Creating your own ecosystem

Do you have your own audience? If you don’t, you will have hard time as I do. We often want to drive short and long term performance, we normally do this through campaigns or promotions. When we have offers, the next thing we need is who to send the offers to. In my case, we have to pay for other companies’ audience. It’s expensive and is not effective. That’s why we start to create our own audience or ecosystem.

We use Hubspot as a CRM system. We invite customers to join our environment with content. We nurture them with content. And, from time to time, we offer them promotions. We still have a long way to go. Maintaining meaningful and engaging ecosystem is not easy. It requires a lot of things to be right e.g. content, segmentation, etc.

If you are interested to create your own audience, you can start with a Facebook group. It’s free and easy to setup. Please understand though, there are a zillion Facebook groups out there. You must ensure that your group add value to group members.

Having your own ecosystem is rewarding. But, it requires a different thinking. I encourage you to to do it.


Top of the funnel

Seth Godin raised a very good point in his blog today. If you have interesting and valuable content or solutions at the top of the funnel, you don’t have to worry too much about conversion at the end of the funnel. Your content will keep people coming to you, some will be converted. Because of the volume at the top of the funnel, it will take care the conversion by itself. This is the situation that you and I want to be. But, let face it, it’s not easy.

Why is offering valuable content or solutions so difficult? The main reason is that many of us is driven by short term gains. In my case, we are measured on daily and weekly KPIs. Building good reasons or relationships with customers are not in our marketing book. Whether we like it or not, the company has lasted for more than 10 years.

The bad news is the world has changed and it’s hard to know when we will become irrelevant.


Old vs new economies

I am in Thailand visiting family at the moment. There is a common trend here in the news and social media that the Thai economy is going downward. Some people complain it’s hard to make money and the economy in general is very bad. Is it true?

I cannot say I know the answer of this economic question. Instead of answering it, I ask myself another question. Is the economy bad or does consumer behavior change? I have one silly example. I like to read Japanese cartoon books. I had to go to the cartoon book shops every time I came back to Bangkok. What different this year is I don’t. I now buy cartoon books from a book shop app. It is convenient and I don’t have to carry 10+ cartoon books. I just carry an iPad (with 10+ books in it). I was told later that those book shops were closed.

I still buy those cartoon books i.e. I still spend money. I just don’t buy them in a printed format anymore. Does it mean the economy is bad? Not necessarily. But, one thing for sure is my consuming behavior has changed. If you cannot adapt to the new wave of the changes, you will struggle to earn revenue in the same way.

You cannot blame anyone else but yourself. We are in a different world now.


Online Community Management Tips

I have an opportunity to manage the company’s online communities. I am not sure how I ended up doing it considering English is not my first language. And, of course, most of the customers or the community’s members speak English. Below are what I learn from doing this task for a few years now.

  1. The communication skill is more important than the language skill. I used to worry if I used the right words or if my grammar was flawless. I don’t think about it anymore. The reason I am doing this is to help my customers. As long as I achieve this goal, everything else is secondary.
  2. I cannot get upset or angry, at least customers cannot know that. Some customers are unbelievable (in a bad way). I have to remain professional and hide my true feeling from social media.
  3. All interactions are two way communications. Remember this – those interactions are conversations like when you sit in a meeting room with full of participants.
  4. If bad things happen (complaints, bad news, etc), I have to be quick to acknowledge that I am now aware about those things. I then have to inform the PR team and my management team. I keep monitoring the direction of the conversations. If a conversation goes in the direction I don’t want it to, I need to create a diversion or a distraction.
  5. Mostly importantly, I am dealing with humans. I should expect the unexpected. But, if I genuinely care, customers will protect me.
  6. I have to tell myself everything about the reason why I am doing this job. I have to stay on track and cannot get distracted to whatever force that is thrown at me.

Being an online community manager is not like walking in the park. I have to stay true to myself. It’s not the job that anyone can do it. It helps me learn so much about our customers.


Will Email Marketing be Dead?

It has been more than 5 years now that some marketing experts have predicted about the end of the email marketing. Their primary reason is because the widespread usage of social media. And, here we are, 5 years later, we still receive a lot of emails. Will email marketing be dead?

In my humble opinion, the email marketing would never die as long as we still have to use our email address as a login to many online services. Facebook, Google, Apple, etc require users to use an email address as a login. Things will change if one day we can use our finger print or facial recognition to login to our accounts. We start to see this trend already. I would say in about 2 years from today, the usage of the email address as the login will change. And, by that time, the email marketing as we know it will also change.

For marketers, we can continue emailing people in the next 2 years. The open rate and the click through rate will decline more and more. Things will get harder if we continue bombarding our customers with cheap deals. Having said that I don’t believe email marketing will be dead. But, it will be in a zombie stage in 2 year.

It’s about time to change.


Good strategy for 2020

No, I don’t have business solutions for you next year, sorry. The year end is approaching and some of us is thinking or planning about next year. Will it be harder? What am I going to do to get better results? What is my strategy for 2020?

