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Small Business

 

Why do startups and small companies need to attend trade shows?

In this article, I will show you why tradeshows are very important for startups and small businesses. I am writing this from my own experience, as someone who worked on designing trade show booths, actually set up trade show displays, worked the tradeshow floors as an exhibitor and as a visitor.

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Many people who are running a one man show businesses or even a small business believe that exhibiting at a tradeshow is out of their league because of financial considerations, because the large companies have large marketing departments with large budgets, because a tradeshow booth is not affordable, because they just don't have the vision on how to design a booth, how to transport and assemble one, how to work a tradeshow, etc.

Except for the budgetary considerations of actually renting space on the tradeshow floor, everything else is untrue. In this article, I will show you why are tradeshows so important. I am writing this from my own experience, as someone who worked on designing trade show booths, actually set up trade show displays, worked the tradeshow floors as an exhibitor and as a visitor.

Here are some of the reasons why it is important to attend and exhibit at trade shows, even if you are just starting your business or running a small company:

1. Get competitive intelligence

As an entrepreneur running a small company, it is very hard to get competitive intelligence, that is knowledge on how do you compare to your competitors, how do they do things, what makes them more successful that you or less successful than you. Don't forget to put some focus on the less successful scenario also, because you also want to have a list of all the mistakes others make, so you can avoid them.

At a trade show, the easiest possible thing you can do is gather hands-on competitive intelligence. It really does not get more hands-on than that, as you have your competition at the tip of your finger. On the surface, they all seem to be extremely confident through their sales pitches and the flashiness of their marketing gimmicks, but they are in a tremendously vulnerable position, as they are giving everything they got and are also worried about *their* competition, which believe it or not... is you!

Take advantage of this incredible position. The best thing to do is to walk the trade show at the very beginning - that is, before everybody gets to know everybody among exhibitors - and ask questions, ask many, many questions.

Here are some of the things you can get from a simple walk around the exhibit hall:

- A four pound synopsis of your market that you can review at your leisure, from the comfort of your couch that most likely includes a sackful (literally) of literature on suppliers and distributors in your very targeted and unique field, the trade press.

- New market concepts.

- You can also have yourself put on mailing lists, participate in market surveys and earn complimentary subscriptions to a handful of journals.

- More coffee mugs, promotional mints, candy, pens, laminated business cards and free golf balls than you'll ever need.

2. Learn about what your competition thinks about your product or service

Again, this is something to be done at the very beginning of a trade show and works best in larger exhibiting halls.

Introduce yourself as someone else, interested in the product or service offered by you and your competitors. This is a perfect time for you to use your flirting techniques. Get creative, remember you have nothing to lose, you're in control and the ball is in your court.

Get a complete review of your competitor's product line. You can then ask what they think of your company's products and services. Since they don't know who you really are, they'll tell you what they really think. It's actually quite enlightening to hear what your competition really says about you to prospects, remember you are acting as one of their prospects.

This is competitive research as its grittiest and the trade show floor is the best place for it. Studies show that companies are more eager to open up and talk about their competition at a trade show than in any other environment (sure you could just call, but you will not get the same effect).

At this point, if you are still reading this, you are probably wondering why, in the name of everything rational, I am talking about spying on your competition instead of the obvious reasons why trade shows exist, which is promoting a product or a service? Well, analysts and trade show gurus say that investigating the competition is what these shows are really about.

3. Meet your buyers

Show your product or service to people who are hyper-qualified as buyers. Why? Well, because these are the people who have gone through the trouble of attending the show and are really interested in your type of business. You also get to meet current and potential customers and get real feedback and a feel for how is your product or service perceived, how it is really performing and what you can do to make it better, that is, more appealing and more useful for your customers.

4. Meet the press

Meet with people from your industry's trade press. They always attend those events and you will probably never get a better chance to speak one-on-one with the top editorial staff.

You also have a great opportunity to connect with distributors, with wholesalers, with brokers and others in your distribution channel.

5. Sell

You can also sell your product or service, right there, on the spot. Just make sure you have everything you need to do so in place.

