Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Business Thinking

There are a number of questions most business owners want to have answered when it comes to advertising, there are numerous perspectives on the answers for those questions, and most of the questions have a common denominator, that is, a single question that ties them all together.

To advertise, or not to advertise? That is the question, whether ‘tis nobler for the business to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous, economic misfortune, or to take ads against a sea of troubled consumers, and by advertising, bring them in?

This is really the crux of the issue if not a little melodramatic (I swear I’ve heard it somewhere before). It is a worthy question and the real issue that is at stake is not whether your should be advertising or not, but rather, how proactive are you in making sure your business doesn’t fall by the wayside? Ladies and gentlemen, let me clear something up from the starting gate, this economic distress that your business is facing is not a black cloud hanging directly over your head and nobody else’s! We are all in it together. I think that is sometimes what we think as business owners, “Oh woe as me, I just don’t have anybody giving me any business anymore,” we say with an Eeyore drawl.

Here is an image for you, drawn from an actual experience of mine:

It was a slightly blustery spring day in Boise, Idaho, the rain had stopped, but the wind continued and in spite of the gray overhang in the sky, I decided to go drum up some business. I walked into Anybusiness, too a look around at the dismal, dark, empty, barren, listless, dull, gray (I could do this for hours) interior, and my eyes met the solitary individual, seated at a desk, playing a computer game (computers were not the business of this company). I made eye contact, as not to scare the frightened, startled creature and began my approach. I took only a few brief seconds to realize that this person was the owner and sole proprietor of the business in question.

I presented a copy of my magazine, and explained that I had just started a new community-oriented magazine with inexpensive advertising, and wondered whether he was interested in advertising. The answer shocked me, “No, [motioning to the empty business place] we don’t have any business, so we can’t advertise, the economy has really hurt us,” he said.

I stayed for a few minutes to speak with the gentleman, but he just kept blaming the economy and slow times for the emptiness. A few minutes later would find me less than a half a mile down the road at another business in the same industry, that had at least four full time employees, who were all with customers, and the owner indicated that they are so busy, she has little time to advertise, but would definitely consider it.

There is, needless to say, a striking contrast in every aspect of these two businesses. I will probably be pointing out the obvious here, but I will plow forward anyway. Here are a couple of thinking points:
  1. IF your business is doing poorly in ANY economy, don’t sit around and waste your precious time and resources playing computer games!
  2. Do not EVER blame the economy to a salesman who comes to you! More on this to follow.
  3. Be proactive to attract more business! There are three ways.
  4. Make you business a place with a spirit of optimism that makes people want to enter in.
  5. Consider the cost of your actions vs. the cost of advertising. Numbers will follow.
  6. Listen to a salesman every now and then. I know it sounds odd, but I had a boss that taught me this lesson, and he still is in business. I know it sounds odd, but I will explain why.
  7. Follow-up! follow-up! follow-up!

Concerning the initial point, as a business owner, your time is the most valuable asset in your company, squandering it on computer games or meaningless tasks is not the way to a fortune. This goes hand-in-hand with number three, if you have no business, shut the doors, lock them, and go find some business! This brings me to my second point, yes the economy is poor right now, we all know it and we all feel it, complaining to me about it doesn’t make me feel any better and it doesn’t make you feel any better. It is bad form, don’t do it! When I am working hard and you are sitting around blaming the economy, it makes you look rather silly.

Point 3 naturally follows the prior. If business is bad, you must do everything in your power to drive business to you. Whining about a poor economy doesn’t accomplish this. There are three ways to do this, basically, and they all have pros and cons, consider: 1) Do it yourself. Literally hit the streets. Make phone calls. Go to events. Join networking groups. Get online and discover social media. 2) Have an employee do those things. Get an excellent employee with a devotion to the business, give them an incentive to produce and send them forth! 3) Pay someone to do it. Find an advertiser that you trust and have them promote for you.
If you do it yourself, you have to consider how much time and effort it takes for your to do it, and whether your salary is worth it, see notes on point 5 for more on this. If you have an employee do it, you have to consider that you are often paying them hourly for things that appear to be social, i.e. non-business related, and their time is costly, especially if they are a skilled employee in another position. However this can have great benefits to your company, contacts that an employee makes can be invaluable. Finally, finding an advertiser that you can trust is difficult, we don’t lie, we present our case in a fashion that leaves us as the best possible of any alternative. It can be easy to feel conned by an advertiser. This has an immediate up front cost, and the results can take time, so sticker shock usually creates a mental block and produces an attitude of, “advertising doesn’t work.”

Just the dismal appearance alone, of this particular place of business was enough to turn me off. But the attitude of the owner, the Eeyore-esque complaining almost made me want to quit my profession altogether, it was not a place where I would take my business. No matter how bad times get, make your business the haven that people can come to and rest, get away from the negativity.

Point 5, consider the cost. I ask myself this question every time I approach a sales situation, “What is my fear costing me?” It sounds odd, but often sales people are fearful of walking into another business, because we must adapt instantly to an environment that we haven’t seen. In monetary terms, that fear can have a great cost if I don’t get the sale. For a business owner, sitting around complaining about the environment costs as well. Consider a $3,000.00 salary for a business owner. For every hour spent on a computer not doing something directly related to getting more business, s/he loses $18.75 from company profitability. If that hour doesn’t drive in at least that much in business, it is a complete loss. For our situation earlier, our gentleman told me that there wasn’t enough business to afford advertising, yet he was paying himself to play computer games. Even on a very small salary, one day of that type of behavior and he could afford a print ad that would produce business income and thus pay him another day.

6: Salesmen. I was a receptioneur for a small professional business and a toy salesman came in and asked for the owner of the company. I assumed that he would not want to listen to a toy salesman and sent the man away, which I felt bad doing because he looked kind and in need of help. Recounting the situation to my boss, he looked at me and quietly, very earnestly, said, “Never turn a salesman away, always come and get me, if I am not available, I will let them know when they can return.” WHAT!? He continued, “Every business is built on sales, we expect people to listen to us, I expected people to listen to me when I was door-to-door, I will always give them a few minutes, it doesn’t cost me anything.”

What I learned then and there is that sales is an honest occupation, people buy, or don’t buy, based on their constructed image of who I am. If I don’t present a person they can have faith in, or at least pity on, I don’t get a paycheck. For me, I still listen to sales people, even when I am busy, and you know, there are a lot of great products out there, a lot of opportunities. If I didn’t do this, I would be the worst kind of hypocrite, and that is one thing I really don’t want to be.
One last point to consider about advertising salesman. If they literally come to you, begging for your business, and especially if they return and follow-up, imagine what that kind of advertising can do for your business. For much less than the cost of you or an employee, they are out there promoting your business, often, door-to-door.

Finally, when you do get leads, produced, or given to you, follow up. You can literally never know what will or will not be a sale. This is just a basic element of sales that I have picked up. No matter how hard it is for me, I force myself to pick up the phone and make the calls time and time again. This turns prospects into clients, because they know that I am active in what I do, if I can sell myself to them, I can sell them to others! That is the most important thing to remember.

To sum up, a business owner has only a few options to make it through any economy, advertising is by far the least expensive of those options. By leveraging advertising in your favor, you can be a growth business, even in a tough economy. Keep positive, and keep selling your products and services, don’t be lazy, do it yourself, have an employee get after it, or pay someone, but get it done, you have to, your business depends on it!