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Enterprise was the golden calf, but startups look to SMBs for next boom

(BUSINESS MARKETING) SMBs could be the next frontier for B2B software sales. They need tech like any other large company, and there are more of them.

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smbs tech

Your tech startup is finally starting to take off. You’ve spent what feels like your entire lifetime pulling your hair out to figure out how to shape your idea into the most unique, functional, cornering-the-market silver bullet any VC has ever seen. You have momentum and passion and you’re ready for the big leagues. Everyone in your corner advises you to think big, and try to sell your product to the biggest, baddest players in the game. Sign a fat contract and it will carry you through the rest of your growth if you could just land that one client with 5,000 employees and a billion more customers, partners, and accordingly long coattails you can ride into the sunset.

But what if the all that glitters is not the only gold?

The state of New York reported in 2019 that 99.8% of all businesses have fewer than 500 employees. Businesses employing less than 20 people experienced the largest gains in 2016, adding 89,213 net jobs. In California, the statistics are virtually identical: 99.8% of businesses have fewer than 500 employees, employing 7.1 million people (48.8% of California’s employees).

In 2012, the City of Austin initiated Imagine Austin, a comprehensive plan adopted by the city to work towards a vision where Austin is “a beacon of sustainability, social equity, and economic opportunity.” According to data collected for the plan, an average of 251,715 Austinites attended small business workshops each year from 2012 to 2016. The workshops are “geared toward professional development, education, and community networking designed to support the capacity, sustainability, and growth of the creative sector in Austin.” Additionally, the number of employees working for businesses with fewer than 50 employees increased by an average of 3.3% per year from 2008-2015.

Despite the obviously robust market in small and medium businesses (SMBs), many software companies continue to target the biggest fish for B2B contracts. The prevailing theory is that large companies have the infrastructure, wherewithal, and cash flow to implement new technology systems to stay competitive. The prospect of hooking such a client is lucrative, reliable, and sexy.

However, SMBs have the same needs as their larger peers. They are just as interested in providing the most current and convenient service to their customers, the most effective and seamless payroll processes to their employees, and the most efficient bookkeeping for themselves as their heftier competitors.

Obviously the risk is greater in a sub-economy where SMBs have a 30% closure rate in their first year. And of course let’s not take for granted the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 epidemic is inflicting on SMBs, particularly in the brick-and-mortar retail and service industries that have been forced to close or operate on adapted service terms indefinitely nationwide.

But as in all business ventures, there exists no opportunity without risk. Perhaps it’s time for funders to rethink traditional sales strategies to take seriously the SMB market that is truly the under appreciated lifeblood of the American economy.

Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather has her Bachelor of Arts in Neurobiology from Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. When she's not writing for AG, you can find her pouring beers at the Brewtorium, but only one at a time.

Business Marketing

The secret to crafting consistently high-converting emails?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Email may seem too old to be effective but surprisingly it’s not, so how can you get the most out of your email marketing? Try these tips.

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Email marketing

Email marketing might seem archaic in comparison to modern mediums like social media, blogging, and podcasting; however, it actually remains one of the highest converting options marketers and small businesses have at their disposal.

But Why Email?

Hopefully you believe in email as an effective marketing channel, but in case you have doubts, let’s hit the reset button. Here’s why email marketing is worth investing in:

  • Email is one of the few marketing channels that you have total control over. Unlike a social media audience, which can disappear if the platform decides you violate their terms, you own your email list.
  • Email is considered very personal. When someone gives you access to their inbox, they’re telling you that you can send them messages.
  • From a pure analytics perspective, email gives you the ability to track behaviors, study what works, and get familiar with the techniques that don’t.
  • The ROI of email marketing is incredibly high. It can deliver as much as $44 in value for every $1 spent.

5 Tips for High-Converting Emails

If you’ve been using email, but haven’t gotten the results you’d like to, it’s probably because you’re using it ineffectively.

Here are a few very practical tips for high-converting emails that generate results:

  1. Write Better Subject Lines

    Think about email marketing from the side of the recipient. (Considering that you probably receive hundreds of emails per week, this isn’t hard to do.) What’s going to make you engage with an email? It’s the subject line, right?

    If you’re going to focus a large portion of your time and energy on one element of email marketing, subject lines should be it.

    The best subject lines are the ones that convey a sense of urgency or curiosity, present an offer, personalize to the recipient, are relevant and timely, feature name recognition, or reference cool stories.

