When is the last time you were honest with yourself and your business. No I'm not talking about what you tell everyone in your elevator speech or what you tell your co-workers: I'm talking about the truth. A lot of businesses that are in startup, or just past the phase of startup, don’t have a formal group of advisors to challenge them. Many founders are idealistic and dreamers by nature so its easy for them to slip into an ideal rather than a reality. While idealistic and optimistic thinking is necessary to grow a business. You also need to maintain that vision for growth with the reality of where you are today.
The fact remains, of the 28 million businesses in the United States, only 4 percent will surpass $1M in annual sales. Going from zero to $1M+ requires agility and unemotionally answering objective questions. Here at Banyan Creative we have had the chance to work with several companies who have overcome that $1M+ goal with no outside funding. These businesses share a common thread. A gritty owner who isn't afraid to roll up their sleeves. An undying commitment to the work. And they also know when to stop and change directions.
If you’ve been following us for the last couple of years in our own startup mode, you’ll noticed that we frequently talk about different marketing tactics. But we also dialogue about what we are learning from our own trials & errors and what we are learning from the companies that we partner with. One of the great disciplines, I notice with the truly great companies we work with is their leadership or their ownership often removes themselves from the office for several days each year or each quarter. During this time they ask themselves brutally honest questions about where their business is really at objectively. Many of them have even asked outside advisors, mentors or trusted board members to ask these questions of them. Lets be brutally honest: Its pretty hard to be objective when you are the only one making the decisions. It just is. Call it what it is.
Here’s a list of questions we have to ask ourselves from time to time:
Metrics, KPI's and financials are very important to review as well, but I find these questions don't get to the heart and the soul of the business. Why you are doing it and who you are doing it with?
Need some marketing reflection? We would love to help. You can find us in the office or out on the bike reflecting on what we need to improve on ourselves.... if we are brutally honest.
With HubSpot’s State of Inbound showing that a lead cost is going up for for North American B2B companies due to more competition, how do you calculate the cost of online leads and how can you possibly drive costs down?
Calculating costs In general the cost of online leads is driven from the cost of the traffic acquisition in addition to the cost of the call-to-action used split by the number of leads generated. Basically (A + B) / C where:
1. A – Cost of traffic acquisition: There are many ways to acquire your online audience but they are mainly split to organic traffic and paid traffic. Organic traffic is traffic you paid for in sweat and managed to drag to your site through your actions. Typical actions are blogging, twitting, spreading your content on social sites or content sharing sites etc. Paid traffic is the one that is much easier to scale but at a cost. Its comprised of different types of advertising medium from Google Ads to placing banners on industry specific blogs to spreading content through content networks such as Outbrain or Zemanta. For paid traffic the typical payment method is pay-per-click so you pay by the size of your audience.
2. B – Cost of call-to-action: When you acquired the traffic and its on your site, you need to get that audience to leave you their contact details. If a visitor is leaving his details in a Contact Us page that you setup in minutes, the cost of that page is negligible. However if that visitor turned into a lead by signing up to a Webinar you just hosted with a major analyst firm speaker the cost of that Webinar might as well crossed north of $10k so you need many many leads coming from that Webinar (live or recorded) to drive the average cost per lead for that call-to-action down. In the range of call-to-action costs white papers and e-books are quite cost effective as they typically only require in-house effort while calls-to-action such as an analyst report reproduction or webinar with a guest speaker are on the costly side of things.
3. C – Numbers of leads generated: So each call to action cost is known and if you know the cost of getting your audience to your site and you know the number of leads generated per call-to-action now you can calculate the average cost of lead per that action. Obviously across time and more leads per action the cost will go down for that specific action. The more reuse you can make from a specific item the higher potential ROI you can get. For example if you author a whitepaper and you can also turn it into webinar slides you just got 2 calls to action for the price of one.
