Marketing/Internet seearches by small business owners
QUESTION: Hello -
I have several informational products for small business owners, but want to have additional products before I launch my website. Do you have any recommendations for sources to determine what small business owners commonly search for on the web (i.e. internal controls, business planning, understanding financial statements, etc)?
Thank you for any help you can provide.
ANSWER: Hi Patrick!
I'm on vacation in Melbourne, Australia at the moment... however, when I see someone is waiting to launch something and has questions, I like to put things on hold and answer "my calling." I'm sitting at a cafe on Brunswick Street near Melbourne University and can think of nothing I'd enjoy more than helping a fellow business owner!
Firstly, thank you for having a business that is geared toward small business owners. Whether it's because you care about small businesses or because you seem them as a niche market that you can make money from, it's all beneficial (like when I volunteer to pick up trash in my neighborhood once a year—my heart's not in it and I don't really care one way or the other, but the benefit is still there, right? :)
The first thing I'd recommend is considering why you want to have additional products before you launch. Stay with me here. I am going to go all stream-of-conscience on you as I would if you were hiring my services as a consultant. Enjoy. Do you want to have more products so that it will lend credibility to your website? Are you doing it so that they can be purchased individually? As packages? Subscription-based? Whatever the case is, think of this first. I like to tell people to go from the known to the unknown...
If I went to a website that just sells socks, I'd be a little bummed if they only sold three types of socks? Why? Because socks can be bought anywhere, so what would be the benefit? If I'm online it's because I want to find cool socks, clever socks, unique socks... and dammit, I want quantity! HOWEVER, if I think of a subscription-based website that only has three items but is a huge success (such as dollar shave club—watch their promotion video as it's well-done and hilarious) then I can see how having only three things works very well. Where it works well is that they only sell three things, therefore keeping tighter reigns and quality control on their products/services.
Continuing on... if you do have a number of products in mind that you'd like to have for an arbitrary reason, be sure that you take the extra time needed to ensure that each product is worthy of standing alone and being beneficial without any of the others. Quantity doesn't mean you sacrifice quality for the sake of numbers. The reason I share this, other than the fact you've already considered this and it helps to hear again from a third party, is to remind you that reviews of crappy products will far outweigh your superior ones, effectively reducing your website to a pile of rubble before you can do anything about it.
As far as sources for what small business owners are searching for, there are the typical ones. I try to be my own Google, however, and I recommend this to anyone. Before getting inspiration from what's online, take a few moments and imagine sitting in a room without the Internet. Or books. I tell this to designers all the time. They'll get a creative brief of what needs to be designed and the first thing they do is look for inspiration online. The best scenario is always tweaking someone else's idea and being left with nothing original. So, in lieu of doing that, I'll show you what I mean without an ounce of online research.
If I were in a room by myself and nothing to reference and decided I wanted to start a small business, here are the things that come to my mind, in no particular order. The end result will be things that people will eventually look up organically. I'm not sure how many this will produce as I am literally doing this from scratch, but I always find success so let's see how many I can come up with:
1. Who else in my city has done this idea before?
2. Are there any ideas regarding my business that someone in a far away place has had success with that hasn't been accomplished in my city yet?
3. Do I need to be copyrighted or trademarked?
4. Can I be sued?
5. Is it expensive to have a company attorney?
6. Can someone steal my idea?
7. Can I borrow someone's marketing plan?
8. Is there someplace that is reputable that can do my social media for me?
9. What is all the "lingo" I need to be aware of for my business or marketing in general?
10. How much are radio ads? TV commercials?
11. How much does it cost to have a company do _______ for me?
12. Success rate of people in my business?
13. What are these "network lunches" I hear about for small businesses? Are they effective? Is there a well-established one?
14. What is everything I need to know about the Better Business Bureau?
15. Are there grants for males or non-minorities?
16. Where can I find Angel Investors or Venture Capitalists for my small business?
17. Can I do my own accounting? Payroll? What will my taxes be like the first year? Can I make it a year without paying taxes (trust me, people will wonder about this).
