small business

Small and Mid-Sized Businesses – Who Needs Integrity?

When small and mid-sized business owners come to me asking to redesign their website, my first reaction is always to start a discussion with them about their business, their goals and objectives, and then to drill down to what is working and what is not working on their site.  Seems like basic and straightforward questioning for most marketing professionals, right?  Well, unfortunately, not right.

I have dedicated my business and this blog specifically to helping small and medium-sized business owners because they often fall prey to unscrupulous companies looking to make a quick buck. I feel that these growing organizations, the backbone of our Canadian economy, are being taken advantage of by an unregulated industry that is just as likely to sell websites as it is to sell iPods or mugs.  They approach the small to mid-sized business owner with flashy razzle-dazzle and some even “talk the talk”, hitting them up for thousands of dollars in website design and site management with no intent to actually help the client.

Like most of us, unless you know what you are looking for, you don’t know what you don’t know. As such, I have outlined a few questions that will hopefully protect you, the small to mid-sized business owner, against web designers or web programmers calling themselves marketers.  If you need help in deciphering the legitimate companies from the charlatans, consult a real marketing consultant to help guide you.

When a business owner wonders why their brochures or flyers, e-newsletters or e-blasts are not working for them, or says that they really want to create a new website or add QR codes to their business cards – as a marketing professional – I have to put on the brakes and ask them why they want to do so.

The Anti-Charlatan Questions to ask:

  1. How did they hear you needed a new site – e.g. solicitation via email or online?
  2. How well-written was the email or letter of solicitation? Did it provide you with links to projects they have done?
  3. Ask to have a meeting with them at their office. This will give you some indication if they have a legitimate business.  If they work from home, then they should be comfortable telling you that.
  4. When you meet with them, do they spend most of the meeting talking about what they can do for you, or on finding out more about your company and your challenges and needs?  If it’s all about them, you might expect your site project to be as well.
  5. Did they claim to be a web designer or marketer? Can they substantiate their claims of experience and practice?
  6. Do they have examples of their work? You need to know exactly what their involvement was in the development of the site. Did they design the site?  Did they design it using a website template (e.g. WordPress), or are they custom sites?  Note:  A template is a sort of prototype that they would simply modify by adding your content and pictures. The amount of design is very limited, and these sites all look very similar, but this is the least expensive option. A WordPress site also offers templates, but can be customized (although the WordPress icon in the URL will be visible to your audience).  A custom site is developed from scratch by a true designer, and this is usually the most expensive option.
  7. Ask them about the project process – do they create a critical path, a site map, with timelines clearly stated, etc.?
  8. Do they have writers who can write the content for the site? Is the content written from an SEO perspective or is it straight copy?
  9. What kind of SEO provision is outlined in the project?
  10. Do they write the programming for the sites? You are looking for them to tell you PHP, Java scripting, etc.
  11. Do they provide you with a Content Management System (CMS) so you can manage the site in-house?
  12. Ask them if they create wireframe designs.  If yes, ask them to show you an example.  If no, ask them why. The answer should speak to their expertise.
  13. What types of quality control measures are in place?
  14. Do they have references you can call?  Look through their work samples, and choose ones you’d like to talk to. Make sure it is a senior person at the company, not a reference for a junior employee.
  15. How will you be able to measure the ROI of the site?  You are looking for them to tell you that they use Google Analytics or other site measurement metrics. You’ll need to discuss if they will be providing on-going site measurement and recommendations.  If they are not marketers, I strongly recommend you work with a marketing agency or consultant for increased site value.

As a marketer and as a small business owner, integrity is more than simply a word – it is something live by, to follow and believe in. Integrity is one of the most vital assets I bring to the table for my clients.

Was this blog helpful?  Do you have any questions I can help you with?  Please share your questions or stories in the comments, so that others may learn from your experiences.

Do I Need A Marketing Strategy Or A Marketing Plan?

As a small or midsized business owner, you need to have both a marketing strategy and a marketing plan.  To truly understand why you need both, first you need to understand what the difference is between a marketing strategy and a plan.

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Marketing Strategy (the map)

A marketing strategy is your road map to help you get to where you want to be.  It is shaped by your overall business goals. It includes a definition of your business, a description of your products or services, a profile of your target audiences or clients, and defines your company’s role in relation to the competition. The marketing strategy is essentially a document that outlines a road map or summary that you can use to evaluate the relevance and effectiveness of your specific marketing plans.

Marketing Plan (the road)

The marketing plan, also sometimes referred to as a tactical plan, outlines the details of the roads you will take to get you to where you want to be.  It is a practical application of your marketing strategy, which includes details of what marketing activities you need to implement (website, advertising, videos, radio, etc.) to support the strategy in getting your business where you want it to be.

Similar to road construction, if you don’t have a road map, you can’t build the roads that will lead you to your destination.

In outlining the differences between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan, it is clear to see that the answer to the original question is simply: you need both.

To get started in developing your marketing strategy, first you’ll need to do a little homework to prepare. Here are a questions you need to answer for yourself before an agency can help you develop a marketing strategy:

  1. How would you define the business?
  2. What are your key services or products?
  3. Who is your target audience for each of your services or products?
  4. Who are your key competitors in this market segment?
  5. Is your pricing inline with your competitors or at parity?
  6. Is your business trying to lead or follow industry pricing?
  7. What is the ROI for all of your marketing tactics to date?
  8. How have you measured the success of your marketing activities?
  9. What distribution channels do you use?
  10. What do you think is your unique selling proposition versus the competition?
  11. Why is this unique selling proposition compelling to your audience?
  12. Have you done any client and/or market research?
  13. What is the image or personality of your company and its products or services?
  14. What are the sales targets for this year? Next year? (be specific!)

Your marketing strategy and marketing plan have a symbiotic relationship, in which you need to have both working for you to get you where you need to be.  Before you start writing your own strategy, you might want to consult a marketing agency.  These are professionals, dedicated not only to the field of marketing, but to helping businesses realize their goals through the creation of successful marketing strategies.

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