Last week, Period Features had a half-page of editorial in the business section of the Sunday Times, which had two effects: 1. it was great for business and 2. it brought in quite a few requests for advice, from people whose small business wasn't going quite as well as they had hoped! I have reproduced one such letter below, together with my response, and I hope that my advice may prove useful.
"I hope you don’t mind me writing to you. Perhaps you will be receiving lots of unwanted emails like this one, after the Sunday Times article. I write this email hoping that you could help me. I think that you will understand just what I am going through and maybe you could possible give me some pointers on what to do with my business.
I know what is wrong with my business, basically lack of customers! I have had so many days and weeks when I can count the customers coming to my shop with one hand! 18 months ago I opened a shop selling sports clothes for women. It is a boutique-style shop, selling good quality, performance clothing. I have many customers who come back time and time again, so I must be doing something right.
The shop is based in a small village, little passing trade! Therefore when I first launched I did lots of leaflet drops, ads in local magazines, local papers, I have attended lots of school fetes, sponsored many sporting events, handed out leaflets, etc. Therefore I spent money in marketing and advertising. The leaflets were a good marketing tool, but ever so expensive, so I had to stop half way.
I am the only one in the shop, which I open everyday apart from Sundays, I am becoming so disillusioned by the whole thing. It is soul destroying to be in the shop with no one there and the phone calls of suppliers demanding payment. It is difficult to find any way out for me. People I talk to tell me to do this, that and the other all advice given in good faith, but I am finding it difficult to act. Did you feel this way? Please could you tell me how did you make things change? Specially how did you motivate yourself to make things improve?"
This was my response, by email: "Oh dear, I do feel for you. Been there and done that... the article in the Times (and I wasn't aware that it was published yesterday so thanks for letting me know) was actually a speech I gave at the Wire conference in March... The full text of the speech can be found by clicking here. I also recommend the PR manual written by Paula Gardner, whose advice I have found invaluable. Her site is at www.doyourownpr.com. I followed Paula's Do Your Own PR ecourse (about £100) and then had PR coaching for a few months; no need for it now!
I mainly credit PR for turning my business around, i.e. I have completely stopped advertising which I consider a total waste of money and have increased sales enormously through editorial coverage. Wouldn't bother with leaflet drops either. I have gradually realised that what works best is editorial in magazines, newspapers, competitions with relevant high-traffic websites etc as this is perceived as a recommendation. Like me, you need to target national publications, and in your field there should be plenty. You have a good ecommerce site and the bulk of your sales should come from (or via, as not everyone likes ordering over the net) the website in the end. About 25% of our sales come from the site at the moment; however, I have just appointed a manager who starts work tomorrow, so my job is to focus on the PR and drive up sales through the site.
So what I would do if I were you is concentrate on getting coverage, both locally and nationally. Don't just focus on the local market... if I had just done that I would definitely have gone under. You won't achieve the results you need with just one article, either - it's constant coverage until enough people know about you and buy from you. Think on a bigger scale than just locally, with your leaflet drops (I'd stop them right away, and the ads too). I don't pay for ANY advertising at all, except in the form of the odd competition prize. It just costs me some time, but it's much more fun and creative and the results can be exceptional in the end.
You could soon end up like me, with completely the opposite problem - so busy you can't keep up... also stressful and I am now learning new things which I need to know at this stage of the business. I would also THOROUGHLY recommend getting some help in the shop already, even if you think you can't afford it. Your time could be much better spent doing PR and shop work is not rocket science, let's face it!
How did I motivate myself? Well, I just wasn't prepared to let it go under. There was a fair bit of "I'll show you..." about it as I think a few dealers in town thought it would never work. You could also motivate yourself by imagining how you would like it to be in the future (shop run entirely by others, so you only have to go in if you want to? takings of £100,000+ by a certain date? £200,000+ by a certain date etc. the freedom to be the figurehead for the company and just do the bits you really enjoy? the satisfaction of knowing you have provided employment for others? whatever would motivate YOU, really).
I also wholeheartedly recommend the book The E-myth Revisited by Michael Gerber (do read it! it is tremendously helpful) and the advice of Judith Morgan at www.judithmorgan.com. Her free newsletter is excellent..."
Good luck to all of you out there with small businesses; please do get in touch if you think I can help in any way. If I can help, I will.