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    • I spend a lot of my time with small businesses and I hear this all the time. In my head, I am screaming.

      Of course they get all their customers from "word of mouth" because they're not doing anything else to promote their businesses. I try to teach them things like how to do targeted advertising with Facebook, or reach new customers by offering delivery via DoorDash, or even just updating their listing on Google Maps so people can actually find them.

      But while I'm well aware that most of these small business owners are not very internet-savvy, I'm also realizing that the internet has largely ignored the needs of the 28 million small business owners in America. With 51% of those small business owners being over the age of 50 I suppose the disconnect shouldn't come as any surprise. These are the people who used to get business the old fashioned way like being active with their local Chamber of Commerce.

      For the purpose of this discussion, let's use a hypothetical client: Flo the Florist (catchy, right?). Flo is a 55 year old woman who has owned and operated a suburban flower shop for 25 years. Business has been declining steadily the past few years as some of her most loyal customers have moved, retired, or died. She is a frequent volunteer at Chamber of Commerce events, but attendance is not what it used to be. Her business is still in the black but just barely so she doesn't have a marketing budget.

      What suggestions would you recommend to Flo to bring in more business?

    • What suggestions would you recommend to Flo to bring in more business?

      Almost went to business school in Colorado but decided to get married instead. So sure I’ll do a case study analysis.

      *********

      The annual dues for Chamber of Commerce are quite steep, if memory serves me right, and it doesn’t put you in front of residential customers.

      I would look to other groups to join such as Rotary, which connects you to the influencers in business, local government and area non-profits. I’d also check out some of the small business meet-up groups: I attended one for awhile when I was in sales and found it useful in learning sales and marketing ideas from people who weren’t competitors.

      I’ve heard mixed reviews on BNI chapters: they make sure that there isn’t another flower shop in your chapter, but there’s often a lot of pressure to use the members’ services.

      For residential customers, I’d make sure their Google Search profile is accurate, including current phone number and hours of operation. Check the BBB website for any negative reviews and follow their guidelines for challenging and/or responding to. After every wedding or event, have a follow up phone call and if the feedback is positive then follow up with an email asking for a positive Yelp review.

      The above efforts should increase her presence, improve her reputation and build her referrals for high dollar events.

      *********

      But maybe that’s just a bunch ‘o crap. What say you, Professor Jim?

    • Oh man, get out of my head. Rotary and BNI are two of my favorite orgs!

      My Rotary Club might not be typical so take this with a grain of salt but it is the best place to meet the Movers and Shakers. You have to be either a business owner or in a management position to join and they do some amazing work in the community. When I was growing my web design business I started doing some free work for local non-profits. It was great for building my portfolio and it lead to plenty of paying work. And then I was invited to join Rotary and that opened up a whole new world of opportunity.

      I was also a founding member of my local BNI chapter and attribute a great deal of my success to that group. But I'm no longer a member because it is a huge time commitment and the more business it brought me the less time I could commit to it. On top of that, there is a lot of pressure to pass referrals to each other and for a web designer who doesn't do a lot of sales calls that was very difficult to keep up. People that do exceptionally well in BNI are folks who work in real estate or who spend most of their time in sales.

      The common thread between both of these groups though is referrals. I don't go to a Rotary meeting or a BNI meeting with the objective of trying to sell my services to another person in the room. I put in the time with these groups because when they leave that meeting I want to be the first person they think of when they hear someone is looking for my services.

      For our hypothetical florist, Flo, these are great routes. Just like you used to go to meetups to share knowledge with fellow professionals, she needs to build relationships with people who are not her competitors but share some of the same customers. A wedding planner, for example, would likely want a reliable florist to recommend to her clients and vice versa.

      Funny Story: In our BNI chapter the wedding planner, the baker, the caterer, and the florist always sat together and were referred to as the "Wedding Mafia". They never had any trouble coming up with enough referrals for each other,

    • From what I've been hearing (admittedly in the event/music/performance spaces) paid social media advertising has been getting less effective. What have you been seeing?

