Friday, November 11, 2016

Starting a new business before writing a business plan

    I recently did a major re-write on a small book focused on a business plan. In doing it (it took several months of work) I came away impressed at how important a business plan is and I vowed that for my next project I wouldn't spend a penny until I had prepared a business plan and double checked every paragraph. Yet now I am going ahead with a new project without a business plan. What happened?

    I did not develop a sudden antipathy for business plans. Much of what I have learned over the past six months is still very much in my head. But there is one essential part of any business plan that poses a problem, particularly for the very small business or solo entrepreneur or the creative voice that doesn't quite fit into any category. The problem is research -- market research, competitors, market size, pricing within that market -- core data. Getting this information accurately is what makes a business plan worth something. This is what makes a business plan work.

    In the abstract you can think about preparing a business plan and fudge the numbers (since no one knows that they will be anyway) and do your "market research" on Google and you'll come up with fillers for the blanks in your plan but you'll end up with a very risky plan. It may fool a few loving relatives but not a banker or serious investor and, should you try to implement it, the fooling will stop very quickly. Just pray that you are working with someone else's money, not your own.

    It's that section called "market research" that's the killer. Here, accurate information is really important. If you don't get it right your quest may be hopeless so let me explain why, for my new project -- The Green Wave Newsletter -- I am going forward without a business plan, even though I believe business plans are very important.

This is a test --
Can I find a market?

    I'm not sure how much I've ever written about testing but perhaps I'll write more about it some day. Testing is the art of getting accurate information at the lowest possible cost. Yes, information can come at a cost. You can't find it all on Google. I'll give you an example from the past.

    Back in the days of junk mail and mailing lists, the use of the right list to promote your offer would make the difference between a very profitable promotion and a failure.

    But how could you find the right list? The renters of mailing lists (they were always rented, not sold) would propose various lists to you. Their interest was in making sales, to you. But you had to sort through their proposals to find out which if any of these lists would work for you.

    So you made minimal orders of many lists, mailed your offer, and counted the results. Your results showed what lists would work and what lists would not. You had to spend money to get the information but, with the information, you could now rent the good lists and make a lot of money.

    For my new newsletter, The Green Wave, I need information. I need to find out where to promote it, what people to promote it to, and how enthusiastic they will be once they start to get their monthly issues. I need feedback.

I'll run it up the flagpole
and see if anyone salutes

    In fact, the whole project may be off course -- the frequency of publication, the price structure, the format -- feedback is really important to me and the only way to get it is to put the newsletter and promotions for it out there and see if I can begin to assemble the audience I am looking for -- people who will read it and pay to keep reading it.

Later, perhaps, a business plan

    Someday a business plan for this project may get written. And if and when it does, that "market research' section is going to be filled with some very accurate information, information I will be able to show bankers and serious investors, if I care to do so.

Monday, November 7, 2016

It's about problem solving

 I'm launching a new newsletter, really a continuation of the most recent issues of my Perfume Strategies newsletter. The theme: "It's about problem solving."

    Want to succeed with your perfume? With your business? (With your life!) -- get better at problem solving.

    Look at it this way: You have a great idea, you start putting it together, then you hit some sort of glitch -- it always happens. Your success now hinges on your ability to solve the problem that is causing the glitch whether it be money, a person saying "no" when you need them to say "yes," a technical issue which you don't understand, some equipment you need but can't come up with -- whatever. You either solve the problem or ... or you fold -- end of project.

    Sometimes problems are really small and seemingly trivial. I had one last week. I had fabricated my own instrument cable (to hook an electric guitar to an amp) and one end of the cable went bad. Bummer, especially since I had used top of the line components.

The plug at the other end went bad

    So the next step was analysis. For some time I had been aware that my soldering techniques wasn't good and, when working with electronics, that's bad.

