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Promoting Your Small Business

by Anne Brennan
Allegro Editorial Services

If you want your business to thrive, you must promote it. And since you probably are your business, you must promote yourself.

This isn't as easy as it sounds. Many of us find it far more difficult to applaud our own abilities than to praise those of other people. For women, self-promotion can be especially difficult. Most girls raised during the first seven decades of this century were expected to be modest, quiet, and polite. It never occurred to anyone that they’d need to compete in the world of business, where "ladylike" behavior would do little to get them ahead. So they didn't learn the skills naturally acquired by boys -- skills like networking and competing and promoting themselves.

If you didn't learn these skills while you were growing up, you must learn them now. Like any skill, promoting yourself requires practice. So here are fifteen ways to start positioning yourself ahead of the pack.

1) Tell the world what you're doing. Successful people know that the secret to being in the right place at the right time is to be everywhere all the time. The more people you talk to, the further news of your business will travel. Never assume that others don't want to hear about your product or service.

2) Learn to network. When you attend a function, carry your business cards in one pocket of your jacket, and put the cards people hand you into the other pocket. Behave as though you're hosting the party; if someone looks alone and shy, introduce yourself and ask about his or her line of work. By putting another person at ease, you'll feel more comfortable yourself. You'll fit in, and you'll be remembered with appreciation.

3) Write a sales piece for yourself. Even if you never show it to anyone, this is good practice. Write it as you would about someone else, in the third person and in glowing terms. What are you good at? What are your credentials? How can someone benefit from using your product or service? What makes it different from others? By the time you've worked through a few drafts of this document, you'll feel capable and confident -- and other people will pick up on this. They'll be more confident about buying from you.

4) Learn to accept compliments. Negating a compliment can be invalidating and hurtful to the person who offered it. Practice accepting compliments gracefully. Imagine complete conversations in which someone compliments you and you simply smile and say, "Thank you." Practice this in your mind until you no longer feel an urge to add "but" or "it's nothing." If it were nothing, the other person wouldn't have commented on it.

5) Never say "just." I used to work with a fellow who'd begin phone conversations with, "It's just Pat." By telling me it was "just" him, he was telling me that neither he nor his reason for calling were important. Eliminate self-effacing words and phrases from your vocabulary.

6) Write a resume or bio that's clear, powerful, and to the point. Don't include information that isn't relevant. If you've earned a BA in English, for example, you don't need to tell the reader that you graduated from high school. I once edited the resume of a man who had run his own bakery for 20 years. Although he was now seeking a position as bakery manager with a large grocery chain, he felt compelled to include his high-school job as a gas jockey on his resume. How was this information likely to help him get a job as a bakery manager? It wasn't, so we got rid of it.

7) Understand the differences between advertising and publicity, and use both to raise awareness of your business.

Advertising is direct communication between you and your potential customers. It tells the reader, at a glance, what you have to offer and how it will benefit him or her. Remember, word-of-mouth is the most effective form of advertising there is. You want to shape and control word-of-mouth advertising, and the best way is by providing good service and running a strong advertising campaign. Tell people what to say about you! Advertising will attract new customers, and reinforce in the minds of existing customers why they came to you in the first place.

Publicity is attention you attract by participating in your community. Besides advertising, you should prepare a clear, easy-to-read press kit that tells who you are, what you're doing, and how the community benefits from using your products and services. Use the press kit to interest editors in you and your activities. Free ink is very effective, but you can't count on it. An editor may bump your story at the last minute, as other news breaks, without telling you.

Use advertising to control when and where and how big your messages appear. Use publicity to attract extra attention to your business, and to reinforce messages conveyed in your advertising.

8) Write effective ads. A good ad should be simple and clean. It should have a provocative, attention-grabbing headline that immediately tells the reader how he or she will benefit from your product or service. The body of the ad should provide a few details about what you're selling -- but be brief! Your logo, address, and telephone number should be at the bottom of the ad. The idea is to draw the reader's eye from the headline through the copy in order to find out who and where you are. The reader shouldn't have to work to figure out what you're selling.

9) Write a press release when you have news to share. If your company has just broken the sales record for your industry, or won a best-customer-service award, or sponsored a disabled athlete in the local summer games, tell the local media about it. If it affects or reflects on the community, it's news.

A press release should be typed and double-spaced. At the top, put the date of writing and the date the information becomes stale (e.g. "Current until July 31, 1997"). Write a headline that attracts attention and briefly tells the reader what the press release is about. Begin the body text by assuming the reader has no idea what your product or service is. What's your point? What's your reason for writing? What is the one essential thing you're trying to communicate? Put that first; the details come later. At the bottom of the press release, include your name and phone number for further information.

10) Edit everything you write. Ruthlessly. Take out every word that does not add to the sentence. Keep each sentence simple, consistent, and logical. If you begin a sentence in the singular and the present tense, do not suddenly change to the plural and past tense. Be sure the end of each sentence relates directly to its beginning. Read over each paragraph to be sure it unfolds logically. Have someone who knows little about your business read the document, to be sure it makes sense. A reader shouldn't have to work to decipher your message.

11) Hire a professional to write and produce your presentation materials. You wouldn't try to cut your own hair or repair your own electrical system, would you? Invest a few dollars in a professional presentation kit, and you'll recoup the money many times in sales.

12) Become comfortable with your last name. To your western sensibilities, it may be disconcerting to see yourself referred to in print as "Jones," rather than "Ms. Jones" or "Janet." But men are referred to that way all the time. If you want credibility, you must be professional. You must be comfortable with your last name and no title, especially in editorial coverage.

13) Always be positive. Never tell anyone you're cutting back or downsizing -- they'll wonder how much longer you'll be in business. Instead, explain that you're streamlining for greater efficiency, or repositioning your business to be more competitive. Or say nothing. Perception is reality: what people think is true of you will become true.

14) Repeat the mantra of the C's: "I am calm, cool, collected, capable, competent, confident, charismatic, colorful, creative, . . ."

15) Do what you love. The money will follow.

Anne Brennan is a Vancouver-based editor specializing in sewing, quilting, needlework, and crafts publications. She spent ten years editing two of British Columbia’s most prominent consumer magazines and fifteen months producing all the print and on-line materials for an international sewing-and-crafts show. In 1997, Brennan founded Allegro Editorial Services to provide writing, editing, and design help for people who are working on books, articles, magazines, web sites, pattern instructions, and promotional materials. Her credentials include extensive marketing experience, an undergraduate degree in psychology, anthropology, and English, and numerous awards for sewing, quilting, and cross-stitch.

ALLEGRO EDITORIAL SERVICES
Phone 604-271-5172 Fax 604-275-2123 
E-mail allegroed@aol.com


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