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Stick to the Basics to Stay Afloat in Hard Times

Morrow Bay, CA Photo by Linda C Smith

*My article first appeared at Technorati [dot com].  I did just a bit of updating.

Have you heard the news?  Economically speaking it’s tough out there!  But we all knew that.  The small business sector suffers just the same as Big Business…so what to do?  Stick to the Basics and do what you do best.

First things first:  be sure you know your business.

  • Have a dream and passion for the business that you chose.
  • Have determination to make the business work.  Show up every day and be the poster child for hope.
  • Give great customer service. Even if your business has slowed down, the very fact that you are still in business means that someone is paying for your business’ products and services and these customers and clients deserve your attention.
  • Offer added value. Go beyond just being in business…make your business different by giving the customer more than they expect.  Instead of merely selling your product or service, engage the consumer in a conversation about his or her needs and wants and how your product or service can meet or fulfill that.  In 2010 pure sales won’t be enough.  Added value will be key.

To weather the economic storm, you might think about:

  • checking and double-checking your current business plan; bring up-to-date your stated vision and mission statement; determine if you are on target.
  • checking and double-checking your current business strategies: are you in the correct marketplace for your products or services?  Are you actually and effectively reaching your desired customer-base?  Are you sure you’ve correctly identified your customer base and know how to communicate with them?
  • keeping your products and services clean, polished and ready to deliver…be proud to represent the products and services you have in your current inventory.
  • contacting your customers – have you shown your current customers that you appreciate their business?  It is not just a cliché saying that ‘happy customers bring referrals,’ it is a truism: satisfied and happy customers will often be a good source for new customers…have you asked your customers for referrals?

This is not to say that you oughtn’t to try anything new during an economic downturn; to the contrary, one thing you could do is experiment with new ways of communicating with your customers, find new ways of finding customers.  If you aren’t already, make internet marketing a part of your strategic communication and marketing plan.  You don’t have to get complicated to start, begin small:

  • build a web page...or do a little web page redesign and clean-up
  • tout your business on a few top social media sites like Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn
  • direct people to your website by writing articles
  • anything new or improved you do, write and submit a press release about it
  • start a blog, either as a part of your business web page, or independently [and have it point back to your business web page]
  • if appropriate for your business: (1) have classified and display ads in your local newspaper and regional magazines; (2) run radio and/or television spots; (3) arrange speaking engagements for yourself at local groups who might be interested in your area of expertise; (4) leave your business card everywhere and with everyone

I read a fantastic article in my local newspaper over the weekend that highlights a solo-preneur in my area who does stick to the basics and has built a successful business.  The article is written by David Morrill, the online title: One-stylist hair salon thrives on personal connections. Mr. Morrill wrote about hair stylist Jenny Mui, whose business is Zen Jen Hair Studio, and she has built her business on:

  • customer service
  • added value
  • word of mouth

…which builds her reputation.  According to the article Ms. Mui says, “…’How great is it to know that it’s your reputation that has built your business,” she said. ‘For me, it’s always been about making sure the customer comes first, and people appreciate that.’…”

The article describes how she marketed her business through personal service and word-of-mouth: “…When she first started in the profession, she would go to the nearby coffee shops and seek out the baristas. Mui would tell them that she’s going to do their hair for free. The only thing asked in return is if someone asks them about their hair, she refers clients to her. ‘I got many clients that way,’ she said….”

The present economy might not be the rosiest to look at, but you don’t have to let it ruin your day…or your business.  Just keep doing what is working and use the present climate as a time for continuous improvement.

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Marketing phenomenon of Human Billboards

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=sign+spinners&iid=7017554″ src=”e/2/5/f/Job_Fair_Held_4719.jpg?adImageId=9595458&imageId=7017554″ width=”234″ height=”144″ /]Went out today to take care of some errands and saw not one, but two sidewalk corner sign spinners hard at work in the winter sunshine.  I’ve been meaning to talk about this marketing phenomenon for awhile and what sparked this post today was the enthusiasm that radiated from the sign holder advertising a pizza eatery.  This young man was singing Michael Jackson songs at the top of his lungs and dancing all over the place while keeping his sign moving in time to his own music and – miraculously – still keeping the sign readable to those of us in cars passing by.