I read (no I skimmed through) this article – Science Behind Successful Business Strategy – and I don’t get much value out of it. So, I told myself, I will offer a different suggestion. For next year, I would like to encourage you to do one thing for me (well for yourself). Please think, or list, or write down your current business challenges. What are the challenges that keep you awake at night? Write them down.

There is a simple way to help you understand your business challenges. It’s to ask a why question 3 times.

  1. Why can’t I generate sales from my Facebook page? Because I don’t have enough audience.
  2. Why don’t I have enough audience? Because I don’t post valuable content for my customers.
  3. Why don’t I post value able content for my customers? Because I don’t focus on generating valuable content.

Well, your strategy in this example should be creating content that offers your customers’ solutions to their problems.

Doing this is far more important than coming up with mission or vision. Understand your business challenges is the most critical step to develop good strategy. This is my wishing you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year message.


Create your ecosystem

Why do we have to care about Facebook, Online Travel Agents (OTAs e.g. Expedia), or deal websites so much? We have to use them to promote our products. I paid a lot of money to use their services. And, the answer is they have audience.

Their business model is that they attract people to come their way with free services. They hook those customers in using subscriptions. They entertain their audience with content and shopping-centre-liked service (OTAs). We pay them to reach their audience. Why don’t we create our own audience then?

Start small. You can create an ‘ecosystem’ or a ‘community’ using either the subscription model or creating a Facebook group. Then, you need to think about how to entertain them. Once you have your own audience, you can expect better conversion rates. This is because they are your audience. They know you. They read your content.

It’s a long term investment. And, you should start now. Start small.


Why a financial plan is important to your small business

Do you agree that having a financial plan with forecast is a good thing to do for your small business? If you do, do you have one? My guess is not many small business owners devote their busy schedule to work on a financial plan. One of the reasons of not having a financial plan is about a perception, that it’s time-consuming and boring. Additionally, many small business owners might not know how to do it. In this article, I would like to offer a simple explanation and an easy way to do a financial plan.

Why is it important for small business owners to have a financial plan? Put simply, a good plan would tell you your current financial status and your future business trend, financial wise. A plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It only requires that you spend a few minutes to read and understand this article and you develop some sort of discipline to track your revenue and your expenses, you are good to go. There are two simple concepts that you need to know for your financial plan – one is business cash flow, and the other is a concept of time value of money. Let deep into these 2 concepts.

 Let start with the cash flow. Your cash flow is simply the movement of cash of your business. The major goal of the cash flow management is you need to ensure that you have enough cash to pay all of obligations that keep your business running. You also have to understand that being profitable is not the same thing as having a good cash flow management. This is because even though you are profitable, you may not have enough cash in a particular month to pay suppliers if you don’t plan well. What you should be doing is to create a discipline of recording or tracking your revenue and expenses. The first step is to record all “current” in and out of your cash. It will help you understand your financial status. Then, you have to do a “forecast” of your cash flow. It’s the same practice of having a budget for big corporations. You can use this template to record your cash flow. 

I don’t have to explain much why knowing your cash flow situation – the past, the present, and the future – is very important to your business. You certainly need to know what your spent and whether those expenses were absolutely necessary. You also need to ensure that you have enough cash to fulfil your current and incoming commitments. And, most importantly, having an idea of your future cash flow helps you do business more effectively. The next concept that you should know is “time value of money”.

What is time value of money (let call it TVOM)? It doesn’t sound like fun. I think it’s a good concept for you to know even though you may not have to actually do the calculation like banks or investors. Why? The concept of TVOM tells you that the same amount of money your receive today is worth more than the same amount in the future. This is because the amount in hand today can be invested to turn into more money in the future. The key difference between the today’s and the future’s money is “interest or rate of return”. Suppose that a customer offers to pay you $1,000 today or $1,100 one year from today. This promise comes from the customer that you trust very much, and thus you do not believe there is any risk that you will not be paid. Which option would you choose?

It all depends on the return you can earn on this amount. If you can earn 6% on your money, for instance, then you should accept the $1,000 today. If invested for one year, it would grow to $1,060, beating the option of receiving $1,050 one year from now. However, if you can only earn a 4% return on your money, you should accept the offer of $1,050 paid one year from now. If you accept the $1,000 and invest it at a 4% return, it will only grow to $1,040 in one year, compared to receiving $1,050 after one year from this customer. I cannot talk about the TVOM concept without showing you the formula (sorry).

The basic formula for the time value of money is as follows:

PV = FV ÷ (1+I)^N, where:

PV is the present value

FV is the future value

I is the required return

N is the number of time periods before receiving the money

The good news is you don’t have to do the calculation yourself. When I was studying, I had to do a manual calculation myself and it wasn’t fun. There are a number of websites that offer a TVOM calculator. I suggest this one because it’s simple and straight forward.

I can’t stress enough why being on top of your business’ financial is super important. If you feel like this is not your forte, you can always seek help. However, I would encourage you to at least start small with a good record keeping for your revenue and expenses. Once you have a very good tracking system, the rest is super easy.