  2. Nail the Intro

    Never take for granted the fact that someone will open your email, and read to the second paragraph. Some will – but most will scan the first couple of lines, and then make a decision on how to proceed.

    It’s critically important that you get the intro right. You have maybe five seconds to hook people in, and get them excited. This is not a time to slowly build up. Give your best stuff away first!

  3. Use Video

    Email might be personal, but individual emails aren’t necessarily viewed as special. That’s because people get so many of them on a daily basis.

    According to Blue Water Marketing, “The average person receives more than 84 emails each day! So how do you separate your emails from everyone else? Embed videos in your emails can increase your conversion rates by over 21 percent!”

    This speaks to a larger trend of making emails visually stimulating. The more you use compelling visuals, the more engaging and memorable the content will be.

  4. Keep Eyes Moving

    The goal is to keep people engaging with your email content throughout. While it’ll inevitably happen with a certain percentage of recipients, you want to prevent people from dropping off as they read.

    One of the best ways to keep sustained engagement is to keep eyes effortlessly moving down the page with short and succinct copy.

    One-liners, small paragraphs, and lots of spacing signal a degree of approachability and simplicity. Use this style as much as you can.

  5. Don’t Ask Too Much

    It can be difficult to convey everything you want to say in a single email, but it’s important that you stay as focused as possible – particularly when it comes to CTAs and requests.

    Always stick to one CTA per email. Never ask multiple questions or present different offers. (It’ll just overwhelm and confuse.) You can present the same CTA in multiple places – like at the beginning, middle, and end of the email – but it needs to be the same call. That’s how you keep people focused and on-task.

Give Your Email Marketing Strategy a Makeover

Most businesses have some sort of email lists. Few businesses leverage these lists as well as they should. Hopefully this article has provided you with some practical and actionable tips that can be used to boost engagement and produce more conversions. Give them a try and see what sticks.

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Business Marketing

Restaurant chains are using COVID to masquerade as indie food pop ups

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Applebee’s and Chuck E. Cheese appear on delivery apps under aliases. Is this a shifty marketing scheme or a legitimate practice?

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chuck e cheese pizza

Restaurants have pivoted hard to stay alive during dine-in shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some are selling grocery items like eggs, flour, and yeast (check out the pantry section at the Brewtorium!) while others have created meal kits so families can cook up their restaurant favorites at home.

Meanwhile, a few large chains have been busted for re-branding their kitchens to sell more meals. A reddit user in Philadelphia reported that they ordered pizza from Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings thinking it was a local business they had yet to try, only to learn it shared a kitchen with Chuck E. Cheese. As it turns out, Pasqually is a member of Munch’s Make Believe Band, the terrifying mascot band led by murine bad body Chuck E. Cheese. Pasqually is the confusingly human drummer (and Italian pizza chef?), joined by lead canine guitarist Jasper T. Jowls, sweetheart chicken Helen Henny on the tambourine and vocals, and the dinosaur? Closet monster? D-list muppet? Mr. Munch on the keys.

Though this inter-species band should be disturbing enough for us all to rethink our childhood memories of Chuck E. Cheese (let’s be honest, Disney World should be the only place allowed to have adults parading around in giant mouse costumes) what’s more upsetting is the competition it creates with locally owned restaurants. In West Philadelphia, there is another restaurant called Pasqually’s Pizza.

Chuck E. Cheese is not the only restaurant re-branding to save their hides. Applebee’s has launched a “brand extension” called Neighborhood Wings. Customers can order larger quantities of wings (up to 60!) from Neighborhood Wings, but not Applebee’s. You know, for all of the large parties people have been hosting lately (thanks COVID-19).

This restaurant run-around is further evidence of the noise created by third party delivery apps. GrubHub, Postmates, and others have been criticized for taking huge commissions from already low-margin restaurants, and providing little added value to profitability and industry worker wages. Using these platforms as a means to build shell restaurants for large national chains is just another example of third party apps doing a disservice to both its clients and customers.

Of course, Applebee’s and Chuck E. Cheese are franchises. If one wanted to go out on a limb for these brands, it could be argued that they are indeed ‘local’ businesses if their owners are local franchisees. The third party apps are simply another platform for businesses to gain a competitive edge against one another within a specific customer segment. Furthermore, consumers should hold themselves accountable for their patronage choices and doing their due diligence when investigating new pizza and wings options.