    I had previously addressed this problem by buying a new, slightly more powerful, soldering iron. It made no difference. The solder wasn’t melting fast enough so the components were being exposed to too much heat. Bad!
Small and larger soldering irons

    But every YouTube video I watched showed equipment that looked like mine doing a good job. My (initial) conclusion: I needed an even more powerful (and expensive) soldering iron. I started looking through online catalogs thinking perhaps my wife would buy me one for Christmas.

    Then something happened. I watched one more "how to solder" YouTube video and picked up one small point I had missed. I went at it again, this time with a different roll of solder (much thinner!) and it all worked like magic, just like in the videos.

On the right: the solution

    The point I had missed wasn't the solution to my soldering problem but it quickly led me to the solution.

    My problem wasn't the soldering iron, it was the solder. Now I solder like a pro and a few rolls of the right (for this job) solder cost nothing against what would have been the cost of (another) new soldering iron.

    Problem solving isn't about throwing money at a problem; it's about thinking the problem through and filling in the "information gaps" by doing some research and sometimes with some small scale testing and experimentation. The better you get at problem solving, the more perfume you'll be able to sell and the more money you’ll be able to make.

    You can read more about my new monthly newsletter, The Green Wave, here. Cost is just 99 cents for the first three months (3 issues).


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Why it's good to have a website you can manage yourself

 Why be limited to Facebook?

    In the years between 2000 and 2016, website design tools went from being so simple any motivated entrepreneur could make their own website to being to complex that you almost needed an academic degree just to understand basic webs design concepts.

    Although they might not consciously be aware of it, this trend has discouraged small business owners from using websites to promote their goods and services and instead have turned to Facebook.

    Two big anti-www issues are the cost of having a website built and the cost of maintaining it. While business owners do hire people to maintain their Facebook pages, the skills needed to build and maintain a Facebook page are much like the skill set needed to build a website in the year 2000 -- a job for graphic designers, not a computer science mba.

    But promoting without a website is limiting, even with a Facebook page. Facebook doesn't have the reach. It's a walled in community and, in spite of efforts to make it a business getter, for users it is still more social than commercial.

But can you build a simple web page in the year 2016?

    This week I conducted an experiment to find out what would happen if I put up a web page using minimalist coding. I wrote an article about designing a web page with code so simple that anyone could do it. Then I formatted that page using this code, the way I would have done it in the year 2000.

    To make this a practical test, I added a photo and e-commerce capability, still using "year 2000" coding. You can actually order a book from this page and it will be delivered to you, electronically, immediately.

    View my test page here
    Left out were a few lines of code browsers look for and which should have been part of the page. But I wanted to see what would happen if I really trimmed the code down.

    One thing more. I wanted this page to display properly across all platforms, including smartphones. I wanted nothing to be lost beyond the width of the screen.

    View my test page here

    View my the page with both a desktop and a mobile. The design is plain by today's standards but by Google standards it shines. I ran it through the Vary SEO tool and the page won points for loading with lightning speed, even though it was quite long. It was also credited for being OK for mobile although on mobile the text was small. My simple test showed that you can, all by yourself, design a web page that will display across all platforms and all you need to do it is a handful of html tags.

Here's the why you should do it

    You've got Facebook with its nice templates that make your stuff look good. But in Facebook you're operating behind a wall. For someone to see your stuff they have to have a Facebook account. Most social friends will. Potential customers might not or, if they are, might not find you when looking for what you offer. Unless you are just a local business in a small community, Google and Bing are far more likely to bring you business. But for Google and Bing to find you and your business you need a website.

Don't hire someone to build your website

    In almost every case I know when someone hires a web designer to do their website, one of two things follow. If it is an organization, such as a church that really wants their website to communicate, they pay a monthly service fee to have the site "maintained," meaning regular updates announcing sermon topics, luncheons, and special events. The designer makes updates once a week.

    But now it's Sunday morning, snowing hard. Will church be canceled? You go to the website but there's...  nothing! With Facebook an announcement could easily have been made.

    The second thing that can happen to the small business that has a website built for them is they never bother to budget for maintenance. The site is built like a monument, unchanging for all time. As time goes by it becomes increasingly irrelevant and forgotten, particularly by the search engines because they judge sites by their activity.

