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From his first job flipping burgers at McDonald’s and delivering The Washington Post, Craig Willett counts only one and a half years of his adult life working for someone else. Welcome to The Biz Sherpa podcast with your host, Craig Willett. Founder of several multimillion-dollar businesses and trusted advisor to other business owners, he’s giving back to help business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs achieve fulfillment, enhance their lives, and create enduring wealth. The Biz Sherpa.
This is Craig Willett, The Biz Sherpa. I’m glad you could join me fireside today. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share with you some thoughts that I have concerning marketing. You know, it’s one of the key principles of business. If you have a product or a service and people don’t know about it, you’re not going to generate much revenue. So the key is to make people aware. Often we think of advertising, but I think marketing encompasses a lot more. It encompasses knowing and explaining what your product does and then making people aware of it. It has to be a conscientious effort.
You know, Sun Tzu once said, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” So you might say, “I have a marketing plan,” and that might be a bunch of noise before defeat, if you don’t have a strategy in place to support your marketing team, your sales team, and your product to make people aware of it. We all would like to think that we have the best product, and that people are going to knock down our door to get it. And that would be a nice situation. It doesn’t always happen. It takes making people aware of it.
I remember when I started my real estate development business, I decided to have a sign. And I wanted my sign to be unique. Most people had a big sign that was rectangular, and they put it on the property and said, “Call for information,” and maybe told a little bit about the project. I decided to do something different. I actually hired a marketing company that did marketing for high-tech companies. And I said, I want a sign that looks like no other sign. And so what they did is they did a framing of frames, like it was a building being built, but it wasn’t totally rectangular. And then they had taglines in different colors on strips, so it looked like they were lines on a building. I thought it was rather unique, but the key phrase that we used was, “Own for less than rent.” And it talked about own your own office for less than rent.
So it made it clear what our product was and who our market was: somebody who was looking to buy their office, not someone who was looking to lease. It resonated well. So I think you have to have that strategy and think of how to say it in as short a phrase as you possibly can. And you might say, “Well, how do I go about deciding what to do?” And I think it really—you sit back and you say, what are your advantage points over your competition? For me, all of my competition was anybody who had a building for lease, and I found that to be true. And so people who were looking to lease buildings could also consider buying if they were in certain qualifications. So I had a lot of competition.
And when you study what that competition is, what’s your advantage? Most of my competitors who had office space for lease would never consider selling their building to one tenant. And so I really had an advantage. And then you have to look at what are your products’ selling points? And that’s where not just ownership, but owning for less than rent became something that they looked into. And when they could see that the equation worked and that they actually saved money by owning their building, and then had an asset to sell when they retired, they had—instead of a pile of canceled rent checks, they had a building. Something very easy to consider—and so often we know all the ins and outs, and there were a lot more features to my building, but those came later. You have to get the attention quickly. And so you lead with your biggest distinguishing factor.
Now with marketing, you all always say, well, how much should I spend on marketing? A good place to start is to look at how much revenue you expect to generate. I know that’s hard in your first year of business, but you should consider that. And then new businesses need to spend about 20% of their anticipated revenue. You have to introduce your product to the market, which means you have to have some money set aside the day you open your doors. If you’re an ongoing business, you should have between six and 12% of your revenue set aside to do marketing activities.
So where do you spend your money? A lot of people like to think in my generation and era, television advertising was a big deal, but it was also very expensive. So was radio. I saw people trying that, but I think we have to target—and we live in a day where that’s very easy to do with cable TV. It’s a lot less expensive than network TV. You can really target the demographics of your potential market. And so you need to understand who your likely buyer will be so that you can buy the right kind of advertising and the right kind of message in front of them.
Of course, we live in a day that’s even better than that, with social media. And there’s a way to target your audience in social media, and that can also be free advertising as you get endorsements and you post things, but you can also buy fairly inexpensive ads on social media. Direct mail, telemarketing—they exist today, but I think there’s much better ways to target your market.
There are trade shows and sometimes you can’t avoid those. They’re expensive, but they’re a great way to reach a broad audience to introduce your product. I know people who have done a great job with that. I love signs. Of course, I’m in real estate, so I love the sign. My dad always told me, “Your sign never calls in sick, never takes a vacation, never sleeps.” And so it’s there 24/7. For anybody who drives by that’s looking for a location, that’s the number one factor in real estate, is to have the proper and correct location. And so I think that’s a big factor that we all need to look into, is what is the selling factor? Is it proximate to location? If it’s not, if it’s over the internet, then there’s other ways to attract that. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I also know there’s value in search engine optimization on your own website.
