folks in your network
  • Be found for business opportunities and find potential partners
  • Join in discussions with like-minded professionals in private group settings
  • Find inside connections that can help you land jobs and close deals
  • Post and distribute job listings to find the best talent for your company
  • Post news releases and articles
  • Ask questions and get valuable answers and insights
  • Answer questions posed by members to demonstrate your smarts about various topics
  • Feed your blog into LinkedIn
  • Tap into the many third party applications like Box.net for collaboration, Slideshare, Google Presentations and Amazon Reading List

Check out the their Learning Center and you’ll find more ways to leverage LinkedIn. Plus, LinkedIn offers several User Guides to help jump start your virtual networking efforts. In addition to the New User Guide, they also offer specialized guides for:

And there you have it. At the end of the day, LinkedIn is yet one more valuable tool in your marketing and promotional toolbox. As you explore the site, you’ll find more to help build quality connections, get your name out and build you business.


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posted by Neil at 10:42 AM 0 comments

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Doing the Facebook Fandango

I was very active on a particular graphic design forum for many years. About a year or so ago, I was busy with this and that and didn’t check in as often as usual. Then I started to notice that others seemed to be dropping off, too. “Hmmmm,” me thinks, “Where’d everybody go?” It didn’t take too long to find them all hanging out on Facebook.

I had set up a Facebook account a while back at the request of a friend who felt I needed to be on it. Frankly, I didn’t pay too much attention. My ears perked up, though, when all the forum folk started showing up and the name, “Facebook,” was popping up all over the place. My ears perked up more when I read the following:
"According to a recent study by Aberdeen Group, top companies are using social-networking sites like Facebook to achieve improved interaction with customers. The study revealed that companies that use social-networking websites are 17 times more likely to improve customer satisfaction than companies that don’t use the sites."

Source: Using Facebook for Business Networking By Kevin Gaul
Here’re some other interesting factoids to know and tell, straight from the mouth of Facebook:
  • More than 200 million active users
  • More than 100 million users log on to Facebook at least once each day
  • More than two-thirds of Facebook users are outside of college
  • The fastest growing demographic is those 35 years old and older
  • More than 1 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) shared each week
  • More than 5 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide)
  • People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are almost 50% more active on Facebook than non-mobile users
Why ... why I do believe this Facebook thing deserves further deliberation, thought, study, scrutiny, observation and whatever other words I can find in my handy thesaurus. It also likely deserves some action if you’re not already onboard. But, odds are, if you’re reading this, you’re already facebooking (I’m not sure if that’s a word, but, hey, it works).

Like Twitter and social networking in general, the peeps need to know the lingo. I won’t bore you with a list of Facebook terminology. I found a blog post that will do it for me. Actually, it’s quite humorous. Enjoy.

Sure, Facebook is all nifty, neato and keen to keep in touch with friends and maybe even family. You can become a thoughtful type by adding birthdays and reminders, play a bunch of mindless games, share book info and more. You can even send a gift, although I’ve yet to discover why one would drop some dough on a picture of a cake or a red-eyed Terminator head. But alas, I guess it’s the thought that counts. Beyond those, Facebook apps include calendars, photo and video sharing, groups and a marketplace along a lot of others. Actually, thousands when you start poking around. There are also loads and loads of Groups for every intriguing interest.

Facebook for business is a little different story ... and a different name. People have profiles. Groups have members. Businesses have Pages. Pages have fans. Facebook is a great vehicle to keep in touch with those fans and provide some useful content for them to digest. You can also buy ads (similar to Google Adwords), promote events, engage your fans in discussions and also integrate YouTube content. Plus, Pages allow you to have multiple administrators to share the love ... and the maintenance workload.

The fine folks over at HubSpot have an excellent resource for businesses seeking to leverage the power of Facebook – The Facebook for Business Marketing Kit. Yup, the name kind of says it all.

Facebook, like other social networking sites, is all about building and nurturing relationships. A strategy for Facebook is much the same as I wrote in my previous Twitter entry. The trick is to give things some thought and have a strategy. That will help ensure you don’t go on a Facebook binge.

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posted by Neil at 10:01 AM 0 comments

Monday, July 06, 2009

Jumping On The Twitter Bandwagon

I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon just a few months ago. Like many, I didn’t get it. I didn’t really care that so and so was eating a ham sandwich or that what’s his name was watching this or that on television. But, as I followed more folks, I came to see some real value to help keep one on the radar screen.

With something along the lines of five to ten thousand people joining Twitter each day, there’s a lot of opportunity to get the word out, learn some new, useful stuff and meet some interesting folks as well. Plus, Twitter can give you pretty easy access to high-profile people in or out of your current marketing arena. It a great way to connect on a personal audience with a larger audience to share thoughts, ideas and resources. Also, you can post tweets from your mobile phone.

Before you take the plunge, it’s a good idea to poke around and get a feel for things. You’ll want to get a handle on tweetspeak too. Here’s a link on Mashable to get you started. They also cover 99 Essential Twitter Tools and Applications.

At first, I tweeted from Firefox using Twitter’s plain ‘old interface. Then I tried Power Twitter. Neither one really yanked my chains. Then I discovered TweetDeck. TweetDeck lets you post and reply to tweets, retweet, conduct searches, filter tweets, create groups and more. Swell stuff. It’s an Adobe AIR desktop app and really enhanced the whole Twitter experience for me. Here’s a good tutorial for getting up to speed with TweetDeck.

As with all things marketing, it’s good to have a plan and a strategy. Give some thought as to what you’re trying to accomplish. Perhaps it’s to connect with some movers and shakers in your industry and niche. Your goal might be a speedy way to communicate new offers or services. Lots of tweeples use Twitter as p.r. distribution vehicle by sharing links to their articles, news releases, events, etc. For others, it’s simply a way to keep their visibility up by tweeting and retweeting links to useful stuff for their followers.

