Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Holiday Shopping? Take a Made in America Challenge!

Originally published in Solutions 11/30/2012.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing! By now we know, or at least we should, the benefits of buying American-made products:
  • Return jobs to America.
  • Buying American-made items requires less transportation, and therefore, less fuel. It is simply better for the environment.
  • American-made products are typically higher quality and will last you longer, saving you money in the long run.
  • Items made in the USA have more stringent safety requirements.
Get in the habit of checking tags when you are shopping, and make sure you are supporting your local economy, rather than those of other countries. There are also many web sites out there that have joined the movement, making your shopping easier. Here are a bunch of them:

You can also visit our web site for past America Proud articles and follow us on Twitter for our weekly favorite Made in America products.

Take your own Made in America challenge, and purchase as many USA-made gifts as you can this year. The job you help create could be your neighbor’s, or your own.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Does your front door need a renovation?

Small businesses can have many different types of front doors these days. Retail shops have a real front door, a threshold for customers to physically walk through. Some service businesses are the same. But many other businesses are virtual now and their front door may be their phone system, their website, their Twitter profile, or their Facebook page.

If you have a physical front door you walk through it and see it every day. It is in your face and you paint it or repair it as necessary.

But when was the last time you checked your virtual front door?

Your online gateway is just as important as your physical front door-and it’s critical if your company is virtual. It is vital for you to keep your website, Facebook page, Twitter profile, or whatever virtual platforms you use, current and informative.

Here are some things to consider: 

1.       Is your virtual look and feel current? Does it match your current corporate goals and objectives? Is it time to refresh?

2.       Do you update content regularly? This means often – daily or weekly. If not, start now!

3.       Do you walk through your sites regularly from the viewpoint of a customer to be sure they are user friendly and answering the right questions?

4.       Do you tell people how to get in touch with you in every way possible?

Your virtual front door is an important entry point into your business. Stop and think about whether yours needs a renovation today!

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff. Visit the ProfessionalEdge website at, email, follow them on Twitter @profedge, or like their Facebook page.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Giving Thanks

Tis the season to be thankful. Here are some things we are thankful for in our business:
·         Our customers – without them we would be nothing

·         Working for ourselves

·         Working from home

·         Doing what we love

·         The ability to work at 2AM if necessary

·         Technology – so thankful for technology

·         Our families for their support every day

·         Our canine companions who are a vital part of our team

·         The way marketing changes continuously and keeps us challenged every day

·         Our partners, who are truly a part of our team

·         Our customers – without them we would be nothing

What are you thankful for in your business?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How can you truly contribute to a conversation using social media? Hint, you should read this before you reply.

Have you noticed how suddenly you are getting more responses to your blog and social media posts? That’s a good thing, right? Content is king, and your goal is to put content out there and start conversations with people who are potential customers or partners. It’s supposed to help your business.

But, have you also noticed how the majority of the responses you receive are meaningless replies often from people who obviously haven’t even read your post?

So many people will post a response to the title of a blog or post without ever reading the post. Unfortunately that is doing the absolute opposite to what was intended. They are spending their valuable time blindly responding to posts to get their name known. It’s like roulette. Keep posting things and maybe one of them will hit the winning number. If you are a small business owner, your time is so much more valuable than this. Most people will just get frustrated and stop following you. You’ve turned a positive opportunity into a loss.

I know there is an overwhelming amount of information out there. And you are trying to keep in front of people on social media all the while trying to do the real job of running your business.

Here are some tips: 

·       Dedicate time each day for social media (I choose first thing in the morning and after the chaos of the evening). It only takes about 15 minutes at each sitting to review articles and posts and respond to some. If you miss a day, the world will not end.

·       Open only those articles or posts that pertain to you and will benefit you (note: this is why your title is so important!). Your time is priceless, use it wisely.

·       Out of those you open and read, respond only to those posts you are most knowledgeable about and where you can offer real information to readers.