The other sign holder I passed by today was dressed in a Statue of Liberty costume and advertising a tax return preparation business [I think].  I was in the far lane going the other way, but pretty sure.

Our community isn’t that huge, just under 80,000, but we seem to have a lot of  human sign holder marketing going on.  Over the past year or so I’ve seen signs being waved, tossed and rocked by men and women, teens and older, advertising pizza, new housing, furniture store opening sales, furniture store closing sales, tax preparation services, new restaurant opening, retirement apartment openings and much more.  I can remember a time when the only human held signs advertising something were by high school students letting folks know about their car wash at the gas station across the street.

I wondered about this so I did a little research and found a small article at Entrepreneur [dot com] talking about the home-business idea of human billboards.   According to the article, “…Human billboards advertise everything from new home developments to car dealerships and are starting to catch on as a highly effective cost-efficient method of advertising and promoting their products and services. Human billboards are simply people that hold signs or banners emblazoned with promotional and advertising messages in high-traffic areas of the community; usually outside, in front, or in close proximity to the business they are promoting….”

It seems that the whole idea behind this unique method of advertising is to get noticed.  Humans carrying advertising signs is nothing new in commerce…been around for a long time.  However, it fell out of practice only to become new again.  To be truthful though, it’s becoming so common that I don’t actually pay attention to them anymore…except for that singing young man today.   It was like watching a street performer…and he was good; as far as I could tell in the whole 5 seconds it took for my car to pass by.

The photo above shows a fellow with AArrow Advertising practicing his moves.  I looked them up and they have some interesting history of human signage on their about us page.  Their philosophy, in part:

  • “…a new advertising medium that is hard to forget and impossible to ignore. Each AArrow Sign Spinner is trained to perform hundreds of tricks and endless combinations; instantly creating a stage for this new-age type of performance. AArrow Advertising employees take pride in our ability to create a one-on-one advertising experience with each person that passes us by delivering what no other form of advertising can: eye contact and a smile….”

Another company I found, EyeShot, says of itself, “…If you’re looking for a reliable way to direct traffic to a new home community, the grand opening of a retail center, a hard to find service location, or a great new restaurant, EyeShot gives you many creative and highly effective methods to ‘point the way’ and grab the attention of your customers….”

Interestingly, at the top of their webpage in the banner, EyeShot shows some examples and locations – two of those locations are right in my geographical area…one in my community and one just up the road.  In fact one of the errands I had to run today involved driving the 20 minutes [not in commute traffic time, would have taken most of an hour] to that community that has a shop where I purchase wild bird seed.

I, along with other artists and a selection of local vintners, will take part in an “art and wine crawl” in our downtown tomorrow evening.  Artists and wineries are being paired with a business and folks can stroll around downtown for several hours tasting the various wines, eating hors d’oeurves, [hopefully] buying some artwork and visiting the hosting businesses.  I’m being stationed along with two other artists in a particular business and we’ll have a sign on the sidewalk reading something like “more art here.”  I wonder, should we have someone dancing outside and spinning our sign?

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Marketing in 2010, Oh, and Happy Holidays

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=television+set&iid=7145195″ src=”2/3/7/b/Eager_Retailers_Greet_ce49.jpg?adImageId=8594827&imageId=7145195″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]I admit I’m jumping right into the making business predictions for 2010 and my topic will be marketing.  First, however, I want to give you my definition for marketing – it is not quite what others might say.

Marketing is telling everyone, everywhere:

  • what your business is, where it is, how to find it
  • what your product/service is, what it can do for the consumer, why they need it, why they want it
  • how your business differs from others that are similar – what your uniqueness’s are, what makes your business so very special
  • why the consumer should/ought to exchange their precious dollars and cents for your product/service

Marketing is telling everyone, everywhere in every way that people can and do receive information:

  • newspapers, magazines and direct mailers – the hard copy kind, the newsprint ink that smears on your fingers and the flyers, brochures and sales letters that come in the snail mail; AND the online versions: newspapers online, magazines online and email ads that come both solicited and unsolicited
  • television ads, radio ads – both via traditional tv and radio vehicles and online versions
  • internet banner ads, classified ad sites, display ad boxes on social media sites
  • social media relationship building
  • weblogs and forums and other self-publishing arenas where messages about anything and everything under the sun, moon and stars can be shared

