Tuesday, September 2, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

...well, fall, actually. Leaves are turning brown, falling. Tomato plants are bursting with yellows, reds, and oranges. Grape clusters are hanging heavily on the vines. It's easy to get caught up in enjoying the abundant fall. But for savvy marketing organizations (like TPC and my clients), now is the time to begin thinking about, and planning for... the holidays. That's right--they're just around the corner, and coming quickly!

The end-of-year holidays are, in my Surviving to Thriving opinion, an extremely fertile time to reinforce and build your branding and your marketing. Why?
1. It's a chance to thank the most important people related to your business--your best customers.
2. It's an excuse to reach out and "touch" prospects and those you want to do business with in the future.
3. It's a chance to differentiate yourself among all the other holiday cards and boxes of chocolate.

The question then becomes, What to do? Again, a few tips:
* Stand out from the pack. Be creative. Don't just send a holiday card; send a card wrapped in y and accompanied by z.

* Be genuine. I invite my best clients to a dinner in late November. Last year, I also splurged and bought rooms for everybody at the hotel where we were dining. Why? I truly wanted everyone to not have to rush home, and not have to worry about drinking and driving. Not only did the group have a fantastic time, we all had brunch together the next morning, for more bonding and fun times.

* Have a higher purpose in mind. As much as possible, attempt to show that you do realize the "why" behind the holidays. This doesn't have to be (nor should it be!) religious. Instead, give thanks. Show gratitude. Express joy. Have fun.

* Whenever possible, utilize your existing customers. One of my clients is a massage therapist; I also work with several wineries. Hmmm, do you think a gift certificate for a hot stone massage would be a great gift? How about some high-quality Napa Valley wine? You bet! Not only do the people receiving my gifts receive something of value, my clients benefit as I am purchasing from them.

The end-of-year holidays can be an extremely important time to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, to say "thanks" to important clients and business partners, and to help jump-start your 2009. Don't delay, begin planning now. Should you need some brainstorming help, contact me.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Discounting vs. Value-added

My clients know that I'm NOT a fan of discounting, for several reasons. One, people come to expect it; they not only want discounts all the time, you continually have to offer deeper and deeper discounts to keep them "interested." Two, discounting, to me, sends the subliminal message that your products or services aren't "worth what you're asking."

Instead, I like to focus on value-added. This is a key part to telling your "story" to clients and prospects. With value-added, you don't discount, but instead offer one or more tangible "extras' to help make a prospect feel good about buying your product or service (at full price). An example would be the Wine Country Inn's new series of food and wine events, which will kick-off in early August. Guests come to the Wine Country Inn from all over the world to experience the Napa Valley's beauty, wine, and food. Why not offer several small, fun events at the Inn itself, rather than let guests wander around on their own? These "extras' will, over time, make a significant difference in (in this case) occupancy; if given the choice between two beautiful Napa Valley properties, wouldn't you be more likely to select the one holding a paella party (see pic)? Or to picnic in a Napa Valley vineyard and taste the grapes that go into a fantastic Napa Valley cab? I know I would!

Executing a value-added strategy takes energy, creativity, and commitment. But the results over time are well worth the effort. To learn about ways your company can add value, feel free to contact me to brainstorm.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Power of Positioning: Part 1

I'm off today to speak to the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster. My topic? The Power of Positioning. Later I'll post my presentation here. For now, enjoy this marketing-related Dilbert cartoon!

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Power of PR

Public Relations, or PR, consists of two elements: having the media write stories about you, and having your by-lined articles printed by another media source. While PR doesn't necessarily (though it can) make your phone ring off the hook with orders/sales, it does have several significant benefits, namely:

* It gives you/your company greater credibility. By appearing in a "third-party's" magazine, newspaper, blog, etc., others get to talk about you... not you talking about you.

* You can use the articles in your marketing and customer communication efforts. For example, you can post links on your web site, mail copies of the article to clients, include mentions in your blogs and newsletters, and so on.

* It can lead to other media opportunities in larger publications. In other words, start small. Begin with your local newspaper, then seek out regional magazines, then attempt to reach national publications. Over time, with a "portfolio" of articles, you'll be positioned as someone who focuses on the local, yet has nationwide reach/importance.