·       Please don’t blindly respond with a link to your blog about marketing tips or how to set up a business when the post is about how to plant sunflowers that will bloom all year round. You are only doing yourself a disservice and wasting other people’s valuable time.

·       Do respond to people who offer valuable feedback to your posts.

With everything you post, think about whether or not it is meaningful and how it represents your brand. Post wisely and you will get far better results.

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff. Visit the ProfessionalEdge website at, email, follow them on Twitter @profedge, or like their Facebook page.






Thursday, November 8, 2012

I’m starting a home-based business. How do I start marketing?


So, you’ve made the decision to venture out on your own with a home-based business. It’s an exciting, overwhelming, and scary time all at once. There’s much to do and one of the most important is to assure you will be able to sell your new product or service. But how do you go about marketing your new business so you will have customers?

You should already have a business plan in place which defines your company goals, vision, mission, products and services, and you should know your initial marketing budget. Here are some steps to get your new home-based business visible. 

1.       Define your target market(s) – Think of the specific groups of people you should target with your products and services. If you are a home-based business without a large staff, target very specific locations and demographics. If you are a bigger business with other staff located in different areas, the locations you target should be broader.

2.       Use your past to help build your future – Think about everyone you know from your previous work and personal experiences who already know your work. Then think of how they might fit into your target market(s). You already have a captive and interested audience. Marketing to them is your best first step.

3.       Begin to build your brand – The first step in building your brand is designing your look and feel. You’ll need a logo and tagline and an overall look that tells people who you are. Hire a consultant if necessary to get the best look that tells your company’s visual story.

4.       Write a marketing plan – You have the basics, now get into the details. How can you reach your target market(s) within your start-up budget and get the most exposure from unpaid promotional opportunities? Be sure to include a launch schedule with target dates for all marketing, advertising, PR, and social media activities.

5.       Build your online world – Build your website and social media sites to tell your story online. Start a blog with the first post carefully written to outline your company values and further build your brand.

6.       Move forward with other marketing – Whether your marketing plan includes a brochure or other mailing, direct calls, eblasts, advertising or more, once your marketing plan is in place you can start working on your launch. During a launch you should saturate the market through many different mediums to gain the most exposure. Be sure to include press if possible. Get testimonials from your new customers and incorporate them into your future marketing activities.

7.       Keep it going!You’re now getting exposure for your new home-based business and work should start coming in. Don’t stop! Sometimes it can be hard to find time to market your small business while you are running it, but it is important to continue so the momentum never stops. Review your marketing plan often and make adjustments as necessary to get the most return on your investment.

Starting a home-based business can be daunting. It can also be one of the most rewarding and exciting things you will ever do. The right marketing approach will help it be successful as well.

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff. Visit the ProfessionalEdge website at, email, follow them on Twitter @profedge, or like their Facebook page.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Are you ready for Small Business Saturday?

Tucked neatly between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a very important shopping day for small businesses called Small Business Saturday. Small Business Saturday was started by American Express in 2010 to encourage shoppers to support small businesses when they are making their holiday purchases the weekend after Thanksgiving, which is notoriously one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year in the U.S. This year, Small Business Saturday falls on November 24th. Are you ready?

If you are a small business merchant here are some things you can do to get ready.

1.       Advertise! – If you haven’t started already, start now promoting Small Business Saturday. Visit the Small Business Saturday Promote Your Small Business page for free tools, ideas, and success stories.  Be sure to post signs in your business, send emails, and post on your social media sites. This site offers many tools to help you and even offers free advertising to qualified businesses.

2.       Offer promotions! – Use this opportunity to offer a special discount or promotion to those who support you on Small Business Saturday. Think about a special that gets people in early, such as a giveaway or extra discount to the first 500 visitors. Think about offering something special like a craft or story time for the kids while mom and dad are shopping!

3.       Combine with other opportunities! – capitalize on this special day with other opportunities, like inviting special guests into the store, holding a ribbon cutting  ceremony, combining with an open house, or launching a new product. All of this can garner additional buzz for a day that’s already being promoted nationwide.

