Industry vs. Non-industry Alliances

Networking is essential to the success of a small business. As an entrepreneur, you wear many hats: one for production, one for sales, one for customer relations, one for vendor relations, one for accounting and probably one for marketing as well. For some business owners, networking and talking about their business comes naturally. Some people are natural-born communicators and can strike up a conversation with someone next to them in line at the coffee shop without thinking twice. If the topic turns to business, they welcome the opportunity to share their story. Others shy away from networking functions and find it difficult to talk about themselves and their business. Some are afraid of coming across like a salesman and some are just too modest to give themselves credit where it’s due! No matter where you fit on the continuum, networking is critical to your survival.

Industry alliances are those with whom you meet weekly or monthly (or periodically) to discuss industry-related topics. Interior designers have associations like the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and handmade tile artists have organizations like the Handmade Tile Association. Being part of groups like these gives you access to education, events, and other resources to help your business grow. While you probably won’t get much business from your participation in industry-related groups, they will help you get your name on the map and will keep you in the loop.

Non-industry alliances are groups in which you are one of the few businesses in your industry. Your college alumni association, the Better Business Bureau or your city’s Chamber of Commerce are good examples. These groups are important because they provide a viable pool of potential customers. Say you’re a tile artist and you attend a networking event put on by the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. You might meet a lawyer, an accountant, a real estate agent and a landscape designer. Think of how each of these people could use your services.

Maybe the lawyer tells you how she just bought a new home and is looking to re-do the kitchen. Here’s your opportunity to share a story about the tile work you do and how you just sold your work to a friend who was re-doing her kitchen as well! Then let’s pretend the real estate agent is telling you about a home she’s listing on Lake of the Isles. Let’s also pretend that you have an installation piece in a home nearby that you tell her about. Perhaps your specific type of work fits in nicely with the types of homes on Lake of the Isles.

Whatever the case may be, the goal is to find common ground with whomever you end up talking to and gradually bring the conversation back around to your business. Look at each situation and ask yourself how your services can help that person. If you feel comfortable making the “hard sell” then go for it, but if you don’t, just try and find something in common and go from there until you get more comfortable.

Importance of Variety

If you only participate in industry-related groups, you probably won’t get much new business. Think outside your comfort zone and try to join groups where you will be the only one of your “kind”. Then you have the opportunity to become the “expert” in your field and can reach out to many more potential customers. If you don’t feel comfortable attending functions on your own, recruit a friend to be your “sidekick” to talk you up. Just make sure they stay focused on the task at hand: to meet new people and talk about your business!


Most networking groups have a fee to attend or join so they can cover their own costs of putting on the events or meetings. Depending on your budget and type of group you join, these fees range from reasonable to extreme, so be sure you choose wisely. Many groups allow you to attend one time free, so take advantage! Scope out the scene and see if it feels like a good fit before putting any money down. Ask your friends if they are part of any organizations and if they could bring you once at no charge.

If you decide to join a group and are disappointed that you don’t find any solid leads after one meeting, keep at it! Make small goals for yourself, like handing out at least 5 business cards at each event. (Of course you already know that you should have plenty of cards with you at all times, right?) You never know where new opportunities might arise.

That said, if you try a non-industry networking group for six months to a year and have not seen your efforts bear any fruit, it may be time to try a different group, especially if you’re spending money to be a member. There are countless opportunities and groups that exist out there. If you’re not sure where to start, ask friends if they’re members of any good groups or simply google something like “entrepreneur networking group Minneapolis” on the Internet and go from there.

© 2010 Trebuchet Communications

The World Wide Web

The Web. It’s everywhere. It’s where people of all ages and backgrounds gather information. If your business doesn’t have a web presence in some capacity, it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist! Internet marketing tools are a great way to reach a wider audience (it is worldwide, after all) in ways that traditional marketing methods can’t compete with. We’re going to discuss a few of them here!

Websites vs. Splash Pages

A website is a way to legitimize your business. It’s expected that even the smallest of companies at least have a simple website containing basic information. It tells people how to reach you, what your business does, and might even have photos of your work or testimonials from satisfied customers. Even a basic website will have 3-5 “buttons” or “tabs” for the separate pages. The purpose of a website is to tell potential customers what you do. It should function as a brochure of sorts, and should let people know how to get a hold of you if they have additional questions.

A splash page is a single landing page on the web. It can have hyperlinks to other websites, but doesn’t have any buttons or tabs leading to additional pages. It’s a static entity. These are great for small companies that can’t afford to do a full website, but still want to have a web address and a small amount of information visible. There’s room on a splash page for 3-4 photos, contact information, and a brief blurb or two about your company. It’s better to start small than have nothing at all!