      In this circumstance especially with the aging customer base I'd recommend trying something that would really grab people's attention. This is a bit deeper than just marketing but check online, see what people are doing and then make some arrangements which would get attention on Instagram or Pinterest. The example that comes to mind is "Boston Burger Company" they have a lot of intense burgers but what really gets people to pay attention to them are the freak frappes. If you google them you'll see why, but the big thing about this is a lot of people I know who have never been to one of their restaurants knows all about them. I don't know how exactly to translate that to flower arrangements but there's a lot of potential for creativity there and doing something unique or over the top could not only get exposure but also help to bring in a younger crowd. And you wouldn't need to change a business or shop in a major way to cater to this but just have it as a special order or have a small part of the shop or case with it and that would also get some additional foot traffic in the shop with people who might want to check it out and then hopefully buy if not it some other flowers.

      PS you can scream at me because I run my business through just word of mouth, but I like that for some very specific reasons which would be another thread.

    • When I was growing my web design business I started doing some free work for local non-profits. It was great for building my portfolio and it lead to plenty of paying work.

      I think this is where social media could be used by Flo the Florist to regrow her community brand. If every year she provided the table pieces for a charity auction she would be doing good and getting samples of her work in front of the community. After the event Flo could upload a table photo—of community leaders and her table piece—captioned with a congratulations message to the event organizers. It might make sense to hire a photographer who can create Instagram worthy images. Using a photographer referred to her by a Rotary or BNI member could also deepen Flo’s network with that member or chapter.

    • I would wonder if trends were working against me in the case of the florist shop. Does that mean that if I keep my shop selling the same thing, do I have to hustle harder for referrals each year just to tread water?

      This article seems to suggest that even though the flower industry is thriving, the number of independent florists have declined 45% since 2001 because of changing buying habits:

      I wonder if that means uniqueness: figuring out something to offer that people can't get from Kroeger's so you stand out, making people more likely to talk about you. Victoria did a panel with Botanique, which I hadn't heard of, but I remember them because the arrangements were so unique.

    • I don't know how exactly to translate that to flower arrangements but there's a lot of potential for creativity there and doing something unique or over the top could not only get exposure but also help to bring in a younger crowd.

      I love books on guerilla marketing, where you don’t have a huge marketing budget and are trying to stand out as a small business.

      One of the books I read shared the anecdote of a clothing store that put a mannequin leaning over a ladder as if it was feeding the very real fish tank below.

      Why a fish tank for a clothing store, I mean how does it relate to selling clothes?

      It doesn’t relate: it grabs people’s attention long enough to notice the shop’s existence.

      I like your idea @JBeck of a marketing effort to differentiate Flo’s business, but I’m not sure what that looks like either. I know that I buy flowers from the grocery store, but for a wedding or other event I’d want to go with a florist.

    • I've definitely seen a decline in the effectiveness of social media advertising but that seems to be the case with almost every form of paid advertising to some degree. I think people are just getting better at tuning it out which means we have to work harder and harder at standing out.

      I'm looking at those freak frappes and they are blowing my mind...

    • I wonder if that means uniqueness: figuring out something to offer that people can't get from Kroeger's so you stand out, making people more likely to talk about you. 

      Our downtown has several universities. One of the area bakeries has an after midnight cookie delivery to the dorms. There’s a huge painted sign on the front of the building and visiting parents take notice and place online orders when they return home. Why send a care package when you can have cookies delivered that night while they’re studying?

      I wonder if there are unique delivery services that Flo could provide, like delivering flowers to your work on your anniversary: if you end up having to work late, you don’t show up home empty handed.

    • Last night I stayed up very late editing an interview Victoria and I did with Larry Abitbol, the founder of Bay Photo. The story is he had just turned 50 and owned 8 photomat 1-hour processing labs in malls and parking lots, as did hundreds of mom & pops in the early 2000s.

      The first problem is the drugstores started getting into it like Longs and Walgreens. The second is digital photography came on the scene so you didn't have to physically drop off your negatives, you could send your pictures over the Internet.

      He scrambled to build out an online ordering site and lab that could handle digital files, and get the word out in ways that @jim was suggesting. We'll publish his interview when we get the Q&As working with panel conversations in a week or two so you can ask him questions, but now he's 500 employees and has taken over the huge Seagate building in Scott's Valley — all done without raising capital from investors.