Speaking of followers, it’s important to remember that Twitter isn’t about sheer numbers. It’s more a quality than quantity thing. It’s also not about direct selling. People tend to find that annoying. Consider it a marketing tool, not a sales too. They’re different things.

As I mentioned, I’m still a Twitter newbie. Here are my plans:
  • Identify movers and shakers and follow them.
  • Follow friends, business associates, clients, colleagues, writers & reporters
  • Check out who they’re following to see if there might be some good connections.
  • Set up a file of useful, relevant links and resources for future tweets
  • Use TweetDeck to scan tweets and retweet interesting tweets (Boy, was there a lot of “tweet” in that line or what?)
  • Use TweetDeck to post to both Twitter and Facebook
  • Try to find that app that also posts tweets to LinkedIn
  • Use TweetLater or other app to schedule tweets for down the road
  • Add a link to my Twitter account in appropriate locations
Lather, rinse, repeat.

Next up – Facebook.

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posted by Neil at 12:09 PM 0 comments

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Are You Socially Challenged?

I’ve been doing the social networking thing for a while. In the old days, (which, in Internet terms is about an hour and a half ago) that consisted of discussion groups, forums, email and blogs. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that important adds to that mix these days are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, among others. Over the next few posts, I’ll address each. Social networking/media can be a very good marketing tool. But, like other tools and tactics, you need some reachable goals and a plan to get there.

To start, a bit of data is needed. Fortunately, Michael Stelzner,
Founder of WhitePaperSource.com, has published a great report about social networking for marketers. You can download the report by clicking here. Don’t forget to subscribe to Michael’s newsletter, too. White papers can be an excellent marketing tool and Stelzner is the Big Kahuna in this area. Here are some of his top findings:
"Top three questions marketers want answered: (1) What are the best tactics to use, (2) how to do I measure the effectiveness of social media and (3) where do I start?

• Marketers are mostly new to social media: A significant 88% of marketers surveyed are using social media to market their businesses, BUT 72% have only been doing so for a few months or less.

• How much time does this take? A significant 64% of marketers are using social media for 5 hours or more each week and 39% for 10 or more hours weekly.

• The top benefit of social media marketing: The number-one advantage is generating exposure for the business, indicated 81% of all marketers, followed by increasing traffic and building new business partnerships.

• The top social media tools: Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn and Facebook were the top four social media tools used by marketers, in that order.

• Social media tools marketers most want to learn about: Social bookmarking sites were ranked of highest interest, followed closely by Twitter."

The bottom line? If you’re not involved with social media, it’s time to get on board. Don’t feel bad though. As mention above, a whopping 72% are also just getting started with this marketing method. You’ve got to start somewhere.

For me, Facebook was the starting point. A colleague suggested I get involved. Like Twitter, my first thought after setting up an account was, “Okay, how the heck does this work?” It didn’t take too long to get a handle on it. Then came Twitter, where I thought, “Um ... yeah. I don’t get it.” Twitter seemed to be a 140 character discussion group for those with Attention Deficit Disorder. After the 2009 HOW Design Conference, I‘ve become more active and it’s making a lot more sense.

Watch for my next post where I’ll start off with the ins and outs of Twitter.

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posted by Neil at 10:06 AM 2 comments

Monday, June 29, 2009

2009 HOW Design Conference Wrap Up

It’s Monday. I’m back in Lauderdale after the 2009 HOW Design Conference. This was my first time speaking at HOW and, for that matter, my first time attending. It was, in a word, brilliant. The HOW staff went above and beyond to put on a memorable, educational and overall fun event in Austin.

I arrived in Austin on Wednesday. En route, I realized I had left my watch on my dresser and my mobile phone in the car. “Gee,” me thinks, “I’m off to a great start.” Fortunately, I was able to have my phone overnighted to my hotel.

I went to the Austin Convention Center directly from the airport to check in and ensure that my presentation was all in working order. I’m not real big on Powerpoint. It seems I always have font issues. So, I did up the visuals as a Flash slideshow and saved it as an swf and also as Mac and PC projectors. I also saved the native FreeHand file as a pdf, just in case. I popped the files on a CD, two flash drives and also put it on my server. Paranoid? Me, paranoid? As it turned out, I used the pdf as a full screen presentation. Flash didn’t want to play nice come the day of the show. Typical.

While I was checking things Wednesday in the Speaker Ready Room, Jonathan Gouthier, of With Creative, stopped in to check his presentation. In a case of “really, really small world,” it turned out that Jonathan knows my stepbrother and his wife. How weird is that? Given that Austin’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

As I wandered aimlessly around the main floor a bit later, who should I run into but fellow speaker and friend, Toots Caboose, a.k.a. Jeff Fisher of Jeff Fisher Logomotives. I hadn’t seen Jeff in quite a while and it was good to hook up.

Next, it was time to check into the Radisson, a couple of blocks from the convention center. In a fortuitous turn of events, my room wasn’t quite ready. The desk attendant was on the phone and I overheard, “... Okay, I have you set up in a smoking room ...” Truth be told, I smoke. Yeah, yeah ... I know. But this time it worked to my favor. I said to the desk attendant, “Gee, if I had known you had smoking rooms, I would have booked one.” She said, “Oh, you’d like a smoking room? No problem. Because I forgot to ask, I’ll give you a BIG smoking room.” Such a delightful young lady. And boy, she was true to her word.

I went up to my 8th floor home for the next several days, opened the door and walked into a corner, sun-drenched suite. Sweet! It had a living room, kitchen, large bathroom and a bedroom, complete with a king size Sleep Number™ bed. It also had three two-line phones, two desks and two large screen television sets. “Yeah, this’ll work,” thinks me. As a matter of fact, I made a conscious point on Friday to sit in the living room and watch something mindless on the tube, just so I could feel like HOW got their money’s worth.

Wednesday night’s opening reception was a lot of fun and I had the opportunity to meet several great folks. I had been up since 3:30 AM and by the time I finished the day, I was so ready to crash on that comfy bed.

