tomato plants
My babies, fresh from the nursery
The marketer in me enjoys A/B testing, or split testing. That’s when you take an existing offer, change (in a significant way) one element of the offer, and then present both offers at the same time and track your results. You can then see which offer works best, or better yet, has the best ROI.

An example would be to offer a product or service at the regular price, and then make a parallel offer where everything remains the same except for the price, and see what happens. This helps determine price elasticity, as the economists call it.

So I’m bring that concept home today. Yep, I bought my batch of tomato plants at the nursery today, and am going to A/B test them.

The variable? Soil. I’m going to use “Happy Frog” organic potting soil for one of my “Early Girl” plants, and a non-organic Ferti-loam potting soil for another “Early Girl”. Everything else should theoretically be the same between the two plants.

I will be evaluating yield, size, growing/producing season, and especially(!) taste. Ah, can’t wait to do the metrics on this project!

Wish me luck, and if any of you tomato growers out there have any predictions, speak up.

Google Analytics is a great (and free) tool available to anyone who has a Google account. It can help your marketing efforts a lot.

“To succeed in business, know what your customers want, and give it to them”. Google Analytics can help you know what your customers want (and the rest is up to you!)

Here are some quick and easy parts of Google Analytics reporting that can help you help your customers:

* Map Overlay — see where your website visitors are clustered

* Traffic Sources / Search Engines report. See how people are finding you, and in the case of search engine referrals, what specifically they are looking for.

* Top Content. What parts of your website are getting the most attention from your visitors?

* Goals. This takes a little more work to set up, but if you design this right, you can tell where the bottlenecks are in your website — places where your website visitors get “stuck” and hindered somehow from taking the response actions you want to see.

There’s a lot more, but these are some of the ones that are most helpful to me.

Technically, all that’s required to implement Google Analytics in your website is to insert the code snippet that Google gives you into your webpages. Your web guru can do it in just a minute or two.

Anybody have another favorite part of Google Analytics that I didn’t mention?

I’m an ice fisherman and I’m going to tell you where my secret fishing spot is. Fishermen are not supposed to divulge their secrets, but here goes:

I start at the boat ramp, sight in on the gap between two mountains, and step off 315 paces in that exact direction. That’s a sweet spot, and I don’t get skunked there very often. (What lake? See below.)

My wife thinks I’m crazy for going out in the subzero dark and sitting on a vast expanse of ice, hunkering over and paying intense attention to a 7” diameter hole in the hard water – just for the sake of catching a trout. But that’s another story.

The point is, I have a specific way to get to the place that pays off.

Where is the payoff-place in your business? What do you set your sights on — and then execute a sequence of specific steps — to get to a profitable place for your business?

Is it…

* Regularly talking (not necessarily selling) to your best customers to cultivate the relationship and keep the pipeline open for future sales?

* Regularly promoting your goods/services through systematic direct mail, outbound telesales, and/or email marketing? Have you tried an eNewsletter?

* Regularly introducing new but related-to-existing products or services that your regular customers might well be interested in?

* Regularly tracking your online advertising campaigns, and modifying them to maximize return-on-investment?

Although it takes discipline for a small business owner to consistently give time to these tasks (or to delegate them to someone else), the end results over time are consistently positive.

Oh, and one last thing about ice fishing. You might ask, “Why don’t you just GPS your secret spot?” Answer: Ask any pirate with a treasure map! It’s more fun to step it off!

What steps do you take to increase sales and profitability?

(Bonus question: Any of you Colorado folks want to guess what lake this is? I’ll tell you if you guess right.)

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing principles for CPAs and other professionals. This entry is the last in the series.

* * *

Me: Email seems pretty low-tech these days, but studies indicate it still dominates business-to-business communications. Any ideas about how accountants and other professionals can do more with email to enhance their overall marketing?

Allison: I love email marketing and for most people, it’s still the choice of communication online (as opposed to social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn). It’s very inexpensive to sign up with an email marketing service (iContact and MailChimp are two I like) that offers slick newsletter templates.

Accountants and IT professionals have a wealth of information that their clients and potential clients are craving.  Send out a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter with tips or let them know about upcoming seminars you are presenting.  The important things to remember:

1. Be consistent with your email marketing – set up a schedule and stick to it.  Send out your newsletter every month or quarter, so your list expect.  You don’t want to have someone sign up and then not email them for months.

