Experience is the Best Teacher

A Series of Inquiry

Need Aid or Advice?

Consultant Aiding Business Owner

What's a Consultant Cost?

February 20, 2020

A consultant will help you determine the scope, expertise, research and time required to make your project succeed.

If you wanted a bridge built, an engineer would ask about materials, weight capacity, length, and width, etc.

Are you building the Golden Gate Bridge or a platform over your backyard creek?

Like many professional service firms, it’s tough to give a prospective client a figure until we define the scope-of-work.

A marketing or communications professional will drill down with you to define the problem you are trying to solve, particularly if you don’t approach them with a pre-formed, articulate idea. Often, communications pros find people ask us for a press release because they want to announce something new, yet when you drill down on what the product or service is, who the audience is, and what they want to achieve, you find out it’s a niche audience the product appeals to and a press release may not be the right tool. Or a press release may be fine as one step in a larger campaign to successfully launch your new product or service.

A consultant will help you determine the scope, expertise, research and time required to make your project succeed.

We understand that money is tight. Business owners have a good deal of responsibility and competing demands. Consulting with a marketing professional brings professional expertise to your marketing and communications challenge. Be honest about your budget and let the consultant help you define specific expectations. Otherwise, it’s a waste of your time.

Here are the considerations when we use to price projects with clients.

Define the Scope of Work.

After meeting with you and defining the project, I’m going to itemize the scope of work and confirm that with you. By being specific about expectations, we both understand my role and yours. You’ll sign an agreement for a specific amount with payment terms and a not-to-exceed amount. Some of the costs in that scope will depend on who is doing what. Are you implementing the plan, or am I? If you are, that can limit the scope, but it will also possibly limit your results.

Do you have time to implement the plan and stick with it? If not, reconsider whether it is wise to do the implementation in-house.

Conduct Audience and Product Research.

How recent and detailed is the research available to plan your project’s goals? 

Do you have research directly related to the audiences you want to influence? Are you adapting a campaign designed by a parent division to your audiences? Does it speak to your audiences or you? If it’s already working in Illinois, why wouldn’t it work in Indiana?

An external consultant is going to ask the tough questions and look at your problem with a fresh set of eyes and experience built by serving other clients and industries. What appeals to you about that campaign may not appeal to the audience you want to influence. Do you have blinders on about your product, your competition or the marketplace?

You could spend too much money and lose critical time if you don’t test your assumptions first.

When is research not a good idea?

It’s your money. If you choose to make your marketing and communications decisions based on your gut, it’s your decision. It will be tougher to set realistic metrics for the results.

Do You Have the Expertise?

When I was in-house and hired advertising or PR agencies, I hired them to do the tasks I lacked the time, talent or resources to do. I was pulled in too many directions to achieve certain fundamental tasks that drove business.

Anyone can design social media posts, right? Can they design effective ones? Can they post consistently, and target them to the appropriate audiences? The question is do the posts create traffic for your website? Calls? Bookings? Sales?

Particularly when wording with independent practitioners or smaller firms, you are often working with highly experience professionals at a fraction of the cost of hiring them in-house.

Make certain your marketing and public relations are building an audience for your brand and influencing the action you want the target audience. Be specific.

What’s Your Time Worth?

Your time is important, so how much time can you dedicate to marketing your product or service well? Is there time to plan and deliver a consistent, compelling message to the right audiences via the right spokespeople?

Make the time to research, create and define the work in a way that will build a successful campaign. It doesn’t take months to do so when you use a consultant. You will have measurable goals defined to evaluate and re-define for the next phase too. You’ll have the facts behind you to base the results on.

Is an urgent response needed? Are you in a crisis and need to act now?

If you are in a crisis because someone has been hurt, stolen money or committed another crime that costs your business money or reputation, then time is fleeting to get your message – your side of the story – communicated. That urgency is going to cost more. Your business and your customers need attention pronto!

You’ll get more done with an extra set of hands and a fresh set of eyes on the problems you need to solve. Communications is an art, but the principles and knowledge skilled professionals bring to it will serve you well.