18. Is there a company that can do all of my stationery/business cards/logo?
19. What kind of website is best for my business?
20. How do I stand out?
21. How do I get the word out about my business?
22. What kind of businesses are good to partner up with?
23. Potential employees from Craigslist ads?
24. How do I make or increase sales?
25. Insurance needs for my company?
26. Employee handbook samples?
27. Office equipment?
28. Office rentals? Toll free numbers? Cell phone plans for businesses?
29. What can I deduct for taxes? Fuel? Car upkeep? First year expenses? Financial software? Business lunches? Golf? Trips? Drinks?
That's what comes to my mind as I sit here in this little cafe, pretending that I am in a room and starting my own business.
As I was writing these I considered that I don't really know which product you're selling. However, I can share with you an idea that you may want to consider. If you write your own eBook or have a subscription-based website that allows all of these pockets of info to be gleamed right on your website versus sending them out, you might find a bit more success. If, in your eBook, I could find the answers to all of these questions and more for $30 (or other arbitrary price), I'd buy it in a second. Why? Because I would be on the web doing search strings to find the answers to many of these one at a time and it would get tedious very quickly. And frustrating. And confusing. So, why not rewrite how the process works. From an SEO standpoint you already have so much to offer organically. Once I was looking up info on how to get better at a video game (as I am too old for them), because I was very tired of 15 year-olds beating me. After going through tons of websites and getting nowhere, I came across an eBook that was geared directly toward helping me (much like I think preachers are directing their sermons exactly to me when filled with blame and judgement :) Needless to say, it helped immensely based on the fact that there were chapters and sections I could easily go to. It was reasonably priced at $35 and resulted in many more wins and a whole new level of trash talk. I share all of this so you can consider the number of items you want on your website and why? Whether you price points will be enticing or glanced over with disdain. Whether a subscription approach might be good for you.
I hope this information helps. Please fell free to reach out anytime you wish. You can provide more info on your products or what you have so far and I can maybe trigger some new things to ponder that will keep you heading the right direction. I was so pleased to receive your question and am looking forward to hearing how it all goes! I hope this finds you well.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: As I stated in my rating, I never expected such a thoughtful, detailed answer. I sincerely appreciate your reply, as well as the other work you do here!
You mentioned I could provide more detail on my products.
I have a lot of experience in accounting, small business start up and management, fraud prevention, auditing, business planning, internal controls, loan proposals, financial statements and much more. With that, you can see that I can create a large number of informational products to offer. My fear is that a website filled with free content and sale products in all the above areas will confuse potential customers. That is the reason for my original question. My plan was to focus on one or two areas and avoid, as you put it, "crappy" content. Unfortunately, a lot of people calling themselves business consultants/authors offer just that - crap! Before a 10-year career with a Big 4 accounting firm, I started out in small business consulting for 5 years after graduate school, then commercial real estate banking. I am now the CFO of a $30 million company. My heart is still with helping small businesses prosper. I am a CPA and CMA. Yes, I have a lot of knowledge, but I need guidance with product offering.
I wanted to focus first on teaching small business owners how to read their financial statements, understand them and make decisions from them. I have a unique way of presenting this that makes sense. I have tweaked this over the years and want to share it - for a fee. A variation of this is how to look at the numbers that really matter and how to use them to help detect possible fraud. And yet another variation is how business owners can teach employees how financial statements work and the true cost of doing business. This helps to reduce an employee's rationalization for being dishonest. The other current product is a listing of common employee frauds with real-world examples and detailed solutions. I would probably offer this for no charge with the purchase of another product. Business owners wear a lot of hats and work very hard, much harder than most people/employees could imagine. It upsets me to no end when I learn of employee theft and fraud schemes and would like nothing better than to increase the owner's arsenal of fraud detection weapons.
There are more products I have that are not yet complete and still many others I could create. For example, I have written well over 100 business plans for clients ranging from daycare centers to gourmet soap manufacturers, but think I would have trouble differentiating my business plan or start-up ebook from the other 10,000 that already exist. Possibly after I establish myself as offering true quality would I offer such common products? I considered offering a subscription, but thought after the customer downloaded everything they wanted they would not renew again. I'd have to constantly add new, high-quality content.
Thank you again for your help!
Good afternoon from down under!
I am simply amazed at your true passion for arming business owners with the tools needed to detect and prevent employee fraud. What I find most interesting about this is your motivation for doing so. I'd like to offer an ounce of corralling if I may, so please humor me.
