“How do I get the word out?” is the last question you should ask.

“How can I reach more customers?”
“How can I get the word out?”
“How can I tell a different story?”

If you don’t have [enough] sales, it must be a promotional problem, right? “If only more people knew about what I have to offer, I would be doing alright.”

Could it be that, instead of an outreach problem, you have an inner reach problem? That what you’ve created isn’t the full extent of what you have to offer?

Could it be that it’s the product that needs changing and not the promotional plan?

While you’re looking to place the burden on the right tactic or promotional channel, the people who are taking notice aren’t buying either. Sure, it could be the price, the copy, the positioning, the reach. And yes, a bigger list and greater market reach certainly help. But could it be the product? It’s likely to be one of the last things you consider.

Recently, Mark Silver wrote about an experience with two different local businesses. He very much values working with small, independent, local businesses. But in both scenarios it appeared that the bigger box store option was going to win out. While a certain set of values was pushing him to settle for what the local businesses had to offer, another set of his values (quality & fit) pushed him to go with the more efficacious offer.

Similarly, Danielle Maveal, from Etsy, asked Megan and I after our talk on pricing, “When do you stop thinking about price and position and start talking about the product?”

In other words, what happens when it’s the product that’s the problem?

This question is especially important in terms of purpose- & values-driven businesses. It’s also incredibly awkward to talk about because if I tell you that the product is the problem, you may hear “you are the problem.”

You raise the handmade, local, or independent flag but does that mean you deserve special consideration? No. While those categories are exceptionally important to me, quality, fit, and value will always be more important.

I will buy a product and spend what I need to to get what I want, what truly works for me.

Mark says:

Your business can be a winner if it has both: you’re effective AND you strongly reflect the most-cared about values of your clients.

“Handmade,” “local,” and “independent” are important value add-ons. They reinforce my buying decision and make me feel good about the money I’m spending. But they won’t change my mind.

As an advocate for conscious consumption, I don’t want consumers to make a buying decision based on the label any more than I do based on a low price.

So before you ask “how to get the word out,” make sure you have clear answers to these questions:

1.) Is my product or service specially designed for the consumer I am aiming to reach? Microbusinesses are better positioned & equipped for making design or experience decisions for their specialty customers. If you don’t know your customer well enough to make those decisions, you need to spend serious time getting to know them.

2.) Is what I’m offering that different from what can be purchased elsewhere? Do serious market research. Know what is on the market and know how you stack up in terms of your customers needs. No excuses.

3.) What precise need does my product or service fill? Every product or service fills a need (though not every need is universal). Don’t pretend yours doesn’t. Know it & name it.

4.) Does my product or service exceed the [quality, convenience, ease of use, etc…] of what’s currently available? Understand how your product or service is innovative within its market. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel but you should have a handle on what’s fresh about what you’re offering.

It’s hard to get the word out about something unremarkable. It’s near impossible to market something that doesn’t have a clear selling point. The real key to thriving as a local, independent, or artisan business is to not be a reasonable facsimile of the big guys.

The key is to use your agility, attention to detail, and intimate relationship to the customer to create something truly great for the people you serve.

No strategy for “getting the word out” will work until you do.

Continue the conversation...

27 comments on ““How do I get the word out?” is the last question you should ask.

  1. Tara, you deserve every bit of credit you get. You are a small/micro business mind reader. And since you know me a little bit, you know I am not writing sound bites here. I can’t believe this awesome piece landed in my mailbox today. Nail –> head. Again! Thanks lovely.

  2. another on point post … Thanks TG

  3. Marta Costa says:

    This came in the right time because I was already thinking about this subject. I’m trying to evaluate what I create and have to offer. You brought some nice points. One question: right customers for our product vs customers we want to sell our product, how do we manage this?

    • tara gentile says:

      Marta, I think I understand your question. Here’s how I’m reading it: You see a difference between your “right” customers and the customers to whom you WANT to sell your product.

      In the end, they should be the same people. Your right customers are who you should be targeting. Now, what often happens – especially in the scenario described in this piece – is that your product attracts the wrong kind of people. These are people who can’t afford to pay the real price, people who are ill-equipped to use it, etc…

      That’s why the real management that has to happen is finding the sweet spot between the best product & the best customers. You may need to change the product (or market place, or pricing, or branding, etc…) to attract better customers.

      Hope that helps!

  4. Raquel says:

    Hi Tara,
    Great article! I’m now also aiming for a niche market that I didn’t have before, in order to grow, and I’m trying to indentify it so I can find where it is and I can get my word out to them.

  5. As always you are right on with the email this morning… how do you know where I am at, lol! Sometimes I do go into denial mode and this past week has been one of those times… sometimes I feel I should be using the resources I have not purchasing new, and that seems to be when my chest tightens and it doesn’t flow… I need to be more honest about the bags I am making, what is out in the market and what makes me feel in sync with my customers…
    thanks as always Tara for your amazing insight, and timing ;)

  6. Jane says:

    Thank you Tara for bringing be back to the beginning. I am tweeting and blogging like mad, and I really don’t know who my ideal customer is. I know it is pretty basic stuff, but I’m not even sure where to start to find them.