Example Splash Page:

Example Website:


While it may seem that everyone and their uncle has a blog these days, there are actually far more readers than writers. This is an opportunity! When we suggest blogging to our marketing clients, they tend to dismiss the idea, saying they couldn’t possibly have anything interesting to say. We disagree. Writing a blog is a chance to become the “expert” on any subject matter that’s important to you... like your business! It’s free to start a blog, and you can update it as often as you choose. Once a month is usually do-able for most people. If you’re a kitchen designer, blog about interesting articles you’ve read, new color trends, tips for being eco-friendly, and things like that. While a blog indirectly promotes your business, you shouldn’t use it as a platform to sell your products or services. A blog is a way to share information, and in doing so, you build trust with your readers and they start viewing you as a resource and as an expert.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free tool offered by Google to help you track traffic to your website. It’s fairly simple to install, but you need some prior computer programming knowledge to do so. Once it’s set up, the tool will generate monthly reports directly to your Inbox with information on how many people visited your website, how much time they spent on each page, what kinds of words they used to find you on a search engine, and where geographically the visitors live.

For example, if a kitchen designer’s report told her that 90% of her website visitors last month came from the northern suburbs, that tells her that current advertising efforts in those cities are working or that she needs to probably start targeting those areas. If her report also told her that people were spending 5 minutes on her “Project Gallery” and only 20 seconds on her “Services” page, she might want to think about incorporating some of the Services information into her Project Gallery to ensure people are seeing the services she offers. With the monthly reports, you can look at your marketing efforts and evaluate as you go. If you or someone you know can install the Analytics tool, it’s well worth it!

Social Media

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all on the forefront of marketing efforts for companies big to small these days. Wikipedia defines social media as a “shift in how people discover and share news, information and content.” Is it a passing fad or something just for tech-savvy 20-somethings? No and no! Marketing messages used to be disseminated via one-way communication that would maybe reach the target audience: direct mail, TV commercials, magazine and newspaper ads. With social media, information is shared among many, and is more of a dialogue than a monologue.

How do you know which of the thousands of social media platforms to use?

Look at each social medium and adjust your material accordingly. The largest group of people on Facebook is women between the ages of 35-54. The largest population using Twitter is women ages 18-34. These are two very different groups of people in terms of how they think and how they buy. Using the same message across the board would be a mistake!

How can social media help my business?

Social media increases your reach. These platforms allow people to interact with you in a way that’s easier for them. Increasingly, people are basing their business decisions on social conversations. Your actions and presence on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and other platforms speak to your integrity, good or bad. Potential customers of all ages and income levels will do their research before doing business with a company, so what does your presence online say about yours? Facebook has 100,000,000 unique visitors to its website each month. Given that it’s a free tool to use, why not take advantage of that opportunity?

© 2010 Trebuchet Communications

Notecards and Letterhead

In last month’s column, we discussed brand identities and logos and why they’re so important. To make it simple, let’s think of a brand identity as a “toolbox” and things like a logo and business card as “tools” in that toolbox. This month, we’re adding to that toolbox by learning how simple things like notecards and letterhead can add some muscle to your brand identity.

Why are these important things to have?

As a business owner, you should at the very least have letterhead that is consistent with your branding. By consistent, we mean using your logo, brand colors and any shapes, fonts or other elements associated with the logo. Letterhead can be used for customer correspondence, invoicing and any other kind of “official” business you conduct. It’s professional. It’s a must.

Notecards are great to have on hand for those times when you need to send something with a personal touch. They can function as a thank you card, a “hi, how are you?” card, a gift card, you name it! They’re multi-purpose. And again, they need to be consistent with your branding.

My business is on a serious budget. How can I afford these pieces?

With a little creativity, you can stretch any budget! If you can’t have a notecard and letterhead printed at a high-end printer, you still have plenty of options. See below!

QUICK SIDEBAR: When looking at a printed piece, if the colored ink runs all the way to the edge of the paper, it’s called a “bleed.” Pieces with bled edges are more costly to print and have to be done at a print shop.

  • Have a graphic designer create letterhead for you as a Microsoft Word Document without bleeds. You can print copies on your own printer (if the quality is acceptable) or at a copy shop. Buy some nice paper (we love the unusual sheen of 32 lb. paper) and you’re set!
  • Have a custom rubber stamp or a few hundred stickers made of your logo. Buy some blank notecards and envelopes at a stationery store and affix a sticker or stamp to the front center of the notecard. Voila! Instant branding.
  • If stickers or a stamp aren’t quite in the budget, buy blank notecards and envelopes in a color that matches your brand. Stationery stores carry almost every color of the rainbow. You just have to ask!

Remember what we learned last month about frequency? It’s up to you to be your own “brand police.” Every piece you have that bears your logo should be consistent. Same logo, same colors, same fonts, same elements. Always. The purpose of consistency is to help people begin to recognize your brand and your product or service. Don’t make it any harder for them! Using pieces like letterhead and notecards will not only make your business look more professional, but it’s one more way to get your branding out there and keep it out there!

© 2010 Trebuchet Communications