Plan ahead and allow for the opportunity for serious business. Most people who come to your booth will be tire-kickers. They'll grab a handful of pistachios, check out your promotional pens (or USB memory drives loaded with your marketing multimedia presentations - hint, hint), cherry pick your printed materials and move on to the next booth. But every once in a while, you'll bag a live one. Know how and where you'll talk to this person at length. Will it be a spot in the rear of the booth, a nearby conference room, a table in the concession area, a later meeting at your company suite? Folks, trust me on this, a wishy-washy "we'll get back to you" attitude will lose the sale. You have to be prepared, if they see you are not ready to close the transaction right there, on the spot (even if in this day and age the trend continues to move away from on-the-spot order writing on trade show floors), they'll leave.

6. Generate leads

This is actually the meat of attending a trade show - creating a follow up mailing list. This is what could (and should) potentially bring return on the major investment you made by attending the trade show. Whether you just collect business cards, write names down on a piece of paper or use the more modern trade show techniques such as scanning people's tags, you must build your mailing list and actually follow up immediately after the show is over, while your marketing effort is still fresh in people's minds.

It really makes a good second impression if you follow up promptly, whether by just a call or sending additional literature and information. Your handling of requests for additional information will show potential clients you value their time and provide quality customer service.

 

Employee Newsletters for Small Companies

Smaller companies can make employee newsletters work for them by using some special strategies and by taking advantage of the Hawthorne Effect.

employee newsletter, small company, small companies, Hawthorne Effect

A newsletter for 60 employees?

A visitor to the Manager═s Guide Web site asked for about buying content for a newsletter that would serve a group of 60 professionals; the department responsible would not have time to write a complete newsletter.

I emailed the following response (slightly edited):

You have asked a good question. With 60 employees, your staff is big enough to need a newsletter, but not big enough to make a major spending commitment. On that basis, let me share a few observations with you.

First, while I═‘m not sure why you want to communicate with these employees, I assume it is to maintain their loyalty and to increase their productivity (both common objectives for employee newsletters ).

To maintain (and perhaps increase) loyalty, I would recommend that you or some other appropriate person sit down once a month and simply write a letter. Think of it as a letter to a friend or colleague, and report any news of interest to them. You might report on hiring, about changes in policy, how to apply for benefits, or any other information they would find useful. Again, I would stress the need for an informal approach, perhaps something mirroring this letter to you. Avoid making it sound like a memo, if possible. And, I would laser print or copy and mail it, rather than use electronic mail.

Turning to productivity, I would not buy articles from third parties unless you come across something that really impresses you. You say these are people are professionals, which suggests to me they will have access to the Net, and probably no end of information already.

Instead, I would prepare a modest budget and then offer to pay the employees for providing useful tips and articles that their colleagues can use to be more productive. For example, $20 per employee per issue would give you a budget of about $1,200; offer to buy two articles of 500 to 1,000 words for $500 each, and four tips of 100 to 200 words for $50 each. Or if you want to spend $10 per employee, then you could buy one article and two tips. Once you have the material in hand, print and distribute it to the employees. It can be sent with, or separately from, the letter about internal issues.

Finally, you may wish to consider the Hawthorne experiments, which took place in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Researchers set out to find which internal environment changes (such as lighting, etc) increased productivity the most.

They found, to their great surprise, was that productivity went up regardless of the type of change that was made. For example, productivity went up when they increased the amount of light, as expected. But, it also went up when the amount of light was decreased; that was not expected.

All of that led researchers to realize that it was the attention the employees received, not the changes, that made a difference. We now refer to this phenomenon, in which employees respond to the attention they receive, as the Hawthorne Effect.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the act of communication is often more important than content or style. As long as you do something, it may be better than nothing.

 

Guerilla Versus Gorilla - Small Companies Can Win

We make our living as guerillas – not the bad kind, but more of a freedom fighter. By using the term ‘guerilla’ I mean EMJ (now a division of SYNNEX) fights for business against big gorillas (other distributors) in the field. Our competitors are almost 100 times our size; EMJ is a Canadian-based, $165 million per year distributor. We have made an operating profit for the past 80 consecutive quarters. So even though we are up against the big gorillas as a distributor, we must ...

Guerilla marketing, Gorilla, positioning, brand, branding, marketing, business strategy

We make our living as guerillas – not the bad kind, but more of a freedom fighter. By using the term ‘guerilla’ I mean EMJ (now a division of SYNNEX) fights for business against big gorillas (other distributors) in the field. Our competitors are almost 100 times our size; EMJ is a Canadian-based, $165 million per year distributor. We have made an operating profit for the past 80 consecutive quarters. So even though we are up against the big gorillas as a distributor, we must be doing something right.