A business’ marketing department is usually tasked with:

  • designing the message
  • crafting the message delivery system
  • delivering the message
  • measuring the results of both the message and the delivery system

My prediction about marketing for 2010 is that we all begin to realize that calendars are human conventions and that time is an amorphous mystery – we are actually calendar-less.  What 2010 is going to bring is already around us.  I came across a great article on Social Media Today that has some fantastic information on this very topic.  The article, “2010: The Year Marketing Dies…(Subtitled) Or at Least Marketing as We Know It!” by Augie Ray, has these points – among others – that I find worthy of comment here [from the article]: “… Of course, if marketing burns to the ground in 2010, a new and more powerful marketing will rise from the ashes.  The role of the new marketer [I picked the 3 of Mr. Ray’s 8 points that spoke to me the most]:

  1. Won’t be to plan bursts of communication on a yearlong calendar but to respond to and be part of the ever-changing dialog with consumers,
  2. Won’t be to count friends, page visits, eyeballs, readers, or viewers but to measure changes in consumer attitude and intent,
  3. Won’t be merely to talk at consumers but to listen and engage one to one….”

Point One I find significant and is one with which I totally agree – marketing is no longer a ‘January through December’ message plan – in fact I’d say this has been outmoded for some time now.  Consider that technology moves so quickly that in the electronics industry, as example, things are outmoded within a couple months – what good is a 12-month message plan for something that has a version 14.0 coming out only 6 weeks after version 1.0? [okay that’s exaggerated, but not by much].

I think what is important is to have a message that is not so much crafted as it is a photograph or hologram of what the product or service actually is and what it’s value actually could be to the end user.  In other words, not one message for niche A and a different message for niche B…the same message but told in as many ways as is relevant to the receiving system in place.

Point Two is very important and very misunderstood.  I’ll be the first to recommend to a business, large or small, that having a business profile on Facebook and LinkedIn is a good idea.  However, it is not the number of friends and contacts the profile has…rather it is the quality and the reason for putting up the profile.  You might have a business profile on Facebook because it is one place where you can link your Twitter updates and new blog posts…it gives you a wider population for sharing news and views.  Let’s say you launch a new product.  You write a post about it on the blog on your business website.  You announce the new product release in a Twitter update AND you tweet your blog post – both of these show up on your Facebook profile as new updates…in this tiny example you can see that three separate populations now know about your new product release.  The ROI will not be in numbers of page views or friends but in the chatter about your business and in sales.

Point Three is awesome.  Traditional marketing is indeed talking at the consumer.  New marketing is talking with the consumer; it is a conversation.  One cool way of marketing is being done online with the vehicle of reviews. Right now my husband is researching plasma television sets and blue ray players.  Yes, we have gone to the retail stores and looked at them and spoken with the salespeople.  He has read what the “experts” are saying about the various brands but what is having the greatest impact on him is what other consumers are sayingAmazon.com has used the review feature for some time and it is a great way to gauge what some people’s experiences are with products.  The example I’ve linked to here is for Paula Deen cookware – towards the bottom of the page are the consumer reviews.

I think what marketing needs is a change of clothing.  Instead of marketing being about selling your product or service, marketing ought to be about engaging the consumer in a conversation about his or her needs and wants and how your product or service can meet or fulfill that.  In 2010 pure sales won’t be enough.  Added value will be key.

Oh…and have a wonderful Holiday this year!  May 2010 bring you and yours many joys.

“Linda’s Business Blog” will be on vacation now until January 3 as our household is due to fill with family – I have a lot of cooking to do!

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How to build Brand Trust

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”false” link=”term=sears&iid=6092209″ src=”3/d/5/b/Sears_Posts_2nd_6427.jpg?adImageId=7761923&imageId=6092209″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]Why do I begin this conversation with a photo of a Sears sign?  Because in this discussion, the Sears brand has been and still is, a trusted brand name in my family.  There are a few things that are iconic to my family generational-ly and the Sears Christmas catalog [their first Christmas catalog came out in 1933] is one, and the tool and appliance departments at the stores are another.  When my mom brought home the catalog early in the month every December, my sister and I would sit and devour it.  We’d mark the pages and leave it sitting around just where dad could see it.

