Marketing Your Small Business: Three Tips for Cutting Through the Noise

People receive thousands of marketing messages daily through TV, radio and of course the ever-on internet now available on desktops, iPads and smart phones. Every time you glance at Facebook, you likely absorb a marketing message. How then, as a small business, can you cut through the noise and reach prospective customers with a meaningful message. Here are three tips to keep in mind when you create your marketing materials, or draft your unique value proposition.

Getting New Clients

Focus on benefits

To write the best marketing messages, you have to step out of your own shoes and into your customer’s. This can be hard sometimes, when you’re intensely involved in a project, seeing things from someone else’s eyes can be hard. Still, your marketing messages need to focus on the benefits you offer. Be careful not to confuse benefits with features.

Features describe the product or service, in terms of what it does. Benefits are the end result that the customer experiences by using the product or service. In other words, explain how it solves their problem and makes their life better.

What’s in it for me? is the main question that we either consciously or subconsciously ask ourselves when we encounter a marketing message. If we don’t receive the answer quickly and satisfactorily, we quickly move on.

Narrow your niche

To have more meaningful conversations with prospective clients, choose a more specific sub-set of the market. For example, if your products appeal to an age group that stretches from twenty-somethings to over fifty, focus on one small part of that spectrum, such as customers in their early twenties. Though it is counter-intuitive sometimes, limiting who you market to actually usually leads to an increase in business – this is because you can actually speak directly to your audience this way. You can speak to them in their language and your message will be impactful, and therefore they will be more likely to actually listen.

Knowing your customers inside and out

Knowing your customers well (who they are, what they need, what they buy, how they buy and how they feel) is one of the most important success factors in your business. This you’ve heard hundreds of times. Knowing your audience well is the foundation for growth. It takes time, patience and some internet savvy to properly research your market, but it is the very first and most important step to building a business.

How to Determine Your Value Proposition

The first step to finding your unique value proposition in the market place, is doing the legwork to understand your target market—the people who will buy your product or service. At the same time, you have to understand your competition—the companies whom your potential customers can turn to for the same service or product.

apples-and-orangesMaybe you arrived at your business idea by spotting an actual gap in the market, a real need that was going unmet. In design thinking, this is known as sensing the gap. If this is the case, then for you, finding your unique value proposition won’t be difficult; you already have a sense of what it is.

But for those of us who came to our businesses through a desire to build upon our own skill set, it could be trickier. For you, you will need to look carefully at your potential customer’s needs, and then look for how your competition is failing to meet those needs, and from there you can carve out your unique place.

Step one: Understanding your target market

First, you’ll need to understand who it is that will be buying your product or service. Be careful here; it’s tempting to say that anyone can use your product or service. For instance, if you are a hairdresser you may say anyone who has hair is your target market, but this is never the case.

Target market isn’t anybody who can possibly use your service, it’s the people who are most likely to use it and whom you therefore decide to sell to. You will target them by speaking directly to them on their terms. To be able to do this, you will need to understand who they are. This includes demographics: age, gender, household income, marital status, and just as importantly, psychographics. In other words, what makes them tick?

As a small business owner, chances are you won’t undertake doing an expensive focus group to learn information about your market. But you can still observe your target market online and off. Speak to someone who represents your target market, ask them if they’ve ever used a product or service like yours, ask them how they used it, what they liked and what they didn’t like. Ask them what would have made the product better.  Similarly, find out where your market hangs out online, forums and social media sites might be a good place to see what people are saying about their experiences.

In the end, what you want to do is get to know the people in your target market as individuals, think of them as real people, so that you can best understand how to serve their needs. Next, you will look at your competition to see how they are failing to meet their needs, and this information will become the basis for your business – you unique value proposition.

What is a Unique Value Proposition and Why Do You Need One for Your Small Business?

You may of heard that to effectively sell your product or service—to the degree you’d like —you need a unique selling proposition. A unique value proposition is exactly that, it is a statement that expresses how your business is different from your competitors. That statement is a road map for how you conduct your business.

rock on

Yet many entrepreneurs and small business owners chose to skip this early step to launching a business, considering a unique selling proposition—or, UVP—a nice to have rather than a must have. A UVP may seem like a little luxury, something to do when you’re not busy answering calls, fulfilling orders or drumming up new business, but in reality it is the foundation for all of those activities.