Thursday was presentation day. I was scheduled for 10:45 - Noon. Sadly, Von Glitschka, of Glitschka Studios, was speaking next door in the same time slot, Jonathan’s was around the corner and Peleg Top was speaking a few rooms down. I really wanted to hear all of them.

My session was titled, Consultative Selling for Graphic Designers. I figured this would be about as exciting to many designers as watching paint dry, but a topic they, and especially independents and small shops, needed to learn. I was pleasantly surprised when the room filled up.

Many, many thanks and bows at the feet of Katie Dehner, HOW's crackerjack copywriter who creates all the conference materials and, no doubt, a lot more. Katie helped me get the room set up and made sure all was well with session. She and her HOW cohorts also w0-manned the conference registration desk, answered all my silly questions and ensured I didn't get lost in the place.

Design diva, Debbie Millman, also showed up. I’m thinking, “Wow. Debbie Millman at my presentation? Who would have thought?” As it turned out, Debbie introduced me with some gracious words.

The session went well and even ran a wee bit over. But, the lunch break was next, so that worked out. I had lots of great questions from the audience after my talk.

Later that afternoon, I had the chance to catch Ilise Benun’s session, Do You Have What It Takes to be a Successful Freelancer,? along with help from her Marketing Mentor partner, Peleg Top. The session was excellent. I’d worked with Ilise on a few projects over the years, but we’d never met in the flesh before. It was great to have the chance to talk for a bit with her and Peleg.

Friday it was Behind the Scenes with Hoops & Yoyo,™ with creators, Mike Adair, Bev Carlson and Bob Holt and Logo Design from Texas to New York, by Felix Sockwell.

Later that afternoon, I couldn’t miss Jeff Fisher’s session, Why Pay for It When You Can Get It for Free? Jeff presented a great talk, as expected, covering marketing and promotion techniques, along with using social networking. The bonus was watching him speak while wearing his Toots Caboose clown nose. (Sorry, Jeff. I couldn't resist adding the image)

Friday evening was all about the BBQ. I joined Karen Larson, of Larson Mirek Design, Jeni Herberger, of Jeni Herberger Creative Concepts and Big Fish, Steve Gordan, of RDQLUS Creative and, of course, the always delightful Mr. Fisher at Iron Works BBQ. Great food and conversation.

Saturday, I listened to Wayne Geyer’s, Write More Good: Copywriting for Visual Thinkers. It was a thought-provoking session and I learned a lot. That was follow by a stellar closing keynote address by World Studios,’ Mark Randell, titled Design Ignites Change.

Sadly, the conference was at a close. Jeff and I hooked up for lunch and shared a taxi to the airport. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport seemed like HOW: Part Two with HOWies scurrying hither and yon.

All in all, it was an excellent experience. If you get the chance, try to swing over to Denver for next year’s conference. You’ll be glad you did.

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posted by Neil at 4:26 PM 1 comments

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Score Big With SCORE®

Maybe you’ve been in business for a while. Perhaps you’re one of many who, for whatever reason (read: laid off), have found yourself in the position of needing to go into business. Or, perchance, you fall somewhere in between, freelancing here and there with visions of opening your own shop down the road.

It’s no secret that business is challenging. You’re likely are good at that thing you do, but running a successful business is more ... much more ... than just producing your product or service. You also have to deal with foreign things like financial statements, budgeting, financing, insurances, licenses, taxes, marketing and sales, to name a few.

Whatever your situation, you can hear that big, scary 800 pound gorilla outside your door trying to knock down that shingle with your name on it.

Sure, you can dig deep into your pockets and buy the knowledge and information you need. But that gets expensive really quick when it comes to consultants and even employees. Here’s a better idea, and in true Marketing Mind form, it’s free – tap into SCORE®.

SCORE, Counselors to America's Small Business, is (from their site) “... a nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and the formation, growth and success of small business nationwide. SCORE is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration. (SBA).” The organization provides a wealth of useful information on their site to set you on the straight and narrow path to success.

Aside from their incredibly helpful site and national resources, SCORE really shines at its local level. There are 370 chapters throughout the United States and its territories, with 11,200 volunteers nationwide. Volunteers are the beating heart of SCORE and they are both working and retired executives and business owners who donate their time and expertise as business counselors. How handy is that?

Through one-on-one, confidential counseling, SCORE counselors can help you draft a business and/or marketing plan, make sense out of all those numbers staring you in the face every day, provide financing ideas and more. When you consider that business consultants can cost you anywhere from $100 – $500 per hour, SCORE starts to make a whole lot of sense.

Counseling can simply be one meeting to ask a few questions, or several sessions, even years if needed, to hammer out the big picture for your business or business idea. Plus, with the wide variety of talent, skills and knowledge available at the chapter level, if your counselor doesn’t have the answer, odds are, they can find it or put together a team just for you.

Beyond this oh-so-nifty mentoring are SCORE workshops. Local chapters often offer free and low-cost business workshops and seminars for both start-up and in-business entrepreneurs. Workshops cover a variety of topics, from writing a business plan to importing / exporting to e-commerce, marketing, etc. Workshops also offer a chance to network with local, small business owners.

Here’s a list of a few of the workshops our chapter has recently presented:
  • Introduction to Business
  • Developing a Dynamic Business Plan
  • Internet Marketing for Small Business
  • Trading Area Promotions
  • The Secrets of Customer Service
In days gone by, SCORE was known as the Service Corp of Retired Executives. For some, that moniker may conjure up visions of a bunch of out-of-touch former suits who aren’t up on what’s happening in business today. Not so. In fact, really, really not so. SCORE is on the technological forefront. Sure, they have a site. Who doesn’t these days? But they also offer online counseling. That comes in handy for the hermits among us and people who otherwise don’t or can’t get out much. SCORE also produces podcasts, e-newsletters, has a presence on Twitter and Facebook and other social networking media. In addition, they offer a myriad of online courses to help get you in the know.

