I’m going to provide some advice that should probably be followed in moderation, so here goes: you probably spend way too much time researching the “best new ways” versus how much time you spend on trying things out. I advocate that you break out some budget and time for experimenting in lieu of spending huge chunks of money and time on research.
Recently, I told a guy who ran a successful HVAC company that one way to do some social media marketing would be to make a YouTube video that shows very brief, snappy interviews with his installers answering questions that also would reflect the pride they took in their work. Instead of just cold calling businesses from the phone book (his actual prospecting method), I suggested that he take twenty of the 100 calls his salesperson was making, and change the script to invite people to see the YouTube video instead. Then they should tell them that they would follow up in a few days to talk with them.
The cost for the effort I recommended was minimal. Take a video camera (or spend $100 on a Flip camera) and shoot a video. Edit it minimally (free or cheap if you hire someone off Craigslist.org). Put it on YouTube (free). On twenty of your 100 sales calls, in lieu of conducting the straight pitch, suggest that your sales prospects watch the YouTube video instead (free, but potentially lost sales). Repeat.
If you plan accordingly, there are many ways you can experiment that won’t sink your ship. You probably can’t mess with price as easily because the moment you lower a price, it’s hard to get people to pay more. You can start a bit low if you call it an “introductory offer,” but beyond that, messing with price is dangerous. But there are so many other elements of your business with which you can experiment, if you take some precautions.
- Separate your experiments from the mainstream of your business. This will give you some flexibility to introduce and exit ideas—that is, do a bit of “base covering” before you offer your “New Coke.”
- Look at two angles. First, ask yourself the question, “Is this new idea going to help my customers?” Second, ask yourself, “Is this idea going to get me more business?” If you can answer “yes” to both, then just try it. If not, focus on ideas that will help your customers.
- Set up simple metrics. Make them small. For example, say something like, “In the next five weeks, I’m going to try this Twitter thing. If I get one real lead, I’ll call it good. If I get five leads, I’m going to make the sales guys do this, too.” Make it small, measurable, attainable, and something easy to evaluate.
- Think modular. If you’re considering a new location, can you get a short-term lease to try it out? If you’re thinking about launching a new product, can your retailers accept it on consignment? If you’re going to try a new technology, is there a way to test the waters before you bet the farm on it?
What worked before isn’t necessarily what will work next. In marketing, we’re finding that word-of-mouth, blogging, social media marketing, and all kinds of new styles are working now in ways that wouldn’t have worked five years ago. Conversely, what used to work five years ago doesn’t work any longer.
In the coming year, any move you make to branch off from your core strengths should still have your weight balanced over that core. If you want to grow, you need to experiment, but instead of drowning in research, why not start by practicing and experimenting your way to success? Stay safe, but move quickly. It might just keep things moving.
Chris Brogan is a co-author of the book Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. You can read his blog here; and follow him on Twitter here.