4.       Keep them coming back! – Be sure to have adequate staff to handle the rush of the day and of course put your best customer service faces on. Make the experience welcoming and find a way to get their email or get them to like or follow your social media sites so you can add them to future marketing opportunities. Consider what an opportunity you have for next year if you capture their address. You can send them a personal invitation to your next Small Business Saturday!

If you are a shopper instead of a merchant, be sure to support your local small businesses on November 24th! Visit the Shop Small Facebook page to learn more about how you can support small businesses.

Let us know how you’ll be participating in Small Business Saturday this year.

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff. Visit the ProfessionalEdge website at, email, follow them on Twitter @profedge, or like their Facebook page.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Do you have a brilliant local marketing idea?

I just had to share a local marketing idea that I personally think is brilliant.
I live in a small subdivision that is part of a larger subdivision. In all, there are about 700 homes in the larger area. We were hit pretty hard in the foreclosure boom that happened recently, and are finally starting to see streets with no foreclosure or for rent signs.

Last month, a local realtor sponsored a community garage sale. They advertised on behalf of the community and posted many signs at every main entrance and every smaller subdivision entrance. This is a a smart, self-made sponsorship opportunity.

This past weekend, I found a 'community newsletter' sponsored by the same realtor on my front door. It included excellent information about the immediate local housing market, and tips about when to sell and refinance.  It even included some trick or treating tips for parents and their little ghosts and witches and information about a pumpkin patch offering a free pumpkin to those who 'like' the community Facebook page (which they also sponsor).

None of this cost the realtor much money. But it was a highly targeted marketing campaign offering very helpful information. They don't call and annoy us and they don't send post cards or flyers we'll just throw away. Instead they provide useful information that shows they are true experts on our local community housing market. I would definitely call them first if I was looking to sell.

Do you have an example of some real innovative targeted local marketing?

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff. Visit the ProfessionalEdge website at, email, follow them on Twitter @profedge, or like their Facebook page.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Should vendors and sponsors be speakers at conferences?

Having served on multiple conference planning committees over the years, I can say that whether or not vendors should be given the opportunity to also serve as speakers is always a topic that gains a lot of attention. Of course vendors and sponsors also want to have a workshop; it gains them and their product more exposure. But, just like your blog should never be a sales pitch, neither should a vendor conference speaking opportunity.

Conference planners value their sponsors and vendors. Of course they bring an additional revenue source; but, they also offer an opportunity for attendees to gain additional information and learn about products and services that can help them in their work. Conference planners; however, get nothing but negative reviews when any session is a sales pitch. Given the option to attend an informational session versus a sales pitch, most attendees will far prefer information.

So what can vendors and sponsors do to offer the conference value and improve their chances for a speaking slot? Here are some do's and don'ts: 

1.       Don't submit a workshop proposal only about your company and your company's products and services

2.       Don't submit a sales pitch and don’t change it into a sales pitch once you’ve been accepted

3.       Don't expect to have a speaking slot just because you are a vendor or sponsor – you must provide value to the conference and its attendees

4.       Do take the case study approach, inviting your customers to lead a session about the problem they had where you can participate as a solution expert

5.       Do focus on the solution you provide generally and not the specific product or service

6.       Do ask the conference planner about any fitting panel opportunities where you can add to the conversation

7.       Do send your best and most engaging presenters, always!

If you are a vendor or sponsor, before you submit your next workshop proposal, think about what sessions you would want to attend. Think also about the challenges conference planners face when trying to fill limited slots with informational sessions for their attendees. If you approach your workshop proposals the same way you should be approaching your blog – by serving as an excellent source of valuable information – you should increase your chances of success.

Should vendors and sponsors be speakers at conferences? Absolutely, if they go about it the right way!