The products that my parents and their parents purchased at Sears were trusted simply because they came from Sears.  My dad would not buy tools for his garage shop from any other vendor.  My grandmother and mom only bought their clothes from Sears.  Up until my mom passed away a few years ago, I was taking her on her monthly shopping trips to Sears.

So how can you and I – small and home-based business owners – build a brand that has this kind of trust attached to it?

I began exploring this question due to an article in the business section of my morning newspaper on November 10.  I had time that morning to read through more than just the front page of each section and on page four in the biz section that day was a big article titled, “PayPal could overshadow eBay” with a subhead: “Convenience, trust in the brand help build loyal following for online pay service.” [article by Rachel Metz, Associated Press-San Francisco].What jumped out at me in the subhead was the phrase “trust in the brand.” I believe this to be true of PayPal. I’m a home-based business owner and I do business through PayPal…in my etsy store I only accept PayPal.  I utilize PayPal as a way to pay for supplies through my mosaic tile supplier.  Why?  Because I’ve grown to trust PayPal.  Why?

  1. PayPal does what it says it will do
  2. I have never been sorry or inconvenienced by the service – from the article: “…PayPal doesn’t share your financial information with merchants. That brings peace of mind to people who might otherwise worry about shopping at a site they’ve never heard of….”
  3. PayPal offers enough services to meet my business needs

According to the article, “…As of the end of September, 78 million people had active PayPal accounts, up from 65 million a year ago….” What does this tell me about trust in the brand?  That people trust PayPal to be consistent: what you see, what you hear, what you read about PayPal is what you get…every time.

I thought some more about the question: how do you build brand trust? For answers I went to the experts who shared some valuable wisdom.  The key things I think they are saying is that your business and the way you do business needs to be consistent and transparent: what is seen, what is heard, and what is read about your business should be what your customer/client gets…every time.

The question I posed: How do you build brand trust?

  • “…You create a product, service, message, or name that’s simple and memorable.  You surround it with easy to understand differences and you consistently engage every corner of space online and off and then you do it next week and the next and . . ..” – thank you to John Jantsch – a marketing and digital technology coach, award winning social media publisher and author of Duct Tape Marketing  www.ducttapemarketing.com
  • “…When it comes to a small business building trust in their brand particularly online, the first thing they must do is approach it with the give-to-get principle.  Every relationship must be approached with the mindset, “how can I help?”   They will position themselves as a connector and expert in their industry…Perceived risk is the number one barrier for small businesses.  The more important thing a small business can do to build trust in their brand is to be clear about exactly what business they are in, keep their word and deliver on their brand promise….”  thank you to Melinda Emerson “SmallBizLady” Author, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business that Works!  (Feb. 2010 Adams Media) www.succeedasyourownboss.com www.melindaemerson.com
  • “…I believe brand trust is about getting your organization’s message out frequently and consistently – and then following through. If the message and the user/customer experience do not match, trust is eroded. It’s like the old adage about saying one thing and doing another – customer/client service must reinforce the marketing/branding message for strong brand trust to be forged….” thank you to Jane K. Stimmler, The Marketing Edge
  • “…Following are two ways I recommend building brand trust: Have a suggestions/comments area on your business’ website– and a system in place for responding to all comments received in a timely manner.  If you know there are times you’ll have heavy traffic, have a standard email that gives an “estimated waiting time” for a personalized response.  ALWAYS RESPOND…Call with no news: very often people don’t call back because they don’t have the information you requested.  Making the time to call whether you have good news, no news, or bad news is a fast way to build brand trust….” thank you to Frances Cole Jones,   www.thewowfactor-thebook.com
  • “…I’d say the best way to build trust is with brutal honesty…I think brands do themselves the MOST good after a ‘drama’ of some kind – some kind of bad publicity. I recommend the sooner they come forward, and the more honestly they come forward the better.  There have been cases  where people have started Facebook groups or started tweeting relentlessly about brands that have stuffed up in some way or another and stupidly the brand has IGNORED all of the drama expecting it to ‘blow over’ – and of course with this kind of social media available – it DOESN’T!  So eventually after much delay they have no choice but to speak up, but by then it’s too little too late…I think brands have the most potential to win raving fans during times of trial and bad publicity – the more humbly they come forward and either say “we were wrong” or the like the better it is for them and their future sales....” thank you to Allison O’Neill author of  The Boss Benchmark www.thebossbenchmark.com
  • “…A satisfied customer is not a loyal customer by any means.  I build brand and customer trust by NOT expecting them to be loyal to me, but by being loyal to THEM!  I earn loyalty by giving it.  I do it one “D” at a time: Discover (what is important or of value to my customer), Decide (what their experience will look like), Deliver (what I set as their expectation) and Do It Again (it’s an ongoing process that changes and improves with feedback….” thank you to Chrysty Beverley Fortner www.linkedin.com/in/chrystybeverleyfortner www.chrystybfortner.wordpress.com