Driving costs down:
1. Lowering cost of acquisition:
• The more organic activities (article posts, blog posts, FAQ's) the more you can do to acquire your audience the cheaper
• Use contributed articles and pitch your case studies and news to publications as other ways to gain organic (unpaid) exposure
• A press release can be an affordable alternative to paid traffic if that release is picked up nicely
• In addition you can look into lowering you paid traffic costs by going after cheaper/niche keywords or industry specific blogs. The smaller the niche you target the chances are the costs of advertising are lower
2. Lower cost of calls-to-action:
• Build your own, where time is the only investment
• Build to reuse: If you can build a series of blog posts and turn them into an eBook that means that eBook costs you almost nothing since you blog in any event
3. Increase conversion:
The more leads you get per activity the lower the cost is per lead
• Optimize your landing pages so they convert well
• Build specific calls to action that target specific groups. The more specific the target audience is the higher likelihood that conversion will be higher. For example targeting all WordPress site owners or targeting site owners of Cyber Security companies that are under 100 employees and are running on WordPress are two very different things
• Make some noise. Make sure to attract attention to your newest calls to action. From social media to PR there are cost effective alternatives to make sure your audience knows that action exists
Final thoughts: The cost of online leads is usually high, but not as high as event leads or outbound leads. You just need to make sure you calculate your ROI right. Obviously we didn’t touch on lead quality, which is a whole different topic. Assuming all leads are of similar quality watching your ROI will help you track and optimize your calls to action in a way that will help you drive costs down.
Sam Casey is the Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer at Banyan Creative. He loves calculating cost-per-lead and cost-per-acquisition over a cup of strong coffee and when not in the office you can find him calculating his wattage output on the bike.
It seems like a simple task, but that also means it's easy to overlook. A small business' ‘About Us’ page is often your first chance to make an impression: here are six tips on how to get yours right.
About us pages have been around since the dawn of the Web, which can mean they get taken for granted. When was the last time you really thought about the aims of your About Us page, and how good it is at achieving them? Here are our six tips for small businesses on how to write a great About Us page that gets your message across – and knows when to stop.
1. Tell your story
Perhaps the most important element of an About Us page is your "elevator pitch" – the short, snappy version of your company story that explains what you do, what makes you different and why customers should care. The same one you've been busy perfecting for all those small business networking events like BNI, Chamber events, Meetup.com. Indeed you might decide that this is the only thing your About Us page needs.
Remember that this all has to be relevant to your customers. They might quickly get bored if you simply tell the chronological story of your company. If you want to include this background information, for example in a company timeline, make sure it’s relevant to the customer: your history is only important inasmuch as it contributes to a compelling story that makes the customer feel good about your company.
A great example of this is SureFlap. Their About Us page starts with a compelling “origin story” which explains the product, how it works and its benefits to the customer – all in a single paragraph.
2. Tell people what's in it for them
A fundamental of good marketing copy is that it should be benefit-led – that is, you should always remember to speak about what matters to the customer, and not to you. You've invented a more efficient widget-making process? That's great for you, but remember that the benefit to your customers is lower prices, not lower costs, and that's what your copy should talk about.
3. Show your personality
Personal stories are more engaging than dry corporate histories. Who founded the company? What jobs were they doing before, and what spurred them on to strike out on their own? Making the company story personal is something that large corporations will struggle to do, so as a small business you have an advantage.
A small business that still reflects the personality of its founders can be a more attractive prospect to a customer – they know their business is important to you, and they won't be treated as just one income stream among many.
4. Use social proof to build trust
Customer testimonials are powerful persuaders. The effectiveness of this "social proof" has been repeatedly demonstrated and it's a great fit for a small company where word of mouth recommendations are already an important source of new business.
Just one or two quotes from customers can have a great effect. The more information you can give about the customer the better – name, job title and company are ideal, but even if some customers won't let you quote them by name, they might be happy with a more general attribution such as "Sales Manager" and the company name.
