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SummerMarketing_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


Few things bring a smile as readily as thoughts of summer. Warm days, a relaxed pace, and fun-filled excursions with family and friends help us rejuvenate ourselves and enjoy life more. But summer is also a unique time for small businesses to market, make contact with their hard-to-reach audience, and take stock of goals and progress. In fact, using the hallmarks of the summer season can be a springboard for creative, light-hearted, and surprisingly effective business-building strategies.


Be more social

Some small businesses—both consumer and B-to-B—cut back or refrain completely from marketing in June, July, and August in the mistaken belief that no one is around: clients and prospects are on vacation, other companies may have shortened hours, or buying decisions will be put off until after the season is over.


"The advantage is you can get in and see people and build relationships in the summer differently than you can the rest of the time [precisely] because the pace is a wee bit slower," says Sue Clement, a Vancouver-based marketing strategist. "They're more open to having conversations with you. It's a perfect time to leverage those contacts."


Not just leveraging contacts, but taking advantage of the light-hearted mood, too. For example, taking a client to an outdoor ballgame or a round of golf are typical seasonal activities for strengthening relationships. But Clement urges businesses to look at more playful event marketing, too. "If you're a brick and mortar business, having an ice cream social in your parking lot has a more perky, summery fun feeling to it," she says.


After one of her clients moved to a new industrial complex, he set up a tent with music and hot dogs, and invited all the surrounding businesses, as well as his own clients, for his own little networking event. "It created exposure and visibility for him that let him connect different populations and stand out," Clement explains. "People still ask him if he's going to do it again this year."


Summer is also the time to do inner marketing, Clement says. For example, why not try going to the park or beach to do a mid-year review of your business goals and set new objectives for the rest of the year. Or solicit testimonials from clients to find out what they like about your product or service. "Because it's quieter, you can actually chisel out more time for your business and all those back burner projects that don't get done in the regular fast pace of life," Clement says.


SummerMarketing_PQ.jpgLeveraging holiday metaphors

Small businesses that keep their marketing budgets up in the summer will have a decided edge over their less active competitors.


"The amount of messaging people are sending out is lower, so your opportunity to get recognized is equal to or greater than other times of the year," says Eric Rabinowitz, CEO of New Jersey-based Nurture Marketing, a B-to-B marketing company. 


Using seasonal metaphors in marketing messages is a powerful way to capitalize on summer and, at the same time, help to differentiate your products and services, Rabinowitz says. For example, since Nurture does a lot of work with IT companies, they created a campaign that talks about cloud computing—but with a twist that made it especially appropriate for summer.


"We sent a gift box with a very small crystal umbrella on a piece of cotton as you would see with pearls," Rabinowitz explains. "Our messaging was around cloud computing, the umbrella being the cloud sometimes produces rain. We've been able to hone that into a very positive message."


Gamification—using games and game techniques—seems especially appropriate for the playful summer season, Rabinowitz notes. The games can be elaborate, such as hosting a real treasure hunt for your clients at an outdoor location, or simple, like rewarding them with badges, points, or other exclusive tokens for responding to your direct mail or email messages.


Rabinowitz also tells companies that the end of summer is a great time to plan for their upcoming sales season beginning in the fall. Taking his own advice, he would send a packet of forget-me-not seeds in a direct mail package to Nurture's clients to ask for referrals.


"The message talked about planting seeds and growing relationships, where we can do the same type of work for [referrals] as we do for existing clients," Rabinowitz says. "It was a very effective program."


Target your audience

James Wong, co-founder of Empowered Ideas, a business, marketing and communications consulting firm in North Carolina, believes that segmenting a business's client list and then tailoring a specific message targeted to each segment will reap better results than sending the same message to the entire list. While this is something they recommend year-round, it proved invaluable during a recent summer campaign for Hands on Health, a massage therapy and wellness firm that specializes in medical massage.


"We helped them with campaigns that specifically targeted segments of their clientele—triathletes, athletes, and sports enthusiasts—during the spring and summer season when their clientele is most active," Wong explains. "Right around the spring season, we started promoting massage packages that are targeted to pre-competition training," he notes. "We said how medical massage—not relaxation massage—can help prepare your body in the days before and make a huge impact on your performance. The campaign worked very well for them."


Instead of slacking off on marketing your products or services, summer can be a turning point in the life of your business. But find some time to have fun, too.

Houzz_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


Amanda Bertele has a much simpler office these days.