Here is what I think the above experts are telling me when it comes to building brand trust:

  1. give-to-get; this is very much like having a service mentality.  Instead of positioning your business in your own mind as “the customer is lucky to have this,” you position yourself as “how can I be of service?”  As businesses, as business owners, we need to remember there is no entitlement.  We are not entitled to have customers or clients simply because we hang out a shingle.  A customer may purchase once, but what will bring them back?
  2. consistency – this is a principle that says you treat every customer exactly the same; your products are of the same value and quality from one season to the next; your message, although worded to fit various occasions, says the same thing each and every time
  3. transparency – this is the “what you see is what you get” concept; your business is open and visible – your customers and clients [and competitors for that matter] can see what your business standards are by the way you do business, by what you say and put “out there” and by the way you treat your customers, clients and vendors [suppliers, even the FedEx delivery fellow]
  4. honesty, open and frequent communication – to me this means the right hand and the left hand are working in concert on the same tune; that your message and actions match; that you and your business are accountable for every message, product and service
  5. follow through – do what you say you are going to do or deliver…make no promises – rather, say what you stand for

My personal input on this question is that building brand trust takes time.  Do all of the above and over time your brand will stand the test of economy and fluctuating customer demand.  Also, I think it needs to begin with a leadership question: what exactly do I want my brand to be, to say, to be known for and trusted for?

 

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The Burger King thing and when it’s not your idea

A franchise, I think, is both big business and small business.  I’ll explain myself in a moment.  According to InvestorWords.com, a franchise is:

  • …A form of business organization in which a firm which already has a successful product or service (the franchisor) enters into a continuing contractual relationship with other businesses (franchisees) operating under the franchisor’s trade name and usually with the franchisor’s guidance, in exchange for a fee ….”

[picapp src=”d/a/2/4/Burger_King_Opens_6099.jpg?adImageId=7533708&imageId=4987767″ width=”234″ height=”148″ /]From the corporation’s point of view, its entire network of franchise locations equates to its big business profile.  From the point of view of an individual franchise holder at a specific location, this is that individual’s small business venture.  So, you could argue that a Burger King franchise is both big and small business.

I was prompted to think more about last week’s business news about the fact that a large percentage of franchise holders for Burger King are going to/thinking about suing Burger King corporate for the  $1 double cheeseburger promotion .  You kind of get the feeling that the marketing folks at corporate thought ‘wow, what a good idea,’ while the individual franchise holders thought ‘hey, nobody asked me!’

I mention this because of what the checkout clerk at my grocery store said in conversation yesterday as I was paying for my groceries.  I’ve been shopping at this store for the past six years so the checkers and I are familiar enough to chitchat as she scans and I bag…seems young people don’t want to get grocery bagger jobs anymore and more often than not I’m bagging my own groceries…I’m not complaining, just pointing it out.

Anyway, the checker mentioned that she had taken her sons with her this past Saturday to one of the Burger King locations in our area-we have two.  Talk about a new fan and potential new customer for this company!  She said she doesn’t usually go to this franchise, but because of the special deal, she thought she’d try it.  And she was pleased!  In her words, [I don’t have a photographic memory, but this is very close]: “This was one of the best cheeseburgers I’ve ever had.” She appreciated the fact of the value and quality versus price.

I’ve written before about what customers want: quality, value and a reason to return.  This unusual promotion by Burger King met, for this customer, these three key things:

  • in her estimation, the double cheeseburger was of high quality
  • and, not only was the quality high, it was an incredible value – she received far more for her money than what she initially expected
  • Burger King gained a new customer, at least in the short run, because she said she plans to return, that she didn’t realize how good the burgers were

So, this promotion, while not popular with the franchise holders, was successful in the mind of one customer.