5. Give enough information – then stopAbout us information has a specific purpose – to reassure the reader about your company enough that they're happy to take the next step towards becoming a customer. It needs to have enough information on it to do that, but not so much that reading it will feel like a chore.
It's possible to get this wrong at both ends. On the "too short" side, Hoa Loranger of Nielsen Norman Group has some great About us examples that lack summary information and simply present the reader with a dispiriting page full of links to explore.
The opposite mistake of going into too much detail should also be avoided. Remember that although you're interested in the detail of what you do, your reader isn't – at least not yet. Once you've delivered the elevator pitch and shown the reader what they can do if they're convinced (see "Move people through the sales funnel"), it's time to stop writing.
6. Move people through the sales funnel
The About us page usually shouldn't be a direct conversion tool (though you might want to check out these lead-geneartion methods that won't break the bank) but it should move readers one step closer to buying your product. Think of it as a chance to remove obstacles in the customer's mind by answering nagging questions that they might not even be aware they have.
You could take this literally and use an About us page template composed of questions and answers. A few ideas to get you started:
Have more questions? We can help Contact Banyan Creative - Charlotte's small business marketing experts. We would love to hear from you.
Nike reported spends roughly $3 billion on advertising on an annual basis– but there are very few businesses that have marketing budgets on that scale. Most companies, especially small businesses, work to very limited budgets, and the key to success is ensuring you use yours as effectively as possible to find and win customers at a reasonable price. But the good news is that there are plenty of low-cost lead generation techniques that can help you make the most of your budget. Sure there are agencies out there that will charge you a lot for a fancy plan (in fact I've worked for a few), but it doesn't mean that their tactics are more effective. Here are few ideas that work really well for small businesses that we have worked with over the years.
Maximize the Content you have created
Content marketing is the process of creating, curating and distributing useful, valuable content that engages, inspires and attracts existing clients and potential customers. It can take a wide variety of forms including blog posts (like this one), videos, how to guides, opinion pieces, podcasts, white papers and more. It should help drive awareness with your audience and reinforce and promote your brand message.
Content marketing is not a new tactic but it is an extremely important one and getting it right is a huge challenge for any small or growing business. Why is content so important now? Prospects today typically don’t engage with sales until they’re almost 60% of the way through their buying cycle, according to CEB research. What were they doing during that timeframe? A large proportion of this time is spent consuming content online, revealing just how vital it is to deliver compelling content marketing thats relevant to your users. Getting it right can mean you start generating leads for free, time and effort aside. Content marketing can make a big contribution to improving your lead flow without throwing money at advertising.
Improve your search engine optimization (SEO)
Of course, there’s no point adding great content to your website if nobody can find it. Your content needs to be highly visible on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). However there continues to be more misinformation out there on what actually gets your page ranked and keeps your page ranked over the long haul. While there are endless resources out there on the latest tips and techniques putting out great content that is keyword relevant on a consistent basis will lead to the best long term results for your business.
Ranking highly in search engines can be challenging as the competition is both immense and intense. But it is possible, especially for niche businesses or niche search terms. A great start is to get into the mindset of a searcher. Make sure you include words that your customers are likely to be searching for (rather than your own internal language and jargon) and include them (where appropriate) on your web pages. Over the years Google and other search engines have become a lot smarter. They now do a much better job at understanding the context of searches and the searcher intent, so it’s no longer good enough to have a keyword appear 50 times on a page. Changes from 2011 onwards have been paying close attention to the quality of content in order to deliver the best available search results based on user queries.
Your content needs to provide searchers with some ‘unique value’. Whether the uniqueness comes from the content, an opinion, or the way it's presented, is up to you. But ultimately, your content needs to be more useful to searchers in some way than the alternatives. Quality content that supports searchers and answers their questions is going to have a much better chance of ranking highly than a very salesy or branded product page.