    All of this shows just how practical Facebook can be.

You can build a modern website using retro design

    Building your own website was once easy. It still can be easy if you ignore all the frills and whistles and stick to retro-era coding which is very, very simple. As demonstrated above, it works. But it's good to be clear on why you should use it rather than hiring a web designer or sticking with Facebook alone.

    Google and Bing don't care about the look of your website; they only care about it's content. By developing simple pages you become free to spend more time on content, new products and services, testimonials, something about your business, something about you. You can add or change content as often as you want. It costs no money and no more time than you might spend updating your Facebook page.

View my test page here

    Try it. Look into it. If you feel you need more resources to build your own site, ask questions in the "comment" box below and I'll respond. There are some retro tools that can help you but if you can't find what you need, or if I can't direct you to what you need, I'll wrote up a full "building your own retro website" manual myself and distribute it free.

    So go for it. You'll be amazed at how a regularly maintained website of your own will extend the reach of your business.

  View my test page here

Monday, July 11, 2016

How to pack more power into your visual images

If you are looking for strong images
to sell your perfume, your first step
is to develop a strong concept.

    Visual images can be a powerful selling tool, but not all visual images. Some are spectacular in their marketing power, others are little more than pretty pictures, nice but quickly forgotten. Powerful images stick in people's heads.

    I've had some experience with powerful images. I've seen one photo produce $100,000 in sales; another more than a million. But the key to it was getting the right image for the context in which it was to be used. These shots involved a bit of luck. But the luck itself came about by setting up the setting in which the lucky shot could be grabbed.

    If you are looking for strong images to sell perfume, your first step is to work up a strong visual concept. This is like outlining a plot for a book, film or TV show except that it will be an outline for one frozen moment.

    As you develop your concept, keep several points in mind. Most important is the image that you want to create. What will be the best image to hook viewers on an emotional level, pushing them toward a purchase?

    Also keep in mind your resources. A good idea is no good to you unless you can produce the image you've imagined.

    Models who are unavailable to you, or you can't afford to hire, or who will never be good in front of a camera have to be ruled out.

    Locations you can't afford must be rules out.

    Sets that you can't set up properly must be ruled out.

    Your great concept has to be one you can execute.

    Photographing your great concept should not be a static exercise. Yes, take the "art director" shot, the one you sketched on paper for your layout. And keep your layout in mind, the space the photo must fit. I can recall a time when I wanted to shoot jewelry on a model. You get a quick lesson in proportion. The model is large, the earring is small. You want to show the earring large because that's the product. The model's face gets cropped. So why, tell me why, was casting for a face when it should have been for an ear?

    Now comes the fun part where you are most likely to get a shot that moves people. Loosen up a bit. Go a bit crazy with the camera. If you're working                                                                                                        with a model or models, have them loosen up and go a bit crazy. Overdo it. Then cut it back just slightly. This is where you're likely to get images that move people.

    The image above is not a great example of an advertising shot but let me walk you through its creation.  

    Having just written about the importance of TEXT, I wanted to follow up with an article on the power of images. In producing this article it seemed strange not to have an illustration so I decided to cook one up. This would be a simple image using props on hand and a "model" who was sleeping on the couch next to my desk.

    Since this blog is about marketing your own perfume, A bottle of perfume was called into service, Moonfaire in this case. Then, to add human interest, I posed Kissy, a miniature dachshund, with the bottle. Now it was just a few snaps and a bit of photo editing and I was done. No, the image isn't powerful. It just demonstrates how you can put a concept together.

    A few final words on images. Few images have much meaning standing alone without a headline, photo caption, or a context. When you use a photo, make sure you've given it the support that can make it's message clear -- and powerful. You'll be amazed by how a few added words can multiply the power a photo.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

How to score more shares -- text vs. video

     An article in our Perfume Strategies newsletter from June discussed recent evidence that most social network postings that are shared have never been read by the person doing the sharing. In that issue I wrote about how you can take advantage of this quirk.