As a designer, she spent years thumbing through stacks of magazines, brochures, and portfolios to get ideas for kitchens, bathrooms, and other home-interior projects to show customers. She asked clients to do the same, by keeping photos or ripped pages or color strips in scrapbooks so they could share their ideas.


Now she’s got Houzz, and so do many of the customers at Superior Woodcraft in Doylestown, Pa. Bertele says she asks clients to add photos and comments to their online “ideabooks,” which both of them can see instantly. She shares projects that she finds inspiring, letting others in on her design sensibility and opening new conversations.


“It’s completely changed the vocabulary of design,” Bertele says. “It used to be so time-consuming, a ton of work, and expensive to go out and buy all of those design books. Now, it’s ‘Go on Houzz. Save what you like and make comments.’ The images take away the barrier to what everyone’s trying to convey in words.”


If you’ve yet to tune in, Houzz is a beautiful and highly addictive website that brings a social-media element to residential remodeling, design, decor, and landscaping. For users, it’s a resource book, inspiration point, and fantasy island for those looking to improve the look and feel of their homes. As of early 2013, more than 150 million photos have been uploaded that 14 million Houzzers comment on, ask questions about, or save to their ideabooks, which are personal stashes of images any member can hold for later reference.


Houzz’s images come from nearly 250,000 businesses in the U.S. and Canada, showcasing their work, creativity, and goods—and serve as an entry point to interacting with clients and future clients. The site lets professionals ask and answer questions about products and projects and lets them chime in on lively discussions that include tradesmen, contractors, designers, as well as homeowners with an itch to upgrade.


The site was launched in late 2009 by a husband and wife team who’d struggled to renovate their Bay Area home. Many Houzz pros interviewed for this article say they first learned of it by looking at their Google Analytics data—after Houzzers shared photos of their work and cited them as the designer, driving traffic to their website. It’s all proving to be a disruptor in the $300 billion a year home-remodeling market.


Houzz_PQ.jpgAnd that’s why it’s quickly become a must-have for anyone in a host of businesses, from architects and landscape artists to swimming pool installers, electrical contractors or anyone tied to just about every room in a house or apartment. Or even a dog house. (And the best news: it’s largely free. The site’s now accepting ads and there’s a paid tool, Houzz Pro+, that breaks down traffic statistics to individual pictures, for example.) 


How can you get your Houzz in order? Here are a few tips from other Houzz pros on using the site to engage customers:


Think of it as a communication tool.

Bertele says photos communicate in ways that words never can when it comes to a look or a feel that a homeowner is trying to achieve. She says Houzz bridges a gap between a designer’s technical knowledge and vocabulary and what a client is trying to express. While insiders may throw around words like mullion, Palladian window, or waterfall island, such terms can fly over the heads of customers. “Or someone can say ‘French Country‘ style, but that has so many different meanings,” she says, noting that’s something that can be easily cleared up with an image that establishes a common language. “If you don’t have good communication, you don’t have a happy client.”


It’s also a much more nimble tool when compared with the steps required to update a business’s homepage. On Houzz, all you have to do is point, click to add to an ideabook, and voilà: your showcase is freshened up with a half-dozen new pictures of a completed job.


Show you’re a problem-solver

Jeffrey Veffer, a Toronto-based architect and co-owner of Incite Design, says the best ideabooks give clear explanations for how a project was commissioned and the clients’ expectations, which he says has elevated the dialogues he’s had with some Houzz-using customers. “Clients are coming to us with a bit more literacy in terms of style, which we find is helpful,” he says. “We’re advising people to use these sites to help clarify their ideas before they engage designers. And it enhances the value of what designers really do.”


By contributing to the site’s conversations and articles with his own expertise, Veffer says he hopes it shows potential clients his willingness to be involved and solve any inevitable issues that arise in a project, qualities that are highly sought after and can help to build an initial relationship. 


Gloria Franklin, the Cleveland-based owner of Colom & Brit Interiors, agrees with that approach. In Houzz’s discussion section regarding design dilemmas, she often weighs in with possible solutions, sometimes including items from her own home accessories and furniture business, but more often with links to other room shots, to illustrate her point. “I’ve found that giving free and valuable content builds trust and a loyal following,” she says.


