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Tim Peter helps companies put the web to work to grow their business. He has worked since 1995 developing innovative e-commerce and internet marketing programs across multiple industries. Prior to launching Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in early 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor and the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm to help hotels and resorts across diverse segments achieve more than $2 billion in online revenue.
Tim Peter & Associates focuses on helping companies in the service industry grow their business via the web. They help our clients anticipate, analyze and adapt their marketing strategies to take advantage of consumers’ use of the social, local, mobile web. In particular, they focus on content marketing and SEO, paid search, social outreach, and the analytics to support those efforts.
MO: What’s been your favorite project or campaign that you’ve ever worked on?
Tim: Highlighting a single project is tough because each one has created opportunities to learn and to build strong relationships with my clients. But if I had to pick just one, I’d say it was helping a boutique hotel company rethink its overall marketing strategy. The economic downturn over the last few years has hit the hospitality space hard – though that’s true for many other industries, too. But this company had lost significant share to competitors who adapted to changing customer needs more effectively.
The company, at its core, had a great story to tell. Working with the client’s leadership, we identified their core values, developed distinct positioning statements for each hotel in the group and looked for ways to communicate their values and their story into every aspect of their marketing efforts.
First, social media marketing played a huge role. For instance, we developed a playbook for crafting responses to customer reviews on online review sites and to entice customers to share their experiences with friends and family via social networks. Additionally, we restructured their search marketing campaigns with an improved focus on specific customer segments – weddings, media/trade relations, and social groups – that either suffered fewer impacts from the downturn or were more likely to pay more their accommodations due to the “special occasion” nature of their travel needs.
Finally, we’ve tied the disparate aspects of the company’s marketing – search, email marketing, social media, remarketing, and their website – into delivering an integrated story to each customer segment in a targeted manner to drive increased conversion rate and revenue for the company.
The results have been fantastic. The client is deeply satisfied with the approach and, most importantly, is gaining share from their competitors. Which, for me, is the most fun aspect of the whole project.
MO: Learning from mistakes is critical for entrepreneurs. Can you share some lessons learned from your past or how you would have approached things differently?
Tim: Probably the best lesson I ever learned came from a project many years ago: make it easy for your customer to say “yes.” A former organization leader I worked with almost killed one of my projects because just about every time I went to her for a decision, I focused so heavily on presenting all the options, challenges and risks (thinking that I was demonstrating my ability to “think through the issues”), that the leader took away the message that our effort was “off the rails.” Instead of getting the go-ahead to move forward, each decision point caused her to hesitate and almost caused the project to actually go off the rails.
After talking it through the issues with one of my mentors, I realized the error and was able to salvage both the perception of the project and its overall success. Instead of walking the client through every possible option with loads of pros and cons, I presented only the two best options along with the reasons why they made sense. At that point, the leader faced a choice: Option A or Option B. Option C (“kill/rethink the project”) never entered the conversation.
Even today, working with external clients, I focus on the possibilities available, offer the best options and then guide the client towards the one likely to produce the best result. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make people aware of any associated risks, but, make a recommendation and stand by it.
MO: How did you go from bootstrapped to achieving profitability in your first year?
Tim: I’m really proud of achieving profitability in the business’s first year. I attribute this to four things:
1. Providing only those services where we can offer a competitive advantage. Early on I took on a project for one of my clients outside my sweet spot, thinking that providing additional services to the client would deepen the relationship and increase our revenue opportunities. As it happened, the specific service fell outside my team’s expertise. We struggled to deliver and had to subcontract higher cost resources outside the company to bring the project home. While you’ve got to be flexible as an entrepreneur and adapt to your customer needs, trying to be all things to all people is a recipe for disaster.
2. An unyielding focus on customer satisfaction. I want my customers to know they’re getting their money’s worth in everything we do. By focusing on doing only those things we can do well, we’re able to provide excellent service in those areas. And because of that, we’re both able to price our products and services at a modest premium and still generate repeat business more frequently than our competition.
3. Net “working,” not networking. Too many people look at networking and say, “What’s in it for me?” Instead, I look at it as if I’m working to help the people I engage with, asking “What’s in it for them?” Several client engagements have come from people I’d helped years ago, long before I started the business, when I had nothing obvious to gain. When I launched the business, I reached out to my network, just to let them know what I was up to and was pleasantly surprised that several immediately offered opportunities or recommended us to people they thought we could help. Because my network understands my commitment to service, they’re comfortable recommending the company to their network, too.
