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5 7 Activities That Don’t Scale but Will Win You Customers

11.16

Photo Credit:www.launchsolid.com

Starting a business is hard work and early on you will need to hustle to find your first customers. There is no need to stress right away about what marketing channels will scale because you won’t know which options work best. And even when you do find out what will scale, it’s often the activities that don’t scale that will continue to provide the best ROI.

1. Attend an Industry Conference

For example, if your business is building websites for construction companies, you need to find out the most popular conferences. A quick Google search shows these conferences would be a good bet to attend: Construction Super Conference or the International Conference on Transportation. For your first few conferences, going as an attendee is recommended so you can scope them out and determine if it makes sense for you to come back as a vendor (and possibly rent a booth). Spend time walking the aisles, and I love hanging out by the lunch area, if you sit down at the right table and strike up a good conversation you can make a critical connection.

2. Organize a Q&A with Industry Experts

Create a list of 6-10 questions and reach out to industry experts to see if they want to participate. Package up the responses in a PDF, include bios and photos and make sure to give everyone a copy. Blog about the responses and encourage participants to get the word out. Since you are appealing to the vanity of the experts, it’s very easy to drum up interest, don’t be afraid to ask!

3. Sponsor Relevant Meetup Events

Meetup events all over the world are going on and they are often just a handful of people. If you target relevant Meetup groups and offer to sponsor their next event, you will find a lot of takers. Sometimes money to buy pizza is all you need to do and the organizer will add a special offer on their Meetup page and if you’re lucky and/or persuasive they will announce it at the event.

4. Solicit Individual and Personalized Feedback on Your Product or Service

Early on it’s a struggle to get even 5 or 10 people on board as customers. When you do get the first few customers reach out to each one of them with a personal email and thank them for trying you out. Ask for pointed feedback and if you can get them to spare 10 to 15 minutes on the phone that is fantastic as they will provide helpful insight about your product.

5. Attend Local Meetings/Events

Leverage your hometown or nearest big city to attend marketing groups and meetings. Chamber of Commerce meetings or local business groups are a great place to start. It’s not that you will necessarily find your ideal customer in your backyard, but once you start talking about your new company, your networking may uncover other opportunities. In addition, the people you meet may know other people that will help propel your business forward.

6. Target Tangentially Related Companies for Joint Marketing Efforts

If you own a stock photo site, it would make sense to contact web development companies as they often need stock photos when they are creating new websites. You could create a co-branded landing page that provides a discount to the web development companies if they want to have access to a special offer on your site. You could send their special offer to your email list (and vice versa) if you want to do additional joint marketing.

7. Create Handwritten Letters as a Relationship Builder

The old school approach can win you big points. If you take time to customize handwritten letter like this example here, you have a great shot at making a beneficial introduction. Do your homework and understand what the person likes and dislikes before writing the letter and make sure to send it to their place of business.

11.16 headshotChad Fisher is a co-founder of Content Runner, a marketplace for connecting users and freelance writers for the creation of unique written content. Friends of Duct Tape Marketing can create a free account and receive a $30 credit to try out the writers on Content Runner, click here to learn more!

1 Equity Crowdfunding: Your Solution for Small Business Financing?

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Salomon Wancier – Enjoy!

equity-crowdfunding-earlysharesSmall businesses haven’t had it easy since the dawn of the recession in 2008, but thankfully they’ve enjoyed a steady (if slow) recovery.

Recent studies show that 2013 was a solid year for small businesses and 2014 should be even stronger. 89 percent of small businesses increased travel between fall 2013 and the previous year. Small businesses created 102,000 new jobs in November alone. And eight out of 10 small business owners plan to increase their products and offerings in 2014.

But in order to travel, add personnel, and execute on expansion plans in the coming year, many small businesses will need financing… which is where things get tricky. Despite being the strongest drivers of growth in the U.S. economy, small businesses face immense challenges garnering funding from traditional sources like venture capital firms, angel investor groups, or debt financing.

Since small businesses aren’t the only ones struggling for financing – startups, entertainment projects, musicians, and others face similar challenges – the new (and popular) crowdfunding industry has increasingly filled the funding gap.

