Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Without the ability to get the message out or product in people hands (lots of peoples hands), how will your business grow... or even sustain itself?
Over the next few weeks, challenge yourself to go through (or just begin!) the first 2 stages of our small business marketing jumpstart. Stage 1 will start with the basics and stage 2 will be more intermediate marketing ideas. Beyong that, Stage 3 and up is industry specific... and that requires more advanced marketing consultants who focus on single industries.
For the sake showing how diverse stage 1 and 2 of our marketing jumpstart challenge will be, I am going to use 3 industries: 1) gift, 2) legal and 3) home repair. And, we will highlight some successful companies who make stages 1 and 2 look easy and thoughtless.
Fun! Small Business Owners can increase their sales by going through the 2 stages and spending less than $1500/year. It will be simple, repeatable and successful! Keep your eyes peeled.
Monday, September 22, 2008
So you can search until you are blue in the face... I should title this "SPINNING YOUR WHEELS" because that is how finding OEMs seems. If you take good notes and build solid lists, you can narrow your list and find a handful of good options to do the tighter price/timeframe/customer service/references comparison to make your decision on the best company to partner with... because they will be a partner!
Here are some resources to help:
- Retail Packaging Association
- GlobalSources.com (has a China section if that is what you are into)
Many other directories exist, but I like these the best. Some industries have their own directory or two, such as retail packaging association. Just note that these sites take listings as advertising and it is not comprehensive. More of the small mom and pops don't advertise like this (and they don't have a searchable site... if at all) so check our your local yellow pages or call around to local companies who may supply products to them (paper to a book binder or textiles to a seamstress) and see if they will help one of their customers out.
Local is better - less shipping costs, more of a partnership cause you do business face-to-face, and your support your local economy. What could be better.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
What I have done is get pregnant, sleep through my first trimester, move my personal residence and business to another state, and well, be me. And its been great! Have you taken a break and recharged your engines? If not, how do you gain the perspective to know if you are headed in the right direction?
Shake up your compass. Give your self a break and take a beautiful hiatus (the real kind) where you regain 20/20 on your past and a clear vision of your near future!
Thursday, June 19, 2008
(in reverse chronilogical order...)
Prepping for the Show : During the Show
Prepping for the Show : The Booth
Prepping for the Show : Marketing
Prepping for the Show : NSS Show Preparation
Prepping for the Show : Preview
Friday, June 13, 2008
First, I recommend reading Paula Barsky's Book, "How to Start a Creative Manufacturing Business." There is loads of good info there.
Then, I would say, look big (always have the front you are big time) but on the tightest budget possible.
~Go for taught pipe and drape made with wooden poles and great fabric rather than walls.
~Buy carpet squares that can be used repeatedly rather than rent the carpet there.
~Don't be afraid of shipping your booth... There are many companies who do this just for the shows. FedEx Freight is pretty competitive too.
~Don't use a professional photographer to take pics. WASTE - OF - MONEY. My digital point and click took just as great shots of my booth as the professional.
Large catalog companies and retailers are great to have as customers so don't slight the little guys at all. They are better customers. They don't ask for major discounts. They don't require terms. They don't ask you to ship a gazillion different samples... overnight. And they don't (typically) cancel orders that leave you with tons on inventory. So, don't think they are that great. Treat the little guys as if they are your one and only.
Be wary of some of the Marts... they don't mind ripping off the little guy. They may want to work with you, it is possible. But lots of them have designers/manufacturers they work with who can create a 79% different product than yours and mass retail it. Why work with a new partner that may not bend over like their existing one?!?!
Manufacturing Reps can turn your business into a REAL one. Court them. Seek them out. I wouldn't do the "MFG REPS WANTED" sign, but it must be successful bc many do that. There is no better place than trade shows to build a network. This is the best marketing for your money... cause its on a portion of SALES. Not in hopes to get sales like ads, mailers, etc. Keep in mind, they like a percentage of the sale. So if you are selling a book for $20 retail, it would be $10 wholesale and with the average of 20-25% margin for these reps, you would get $7.50 - $8 per book. So, price accordingly. See my post on pricing.
Know that 98% of the very interested people will walk away and not order later. They are busy, they lose your brochure, they forget... no matter the reason, TRY TO GET THE ORDERS WHEN YOU HAVE THEIR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION. Come up with mantras or sayings that work to get them to buy on the spot. Maybe throw in free shipping. This worked for me a few times. Maybe no minimum first order. And it is always good to offer this on the reorder as well. But if you do this, bundle your products. Like 4 books per order. Buyers like to hear no min order. This way, you get the order and the foot in the door to sell more and start the relationship.
Don't go buying a ton of brochures. Print them yourself. Buy InDesign or Illustrator (Creative Suite) and design a nice looking take-away. Print them yourself or take them to a commercial printer... just don't get sucked into buying too much. For a show that has 14,000 attendees, you may only need a few hundred. YOU DON'T NEED 2000 like I bought on my first show! If you come close to running out, go to Kinko's. Trust me on this one...
