February 24, 2016

Small Business Advice - Three P's of Differentiation

Three P’s to Differentiating Yourself
From the Big Box or other Competitors

Chances are, if you’re a small business owner, you identify with the single-location, mom & pop shops (that all reside in Kyle, Texas where I live) that I mention second in all of these scenarios.

So, how do you play with the big boys that seem to have a set brand, identity, and deep pockets... who offer an item that is similar to yours? It’s all about differentiating yourself and playing the local card.
How do you do this? Weave your business into the thread of the community. Be a presence. Do things that your national chain competitor can’t, or won’t do. Give someone a reason to shop at your store… other than you are local.

In this article I will share what I call the Three P's of Differentiation – Personality, Price, and Participation.

The Owners of Cross Plants and Produce pose with Santa
surrounded by their annual Christmas Tree Forest.
They've got personality!

You need to have some… or at least your store does. You’ve got to give someone a reason to shop with you. Do you have something eye-catching as your storefront? Once someone walks in, are they greeted with an interesting looking place beyond the four walls that house your products? Do you rotate your inventory so someone has something new to see (even if it was already in your store before) when they walk in? Do you have a mascot? Are you, the owner, memorable? Is your storefront?

New customers tend to come back to a place that looks inviting… and current customers will most likely tell friends about a place that has character.


Are you playing the price game with the big box stores and coming out even or winning? If so, it might be a good marketing approach to talk about it. “For about the same amount as you spend at a chain store for a shirt, you can come in here and find something you won’t see anywhere else.”

Maybe you can’t compete with the big box on price. That’s OK. Sometimes it’s even better. You have a better product, so it costs a little more… but it’s worth it. “Our shirts may cost a little more than the one you pick up at a big box store, but they come from small boutique companies who do shorter runs, meaning you can pick up a beautiful blouse that hardly anyone else has. Treat yourself or your loved one to the best.”

Now, don’t under-price yourself or you might just come off as cheap. You have to make enough to pay rent, employees, electricity and anything else that might come up at your storefront. Oh, and make sure YOU get paid as well. Why are you doing it if it’s something that you aren’t able to make a living at it?  The common rule is “keystone.” Whatever you buy a product from your supplier for… you should AT LEAST double that price for the consumer. That way you can pay for the roof & support you need to operate a business.  

If you sell something that is really expensive.. chances are you’ll have to settle for a lesser markup… and if you sell something really inexpensive, you might get away with a larger markup. Do your homework and see what similar things are going for… then you’ll have your answer.

Volunteering to hand out water at Mile Marker 1at a 5k.
The (former) owners of Tiaras (L), a Realtor and an owner of a
local computer solution business. Participating.


Participate in your community. There are many ways to do this. This is where I think about time & money. You have to spend one of them to participate.

You can make the time to meet new people by volunteering on boards, at events, and for community committees. Get to be known in the area as a small business that gives back on a personal one-to-one level. This is the “pound the pavement” way to get your business’ name out there.

You can spend the money (or product) to support things in town like school events, community happenings and non-profits that interest you and/or your customers.

My suggestion is to set a budget for participation, be it volunteering or monetary, because there is only so much you can do without compromising your life and/or your business’ profit.

I hope you see value in this piece and you have a chance to evaluate your own business to see what you’re doing to answer to the three p’s of differentiation. If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know. Thanks for reading.

 About The Author:
Sean Claes has worked with Mom and Pop shops, International Corporations and the Music Industry on their branding, marketing, events and communications for more than 15 years. This article is just a sample of the observations he's made over the course of that time. For more information or to see how he might be able to help grow your business, contact him at seanclaesATseanclaesDOTcom.
Read more Small Business Advice via his Small Business Marketing page - link.

February 17, 2016

Small Business Advice - Reach New Customers

Three Ideas To Reach New Customers
Beware of the “Me and all my friends” mentality. In order to have a successful business, you must look outside your own circle of connections.  I have about 3,000 friends on Facebook… about 200 I know in town… but there is no way my circle of friends can sustain a business. Yours either.