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff. Visit the ProfessionalEdge website at, email, follow them on Twitter @profedge, or like their Facebook page.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Case Studies: Testimonials on Steroids

Recently, we posted a blog about how customer testimonials are so important for your business. You should be requesting feedback and testimonials after every customer transaction. But there is so much more you can do with your positive testimonials. Case studies are like testimonials on steroids. They take a simple recommendation or quote and dig deeper to provide you with a full customer story. Case studies are an excellent addition to your marketing strategy.

For marketing purposes, you can approach case studies in two ways – either a more in-depth study of one customer experience, or an overview of multiple customer experiences with a particular product or service.

Let’s take a look at the steps you’ll need to take to create your case study. 

1.     Identify the challenge  – A case study should be built around what problem or challenge you have solved for your customer(s). So the first step is to identify which problems your products and/or services solve.

2.     Identify the customer(s) – Once you’ve identified a problem, think about your customers and identify one or more you know would be willing to tell people how you have solved the problem for them.

3.     Identify the solution – A case study tells a story and once you’ve identified the problem, you should also identify the solution. What did your company do to solve the problem or challenge? Be specific – think about all the ways your company helped, like staff interactions, training, support, installations, products, etc.

4.     Interview the customer(s) – Ask your customer(s) specific questions about their experience.  Ask for more than you need and get as much detail as possible so you can choose what is best to include in your case study. Open ended questions will provide more detail. Some people prefer to receive questions and provide answers in writing, which is helpful to you as you write and use their quotes.

5.     Draft your case study – Be sure to include the challenge, solution, and specifics and be very sure to include some of the information as verbatim quotes with proper credit given. Tell a story and let the story sell your product or service. Don’t make it a sales pitch.

6.     Secure buy-in – Have your customer(s) review and make changes to the draft as necessary – you want their buy-in. It would be a shame to write a great case study with testimonials from a customer and then have them angry at you for not letting them sign off!

7.     Incorporate it into your strategy – Be sure to incorporate use of your case study into your overall marketing strategy so it is a complement to your other marketing efforts and will garner the greatest impact. Here are some ideas to consider:

a.       Develop a printed version for use at trade shows and in new customer packets

b.      Post and talk about it on your website and other social media sites

c.       Include it as a blog post on your blog and other industry sites

d.      Repurpose it into an article for publication in industry publications

e.      Send it to key customers who have purchased before to remind them how you can solve their problems too

f.        Send to key stakeholders as appropriate, like potential funders, legislators, board members, etc.

g.       Post the quotes on your testimonial pages online and as use them in other marketing collateral

h.      Don’t forget to track and analyze every use so you know what works best for next time

8.     Consider repurposing it into a video – Videos can add a whole new perspective to things. If your customer is willing, video tape the interview and cut it into a creative video that can be posted to YouTube, on your web site, and other places. If the impact of the written story is significant, just imagine how much stronger it will be if your potentials and stakeholders hear your customer speak about how you solved their problem.

9.     Thank your customer – Be sure to thank your customer, share the finished product with them, and tell them about all the marketing exposure it harvested. Remember, this is also a marketing opportunity and exposure for them!

10.  Start on the next one!Don’t stop after just one. Case studies should become a major and ongoing part of your marketing efforts. Done right, they can provide a significant impact.

What are some ways that you’ve incorporated case studies into your marketing strategy?

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff. Visit the ProfessionalEdge website at, email, follow them on Twitter @profedge, or like their Facebook page.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Does Your Organization Stand Out?

Let’s face it, it’s a dog eat dog world in business. No matter the size of your company – whether you are a startup or you have been in business for a long time – you run the risk of getting lost in a sea of other organizations either just like yours or doing at least some of the same things you are doing. It is imperative that you stand out in everything you do in order to gain, maintain, or grow market share.

What are some ways you can stand out amongst your competition?

Customer Service

Customer service is one important way you can stand out against your customers. Are your employees empowered to handle any issue that arises? Does everyone in your organization go above and beyond every day? Exceptional customer service will gain you customers and repeat customers and that is the key to any successful business.

