Déjà vu strategic marketing

Small business strategic marketing isn't hard if you think.

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”                              – Charles Kingsley, Clergyman

It’s amazing to me how concepts that have always worked in the past are now being touted as revolutionary ideas. Things like passion, honesty, contributing to the greater good, relationship marketing and collaboration are being lauded as the new realm for strategic marketing. Smart small business owners have always known these concepts are critical for success.

We now have B Corps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benefit_corporation) and B Labs (http://www.bcorporation.net/). Both these entities require applicants comply with a set of strict standards to prove they’re certifiable. The goal is to classify companies with a stated mission of working for the greater good as valid. Oh yes – both designations come with a cost. Charity isn’t free, you know.

With the latter case, there’s tremendous potential for creative small business owners seeking strategic marketing opportunities, provided their vision is properly aligned with charity as others’ define.

Frankly, there seems to be a whole of lot of hassle for few benefits with the B Corps, at least as they stand right now. Unless, of course, you decide to sign on board with B Labs to ride the promotional wave they’re creating for member companies – with B corp status as a prerequisite.

In the same vein, Andrew Hewitt has launched his Game Changers 500 charge (http://gamechangers500.com/). Shockingly, he seems to be profiting from this venture – along with the companies that are being celebrated.

Perhaps something has changed. Not-for-profits are now realizing they need to get business savvy if they’re going to survive.

It used to be small business owners understood giving back was good for morale, personal fulfillment and business. Now, it seems, some have concluded “objective” bodies need to prove this true.

Money has never been a good sole (or soul) motivator for entrepreneurs

Small business strategic marketing isn't hard if you think.Some will object to my use of the term entrepreneur here, preferring to limit the pool to what used to be called gazelles. Personally, it seems fair to me to include anyone willing to take the leap of serious investment into their own business as a full-time career choice (sorry hobbyist – if you’re just dabbling it doesn’t count – yet).

The fact is, running your own business is hard work. If you don’t feel intense passion about what you’re doing, aren’t willing to put the time into research and education, fail to ensure there’s a market for what you’re offering (family and friends don’t count if you’re looking to create a sustainable venture) and believe the hype about 4 hour work weeks and an office on the beach, you’re probably going to struggle.

Yes, over time (if you’re good at delegating and can find the right people to support your efforts – a task more challenging than you may imagine), you may be able to log limited hours remotely to keep things running. Don’t expect it from day one, though, or you’ll be disappointed.

Small business success takes time

It usually takes about two years of full-time effort before your marketing and networking efforts start creating substantial referral business. I see most entrepreneurs quit before the payoff, frustrated with slow returns.

So, you can probably understand why it’s critical to be extremely passionate about what you offer clients. To stay motivated during the start-up phase, you must believe what you are offering is not only a good idea, but one that will help your prospects’ improve their lives.

Money will come if you have a give-first mentality (provided your company offering is useful). This isn’t just about society. It needs to pervade how you handle networking, prospecting and collaborating. Most people recoil from those who are aggressive about selling (always have – even when manipulative selling was the rage). Conversely, individuals feel compelled to share stories about someone who helped them without a quid pro quo mandate. Think like kids and animals to get you started on a path toward happy giving (http://nanettelevin.com/animals-and-kids-teach-us-how-to-sell-well-and-appreciate-life/).

Twenty-five years ago, a (loose) partner and I hung a shingle offering marketing support for small businesses and not-for-profits. Amazingly, all other firms in the area were dismissing these entities as “too expensive.” Receptionists were screening prospects, rejecting them without the courtesy of a connection to a “sales rep” if they didn’t state a $50K budget on the ready to invest.

We were passionate about helping these organizations and found understanding the specific needs of these people (most clients were company owners or NFP executive directors) in a way that could help them thrive was not only satisfying, but quite lucrative. These folks aren’t big gamblers, but are happy to invest in measurable solutions that consider budgetary concerns.

I did encounter some not-for-profit zealots who saw supporting business success as a sin. As we suggested partnering for prosperity, they recoiled in disdain. Those higher principled souls are no longer among the living (not the people – the entities). With decades of government funding pull backs for such things, the survivors were the ones who recognized a business mentality was essential to longevity.

Small business owners salivating over the money they’d rake in for their brilliant idea (we kindly guide such prospects to another – some got testy about being “rejected”) failed too. Those who had a passionate drive to share their knowledge with others in a way that was useful, helpful and productive for others, however, did well.

Successful small business owners have always known passion is key. This pertains not only to the products or services you sell, but also knowing you can help others achieve their dreams.

No certification tells as much as what you do. All small business owners are certifiable in one way or another. Let your crazy side rule for fun ideas to make marketing – and giving back – work well for you and your clients.


7 responses to “Déjà vu strategic marketing”

  1. I dunno, Nanette.
    I have started many a company, insuring that the employees earn reasonable wages, that the profits are shared among the stakeholders, that the local (and national) society benefited.

    I didn’t seek special approbation or certification. It was just what was needed to be done.

    • I don’t get it either, Roy. Of course, big picture thinkers get the gimmee mentality is short sighted and businesses looking short-term don’t survive for long (we’re even seeing this now with the large corporations making decisions to appease stock holders). All the successful business owners I’ve dealt with do as you do. No need for a government mark. As I’m watching this unfold, it seems to be more of a marketing ploy than altruism as presented. It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds in the coming years.

  2. Wow, I didn’t know these B Lab companies existed! I find it ridiculous that people or companies should need to prove their commitment to giving back. Great information, Nanette, as always.
    I agree with your perspective that, at the end of the day, passion is the most important ingredient in keeping us going, combined with our willingness to serve and to be patient. Thanks for sharing these resources 🙂

    • I didn’t either, Minette. Apparently B Corps are only available in a limited number of states (I believe it was 17 at the time I found out about this at a conference in March – probably more now). B Labs provides an interesting marketing opportunity for the right company – but there’s a whole lot of irony (at least in my mind) when you examine their stated mission against their methods.

      Honestly, I don’t find it ridiculous at all that someone is riding the social current with a capitalistic idea (in fact, I find it rather ingenious). What I object to is what seems to me ingenuous. That, and of course, another government leap before you look idea that has all sorts of issues that don’t consider how this plays out when it rolls out

  3. I have supported my husband in his small business venture for the past 20 years and thought I knew what I was getting into when I set out on my own a few months ago. Well I am learning just how scary and uncertain the world of start up business can be. Passion, courage, determination and a deep desire to make a difference are fuelling my journey.
    Happy for a dose of luck too.

    • These are great suggestions and additions to the entrepreneurial success mix, Karen. I’m cheering for you on your business success. I see most give up too soon. If you have a good idea and an audience, you’ll be amazed at how, over time, people you forgot you met are sending clients to you.

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