Yes, I know… you have a network of friends and folks who frequent your business are considered friends as well… but that still isn’t enough to call your business a success. Unless you sell something that is needed frequently (food products for instance) you can’t count on the same people coming by week after week. And even if you do have a steady stream of regulars, you can’t count on them forever. If some of your regulars don’t make it in that month… you shouldn’t feel the sting on your bottom line. If you do… you’re not being smart about your business.
Jewelry booth at the Kyle Fair & Music Festival (2007)

As a small business, you should ALWAYS be looking for new customers. The best way to reach new customers is by being a good, solid business that people WANT to check out.  Make sure your house is in order. Do you make sure you provide a positive experience to each and every person who comes through your door? Do they WANT to come back? Would they tell others to swing by when asked if they know a place to get the product you sell?

The question remains, how do you reach people you don’t know? Where do you find new customers? Here’s three places you are likely to find new folks.

Word of Mouth

Cost: Free

This is the most powerful kind of promotion and it’s also sometimes the most dangerous. It’s powerful because people ask their trusted connections for advice on where to buy things. If your circle of friends tells their circle of friends about you… and then they tell their friends… you’ve got a good thing going.

How is this dangerous? Two reasons. First, People tend not to share good experiences and/or recommend things to others. Secondly, negative news travels faster than anything I’ve ever seen along the information highway. Want to test it? Post something positive about a local business on social media. You will likely get 4-5 replies and a handful of “likes.” Now, post about a negative experience on the same page…. And watch it BLOW UP.

As a journalist, I’ve written stories and features on a variety of subjects and also kept a personal blog. I have a rule that I guide myself by and that is to only talk positive. Personally, there is so much negativity in the world that I don’t believe I need to add to it. But, every now and then I have what I call “soapbox moments” or something I feel so strongly about that I feel I need to let the world know.  In 2009 I had an issue with a contact lens company that wouldn’t honor my coupon. I blogged about it. I have over 2,000 hits on it and 7 comments.  That was without posting it past my personal social media. It’s my 4th most read post on my blog of 11 years (467 blog posts.. this will be 468).  

The point is…. Bad news travels MUCH faster than good news. So, make sure each customer walks out with good news to share. And there’s no fault in asking people to share about your business… and invite their friends to swing by.

Participate In Events

Cost: Moderate

Is there a 5k happening in your area? How about a Farmer’s Market? A festival or celebration? Community gathering? Events at schools or businesses that allow vendors? Be there. Especially if it’s free or has a low cost of entry to reach a great amount of people. Especially if you have a product that you can set up in a booth and sell.

But here’s the deal with events. They can be a great experience or a horrible waste of time. There’s a little “luck of the draw” when you participate. Make no mistake, though… they are what YOU make of it. If you sit in a chair and let people walk by you and when they stop you shrug and say “grab a flier if you want” you’re likely not going to have a positive experience… but it may not be the fault of the event… it may be because of your attitude.  On the other hand, if something is poorly attended and you are a shining light of positivity and have fun and make sure that everyone is aware of you and your product, you might gain a good amount of interest in your product and people may talk about you. 


Cost: Medium - Heavy

Every facet of your business is advertising. Your storefront is advertising, your product labeling is advertising, the signs you post, the sticker you have on your car, the shirts you and/or your employees wear… all advertising.

But I’m more talking about the outward advertising here. I posted a recent blog with five ideas to promote your business for free – link – so I’ll stick to some that have a price tag to them.  Now… let’s note that you MUST have a strong message and action to go with your advertising or it doesn’t matter what you’re selling.

On a small scale, having fliers and cards to hand out is a good idea. ALWAYS have some handy. Make sure people you talk to about your business walk away with something in their hand that enables them to reach you and/or find your store when they’re ready to purchase something. Advertising collateral is key to marketing yourself.

Are you in a niche market? Is there a trade show for your product? If you sell pet products, there’s a Global Pet Expo coming up (link). If you sell decks, there are several woodworking trade shows coming up (link). If your product is perfect for a wedding party, check out the Bridal Shows coming up (link). There is likely a Trade Show on a scale you can afford to match your business and help you get introduced to new customers. Google “your business” and Trade Show to see if there’s something there for you. Oh, and make sure you have advertising collateral.

Do you have a commercial? You can either do it yourself or (I recommend) hire a professional to shoot a video about your product. Once you have a 15-second, 30-second, and 1-minute commercial shot, you can post it up to YouTube and share it via the Internet. Also, you have something you can take to Internet shows, websites, television stations and even radio (audio only of course) to help promote yourself. Dealing with buying media is a slippery slope though, so having someone who knows how to deal with salespeople in these positions is key to get the best deal possible for your money. 

This is a commercial for a small, local business in the town where I live. Lone Star Delights.

