Small Business Marketing: What Makes You Special?

How do small businesses survive these days in a crowded market where being discovered online is more than half the battle?  They need to know what makes them special and understand how they can directly fulfill the needs of  their customers.

The Vitality of Small Businesses

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, employing millions and creating innovations that their size allows them to explore.  According to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, in 2019 firms with fewer than twenty employees made up 89.0% of businesses in the U.S. and those with under one hundred accounted for 98.1%.

Rising Above the Competition

Just as there are many small businesses, there is a lot of competition and the best place to be discovered is the internet.  However, the web is a crowded place, and chances are your product is not the only one out there.  The key is differentiating what you do and sell from everyone else. 

What Makes Your Business Special?

To differentiate yourself, you need to consider what makes your business special.  What stands out about the owners, the employees, the products, and the services?  Being a bunch of friendly faces is not enough.  Neither is using words like “dynamic, innovative, or excellent” without an endorsement to add credibility to the praise. Here is an example of a successful differentiator:

Warby Parker is an eyeglasses company that started as a digitally native brand, which means they only sold online.  At the time there were dozens of different ways to purchase eyeglasses at stores like Pearle Vision, through your doctor’s office, and even at Costco and Walmart.  So how could the founders think that they could compete in a marketplace that was full of options?

They offered an alternative to customers who needed glasses by providing a simple process, a la carte pricing, and a chance to test out five different pairs of frames.  They saved people time and money, and offered the allure of an alternative name brand.  An article from CNBC explains exactly how they succeeded.  

Building Brand Trust

Once you know what makes your business special, you can incorporate the message into your overall brand.  Offering a product is not who you are, it is what you do.  In today’s world of direct, high speed, digital connection, people need to feel like they know their brands.  They need to trust their brands and to gain trust, you need to identify your customers and address their needs directly. 

For example, I spoke at a women’s networking event about content marketing and social media.  One of the attendees was a photographer who wanted to grow her wedding photo business.

Problem:  She did not understand why she wasn’t getting a lot of traction from her website which had beautiful photos that showed what she could do.  The photographer did not know what made her services special and different from others.  She also did not understand how her customers went about selecting a photographer.  

Possible solutions:

  1. She could share more information about her story and why she is passionate about working with couples and sharing their special moments.
  2. She could have blogs or articles on her website about how to choose the right wedding photographer.
  3. She could offer sample albums with endorsements from her clients.

Understanding what makes you special and matching that directly with the needs of your potential customers will build your business.  Everyone has something to offer that is unique to them.  The challenge is figuring out what that is and who needs it.  Then you need the courage and the know-how to go out there and communicate it to the right people in the right place, at the right time.

Amazon’s Order Policy Will Affect Indie Authors and Publishers

A recent article in Publishers Weekly (Amazon Stands by Books) came and went without a lot of fanfare, but independent authors and micro publishers should be paying attention.  The article is about a drop in sales due to changes in Amazon’s order policy, which the company says is a result of a cut in the warehousing of products.  However, Amazon assures publishers that they stand by books and are not planning any moves to relegate book sales to third party sellers.  For the bigger publishers, this may be comforting, but for independent presses, and authors who publish and distribute through Ingram, there may be a problem.

How Ingram Works with Amazon

Ingram is a wholesaler.  If you print books in quantity, you may have a distribution partner or you may warehouse the copies in another way.  Orders placed directly to Ingram will be fulfilled according to the terms you have set.  If you are a Print-on-Demand publisher, then Amazon and other retailers will populate your title on their sites when you select “global distribution” as you upload your title to Ingram Spark.  An article that goes into this more deeply can be found here.

How Indies will be Affected

In the past Amazon often ordered a small quantity of print books for new titles without a distribution partner.  A dedicated sales rep could increase that number, but many indies cannot afford to pay for one.  Also, having a partner does not guarantee you will get a bigger order. 

Now, Amazon may order zero copies of a new title, unless there is a pre-order demand.  In that case Amazon may only order the number of copies required to fulfill those orders on release date.  If that happens any additional orders will take “1 – 3 weeks” to fulfill, while Amazon waits on a new bulk order.  If their algorithm does not predict many sales soon, it is possible that Amazon will not stock additional copies until an order comes in. 

Unfortunately, a traditional book distributor is not going to solve this issue either.  Recently we have been told by indie presses that there is “nothing that they can do”.  Amazon makes their decisions and they can’t be refuted. In these cases authors are linked to the market through a “middle man”.  They have to wait in the dark  for something to change.   

While this is happening, there could be second-hand sellers on Amazon offering the book as “in stock”.  They may appear as “trusted sellers”.  Some of these people could have received a review copy for free and they are turning it around to earn a few bucks.  The books could have associated shipping costs and delivery dates of several days or more.  It looks bad to prospective Prime book buyers who are trained to get their products in two days or less.  It could deter people from purchasing.