Contact Browning Business Strategies LLC for more on this topic.

Experience is the Best Teacher

A Series of Inquiry

Moonshine Magic

Every Picture Tells a Story

North Carolina Has the Best Tourism Story

Great Storytelling Starts with Authenticity

January 31, 2020

By Cindy Dashnaw, guest blogger

No state tells its tourism story better than North Carolina. Because it doesn’t tell its story at all.

Visitors do. And the story they tell is personal and authentic.

Every state has a tourism department and/or organization charged with getting people to visit, and the approaches they take are as varied as the states themselves.

Most of these sites are organized by categories: Family Fun, Music, Nature, etc. One site looks just about like another. They don’t tell a story so much as present a brochure on a screen.

The goal of everything at visitnc.com is to make you feel as physically close to being there as possible, experiencing other people’s “firsts” – their first mountain waterfall, sheep trek, swim in the ocean, etc. And it works.

Snippets Put You in the Center of the Action

Rolling video snippets on the home page position you in the center of the action. In one, a young couple and I were in touching distance of a rooster – I felt that I could reach out and get pecked, making those friends of mine burst into unsympathetic laughter. In another, I was shoulder-deep in undulating water with my neighbor, in danger of getting my face wet. Next, I was running on the warm sand shouting to a little girl to look up and see the kite soaring in the sunshine.

Once hooked by the stories implied in these warm, active images, the “Find Your First” button in the middle of the screen became irresistible. It took me to a choice: First Time Seeing a Waterfall, First Time Seeing the Ocean, First Time Tasting Moonshine. Below these images I could click on real social media posts by real people (honest, they link to their profiles!).

I chose “First Time Seeing the Ocean,” and got to an interactive map of things I could do when seeing the ocean in North Carolina … along with a short paragraph about that little girl with the kite and an “Insider Tip” to make me feel special.

People’s Firsts Featured

Everything in this site works together to present a story of real people doing actual things for the first time (vicarious excitement built-in). When I was done, I felt as though a friend had told me about their latest visit to North Carolina.

A message with that kind of impact is going to stick with me. In fact … I’ve seen a waterfall and the ocean. Let’s get back to that moonshine! visitnc.com

(For comparisons, check out Alaska, North Dakota and Tennessee.)

Cindy Dashnaw is an award-winning copywriter and storyteller for nonprofits. Get her to tell your story at cindydashnaw.com

Experience is the Best Teacher

A Series of Inquiry

Starting Successfully

Steps to Success: Planning

3 Tips for Marketing Your Business

January .20, 2020

   1. Know who your target market is.

   2. Invest resources in a marketing plan and budget.

   3. Hire professional graphic design help.

Marketing involves the P’s: product (or service), price, place, promotion, and if you are a smart marketer, the people or customers. In my experience when CEOs and business owners speak about marketing, what they are often referring to is promotion: press releases, ads, social media, etc.

Assuming you have a business plan, know who your competition is and what they are doing, and know where the gaps in the market are (Your product or services fills those gaps, right?), your small businesses can succeed.

Know Your Target Market.

Identify your primary, secondary and tertiary markets for your product or service. Focus your communications, marketing and sales on primary markets if your budget is tight. Don’t try to reach “everyone,” unless of course, you have the marketing budget of Coca-Cola or Anheuser-Busch.

Who are the gatekeepers to and influencers of those primary markets? What drives them? How do they benefit from your product or service? Does it save them time? Money? Headaches?

Be honest with yourself. “Everyone” doesn’t need your product or service. Specific people, trades, or ventures do. Start narrowly for maximum results. Yes, it takes time to build a market, particularly if your budget is small. Online tactics today help you be seen by more people with similar interests more quickly. Yet, that can be money wasted if you aren’t smart about who your market is.

Invest in a Marketing Plan and Budget.

A self-serving recommendation a skeptic might say. Yet you are obviously a gifted widget-maker. You make the best widgets for 50 miles around, or so you said. So how are you going to let your potential customers know your widgets are the best? Especially if you put all your funds into making the widgets!