4. Relentlessly driving costs out of the business. There’s an old saying that an engineer can produce results for two bits that anyone else could get for a dollar. I run my business just like an engineer would: if I can find a way to deliver the service my customers expect for even 5%-10% less money, I’m going to do it every time. Obviously, I won’t sacrifice customer satisfaction. And I always invest in the best people, too. But, just about everything else is open to optimization. Even better, we carry this approach over to our client engagements, looking for ways to reduce their costs while still driving greater revenue. Which, again, lends itself to repeat engagements and increased customer satisfaction.
MO: What are the first steps in putting together an online marketing strategy?
Tim: Most marketers know about the four “P’s” of marketing – product, price, place and promotion. But there’s a fifth “P” at the core of all successful marketing strategies: People. Your customers really drive the approach to each of the other 4 “P’s”: ensuring your products meet your customers’ needs; your marketing channels reach customers in the places they spend their time; your promotions attract attention and action; and your prices fit your customers’ budgets.
From an online perspective, specifically, you have to understand your customers’ online activity and tailor your marketing objectives and tactics to take advantage of that activity. While you can certainly develop marketing designed to change customer behavior, it’s often most effective to “fish where the fishing’s good” to start.
Additionally, you need to develop clear goals for your online strategy. What do you really want to accomplish? Do you want to increase brand awareness, build your email list, drive conversions or all of the above? I’ve seen many “failed” strategies that actually “worked” in the sense of improving one of these metrics, unfortunately not the one the business was originally shooting for (all too often this comes from not knowing what you’re going for in the first place).
Once you’re armed with this information, then it’s a matter of aligning your story in a way that supports both your customer activity and your objectives.
MO: What’s your favorite social media tool and how do you use it both personally and professionally?
Tim: I can’t pick just one, I’m afraid, but I can limit myself to two. I rely heavily on Twitter and on LinkedIn for growing my business. Twitter works well for me. I’ve got a virtual “advisory board” of thought leaders I follow who point me to articles, research and inspiration that I may not have discovered on my own. I also frequently bounce ideas, products and services off my friends, fans and followers on the site to gain other perspectives before I offer them to clients. Twitter also provides a reasonably useful traffic driver to my site and generated a few leads for me (though, to be fair, that’s not its primary benefit).
And I use LinkedIn as my go-to address book and email alternative. Additionally, I’ve leveraged its “six degrees of separation” view to find both leads and individuals with specific expertise for client projects. Finally, I have received a number of quality leads from optimizing my profile and my company page on the site. Plus I post my Twitter updates directly to LinkedIn to stay top of mind with my friends and followers on the site.
MO: You have a book coming out in the next few months. Can you tell us the inspiration behind it and perhaps provide some tips for our readers in the process?
Tim: The inspiration really came from talking to a number of small business owners about how they can use the social, local, mobile web to grow their business. Most businesses don’t have the expertise or time to build out an effective web presence. And it’s not a lack of desire. They know it’s important. But they’re too busy running their business to take on additional load.
I’ve tried to distill my 16 years of experience in web strategy and execution with both Fortune 100 companies and small businesses into a set of simple, affordable, and effective operating principles that just about any business can put into practice.
One key tip revolves around developing the right key performance indicators (KPIs) to know what’s working and what isn’t. Too many marketing books either gloss over the idea of KPIs or dive too deeply into the weeds of analytics tools. Instead, I’ve tried to identify a few metrics that apply to most small companies (or small teams within a larger company) and provide meaningful insight into business results. I’m also providing a method for the reader to identify unique metrics that matter to their business beyond the core set.
Finally, I’d recommend any business owner to start writing every day. Whether you do it for a blog, a book, guest posts or just your own personal journal, putting your thoughts down on paper really helps you clear your head, improve your critical thinking and uncover things you may not even know you know. You don’t need to be Mark Twain or Malcolm Gladwell. It’s more about freeing your mind to evaluate what’s going on in your world and it’s something you’ll benefit from every time you do it.
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