If you are in a business where some of the competitors are much larger, you may be able to benefit from using guerilla tactics. The principles of running a guerrilla organization differ from running a gorilla organization. As a guerrilla, we hide from our competitor; we do not try to crush them. I even go so far as to examine what they do well and let them do it. At the same time, I look for under-serviced markets and get to these markets fast.

A gorilla takes all competitors head on, trying to crush the competition. Sometimes this takes the form of a price war. Sometimes it takes major prolonged, drawn-out investment. This works as long as you are the same size, or larger than the competition. Even then, such a long battle can sap power and ultimately profits.

Companies that die often believe they were gorillas. It is certain death for a business to fight gorillas unless they can withstand the siege. Any time we hire someone with a gorilla-company background, we watch and coach that person to make sure they are indoctrinated with the appropriate tactics. We have to make sure they understand out business model.

My 8 favourite guerilla tactics are:

1 – Act fast. I use my company’s size for my advantage. I can act lightning fast. In the computer business, this is a huge asset. Things change so rapidly that moving fast and being first to market is a huge advantage. Larger companies do not react quickly. Develop a reputation for being first – it gets the attention of customers.

2 – Welcome smaller opportunities. Gorillas tend to say ‘no’ to manufacturers who don’t think they can do significant volume with. But a small opportunity rejected by a gorilla can be a very profitable opportunity for a guerilla. For EMJ, a million dollar per product line is an opportunity big enough to get the attention of my first string. In your business, look for the right-sized opportunity for you. Frequently, it is the smaller opportunity that has the best promise. The gorillas will leave you alone. There is always a right-sized opportunity for a company of any size. Knowing your rightful place in the market can help you to thrive.

3 – Get focussed. Higher focus means we know more, stock more, and sell more product of fewer manufacturers. The smaller our product listing, the more powerful we become. We know a lot about a little. That means we know the products we sell better than a gorilla, and we become a sales tool for the reseller, not just an order-taker. Could you become more focused and specialized in a business area by giving up on a part of your business?

4 – Be more flexible. We can adapt more easily to our customers and suppliers. We try not to be ruled by policy. The bigger a company gets, the more likely they are to have policy and some of it is required. As a small distributor, we can be more flexible. Are there areas that your competition is ignoring that by being more entrepreneurial, you can capitalize on?

5 – Be smarter. This sounds too simple, almost embarrassing to write. Since we are smaller, we can look at the business we do more carefully and make sure it makes good business sense. We don’t pick up another manufacturer just to increase the size of our line card. That’s just not good business sense for us. That’s the way we have to think – and so should you.

6 – Lower your overhead. For some reason, most companies seem to choose more expensive offices and furnishings as they grow. This expectation tends to increase costs in all areas of the company that distribution, at current margin levels, can ill afford. At EMJ, we buy quality used furniture. We are on the outskirts of Guelph where the cost of land and taxes is less. Our capital base is even high enough that our cost of capital is less than some of the gorillas. Are there areas that you can be lower overhead than the gorillas in your field? Costs always add up on the bottom line.

7 – Foster staff loyalty – one major advantage guerillas have over gorillas is the ability to attract, motivate, and keep good people. Primarily this is because guerillas can be more flexible, easier to work for and give people more of a sense of accomplishment because what they do contributes more directly the company’s bottom line. I have always found there to be great power by being smaller and treating my people with respect and not just as numbers. Gorillas can try to do this but it is tough for them to copy you.

8 – Just BE a gorilla. We like to enter market areas that we can dominate and specialize in. We may not be the biggest but in certain specific niches, we dominate. As long as we are the biggest in an area, we can act the part. We can under-price and over-service the competition forever. Anyone who enters our markets learns that it is expensive and often impossible to unseat us.

9 – Be personal. One thing a smaller organization can do is to be more personal. People buy from people. You can foster relationships that will help you sell. Part of the way we are personal is by showing our customers what markets and products ARE profitable. There is nothing that cements a customer relationship better than making them money, because you’ll be making money for them AND for you!

10 – Be opportunistic – to sum up guerilla strategy is simply to be opportunistic. Take advantage of opportunities that the gorillas cannot do. There are many companies that remain profitable by being opportunistic.

In summary, unless you are huge – think guerilla. Appropriate guerilla tactics for your size will win any battle.




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