Congratulations to Nord Vineyards, who via a press release landed a positive article about the company complete with a pic of Nord manager Jon Kanagy (see right) on today's front page of the Napa Valley Register. Well done!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

SEM: Part 1

Just returned from an all-day conference in San Fran about one topic: SEM. What, pray tell, is SEM? Simply what I believe -- along with a LOT of other people -- is the KEY for almost every business to not just survive, but thrive in today's market: Search Engine Marketing. In other words, building a really cool, even great web site isn't enough; the real "thing" -- the real art (and science) -- is not just getting people there, but getting the right people there: the people who will want to read what you have and see what you have and listen to what you have to listen to and, yes, BUY what you have to buy.

My two quick take-aways from the day (much more to come soon) are these:

Quick-take No. 1:
Buy stock in Google. Please, hurry. Buy all you can. Trust me on this: you'll thank me later. Big time. Why? Only that online advertising is expected to grow from approximately $1.6 Billion currently (yes, that's Billion) to roughly $4.5 Billion... in three years. And Google currently owns 78% of the search engine market share, with no signs of slowing down.... Buy Google stock. NOW.

Quick-take No. 2:
Every business should focus on the two critical components to creating a successful email/online campaign:

1. Have a great story to tell and use great graphics and photos to highlight that story, and
2. Have a specific, clear, easy-to-see-and-understand call to action

That's all you have to do to move to thriving.*

More about the conference soon....

*I know, I know, I'm being "funny" when I say that's all you have to do. Why? Because doing those two things well is EXTREMELY difficult. Trust me, I live-and-breathe this stuff. It's a knife fight in the back alley-kind of difficult. If you need help, or at least a resource to bounce ideas off of, contact me.

P.S. I have no idea why I added this pic, with this post; I just thought it looked cool. It's the school house in the town of Bodega that was part of the set of the movie The Birds. It's still there. If you wanna find out more, Google it.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Benefits to a Marketing Plan

I met with Nancy E. and Ray H. last week to begin the process of mapping out a marketing plan for their just-launched business of high-end, one-of-a-kind wine chests. Here are a few of the reasons they say they're excited to have -- very shortly -- a new plan:

* "gives us a clear path"

* "we don't have to do everything at once"

* "things are clear and more structured"

* "we needed the help prioritizing what to do, in what order"

* "we're honing in on what's most important"

* "Tim gave us new ideas/new thoughts"

Plans aren't dry, lifeless pieces of paper (at least not mine!). A well-conceived marketing plan helps clients sleep better at night by giving them clear direction on what to do, and in what order. Don't want to plan? That's your choice.... Just remember, if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The "A" Word

More and more in my marketing-goings-on-around-town, I'm drawn to and see the positive results of one word critically important to the success of any business (or any venture, for that matter). The word?


The more a company tries to "fake it" in terms of over-blown marketing hype or "I-don't-care-enough-to-care" marketing materials (outdated web sites, poorly done brochures, etc.), the more difficult it will be for that company to thrive. So the next time you sit down and ponder your next marketing "thing", consider this question: What would we do where our true passion and sense of adventure and fun poured out onto the paper or screen? Passion, authenticity, and a sense of fun aren't just nice-to-haves anymore in the marketing world--they are ESSENTIALS.
Easter decorations, Dining Room, Sonoma Coast Villa & Spa

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Power of the Pen

As my clients know, I'm a huge proponent of professional, powerful images. While critical to catching attention and creating a mood, images only go so far, however. I'm an even bigger believer that "content is King." What you say, and how you say it, are vital to having a successful business. I call this focus on content/words "the power of the pen."

Here's another quick but powerful power-of-the-pen tip. When you're meeting with a prospective client or a customer, have a pen and paper and take notes. Why? This sends positive messages to the client that: (1) you care about what they have to say, and (2) you pay attention to details and won't trust your memory to remember every little item.

Try taking notes the next time you're with a client or prospect. In fact, make a big deal of it: take long notes, ask qualifying questions, confirm statements. The more you care about what your customers or prospects say, the more likely you'll be able to deliver a solution to meet their needs.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Your Best Customers Are...

...your best customers.
So what do I mean by this? Simple. Boil it all down, there are two ways for a business to grow its revenue: sell more products and services to new customers, or sell more products and services to existing customers. Most business owners focus on finding new customers. I'd like to suggest that you also focus on part 2: creating new products and services of interest to your existing customers.