Understanding the Buying and Selling Process

Before diving into understanding what a unique value proposition is, and how having one impacts on sales, it’s good to first understand the buying and selling process.

As you may well realize, people don’t randomly buy things, instead when we buy something–be it a service or product–we follow a process like this:

  • We realize our need for a product or services
  • We identify and evaluate the different options
  • And then, finally, we make a purchase

 As sellers, we:

  • Establish a rapport with the buyer
  • Qualify her needs
  • Show how the product meets those needs
  • Handle her objections
  • Close the sale

Having a well defined UVP is important step toward showing prospective buyers how your offering meets their needs.

Understanding Unique Value Proposition

Your unique value proposition describes to others how your product or service is different from any others out there. When potential buyers are evaluating your offering, your UVP tells them why they should buy from you instead of your competitors.  Yet, many entrepreneurs don’t take the time to define their unique value proposition, either because they:

  • Don’t know how their product is different
  • Don’t have the time
  • Don’t know how to begin, or
  • Don’t believe their customers really care

This fact gives you an advantage. Whether you realize it or not, you do have competition, and if you want your customers to specifically think if you when they are looking to buy the service or product that you offer, then you’ll need to stand out. While it does take time to create a UVP, it is time well spent. Next up, how to get started creating a unique value proposition.

About SimplifyThis

Take appointments directly through your website. Automate and streamline administrative tasks and focus your energy on growing your business with SimplifyThis–two-in-one appointment scheduling and invoicing software for small businesses.


Doing SEO for Your Small Business by Yourself (DIY SEO)

As a small business owner, you’ve heard plenty about SEO, or search engine marketing, and the concept of getting your website to show up on Google. You’ve heard the stats (93% of online experiences begin with a search engine!) and you’ve probably come across an SEO company or two. Some charging lots of money, and some charging just a little bit.

seo-image-optimizationChances are are you’ve probably also asked yourself, can I do my own SEO? The answer it turns out is yes, and to help you accomplish this, SimplifyThis customer, SEO Maidsa local SEO company that helps residential house cleaning companies get found onlinereleased their 64 page ebook called SEO to GO. You can download it here. In it they provide all you need to know to be able to launch and manage your own small business SEO campaign. Topics discussed include:

  • What SEO means: What you do online to increase the visibility of your website in Google’s search result pages.
  • How Google works: Collecting and organizing all of the content on the internet, then presenting that information to usthe searchersin a way that is useful.
  • Anatomy of a SERP: Search engine result pageswhat Google returns when you search a topic. Will you show up in the organic listings, local listings or paid listings.
  • Organic vs. paid search: What it takes to show up in Google’s search result pages without paying for ad space and how Google decides who shows up on page one.
  • Keywords: What a keyword is and what the difference is between a short tail and longtail keyword.
  • Google no, nos: What black hat SEO means, and how it can hurt you.
  • And much, much, much more.

It’s a handy book, and if you have a businesswhether you plan to do your own SEO, or if you plan to hire someone to your SEO for yoit lays out the basics of what you should know in a straightforward, easy-to-digest format.

We particularly liked these tips for local businesses:

Four Must-Do’s for Local SEO

  1. Create your Google Places listing. Do that here. Fill out your profile completely and be sure that your local listing links to your website.
  2. Fill out your NAP information. NAP stands for name, address and phone number. Make sure your NAP information is correct and consistent across the internet. The resource section of SEO on the GO offers a list of NAP sites.
  3. Add local signals to your website. Make sure you have you NAP information throughout your site as well, not just directory sites.
  4. Garner Google Places reviews for your business. Reviews are arguably one of the most important aspects of marketing a local business online. There are a number of ways you can get authentic reviews for your business. The ebook covers this as well.

About SimplifyThis

SimplifyThis, two-in-one appointment scheduling and invoicing software, was  built with small businesses in mind. Take appointments directly through your website. Automate and streamline administrative tasks and focus your energy on growing your business with SimplifyThis.


How to wear many hats without losing your mind

For better or worse being in the position of someone who wears many hats is a reality of entrepreneurship. As chef, cook and bottle cleaner, you need to fill many roles in your business. This is difficult, not just because of the time involved in doing each task, but also because of the time involved in switching between tasks.


