Storytelling and marketing for SMEs

storybook

In our experience, social media adopters are basically SMBs — small and medium businesses or independents/solos seeking new ways to communicate.

In the not too distant past, SMBs were always credited with revitalizing a down economy and refueling confidence. Today, however, reports say SMB owners are stymied with the current lending debacle and are not hiring employees as fast as the economy needs them to (in the U.S.).

Look at social media. Our observation is that those with whom we engage on Twitter primarily are ALL SMBs from many points on the globe. Each of us in our own right have earned expertise in a variety of subject matters. This is what we will present to you, our readers, supporters, naysayers, friends, and more.

If you have an opinion to share, a consensus to build, a comment to negate, please do so in a respectful way. The sky is blue, and there’s so much of it to reach for. We will do that here and speak to sides of the story that may not be yours. We invite your opinion to make our conversation richer and robust.

We need your contributions and guest posts to accomplish our goals:

  • Create a community by and for SMBs where friendly exchange helps educate and bring solutions forward.
  • Develop a treasure trove of content for everyone’s access so we may help ease the learning process for all SMBs.
  • Delight in the varied global perspectives we hope to secure with leaders from all points in the world.

Content marketing combined with SEO really works. But do so so you need to make it work for the user.

Moreover, it may take a while to get results. See Pareto’s Law when it comes to content marketing.

More to do

We’re all small and medium sized businesses. We probably share a great many traits in common. We likely don’t enjoy the big corporate environment on a day-to-day basis. We like working for ourselves. We may have some entrepreneurial spirit and hopefully, we have a passion for our business, our product(s) or our services(s).

If I were to ask what is the nature of your business, how would you respond?

I would like to suggest to you that business is all about persuasion. You have to persuade customers and clients to do business with you. You have to persuade employees to do what you ask of them. You have to persuade vendors to give you the best deal they can. You may have to persuade investors or the local banker to have faith in your endeavor and vision by backing you financially.

So, how is it that we can and do persuade people? The great story lecturer and coach, Robert McKee, whose book Story is legend to screenwriters and novelists around the world, and whose workshops on Story are continually sold out, identifies three methods of persuasion — Rhetoric, Coercion and Story.

  • Rhetoric goes this way: You state a few facts about your products and services, back it up with a few authorities and you hope your potential clients or customers will be persuaded to open their pocketbooks. Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn’t.
  • Coercion can take on many forms. Probably the best known (outside of the promise of sex of course) is the time honored coupon. Buy my product or service at this discount or in conjunction with this or that is usually the form it’s expressed in. That is usually more effective than rhetoric in getting people to open those very same pocketbooks.
  • Story goes beyond both of those methods. It admits the negatives that are missing from the other methods and follows a certain structure that engages your customers and clients on an emotional level. And I probably don’t need to tell you that nearly every study done has shown that we as people make decisions, buying and otherwise, based on emotional responses.

We’ll dive deeper into all of this in upcoming posts but for now let me suggest a great exercise for you to try:

  • Take your products and services and express them in light of each of those methods of persuasion.
  • List out your facts and authorities. (Are your competitors trying to persuade using those same facts and authorities?)
  • List your coercion tactics if you’re using them and if not, think about what might work for you.
  • And finally, think about how you might tell a little story (or a big one!) that admits some negatives about you, your business, your products and how you might move from those negatives to some positives (that’s part of the structure).
  • In the process engage your customers and clients in your story to the point that an emotional connection is made.

It’s a great exercise that I think you’ll have a lot of fun with. You might even share it with your employees and get them to do the same.

10 tips on how to feed your business

feeding giraffe

Every SMB (small-to-medium business) is strapped – maybe it’s a bootstrap or belt strap. Regardless; we’re tied to our business.

We earn more clients and business to bring in more revenue.

We align with the best people who can make the business grow.

We manage operations to ensure efficiency and economy of scale.

How do you feed your business? Better yet, how are you fueled to ensure your business is fed?