And I would look into having a website. It’s hard to imagine a business today that doesn’t invest time or money in a website that allows people to interact with the product, read endorsements and satisfactions and reviews. And it gives the ability to order, or at least get information so that they can make a decision on purchasing. And maybe then they talk to someone who’s qualified.
There’s also YouTube and Facebook. And there’s a lot of ways to put information out there in short one minute clips that really demonstrate your product. Sometimes that’s what it takes, is actually demonstrating a product for people to understand and to be able to use. Those are kind of inbound methods where people are searching you out, once you put that out there, and outbound would be your television, your radio, and that kind of advertising.
Now, you want to be efficient and succinct with your message. Like I said, “Own for less than rent” says a lot when someone’s looking for an office building and they see one and they can start to now understand your value proposition. So you really need to think of what that is. I trademarked, “Own for less than rent,” and it really worked for quite a long period of time.
The other thing is be careful that your message really tells your story. You don’t want to have a message that’s confusing. It will only frustrate potential buyers, and they’ll give up without making the next step to a call to action. Of course, I think it’s important that you test your marketing. You don’t want to spend a lot on a marketing campaign if it doesn’t work. There are focus groups. There are people that you can get that aren’t friends, because they’re not going to be honest with you, but find people who will share their honest feedback based on your marketing message, and be sure that you refine that. I wouldn’t go with the first thought that comes to mind. It takes some effort.
You need to stay on top of your product. You want great reviews. And so that means if you’re getting negative feedback, you need to address the issues with your product or your delivery or your service or the interaction in making the sale. It may be that the transaction’s a little wonky and that people need a little reassurance that they’re going to get a quality product and that it’s easy to buy. I think that’s one of the great distinguishing factors today, is to make it easy, to consider and anticipate all of their needs so that they have a great experience. And so it takes that, and when you get good reviews on those things, you tend to have the opportunity now to exploit and develop that market a lot further.
So testing ahead of time is very important, and get feedback. What might be good to you or simple to you may not be simple to someone else. You might be an engineer and you have a complicated process, but for you, it might be simple, but for your potential buyer, it may be difficult. And so you have to understand that potential buyer really well.
And then you have to decide, what is your brand? Jeff Bezos once said, “It is what people are saying about you when you’re not in the room. That’s your brand.” Think about that for a minute. What people are saying basically behind your back, if it’s good things, and they’re things that resonate with others, that describe your product, then you’ve done a great job marketing. And so you need to have those great customer experiences early on so that the people when you’re not in the room are saying great things about you.
And that leads me to further discussing the test marketing. You may not want to be there. You may want it videoed. You may want a third party doing the interviews because they’re more likely to be honest with someone else than the owner, because they’ll be afraid to offend you. I don’t know how many times I had people not be honest with me when I wish they would have been. And I took them to be sincere. But at the end of the day, they probably just didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Again, I think you have to make it quick and simple. If it requires a demonstration, then do it in a minute or less.
Hal Wing is one of my great mentors in business. He started the Little Giant Ladder system company, and one thing that Hal could do—and I think they still show it, he’s since passed away—but his infomercials, he can show what that ladder does. I think there’s 36 or 37 things that a standard ladder can do, and he can demonstrate most of them in under a minute. It’s quite interesting, because he used to go to trade shows. And I think it’s important to understand that some products require that. And if it requires a demonstration, be able to do it fairly quickly. Sometimes it might even take time lapse photography, but whatever it takes, be sure that your customer, if they invest that time to click on something to get a demonstration, that it happens quickly, that it hits the major points of what you want to do. Sometimes we put a lot of bells and whistles on our products, and those are there just to reassure or to anticipate the future. But you want to hit at the core value proposition that you have.
And then you need to stand out from the crowd. There has to be a way that you distinguish yourself, where people recognize your product over somebody else’s, whether it’s the color, whether it’s the packaging, whether it’s the delivery, or whether it’s the size, the shape. Whatever it is, it needs to stand out, and that’s how you create your branding image. It has to be something that distinguishes you so that you’re easily recognizable from everyone else.
And then in marketing, it’s important to automate your lead tracking. There are so many CRM softwares that are out there that are available. And I would say it’s worth the investment in one of those to keep track. I can tell when I’ve inquired on something and that two, three, four years later, I’m still getting information. I’m not hounded by it, but it might be once or twice a year. I do hear from companies about their product that I once looked at on the internet. And I think it’s important for you to do that. If someone was interested at one time, it may not have been the right time for them. It may have been too early, or your product may have evolved. And that when you reach out to them again, you can put new news in front of them that may entice them to buy your product.