Image by Steve Snodgrass

Different jobs require different types thinking. Some tasks require deep thinking, others require quick thinking. Some require strategic thinking, others creativity. The list goes on, people skills, organizational skills, analytical skills, leadership skills — these are all skills that you may need to rely on at different times depending on the task you’re working on. All this switching from type of task to type of task can be exhausting and result in a loss of productivity.  Here are some tips for how to wear many hats without loosing your head.

Only wear one hat at a time

No matter how many different responsibilities you have, it’s important to try to keep your focus on the one you’re working on at any given time. More and more, it’s becoming understood that multitasking is a myth.  Multitasking may waste more time than it saves, all while killing your creativity. For this reason, while you may wear many hats, it’s prudent to wear only one at a time.

Keep like tasks together

It’s an old time management trick to group like tasks together. Meaning when you finish one task and it’s time to switch to another, switch to one that is similar to the one that came before rather than switching to a radically different type of job. Switching gears entirely takes mental energy, and  you can lessen the impact by lumping similar types of jobs together.

Eliminate distractions

Along the lines of keeping multitasking to a minimum, you should do your best to eliminate distractions. Common distractions, these days include email, social media, and texts. To cut down on these time sucks, try scheduling time for email and social media, and the rest of the time, turn it off. Learn more tips for cutting down on daily distractions and annoyances.

Learn to delegate

For many small business owners, delegating is harder than it sounds. Finding people you can trust to pass work over to, especially when resources are tight, is always a challenge. Often times it seems easier to simply do the task yourself. Yet, doing it all yourself, isn’t always the solution. If you’re new to delegating, read these tips. If you’re bad at delegating, read up and practice.

Organize yourself

Good solid organization is essential for anyone who is in the position of wearing multiple hats. Organizing yourself can take some time, but int he end, following a method of organization will save you time. Start by picking a method. You may want to consider the Getting Things Done (GTD) method. Here’s how to get started with GTD.

Common mistakes local business owners make on Facebook (and how to avoid them)

Whether you’re just getting started on Facebook or you’ve been at it for a while, make sure you’re not making these common mistakes many small businesses make!

Getting overly focused on Likes

Many small business owners get overly-focused on the task of getting people to Like their Facebook page. Some have even gone over the deep edge, and “bought” Likes on sites like If Likes can be bought for low sums of money, doesn’t it stand to reason that Likes in and of themselves aren’t that valuable?


Sure, you need people to Like your page in order to communicate with them via Facebook, but today more than ever, the quality of those Likes is far more important than the quantity.

The name of the game on Facebook is engagement, and even if thousands of people Like your page, if they’re not truly engaged with your business, they’re likely not even seeing your posts. Facebook is a place — a clubhouse, if you will — for your fans and advocates. A place where you can share a bit of your business with the people who admire you most, so that they in turn can introduce you to their network by Liking, commenting on and sharing your posts. Filling the room with extras hardly will help you to accomplish your goals. In fact, it could even hurt, if it results in having fans who never engage with your brand at all. So with that, you can loosen up about getting Likes.

Not capturing local flavor

Facebook isn’t just about content, it’s also about context. As a local business, people should be able to see who you are  in your community. Where you are located is a big part of your identity. Be sure to infuse a bit of local flavor into your posts.

Only posting your own content

Remember don’t only post pictures of your business and links to your own blog posts. Also post links to stories that other people publish, share posts that your community have published to their pages. The goal is to truly create value for your community. Share things you think they’d like to read, not just content about things you’d like to sell. For more ideas about they type of content you can share read about the 80/10/10 rule.

Not Socializing

This one relates to the two points above. Facebook isn’t just about advertising your products. In fact it’s not at all about advertising. It is about socializing. Networking. Start with the people in your community, the people you know in the real world. Follow them, acknowledge their comments and posts. Stay in communication with the intention of genuinely building the relationship. Facebook isn’t about broadcasting. It’s the world’s largest social networking platform, not the world’s largest radio station.