Here’s your sweetener (what do you think of that monarch butterfly I shot last week on my butterfly bush?):

Be sure to shut off every day to spend time with family.

Pick up the phone and call an old friend to check in.

Exercise as frequently as possible because it truly does free your mind and spirit.
Meditate, or if you can’t like me, then at least sit in a tranquil spot to breathe deeply.
Read silly, trashy nonsensical words late at night to free your brain from work-related matters.

Treat yourself each season to a new hand bag or belt to refresh your image. How about getting a trim or a curl? I always feel smart after a hair cut.
Sit on a webinar and realize you already know what they’re talking about, so something is working.

Agree to guest post on a blog where you’re well received.
Engage in social media; the ‘raderie is contagious and the benefits for your brand are necessary.

Be you and laugh a lot to release stress and tension.

What’s your secret to fueling your energy?

Is there customer always right?

That said, so much of managing a business is tied up with the customer.

Seinfeld fans will remember the episode with Elaine needing to see a doctor for a rash and unable to find a single physician in the city who’ll treat her. Somewhere in her medical records is a notation warning, “Lousy customer. Get rid of her.”

Each doctor immediately escorts her out the door without so much as a smile and a handshake, and out she goes to try to find someone, somewhere, who’ll give her what she needs.

revenue

Aaah. If only, right? Not in the business world. You’ve heard it a million times, and so have your customers (potential included): “The customer is always right.”

If you’ve been in business long enough, you’ve even had a couple of customers who have pushed that philosophy to the breaking point, expecting you to meet their unreasonable demands and bend over backwards to give them a level of service that would put you out of business if you did the same for everyone.

You’ve experienced that chest-tightening, heart-pounding, shallow-breathing physical reaction that had you wondering if owning your own business was really worth the cost of shaving 20 years off your life.

News Flash: Your customer is not always right.

But how do you cut a customer loose without leaving him feeling disrespected? How do you maintain your good reputation in the marketplace, a reputation you’ve earned by making every other customer happy?

In this social media culture we now find ourselves in, a negative report from a customer can be plastered all over the Internet, leaving potential customers wary of doing business with you.

So what’s a business owner to do with an Elaine? How do you leave a customer feeling good about you, when they’d rather complain?

You do everything in your power to leave that customer feeling like he IS right, and you let him save face — and then you escort him out the door with a smile and a handshake.

In the South, it’s called “southern diplomacy,” usually practiced by beautiful southern women who can smile sweetly, deliver a criticism in a gentle and understanding voice, and end it with “Bless your heart.”

I’ve heard it said another way: “Kill them with kindness.” A proverb by one of the wisest kings to ever live, King Solomon, says it like so, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

Whether or not you believe “the Lord” will reward you, it’s been demonstrated time and again that an enemy (or unhappy customer) who feels respected and cared for as you part ways diplomatically is much less likely to feel the need for revenge.

The most powerful words in customer service are, “I’m sorry. What can I do to maintain our relationship with you?” and then you listen to the customer’s request. If it’s so over the top you can’t possibly meet it, say so — but then negotiate with him until you find a solution that works for both of you.

Keep the customer believing that you want to work this out, that you want to leave him satisfied, because you do. Your reputation is at stake.

Deliver the solution in a timely matter, with quality. Then, part ways diplomatically.
Apologize again, saying, “I’m sorry we’re not able to be all that you need us to be, but I’ve learned a lot from this that’ll make me a better business owner, so thank-you for working with me.”

Leave the customer with the sense that your interaction with him has been good for you, and then make it so by learning from it — even if what you learned was a new red flag to keep an eye out for in the future.

Smile sweetly, even if it’s over the phone. (And refrain from saying, “Bless your heart.” Only beautiful southern women have the power to pull that one off.)

How have you handled difficult-to-please customers? What would you add to this advice? Have you ever had a customer who was set on destroying your reputation no matter how hard you tried to part ways diplomatically?