So, at the end of the day, when that 800 pound gorilla comes a knockin,’ fire up your browser or pick up the phone and contact SCORE. You’ll be glad you did.

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posted by Neil at 9:45 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Cycle of the Sale

Since sales is probably the one business function that most of us would prefer to steer around, or completely ignore, I thought it might be good to visit. So, put on your favorite pair of checker slacks and that stunning plaid jacket - we're goin' sellin.'

Selling services are different that selling a tangible product. With product sales, the prospect looks it over, compares features and benefits, compares competitive prices, etc. In days gone by, people would visit several stores before making their buying decision. Now days, they compare products and prices on the Net, often long before they ever step into a store or showroom. With service sales, the "product" is intangible during the sales cycle. That's one reason why the sales cycle (going from first contact to signing on the dotted line) can be 6 - 8 months or, often, longer. To keep yourself afloat, you'll need to have several irons in the fire at various points in the cycle. Some will close sooner, some later and some not at all.

Typically, there are three phases of the cycle: making contact; building the relationship and, finally, closing the sale. Let's take a look at each.

Making Contact
There's several articles across the Web (and on this blog) that talk about self-promotion and marketing tactics and techniques - all the fun ways to get the word out. None the less, it's always good to have a reminder. Here are some of the typical methods:
  • Networking events such as ad clubs, chambers of commerce, trade shows, clubs & organizations.
  • Direct Mail such as postcards, sales letters, printed samples, brochures, 3-dimensional pieces
  • Cold/warm phone calls
  • Speaking engagements such as seminars, lectures or talks and workshops to a targeted audience
  • Press releases
  • Writing articles
  • Online prospecting
  • Working on charitable events and programs
  • Award competitions
  • Skywriting above your prospect's place of business (Okay ... that's a wee bit extreme).
  • Asking for referrals from business contacts, friends and family
  • And of course, your Website, blog and social media of choice such as LinkedIn, Biznik, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
The idea during this phase is to actively be working several methods to get your name around, known and remembered. You want to meet people. But, not just anybody. Ideally, you want to meet and qualify folks who need what you provide and have the dough to pay for it. Plus, it's a good idea if they also offer the potential for repeat business.

Find those techniques that fit your style and personality. Shoot for at least three to five activities each day. If you plan well it won't take too much time. Maybe you make a few phone calls, attend a chamber breakfast, shoot off an intro letter with a few printed samples one day. Then, on the next, you give a talk at the local Rotary Club, attend a Board meeting at a nonprofit and crank out some emails to current clients and friends reminding them that you're always on the lookout for referrals.

If you're diligent, you'll meet several new people who just might become clients. But, to do that, you'll need to build a relationship with them.

Building the Relationship
Building a business relationship is like building a personal one, so don't sweat it. Unless you're a total hermit, you've already got the experience you need. Just like with a significant other, you need to show up. What I mean is to be available. Listen. Learn and remember what's important to them and help out where you can. Timing is the trick. You don't want to come off like a stalker or pain in the hind quarter.

Here are some methods
  • Take notes during your conversations.
  • Find out their spouse's and kids' names. Who's their boss? What are the challenges they face in their job and industry? Who are their key competitors? What kind of hobbies do the enjoy? Look around their office if you've gotten that far. What's on the walls? Any nick nacks and perhaps a paddy whack or two?
  • Pop all this info into your handy contact manager (you've have one, right?) and set it up to alert you on important days.
  • Be sure to ask how their family members are doing.
  • Send out cards for birthdays, special achievements, etc.
  • Send a handwritten thank-you note when appropriate
  • Take them to lunch, dinner or a special event
  • Forward articles of interest, special deals you may hear about, special events (Like that club meeting where you'll be speaking. What a coincidence!)
  • If they've mentioned a problem or challenge they're having, and you know the answer, for goodness sake, tell them. Don't go too far with this, though. You can easily cut into your billable potential if your answers to their woes are the services you sell. Think of it as sampling and whetting their appetite for more.
The point is to become a resource and someone who is looking out for them. It's very important that this be true and authentic. People can usually spot a thrower of baloney. Have some integrity. Integrity, by the way, is rooted in the word, "integrate." That means what you believe on the inside is what you do on the outside. That's one reason why it's good to find prospects you like as people. Hopefully, you'll be spending a lot of time with them working on that big project. But first, you've got to close the sale.

Closing the Sale
The day finally comes. Mr. Marketing Manager gives you a call and asks you to submit a proposal for Da Big Project. You set up a meeting to go over the specs, at which time Mr. Manager clues you in that you'll be competing against three other groups. You're still not as "in like Flint" as you may have thought. You've still got one big hurdle to jump. You also learn you'll be presenting to a couple of VPs and the CEO, along with your buddy, Mr. Manager.

After the meeting, you get to work and begin to craft your perfect proposal and plan your presentation. You review the company again, its products, its competitor and audience. You go through the project goals and draft some delicious prose showing how you're going to meet them with your brilliant work.

Judgment Day comes and you make your pitch, showing what needs to be done and why your the right solution for the project. You ask for the sale. You're in good shape from all you learned during the relationship building process. You have an edge over the other groups who were called in cold. Your presentation is dead on-target. They give you a standing ovation, sign on the dotted line and write you a deposit check on the spot. The planets align and rainbows appear in the sky. You've closed the deal - all because you're the one who took the time to make the best use of the sales cycle.

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posted by Neil at 8:47 AM 0 comments

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Size Matters

In marketing, targeting is simply taking careful aim. It’s about knowing and understanding your best prospects. Who are they (ideally, by name and title)? What is their business and industry all about? What makes them tick? What are their buttons and what can you do to push the right ones?

When it comes to targeting your market, in most cases, size does matter. It matters for a couple of reasons. First, you’ll need a market that’s large enough to have an ample supply of prospects. Second, within that target, you’ll want aim for companies that are large enough to need a bunch of what you do.