Not all Crowdfunding is Created Equal

In a crowdfunding campaign, a group of individuals pools resources to support a company, organization, artist, or project. Crowdfunding has become a viable way for many entities to raise money. Over $480 million was pledged to campaigns on Kickstarter (the best-known crowdfunding platform) in 2013.

But unbeknownst to many, there are four different types of crowdfunding taking place on various platforms: Rewards, Donation, Lending, and Equity.

Rewards campaigns exemplify “traditional” crowdfunding on platforms like Kickstarter. In exchange for some reward – a discount, freebie, product pre-order, or other item – individuals contribute money to an organization, project, or company.

Donation campaigns are mostly the same, except there’s no physical reward element – just the reward of giving to a worthy cause. In Lending crowdfunding (or “peer-to-peer lending”), individuals loan money to businesses or people at competitive interest rates.

Then there’s Equity crowdfunding – the next phase of the crowdfunding phenomenon and the type arguably best suited to business financing. In an Equity crowdfunding campaign, individuals aren’t backing a project in exchange for rewards; they’re investing in a business. In exchange for contributions, Equity crowdfunding investors receive ownership interest in the entity raising funds – just as would an angel investor or venture capitalist.

Under current regulations, Equity crowdfunding opportunities are only available to Accredited Investors. When the SEC implements rules for Title III of the JOBS Act, the general public will also be able to invest through equity crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding for Small Business: Marketing and Financing

Several factors make Equity crowdfunding a fit for small business financing. The first is marketing.

A crowdfunding campaign (of any kind) is a unique marketing opportunity. Executing a successful campaign requires business owners to promote their companies to new audiences – increasing overall visibility in the process – and motivate their existing networks to support them. Before launching any online fundraising campaign, be prepared to become your business’ biggest cheerleader.

Additionally, Equity crowdfunding is designed to finance companies and other long-term ventures – unlike Rewards or Donation campaigns, which are often best suited to individual projects. (Kick-starter only posts campaigns for “creative projects.”).

Rewards crowdfunding facilitates a limited arrangement between business and backer. Once a project owner delivers the rewards, the relationship between backer and business ends.

Equity crowdfunding, however, establishes a long-term relationship between the crowdfunded company and its supporters – one in which both parties have vested interests in achieving success. Equity crowdfunding investors are likely to patronize and evangelize the company they invest in, since that will help the business earn them a return on their investment.

Which is not to say that Equity crowdfunding is a sure thing. Like any investments in small businesses and early-stage companies, Equity crowdfunding investments are high-risk. And not all Equity crowdfunding campaigns end in successful financing; some companies are bound to fail.

But though Equity crowdfunding is still evolving, it has the potential to be rewarding for certain small businesses and investors. It’s the next logical phase of crowdfunding, it’s the future of investing and financing, and perhaps it’s even the way your small business will fund a promising 2014.

Earlyshares-SalomonSalomon Wancier is Chief Marketing Officer of EarlyShares, a leading equity crowdfunding platform, and an authorized Duct Tape Marketing Consultant. He can be reached at swancier@earlyshares.com.  For more on Equity crowdfunding and investing, visit the EarlyShareholder Blog. Stay tuned for a future Duct Tape blog post from Salomon on ‘Equity Crowdfunding 101.’

6 Pitch Perfect Crowdfunding

This is installment number two of a series: Crowdfunding: A playbook and case study. (Check out the entire series here)

photo credit: Haags Uitburo via photo pin cc

Today’s post focuses on making a compelling pitch and determining how to create incentives that draw the interest needed in order get your project funded.

Most crowdfunding pitches offer things like early or deeply discounted product access, elevated customer status, exclusive events and branded articles like t-shirts and mugs as a way to raise interest and additional investment.

There’s a real balance between being able to explain what your thing does, why they should back it and what, precisely, you want people to do in a way that leaves no doubt and creating incentives that get them excited about being a part of the launch.

My belief is there are few incentives that can overcome a boring or confusing project pitch, but it’s the perfect balance of value and creativity that seems to make the difference.

The Message

It’s essential that you’re able to sum up your project in as few words as possible. Imagine you’ve got about thirty seconds to get a room full of skeptics to fork over some money for something they’ve never heard of or seen before – maybe they don’t even realize the problem your product or service addresses exists.