Trying to be everywhere

With a bevvy of social media tools available, and all of them free, small business owners are always eager to use all the web has to offer. Owners want to use Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and all the rest. The truth is all of these platforms while free, take an investment of time and attention. Until you master one — whether it be Facebook or another — don’t move on to another. Otherwise you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin, and not thereby missing the opportunity that each platform provides. If you’re just starting with social media and Facebook is your first stop, stick with it until you really get the swing of it. Once you are doing your very best, you can move on to another.

How you can wear multiple hats yet still avoid distractions and ineterruptions at work

It is estimated that out of every hour people spend 20 minutes on unplanned interruptions. These interruptions at work are costly, especially as changing from one type of task to another takes time to reset your mind. The time it takes to reconstitute your focus after the interruption can last longer than the interruption itself.

do not disturbSwitching gears from one type of a task to another and back again diminishes your effectiveness and velocity with which you work. This is true of all types of interruptions, including email, phone calls, and social media. So how can someone who wears multiple hats avoid multitasking at the wrong times and instead keep their focus and get their jobs done. Here are a few tips.

Turn it Off!

Many interruptions come in the form of email. Email interruptions are especially problematic. If you’ve ever been around an open jar of candy, you know how you might intend to only have one, but before you know it, you’ve eaten half of the jar. Email is the same way. You may think you’re just going to look at one unopened email that just came in, but in reality you’re more likely to look at another email, or check Facebook or start to browse the internet now that you’re looking at your computer screen. The best way to combat this is to turn it off all together. Designate certain times of the day for emailing and catching up on social media. The rest of the day you should keep it off. To this end, there are a few tools to help you keep your focus.

Online distraction busters

Self-Control an app to prevent you from straying from your work by temporarily blocking internet access to sites you put on a blacklist, some ideas might be Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest!

Isolator helps you concentrate by covering up your desktop and all its icons so that you can just focus on the task at hand.

Freedomlike other apps in this space, Freedom prevents you from going on the internet. Unlike some of the other apps, Freedom makes it harder to cheat, as if you want to override the program, you’ll need to reboot your computer.

Change your work hours

Go into the office early and leave early or go in late and stay late, if being their earlier or later when fewer people are there makes it easier for you to focus. However you do it, set aside some hours for uninterrupted work. Let people know if they need you, your “office hours” begin after a certain time.

Apply yourself to the situation

Sometimes all you need is a little awareness and willingness to take care of the situation. Now that you know that interruptions are not always a necessary evil, nor are they a sign that you are important and busy, but instead they are undermining your effectiveness at work, pay special attention to finding that uninterrupted time. Silence your phone. Turn off your email. Close your door. Ask people to hold their questions until a certain time. When unavoidable interruptions do happen, do all you can to keep them brief. Don’t invite the person interrupting you to sit down, let them know you are in the middle of something and only have a couple minutes and can help them more later.

Over time you may find that all the interruptions aren’t as urgent as the person interrupting thought at that moment. By stopping yourself from constantly tending to false urgent matters, you can instead focus your attention on the important tasks.

Automating administrative tasks

Our own application, SimplifyThis was built with productivity in mind. Take appointments directly through your website with SimplifyThis — two in one appointment scheduling and invoicing software. Automate and streamline administrative tasks and focus your energy on growing your business. 


How to Overcome Busyness and Perform at Your Best in Business

Are you looking to put an end to madness of overwhelming busyness in your life? In this video Why Smart People Under Perform, personal development trainer, Web TV host and author, Marie Forelo speaks to psychiatrist, author, speaker and ADHD expert, Dr Ned Hallowell about the perils of over-busyness. In it, Dr Hallowell offers five tips for overcoming overwhelm and performing better.

Get clear on goals

This step is usually at the top of any prescription for productivity. Goal setting is one of the surest ways of cutting out what isn’t important so that you can focus on what is important to you. If you’re new to goal setting, learn what SMART goal setting is. Dr Hallowell suggests setting 3 short-term daily goals every day. In addition, set three medium term goals – these are your weekly and one to six month goals as well as three long term goals – six month to one year goals. Every day work on your three short term, three medium term and three long term goals. Working with goals like this:

  • forces you to prioritize
  • prevents you from trying to do too much at once
  • keeps projects and your day from becoming a jumbled mess

 Avoid “screen sucking”

According to Dr Hallowell, the common tendency to check email, lose track of time and then get stuck at your computer for an hour or more is stopping you from being your most productive. Like a jar of candies sitting open on your desk, checking email is hard to resist, and checking just one email is hard to stick to. Dr. Hallowell’s recommendation? Set aside time to check email and browse the internet and then, gasp, TURN. IT. OFF.