Without enough prospects in your selected target market, sales can be tough. Competition gets stiffer. You run the risk of having one key client representing 25%, 30% or more of your revenue. That’s a very dangerous place to be. If something happens and, for whatever reason, you lose that client, you’re up the proverbial creek, sans paddle.

If you live and work in a smaller market area with few local prospects, you’re going to need to consider branching out. Tap into the largest city near you. Get aggressive on the Net. Become active in a few clubs and associations. Consider budgeting some money for sales trips. That is likely to mean putting some dough aside from a decent gig to hit the road.

If there are a good number of prospects, but they’re all small companies, you find yourself with a constant stream of “one off” gigs – one-time shots or once a year deals. That means you’ll need to spend significantly more time, and also money, marketing and promoting your business. That might be fine for you. I know a lot of creatives who do just that. But, if you’re like most of the folks I’ve worked with on their marketing, you’d rather be designing, shooting, writing or whatever than spending most of your time on the phone, networking and generally schmoozing it up looking for your next meal ticket.

Focusing on larger companies can be more effective in the not too long run. Sure, the sales cycle is longer, but the rewards are worth it. Larger companies often have a steady stream of projects with bigger budgets. They usually have a better understanding of working with outside resources. And, frankly, some notable names on the client roster can help landing some more down the road.

Even after you land some larger clients, it’s important not to rest on your laurels. Marketing is still critical. I believe it was Heraclitus, who said, “The only thing constant is change.” He was spot on. Continuous marketing and promotion is needed to ensure you have prospects in the pipeline. Contacts come and go. Management directions get reworked and you may find you’re not part of a client’s brave new world. It happens. Having several prospects in the hopper at various stages of the sales cycle will help you fill in the gap faster when a key client goes bye-bye.

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posted by Neil at 9:01 AM 2 comments

Friday, March 06, 2009

MeetUp for Meet Ups

Here’s a quickie. Looking for networking opportunities, but tired of Chamber Of Commerce business card orgies, lead groups and industry meetings where everybody does the same thing as you?

Try poking around MeetUp. MeetUp is a web-based service that helps to put like-minded folks together. These are real, live, in-the-flesh meetings. There are groups for all sorts of interests, including business. And that’s what we’ll be addressing in this post.

Fire up your browser, cruise over to MeetUp.com and pop in what you’re interested in and where. If you’re a designer, you might try an American Marketing Association, small business or similar group. A photographer might try a designer group. You get the idea. The point is finding groups where your target prospects hang out.

I do both graphic design and marketing consulting for creatives. So, it made sense for me to attend a creatives meetup. One group I found is pretty laid back and the people all seemed pretty nice. They usually put on some type of presentation and have plenty of time to hook up in a conversation or three.

Give it a shot. Odds are you’ll meet some good prospects and have fun at the same time.

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posted by Neil at 11:13 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Scoping Out Suspects & Prospects

Before you can become a leading designer, photographer or writer with great clients and a wall full of awards, you’re going to need to scope out some suspects and prospects. A prospect, simply put, is a potential or “prospective” client. They’re in your sales loop and qualified, but haven’t yet graduated to being a paying client with loads of work for you.

Just before them in the sales and marketing food chain are “suspects.” These are the folks you think may need what you’re selling, but you haven’t confirmed that through the qualifying process. Qualifying, simply put, is the process of determining whether or not a suspect needs and buys what you have to offer and can pay for it. The process can involve much more detail, but the previous is it in a nutshell.

While I’m writing definitions, this is a good place to define marketing and sales. If you look in the newspaper want ads, odds are, you’ll see several jobs for marketing reps. In most cases, they’re not looking for a marketing rep. They’re looking for a salesperson. Marketing and sales aren’t synonyms. Marketing tasks are those activities do to warm up the sales playing field. It’s sending out a mailer or press release, writing some articles or white papers, attending networking events, along with other tools and tactics to get your name out there and become visible. Sales, on the other hand, is about face time, making calls, drafting proposals, giving presentations and ultimately closing the deal.

Speaking of making calls, contrary to popular belief, most design firm principals do make cold and warm calls. As a matter of fact, design firm consultants, Design Management Resources, did a research study a while back. They found that as much as 30% of a designer’s or firm’s business comes from cold calls and sending cold letters with a phone follow up. That’s pretty significant. If you’re not sending letters and making calls to prospects, you might just want to rethink your efforts.

Okay, I wrote all that to write this. Where the heck do you find suspects and prospects? Search engines and the Web are good places to start. Poke around and look for some growth industries or businesses that are similar to work you’ve already done. Swing over to the library and hit the reference desk. Ask them to point you to the Index Guide of Advertisers and/or the Index Guide of Advertising Agencies, if you do trade work. These hefty tomes are also called the “Red Books” and they provide a wealth of information. Others are The Million Dollar Directory and O’Dwyers Directory of P.R. Firms. There are several other directories the Reference Librarian can suggest. Over the course of an afternoon you can build a pretty decent list.

The Web also offers some helpful sites. LinkedIn.com and Biznik.com are two popular business networking sites. You put together a profile and then build your network. The idea is something like six degrees of separation. Folks you know know others who know yet more. That's a whole lot of knowing going on. In a couple of steps you can gain introductions to several suspects and prospects. Another is Jigsaw.com. It’s an online directory of business cards and pretty slick. The other day I was trying to find contact info for a prospect. They have several locations, but I couldn’t anything about their corporate office and contact info. I popped the business name into Jigsaw and bingo! It returned several key contacts at the corporate office, complete with addresses, phone numbers and even phone extensions. How handy is that? For a pretty small investment, Jigsaw can bring you some big returns. Yet another is Spoke. It’s similar to Jigsaw and they might be just the ticket for you.

Finding and contacting suspects and prospects should be part of your regular week, if not your day. Schedule in the time to do it as though it were any other project-oriented task. Because if you don’t, there aren’t going to be many projects.

