The first step in any marketing plan

(Yes, I am aware that just last week I said that the first step in your marketing plan should be to define your value proposition. However doing this well help you define that.)

We are all about leveraging your marketing and sales efforts so that a little bit of work can pay off 10x or 100x but there is one important task to do before anything else.

Start by talking to your customers.

Customer development is important to undertake prior to going down the path of creating a product. It is just as important for marketing and these are three ways it helps.

Learn what content to create

Inspiration for creating content often is hard to come by. Sometimes the content you are inspired to create is not the content that your customers want to read. A great way to combat these issues is by learning more about your customers.

Based on the questions that your customers pose to you about your product, and in general about the industry, you can identify what your content should cover. Specifically what you create should teach them about a topic they are interested in or answer a specific question.

Responding directly to their questions is also a great writing shortcut. For me it is much easier to write a response to a question than it is to fill a blank page about a topic that I have deemed important enough to write about. That is similar to the hack where you start a blog post by writing, “Dear Sam” (or whatever your best friend’s name is), at the top of your blog post and then write the post as if you are writing to them. Then delete that line prior to publishing.

Learn what language to use

When I say language I’m talking about what words and phrases your customers use. Learn the industry jargon and be able to use it to describe the solution you are providing to their problem. Being able to do so better frames your product or service as one specifically for their niche and thus they will be more trusting that it is the right solution.

If you learn the customer’s language and then use it in your sales and marketing you are going to be able to establish your expertise. Without it you are just a random sales guy who doesn’t know what he is talking about. Nobody likes dealing with those guys.

Learn where to promote

You might have noticed when purchasing a product or entering giveaways that you are asked, “how did you hear about us?” There is a good reason for that. Knowing where your audience spends their time online is important as wherever that is is where you should be promoting the content you create.

When talking to customers ask the following questions:

  • Where do you get your industry news?
  • Are there any websites you visit at least daily?
  • Do you use social media for work? If so, is it more for consumption or promotion?

The answers to those questions point to where you should direct your content promotion efforts. The rule of thumb for Internet content is to spend at least as long promoting it as you spent creating it. Twice as long is even better. Because of the big time investment that is both the creation and promotion you want to make sure you are getting as big an ROI as possible.

It might not be something that comes naturally to some of us but your life will be a lot easier if you pick up the phone and reach out to some (potential) customers. Do not procrastinate on it. Start today by adding a line in your next email to your list asking if anybody can spare ten minutes for a conversation with you. If you are still working on building your list, reach out to people on Twitter or, if you are selling to businesses, call companies you find online or in your local phone book.

Business is hard enough so make it a little bit easier by asking your customers how you should market to them.

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Reach more customers with these five free tools

Every entrepreneur faces the same dilemma at some point on their journey. The point where growth has slowed or stagnated and you know you need to do something big to jump start it. With limited time and money you can be like a deer in headlights and end up not doing anything. Don’t let that happen. Inaction is the path to failure.

Luckily the Internet has many free tools that you can use to reach more customers, engage them, and create more sales. These five tools are a great place to start.



Social networking has been big for years and it showing no sign of slowing down. If you aren’t active on social media then you are missing out on interacting with potential customers every single day. If you are active then you know what a challenge it can be to maintain profiles on so many different platforms.

Buffer is a tool that helps you manage your accounts on all of the social networks including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+. You can schedule posts, post to each network, and create content all in one place. You will save a ton of time and reach prospective customers no matter which site they are on.

Not every post leads to a sale but keeping people engaged keeps you on their mind when they are ready to open their wallet.



While social networking is still growing it has not yet, and maybe never will, replace email as the best way to get in front of your customers online. Everybody has email and many of us spend a good part of our day inside our inbox. What differs from social media is that email allows you to really cultivate a relationship over time and build trust with your audience.

Every business should have a mailing list and the easiest and cheapest way to start is with Mailchimp. It helps you collect email address and segment your subscribers so that you can target them with the best information that will eventually lead to a sale.

The best thing about Mailchimp is that you can set it up to automatically send personalized emails to your subscribers. Once it is set up a new subscriber will start receiving emails from you with no additional effort on your part.



YouTube itself is the second largest search engine on the Internet (after Google) with over three billion searches every month. People go there to be entertained, and more importantly for you, to learn.

Creating videos where you answer some of the most common questions you get in your business can really help you increase sales. If your business is a service business you can answer the easy questions and people will reach out to you, and pay you, for answers to the hard ones.

If your business is physical goods then you can talk through what they are made of, how they are made, as well as related items you sell. Even better is to talk about other aspects of your niche. If your business is pet toys then you can create videos about the advantages or disadvantages of different types of pets and breeds, great pet names, or pets that look like celebrities.