The Wine Country Inn, wonderful St. Helena bed and breakfast inn, is a great example of this. Three or four years ago, the Inn would generate revenue from a guest staying there pretty much one way: via the nightly room rate. Over the past three years, however, WCI has sought to expand its guests services... and in the process, generate additional revenue from its best customers (those people already staying at the Inn). Now in addition to the room rate, WCI receives revenue from guests who purchase:
* spa services (massages, facials, etc.)
* beer and wine
* its day-long wine tours (see photo at right)

Talk about win-win. The just-mentioned products and services are all things any visitor to the Napa Valley would be interested in, and the Inn is now generating an additional $200,000+ in revenue per year from these items. That $200,000+ of course, is what guests were spending at other places throughout the Napa Valley... but are now spending at WCI.

Think about additional, related products or services that you could deliver to your customers. For example, a massage therapist might also sell massage oils and lotions, and candles; a photography store might begin a series of photography workshops; and so on.

Before you go to bed each night, and immediately upon waking, this mantra should be going through your mind:

Our best customers are our best customers.
Our best customers are our best customers.
Our best customers are our best customers.

As always, you can contact me to brainstorm or with questions.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Yesterday I met with the owner of the Sonoma Coast Villa and Spa (a wonderful resort near Bodega Bay), and over the course of our discussion J. told me seven or eight of the marketing "opportunities" he's been thinking about doing to help grow the Villa. I hear this often from business owners: lots and lots of ideas and opportunities. Two questions immediately come to mind about this:

1. Which opportunities do you focus on (or, more likely, in what order)?

2. How do you implement each?

Let's focus on the first question. Prioritizing your marketing outreach is one of the most important components of successful marketing. It's also where many business owners mis-step. My suggestion is this: create a meeting solely to list all opportunities (brainstorming) and then pick three to focus on in the coming year. Of the three, one should be something you can implement within 30 days, one within a quarter, and one within the year. In other words, think "quick", "quarterly", and "long-term". Then schedule and hold a separate meeting (as soon as possible thereafter) to begin building the plans to implement each of the three.

Yes, this is a little like Las Vegas, in that you're "gambling" that the time, effort, and money you devote to implementing an idea will pay off. How do you pick the three ideas to focus on? Well, either bring in a marketing expert for assistance or do what I tend to do more often than not: listen to my gut.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Power of Pictures

Do you like the photo above? Did it catch your attention? It would catch mine, and that's what I'd like to discuss now: The Power of Pictures in marketing.

Yes, yes, I know: boil it all down, I'm a word guy. I'm a firm believer that the words you use in marketing and business communications (called messaging and positioning) are critical components in moving your business from surviving to thriving. That being said, I'm also a very strong believer in the "power of pictures", and thus always advise my clients that, when creating marketing tools, to spend as much money as their budget allows on hiring and using a professional photographer.
Why? Words are great, but they also only go so far. A photograph, on the other hand, can create an instant visual appeal and positive emotion. The following are a few pics from friends at Studio on Main as examples.
Pretend that you're a bride-to-be (!), excited about your coming once-in-a-lifetime event. Would this photo generate positive emotions in you?

What about if you love vintage jewelry? Would this photo entice you?

I personally would answer "yes" to those questions. Again, I know that hiring a professional photographer requires an investment. But I firmly believe that your marketing tools (brochures, web sites, blogs, etc.) are only as good as the pieces (your content, photos, graphics, etc.) you create. So here's a Savvy Marketer insider's tip: Want better marketing tools? Create better marketing pieces. Yes, you need a word guy like me. But you also need high-quality photography. It will pay for itself many times over in terms of more and better customers.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Savvy Marketer: Power of Blogs

Almost every business needs, in my opinion, a Web site to help the business grow. Many businesses I believe also could utilize a blog--such as this one!--as a key marketing component.

Here's why. Web sites are great, but they also simply provide information. There isn't much interaction possible with visitors. (This 'generation' of Internet usage is called Web 1.0.) For Web 2.0, however, interaction with visitors is critical. A blog is a great way to facilitate this interaction with your customers and prospects, as people can post comments or questions, which you can respond to.

Blogs also have these other advantages:

1. They can be updated quickly and easily, which make them ideal for specials, announcements, etc.

2. Key "search engine optimization" terms can be used, assisting with your Google search engine ranking.

3. They're fun, and I believe fun is a critical element to almost every business.

Take some time to consider creating a blog for your business. Yes, it will take time to build it, and there will be a learning curve. But once you have it established, a blog can become an essential part of your marketing program.
Blog Examples:

Monday, February 4, 2008

Savvy Marketer: Customer Communications

One of the missed opportunities (notice I didn't say "mistakes"; it's the PR guy in me!) I see so many business owners make is this: spending too much time, effort and money on acquiring new customers...at the expense of communicating with, and servicing, existing customers.