Quality of Product/Service

Another critical way to stand out is through the quality of the products and/or services you provide. In what ways are you better than the competition? Are you telling people about those ways? Are you getting customer testimonials to show potential customers that others who have used your products or services agree that yours are better quality? Be the best. And tell people about it.

Staff + Leadership

This one goes with the first two above. When you have excellent staff around you, your business will flourish, you will have the best products and services, and you will provide exceptional customer service. If you have excellent leadership you will allow your staff the freedom and autonomy to make it so.


Always, always, always be looking at new, more efficient, more effective ways to meet your customers’ needs. Be first to market with these new ideas and you will win and keep market share.


We recently included a blog post about maintaining an energized organization that included many ideas to keep your organization energized and foster creativity. Foster a creative culture and you will always be innovating and leading the competition.


Last but certainly not least, your overall organizational brand should stand out. Branding incorporates all of the above, along with your messaging and look and feel. Be sure your look is current, crisp, and speaks to everything else about your organization. Revise it to keep up with the ever-changing times. Tell the story through your brand through all the ways mentioned, and solidify it through excellent and consistent marketing and social media activities.

It may be a dog eat dog world but you don’t need to get lost in that sea. Stop and think about how your organization is standing out. Could you be doing better?

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff. Visit the ProfessionalEdge website at, email, follow us on Twitter @profedge, or like our Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Are you using testimonials like Amazon uses customer reviews?

“Testimonials are enough to convince people for now.” Alex Chiu

I am an avid online shopper and customer reviews play a key role in my purchasing decisions. There’s nothing better to me than a current, detailed review of how the product works and meets customer expectations. Multiple reviews are even better because you get a better picture from different perspectives. I don’t often purchase something online that hasn’t been reviewed yet.

Just like online shopping sites use customer reviews, one of the greatest marketing tools your company has is a testimonial from a customer. What better way to convince others to try your products or services than to hear how well they have worked for someone else? Testimonials should be used often and everywhere. Post them on your web and social media sites, include them in your brochures, incorporate them into your press releases and articles, and build case studies around them (we’ll have another post soon on that topic).

But, it’s also very important that your testimonials are fresh. Current testimonials on your products and services are much more meaningful.

Are your testimonials a bit dusty? Make gathering testimonials a part of your processes. As soon as you complete a project or deliver a product contact the customer to thank them for their business and request a testimonial. Include past customers in a survey and add a space for a testimonial at the end. If your customers are happy, they won’t hesitate to help.

Of course this is only one part of the whole process – you have to deliver everything or more than you’ve promised to your new customer. But the testimonial can often be the first hook to get them in the door or lead them to purchase your product or service.

How are you using testimonials to convince people about your products or services?

Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Companies That Give Back - Does Your Company Embrace the Spirit of Giving?

We recently included a post about how to energize your organization and we promised to dig deeper and provide some proven examples of some of these ideas in the coming weeks.

Check out this article in our latest issue of Solutions about Companies that Give Back and be sure to reply to let us know what you are doing in your organization to give back.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Getting the Most from Your Trade Show Investment

Making the decision to exhibit at an industry trade show is not an easy one. The costs are many, including staff time, travel expenses, booth furnishings, booth space, marketing, giveaways, etc. But they are still one of the best ways to begin a relationship with new prospects and solidify relationships with existing or previous customers. So, if you make the decision to attend, make the decision to maximize your investment opportunity.

Here are some tips to help you maximize your impact: 

1.    Plan ahead – If you book your booth early you will be able to choose the best location and use the pre-show time for pre-marketing activities. There are often early registration discounts as well.