Ideally, you’ll want to build a list of about 300 or more people. Sure, it takes time and effort to build that amount of contacts. Obviously, the more contacts you have, the better your odds are of landing a juicy gig. Keep in contact to ensure you’re on their radar screen. Drop them a handwritten note, a link to a pertinent article, a phone call and promo piece here and there. When the time is right, you’ll be the one at the top of their mind.

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posted by Neil at 3:59 PM 1 comments

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hot Off The Press!

Well, it’s not really hot ... and it’s not really off the press. It’s an e-book I’m just finishing up – Marketing Tune Up: A Turnkey Guide For Creating and Implementing Your Marketing Plan. Actually, this little tome was started a while back, but then all that life and work stuff got in the way.

Marketing Tune Up, affectionately nicknamed MTU, is a fun-to-read discourse about the ins and outs of writing, and actually putting to good use, your marketing plan. There’s nary a drivel of dry and droll marketing speak. What is contained within its pixeled pages are tried and true tactics and techniques to get your name out there, get the phone ringing and the inbox jingling. Okay ... enough with the alliteration.

This is a 75+ page beta version I’m putting out there at roughly half what it will sell for as version 2. I’d appreciate your thoughts, insights and suggestions for inclusion in the next version. If you’d like to email me some of your successful marketing activities, I’ll include them in the next version along with a credit line and a link to your site or blog.

Here are some of the topics covered in MTUv1:

Creating Your Marketing Plan:
  • The Components of a Marketing Plan
  • The Four “Ps” of Marketing
  • Conducting A Competitive Analysis
  • Conducting A SWOT Analysis
  • Marketing Objectives & Action Plans
  • Branding & Positioning
  • Creating A Budget
  • Developing Your Marketing Calendar
Working With the Tools:
  • Advertising
  • Direct Mail
  • The Web
  • Blogs
  • E-Newsletters
  • Online Forums & Discussion Groups
  • Search Engine Keyword Advertising
  • Banner Ads
  • Print Collateral Materials
  • Public Relations
  • Press Kits
  • Press & News Releases
  • Writing Articles
  • Tip Sheets
  • Interviews
  • Speaking Engagements
  • Seminars & Workshops
  • Networking
  • Generating Referrals
  • Building Buzz
Also included are a Sample Phone Script, a Sample Intro Letter, Competitive Analysis Charts, a SWOT Analysis Chart and an Hourly Rate Calculator.

You can read more about MTU here. If you’d like to cut to the chase and skip the descriptive stuff, you can use the button below to place your order.




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posted by Neil at 6:44 PM 0 comments

Friday, February 20, 2009

When The Check Doesn't Come

So, you landed a gig with a new client, shot off your proposal and they bought it. Yippee! The client seems nice enough, but you did have a wee bit of back and forth about the 50% up front stuff. “Ah ... it happens,” you think. Times are tough. You need the work. It’ll be a quick job so you decide to forgo the retainer and jump in. You’re thinking,“I can get this done in just a couple of days. By the time I get the half, it’ll be time to bill the rest, anyway.”

You’re slaving over a hot keyboard making sure everything’s picture perfect. Your client approved everything with only a couple of minor revisions. Now the gig’s out the door and ready for your favorite sport – billing. You fire up your accounting software du jour and whip up an invoice. Net 30. Into the envelope it goes and off on its merry way.

30 days come. 30 days go. No dough. Okay, so you decide to let it ride for a while. Every day you make the short walk to the mailbox and peer inside. Nothing ... except some more bills.

45 days come. 45 days go. Still nothing. So, you send off a very polite email reminder. No response. You’re getting a little antsy. You send off another copy of the invoice with “Past Due” stamped across the page.

60 days. 90 days. Nada. What’s a creative to do?

With good marketing comes work. With work comes billing. All too often, with billing comes your share of late payers and their evil cousin, the non-payer.

Collections is one of those tasks that creatives often shy away from. Many fear confrontation. Some are afraid of losing a client (even if they don’t want to pay). Still others are concerned about getting some negative buzz. But, collect you must, unless you happen to be independently wealthy and highly philanthropic.

There are a few ways to handle your collection activities. You can do it yourself. But, that means losing time you could spend on paying projects. You can turn it over to your attorney or hire one who specializes in collections. Or, you can turn the matter over to a collection agency.

Lawyers can be helpful, but expensive. Plus, if they’re good, they’re busy and it might take a while for them to get to your problem-at-hand. Collection agencies can creep some folks out, but they can be your best bet to get some money for your labors. Sure, there’s a fee, but it’s likely less than what an attorney would charge. Plus, getting some, or most, of your money is better than getting nothing.

Iris Salmins, V.P. Sales and Marketing at EJL and Associates, a firm that specializes in collections for creative services, says, “All collection agencies are not evil, we are helping small business people stay afloat.” She added, “If they are not paying you, they are not your client, they are your dependent.”

“Every contract should include a clause that says that if your clients don’t pay in time, they will have to pay for court costs, attorney’s fees, any other legal fees and collection agency fees,” said Salmins. Good advice.

Iris also shared the following tips when working with a collection agency.

  • If someone hasn’t paid you in 60 days it is time to get the account into the hands of a trusted collection agency.
  • Never pay anything up front. The agency should be paid only if you get the money from a client whose account you have turned over to them.
  • Never sign a contract with an agency that includes an exclusivity clause.
  • The agency should be willing to give you the name and phone numbers of three existing clients.
  • No amount of money should be too small or large for them to handle for you.
  • The management staff of the agency should have a good knowledge of your industry.

When all is said and done, collections is part of doing business. At some point we all have to face this and having a plan is place is a good idea. In the long run (and even the short one) it will help you avoid a load of aggravation and anxiety.

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posted by Neil at 11:01 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Features are okay. Benefits are better. But, solutions sell.

