Advertising Small Business: Feng Shui from Graceful Space (Part 2)
This is Part Two of the new small business series to explore how very small businesses do marketing in the modern digital era. Tapping experts and experience, I will attempt to give some advice along the way to these entrepreneurs and hope they report back and how it pays off so we all can live vicariously through them. (But not in a creepy way.)
Meet Gwen. I know feng shui consultant Gwen Thompson from high school. We were in French Club together, both wrote for the school paper, and stayed in touch throughout college, her move first to Maine and then to New York City. A writer herself, she accompanied me on writing adventures including a Learning Annex seminar, “How to Become a Private Eye — Full or Part-time.” Gwen was eager to attend, seeking more details for her mystery novel set on the Jersey shore (anybody know a good literary agent?), while I was there simply to satisfy a Charlie’s Angels-era fantasy about becoming a gumshoe. In the three-hour class taught by a professional who looked like Kojak, Gwen and I learned you can legally lie and misrepresent yourself to get information just as long as you don’t pretend to be a government official, policeman — or priest. We learned what it took to be certified. We learned how to use one piece of data on someone to get six more. We learned how to find clients. We learned how to become sneaks.
The pre-interview questionnaire. Gwen started her feng shui consultancy Graceful Space in New York less than a year ago. In advance of our conversation, I sent her my small business questionnaire asking how she planned to market it and which types of advertising she has tried. What I got back surprised me: not only did Gwen know tons more about advertising than I had expected, she had more complicated questions than I predicted. How do I set a marketing budget? Does LinkedIn allow multiple profiles? With social media accounts, am I creating a profile for myself or for my business? How will this affect search?
A one person marketing shop. “There’s an assumption that as a business owner, you’ll do everything yourself, including the marketing,” Gwen observed over a beer at The Brooklyn Public House, where we did the first interview. “And in theory I could — but should I?” Gwen started her business to help people attain their goals through feng shui, not to learn about search marketing and costs-per-click on Facebook advertising. To her, entrepreneurs take on too much trying to do everything themselves, wasting time and energy learning from scratch what experts already know. Gwen wants a good return on her efforts, but “The time I spend that way will not be time well spent.”
Investments that don’t cost cash. Like a lot of small business owners, Gwen is investing with a mix of cash and barter for marketing services. She’s mobilizing her social networks, including her undergraduate alumni association. She donated a feng shui consultation to her choir’s silent auction which got her a free table display, and she has also bartered feng shui consultations for visual identity and web site design. “Bartering has netted me additional experience, great testimonials and high-quality services I couldn’t have afforded otherwise.” But when asked which vehicle so far has been the most problematic, she also listed bartering on her questionnaire. Reason: You’re at the mercy of your friend’s or colleague’s schedule and can’t necessarily pester them to adhere to your timetable.
Tapping—and connecting—digital channels. Gwen’s instincts on marketing infrastructure seem right for someone who wants to do the right thing but not get swallowed up by the effort. Instead of an elaborate content-heavy website which could take months and money to develop, she has favored two faster, cheaper components to achieve what big websites used to tackle on their own. To deliver information about the services she provides, she has launched a basic three-page web site and a customized blog with an editorial strategy to differentiate her approach to feng shui from that of other consultants. The site will rarely need updating and the blog through Blogspot is easy to manage on her own. She has connected the site and the blog to a Facebook page and is promoting the launch of all the pieces simultaneously. Eager to boost her SEO (search engine optimization), she’s curious about cross-linking with other websites, blogs and businesses related to her business but isn’t sure how to approach them in practice. Suggestions?
A very public (and hopefully graceful) test. The timing of interviewing Gwen and the debut of her efforts works out since she can benchmark before and after with new things you and I recommend. Since she has a business plan but not a specific marketing plan, we’ll be writing it with her on the fly, testing out theses and seeing the impact. I’d like her to get to a formal plan, however, within six months. There’s no replacement for a real one.
Start with the product and message offering. First we came up with two tiers of service for customers — “full” or “focused” feng shui consultations. We also explored how seasonability may affect her business. For example, most people move homes at the beginning of the month, which makes the last week of any month a possible marketing window. And September, because of students, is the biggest moving month of the year.
Not all products and services can be marketed the same way. Unlike products like hot dogs, cookies or life insurance which I’ve previously marketed, Gwen notes that feng shui is not something you can convince someone they need. “It has no more appeal to someone who isn’t seeking change than antibiotics do to someone who isn’t sick,” Gwen points out. People are drawn to feng shui when they’re seeking change in their lives, much like hiring an organizational expert or a life coach.
What seems like an obvious method doesn’t work. You’d think before-and-after pictures would be a great way to display the benefits of feng shui. But unlike home decor, for feng shui this photo approach is worse than useless. “Your living space is such an extension of yourself that photos of the transformation are meaningless to anyone else,” says Gwen. “And no matter how good the energy is, you can’t get a feel for it through two-dimensional photos.”
An offer from Graceful Space for you. I encouraged Gwen to use this column to test out marketing approaches, so she developed a promotion for The Faster Times readers, no matter where you’re located. Refer someone in the New York metro area to Graceful Space for a feng shui consultation and get a free email answer to your most pressing feng shui question if they hire her. Is there a room in your home you tend to avoid but don’t know why? Do you want to optimize room layout or furniture placement (send a floor plan if you want)? Feng shui is all about goals, not style, so be claer about what end result you want is (Better focus at your desk? More restful night sleep?) and be prepared to describe the space in detail.
If you’re interested in contributing to the discussion, please post comments and join the LinkedIn group. If you’ve got suggestions for small businesses to interview, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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