    If people share a post without reading it clearly it is the immediate impression of the post that has triggered their share. So, if you want your post shared, you have to work on that first impression.

    But some people do read posts. So if your content is your selling story, you don’t want to weaken that story just to get more shares.

Mess with the headline, not the body

    The all important trigger is the headline; if there is only a photo, the photo caption; if there is only a video, the first frame of the video, the one that you see behind the "play" button.

    Very few photos communicate a message (a real message!) fast and clear without the addition of a (text) caption. Video almost never communicates a coherent message with that single, frozen, "waiting for the play button to be pushed" first frame. Text -- a headline -- can capture attention and communicate real meaning in just a few words ... which the eye and brain can process in microseconds.

    That's why headlines have always been so important in communications whether they be news, advertising, so social. In spite of what the promoters of video want you to believe, the written word is still king.

    If you want your post to be shared, a strong headline (text) or a meaningful photo caption (text) is essential. But what do you put into your headline or photo caption? I suggest you work at it this way --

    First, try to condense the essence of your message into five or six words. This also helps you focus on what it is that you want to communicate. Then pull out, in two or three words, the most exciting, sharable point in your message. Now artfully blend these elements in a single headline or photo caption. Step back. Let it cool for an hour or two, then look at your headline again. Did you nail it? If so, go ahead and post. If not, work at it some more. Good communications are worth the extra effort and you will get more shares.

NOTE: Every month I discuss issues and strategies of importance to marketers in our Perfume Strategies newsletter, free to members of our Perfume Makers' Club.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sorting out social media and social media influencers to sell your own perfume

Do you know why we used this picture of a dog to illustrate this article? Tell us why you think we did and we'll give the dog a cookie.
    Social media is a terrific marketing tool.

    But it's a tool that can be hard to get a grip on.

    If you are reading this because you believe social media could help your case, but you aren't currently deploying social media to support your brand, let's review a few of the issues that might be holding you back.

    Issue # 1 -- "Social media" is as broad a category as "print", "radio", "TV", or "direct mail." Within the "social media" category, new platforms are being introduced regularly. Some older platforms are falling out of favor while others have seen a dramatic demographic shift.

    Because the use of social media is currently free, it's easy to forget that you are acting in the role of media buyer when you select the platforms you want to address. You make your selections the same way any media buyer would. Your goal is to maximize return on investment. You are concerned with the demographics of the platform, the reach of the platform, and what the cost to you will be.

    Issue # 2 -- What will it cost you to use free social media? If you promote using only your own social media assets, the cost is nothing more than the time and energy you put into conversations with your followers. But social media marketing has become much more than a conversation with your own followers, however large their numbers may be. Global brands, for all their money, power, and name recognition, have turned to freelance "social media influencers" for help in marketing their products. Brands pay cash for these services. Why? Because these freewheeling young kids do a better job at promoting. You may find yourself paying for these services too.

    Issue # 3 -- Social media influencers -- These are the handful of generally young people who, through their social media conversations, have developed large followings of loyal devotees whose buying decisions can be influenced through these conversations.

[Text missing ... full article is found -- free -- at our website here.]

     If you are a small marketer of your own fragrance, you might try going to one of these agencies (that are popping up all over) to save yourself the confusion of finding and approaching a self-described social media influencer on your own. Will the convenience be worth what you might pay? If you do decide to go this route, it is wise to TEST on the smallest possible (but practical) scale. But at times you just have to pick a starting point and go forward, learning by experience and perhaps getting burned just a little in the process.

    If you are the marketer of your own perfume it is likely that you'll want to make some use of social media. You may have your own social assets -- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever -- but if you're going to do some heavy selling, it's likely you'll be led to consider working with an "influencer." This was a topic that was explored in the May 2016 issue of Perfume Strategies. The article made some suggestions but the fact is that, to data, there is no clear and simple path to using this tool. At present we can only keep our eyes open, be aware of what others are doing and, should a practical opportunity present itself, test this pay-to-post "influencer" tool on a moderate scale.

