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Once upon a time, two creative people enjoyed dabbling in their crafts –writing and graphic design. But making a living from it was not imperative. Then one day, things changed. They had to either get a “job” or convert their skills into products that made people want to exchange currency for them. They discovered that “do what you love, and the money will follow” is true, but there’s more to it than just love.

Making a small business work requires sales, marketing, product development and delivery, bookkeeping, and much more. It took a long time and more than a few failures, but they learned five secrets to small business sales and marketing that saved them.

This story is about us – Cindy and Carla.

Here are five secrets to small business success that we learned mostly through the generosity of those who’ve forged their path to success.

  1. Start with why. If you don’t know why you do what you do, you will not likely rise above the fray and weather the storms. Your “why” is not to make money. That’s a given. Watch this short video of Simon Sinek on “Starting with Why.” BEM Interactive in Greensboro, NC shared this nugget.
  2. “Learn to sell or get a job,” said Reed Humphrey, serial entrepreneur and VP of Business Development at Canopy Partners. You can have a great product and even a professional marketing plan, but if you are not selling actively and effectively, your business won’t grow. Many “experts” say you’ve got to spend at least 20 percent of your time directly on sales.
  3. “Your time is not free,” saidKay Rule, Yost and Little Realty and extraordinary character impersonator. People don’t intend to tie up your time and then not buy the service or product, but they will, unless you have reasonable boundaries. Fees and prices are a good way to do this. There’s still room for a consultation or trial, but “free” work is not sustainable.
  4. Hire out the parts you can’t do well. Yes, we know you can’t afford to hire anyone. But here’s what the best small business accountant in Greensboro, Linda Widman of Delman and Company, taught me – it will cost you more to fix the things you mess up trying to do it all than to get help. Be honest about your skills and gifts. Match that to the critical areas of running a business, e.g. marketing as well as accounting. If you don’t know the difference between a 941 and a 1099 or how to read a profit and loss statement, hire a bookkeeper. The same goes for other areas you just don’t understand. It’s okay to barter too.
  5. Find a niche and become and expert. There’s so much information at everyone’s fingertips, but it often feels like drinking from a fire hose. Gus Kroustalis, Digital Strategist with Beacon Technologies in Greensboro, NC, helped us see that you’ve got to dig into one area at a time and become conversant. In order to be valuable to your clients or customers, you need to be able to explain in simple terms what they need and then deliver it beyond their expectations, better than anybody else.

We’ve found that even doing what you love takes repetition and commitment to become good at it. You have to keep believing and working harder than anyone else, even when you want to quit and just go get a paycheck.

May we share your “real” marketing story? Send us a note at [email protected]