How to plan your marketing campaigns for the new year

One of the most important things you can do to prepare your business for a new year is to plan your promotional calendar. When it comes to marketing, there are ongoing activities and short-term activities. Today, we’re focusing on the short-term promotions.

What are you selling?

The first thing to decide when building out your promotional strategy is what it is you want to sell. This might be individual products and services, or it might be larger groups of what your business sells. Of course, we’re not going to promote every single item or service you offer, but you should have a good idea of what your top sellers are. What items would you like to sell more of? Are planning to introduce a new product or service this year?

What problems do you solve?

What are the problems that your products and services solve? When are your customers facing them or noticing them the most? Some problems may be concrete like needing winter tires, while others may be psychological like providing comfort or the feeling of safety.

This pretty much falls under the ‘who are you selling to’ category. Remember that you likely have multiple customer segments with different needs and expectations.

Are there any seasonal tie-ins?

If your business is naturally seasonal, this part might seem obvious but I challenge you to think outside the box. A ski resort, for example, often sells early bird passes in the early summer even though they operate in the winter.

Your promotion may tie-in to one of the four seasons. Official holidays, such as Christmas, Labour Day, etc., are another great tie-in option. Restaurants campaign for holidays such as Valentine’s day or Mother’s day every year.

Annual events such as back-to-school, tax season. spring cleaning, ect., are also times when people are looking to solve a problem. List out any special dates you can think of, then try to decide if there are any logical connections between what you sell and what your customers are doing at those times of the year.

If you have products or services that don’t tie-in to any events, you may choose to create your own annual sale. You can also schedule the item in to be promoted during a blank space in your campaign calendar.

How big is the decision being made?

The length of each of your promotions will depend on how much time your customer needs to make a decision. Is your customer is aware of their problem and looking for a solution? If so, you probably just need to give them enough time to compare your offer to others. If you are informing your customers of a new problem, they will need more time to decide whether or not they need your solution.

Some of your campaigns may be a few days or a week, while others may be a month or longer.

How will you create urgency?

If people know they can buy something from you at any time, they will be more likely to put it off. Creating urgency is one of the ways that you can influence your customers to buy now. Generally, it is created by some type of scarcity.

Scarcity can come in the form of a limited time offer or a limited number of items available. Not all promotions will require this sort of incentive, and you have to be careful of damaging your brand with too many discounts, but it is an effective way to build urgency.

Pulling it all together

With the information from the questions above, you should be able to pull together a simple promotional calendar for 2017. You should know what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to and why they’re buying it, when you’re promoting it, how long you are promoting it for, and if/how you will be creating a sense of urgency.

Remember that you don’t want to overlap any of your campaigns or exhaust your audience by always selling to them. Narrow your campaign calendar down to the number of promotions that you can put the time and resources into promoting and advertising.

Using your promotional calendar

Don’t let your promotional calendar sit around collecting dust on your computer hard drive. Add the campaigns to your computer calendar and print them out in a physical calendar. Be sure to schedule some prep time to create content or book any advertisements.

You can build out the rest of your content strategy, social media strategy and newsletter strategy around your planned promotional campaigns. Use the content you create for those channels to prep your audience and support your sales activities.

Your up-front planning for the promotional calendar sets the stage for the rest of your marketing efforts next year. Knowing what you’re going to sell and when will put you ahead of most small businesses in the marketing department.

Networking, Marketing and Sales… Oh My!

I, too, have been afraid of selling. To be vulnerable. To make the other person awkwardly have to say ‘no’.

You need to have your mindset in the right place to go out there and sell your products or services. I know a lot of us get a little weird when it comes to asking people to open their wallets. Yet how you feel about asking your customers for money comes across in every interaction you have with them. Online and off, sales-driven or not.

The shift you need to make in your business is switching your mindset from taking to giving.

Sounds simple, right?

Now, there are definitely “sleazy sales people” out there who will do or say anything to make a buck; we, as their victims, have learned that selling is an aggressive and awkward invasion of someone’s space. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s not any of us. It’s like I always tell my son when we’re going over safety rules or he hears something scary on the news: most people in the world are genuinely good.

We want to be good people. Want to be loved. To do the right thing. We all make mistakes, too. But the point is, most of us don’t want our loved ones, our customers, or even ourselves to identify us with “the sleazy sales person”.

You don’t have to be seen that way. Every single one of us has a product or service to offer that someone needs. They might need it a little or they might need it desperately, but if you don’t let them know that you have a solution to their problem, you can’t help them.

Now, I know some of you are nodding along because you can see exactly how you help people, but some of you are thinking ‘my business doesn’t solve problems’. To you I say: you need to rephrase your definition of the word problem. Often, people aren’t even aware of a problem they have until they see a solution. You might be selling someone a product that makes their house feel more like a home, or writing a book that gives your reader a couple hours to escape into another world. People need all of these things.