Repeat this Savvy Marketer mantra after me: Your best customers are your best customers.

With TPC, I suggest a systematic, regular system of customer communications. Here's how to build this marketing program:

1. Create a database. This records the customer's key information, such as name, email address, etc. This can be as simple as Excel spreadsheet, or utilize one of the many software programs or online resources.

2. Regularly and at every opportunity add to and refine your database. This includes both updating and adding information for contacts already in the database, and adding new contacts.

3. Communicate regularly with your database. The key here is "regularly". I suggest client communications should happen ideally every month, and at the worse one time per quarter. The communication doesn't have to be expensive or always the same. In fact, I suggest variety. It would be easy to plan for the year ahead an every-other-month customer communication program made up of emails, printed materials (such as a letter or newsletter), a holiday card, a 'thank you' gift, and so on.

4. Provide value. Your communication should ideally be something the customer would want to receive. Avoid way-too-generic information, or information that's obviously pulled from an association or other third-party. (My dentist sends me every quarter a newsletter. I struggle -- struggle -- to find one piece of that newsletter that (a) engages me in any way and (b) is personalized for his dentist office. KEY TIP: Sending generic information to your customers sends the message that you provide generic service.

To build your business, begin by establishing a regular communication program with existing customers, then and only then focus on reaching new clients.

Insider Interview: J. Michael Drewes

J. Michael Drewes is a Business Development Officer for North Coast Bank. A former business owner himself, he provides business owners with both business banking advice and business growth consulting.

What do you see business owners "missing" when it comes to their financial needs?
I think the number one thing is that business owners under-utilize their bankers. In the case of North Coast Bank, we're about educating business owners in business best practices, from financial reports to management issues. You're banker shouldn't just be the 'numbers' guy, in other words.

So you suggest a business owner take the necessary steps to develop and deepen the relationship with their banker?
Absolutely. Not only do most Business Development Officers like myself have business ownership experience, we're free!

What's a 'quick tip' you can provide, something you see savvy business owners doing?
That would be setting up a Money Market Account in which excess funds in your checking account get 'swept into' the money market at the end of each day. It's a way to keep more of your money in interest bearing accounts rather than in a checking account. Now the the amount of interest might not be much, but over the course of a year, or two or three, it can really add up.

What else would you suggest a business owner do to take control of their finances?
We do a lot with Lines of Credit. Those are excellent for businesses with cash flow issues, such as seasonal businesses. A general rule of thumb is that you can obtain a Line of Credit that's 10% of annual sales. So if your sales are, say, $100,000 in one year, you can expect to receive about a $10,000 Credit Line. Now what most people don't realize is that this is expected to be at zero for 30 days during every 12-month period. Again, this isn't necessarily for a loan. If a business owner needs a loan for a longer period of time, a Credit Line probably isn't the best solution.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Marketing: A Definition

The art of spending dimes to make dollars

To learn how to spend your dimes more wisely, contact TPC.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Successful Planning: Key Elements

Does the thought of planning out your marketing and business growth strategy for the coming year have you holding your head in pain and agony? Well, it shouldn't! Creating and then executing a sound marketing plan will pay huge dividends throughout the year, not only in terms of greater sales and stronger relationships with customers and prospects, but also for the simple fact that you can sleep a little better at night knowing that you're operating from a written plan and not "flying by the seat of your pants."

O.K., so what should go into a marketing plan? The marketing plans I help my clients develop are 1-2 pages in length, and focus on these big-picture areas:

1. Develop an overall "theme" for the year. This can take many forms, such as: A new product launch or a new focus on X. I strongly recommend that you develop a theme, which will give you a launching-off point for your marketing.

2. Develop a specific revenue target. Again, this usually is something like: We want to increase sales 15% over the previous year.

3. Develop a series of related marketing activities. Just like you can't eat a single meal and never be hungry again, marketing is not a one-time thing. The best marketing plans feature a series of related activities over the entire year. I usually like to think in terms of: one major marketing event per quarter. And ideally, each of these marketing events will be tied to your overall theme for the year.