What I find interesting is that this fast food eatery would use the loss leader of one of its quality menu items.  Grocery stores use this marketing method all the time, but they have thousands of items in the store…a fast food place has few items in comparison.  I love that term loss leader, as it is so descriptive.  It is a consumer item that is sold at a loss with the hopes of leading in new customers/retaining current customers.  But I don’t know of very many small or home-based businesses that can financially afford to use this marketing technique.

It’s kind of fun when the world of business, news headlines and real life all come together at the check-out line at the grocery store.

 

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Meet David Gash and Prova-something new in advertising

You really seldom come across something new nowadays.  I mean actually new…not done before.  Radically different.  Prova is something new; different and fills a very real need in the world of small business and advertising.

Marketing is that part of a business’ life that deals with telling the public:

  • who they are
  • what they offer
  • why the public needs its products and services
  • where it can be found

Without marketing efforts, the public will not:

  • know who you are
  • know what you offer
  • know why they need your products or services
  • know where they can find your business

Marketing involves various ways and means of getting information out there:

  • promotional materials: business cards, postcards, flyers, blogs, websites, other online social media
  • paid advertising: display ads both print and online, radio and television spots

The idea is to use every possible means so that your prospective customer might learn of your business and offerings.  The biggest challenge for small business owners is cost.  And time.

Let’s say you have a housekeeping business in your community. How do you let homeowners know of your business and services?  You could put an ad in the telephone yellow pages; an ad in the local newspaper; maybe a radio spot.  But by far the best means might be door hangers and postcards.  Your budget is small so you go for door hangers and postcards.  Now the challenge becomes how to design the most effective materials to achieve the goal – which is gaining new clients.  What image should go on the piece?  What should the editorial content be?  Who in the community can do this at a price you can afford if you don’t posses these skills?  Most small businesses cannot afford to go to an ad agency for a postcard design.  Most can’t afford the time and expense to generate bids among agencies.  So where can they look?

prova_advertising_logoDavid Gash, owner and originator of Prova, has an answer.  David graciously agreed to be interviewed and let me in on some of the thinking involved with his innovative business.

Q:  Prova, in my estimation, is a truly unique service.  What gave you this idea?  Were you a business in need of ads, or a designer looking for clients?

David: When I started my own lawn care company I had to create postcards, door hangers, and other ads for my business.  I hated it.  I would spend hours looking for images online that I could use.  I would debate over different headlines, and it took way too long to create the design.  I always ended up with a design that looked nice, but wasn’t effective at attracting customers.  I never had “advertisement” training, so I didn’t know the importance of a powerful headline, USP, or a call to action.  I created my own ads because I couldn’t afford to hire an ad agency, but I knew how crucial advertising is.  I fell into the same trap as so many other business owners.

After college (business/marketing degree) I realized how many small businesses suffered from this same problem (lack of advertising knowledge), I knew I could create a solution.  Countless companies don’t advertise because they don’t know how and they don’t want to spend the money on an agency.  So many small businesses that DO advertise, do it
ineffectively.  So many people believe putting their logo, phone number, & photo on an advertisement will compel their customers to call.

I was a business in need of ads, and I wasn’t satisfied with the current methods out there which were to:

  1. Create it myself – Much more time consuming than I originally thought.
  2. Hire a freelancer – It’s very time consuming to compare bids, profiles, and portfolios.  I’ve often hired a freelancer, only to have him disappear.  It’s very frustrating to hire someone and get work that is subpar.
  3. Hire an agency – Way too expensive and I still don’t know if I’ll like what I get.

Q:  Why the name Prova?

David: The name Prova sounds fun to say and we love it.

Q: How did you come up with the “contest” idea?

David: The original idea was to create a “place” where people could try out graphic design and see if they like it.  I know there’s people out there that are GREAT at graphic design, LOVE IT, and are very FAST.  I wanted to create a “place” for these people to get paid for doing what they love. I wanted a place where young designers could have a REASON to practice making designs, and expert designers could get paid for their SKILL.  It’s one thing to practice making fake designs for fake companies, but if you’ve got a real client that you can make a design for, with the potential of getting paid for it, you’ll be much more motivated to create a design.  The very act of creating these designs will give you more experience.