Solving Amazon’s Order Policy Problem

The most direct way for Print-on-Demand (POD) publishers to solve the problem created by Amazon’s order policy is to publish directly to their KDP platform in paperback or hardcover.  If you do this after your title has been uploaded on Ingram Spark, your Amazon upload will overwrite Ingram’s.  You can still link your ebook to your account, even if you published that format through Ingram only.  

This method ensures that Amazon will have a vested interest in your book being available on their site.  Amazon has become your printer for the format you uploaded.  Your terms selling directly on the platform will be 60/40 in your favor, the book will be Prime eligible, and you can participate in direct advertising.

For independent publishers who print in quantity and have a distribution partner, the solution is murky.  Like so many inequalities in life, POD is a lower-class option because it is, for lack of a better word, “down market” publishing.  The reason small and micro presses pay distributors is to raise their status.  In some cases these relationships make them eligible for the advantages afforded to the bigger companies.  The question is, does this relationship truly elevate a book’s status?  Is there even enough room to consider titles from small presses?

Without traditional distribution, indie press books may not be eligible for certain awards.  Also, larger media outlets such as USA Today will not consider any POD books for review.    There are over one million books published every year.  This number it too high for media outlets to cover everything that is released.  Traditional distribution may provide some access to what the Big Five publishers can do.  It will not solve the ordering issue.

What Can Authors Do?

The first thing authors need to accept is that publishing your book is Step 1.  You may think you are done, but your work is just beginning.  Authors will need to come out of their comfort zones and become entrepreneurs who have platforms and marketing plans.  In the words of one of our clients, practice “shameless self-promotion”.   

Also, authors need to consider whether they want to work with a traditional publisher, a hybrid, or do it solo.  Make it a priority to find trusted sources who will explain how things work for indies. The divide between indie and big five publishing has only gotten wider over the last few years.

A friend of mine used to say “growing older isn’t for sissies”.  Well, writing and marketing a book isn’t either.  There are no shortcuts; it takes time, costs money, and there is no single path to take.  Be informed, prepared, and patient. 

Design 101: Resizing an Image for Social Media Graphics and More

If you are on social media you know that you need images, lots of them, preferably not stock photos.   If you have something that you like, but it doesn’t quite fit into the social platform’s specs, you are going to need to resize it.  On the surface, this is a simple task. The basic “how to” is the same on most programs, though the display options may appear different places. For example, in Photoshop you need to go to “Image” and select “Image Size”. In MS Paint, there’s a dedicated button labelled “Resize”. They both serve the same function but, depending on the complexity of the program, they will have different limitations. When resizing an image for social media, here are a few things to keep in mind:

What is an Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio refers to the ratio between the height and width of an image.  When resizing an image for social media you will want to take into account the different aspect ratios for different platforms.  They are a bit different. There are only two options when you resize an image: You can either maintain the aspect ratio or not. Maintaining the aspect ratio means that when you resize the image, it will keep the same ratio between its height and width. If the aspect ratio is changed, the image may become stretched out as you resize it. This tends to be visually unappealing, though small changes might go unnoticed.

Good Resolution = More Appealing Image

If you’re using very simple image editing programs, this option might not be available. However, if you or someone you know can do this, it’s a neat trick.  Resolution defines the clarity of an image and is often represented by either the DPI (dots per inch) or PPI (pixels per inch). DPI is a term used for printing an image, whereas PPI is used for digital displays of images.

In general, the minimum DPI/PPI accepted as “hi-res” is 300. That means for every square inch of space the image occupies, there are 300 pixels. If you are ever asked to increase the resolution of an image, keep in mind that this will automatically make the image larger. You are adding pixels to the image when increasing the resolution. If you do not increase the size of the image along with the DPI/PPI, it can often cause an image to turn out a bit blurry. What if you want to increase the resolution but not change the size? Allow the image to scale up when the resolution is changed. Afterwards, it can be resized back down to the desired dimensions. This helps preserve the quality of the image.

 Resizing vs. Resampling

Most modern image editing programs are good at preserving quality, so long as you use the proper steps of resizing. Photoshop and the like will have more options when it comes to resampling, rather than resizing, an image. When resizing, you either take away or add pixels and other data related to the details of the image. Resampling is a process that helps fill in for these changes in data.  It ensures the result is as true to the original image as possible.

Unfortunately, if you need to make drastic changes in size, there will inevitably be some loss of quality. Since resizing an image down results in a loss of data, it can lead to a more pixelated or sharp look. Resizing up can end with a more blurry or softer look, since programs will fill in missing pixels.

It’s best to try and get the highest quality original image that you can from the start. If you’re going to need a specific set of dimensions or resolution, do your research ahead of time. This can help avoid the need to resize altogether. Otherwise, the smaller the size changes needed the better, in terms of maintaining quality.

Whether you’re working on your next Instagram post or designing a book cover, hopefully this helped clarify some terms from the complicated world of digital image editing!

