posted by Mark Leishear
Back from an extended weekend trip to Richmond, VA. How VA is for lovers — I lived there for many years and have great memories of the place. This time however was different. Going back to Richmond as the president of my own video production company took on a new feeling. Didn’t anticipate this feeling, and this is irregardless of me having made trips there off and on for the past 11 years. This time around, I felt like a seasoned piece of marketing wisdom walking into the big city with a lot of small town business smarts – specifically marketing smarts.
I work day in and day out primarily with small local business owners and marketing directors – PR directors, HR directors, accounting people and more. I additionally work with larger companies, government & state agencies, non profits, schools & universities and more… but primarily I work with small local businesses. Small local businesses are the lifeblood of America. If you can help make a small local business profitable by assisting them in organizing and executing smart marketing and media campaigns, you can transfer this knowledge & your assistance across the board. Meaning… irregardless of where you live, businesses encounter the same challenges each day – whether they live in Bridgeville, DE. or Mechanicsville, VA. Rehoboth Beach, DE or Richmond, VA. Ocean City, MD or VA Beach, VA.
Having worked in TV ad sales for the past 11 years, I have worked with just about every business category – it’s provided me with the best small business education I could ask for. I work with people, talk with a lot of people and film/video a lot of people (some I have to ask their permission for, others I don’t). The point I am making is: I am comfortable talking to people wherever I am; this makes getaways to different towns with my accompanying excursions/outings/trips involving small businesses all the more enjoyable. Why? Because on these excursions, you have access to people… and those people, like talking to you & that means you have access to answers you may have questions about. Now, most people’s questions are simple – “where you from?” “how long you been working here?” “what’s a good (category specific) place to eat in town?” Marketing people have a different set of questions they like to ask? “How many competitors in your business category? “Do you attract a lot of locals to your business, or are you more geared towards people out of the area – coming in?” “What do you think most people don’t know about your business?” That list can go on depending upon how your conversations go, but generally – once you get people talking… it all comes pouring out. [See post about – Telling Stories] It’s the art of asking questions, being a good listener, and picking up on little things you may notice around the business (flyers on the wall, print ads, newspaper clippings, web site – always a opener for a 30 minute conversation).
Sometimes you can find and unintentionally meet the owner(s) of the business and talk to them directly – other times, you can gain great insight through employees. Certain types of employees are happy to share with you what they know. It is learned art however – engaging employees in marketing conversations. I say that because some employees care, other employees are just “working a job” and could care less. If you meet one of the second types, you have to internally know – that you have found one of those types and conversation with them is pointless. If you really want to know answers – find someone else, or just move on.
I’ve always found that being friendly and asking polite questions always wins people over. It really does. It’s my secret that should be known. Give a smile, ask good questions… be friendly, thankful, appreciative, be sincere – and you can get any and all the information you ever need. How do you start? Simply strike up a conversation. What do you know about? What can you open the door to conversation with? Once you open the door, look for side doors and travel those that lead to more thought provoking questions. Once you get to the thought provoking questions (if you’ve met a business owner & they know what you do) – they will start asking you the questions. Don’t switch the conversation to you – keep the conversation on them, but now’s your time to shine. Share some tips and tricks of what you know – let them know about similar businesses in your home territory – what’s worked for them – how are they similar – how are they different?
Business owners – regardless of small town or large metropolitan city have the same frustrations. What works – what doesn’t in marketing? They have new media confusions – QR codes, Social Media, web sites, as well as old media confusions – print, radio, TV, billboard, phone books. Where are growth opportunities? How can they maximize those growth opportunties? Big cities can have big advertising agencies that cater to big budget clients – I saw many in Richmond – high profile locations, private parking, and more. The places I spent my money in Richmond however, were really small businesses – meaning their business may be located in a large city, but they have the same questions and frustrations of businesses that I work with daily here on Delmarva. And so, I felt like a seasoned marketing professional in Richmond, VA.
I had two great marketing conversations with businesses in Richmond, and each was with the owners of those businesses. I was there on vacation… but it’s times like these that makes me wonder – if SugarFly Studios had another location in another city – what kind of fun & impact we could have there. As a specialist in small local business marketing, I found that business owners have the same marketing confusions… it’s just a different city.