There was an ad agency that once promoted their services by saying “Because word of mouth takes too long.” (I’m paraphrasing.) Depending upon your product or service, you need a way for people to know why they should do business with you over your competition. Are you tapping into your market consistently and strategically?

A plan helps you do that and document it. It’s a gut-check when you get an offer from your sister’s best friend to sponsor her daughter's pee-wee soccer team jerseys for only $500. (FYI: That usually not marketing. It's philanthropy! Sponsor that team to help a kid out,  not to earn your business sales leads.)

Getting your ideas on paper will give you the tools to evaluate what part of your plan is working and generating new business, retaining current customers and upgrading others. It will allow you to reallocate your time and money as you proceed. There will be more opportunities to spend your money with associations, media, sponsorships, and online tools than you can dream of. They will all sound like good ideas. Some are.

Do they measure up? Generate the leads?

Need help getting your ideas itemized, documented, organized and with benchmarks set? That’s where an outside consultant can help you.

Hire Professional Graphic Design Help.

We all have gifts.

Professional graphic design isn’t one of them.

Know your limits and strengths. You can spend hours (or worse, days and weeks) designing something in Microsoft Publisher, Canva, or one of the 100 graphic design programs available and find out it’s not compatible with the printer you are using or the images aren’t the best resolution to reproduce well. Worse, if you take an illustration, image or graphic from someone else’s website, and don’t get permission to use it, you risk being sued for copyright violations. “Free stock photography” means you better read the Terms and Conditions fine print carefully.

I have always found that professional graphic design pays off. The finished product emphasizes the right components to draw the eye in, and, more importantly, makes the impression that makes your brand stand out.

Know your gifts. Use them wisely. Use your time meeting new customers and retaining current ones. Pay someone to design your logo, postcard or packaging. In the long run, that division of labor and talent is going to serve your interests for the better.

Your goals. Your results. That’s what matters.

Contact Browning Business Strategies LLC for more on this topic.

Experience is the Best Teacher

A Series of Inquiry

Living in Color

Red Flowers in Winter

Making a Living and Making a Life!

January 2, 2020

I’ve met many interesting characters in my past life. What about you?

I’m not referring to reincarnation but my career trajectory. The crises, projects, challenges, critics and characters who made me the experienced professional I am today.

One said: “Why would you let others determine your income potential?”

The gentleman was in sales and self-employed. That wisdom struck me as so hopeful and positive for someone self-employed. We didn’t have many entrepreneurs in my family, so I never understood how business owners earned money, paid others, and paid themselves.

Oddly, money never served as my primary motivator. I wanted work that mattered. I wanted to grow, learn and serve. I’m a good problem solver. I am good at under-promising and over-delivering.

How do I turn that into a business?

Serving You!

I use my skill set to help you. Your business may not need a full-time, experienced marketing and communications staffer with 25+ years-experience on-staff.

You might only need project help. A gifted writer. Someone to think through the pros and cons of a situation or problem and suggest solutions.

A new way of looking at your product or service. A strategy.

Need help getting that project off your desk and out the door so you don’t wake up every morning knowing it’s still not completed?

Let’s talk.

Contact Browning Business Strategies LLC for more on this topic.

Experience is the Best Teacher

A Series of Inquiry

One in a Million

Find the Pearl

Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace

December 11, 2019

I hate crowds.

Pushy, smelly masses of humanity. I used to see it as a challenge, navigating my way through them at events, concerts, and groceries. I don’t have that kind of time now.

When you are a business owner in a crowded industry, you might hate crowds too. They cost you money you often don’t want to spend. Let me help you determine how to spend it wisely.

Have you’ve defined your product or service benefits? Are you capitalizing on them? Are you consistent in your communications about them?

Swiss Vinedressers?

When I worked in the wine industry, someone I met shared with me what they knew: that the Swiss had started Indiana’s vineyards in the 1800s. I was astounded that a message I’d been sharing for seven years was now spoken by a total stranger trying to impress me with his knowledge! That’s when I knew framing and repetition were allies for breaking through a jaundiced, crowded marketplace with a message.