All companies have problems. Sometimes they’re big. Other times they’re small. Usually, companies within industry niches have the same kinds of problems. If you can identify those problems and find an authentic solution to them you’re well on your way.

So, how and where do you start to scope out some problems? Industry association sites are a good place to start. Check out their articles, news, trends and other information they may have to offer. Odds are you’ll spot some common woes.

Often, business club and association sites will carry a membership roster. Follow some member links and check out their sites. Naturally, Google can be a great help in finding suspects for your detective work.

Many of my readers are web and communication designers. Let’s say you’re one of those. You might find that company sites are having a hard time converting visitors into buyers. They might need a better landing page and stronger call to action. Maybe there’s a lot of “me too” marketing going on with everybody saying the same thing. You just found yourself a differentiation problem.

On the heels of industry associations sites, networking offers some good opportunities. The trick here is to attend networking events that your suspects and prospects are also likely to attend. If you’re a designer, going to a design-oriented event is nice to chum around with your peers, but you’re not as likely to meet potential clients. But, going to an American Marketing Association meeting might be the ticket. Let’s say you’re a photographer. An ASMP meeting is nice, but an Art Directors’ Club or an AIGA meeting would be a better choice for meeting image buyers.

When you go to an event or meeting, listen more than you talk. That’s important. Pose some open-ended questions, not the closed variety that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” For more on how to fire up a conversation and avoid being a wallflower, check Marketing Mentor’s site and blog. Ilise and Peleg have some great advice.

Another inroad is conducting a survey. SurveyMonkey.com is a good one for this. You might also consider running a poll on your site or a fax-back snail mailed version. You can gather some good information from a well thought out survey. Plus, you can offer the results in the form of a white paper or report that can be downloaded from your site in return for the recipient’s email address.

You might consider offering a complimentary consultation for a well qualified prospect. This is a form of consultative selling and it’s a great sales method for service-oriented businesses. It doesn’t make sense to do this for every suspect that comes along because you’ll be investing some time.

Do some background research to scope out the problem. Get a good handle on the company and its marketing/business environment. Develop some workable solutions and make your presentation. If the problem-at-hand is one you’ve successfully solved before, you might be able to simply work it into a conversation or email. The trick is to not show your hand. Whet their appetite for your solution, but don’t give it all away. Perhaps demonstrate your expertise with a written or verbal case study highlighting how you solved a similar problem.

At the end of the day, people ... your prospects ... don’t want to be sold. They want answers. They want solutions. Finding those workable, suitable solutions to common target industry problems can help make you the hero or heroine who saves the day and is worth every penny of your fee.

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posted by Neil at 10:01 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Time To Shine for Freelancers & Indy Pros

There’s more than a load of doom and gloom in the news these days. Recession. Depression. Bailouts. Credit crunch. Foreclosures. Layoffs. The list of nasty statistics goes on and on. I’m sure you’ve heard it all.

But, if you’re a freelancer, or independent professional, this might just be the time for you to shine. The “layoffs” entry in the previous paragraph is key. Many companies are laying off staff or completely dissolving positions. And therein lies the opportunity. Just because the staff goes away, doesn’t mean the work goes with them. Somebody has to get it all done.

Layoffs often mean smaller staffs are having to do much more with much less. Tie that to the fact that smart businesses know it’s wise to step up marketing and promotion activities during slow times. Why? Because many of their competitors are cutting back. It’s a time when those who crank up the marketing machine can overtake market share and be in a sweet position when the turnaround comes (and it will).

Savvy businesses know that freelancers can be their saving grace. They take some of the load off of in-house staff, companies don’t have to pay benefits, payroll taxes, buy new equipment and other employee related expenses. Plus, freelancers are usually easier to find and hire for a gig than a full-time employee. They’re in, do the job and out, until needed again.

In a nutshell, it simply makes sense during times like these. But, don’t take my word for it. Check out what CNN has to say. There’s also some good advice in the article about, as a freelancer or independent contractor, covering yourself when it comes to taxes and such.

Ireland-based designer, David Airey, also has some great insights on his blog, along with a few excellent resources.

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posted by Neil at 11:15 AM 0 comments

Friday, January 23, 2009

Networking With Blue Skin

Boy, time flies when you’re freezing in South Florida. This is supposed to be the subtropics. Something’s gone horribly wrong. It’s been cold. Like 40ºF cold. Yesterday, it topped out at around 60º. Yeah, it’s better than 2º, but it’s still dang cold. One tends to get used to 80º and sunny skies right quick. Okay, enough with the blue-skin ramblings.

I attended a local Chamber of Commerce meeting last week. It went better than expected and I had the opportunity to meet some great people. I also got the word out to some friends and family types [again] that I’m still alive and reasonably well (People tend to forget if you don't keep in touch). Both of those activities landed a couple of meetings and one probable gig. So, it’s time to roll up the ‘ole sleeves and start drafting a proposal.

I also broke out my copy of Marketing Mentors’ book, The Designers Guide to Marketing and Pricing. Ilise Benun and Peleg Top did a great job writing this excellent almanac of all things business for the creative entrepreneur. It covers all the nitty gritty from determining your market to how to find prospects and clients, what to charge and how to craft a winning proposal. Sure, I write about marketing and self promotion, but that certainly doesn’t mean I know it all or don’t forget things here and there. So, I keep a shelf of books, articles and white papers for reference.

Speaking of networking, one little ditty I came across is Networking for Professionals. I’m just starting to poke around to see what they’re all about. I found them via a link on the South Florida Business Journal site. NFP holds regular face time networking events and I’m planning to go. Individual memberships are $20 per month in NY, NJ and CT and $10 per month in GA, AZ and IL. If I’m understanding things correctly, memberships out of those areas are free. Free is good. They might be something for you to check into.

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posted by Neil at 10:20 AM 1 comments

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Plugging Along With Intro Letters

It’s Tuesday and I’m plugging along. Today’s all about writing intro letters to some prospects. I put together a nifty list with the help of Jigsaw. Other than that, it’s working on a couple of site redesigns and my presentation for the 2009 HOW Design Conference.