2.    Pre-marketing – Once you have registered, develop a marketing schedule that begins prior to the show.

a.    Add it to your web site

b.    Get the pre-attendee list and send early invitation post cards or emails.

c.    Touch base with leads you have met at that show in the past and schedule appointments to meet with them again and show them your latest products or services.

d.    Create buzz – trade shows are a great place to launch new products, or preview exciting things to come. Use social media during the last couple weeks prior to the event to continue the buzz, and announce new products and in-show giveaway opportunities.

e.    Maximize your opportunity – enter for awards, take advantage of opportunities to write white papers or articles pre-show that talk about your message, and apply to sit in on panels that relate to your product or service. Consider sponsorship opportunities carefully to strategically coordinate with all of your other plans and increase your investment return.

3.    Develop a great booth atmosphere – no matter the size of your booth, you can create an atmosphere that is inviting and exciting enough for people to visit you.

a.    For smaller booths, use popup banners to create a story and invite people into your booth. For larger booths decide whether purchasing your own display system or renting and having a booth rental company take care of the shipping, setup, and tear down makes more sense.

b.    Really think about the message you need to convey, who is your target market for this specific event, and how best to grab their attention amidst all the other booths and activities that are taking place in their world during the conference.

c.    Use promotional items and other giveaways strategically – don’t just throw some pens on the table; think about items that will best convey your message and won’t end up in the circular file.

d.    Plan your booth layout to be inviting – you need attendees to want to stop and talk to you, not just walk by.

4.    Maximize your time on-site You’ve set the stage, now you must follow through.

a.    Choose the best exhibit staff – much better to have someone knowledgeable and engaging in your booth than someone who just wants to sit there and watch people walk by and maybe pick up a piece of literature. (We could write a whole article on this topic alone.)

                                          i.    Have booth staff stand whenever clients and potential clients are in the area.

                                         ii.    Don’t eat in your booth.

                                        iii.    Always have someone staffing your booth; you never know when the next big client will decide to leave a workshop early to quietly peruse the exhibit hall. For smaller booths with less staff, if you must leave your booth empty, think strategically about how you can still offer information or an invitation to come back. For example, leave a sign to tell folks you had to step away to join a panel discussion about xyz – invite them to come to Conference Room B to join in the discussion or meet you back at your booth at 1:00 to hear more about how they can put this into practice in their organization. Be sure to leave your business cards so they can contact you for more information if they can’t make it back to the hall.

b.    Solidify your brand every step of the way – think strategically about staff uniforms, lanyards, giveaways, messaging, the picture your booth portrays, and customer service with every interaction. In many cases this will be a potential client’s first impression; make it last!

c.    Think of creative and innovative ways that mean something to attendees to get them to give you their business card or contact information. For large shows, use lead retrieval systems available through the conference. Offer to send a free publication that is coming out soon or to add them to a future drawing opportunity. Use social media to your advantage – “like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to be entered to win.”

d.    Take advantage of every opportunity to meet with existing customers while you are in the same location. Schedule breakfast and dinner meetings, meet for a drink, or meet in the airport before a flight. Take advantage of your travel dollars and use them wisely. Schedule appointments with others who may not be attending the show while you are in the local area.

5.    Follow it through – You’ve done all this work leading up to and during the show and you’re exhausted. But your job has only just begun! You must take every advantage to follow up with everyone you connected with during the event. Don’t forget those who attended your workshop and those you met with outside the booth, even for a casual conversation. Use multiple opportunities to touch base and stay in touch.

a.    Send a hand written note within a week of the event.

b.    Connect on social media and schedule several follow up postings after the event.

c.    Send a follow up email.

d.    Schedule face to face meetings, one-on-one webinars, and/or phone calls with the highest prospects.

e.    Don’t forget to do everything you said you would.

The bottom line is that conference or trade show exhibit opportunities are a big and expensive endeavor. They must be considered as part of your overall strategic plan for marketing and that strategy must be carried through every step of the way. Done right with every opportunity maximized, these occasions can offer an excellent return on your investment.

Do you ever attend trade shows? What are some things that have worked well for you?
Kerry Brooks is Co-owner of
ProfessionalEdge Associates, offering a wide range of marketing and support services to businesses that want to increase their success, but aren't in a position to add to their staff.