Recently I've been having my own struggles with band-aid fixes versus real, life-long solutions. Not from a business perspective, but rather from a personal journey. Sometimes band-aid fixes aren't intentional, yet these times will be the most frustrating. For instance, hoping that transparency will encourage employees to see how hard it is to wear so many hats and all the varying expenses incurred simply to stay afloat as a means to reduce their rationalization for being dishonest is a a band-aid fix. It might not seem like one as the goal is that the ends will justify the means. But that's like parents showing kids how expensive hospital bills can be as a deterrent for dangerous behavior. A kid will be a kid will be a kid and it's a short-term fix for a very long-term problem. It's a guilt trip method that will only work for a brief amount of time. It's can be VERY effective if you are only going to work with someone for a short time—like a one-night event where, if everything goes perfectly, there will be a bonus... here's the numbers to support why this night has to go off without a hitch, etc. You'll get a surge of esprit de corps, but that's because it's for the short term. The true goal is to have two things happen in unison; an employer who chooses, from Day 1, to operate transparently and employees that are hired because they are honorable employees.
Real world example. I care about my business and its integrity. I care about employees crossing lines and avoiding inappropriate scenarios. Why? Because I'd like to keep paying them and avoid sexual harassment suits if possible. I stress this when I list a vacancy. It's in my initial briefing. I make no bones about it. Honorable or work elsewhere. Any variation is instant termination. No second chances. Why? Again, because I have entire families that rely on my employees getting paid. Someone has to step up and make the unpopular decisions and it will always need to be the leader. One day, two very high profile potential employees came to a meeting in my office. I had invited their families to join because I want decisions to be done in tandem with the people that matter the most. One potential candidate was male and the other female. Both came to the initial meeting without their spouses. They both traveled from the next city over (about 40 miles away) and had never met. One was a former marketing director for a national sports team and the other a franchise owner of a very well-known company. The meeting lasted for about three hours. We did not talk at all about their duties. We spoke specifically about how I run my business and the standards that I like to maintain to protect the integrity of our reputation. I decided to release them early and to begin our first full orientation the next day. Keep in mind that these two candidates were walking away from 100K+ jobs to work for me. As they were getting ready to collect their things and leave my office, I hear the male offer to the female to meet at the city line and carpool in to my office to which she responded "absolutely." I did not invite them back for the second day and fired them on the spot.
When the sky is cloudy and gray there are those that risk not taking an umbrella and there are those that grab their umbrella. If it rains, who will have made the right decision? I don't like people that work in the gray area. I don't have to care how they live their lives. I only have to care how I run my business. This male did not ask his wife, nor did she ask her husband if they were comfortable of getting in a car with someone of the opposite sex for a 40 mile ride to and from work. Both made 100K+ and were highly successful and were coming to me to expand on that success, yet they were finding it necessary to car pool after only 3 hours?! We spoke nothing of work so there would not even be 40 miles worth of travel to discuss work which only leaves questions like, "what do you like to do for fun" all the way down to "so, you and your husband argue a lot, huh?" I "get" that that might be extreme, but I only need to protect the people that already work for me. It's a gray area and I want no part of it. People that will throw caution to the wind with their own reputations surely have no business being entrusted with mine.
This story brings me back to what I think it is you should do. The only way to avoid a band-aid fix is to begin with the business owners that are hungry enough to support and pursue their passion. The beauty of living transparently is that you never have anything to hide. I know that some people worry about the myth of letting their competition know their trade secrets, but, unless you're an Apple or AT&T or McDonald's, chances are that you will be safe letting even your competition know what you're up to. Once they buy into the beauty of being transparent, you can remind them the importance of taking their time to choose the right employees and what to look for. I think you need to be back into consulting and to take my lead and offer services that can easily be used that help business owners re-write what it takes to run a business. I'd like you to humor me with another example and then I'll tell you how you can run with this.