Each video can should start with your logo and a title screen and finish with a way to get in contact with you whether that be a URL for your website, an email address, or a phone number.



Ebooks are a great way to establish authority in a field and Leanpub is one of the easiest ways to create a good looking one. I personally have used them for all of the books on entrepreneurship that I have published. They’re not paying me to recommend them–I’m just a happy author.

You can create the book inside your browser on their site or write on your computer and share the files with Leanpub via Dropbox. Create a cover with Canva (the next tool in this article) and you’re set. Click the preview button to make sure everything looks good and then hit publish. You can share your book in their marketplace or save the .pdf, .mobi, and .epub files to sell or share elsewhere.

Ebooks don’t have to be long. You can create shorter ones around smaller topics that you then send out to your mailing list (that you have created on Mailchimp above) or to your existing customers. Providing value is a great way to rekindle a relationship with a customer.



If you are active on social media then you probably find that you are more likely to read a tweet or Facebook post if they contain a graphic–particularly a high quality one. Canva makes it really easy to design those graphics along with other marketing materials such as flyers, business cards, presentations, and ebook covers.

Many elements are free while some premium ones are $1 each. I recommend trying out some of their free templates and seeing what you can come up with in just ten minutes. I guarantee it will be higher quality than one you can create in any other program in an hour.

What next?

Being active in many channels gives you marketing breadth and helps you learn what works best for your business. When you find one or two channels that convert the best into sales then you are going to want to double down on those for your marketing depth. For example if your videos are attracting eyeballs to your site but generating few sales, while at the same time your mailing list attracts fewer visitors but ones that are more likely to buy, the more you grow your list the more sales you can expect.

But each channel need not be independent of each other. Recommend that your YouTube audience subscribe to your mailing list and read your ebooks. Point your email subscribers to your YouTube videos and use the ebooks as lead magnets to grow your subscribers.

A growing business by definition means attracting more customers. It takes time and hard work but it will pay off with more sales!

    • Inform: The Step-By-Step Guide to Creating an Ebook
    • Free ebook creation guide

      Get the the step-by-step guide to writing, publishing, and promoting ebooks and how to use them to grow your business.

Your B2B value proposition (there is only one)

The first step in any marketing plan is defining your value proposition. What are you promising to your customers? It has to improve their life in some way. Without clearly defining your value proposition your marketing efforts will fail.

(Really you should define your value proposition way before you start marketing–you should do it before you start your business.)

I have learned the hard way that not only is a clearly defined value proposition important but that it has to be the right value proposition. With one of my businesses I struggled finding the right value proposition and it suffered because of that.

The following are some value propositions that didn’t work:

Make you more efficient

Logic doesn't get your foot in the doorYou’re proposing to save them time but, in order to do so, you’re asking them to sacrifice some of it to learn and use your product or service. In other words you’re asking them to do more work in order to do less work. Logically that works but logic doesn’t get your foot in the door. That is why you hear so much about marketing needing to appeal to emotions and explains why we have babies selling toilet paper on television.

Help you streamline

This is essentially the same as the one above but I’m separating it because you often get a different objection. When you talk about streamlining the owner hears that you think you can run their business better than they can. They think, “I have been doing business the same way since you were in diapers. Who are you to try to change that?”

You can try to combat this by subtly planting the idea for streamlining in their head but doing so requires some masterful marketing techniques and generally requires those to happen over an extended period of time.

Save you money

This is one that I thought would be a winner but turned out not to be. A penny saved is a penny earned right? There are two common problems with using this approach. The first is that when somebody hears about saving money they immediately think of sacrifice. When it comes to internal office politics nobody wants to be the one to cut their budget as budget size often reflects which departments management thinks are important. Career wise it might not be a great move for your buyer to voluntarily save the company money.

The second reason this approach doesn’t work is that the person you are talking to isn’t spending their own money. When you are spending somebody else’s money you are much less likely to care about spending less it wisely.

The only true value proposition for businesses is:

My product will help you make more money

Promising people a dimeAt the end of the day the only thing that matters is money. Without it a business will die. That is why the promise of more of it is the only guaranteed way to make sure somebody listens. The words “increase”, “grow”, and “close” cause business owners’ ears to perk up.

Working those into your value proposition can be a challenge if your product or service lies outside their sales process. If your product increases operational efficiency then you can try framing your value proposition like this, “saves your sales people time so they can send more emails, make more calls, and close more deals.”

The bottom line is that promising people a dime if they give you a nickel is the only guaranteed way to make a sale so try to frame your value proposition in those terms.

    • Inform: The Step-By-Step Guide to Creating an Ebook
    • Free ebook creation guide

      Get the the step-by-step guide to writing, publishing, and promoting ebooks and how to use them to grow your business.