4. Focus on an ongoing communication program to your best clients. Too many business owners focus, in my opinion, on landing new clients...and forget to market to their existing clients. I believe you should contact your clients ideally once a month, and at the worse, every other month.

5. Try at least one new "thing." Again, this can be anything from launching a new product (such as, for example, a blog to help business owners [!]) to trying a new marketing tool, such as an email newsletter. Trying new things keeps your ideas fresh and your juices flowing, and also sends a message to your clients and prospects that you are fresh, current, and cutting-edge.

6. Always be thinking about the following year. Is your web site getting outdated? Do you want to mount a major PR campaign? These things take time to develop and launch. If planned in advanced, however, they can be developed creatively, with as little disruption to your current activities as possible, and with the costs spread throughout several months.

Again, these are big-picture topics. Your marketing plan will have specifics, too. Yes, planning takes time and energy, but it is worth it. A sound marketing plan will point you in the right direction this year, and the following year. If you don't plan, however, you'll fall into the trap which Yogi Berra once so elegantly described (as only Yogi could!): "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Successful Planning: Review

Though the trees are dormant right now, there is still growth going on below the surface. You should think of your business in the same terms--business growth planning now will lead to business growth successes later this year. January is a great time to create business growth and/or marketing plans. (I believe September and October are the perfect times to begin planning for the next year, but that'll be a topic for another post.) Before we jump into planning for this new year, however, there's an important step to take first: reviewing the previous year. Here are some questions to ask regarding your business results for the past year:

What were total sales? By segment or product? Were sales greater than or less than the previous period, and by how much?

What worked particularly well (new product, marketing initiative, etc.) last year?

What didn't work as well as we had planned for?

What new business or revenue opportunities "jumped out at us" last year?

What business weaknesses (be it staffing, web site, etc.) also jumped out at us, in terms of needing to develop or improve?

Once you have specific answers to the just-asked questions, you can begin to move forward with your planning for the coming year.
Next time: 2008 Planning

Success Story: Wine Country Inn

Coming soon...

Motivational Quotes

We'll add our favorite quotes a few at a time. Check back for inspiration, ideas, and guidance.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.
~ Anais Nin

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.
~ Winston Churchill

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Just What IS This?

Welcome to the launch of Surviving to Thriving. Our goal is simple: to provide ideas, information, and resources to help entrepreneurs launch and/or grow their business. You'll want to check back here frequently, as new content will be added two to three times each week.

Now I know that some of you are looking at this and thinking: What exactly IS this? Is it a blog? Is it a Web site? Or is it ______?

The answer is: All of the above! I call this my "Web Presence." It functions like a Web site, with the added features of a blog. So... (and I've had many, many business owners ask me this) what IS the difference between a blog and a Web site?

Here goes... A Web site provides information. It's a great marketing tool (and almost, in my opinion, imperative for almost every business these days). Web sites, however, have two big (again, in my opinion) limitations though: one, they don't promote interactions with visitors, and two, you need to be a fairly sophisticated programmer/designer (or hire one) to create and manage a Web site.

A blog, on the other hand, functions as a Web site, with these two added features: Blogs are much easier for the average person to create, run, and update frequently; and blogs promote two-way interaction between the blog "owner" and visitors. The blog owner hosts an "Internet diary" of sorts and visitors are allowed to read and comment on anything posted. The tool provides constant and instant feedback.

So again, check back here frequently for great info and ideas on moving your business from "surviving" to "thriving" and don't be shy about posting a comment (such as asking a specific question) on this... this... well, let's just call it a web resource!

Our Mission/Services

Tim Polk Communications (TPC) empowers entrepreneurs to realize their dreams by moving their business from "surviving" to "thriving."

TPC provides creativity with a proven process to produce result$. We do this with our clients by creating and implementing results-focused marketing plans. Specific services include:
~ Marketing Plan Creation, including goals, budgeting, and measurement
~ Messaging / Positioning Development
~ Content Development
~ Marketing Tools Creation (web sites, brochures, etc.)
~ Public Relations (PR) Plans and Implementation
~ Corporate Identity (logos, tag lines, etc.)

Contact us today for a no-obligation assessment of your current marketing efforts.


We are happy to show you examples of our work and discuss the various "success stories" TPC clients have had. To arrange this review, please contact us.

Can We Help You?

We like to think so! To learn more about TPC's services and capabilities, or to discuss with no obligations your business launch or growth challenges, contact TPC today:
Phone: (707) 568-7322
Email: tpcresults@gmail.com