2. Give your list useful information – it’s not all about selling.

3. Build your own list – don’t buy it.  You’ll be much better off with a targeted list of people who have a real interest in what you have to say.

4. Put a newsletter sign up form on your website and considering giving a free report to anyone who signs up.  They’ll have an incentive to sign up and it gives them a taste of the great information you’ll be providing in your newsletter.

Me: Any final tips or ideas for us?

Allison: Have some patience!  Inbound marketing is a great way to build relationships, drive traffic to your site and gain new clients.  But it will take time.  Give yourself 3-4 months before you can expect to see some results.  Once you do, you’ll be well on your way to expanding your online presence.

Me: Thank you, Allison!

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing principles for CPAs and other professionals. This entry is the 3rd in the series.

* * *

Me: What do you think some reasonable goals would be for accounting or other professionals who have a presence in social media? How would you recognize a win?

Allison:  First, determine your reason(s) for getting involved in social media.  Examples might be: drive traffic to your site, network with other professionals or establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Second, dedicate 15 minutes a day to social media and decide where you want to get involved.  Remember, even though Facebook and Twitter are very popular right now, it might not be the first place you need to start (depending on your industry).  Perhaps you start by answering questions in forums where your potential clients are asking questions.  Check out the Intuit Community forum or the QuickBooksUsers forum.

Some of your goals can be measured concretely with Google Analytics.  You’ll be able to see the amount of traffic coming from other sites and forums to your website.   You can even set up goals within Analytics to see if that traffic converts.

There are also other kinds of wins – you find a great referral source or you become known as an expert in your field.  These are not as easily measured, but equally important to your long term success.

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

  • Next blog entry: How accountants can use email to enhance their marketing.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing principles for CPAs and other professionals. This entry is the 2nd in the series.

* * *

Me: Allison, your Twitter profile lists inbound marketing, pay-per-click, social media, and email marketing as areas you deal in. Are any of those more critical for professionals trying to expand or bolster their markets?

Allison: Everything works to a degree, but you shouldn’t rely on any one method to grow your online presence. Each of these techniques works in a different way:

Inbound marketing: The idea behind inbound marketing is that you are drawing visitors to your site instead of pushing out your sales message.  So you want to ensure your site is properly optimized to be found in search engines, get involved in social media and forums and consider starting a blog.  All of these tactics will start a flow of traffic to your site.

Pay-Per-Click: Work with a PPC specialist (or learn on your own) to run ads on Google AdWords or even Facebook (if it fits for your business).  It’s a quick way to drive traffic to your site.

Social Media: With all of the knowledge service professionals have, they should get out there and share it.  On LinkedIn, people ask questions on LinkedIn Answers.  Start answering questions that you have expertise in or create your own LinkedIn group.  Get involved on Twitter by sharing great articles and listening to what your potential clients need.

Email Marketing: A must for any business.  Again – you have knowledge that others would love to tap into.  Share your smarts with others in a newsletter.

  • Next blog entry: Social media goals for accounting and other professional firms.

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.

I interviewed Allison Semancik, a marketing consultant in Miami, and asked her questions about marketing for service professionals. Her answers are worth a few blog entries. Here’s the first in the series.

* * *

Me: Allison, first of all, how did you get involved in marketing consulting? What about it appeals to you?

Allison: I have been involved in internet marketing for 9 years now.  I love that it is an ever changing field – there is always a new software, website or company that makes marketing fun and exciting.

Working as a consultant, I have the opportunity to work with many different types of businesses in various industries.  I love helping a business grow their online presence and seeing the results that come from the work I put into it.

Me: Let’s talk about marketing for professionals – accountants and IT consultants particularly. I deal with these professional communities a lot. What are some of the marketing challenges that professionals in those areas typically wrestle with?

Allison: One of the most important thing service professionals can do is distinguish their services from others.  There are many IT professionals out there, but an IT professional who caters to cosmetic dentists is much more specialized.   When you develop a niche and cater to that niche, you’ll be sought out.

Another issue I see is that service professionals tend to be more formal in their online presentation.  Websites tend to be more like brochures when they should be more personal.

With blogs, forums and social media sites, you now have an opportunity to be more interactive and share your expertise with others.  It gives professionals a chance to have dialogue with potential clients before you even meet in person.

  • Next blog entry: Which marketing and social media channels work best for service professionals?

Allison Semancik can be contacted through her blog.