My intro letters are just that ... an introduction. I’m not trying to sell anything. I’m simply looking to establish some name recognition and a bit of background. Fortunately, I have an oddball surname and folks tend to remember it. They usually get it wrong, but at least they remember it’s “Tort ... something.” “Tortellini?” “Tortella?”

A few days after the letters go out, I’ll follow up with a phone call. Again, I’m not selling my services on this call. I’m simply selling an appointment. I’m trying to get some face time with the prospect. Now, doesn’t that take the pressure off?

A lot of people try to sell the whole ball of wax with one phone call. That’s a tough, if not impossible, task to pull off. Someone, I think it was the great philosopher, Anonymous, who once said, “I don’t know you. I don’t know your company. Now, what were you trying to sell me?”

Before you can sell, you need to establish trust and cultivate a relationship. That can take time. But, you’ve got to start somewhere. A phone call. A brief meeting. Sending off some useful information. It will take time, but persistence pays off.

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posted by Neil at 8:48 AM 0 comments

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I’d like to make a toast

This past Friday, I attended my first Toastmasters meeting. The idea here being, to get out, meet some people and hone the ‘ole speaking skills. Getting involved with Toastmasters was one of those tasks that was always on the list, but I never seemed to be able to get it checked off.

For those of you not familiar, Toastmasters is an international organization that provides a supportive environment where one can develop their communication and leadership skills. That means they tend to not throw tomatoes. Yup, that’ll work. The dues are more than affordable and it sure beats shelling out a boat load of dough for the latest self-help CD set, seminar or training session (typically where you’re supposed to close your eyes, fall backward and hope the guy behind you likes you enough to catch you on the way down to the floor.)

For the record, public speaking ranks higher than death on the stressful things to do list. No kidding. But, even if you’re not planning to become a silver-tongued orator, this kind of training, feedback and experience will help you make better presentations and take a leadership role in projects and client management. Heck, it can even help you convince your significant other that going out for Italian is a better choice than Mexican. That sure can’t hurt.

The meeting was fairly small. The people were friendly and I was addressed as the “honored guest.” It was obvious that these folks don't know me yet. Give it a few weeks. I'm sure "honored" will digress to something along the lines of "hey you." Plus, the coffee was free. What more could you want? They’re a diverse group in terms of age, gender and occupation / vocation. The format was a bit more formal than I expected, but it was kind of refreshing and fun.

There were three speakers, each of whom spoke on their topic for roughly 6 minutes. Speeches are timed and the talks are critiqued by an “evaluator.” I thought the evaluations where honest, and helpful. There’s also a person to check your grammar and word usage and another who calls you on the carpet for using those little gems like, “Um,” “Er” “You know,” or, “Ahhh ...”

All in all, a good time was had. I met some delightful folks, including a guy who is the president of a $40 million company in one of my target markets. Yeah ... I think we’re going to get chummy with him. Plus, he seemed to be a really nice, down-to-earth guy.

If you haven’t done the Toastmasters thing yet, I highly recommend it. It’s an inexpensive way to sharpen your communication skills, meet some great people and get yourself loaded up on java for the day to come.

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posted by Neil at 6:28 AM 1 comments

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

More on the South Florida Adventure

Today, it’s heading out to our local Chamber of Commerce to pick up a new member packet. They have a couple of lead groups I’m going to attend. I’m usually not big on lead groups. They tend to be a business card orgy with folks trying to sell you this and that. But, I figure it’s a good place to start to get know some people in the area.

After that, it’s off to Jigsaw and Spoke to hunt down some prospects in the area. South Florida is ripe with service companies, several large ones are right in my backyard. With this lousy economy, many have laid off in-house designers and are outsourcing. Once I have some names and contact info, I’ll be drafting intro letters and making follow up phone calls.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ll be getting in touch with friends and family to see if they know of some folks who might need what I do. That will be an ongoing practice. Out of sight is usually out of mind.

I whipped up a couple of site layouts for my cousin and shot them off as pdfs last night. I’m waiting to hear back. You know how that goes.

Other than that, I’ll be updating my contact info on several business networking sites like LinkedIn. I also need to start a press release about some Tortorella Design stuff that’s been happening and begin to build my South Florida media list.

Are we having fun yet?

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posted by Neil at 10:59 AM 2 comments

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A New Year ... A New Adventure

Well, it’s a new year and time for a change. I made the leap and moved back to South Florida. Land of sunshine, palm trees, unbelievable traffic, lizards and insects the size of your fist. Ah ... the good life.

I lived here long ago and now it’s time to reestablish myself here in the subtropics. Fortunately, I’ve always kept in touch with folks down here so, I have the remnants of a networks to build on.

I thought it might be fun to follow me through on putting my business together in a new place. The good, the bad and the ugly. Hopefully, not too much on the ugly side.

I came down for the holidays back in December and got together with the family I haven’t seen in years. That’s always interesting. I was talking with my cousin who owns a home remodeling business. One thing lead to another and we started talking about his business and his site. It needs help. Bingo! My first gig. Plus, he’s going to plug me into his network of friends and business associates.

First lesson: Ask and you shall receive. If you don’t ask, you usually don’t get. I simply asked him if he’d like for me to look over his site and make some suggestions. One thing lead to another in the conversation and he asked me to rewrite and redesign the site.

I also called my friend, former boss in another life and major mentor. Everytime this guy gets a new position, I get a new client. He’s a true gem and the arrangement works well for both of us. We’ll be getting together for lunch in a week or so. I also called a couple of old clients who live in the area. More lunches to rekindle some relationships.

Next up, Toastmasters, to hone my speaking skills and meet some folks. Also, calling pretty much everyone I’ve met in my entire life to let them know what’s up and that I’m ready to do the design thingy.

Here we go ...

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posted by Neil at 6:43 AM 0 comments