How to Find the Right Bookstagrammer for Your Work

Instagram (IG), like all social platforms, evolves with time.  We have talked a lot about the benefits of Instagram for books and authors.  But before you start approaching all of the  “bookstagrammers” who come up in a #search, you need to know how to find the right bookstagrammer for your work.

Find the Right Hashtags for Your Topic

There are a lot of lists if you google the term bookstagrammer. Popular sites have made lists of their favorites by genre, aesthetic, or just personal preference. Often, these lists are more general and limited to around 20 accounts. The best way to find people is to go directly to Instagram itself and dig down a little deeper.

This does require research and time. It is important to go through the process so you find the right bookstagrammer for your work by identifying the hashtags that are popular with a specific genre. For instance, if you wrote a thriller, try searching #thrillernovel or #thrillerbookreview for specific results. From there, you will find more related hashtags and reviewers who are interested in your niche. You might even find certain genres have specific, trendy tags they use so keep an eye out for those!

Evaluating Bookstagrammer Profiles

Once you’ve found a hashtag that seems active and relevant to your book, start visiting user profiles. Take a look at their bios to learn a little more about them and then look at the rest of their posts. Was the book review a one-off thing or do they do lots of them? Do they often review books that seem similar to yours? It is more productive to ask someone for a review when they already have an interest in the genre of your book. People who are avid fans of one genre are always looking for their next read!

Take note of a reviewer’s follower count while you’re on their profile, but don’t let this metric be the end-all, be-all of your search. In the case of bookstagrammers, don’t overlook the micro-influencer. Bigger accounts get DMs (Direct Messages) about book pitches often, so yours might not even make it to their proverbial desk. Getting your book in front of an audience of 30,000 people is great if you can, but several posts made over time by different accounts can also be great exposure. Smaller users that have grown their audience organically may have a more active audience as well.

How to Pitch Bookstagrammers Correctly

If you’re looking for some differences on how to pitch on different platforms, check out our previous blog about pitching! While pitching, keep yourself as organized as possible in a way that works for you. Whether you want to use spreadsheets or an address book, just make sure you have a plan of action and a way to keep track of who you’ve talked to.

We have found that the book community on Instagram is a wonderful, supportive group.  They are super creative and just engaging with them can help you learn about how to use the platform in creative ways.

For more tips, check out our other blogs to find out more about social media and book marketing techniques.

 

Indie Authors Alert: Crowded Book Market Fall 2021

Fall is always a crowded book market because it leads into the holiday shopping season.  However, this year could be one of the most competitive and expensive for indie authors and publishers.

Expect Delays in Supply Chain

In recent years books by Michelle Obama and Bob Woodward have taken over the market and the paper supply.  The larger traditional publishers order paper in advance.  In 2018 indie authors and smaller presses were faced with delays getting their books printed.  The paper issue has not gotten much better for indies since then, but many have learned to work around the delays.  However, this year, the crowded book market combined with a truck shortage and a labor shortage, make getting supplies and shipping books challenging for printers like Ingram Spark that cater to the indie market.

Increases in Pricing

Have you felt the rise in inflation?  Groceries, gas and materials like lumber, metal and oil have all climbed steadily since January 2021.  Well everyone in the book business is going to feel the pinch as well.  The Independent Book Publishers Association published this brief memo from Ingram explaining that their U.S. prices have increased 6%, not including shipping.  As of November 6, 2021, we can except price changes reflecting this increase to go into effect.

Book Reviewers Overwhelmed

I don’t have any official data to report on reviewers.  I can tell you that we are hearing that reviewers are swamped through December with titles.  One Instagram reviewer mentioned that she had 200 books to review between now and the end of the year.  I’ve said in other blogs that the traditional publishers plan their most splashy and coveted titles for the Fall season and those books will be considered first.

How to Manage a Crowded Book Marketplace

I can offer a few recommendations if you currently have a book planned in the next three months and you have not already been soliciting publicity coverage.

  1. Set a soft publication date where you release the book without the expectation of coverage right now.  Plan for a hard publication date in the first three months of next year to give yourself enough time for reviewers to take a breath.
  2. Completely push publication until Winter 2022.
  3. Whether you soft publish now or wait all together, focus your efforts on your social media and digital marketing.
  4. Do your homework and research other kinds of media and contacts who may want to cover your book in a story or interview.  Some of these contacts might have some openings, especially if they don’t have to read the whole book.
  5. Plan, plan, plan.  Use the time to figure out what kind of traditional strategy you want to have for your book.  Get your review copies ready and start sending them to reviewers (stickered with the publication date) three  to four months ahead of your hard publication date.

Manage Book Sales Expectations

Most of all you need to accept what is possible and what is not, cut your losses, and strategize.  Evaluate the market and the competition for the season and decide how you want to move forward with your marketing and publicity.  Then start taking steps in that direction.

For more information about book publishing and marketing, check out  www.clairemckinneypr.com/blog and

Get Ready to Promote Your Fall 2021 Book

 

 

When should you publish your book? An Infographic