Remember, it’s the Web

When you create your professional profile, fill out all available fields with the most up-to-date information, including your name and company, location, website, and personal Houzz page, if you wish. When a consumer does a search on the site, the Houzz algorithm puts a high value on the number and quality of the photos posted, the number of reviews from clients and colleagues, how many questions you’ve responded to, and if you have a Houzz badge—the widget to let clients link back—on your company’s site. Those with the most interactions become the top of the search results.


The rules of search-engine optimization apply here, too. When you post a photo, think about your keywords you’re using to describe what’s in it. More important, think about how a consumer would be searching. (Fun fact: The words “white kitchen” are among the most searched on the Internet.) If the standout element of a living room you’re highlighting is the red wallpaper, add “red living room” to the list. And consider the emotions that certain rooms might conjure for users and the words they’d use to describe it. Bertele says she was trying to come across a bedroom that she considered “rustic,” but had trouble locating the snapshot. She thought again and typed in “sexy bedrooms” and it popped right up.


Build up a community

All of this sharing—isn’t this just giving away your tricks of the trade? Not at all, says Robin Baron, an interior designer in New York whose page was voted Best of Houzz for 2013 by the site’s users. An industry veteran, she says roughly 80 percent of her clients are now Houzzing, and she finds it to be a huge improvement when hunting for just the right piece for a project and collecting the results in one place.


She answers all questions posed to her on the site and reports what materials she used in all of her photos, from furniture makers and chandeliers down to her color choices for the walls. “There’s no harm in giving them a paint number. I’ll give them the price category, and if it’s something they can afford or not is their decision,” Baron says. “It’s about building on the engagement.”


And that’s one of the keys to succeeding in social media, in Baron’s industry and elsewhere. On Twitter, Facebook, and Houzz, she often promotes other designers‘ projects, just as she refers out small jobs to fledgling colleagues whose work she appreciates. “Supporting each other is critical. The more that do well, then we all will do well,” she says. “It’s an important way to live your life—on Houzz and beyond!”

Although Waterloo, New York, is the official birthplace of Memorial Day, its actual beginnings are fairly difficult to trace. Originally called Decoration Day, the holiday dates back to the pre-Civil War era. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John LogSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngan and was first observed on May 30 of that same year, when flowers were placed on the graves of soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.


Whatever you call it and whenever it began, the idea remains the same: to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to this country. Yet over the years, Memorial Day has unfortunately come to represent the unofficial beginning of summer more than the remembrance of those veterans who paid the ultimate price. However, the good news is this is starting to change. In that vein, let’s look at some of the ways a person, business or community can honor local service men and women, veterans and their families this Memorial Day.

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


Discounts: Lots of national businesses honor the military by giving them daily discounts, and then boosting those offers on Memorial and Veterans Day. From Famous Dave’s to Chipotle to Quiznos, plenty of places will give military members a price break - all you need to do is ask and show proper ID. It doesn’t stop with restaurants either. For instance, Home Depot offers active duty personnel and retired military a 10 percent discount off of purchases as well.


Can you do the same? You bet. No matter your business, an easy way to honor those who have served is to create a military discount program, and then advertise it.


Hire a vet: We have all heard a lot about the high unemployment rates the past few years, but those numbers are nothing compared to unemployment rates among veterans. For veterans between 18 and 24 years of age, the unemployment rate last year was over 20 percent. For those aged 25 to 34, the unemployment rate was still in the double digits.


And the irony is vets tend to make great employees because:


  • They take direction well
  • They are no strangers to hard work and discipline
  • They bring unique leadership skills
  • They know how to work as a team


So one of the best things you can do to show your appreciation for our military is to hire a veteran.


Become a mentor: Not surprisingly, aside from making terrific employees, vets also make darned good entrepreneurs for many of the same reasons. It is espe true that veterans fit into the franchisee mold especially well, since following and implementing a plan is what they were trained to do.


But whether you coach them to be franchisees or independent small businesspeople, there is no doubt that entrepreneurial veterans could use your help. If this is of interest to you, you can mentor them on your own, or you can volunteer through organizations like:



Hire a vetermay 21 pull quote.pngan vendor: Another way to provide a boost to the local economy, a local business and those who served is to do business with certified veteran-owned businesses as part of your vendor pipeline. What a great, tangible way to say thank you.


Bottom line: Giving back to the veteran business community is a wonderful way to thank the men and women who have given us so much.


How do you plan to honor your local service men and women? Please share your story below.