These three things are not the only way to get your word out and meet new customers, but they are all good starting points. This article is just an aide to hopefully get you to thinking outside your network of friends and into the world. Thanks for reading.

 About The Author:
Sean Claes has worked with Mom and Pop shops, International Corporations and the Music Industry on their branding, marketing, events and communications for more than 15 years. This article is just a sample of the observations he's made over the course of that time. For more information or to see how he might be able to help grow your business, contact him at seanclaesATseanclaesDOTcom.
Read more Small Business Advice via his Small Business Marketing page - link.

February 12, 2016

How Many Songs Does Drew Kennedy cite in his song "A.M. Radio?"

Dissecting AM Radio by Drew Kennedy

Photo from http://www.drewkennedymusic.com/

By Sean Claes
So... listening to Drew Kennedy's "A.M. Radio" today I realized he pulled words from his lyrics from songs one might hear on the radio... A.M. radio for that matter. I have been listening to this song and singing along with it for a few months now... it even made my family Christmas CD... but I didn't catch that he included nods to some great classic country songs until today.
Below is the video... the lyrics.. and footnotes with the songs I think he's referencing.

I reached out to Drew and asked him... and he sent me the correct list.. so below are the actual references... not just my thoughts...  so the correct answer in the title of this post is.... 9. (I originally had 16.. guess I tried too hard to read into it)

Here's the song:

"AM Radio" by Drew Kennedy

I got a hot cup of coffee(1) warming up my hand
I keep a beat on the handle with my wedding band (2)
The DJ plays The Gambler(3) after Ramblin' Man (4)
Driving through Winslow, Arizona (5) in the middle of the night (6)

I got a map in case I need it on the passenger side
And I’ve been on the road since nine o’clock Tulsa Time (7)

I’m fifty thousand watts from Dallas

 And I’m forty-seven miles from home
Say a prayer to save me from static
Thank God for a.m. radio, for
A.M. radio.

Pushing my luck against the dial taking bets against the fields
And I would stop to Pop a Top (8) but I might lose it in the hedge.
I would make it out to Needles (9) they put me on the bill
I’m fifty thousand watts from Dallas
And I’m forty seven miles from home
Say a prayer to save me from static
Thank God for A.M. radio, for A.M. radio.

I’m fifty thousand watts from Dallas
And I’m twenty seven miles from home
Say a prayer to save me from static,
Thank God for a.m. radio, thank god for a.m. radio, for a.m. radio.

1. Marty Robbins - "Another Cup of Coffee"
2. George Jones & Tammy Wynette - "Golden Rings" video
3. Kenny Rogers - "The Gambler" video
4. Allman Brothers Band - "Ramblin' Man" video
5. Eagles - "Take It Easy" - video
6. Mel Tillis - "In The Middle of the Night" video
7. Don Williams - "Tulsa Time" video 
8. Jim Ed Brown - "Pop A Top" video video
9. Hoyt Axton - "Never Been To Paris" video

(Drew said the chorus was free of intentional references... but I see references to Bo Diddley [27 miles], Alan Jackson [Dallas] and Rosanne Cash [50,000 watts]... but that might just be me trying too hard...and I was told the Rosanne Cash song came out after this one was written)

Edit 2/14/16: I posted a link to this on Facebook and this observation was made by an Antony Silas: " I always thought 50,000 watts from Dallas referred to WBAP 820 in Dallas. It is a 50,000 watt AM station that can be heard in the smokey mountains at night if the weather is just right."

There you go.

Where can you find yourself some Drew Kennedy?
Well.. check his site for tour dates... and how to buy his music.
I highly recommend him.

About the Author: Sean Claes has been a music journalist for about 20 years is the owner of INsite Austin. He's also the author of a 52-week series of advice for DIY musicians - link. Enjoy.


February 10, 2016

Small Business Advice - Does the Owner Need To Develop A Work Persona?

Should You Develop A Work Persona?

Image found on businessnewsdaily.com

By Sean Claes

You opened your own business because you had a great idea and the want/need to be your own boss. That is fantastic! Now, you’ve secured a location, set up shop and stocked it with the things that you’d like to sell. Be it plumbing supplies, hand-made pottery, clothing or something else… they are the things that you hope people will want and moreover want to buy from YOU.

Now… a question you may have not taken time to consider… 

Who are you as a business owner?

