Why You’ve Got to Do Your Detective Work if You Want Your Small Business to Succeed

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 The following excerpt is from Wendy Keller’s book Ultimate Guide to Platform Building.  

Did you like math in school? I didn’t, but I sure do like it now. As entrepreneurs, how much you bring in (gross profit) gets reduced by what it costs you to attract that money (cost of doing business), which results in the cherished number that represents what you get to keep (your net profit).

Platform building is all about increasing your gross profit by easily attracting more customers to your business while lowering the cost of customer acquisition so that your net profit burgeons.

“Analytics” refers to finding out what percentage of your target market actually buys from you. Your analytics will guide you quickly to increased clarity on your target audience, on what marketing is attracting them and therefore how many people you have to reach to earn a profit.

Your job as your own marketing director (until you can afford to hire one) is to always know if you’re earning more from your ads than you’re investing in preparing and placing them.

Fortunately, there’s a solution to less than stellar results from any marketing foray. True marketers tell you to “test everything.” Only a fool would disagree, but what the marketers mean is that you should test every marketing piece for:

  • The colors
  • The images
  • The headline
  • The body copy
  • The time of day the content runs
  • The placement of the content
  • The audience you selected

Those marketers are 100 percent right. Yes, you should do all that for every page on your website, post, blog, ad, article, pitch, sales letter, marketing campaign and everything else you’ll ever create for your business.

Did your eyes roll to the back of your head when you even thought about all the work it takes to gather analytics and test, test, test? I’ll tell you a secret: I can’t bring myself to test all this stuff. Who has the time?

So I’ve devised a much easier way for you to do the critically important work of analytics. I call it “Analytics Light.” It derives from the well-known saying “Success Leaves Clues.” I’ll split it up for a product-based business and a service-based business, to make it even easier for you.

‘Analytics Light’ for a product-based business

The easiest way to figure out if anyone is going to buy your product is to spend a chunk of time doing online research. Invest a few hours up front and a) you’ll get to skip some of the onerous brain-scrambling testing stuff we just talked about and b) you’ll get better results right from the start.

Take some time to find out:

  • Is anyone selling anything like your product?
  • How many units do you estimate they’re selling each month?
  • How much are they charging? Is shipping free?
  • How is it wrapped?
  • What do their store displays look like?
  • How much foot traffic do they get in their location?
  • Which competitor is the most successful in your space?
  • For retail, what do their stores look like? How is their parking? Is their staff pleasant? Is the place well-lit and clean?
  • How many people walk out with a purchase?
  • What kinds of comments are they getting on social media about their service or their product?
  • What can you learn about your customers from this research?

Much of this can be obtained by checking out the website of a digital store, too. Buy or order the object from your competitor(s) and see if they have good quality, good customer service and an easy ordering process. When you get it, note how it is packaged, if it was delivered on time and then return it. What is their return process like? If you saw any glitches in that process, it’s a big flashing sign that your business can eat some of their market share by doing it better! As a pseudo-customer for a product similar to yours, you know intimately what “good” is. Use this information to your own advantage.

‘Analytics Light’ for a service-based business

Are you offering a “quiet” service delivered in your office, like an attorney or a psychologist? Or are you offering a service you bring to your customer, like a landscaper or a handyman?

Your competitors aren’t just “people in the same kind of service business,” but proprietors of all service businesses that are doing well. Check out successful service providers in other industries: plumbers, dog groomers, home healthcare delivery businesses. Are any of them doing something spectacular that you could incorporate into your strategy?

Choose who you will “stalk” by finding the ones who have the highest Yelp.com rating. Then find out:

  • Where are your competitors geographically?
  • What do their offices look like?
  • What methods do they use to deliver the service?
  • What do they charge?
  • Are their websites professional looking?
  • How many of them are in your area, if relevant?
  • Check the parking lot, if relevant — what kinds of cars do their customers drive?
  • Do the customers you see leaving their office look like the people you pictured as your customers?
  • Trail their service trucks. What kinds of neighborhoods are their customers in?
  • Make an appointment. How long do you have to wait to get into your appointment? How are you treated? Is their phone service professional?
  • If it’s an online service business, how responsive are they to your emails if you ask an anonymous question through their contact form?
  • Do they offer anything extra, beyond what you planned to offer?
  • Stake out their location, if applicable. Pretend you’re a private investigator for an hour (trench coat and cigar optional). What do you see going on?

Your competitors are saving you many hours and lots of money by broadcasting how to do things successfully. Why waste your own money and time when it’s so much easier to do a little espionage? This will let you see how other successful people are doing it. Then you can test and improve on their methods.

Digging a little deeper

Almost every business has a website. Type in keywords for your product or service on Google or another search engine. Whose websites come up on the first page? Consumers rarely go to the second page, so websites listed after page one aren’t doing much good for their owners. Ignore them.

Write down the URLs of every website on the first page and exactly which keywords and key phrases you used to find them. Use them for your own site later — simple to do, but if you’re nervous, ask your webmaster to do it for you. And remember, there are different ways to ask the same thing. Type in a keyword or key phrase that seems natural to you, but also consider other peoples’ ways of phrasing things.

For example, consider these key phrases and their alternates:

  • “Where do I find a good CPA?” vs. “Highest Rated CPA in Atlanta”
  • “Fiberglass fishing boat” vs. “Best fishing boat”
  • “Best baby stroller” vs. “Blue baby strollers”

Although the searcher may be looking for exactly the same thing in these examples, the search phrases are critically different. Google will bring up what it “thinks” is closest to what the person wants.

When you notice that people use a term or phrase for your product or service that’s different than what seems right or natural to you, who cares? This is a perfect example of “The customer is always right.” Use the words that the majority of people use, even if you disagree with their phrasing, their spelling or their mistakes.

Warning: If your biggest competitors don’t show up when you use the keywords you think are “right,” before you congratulate yourself on your genius, check again. It likely means you’re simply choosing different keywords in your search. If you’re also using the less popular words on your website, change them there, too. It doesn’t matter who’s right — it matters that you get paid.