Then I thought, to get this “place,” I need to make an “arena” where businesses can say, “I need a postcard, advertising my furniture sale next month.  Here’s the details, I need it in 2 weeks, and I’ll pay $250 to whoever creates the best design.”  I didn’t intend for it to be a “contest,” but it sort of turned out that way.

Q:  What is the appeal of your business to ad designers?

David: The appeal is an opportunity to get paid for your skill.  Rather than entering bidding wars on freelance jobs, at Prova your skill will speak for you.  We also offer designers more experience pitching to real clients, more exposure for yourself, and more experience in graphic design.

Q:  Typically, how many designers participate in a design contest?

David: Currently, our contests are getting over 30 unique designs each.  Our first contest received 66 designs, and a recent logo contest received 56 designs.  If you’re active in providing feedback, or offer more than $250, you’ll receive even more entries (Our first batch of clients weren’t as active.)

Q:  If I understand correctly, once a contest is over, the ads designed can be uploaded into your template library at the choice of the designers – correct?  Does this give designers a second way to possibly earn income through Prova?  Also, does it give small business clients a second “store” so-to-speak?  Can a business purchase an already designed ad rather than order a contest?

David: You are correct.  Any design that isn’t selected as a winning contest entry can be automatically placed in our template directory.  This gives each designer the opportunity to sell their designs much like an artist would in a studio.  And as you discovered, Small Business clients who don’t want to run a contest, can browse our directory and download a design they like.  Template designs cost less and are great for local industries (such as lawn care), where the same design can be used all over the country, just by changing the company info.  And all templates will be customized for your business within two business days free of charge.

Q:  Who is your ideal small business client?  In which market niche do you see your business offering to be most valuable?

David: Since this is an extremely unique concept, it’s hard to tell who will benefit the most from Prova.  Prova is currently the only company specifically designed to get a powerful advertisement created for your business, at the price you pick.  We’re the only company specific to the ad design industry that operates in this format.  Our services are valuable to any business owner who wants an advertisement that will attract more customers, without the hassle of traditional methods.  The business owner that realizes it’s better to let a trained expert design an ad than spend 10-20 hours on it yourself, is our ideal client.  We make it easier for businesses to realize this, since they can set their
own price.

If you’ve got a new business, Prova is great for getting your logo and website designed, while keeping you within your budget.

Q:  Are you seeing a trend in the type(s) of ads being asked for by small businesses?  Are businesses still utilizing “old” advertising of the print variety – everything from flyers to billboards, or are you seeing more online ad use?

David: Usually print ads are requested.  Of course, that’s the audience we’ve been targeting.  The most common ‘online’ ad is a website design.  Keep in mind, everything your business designs is part of your advertising image.  And your ad image is what we create.

Q:  What is typical ad being asked for by your business clients?

David: Postcards, Door hangers, Logos, and website designs.

Lime Face from Prova

Lime Face from Prova

Thank you David!

In doing this interview it made me think…and observe in my own neighborhood.  My office is located at the front of my home and has big windows that look out onto the front yard and neighborhood.  This is not an “upscale” neighborbood by any means, but there are many 2-income families – many of whom commute to the Silicon Valley [CA, USA] which means they have little time for yard work or housekeeping.

There are several different landscape services and housekeeping service businesses who have clients in this area so my front door is frequently loaded with door hangers; also the welcome mat has postcards tucked just under the edge.  The other type of business that utilizes leave-at-the-door print advertising is the real estate business.  We also find business cards, flyers and little newsletters tucked under the edge of the welcome mat.  Unless the landscape service, housekeeping business or real estate agent is producing their own promotional materials at home on their home computers, they are paying someone.  And competition is fierce.

As a consumer I really do look at message and message delivery.  It seems that Prova is filling a unique spot for small businesses:  doing what they cannot do by bringing good designers in to develop designs and messages “on spec.”  I worked as an advertising designer at one time in my early career and found that if Prova had been around then, I would have been ecstatic.  I like the idea, from a designer point-of-view, that if the client does not choose my design, the design isn’t “lost;” rather it goes into Prova’s template “shop.”  Who knows?  Someone else may purchase it and my time wasn’t for naught.

Give Prova.fm a look.  