It’s a real question.  It’s not necessarily who you are in your non-work life. In order to have the best chance of success, you should consider developing a work persona.

What is a work persona?

It’s kind of like acting… but it’s acting like yourself on your best behavior. You should be the best you on your best day… everyday for every customer. Think about it, in every job you've had, you've developed a different version of yourself... held back certain opinions...talked differently to co-workers than you do your family & friends... likely had a better attitude. That's a persona. As an owner, you're work persona is much more important. It sometimes defines the business.

Here are some things to think about when developing a work persona:

- It’s Not About You.

If someone walks in your door (no matter how well you know them in real life) and asks you how your day is going… don’t tell them. They just walked into your place of business… not your counseling or complaining session. You are there to serve them, not use them as a sounding board for your grievances. Things are going well.. and how can you help them?

- Sidestep Uncomfortable Conversations
If a customer complains about something that you have a great opinion on… don’t share it. They are in your shop and anything you say will reflect on your entire business. It’s not just YOUR opinion anymore; it’s the opinion of your entire company. If it's not an opinion that defines the product you're selling (I'd be surprised if a gun store wouldn't weigh in on something like Open Carry), don't comment. If I'm picking up a pizza from you, I don't want to hear your opinions on the Affordable Care Act. 

- Practice Safe Social Media.

Think very seriously about your social media posts. Make sure that your business Facebook page (you DO have one.. right?) posts helpful and positive things. When shopping I want to know about all of the great things you have for sale. Perhaps you can even post some funny memes that are related to your business or some stories that have come out in the news / magazines that are related to what you do. Keep it positive and make sure to invite them into your store.

Your personal Facebook page is your own… do with it as you wish… but make sure to use the “friends only” option when posting so only those who you have let into your inner realm can see those.

- Are You Part Of What You’re Selling?

Do you want to be the face of the business? If so, make sure you post about you along with your product for sale. Remember, part of owning a small business is trying to differentiate yourself from the competition. And ANYONE who sells something like yours is competition. What do you have that they don’t? To the untrained consumer… the difference is… YOU.

It’s the reward and burden of a small business. I have been treated poorly at a big box store and have ultimately gone back because they are cheaper than anywhere else. Likewise, I have been wronged by small business folks and I will NOT spend another dime with them. Now, I’m not the person who posts negative things on social media (but there are many who do), but if someone asks me what I think about a certain local business person, I may just tell them.

Why the double standard? Well, personally, I know I’m going to spend more money going to the small business owner (and most people who shop with you do as well) and that’s OK with me. But if the owner is a jerk to me or my kids, gives me bad service, and complains when I walk in… well. They just lost my business.

So… small business owners? If you aren’t a happy-go-lucky person who wants to make sure the customer is satisfied and walks out of your business’s door smiling and wanting to tell everyone they know about the great experience they just had... you might want to develop a work persona who IS that person. Now, I’m not saying be fake. I’m saying be the best you possible.

If that doesn’t work, you might want to find someone to work the storefront of your business and/or take the calls that CAN pull that off.  There ARE some people who should be “back of the house” instead of “front of the house” owners (borrowing the phrases from the restaurant world). You’ll be rewarded in sales.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Your work persona can help elevate your business to the next level, or it may just turn your dream into a nightmare. Choose wisely. People talk.

About The Author:
Sean Claes has worked with Mom and Pop shops, International Corporations and the Music Industry on their branding, marketing, events and communications for more than 15 years. This article is just a sample of the observations he's made over the course of that time. For more information or to see how he might be able to help grow your business, contact him at seanclaesATseanclaesDOTcom.

More advice can be found in Claes' 52 Week of DIY Music Advice - a series he wrote between 2010-2012 - link

February 1, 2016

PROMOTE YOURSELF FOR FREE - Small Business Promo Ideas

Five Ideas To Promote Your Small Business for Free

By Sean Claes

I live in a County with no dedicated radio or television station. It has been a bedroom community that is situated in between two large markets, but itself has no major outlet for advertising. Yes, there's a weekly newspaper and the major cities within 30 minutes cover the county on their news when something tragic, ironic or newsworthy happens... but that's about it. People don't typically drive from the big town to the small town to shop, but folks who live in the small town regularly drive to the larger city.

Does this place sound familiar?

It's where many small mom & pop businesses set up shop. It's where they live, raise their families and want to make a living. It's the home of the American Dream for many.