You have to admit the image of Swiss grape growers is visually striking to your imagination.

Do you describe your services or products in a customer-friendly manner?


What are the key benefits of your products or service? Will it save your customer time, money or space? Solve a problem? Scratch an itch? 

The mouthwash brands don't just sell you an alcohol-based product, they tell you your breath is bad, a turn-off to that new guy in the office, and offer their liquid solution. They tell you that on every online ad after you have searched "cures for bad breath." They tell you that in coupons that arrive in the mail. They tell you that in the grocery store aisle and the beauty ads.

Need help defining your message or benefits to your customers? That's what we're here for! Your goals.  Your results. That's what matters!

Contact Browning Business Strategies LLC for more on this topic.

Experience is the Best Teacher

A Series of Inquiry

What's the Point?

Your Need. Our Solution.

What's the Big Idea?

December 6, 2019

Why would you leave it to others to determine your message?

Don’t Think of an Elephant, the 2004 book, profoundly affected my work in public relations. Working for an advocacy organization, I used the premise to train field staff and leadership to speak to the media and the public. It helped as we positioned issues and shifted individual and public opinion on topics. It explained persuasive communications in a manner no other educational experience did.

Your Brain Feeds on Visual, Emotional Cues 

Lakoff's premise is to frame your message with an emotional and/or visual reference point. As soon as you tell someone, “don’t think of an elephant,” that’s the visual cue in their mind for all ideas or concepts of your subject. 

The brain has imprinted that visual cue. It becomes the reference point.

In communications, fundraising, advocacy or sales, I used it this way:

“Do you care about “justice?” Justice is an emotionally significant concept for attorneys. The concept was a significant one when marketing to the legal profession.

“Educating teens” and “prevention” were resoundingly effective messages when marketing a health care provider to baby boomers worried about the health and safety of their own children.

Education, in fact, connects many of us to the causes and services we seek. If your business has any educational component to it, I strongly urge you to consider how you can incorporate this term.

Consistency Gains Traction

I hear many business owners, membership associations, and charities say “no one knows what we do”! Often those organizations haven’t invested in strategic communications to address their big ideas and map out their communications strategies to convey them consistently to their stakeholders. Rarely have they invested in proactive communications to address “what we do.”

Think seriously about framing your business, its customer benefits and services, and how you can use your “frame” to create the image of your business that customers are seeking. What are the benefits to your customers? How does that translate into those big ideas that speak to them by solving their problems?

Your brand depends on these tools. More on that in a future post.

Contact Browning Business Strategies LLC for more on this topic.

Experience is the Best Teacher

A Series of Inquiry

No hurdles!

No limits.

What do Customers Want?

November 22, 2019

How does a small business owner compete with larger players?

Offer better service? Lower prices? Yes. No. Maybe?

Ask yourself: what do my customers want? Then ask your customers. How do the answers compare?

Don’t assume. Ask!

  1. Market research: Whether in survey form or through one-on-one feedback, research is one way to test your assumptions. If you assume you know your customers’ needs, you may be indulging your blind spots.
  2. Sales analysis: What are you selling more of? Less of? What has the highest margins? Does your business model rely on lower margins but higher volume? If so, your research should also test how quickly you respond to customer inquiries.
  3. Service analysis: How effectively do you deliver on the goods or services? Do you exceed expectations? Have you asked?

Business owners I’ve met started their businesses because they enjoy a specific trade, product or service. They enjoy making products or solving problems. Analyzing business metrics may not be their strong suit. Marketing frequently isn’t either.

CEOs don’t want to ask their customers for feedback. They are fixers and fear that because they cannot immediately fix a negative, they shouldn’t even ask. 

Can You Handle the Truth?

Letting a customer share their criticisms yields more information about them. Their priorities. Their challenges. I admit, in many cases, it’s the premium customers I’m asking. After all, those who do the most business, mean more business!

Thorough research and analysis can help you find answers and better inform your path.

Can’t get it done?

That’s what I’m here for.