Nonetheless, it behooves all of us in this pandemic to get to know our neighbors, and build relationships with the small businesses that are the lifeblood of a community. Restaurants exist thanks to local customers. Try placing your order directly on their website, or give them a call. I am a restaurant worker, and I truly am happy to take your order.

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Business Marketing

Restaurants might actually lose money through Grubhub and similar services

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Restaurant owners are asking themselves if third-party food delivery apps are nothing more than a good, old-fashioned shakedown.

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If you haven’t seen the GrubHub receipt that has everyone outraged, you probably should. It exposed the food delivery apps for their unreasonably high commissions and excessive charges to the restaurants (on top of the changes to the consumer).

Many people, in an honest attempt to support local restaurants while staying home and safe these days, have started ordering out from their favorite small, local eateries. And they should! This could be the lifeline that allows those restaurants to survive being closed for upwards of a month. However, if they order through a third-party food delivery service, they need to know that a good chunk of their money goes to the service, not the local business. Plus they are paying extra for the service.

It’s a big bummer, to say the least, a bamboozle some might say. Why would restaurants agree to use these services at all, then, if they aren’t beneficial? Well, they initially served the purpose of helping smaller restaurants and food trucks sell to a wider customer base without having to incur the cost and manage the logistics of offering delivery. Not all of the charges are immediately apparent, either, although I am sure they are in the business agreement.

GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, UberEats all charge eateries a commission between 15%-30% to even work with them. This is for the most basic level of service. When GrubHub, for example, wants to stimulate more sales, they may offer a deal to consumers. This could be a dollar amount or percentage off of a customer’s order or free delivery.

Everybody loves a deal, so these promotions are effective. They drive more sales, yay. The restaurants, however, incur the full cost of the promotion. You would imagine GrubHub would share that cost, but no, they don’t. If that weren’t unscrupulous enough, GrubHub then charges the business the commission on the full, not discounted, price of the order. Unctuous, right?

Sure, restaurants have to opt in for these specials and other promotions the third-party apps are marketing, so they know there’s a fee. Yet, if they don’t opt in, they won’t appear as an option for the deal in the app. It’s deceptive, feels like a bit of extortion to me. All of these delivery apps have some sort of similar way to rack up fees. For a mom-and-pop food truck or restaurant, the commissions and fees soon eat away at the already small profit margins restaurants usually have.

It’s simply wrong, so wrong. But wait, there’s more! Another nasty, duplicitous practice GrubHub (specifically GrubHub) has implemented, with Yelp’s help, is to hijack the restaurant’s phone number on Yelp. This means if you look up your favorite restaurant on Yelp, and call in an order from the Yelp platform, your call will actually go to GrubHub instead. And get this–they charge the restaurant even if you pick up the order yourself, not only for delivery.

These third-party companies have even started buying up domain names similar to the restaurants to further fool patrons into ordering through them. They also have added restaurants to their platforms, even if the restaurants haven’t agreed to work with them. They seem willing to do anything to get a cut of restaurants’ hard earned dough (and ours). Loathsome! How are these scams even legal?

It happened to me recently. I kept trying to order for pickup at the restaurant, but somehow the order kept going through GrubHub. Bamboozled!

RVB bamboozled

This boils my blood and breaks my heart for these restaurants. In my other life, I am a blogger for a hyperlocal blog whose sole purpose is to highlight, celebrate, and promote local everything. I’m also the internal marketing chair for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance, where we work with local restaurants, distilleries, breweries, and such to promote them and help raise their visibility in the community.

I only bring this up, because I’ve sat with these restaurant and food truck owners, listened to their stories, seen the fire in their eyes as they talk about their recipes. They’ve regaled me with stories of how they got started, what inspires them, and when they had their first successful day. It’s delightful to see the intensity of their enthusiasm for sharing good food with people and how much of themselves they put into their restaurants.

In the original post that lifted the curtain on this shady practice, the Chicago Pizza Boss food truck owner Giuseppe Badalamenti, says the money he got from his GrubHub orders was “almost enough to pay for the food.” Badalamenti had participated in some promotions, which admittedly reduced his cut dramatically, yet the whole premise came as a shock to customers who have been spending their dollars to keep these local businesses afloat. Then here comes the third-party apps, poking a hole in the floaties.

It comes across as downright predatory. Thousands of people have sworn off these apps in favor of calling the restaurant directly for pickup if you are able. This way, you ensure the business you want to support gets the full bill amount. You can get the restaurant’s number directly from Google Maps or the business’s social media or website. This is the best way to help your favorite places stay in business.

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