About Steve Strauss


Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

QAstuheinecke_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


Many of the titans of modern advertising, including David Ogilvy, have preached that humor doesn't work in sales copy and should be studiously avoided. That sentiment is routinely echoed by many contemporary experts and pundits as well: if you want to close the deal, stay away from the funny. But the joke may be on them. For almost 30 years, Stu Heinecke has specialized in using cartoons and carefully directed humor to rack up record response for himself and his clients in marketing, advertising, VIP contact campaigns, and more. The Seattle-based cartoonist and marketer is president of CartoonLink,a regular contributing cartoonist for the Wall Street Journal, and the author of Drawing Attention, his extensive guide for turning cartoons into potent sales tools. Recently, business writer Robert Lerose spoke to Heinecke about his unique niche.


RL: What's the secret relationship between cartoons and marketing?

SH: Readership surveys have shown that cartoons are almost always the best-read and best remembered part of magazines and newspapers. I found that cartoons have turned out to be the ultimate involvement and engagement device. They show up in a lot of different forms—not just in direct marketing, but in email and contact campaigning as well. The cartoon is doing in that stack of mail what it does in magazines and newspapers—it shows up and stands out.


RL: How can cartoons get the prospect to open the envelope?

SH: When I started out 30 years ago, it was a big revelation that we could use personalization in a cartoon. So when the cartoon is about the recipient and it's well-targeted—that's a big caveat—then all kinds of magic happens. So often, I see [mailers] teasing the recipient into the envelope. But I want to entertain them. I want to make them curious because they're thrilled and intrigued by what they see. Cartoons have done that.


RL: Cartoons really cut through the clutter, don't they?

SH: If we put them on a postcard, you don't have to open anything. The message is right out there, but so is the cartoon. I love postcards as a format because people will treat our mailings as a keepsake and stick them up on their refrigerator door or on their office wall. And they stay there for a long time. I did a cartoon postcard for Standard Parking that set their all-time record for response.


RL: Besides postcards, what other ways can small business owners use cartoons?

SH: Most promotional mail gets screened away by the mailroom or assistants, but assistants don't throw away cartoons about their bosses. Personalized cartoons could also serve as contact pieces. I call it contact campaigning. I experimented with different formats. Today, we use 18-by-24-inch foam core big boards—basically giant postcards. On the front is a cartoon about the recipient and generally pays the recipient a compliment about their success in business. The other side is a message that essentially [says] I'd like to meet with you or talk to you and here's why. We also produce personalized cartoons [in the style of a] stretch canvas fine art print, [which is] shipped with a letter to the CEO. 


RL: Example?

SH: We had a Sandler Training franchisee test this in the Nashville area. He identified five area CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies. We produced the big boards and had them sent. All five CEOs picked up the phone and said, "I have this big card in my lap. Now, what do we do?" The franchisee said that [they arrange to] meet. So they met. I know he sold two programs on the spot, which are worth about $50,000 a piece. He got 100-percent response, which is supposed to be impossible. 


QAstuheinecke_PQ.jpgRL: What mistakes do marketers make with cartoons?

SH: Humor is always about a truth revealed. The mistake that other art directors make is that the cartoon wasn't funny, so there was no truth. Or the cartoon wasn't funny because—this is a big one—they made it about themselves. They injected their offer and brand into the cartoon, which makes it irrelevant to the audience. You want this thing solely to be about the identity of and a truth for the recipient. That's it. Then, you want to talk about what your product or service can do to help solve the problem that's dramatized in the cartoon or keep their success going.


RL: Do you oversee a network of freelance cartoonists who supply cartoons for you?

SH: Yes, usually about 10. We have an image bank of over 1,000 cartoons. Actually we can cover most of the situations that people need to cover through the use of cartoons in our image bank—which is great because I don't have to charge a creative fee, which makes it more expensive.


RL: What's a typical day for you, assuming such a thing exists?

SH: I'm up at five a.m. and down into the studio pretty early. If I have an assignment or a deadline, that's when I get the work done. Or I do a lot of planning for new business development—looking for ways to open new channels. Sometimes I get out on my bicycle and ride for an hour [later on]. It's a nice break. And then finish up by five. I also became one of the cartoonists for the Wall Street Journal last year. Toward the end of the day, I'll work on at least one cartoon to submit to them, which is how I accumulate batches.


RL: Final words to a small business owner on the serious potential of cartoons?

SH: Those silly little drawings can actually represent the key to enormous growth in your business. If applied smartly, you can reach people maybe you never thought you could reach and open new sales channels.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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