Problems aren’t always obvious.

If you think about how non-profits raise money, it logically makes no sense for a person to donate. Think about it for a minute. If you’re a fundraiser for a non-profit, you need to be able to go up to someone and ask them to give you money when they will receive nothing in return. They know that part of the money they give you will go to the operation of the charity (including your salary), and the rest of the money is going to help someone they have never met. To solve someone else’s problem.

Asking someone for money and offering nothing in return is considered begging in most circumstances.

But any good fundraiser knows it’s not just someone else’s problem that the donation is solving. Some people – not all, but some – will give you the money. They do this because it solves a problem they have themselves. Maybe they’re feeling guilty that they have more than they need and that they just spent $5 on a latte when people around the world are going hungry. Or they could get a boost to their ego when they tell their friends they’ve supported your cause. They might wish they could quit their job and spend their lives doing charity work (or at least volunteer after work), and feel bad that they haven’t. Maybe they believe that the more they give, the more they will receive. Heck, they might just need a tax credit.

Selling isn’t shameless.

Actually, who cares if people think it’s shameless?

Amanda Palmer wrote a book about giving people the opportunity to help. She spent years as a street busker and crowdfunded an album after leaving her music label. This quote may be my favourite from the book:

[blockquote type=”type-1″ align=”align-left” sc_id=”sc1473547484210″]”People were calling me shameless, but I decided to take that as an unintended complement. Wasn’t shame bad? Like fear? Nobody uses fearless as an insult.” – Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking[/blockquote]

I will happily offer to help people without shame – anytime, any day.

Even I need a reminder now and then that it is OK to promote myself.

I’m an introvert, and with that comes some amazing benefits I wouldn’t trade for the world. Selling isn’t one of them. My particular brand of introversion also comes with an irrational fear of big crowds, talking to strangers and being the centre of attention. I like to think I hide it well, but it’s there.

Just a couple months ago, I attended a business networking event where I didn’t know a soul. I had moved across the country and spent months in a self-inflicted social hibernation. Now, being my typical wallflower self, I nearly didn’t go. I had been finding an excuse to skip these events for months, despite putting them on my calendar.

After locating the venue – a little bar at the base of an office building – I drove around the block a couple of times to calm my nerves. Finally parking the car about two blocks away, I shakily walked up to the pub. People were packed into the tiny room, overflowing into crowds outside the door. I pushed my way through the groups at the entrance. Taking one look at the crowded room, and made a beeline for the washroom. I locked the door, looked at myself in the mirror, and said out loud “Jessica, you are not here to ask anything from anyone. You’re simply here to learn about the problems people are having and let them know you if you can help.”

If you share what problem you solve with enough people, clearly and enough times, they’ll come to you when they need help. That’s the core of what marketing is.

I made a handful of connections that night – most that never responded to my follow-up emails – and someone I had met there ended up giving me a great referral about a week later.

There are worse things in the world than having someone say ‘no, thank you’.

Imagine that non-profit never told anyone about the work they were doing. That they never shared the stories of the people they were helping, never gave you the opportunity to solve your own problems by giving. How sad would it be if they were so scared of people saying no that they never put themselves out there and gave them a chance to say yes?

Next time you’re writing your sales copy, marketing your services, or attending a networking event in a crowded pub, remember your reason for selling: to give people to opportunity for you to solve a problem for them.

When you sell from a place of integrity, you can be fearless. You can be shameless and feel good about it.

‘Sell’ is not a four letter word…. not a dirty one, anyway.


Who will pay for your services?

You have an idea for an amaaaaazing service, and you have figured out your secret sauce. Now you need to know who would be interested in it and if there are enough people able to pay to make your new service profitable. You’ve gotta figure out EXACTLY who your dream clients are – the ones who want what you got and are willing to pay for it.

Sometimes you will have started with an audience in mind, and created a service that they asked for. That’s seriously great! You’re still going to want to think deeper about what motivates them to buy, and to think about secondary audiences that might be interested in it too. But sometimes, you have an idea and you’re just not sure who needs it. So this is where you start – you think about what problem your new service will solve. The problem might actually be seemingly unrelated from your service on the surface, but your service might be a solution that helps them solve it.

Let’s take a window cleaning business for example. On the surface, a window cleaner solves the problem of cleaning a dirty window. But we need to go a lot deeper than that. Window cleaners can easily narrow down their target market by deciding if they want to work for businesses (commercial window cleaning service) or if they want to work on homes (residential window cleaning service), and each market has a different set of problems they are looking to solve aside from dirty windows.

For a commercial window service, your client may fit into any of the categories below:

Customer-facing businesses

Businesses may need their windows professionally cleaned so that their store or office looks cared for. They don’t want to deter potential clients or customers from walking in their doors. They will likely need your service on a regular schedule, so you gain some consistency in your income. However, if you target retail clients they may be mostly smaller jobs (e.g. one storefront window) so you would need a large number of clients to make money. They may have dirty windows, but their real problem is getting more bodies through the door to sell their stuff.