Here are some productivity tools to help you do this. Self-Control is an app that allows you to block yourself from email and websites for a period of time that you actually need to focus on different activities. Read about ten more tools for better attention and focus!

Don’t over-commit yourself

Many busy entrepreneurs and small business owners have the tendency to say yes, perhaps a little too often. This can result in you taking on projects that you fail to do your best on. Or it can result in spreading yourself too thin. To combat this productivity-killer Dr Hallowell suggests that you “reset your default response from yes to let me get back to you.” That way you can think about it, and for projects you don’t have time for, you can let people know that you don’t have the time to do the project justice. But it starts by catching your knee jerk yes.

Find more of Dr Hallowell’s tips in this video below!

Automating administrative tasks

Our own application, SimplifyThis was built with productivity in mind. Take appointments directly through your website with SimplifyThis — two in one appointment scheduling and invoicing software. Automate and streamline administrative tasks and focus your energy on growing your business. 


The Final Phase of Getting Things Done (GTD)

This is our fifth and final post covering productivity coach,Tiago Forte’s Skillshare class, Get Stuff Done Like A Boss: Design Your Workflow and Double Your Productivity in 21 Days. His class teaches the Getting Things Done (GTD) method of productivity. We’ve been following along the video tutorials, to aid in our own organization and also to be able to share with you some of the important aspects of GTD.

Stairway to heavenIn this final post we’ll cover what GTD founder, David Allen, calls the critical success factor to GTD — the weekly review! And lastly we’ll wrap up by summarizing Tiago’s final video lesson on doing things.

But first, if you haven’t already, catch up on our previous posts:

  1. An Intro to Getting Things Done
  2. Closing Open Loops
  3. Processing You To-Do’s
  4. Organizing Tasks

The Weekly Review

The weekly review is what David Allen calls the critical success factor. The weekly review is what it sounds like — dedicated time for you to sit down with yourself and your task manager, calendar and notebooks and review all that you have accomplished in the last week, what was left undone, and in general, where you are with all you have to do to accomplish your goals. The weekly review is important for three main reasons:

  1. Preventing your mind from taking back the job of remembering
  2. Giving you an elevated perspective and helping you tie up loose ends
  3. Giving you space — there is no way to regroup and re-prioritize while in the thick of battle

Now that you know why you do a weekly review, here is what you do in your weekly review:

  • Gather and process all your stuff
  • Update your containers
  • Review your system
  • Get clean, clear, current and complete

For more clarity on what this looks like, do try Tiago’s class. He provides this weekly review checklist — which I am writing here for my own reference until I remember it. Every week be sure to:

  • Empty your mind of open loops — read about how to here.
  • Collect calendar open loops for the past two weeks — look back at your calendar to see if there’s anything you need to follow up on.
  • Collect calendar open loops next four weeks — look ahead in your calendar to see if there’s anything you need to prepare for.
  • Review your “waiting for” list — we cover the “waiting for” list here.
  • Review projects list
  • Review finances
  • Be creative and courageous — take some time to think of new tasks and projects from a creative point of view.
  • Review overall productivity system — make sure your system is working for you, make it better, if its not.

A few things Tiagio suggests you do every day (again, here for my own reference, and yours):

  • Look at you calendar
  • Clear desk/inbox/notebook
  • Clear computer desktop
  • Clear downloads folder
  • Clear email inbox
  • Process your task manager inbox
  • Review the “next actions” listed in your task manager and decide on days tasks

Tiago goes on to offer guidance and a checklist for a monthly review, too. Pro tip: create a ritual and habit around your reviews, so that you are more likely to do them.

Doing Things

Here we are at the end of the class, and just the very beginning of your new way of living and working. In this final phase, Tiago reviews how to decide what to go about doing. As he points out, you will need to decide, what to o now. According to him, the answer to that depends on four things:

  1. Context –what you can do. This can include what tools do I need to accomplish this task and what tools do I have available (i.e. do you need your laptop, but only have your iPhone with you?)
  2. Time – what you have time for. How much time does it require and how much time do you have. Use small pockets of time to accomplish small tasks.
  3. Energy – what you are up to doing.  Don’t waste times of high energy by doing tasks that only require a small amount of energy, and don’t waste low-energy points by doing nothing when you can do a low-energy task.
  4. Priority – what is most important. Priorities change often. If you find yourself constantly doing “high-priority” tasks, ask yourself if you’ve moved into crisis-response mode. Remember, GTD is meant to keep you out of crisis response.

