Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Issues that Matter

Marketers should always know what the stresses are that keep their clients and prospects awake at nights.

Here’s a look at that question from a unique source. BC-based Soho Business Report asked its readers which topics they would like to see covered more often in the magazine.

Here are their answers.

Marketing 72.4%
Networking Opportunities 67.2%
Improving Sales 53.4%
Technology Purchases 43.8%*
Money Management 37.9%
Time Management 34.5%
Home Design/Space Mgmt. 34.4%
Finding Capital 34.1%
Reducing Overhead/Taxes 32.8%
Import/Export Issues 27.6%
Diversifying Products/Service 27.6%
Dealing with Growth 27.6%
Balancing Work/Family 25.9%
Collecting Debts 25.9%
Legal/Regulatory Issues 18.9%
US Business Related Issues 17.2%
Technology Training 12.1%*

If your product addresses an issue these entrepreneurs want to read more about, your solutions should interest them too.

These may primarily be home-based entrepreneurs, and not captains of ambitious, fast-growth companies, but I think their concerns are pretty much the same as those of most other small businesses. (Except maybe for networking. Many entrepreneurs hate it.)

Find more about SBR Magazine and its readers here.

* Sigh. It always saddens me to see so many people interested in more information about technology, but so little interest in investing in learning to use it more effectively.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Credit Card Rant

The following rant has nothing to do with selling to entrepreneurs. But it could serve as a heads-up for credit-card holders – and a warning for any business that abuses customers’ trust.

Since I paid my MasterCard bill on time last month, I was surprised to see an interest charge of $40 on my February bill.

So I called BMO for an explanation. After 10 minutes on hold, a helpful customer service rep explained it to me.

Apparently I paid my bill a few days late in December (the usual pre-Christmas bustle, I guess). As a result, MasterCard is now charging interest on all my purchases until I have made two consecutive on-time, in-full payments.

“Since when?” I asked, flabbergasted. “Since June,” she said.

So that’s how it’s going to be: Make one mistake, and your credit card suddenly becomes a high-interest loan. That’s a pretty fundamental change, and while MasterCard might have announced it last spring, I don't remember them making any attempt to draw my attention to it.

(Note: Does this penalty even make sense? Why would BMO actively encourage me to leave my MasterCard at home?)

I had barely opened my mouth to complain when the CSR graciously offered to cancel the $40 charge. Of course I was grateful, but it made me wonder how much flak the bank has received over this charge, since they are so willing to roll it back before it’s even requested.

Luckily, I have two credit cards. Guess which one is staying home for the foreseeable future.

I think there’s a lesson here: consult with your customers when making significant changes. Don't try to slip one over on them. They will find out. And they won’t be happy.

Maybe the banks figure they have all the power. They reserve the right to change the cardholder agreement from time to time. I don't have that right.

But there’s one right I do have. Not to do business with them.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Too much heartbreak leads to divorce

I’ve often called small business a “heartbreak” market. It’s a tough sector to make a buck in, because so many customers are too busy to listen and thus have trouble telling the right solutions from the wrong ones.

Today I talked to a website consultant who no longer works with business owners. His heart (like mine) is with small business, but he says entrepreneurs were just too frustrating to deal with. “They don't want to think. They just want to do.”

He complained specifically about business owners who get seduced by web designers who want to spend tends of thousands of dollars on spiffy-looking Flash-animated websites, when what business owners need is a straightforward proposition and a small investment in search engine optimization.

He said business owners were reluctant to hire consultants for a day at $150 an hour to help them choose the right strategic course for their website. Instead, they pay more in the long run by using web designers whose concerns are more esthetic than results-focused. That may seem to cost less up-front, but in the long run any site that’s not aligned with your marketing and sales strategy will cost you dearly.

All the more reason, I say, for marketers to develop stronger relationships with business owners before trying to sell to them. You can do that through newsletters, personal calls, blogs, direct mail, invitations to events – anything that sets you up as a trusted partner.

Without that trust, even the best sales proposition will almost always finish second when the business owner has a pre-existing relationship with a competing supplier - whether or not they can do what you do.

As for my friend, he says, “I directed myself a major corporations, so I have no more problems.”

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Read the mind of an entrepreneur

Libby Znaimer does great interview with entrepreneurs for the Weekend Financial Post. She asks not so much about their businesses, but how they get business done.
It’s must reading for marketers who want to know how entrepreneurs operate. How they really think.
Here are some gems from her Jan. 27 interview with Nick Laperle, president of Sonomax Hearing Healthcare Inc. of Montreal, which develops and manufactures hearing aids and earpieces for hearing protection and digital wireless applications.

Note how entrepreneurs’ missions really are their jobs:
"As founding president of Sonomax, I spend most of my time telling people that hearing loss is a global epidemic and that we have a new technology to put hearing on the same plane as vision and dental. I also build strategic alliances with market leaders. We are opening the fourth of many retail stores [within] Wal- Mart stores in Canada."

On carving a personal life out of a 50-hour business week:
"I start at 8:37 a.m., so I can put my six year- old daughter, Emmalyne, on the bus. It's not a lot of time together, but that walk to the bus stop is often the best part of my day."
(Note from Rick: Nick may actually believe that. But in my experience, few entrepreneurs do. They love their families, but they can't wait to get to work.)

Informal work environment:
"If I’m doing investor relations, I wear a suit. At the office, I dress business-casual, usually sweaters… when I met with Sir Richard Branson in September, he told me he saw no need to ever wear a tie, and sweaters were the way to go!"

Big-picture guy:
"I find meetings painful at best, unless there are issues to resolve and all parties can contribute. I'm an entrepreneur, not a details guy."

Marketers who shroud their identity or muddle their message should take special note of Laperle’s pet peeve: “Hidden agendas. I just wish people told it like it is.”

Thursday, February 01, 2007

New Small Business Statistics

Marketers trying to understand the big picture on small business in Canada will be interested in a new set of reports on small biz stats co-ordinated by Industry Canada.

The data include answers to such questions as:

* How many Canadian Entrepreneurs are there, anyhow? (about 2.3 million)

* Who creates more jobs, small biz or big biz? (pretty much a tie – as of the latest stats, 48% [second quarter of 2006])

* How much does small business contribute to Canada’s GDP? (about 22% in 2005, which is down from 27% 10 years earlier. The decline is probably to be expected, given the phenomenal growth of big business and mergers & acquisitions in this country - due to the fact that so much more risk capital is available to big businesses than to small ones).

* How many small businesses use e-commerce? (about 33% have websites, but only 6% actually sell online).

All this and much more is available from Industry Canada’s “Key Small Business Statistics” report, newly updated for January, 2007. See the full report online .
Or download the PDF version here.