High-traffic locations

They are located in higher-traffic public locations, which means they have more dirt, grime, and fingerprints to deal with than a typical home. Although their windows are within reach (thus the fingerprints), they just don’t have the time to keep up with it and might look to hire you as part of a regular cleaning service. If this is the work you are looking for, you may be contacting business owners directly or you might be better off networking with existing janitorial services to team up as a subcontractor. Their pain point is that they constantly have disgustingly dirty windows and no time to keep up with them.

Owner peace of mind

Psychologically, the owner may just like their windows to be spotless because it makes them feel like a boss. They take great pride in their business and are willing to pay for exceptional service. You might look for businesses with a great reputation, impeccable landscaping, and high-end furnishings. With these clients, you would need to present yourself professionally and explain why your window-cleaning technique is superior to your competition and how your professionalism will mean they get the type of service they are looking for. For these businesses, the owner needs to feel in control over the many aspects of their business to consider themselves successful.

Lack of tools and skills

The building may be much larger than a house or the windows more difficult to reach, so it may be a lack of tools and skill that causes them to hire a service provider. In this case, you may be cleaning windows, but you are also making it so that they don’t have to go out and buy specialized equipment or figure out how to operate it. Really, you’re helping these businesses solve a logistical problem – how do I get up there safely, how much time will it take, and how much will it cost?

Insurance issues

There may be insurance issues with trying to DIY their windows or having their staff clean them. Their windows need to be cleaned and they theoretically could have someone on staff do it, but your service is actually saving them a bundle on hiring and insuring someone for the task of cleaning windows. In this case, it’s actually a regulatory problem you are helping them with.

Cost effectiveness

It may simply be cheaper to pay for the service than to lose the hours of productivity for their staff. It’s not just the hourly rate they may pay their staff to get the job done they are thinking about, but the money that those workers could be making the business if they were doing what they were hired for. In this case, your service is simply cheaper than the lost revenue from having their skilled staff perform the task.

Commercial-residential situations

The business you serve may be a retirement care home or rental development who are looking to avoid complaints from their tenants, and who need to be consistently clean to attract new residents. In this case, having clean windows may be directly related to sales unlike with retail where it is a step in the sales process.

Your ideal clients may have a combination of a few of the problems you’ve come up with. Now that you have a good idea of the problems your service could help to solve, it’s time to draw some lines about the types of clients you don’t want to work with.

For example, you may not have the skills or the tools to handle high rise buildings, so write down that you only want to work on buildings that are three stories or less. And with those commercial-residential buildings, you’ll probably have to deal with a lot of small-talk if you are doing interior windows, so you need to decide if that is something you are OK with and how to charge so that extra time is covered in your price. Other considerations may be the time of day that you’re expected to work, how much set-up and take-down is involved, or the amount of travel you’re willing to consider.

For a residential window service, your potential customers will have a different set of needs or problems they are looking to solve:

Little spare time

If a homeowner has very little spare time after work and other commitments, they don’t want to spend their entire weekend washing their windows when they can hire a professional to do it in a matter of hours. In this case, you’re giving the homeowner back their leisure time.

Home value

If someone is selling or renting their home, clean windows will help play into the buyer’s decision to purchase and even the price they are willing to pay without them realizing it’s your sparkling windows that are doing the trick. In this case, you might want to get to know some local realtors and property managers to help them close the deal faster.

Restricted view

If someone has purchased a home with a view, they did so for a reason and likely paid a little extra for that view of the lake or picturesque landscaping in the backyard. Their problem is that they now can’t see as clearly something they already paid for, so they need someone to do the upkeep for them.

Keeping up with the Jones’

If most of the houses on Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s block have professionally cleaned windows, the Smith’s may feel the need to have their windows cleaned too. Don’t discount the need for people to feel accepted in their social circle.

Again, actually writing down what you will and will not deal with for your customers is key to creating a profile for your ideal clients.

These are all just examples of the types of problems a window cleaning service might help their clients solve. How many problems can you come up with for your service? What types of problems are they, and how much of an impact do they have on the customer?

Something to think long and hard about – is the reason someone is buying your service an investment? In other words, will they get something valuable (money/time/memories) back from hiring you? Can you actually write down on paper the steps that lead to that person getting a return on their investment (e.g. customers walks up to a restaurant, see dirty windows, assume kitchen is also dirty and walk away) so that you are able to see very clearly how much of a return the client is getting?

The biggest trick to defining your target market is looking for people who have a problem and are willing to pay someone to solve it. At this point, the problems that you have come up with are hypothetical. Next, you need to do some research on whether there are enough clients with these problems for you to reach. Then you have to figure out how they are currently solving that problem.