If you own a small business in a setting like this, you've got your work cut out for you when it comes to promoting and advertising. How do you reach the people who live in your community in a way that is economically feasible and will reach the largest number of people?

How do you make a name for yourself and cause people to swing by your shop and spend money?

In this article I'm going to talk about a few outside the box ideas that might help you move your business forward. I'm going to talk about different vehicles you can use to get word out about your business. Now.. what I'm NOT talking about in this article is your message. Message is 80% of the equation. HOW you ask for business is the biggest key.. and I'll talk about that in a future article.

Today, I'll talk about a few creative promotional ideas that can help you reach customers without the aid of the big three (radio/television/print media).

1. Social Media
I could write a book on how to properly use Facebook for a small business... but while Facebook is a medium on social media, Facebook and not Social Media. Yelp, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram and Linked-In are additional resources where you should likely have a presence. All are effective tools if you use them right.

To promote your business on social media takes time and dedication... but the good thing is.. it's vastly free. You can update folks on your newest products, let them know why they should care about your products, what you can do for them, have a little fun and create an online atmosphere that represents what your store is like.

Every post is a relationship deepener. Every Instagram picture invites them into your shop. Every tweet pushes the reader closer or further from gracing the front door of your establishment. And... just like every engagement shows a little about your business... lack of engagement is about as telling as a closed sign on your front door. So if you get on social media... you're signing on for a long and slow buildup... it can't become stagnant. You must post at least 3 times a week. Every week.

2. Fliers/Posters
I did a series of  blogs a few years back to help indie bands promote themselves (link). One of the things I still believe strongly in is fliers and posters. Small towns have several areas (and businesses) that allow you to hang up fliers and/or posters.

The non-profit I helped form has a monthly concert series. We decided to print fliers to promote our shows. We got together with a pizza place in town and they  agreed to stick our fliers on their pizza boxes. Every customer of theirs gets an invitation to the show. I've seen a local Dojo do the same.

If you're a member of a social group... make sure you bring a stack of fliers to meetings. If you go to an event in town, hand out fliers there. Every chance you get... try and introduce yourself to a new customer and have them walk away with knowledge and some incentive to come to your store.

Hanging up (and handing out) promotional fliers and/or posters in your own establishment with specials and/or events coming up is also highly recommended.

3. Small Business Sharing
This one, I think, is key. Small businesses in different areas should be working together to help each other out. In my town there is a gathering of small business owners that work together via a "secret" group on Facebook. This way they can, in their own time, be able to pitch ideas and work together to introduce their clients to other businesses. There are also numerous networking groups and small business support groups that get together to share best practices and ideas. If there isn't one in your area, start one. The key to success is to always work on promoting yourself and others who are your contemporaries.

4. Events
If you have a storefront, inviting the world to your door is important. One way to do this is to host events. Kids birthday parties, book clubs, bible studies, fundraising for a local non-profit, music, something to support a local sports team, a backyard BBQ, anything that brings a group of people together at your store where they invite their friends and supporters to visit as well. Heck, be a drop-off point for a local toy or food drive.

 Anything helps. Organizations are ALWAYS looking for a place to host their events. Be that place. If you don't feel comfortable organizing an event, just make your place of business available and let them come to you. 

5. Get On The Street
The city where I live has a train that comes through about twice an hour. Cars are stopped...and because of the laws (that everyone obeys, right?) there is no using of cell phones in the car. So... they are just waiting for the train.

I'm helping promote a dessert place that is located about 1/2 block off the main street where the train passes. I suggested when the train stops... to go out and hand out samples and coupons to the cars waiting. This accomplishes a few things. You get to tell folks about your business... give them a sample of one of your products... point them to exactly where your store is.. invite them to swing by.. and give them a flier/coupon so they'll remember you. 


There are many more ways to promote your small business. These are just a few of the free options. In life and business it is said that between Time, Money and Quality you can pick two. This article is about spending the time to make sure you have quality without spending a lot of money. And most small businesses don't have stacks of cash to throw around.

About The Author:
Sean Claes has worked with Mom and Pop shops, International Corporations and the Music Industry on their branding, marketing, events and communications for more than 15 years. This article is just a sample of the observations he's made over the course of that time. For more information or to see how he might be able to help grow your business, contact him at seanclaesATseanclaesDOTcom.

More advice can be found in Claes' 52 Week of DIY Music Advice - a series he wrote between 2010-2012 - link