So, what would that pitch sound like?

Here are some tips:

  • Compare to something they already understand – “It’s like an iPhone, but you wear it on your wrist”
  • Attack the demon head on – “This tool helps you get paid on time”
  • Play to a strong sense of community – “We’re helping independent musicians survive in today’s economy. ”
  • Exploit coolness – “A Living Canvas for your Instagram Photos”

Now start segmenting.

Once you create your pitch you’ve got to start thinking about the story for multiple audiences. The trick is to make your story as personal as possible, but keep it relevant for the reader.

A pitch to Aunt Betty is going to be along the lines of “you know you said I’m your favorite niece, right?” but your 473 Twitter followers are going to need something else all together.
Count on creating a short video that engages visitors in the possibilities, community, story, dreams and vision attached to your project.

Prove that you can pull this off – people want to back underdogs, but make them want to win as much as you want to win – that’s how you get people to share with their networks – share your future as if you’ve made it.

Here’s how my case study subject ZebraCard project sponsor Nick Carter explains his approach to this.

“I am a big fan of writing the pitch as appropriate to the relationship I have with the recipient. I’m often disgusted at people who try to craft emails to me as if we were best buds when in fact, there is no prior relationship. I wrote 3 messages. 1 was a personal letter to our closest partners, affiliates, and loyal referral partners. 2 was to the remainder of our customer base. The 3rd was to our subscriber base from the many other lead-gen campaigns we’ve conducted over the years. Each was written with the appropriate level of familiarity or formality.”

The Incentives

Here I think creativity and relevance are so crucial. It’s not enough, in my view, to offer product that’s equivalent with a funding level. Incentive levels, and you have many, are a tremendous way to demonstrate the level of excitement, commitment and buzz you can generate. Remember, funding is only step one, this is a public display of the market viability of your company as well so don’t phone this one in.

The first thing you should do is study every successful project you can on Fundable, Kickstarter and Indiegogo. What’ you’ll likely see are some patterns of value and increasingly levels of exclusivity.

One of my favorite examples comes from, no surprise, a super marketer, Seth Godin’s Icarus Project. Go check it out thoroughly.

Admittedly, Godin has built a huge tribe and his choice of a this crowdfunding mechanism is part showmanship on display, but he gets the incentive game like no one I know.

The first think to note is there’s something for everyone, even those that just want to play – there’s a $4 level that still offers great value. He also creates tension by offering levels that clearly offer the most value to someone that really just wants the book. To me, he’s made it obvious where to go if your main interest is getting the information, but he’s also loaded it with the most value.

Then he creates levels that allow his followers to get exclusivity and access that have little to with the product – he’s offering an experience to those in his tribe that want and can afford that.

Here’s advice that crowdfunding service Fundable offers its project sponsors – “Once you’ve identified your group of potential backers- it’s also important to structure your rewards tiers in the most compelling way possible- taking into account what is most interesting to their particular group. It sounds obvious, but people often walk away with a new rewards structure after they’ve had a chance to analyze and decide on their target outreach groups. Once you know who you’re hoping to attract, it’s easier to come up with rewards that are desirable to them.”

Now, not everyone has the marketing background, reputation or backlog of desirable incentives to offer, so it’s important that you also make it clear what you want someone to do and why they should choose a certain level.

Here’s how ZebraCard approached it.

“My #1 goal was to get business cards with the ZebraCard code on them into circulation. So, I made sure to offer incentives that would not only be valuable to the backers, but also achieve that goal. I made sure there was an easy entry point ($10) that still had something of value in exchange so it didn’t feel like an all-out donation.”

Okay, that’s it for this week – next week we’ll take a look at how to get the word out to the various communities that you’ll tap.

Got any great crowdfunding stories or advice? Please share in comments.

39 Crowdfunding Is Marketing Pure and Simple

Crowdfunding is undoubtedly this year’s hottest topic and trend and with good reason.

The ability to publicly raise funds for your idea, product, or company, by gaining access to millions and millions of potential investors, gives anyone with an Internet connection access to a little or a lot of capital.

photo credit: Haags Uitburo via photo pin cc

Now, anyone with a good idea and the ability to write a compelling description of that idea, can turn to services like Fundable, Kickstarter or Indiegogo to raise needed funds by offering incentives such as product, early access and even private receptions.