And take a friend who is a natural sales person. Prep them before the show... just in case you freeze like I did for the first 3 hours.
Trade Show Etiquette: Pamela covers this well. (It is surprising how many people don't know the etiquette of shows.) Make friends with the companies around you. They will be valuable for brainstorming and advice.
This is such an exiting time. I look back at my first show very fondly. Yes, there are many things I would do differently or more of. But you won't know what it is until you do it. And you are 95% of the way by just doing it. Congratulations!
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Grand openings are severely overrated. So are product launches and galas of all sorts.
Make a list of successful products in your industry. Most of them didn't start big. Not the Honda Accord or Facebook, not Aetna Insurance, not JetBlue or that church down the street. Most overnight successes take a decade (okay, four years online).
The grand opening is a symptom of the real problem... the limited attention span of marketers. Marketers get focused (briefly) on the grand opening and then move on to the next thing (quickly). Grand opening syndrome forces marketers to spend their time and money at exactly the wrong time, and worse, it leads to a lack of patience that damages the prospects of the product and service being launched.
Non-profits do the same thing when they spend months planning an elaborate gala that takes all the time and enriches the hotel and the caterer. Far better to spend the time and money building actual relationships than going for the big 'grand' hit.
The best time to promote something is after it has raving fans, after you've discovered that it works, after it has a groundswell of support. And more important, the best way to promote something is consistently and persistently and for a long time. Save the bunting for Flag Day.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
My product is a perfect example of packaging gone wrong. Too wordy, yet still too difficult to understand. Pictures were less than best. Box packaging looked cheap, didn't fit well and tore a lot.
Originally, I looked at competitors and thought to myself, they must know how this is done. So I mirrored them. BAD IDEA. Packaging can set you apart from the competition and so it is best to invest wisely with a well know packaging company that can take your product/concept/etc and sell it to the world with ease, a difference, and with that special something that draws shoppers to your product and makes them want to purchase.
Don't be afraid to take risk... calculated risk. Research pricing, source, source, source. Don't forget to get a number of quotes from several providers. Don't go with just the cheapest. Go on reputation, vision and portfolio. Even check out the Better Business Bureau for past complaints. Keep in mind that packaging made in the USA will be very expensive or if not expensive, it will look cheap. Just keep this in mind. This is a big dilemma that I will touch on quite frequently...
I have so much to say when it comes to packaging. I had quite a tough experience with my first round of packaging that I stopped for a while out of sheer disappointment and frustration. I now have hundreds of "timber" as I call it because my boxes are useless! ; ) Oh the joys of going at it alone and on a budget! Seek help with experts when and wherever possible. Maybe just pay for a consultant to help you create it and you have the packaging done elsewhere.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
So you ask WHY BOTHER with selling wholesale?!? Well, it is where all the cool kids are. If you want your product to be recognized (and quickly), selling to retailers is the way to go. If your product is unique, you almost HAVE to go this route. Why? Well, think about it. You don't google "cool trinket that I don't know exists." No one does. How will people find you in the abyss of the web? You can try to vie for a placement on the thousands of sites optimized for "unique gift" or "cool stationery". But it will take ages and a lot of knowledge/money to make that happen. Even then, these terms are so general -- how many of those people who stumble upon your site are the right target market for you? Don't waste your time.
Now, if you are selling something that is actually searched, such as "hemp grocery bag," you can sell online. Sell a product online that people search for. Period. Now, how many times is "hemp grocery bag" searched upon... probably not that much. But, there are tools to help you determine if there is a market for your products online. This is determined by the number of searches done on a term... No guessing with a forecast! It is there, black and white! Damn I wish there were a tool like this for wholesale market!
I tried managing both wholesale and internet marketing and it has taken me nearly a full year to manage both with only mediocre results. Why? I have a great product, outstanding values and customer testimonials. Why? Simply because of my lack of focus. Not because I have not tried. Simply because I was teaching myself about both business models, alone and on a shoe string budget. Learning 2 business models at the same time doesn't work. If I had tried to specialize, I could have focused better and been more successful. BUT, I dont' regret it. It was all worth the knowledge that I now have! All mistakes are good in business... despite how painful they are. Well, I say this, but you can make a real mistake by repeating one...
And I will end this post with another fun reminder about pricing (which we will cover much more later)... plan appropriately. And pay yourself. Don't give it away. Repeat after me... don't give it away. Business means making money. So source, source, source to get the margins you need to be a wise business person.
Cheers for now.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
One of my most recent mini beginnings was the creation of Blue Sky Papers, http://www.blueskypapers.com/, a small creative company making kits so people can easily create a special gift to pay tribute to someone. This beginning has been start, top, strong and weak all at the same time. If anyone ever tells you that being a creative manufacturer or starting up a business is a roller coaster ride, PUT ON YOUR SEAT BELT... cause they are not kidding. I have never experienced such highs and lows!
So, put on your seat belt. I am going to share my journey with you, with all of its highs, lows and imperfections. Perhaps learning through my mistakes and misfortunes and successes, you can grow.