And then you want to measure what your conversion rates are. When people inquire, you need to see how your process is, how good are you from taking an inquiry and turning it into a sale? That’s the conversion rate, and you need to determine that because it will help you determine how to spend. You’ll want to source where the lead came from, and it will help you spend that budget I talked about more efficiently. If you’re setting aside 20% of your revenue, you want it to be very effective. And so the way for it to be very effective is measure that, and be faithful and religious about measuring that. And then you’ll know where to spend. It became quickly apparent to me that while I got talked into a radio campaign, my lead sources didn’t come from the radio. They came from the signs, and you can imagine, signs are way less expensive than radio advertising.
And then you have to keep in mind, what is your difference? I can’t say that enough in here. What is your distinguishing factor? A lot of people think they have a great product and it’s for everybody. We’d all like to think that. What we all like to think that we have the next Wonder Bread, or whatever, a slice of bread. But we usually don’t. We have something that’s unique and is for a targeted and niche market. And as you look at that, by the very nature, a niche market is something that not very many people are participating in, and you’re an expert at. Be sure that your product is not something for everyone.
You know, Henry Ford said, “Stopping advertising is like stopping your watch to save time.” So while I talked about marketing, a function of marketing is advertising. And if we think, “Boy, I’m not getting enough leads,” then you need to look at the efficiency and where you’re spending it. But that may mean that you stop spending in a certain area, but not spending altogether. Don’t get discouraged until you find your target market. And the sooner you find that, the better off you’ll be, as you can imagine, spending 20% of your anticipated revenues and not getting the leads you are hoping for. So I think it’s very important.
You know, Seth Godin once said, “Don’t find customers for your product. Find product for your customers.” And that leads me to the concluding thought I have in marketing. And it’s been a theme in The Biz Sherpa podcast the whole time since I started it in July 2020, and that is that you develop a business around a product or service that meets the needs for people. You can’t forget, you’re not selling to machines. You may sell over the internet, but you’re not selling to machines. You’re selling to human beings who are going to interact with that product.
And you have a chance to make a difference in their life. The greater difference you make in their life, the greater your success will be. You can’t forget that that interaction is all more important. Around Christmastime, if you’ve ever watched the movie Miracle on 34th Street, you could have any old Santa or you could have a Santa that makes a difference. One thing that I liked about the marketing ploy in the story that’s in Miracle on 34th Street is Kris Kringle was not afraid to send customers to the competition to get a toy for the people who are looking for it, if Macy’s didn’t carry it.
And before Macy’s could get upset, the people who they referred out of the store somewhere else said they were going to be more loyal to Macy’s. Even though they went there somewhere else to buy the product or toy that they needed, that Macy’s didn’t carry, they said they were going to be faithful because who cared about them enough to send them to the competition? We can’t be afraid. You don’t want to inadvertently send people to the competition. You want to put your best foot forward, but we can’t be afraid of competition. We need to be willing to stand out and know that our product or service will make a difference in their life. If we make a difference in their life, you’ll win over customers for your lifetime.
I’m grateful for those who continue to watch and participate and share with their friends The Biz Sherpa Podcast. I hope these vignettes that I do alone reinforce the interviews that I do. I think you’ll find that some of the people I interview portray a lot of the principles that I’m teaching here. I learn from them too. I’ve learned from them during my career. And I hope that something that I share with you will make a huge difference in your life personally, and in your life in business.
Again, remember, it’s not about a product. It’s about the people who use your product. Make sure you understand who they are, what makes them tick, and make sure you know how to appeal to them so that they are a hundred percent satisfied. If you make them happy and you change their life, they will tell a lot of people about you. Your marketing budget will go down—I promise you—as a percentage of sales, because your sales will go up. And some of them you’ll acquire without even having to spend money. I found that to be true in business.
I’m grateful for you, and I hope that you’re able to set an effective marketing budget, manage your spend, and measure where your leads come from and then your conversion rate, and then be sure your focus is always on the satisfaction of the customer. My Biz Sherpa Scorecard helps you do that. I hope you use it. It’s free. It’s a resource on our website at www.BizSherpa.co, on the internet. Just go ahead and find it. Click free resources. I hope you use them. This is Craig Willett, The Biz Sherpa. Thanks for joining me today.
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