Monday, March 28, 2016

A treasure hunt for coupons

    I've written about using coupons to test the waters for a new perfume idea. This article suggests a way to use coupons to get more visitor involvement with your various online presences. The strategy goes like this --

    You establish a prize, perhaps a discount on one of your fragrances, perhaps a free bottle of fragrance. Next you distribute coupons, each bearing a code number, around your website and social media presences. Then you announce the treasure hunt, on Facebook, Twitter, your website, etc.

    The deal is simply this. The person -- it could be just the first person, it could be the first ten people, it could be whatever you want it to be -- who collects all of the coupon numbers and submits them to you gets the prize. (In your announcement you'll state how many coupons you've hidden and where to look for them -- website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

    To make this work you'll have to make it fun and not too serious. You're not looking for the obsessed hunters of free offers. You're looking for people who will engage with you. The treasure hunt is a way to get them interested in YOU and the fragrances you sell.

    Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Testing your new perfume idea for free

    There are many ways for a person or a company with no experience to launch and promote a new perfume but increasingly the most important tool for this type of startup is the internet. Asked "how will you sell your new perfume?" the independent perfume entrepreneur is likely to answer, "Online."

The ups and downs of selling perfume online

    Not so long ago the internet was great for taking orders but not so great for selling an unknown fragrance by an unknown company. Many of the early adapters of selling perfume online found that few if any shoppers made it to their websites and fewer still (and often nobody) bought their perfume.

    While the problem of selling an unknown perfume online remains, social media now makes it possible to get your perfume known and to draw attention, and even sales, to your online store. Companies of all sizes are now discovering the cost effectiveness of social media for generating both online and brick and mortar sales. If your business plan calls for selling online it will also call for the use of social media to stimulate sales.

Looking at costs

    The use of social media can be free or it can carry costs. It can be free if you are doing it yourself, through your own social media accounts. If you are paying for advertising or paying, with cash or gifts, for a social media "influencer" to promote your fragrance, it then carries costs.

    An important question to ask yourself is, "what will 'free' get me?" You don't yet know but at this point you do know how many active followers you have on your own social media accounts. If ALL of them bought your perfume would it be profitable? If, perhaps, 10 percent of them bought your perfume would it be profitable? In either of these cases you should consider doing your first market test with these people, for free.

    Regardless whether your promotion on social media will be free or whether it will cost something, developing and manufacturing your perfume will cost money and launching it will involve risk. Testing the market before you produce your perfume makes good business sense. Market feedback can highlight opportunities or raise red flags that should be taken very seriously.

This is how you can market test for free

    You can run multiple market tests for free using your social media accounts. Rather than going out with a "buy now" message for your fragrance, go out with a coupon offer that will get you the essential market feedback you need. You can easily run one or more tests without producing your perfume.

Coupon strategies

    The "coupons" you distribute are digital and cost nothing to produce. The trick is to have the coupon make an attractive offer or, better yet, test several offers to see which is most attractive. For example, one series of coupons might be for a straight discount on your fragrance (when it becomes available). This could be for 20%, 40%, or even 60% off, or for money off plus free shipping (within your economically practical delivery area). Your coupon could be for a free sample size perfume. A limited number of coupons could be for a free full size bottle. You could mix the coupons in random sequence so the requester wouldn't know which offer they are getting until you delivered it. Use your imagination.

    Distribute your coupons through the same channels you were planning to use for your advertising. Feedback will come quickly -- or not at all.

Evaluate your results

    Since the channels you used to distribute your coupons are the ones you planned to use to advertise your fragrance, the results from your test are important. Hopefully you will get a strong response that shows people have an interest in your perfume. But what if there is little or no response? This also tells you something and, while the message won't make you happy, you should pay attention. Lack of response to your couponing effort shows that the market is not ready for your perfume.

Be guided by your test results

    Honor your test results. If your results say "go," go! Don't hesitate. But if your test results show weakness, work harder at finding a profitable market. It's as simple as this and you can make your tests ... for free.