When I was dating (happily taken now), I would always ask one question of a potential girlfriend. This, incidentally, will give you some insight as to how my mind works. I'll also add that this is coming from a former "most eligible" in San Antonio Magazine so at least there's insight as to why I would ask the question I'm about to share. I would always give a scenario to the girl that went like this:
Imagine you and I are in a restaurant. There are about 100 people in there. We are there in the very center for 3 hours. We're laughing, petting, cuddling, gazing lovingly into one another's eyes. We're obviously in love. During those 3 hours, no one comes in and no one leaves. Every single person there knows we are a couple in love. If I get up to excuse myself to the bathroom and right when the door closes behind me a man walks over to you and says, "I hope I'm not being rude, but I just wanted you to know you have the most beautiful eyes..." What would you say? If the girl I'm interested in says "I'd say thank you, but..." I instantly will not go on a date with her. I always ask why they'd say thank you and the answer (which you can already guess) always comes back with "I didn't want to be rude." Here's my take on that and you'll see some similarities with my previous story above. If everyone knew we were a loving couple and had seen us so engaged for three hours, why would you be concerned with being rude to a stranger that had waited until I went to the bathroom to come over? He was being rude to both of us, so why give him so much as a thank you. Would you say thank you to a mugger? A rapist? Someone that has shoved your child to the ground? Probably not. A girl that answers this way, no matter how much she justifies it, will be trouble for you. If she's willing to thank someone when you're just in the bathroom, what will it be when she's out for a girls' night without you there? It's not a reflection on the girl. It's an issue of if it works for you. If you have a child, you have to think if those scenarios are right for your child. Same as for a business owner. As for me, I'd prefer a girl that said, "Really? That's odd—my boyfriend thinks the exact same thing. Don't go anywhere. Stay there and say the exact same compliment when he returns. You remember? You waited for him to leave the table? Did you think I was going to slip you my number? Did you think that his 3 hours of loving me weren't enough and you had the secret anecdote that I had been waiting for? Get lost." Another way to consider it is this—do you wait until someone's partner leaves the table to go over and give a compliment? Probably not. And, as far as all the people that will bemoan about how nice it is to receive a compliment, you never know what another couple is going through at that moment. Some girls have asked if it would be OK if I had been sitting there as well and I would respond no. I wouldn't go up to a husband and wife just to compliment the wife. We call those people deuchebags, right? Then why would be OK with people doing that to us? Same with business. When you see the red flag, and your entire business is on the line, don't risk it. This can be a great model for you and what you can offer small businesses.
I want someone that instinctively sees through the bullshit and doesn't reward or encourage inappropriate behavior. Does it mean I have to wait for love? Absolutely. A band-aid fix would be to teach the girl what she should have said and why it should matter, but if she is not already that type of person, I'm going to drive myself crazy trying to get her to be. The only way to avoid that band-aid fix is to hold your course until you see those special types of employees. It's hard, but the payoff is huge.
So, what should you do? I think you should take a subscription-based concept of the business products you have and each month add as many scenarios as possible of what things to ask and look for when it comes to hiring employees. The same practice can absolutely be used in relation to which companies you choose to work with (i.e. website, stationery, insurance, attorney, etc). Create your own stories or pull from your long history in business and you'll be amazed at how many things you can add. Each story has the ability to speak directly to the hearts of business owners across all industries.
1. How to hire employees
2. What questions get the truth
3. How to walk away from a too-good-to-be-true employee when the red flags are there
4. 10 questions to ask your potential web developers/attorney/insurance agent and what answers are non-negotiable
5. What is acceptable conversation
6. Friendship or respect?
7. Can an employee be saved from their own actions
I always think of taking two huge stacks of cash to deposit into a bank I've never been to. If the doors are hanging off the hinges and masked gunmen are running out the doors, even if that bank has the best reputation, I'm out of there. If, on the other hand, I had been there for 15 years and the same thing happened, I'd at least see how they handled it. Would they put in more guards, cameras, insure money to higher levels if possible, etc?
I can see you giving seminars to business owners on what to look for and I can see you writing a book. In order to get there, you need case studies. You need content. Create your own. Pull from your career.
Lastly, 10,000 people doing 10,000 eBooks is not competition. I know it's hard to swallow, but you'll spread yourself thin and deviate from the integrity of what you really offer if you are worrying about how you'll stand out amongst all of them. Get your ducks in a row. Polish you products and more importantly, your teachings on how to promote transparent businesses and honorable employees. Pick 5 businesses and offer these services for free and build up your reputation and word-of-mouth. However, be methodical about which businesses you offer these services to for free as you'll want them to be great stepping stones to the businesses you want to pay. Have them sign a non-disclosure that they can never share that they paid nothing for your services.
I'm here if you need me. I hope you found this informative and a "good read."