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Making the case that Artists are Direct Sellers

Or: I’m making the case that I am an Artist [specifically a visual artist: mosaic and painting] and see my business as a direct selling business.  First, a couple definitions to help this conversation along:

"The Jazz Player" acrylic painting by Linda C Smith

"The Jazz Player" acrylic painting by Linda C Smith

  • Artist: first some quotes: “…What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit….  ~John Updike”  and my personal favorite: “…I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for….  ~Georgia O’Keeffe” – my personal definition of “artist” is someone who translates what they see either outside themselves or from within themselves through artistic media – could be paint, pencil, mosaic tiles, dance, music, poetry, prose, photography and more.  I think being an artist is something you have to do…like having no choice.
  • Direct Selling: the best definition comes from DirectSelling411 : “…Direct selling is the sale of a consumer product or service, person-to-person, away from a fixed retail location, marketed through independent sales representatives who are sometimes also referred to as consultants, distributors or other titles….”

Taking these two definitions then, you could say that the artist creates a consumer product and then sells that product person-to-person through shows, festivals, physical galleries and online galleries.  I consider a gallery to be a direct selling situation rather than a fixed retail location as purchasing a work of art is nothing like purchasing a gallon of milk.  In a gallery setting it takes person-to-person interaction between the gallery personnel and the prospective purchaser.  There are quite a few artist-owned galleries, so this is even more the case.

Having stated my case it’s my contention, as a business person, that it would benefit artists if they did a bit of learning as regards direct selling.

(1) How to do direct marketing: “…Direct marketing is a method used to distribute advertising and marketing materials such as catalogs, brochures or other items to consumers through mail, e-mail, telemarketing or other methods. Direct selling is NOT direct marketing.…”[again from DS411].  This is an important distinction and often the two get confused.  The key word is “marketing.”  Marketing is giving people information so that they can make an informed buying decision.  Once you’ve given someone information about your product [marketing materials] you still have to engage them in a buying situation [selling].

(2) How to be an effective direct seller: I found at the DirectSelling 411 site, in the FAQs for selling, a list of points that I think would be valuable for anyone to adopt [this list is copied and has my annotations in italics]:

  • Tell your potential customers who you are, why you’re approaching them and what products you are selling.believe it or not, I’ve seen artists at outdoor shows who stand in their booths with their artwork and never engage the people who come to look…these are prospective art buyers who need to know who you are, why they need your work and what you have available.
  • Explain how to return a product or cancel an order.this is as valid in an art transaction as for any other type of consumer product.  Sometimes an art buyer will get a work home then discover it just doesn’t “work” for them…art is “subjective” and human emotion has much to do with the initial purchase and the purchase retention.
  • Respect the privacy of your customers by calling at a time that is convenient for them.- this is good, basic business advice.
  • Promptly end a demonstration or presentation at the request of your customers.- some artists will take a selection of works to a prospective buyer’s home and do a “presentation;” this is good business advice.
  • Provide accurate and truthful information regarding the price, quality, quantity, performance, and availability of your product or service.- in the art world, consistency of pricing is often a difficult animal to master; sometimes a buyer will be interested in a work you have displayed, but wish it were in another color combination – as the art business person, you have to know what you will and won’t do for a client…and if you do it for one, you’ll have to offer it for others.
  • Offer a written receipt in language your customers can understand.this may, or may not, be an issue in an artist’s business; having said that, if you are an English speaker and are doing shows in a community where another language is predominant, you might want to offer materials in that language.  Some American artists travel to Italy, for instance, for shows…this might be good business in this case.
  • Provide your name and contact information, as well as the contact information of the company you represent.- you would be amazed at the number of artists who do not provide this valuable information to buyers of their work…referral sales are as important for artists’ “products” as for any other consumer products.
  • Offer a complete description of any warranty or guarantee.as an artist, do you offer services after the purchase such as fixing damage?  Everything needs to be clearly outlined and understood between the artist and the buyer.

It’s difficult for some artists to put aside the fuzzy feel goods of getting their hands paint splattered and exchanging that for the cold realities of doing business.  However if an artist has decided to make a business of their work and efforts, then the two hats must be worn.  The business hat needs to fit as well as the creative one.  There is much more that goes into a discussion of art plus business; but for me, it helped to define my home-based business as a direct selling enterprise.  I could then further define what I needed to know and what skills I needed to learn to have a balanced business: creating work on one side and marketing and selling it on the other.

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