The recent passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS) only accelerated the mainstream acceptance of crowdfunding and eased some of the restrictions placed on small businesses in need of capital. The JOBS Act opens the door to even more opportunities by allowing companies to offer stock and equity to individual investors much like they might by partnering with a venture capital firm.

Okay, enough with the backstory.

While the media covers the overnight successes and over the top fundraising sensations, such as Pebble, created through crowdfunding, the fact remains crowdfunding is simply a mechanism that marries a potential community with an accounting function.

The promise of “create a project” and “watch the funds come in” is in stark contrast to the reality of create a project, market like crazy and maybe the funds come in.

In a way, crowdfunding is simply preselling your idea or product and that takes a marketing mindset pure and simple. In fact, it may actually take an even more strategic approach because you may not have a track record, any proof you can actually pull your idea off or raving fans and success stories to rely on for referrals and testimonials – all essential marketing assets.

The other element that makes crowdfunding such a marketing play is the campaign nature of how most services operate. Generally your funding campaign is an all or nothing proposition on the clock.

In other words, if you want to raise $10,000 you’ll have a set amount of time to raise the money and if you come up even a little bit short, you don’t get anything.

One of the most intriguing marketing related aspects of crowdfunding is the public nature of the campaign. For some companies, ideas and products this is their public coming out and the buzz created in a properly executed crowdfunding campaign can carry a business swiftly into a phase of growth or momentum.

So, in many ways the actual money raised is only a part of the opportunity that exists in this approach.

Since this trend has so much to offer small businesses and entrepreneurs of all kinds and since I’m making a case for the element of marketing in this space, I thought it would interesting to create a series of posts going deep into the elements of a successful crowdfunding campaign and build a case study using a real and existing campaign.

The series will consist of five posts, including this one, and end in conjunction with a completed campaign in about 30 days. (You can get the entire series by subscribing to this RSS feed)

The series will unfold as follows:
Crowdfunding: A playbook and case study

  • Installment 1: Incentivizing the pitch
  • Installment 2: Sharing the story
  • Installment 3: Building the buzz
  • Installment 4: Managing the tribe

Meet the case study subject

The start-up raising funds is called ZebraCard. The campaign is listed on Fundable.com and at the time of this writing has about a month left to meet its all or nothing goal of $5,000. (Full disclosure: I thought this was a cool project so I backed it and that’s what led me to write this series.)

Bardcode example from ZebraCard

Quick pitch: ZebraCard.me creates a QR code or barcode for your business card that points to a URL where each user’s interaction with your business card data is tracked.

Value proposition: Data in all directions. Business professionals will get more data on the performance of the business cards in circulation than ever before possible. Card scanning applications can increase the accuracy and breadth of data that their application provides.

I’ll be sharing thoughts from ZebraCard founder Nick Carter and Fundable Founder Wil Schroter throughout this series and offer advice as well as observations on the progress of the campaign.

One of the first lessons that ZebraCard had to learn when launching their campaign is that crowdfunding, while all the buzz in online circles, is still a relatively new and unknown concept to most.

According to Carter, “We discovered, surprising to us, that people were totally unfamiliar with crowdfunding. We had to make a quick adaptation in messaging to first educate our audience.”

The next important pre-launch consideration for any marketing initiative really, but particularly when you are trying to introduce a new concept, is clarity and simplicity of message.

You must be able to explain what your thing does, why they should back it and what, precisely, you want people to do in a way that leaves no doubt and has them thinking – Oh, I get that.

Again, returning to Carter’s lesson: “It’s easy to assume the audience understands what you’re asking of them, but just as any effective marketing, we had to be clear about a call-to-action in order to get results. We had to say, go to fundable.com/zebracard and pledge $75 to get your free business cards.”

Stay tuned as I follow Carter and ZebraCard down the path of getting crowdfunded. Next week we’ll tackle crafting the pitch and creating the pitch perfect incentives.

So, now it’s your turn to chime in – Do you have thoughts, stories, ideas about crowdfunding? Share them please.