For example if somebody was to Google ‘CRM’ what would they expect to find? CRM solutions, sure, but maybe they don’t know what CRM is. They might expect to find the answer to ‘What is CRM?’ or the benefits of CRM, or something altogether different. It could even be an acronym for an entirely different concept, company or technology.
The best brands use content marketing, then, not to ram products down prospects’ throats, but to publish content of real interest to them. They use content marketing to help their target audience solve problems, work smarter, and stay up to date on changes in legislation, technology or their own industry.
Providing content with unique value is a huge step in the right direction. When coupled with on-page search engine optimization and some promotion, your content has the best chance of ranking well. The higher you rank, the more likely you are to increase your website visitors and awareness, and in turn your leads and sales. By creating truly great content and ensuring you optimise for search, you can create a virtuous circle driving business opportunities.
Use email marketing to stay top of mind
Email marketing remains one of the best low-cost lead generation and lead conversion techniques for SMBs. With a list of people to market to and a system to mail them, this tactic can play a power role in continuing to engage existing customers and re-engage prospects that have gone cold. It can deliver subtle nudges about your products and services so you are top of mind when recipients are considering buying or have been asked for a recommendation.
Email marketing can be particularly effective for generating new leads from existing customers with whom you already have a relationship and knowledge of their business. That's because it provides a way for you to show what else your company has to offer: it’s always far easier to cross-sell or upsell new products or services to an existing customer than it is to come in cold and make a sale to someone you have no previous business relationship with.
Also, don't forget that a prospect that has gone cold is still a prospect. A carefully crafted email may be just enough to remind them of what you have to offer and rekindle a potential business relationship.
To optimize campaign performance, make sure you test things like the frequency of your emails, the day and time that you send them, which kinds of emails get the best open and clickthrough rates, and – even more importantly – which emails are converting people to leads and sales.
Use social media to drive sales
Social media has changed the way customers interact with businesses and their products. Companies can now build relationships with customers, customers have a very public medium to complain about poor products and service, and crowd-sourced review sites enable potential customers to research what people are saying about products they are interested in.
The buying process has changed significantly. Whereas in the past, potential customers may have learned about your products from advertising directed at them, or via your website, social media allows them to find out more about your company, your products and your reputation from others – and make their buying decisions accordingly.
Topo Designs and Buffalo Jackson Trading CO are great examples of small business who put out consistent & relevant content via social. Give them a follow,
Although this could be seen as a challenge it also provides you with a unique sales and marketing opportunity. It can be the ideal place to influence prospects’ buying decisions and turn them into paying customers. While it’s unlikely social media will drive hundreds of leads directly, it will result in some, not to mention the knock-on effect on brand awareness that can be a much bigger influencer of lead generation. Social media provides opportunities to start conversations, engage prospects, and demonstrate expertise. You can build trust with those you are talking to but also with anybody else who comes across your conversation. You have the opportunity to directly connect not just with customers, but also influencers and experts – all of which can reflect well on your brand.
It can also help generate qualified leads for very little cost. Social networks collect a myriad of data including demographics, interests and more that businesses can leverage to target their communications and promotions to specific and relevant audiences.
Although Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the most commonly used social networks within businesses, there are so many others you can leverage, depending on your business and the kind of people you’re trying to reach. YouTube is great for showcasing product demo videos and how-to guides, while Pinterest and Instagram can work really well for design and visual businesses – for example a florist providing displays for corporate receptions.
Some professionals and consultants will respond to relevant questions on Quora to demonstrate their expertise in their reply, both directly to the questioner and to anyone else reading the thread. And Slideshare is another good space where you can share expertise and repurpose content that you have created elsewhere to create interest and generate potential sales.
Keep in mind the best strategy is one you can maintain with consistency in the online world: by nailing content, email and social media marketing you can generate the sales leads you need to grow your business quickly – without breaking the bank.
Sam Casey is the Chief Creative Officer and Managing Partner at Banyan Creative.