Marketing Tip – Small Business Owners Need a System to Keep in Touch With Contacts and Build Sales

Many small business owners know keeping in touch with their contacts is an important part of their marketing plan. However, all too often, keeping in touch is a sporadic effort. Sending birthday cards or an e-mail newsletter is something that can be done “later.” The problem is “later” never comes. 

Small business owners need to build a marketing calendar that includes when and how each person (or group of people) is going to be contacted.  The best way small business owners can keep on top of their contact efforts is to have some type of system in place.  The system should be as easy and as automatic as possible.
  
There are many software tools you can use to organize your contacts.  Microsoft Outlook and Excel are great programs.  With either of these, you can merge with Microsoft Word to create phone lists, mailing labels and personalized letters. More sophisticated contact management programs you can purchase include ACT! and Goldmine.  
 
Marketing Tools for Keeping in Touch
 
There are a variety of different marketing tools small business owners can use to keep in touch. Here are just a few ideas.
 
E-mail newsletters are a great way to communicate with a large group of people. There are a number of great on-line resources available for e-mail newsletter creation and management. Use e-mail newsletters to provide product information, announce sales, and promote special events. 
 
Real greeting cards (the kind that come in an envelope with a stamp) are great marketing tools to use at Christmas, birthdays and other times of the year.  In fact, the best time a small business owner can send a greeting card is when there is no real reason to send a card! A card sent in August will be remembered much more than one sent in December.

Savvy business owners know that phone calls, personal visits and lunches are always appreciated. The key there is to remember the marketing message when scheduling those calls or visits. Yes, having coffee with a long-term client is great. But be sure to let the client know that you have a great new product that can dramatically help him or her. Too often business owners get wrapped up in the social aspect of personal visits and forget to ask for more business!

The most important part of any system is using it regularly.  If you are very busy, or have a hard time working with schedules, you are better off delegating or outsourcing.  If you have an assistant, that person can print letters, write e-mails, even sign Christmas cards for you.  That leaves you free to work on other areas of your business.

If you don’t have any help in your office, outsourcing is the answer. There are a number of local and on-line services that help business owners with their marketing. Or, try using a virtual assistant.  The marketing money you spend to outsource these routine tasks will be repaid many time over with the new business you get.

Remember — the key to a successful system is to have it automated as much as possible. The less work you have to do, the more likely it is to be done on time, and the more likely you are to get referrals!

Credit Card Services for Business Merchants

If you own a business, whether large or small, you know the necessity of credit card processing for a successful sale. For products and services sold online, by mail or phone, or in person at a retail location, you need the most up to date credit card merchant services available. Internet savvy customers and people in this fast paced modern world do not like to be kept waiting. They also expect a flexible spending option like credit cards to be available anywhere they shop.

Most businesses with an online presence, or a website, require a way to gain online credit card approval. With this function, you can sell goods and services from your website. The credit card processing allows you to accept any charge payment from customers with online credit card approval. Some people are intimidated by this process, but with the simple online merchant services available on the internet, the success of your credit card business can be simple and hassle free.

Where to find credit card merchant services

When looking for someone to assist you in setting up credit card processing, start online by entering a search term that relates to your business needs. For instance, if you are a small business owner, you might enter something like credit card processing. But if you have an online presence for your business in the form of a website, you would need to search for online credit card approval. For all your credit card needs, search for credit card merchant services, and you will get an extensive list of resources.

Which service is right for you

After you have some search results, visit several different sites, even if they seem to offer the same services. You need to compare the options, prices, and customer services offered. One of the most important things to look for right away is how much you have to pay on a monthly basis to keep your credit card processing up and running. Most sites will represent their fees as fairly straight forward, but several companies charge hidden fees that can inflate your bill and put a kink in your operation. Keep an eye out for notices about late fees, a quota of credit card processing per month, and other limitations that could conflict with your needs. Also note what the company will charge you if you violate the terms of service. Remember that business can sometimes be unpredictable. If you get in a bad spot financially, you do not want your credit card merchant services to drag you down even further with high penalties or cancellation of service if you fail to meet a quota.

Also look for the extras that each service offers. For example, if you are processing credit cards on your website, you will need a built in way to accept card payments. This usually takes the form of a shopping cart that is written into your html code. The ideal merchant service will give you step by step instructions on how to set up your online shopping cart.

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Using Your Small Business Marketing Tools to Differentiate Your Business

Perhaps the most important quality for your small business marketing materials is that they are different. If you do nothing else right in your small business marketing, at least be different.

Why is differentiation so important? Because, in most industries, there are hundreds – if not thousands or millions – of other businesses that claim to provide the same service or sell the same product as you do. If you don’t differentiate your business from all those others, the chances that you’ll get many customers are pretty slim.

Some common ways to differentiate your business are:

Superior service

Greater product availability

Higher quality

Better performance

Greater durability

Prestige

Technology leadership

Satisfaction guarantee

Lower cost

Faster delivery

More customer support

But even if you are very different than your competitors – you offer superior service, greater durability, or a satisfaction guarantee that beats all others – it won’t matter unless your prospective customers know about it.

That’s where your small business marketing strategy comes in. Businesses have been using their small business marketing strategies to announce how they’re different from their competitors as long as they have been using small business marketing strategies. Think Maxwell House’s “Good to the last drop,” Campbell’s Soup’s “Mmm, mmm good,” or WalMart’s “Always low prices.” Those highly successful taglines not only get prospective customers to remember the company name, but also convey a message about the difference between that company and others.

To make differentiation a part of your small business marketing strategy, you first need to understand your competitors – you can only explain how you’re different from them once you know what they’re like. Learn what your competitors offer, how they differentiate themselves, and – most importantly – what your prospective customers think about them (if you know what qualities your prospective customers see as shortcomings in the other companies in the market, you’ll have a good idea of the market gap you can fill).

Once you’ve decided how you are different from your competitors, you need to tell your prospective customers about it. Building that differentiation into your tagline can be a very effective start. Then include that tagline, along with your logo, on every piece of small business marketing collateral you have. Another small business marketing way to publicize your differences is to write a press release. Explain how you’re filling a need in the market that no other company has filled.

Once you’ve differentiated your company and used your small business marketing tools to publicize your differences, you have to follow through on your promises. If you say that you’re the cheapest – or the highest quality, or the friendliest, or whatever – then you better be just that (nothing turns away a customer like a failed promise).

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