Filter your to-do’s through the four criteria above, and do tasks that match your energy, available time, priorities and context and soon you will find you are getting things done!! As the book and Tiago’s Skillshare Class both promise. 


Organizing Tasks the GTD Way

Getting Things Done (GTD) is the now famous productivity method created by David Allen. Learning and following this method has made life less stressful for many entrepreneurs and small business owners. It takes a little work up front to get yourself set up, but it’s time saved in the long run. If you find yourself forever under a pile of unmanageable to dos this may be just the method for you. To learn GTD, you can get the book, you can hire a personal coach, or you can do like us and sign up for productivity expert, Tiago Forte’s Skillshare class, Get Stuff Done Like A Boss: Design Your Workflow and Double Your Productivity in 21 Days. For a preview of what to expect in the class or to brush up on the principles of GTD, here is a review of phase three of Tiago’s class — organizing tasks in a trusted system.

But first a recap. So far in this series we have:

  • Gotten all of your should do’s, need to do’s and want to do’s out of your head (where they drag down on your focus) and put them into a task manager. GTD refers to this step as closing open loops.
  • Next we processed all of those to do’s by separating the actionable items from the non-actionable items then putting them into the appropriate collection containers (we used ToDoist and Evernote). We also made actionable items less vague and overwhelming by identifying the next physical action and listing those.

These two steps have set you well on your way to a more productive way of working and living. Now we will continue to organize all your projects and responsibilities and set up one streamlined system for managing your time and all that you need to do.

Organizing your actionable items

The idea here is to organize your actionable items in a way that allows you to keep focus on both the actionable steps you need to take as well as the big picture. We start by creating a few folders.

workflow diagram

The Getting Things Done workflow diagram

Project folders. Again, working in a task manager (I use ToDoist) and with Evernote – basically a web based filing cabinet for all of your notes, and reference materials – we organize all of our to do’s by creating project folders. Your project folder is a stake in the ground for each project you are working on. That way when you are working on the small next physical action, you also keep sight of the big picture. After all, it’s easy to get lost in all those little to dos and forget your ultimate end goal. So go ahead and set up your project folders.

Waiting on folders. Some items on your to do list, will require input from someone else. Before you can take the next step you need someone to do their part. All of these types of things you’ll want to label with the word “waiting.” Keeping all of these types of tasks organized together will help you to keep tabs on people you need to follow up with.

Someday folders. This folder is where you will put all of your reference materials and to dos for things that you will do at some later date. Consider this the folder of big dreams. Giving those dreams a folder to live in will help you to accomplish them. It will also get them off of your immediate to do list, which will soon be filled with just actionable items.

Calendar. Only put time-specific items on the calendar, but do put them on.  Due dates, appointments. Be sure to put them on a calendar. You probably haven’t made it this far in life without using a calendar, but if by some chance you managed to squeak by without regularly using a calendar, now is the time to start. Use a web-based one (Google Calendar is a good option) that synchs across devices – your computer, smart phone and tablet if you use one.

Organizing for inaction – stacking your notebooks

As Tiago points out and as you may well know, just because it’s not actionable doesn’t mean it’s not important.  Keep reference notebooks – do it online with Evernote, or even if you have physical notebooks, however you do it, do keep your reference materials organized.

Keep a notebook for each project and each area of responsibility. If you recall from an earlier post, areas of responsibility are ongoing responsibilities unlike projects which are time bound. Create two stacks of notebooks – one for projects and one for areas of responsibility.

Optionable stacks:

A few notebooks that are topic specific – called resources.

A stack for projects that are finished or inactive – called archives.

Automating administrative tasks

Our own application, SimplifyThis was built with productivity in mind. Take appointments directly through your website with SimplifyThis — two in one appointment scheduling and invoicing software. Automate and streamline administrative tasks and focus your energy on growing your business. 


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